Experiments in Self-Rule:


An exploration of practices embodying Gandhi’s ideas of freedom



“It is Swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves… such Swaraj has to be experienced, by each one for himself…Slaves ourselves, it would be mere pretension to think of saving others.  But I would warn against thinking that I am today aiming at Swaraj…I know that India is not ripe for it…I am individually working for self-rule…but today my corporate activity is undoubtedly dedicated to the attainment of Parliamentary Swaraj in accordance with the wishes of the people of India.  I am not aiming at destroying railways and hospitals, though I would certainly welcome their natural destruction…Neither adds one inch to the moral stature of a nation.   Nor am I aiming at a permanent destruction of the courts…still less am I trying to destroy all machinery and mills.  It requires a higher simplicity and renunciation that the people are today prepared for.  The only part of the programme that is now being carried out is that of non-violence.”


Mahatma Gandhi


Pioneers of Change and Shikshantar are together creating a Learning Journey to explore experiments in self-rule that have been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of Swaraj and his ideas on freedom and discipline, the Self and community, the modern and traditional.  We will bring together a group of 30-40 people from around the world to visit and interact with a series of local projects, initiatives and practices in northern India, for ten days from February 1st to February 11th, 2003.  These participants will predominantly be young people, aged 25-35, who are thinking deeply about, and experimenting with, self-learning, self-governance and self-organisation in their own lives and work.  Through participating in this Learning Journey - and interacting with the projects and other participants - these individuals will develop and deepen their own understanding of self-rule and return home to embody this in their own practices.

“We are all of us descended from slaves, or almost slaves.  Legally, of course, slavery has been abolished, but slavery also has a metaphorical, broader meaning: it is possible to be a slave of the passions, or of one’s work, or of one’s habits.  The world is still full of people who, though they have no recognised slave masters, see themselves as having little freedom, as being at the mercy of uncontrollable, anonymous economic and social forces.  It is important to remember that it is tiring and trying being free; and in times of exhaustion, affection for freedom has always waned.”


Theodore Zeldin


Gandhi’s conception of individual freedom embodies Swaraj (self-rule or rule over the Self) at its core.  In his booklet Hind Swaraj, Gandhi raises profound questions around the nature of modern civilisation and its institutions and core assumptions. He argues that the predominant European social systems - of healthcare, education, parliamentary democracy, technology and production of goods - that had been exported to India under British rule, were a critical tool for the oppression endured by the majority of Indians, and that genuine ‘independence’ and ‘inter-dependence’ could only be attained through their abolition.  He suggested creating alternative social, economic and political systems, which allow people to serve their own needs without becoming dependent.


In the age of Globalisation, and the resulting discontents, the search - and need - for such alternatives is greater than ever.  In today’s India, there exist several projects and movements that are actively experimenting to create alternative social systems that embody practices of self-rule.  These experiments are inspired by the divergent thinking of some of India’s leading intellectuals, including poet Rabindranath Tagore, eco-feminist Vandana Shiva, psycho-analyst Ashis Nandy, historian Dharampal, spiritual-activist Vinoba Bhave, etc.


This Learning Journey will include field visits to a number of these experiments in self-rule, with a focus on five areas: political governance; economics and modes of production; media and education; healthcare; and spiritual identity.  Among the questions for investigation are:


·           What does it mean for individuals to take ownership of their own learning?

·           What role should technology play in ‘development’?  What benefits and dangers does technology bring? What are the limits to technology?

·           How should we understand and make use of ‘self-organisation’?

·           How do we build connections between the individual and the collective? In what ways can we move towards more direct and participatory modes of democracy, without paralysing decision-making?

·           What is the importance of self-discipline amongst individuals, in the self-governance of communities?

·           What does it mean to decolonize our minds? How can communities and nations unlearn their legacies of colonialism?

·           How do we link changes with the Self and changes in the System?


These field visits will be complemented by: group discussions between the participants; spaces for personal reflection, action-planning and sharing of participants’ work and projects; and interactions with local business and government representatives.  The agenda will be shaped in collaboration with all the participants, through online dialogues prior to the Learning Journey, and with adjustments made during the programme itself.




A web-space and online discussion group has been set-up to enable interaction and sharing between the participants from November 2002.  This will also be the place for discussion of the flow for the Learning Journey, and aspects of its organisation, with all participants invited to be involved in its creation.


The range of literature of relevance to this Learning Journey is extensive; a small selection of suggested readings, which will help to stimulate questions, is given below:


·           Hind Swaraj by M.K.Gandhi


·           The story of my experiments with truth - an autobiography by M.K.Gandhi


·           Decolonisation and development: Hind Swaraj revisited by Makarand Paranjape


·           The cult of the charkha by Rabindranath Tagore


·           Bhagavad-Gita (The song celestial by Edwin Arnold is a good translation in English)


·           Monocultures of the mind by Vandana Shiva


·           Our word is our weapon: selected writings of Subcomandante Insurgent Marcos edited by Juana Ponce de Leon


·           The road to serfdom by Friedrich Hayek


·           Seeing like a state by James Scott


·           Tools for conviviality by Ivan Illich


Costs, scholarships and application


The cost of participating in the Learning Journey is 280USD, which includes all accommodation, meals and transportation during the course of the learning programme, and excludes travel costs to and from New Delhi, India, where the programme will start and finish.  We do not want finances to be a barrier to participation for those who are unable to meet these costs, and scholarships will be made available, as will assistance with local fundraising.


If you would like to participate in this Learning Journey, please complete and return the attached Application Form by November 22nd, 2002.  If you would like to apply for a scholarship and assistance with local fundraising, please complete the ‘Scholarship’ section of the Application Form.  We will respond to applications as they come in.  The intention with this application process is not to limit participation, but to clarify the intentions, interests and needs of those wishing to participate, and create the conditions for self-selection.  If we find ourselves in a situation where the Learning Journey is over-subscribed, we will initiate a dialogue for the applicants to collectively decide who participates.


About the host organisations


Pioneers of Change (www.pioneersofchange.net) is a global learning community of committed individuals, mainly in their mid-20s to early-30s, and coming from a wide range of social, cultural and professional backgrounds.  The global network consists of over 1000 people in 60 countries.  Our activities are comprised of a series of formal and informal learning processes, channelled through three modes of delivery: local networks; online communities of practice; and global learning programmes.


Our Learning Journeys emphasise South-South and South-North exchange.  They are physical journeys of place and context that are also real journeys into other mindsets.  They expose participants to a different practice, methodology, or perspective through an immersion experience, followed by critical evaluation of what has been observed and workshops on how the learning will translate into practice in their own home context.  Our most recent Learning Journey was a 10-day “Learning for Action” programme, held in collaboration with the Common Futures Forum, exploring eight different "art and critical education" projects in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, attended by 35 participants from 20 countries, primarily from Africa, Latin America, and Asia.


Shikshantar (www.swaraj.org/shikshantar) is an applied research institute, dedicated to catalysing radical systemic transformation of education in order to facilitate Swaraj-development throughout India.  Based in Udaipur, Shikshantar was founded to challenge the monopoly of factory-schooling and to help individuals and communities to reclaim control over their own learning processes.  We are committed to creating spaces where individuals and organisation can together engage in dialogue to: generate meaningful critiques to expose and transform existing models of education and development; and elaborate complex shared visions and practices of life-long societal learning for South Asia.


For further information on this Learning Journey, and to register your interest in participating, please contact Alok Singh via email address alok@pioneersofchange.net.