the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, M.S., India

Contact No. - 09404955338

Engineers in Perspective of Mahatma Gandhi

Engineering has existed since ancient times as humans devised fundamental inventions such as the pulley, lever, and wheel. One who practices engineering is called an engineer. Science is the skill, and profession of social, and practical knowledge. The creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilizing them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation or safety to life and property. Mahatma Gandhi knew its importance. So he used engineers and their skills.

Mahatma Gandhi was appointed, “Govindaswami was engineer in the Phoenix settlement and a Shikari.”1 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The late Mr. Hiralal Nazar, the father of the subject of this memoir, was one of the earliest products of English education in the Western presidency, and was a tried servant of the Government. He was a civil engineer, and, by his ability and strength of character, inspired so much confidence, that the Government allowed him to possess knowledge of the secret defences in the fortress at Bombay.”2 Mahatma Gandhi said, “I must not forget to tell you that the Engineer advised me to wait for the windmill till after your return. And this I shall probably do, unless for the sake of the Farm I find it necessary to fix up something.”3

Mahatma Gandhi told, “The Executive Engineer there is Mr. Tyobji. He will help you.”4 Mahatma Gandhi suggested, “We are also entitled to call the Municipal Commissioner and the Municipal Engineer to account; we have assembled here to take even further steps, if necessary. The larger the attendance at a meeting like this, discussing an issue of public importance, the weightier will be its protest. I should like to request you all not to rest till you have succeeded in this effort. If we approach every problem as seriously as we would a task of the highest importance, we are bound to succeed. We have the right to demand our money back.”5 Mahatma Gandhi, “I propose to utilize this spare time of the nation even as a hydraulic engineer utilizes enormous waterfalls.”6

Mahatma Gandhi told, “Mr. Labhu Ram is not a poor student lad like Karamchand or a petty trader like Jagannath. He is a Civil Engineer; he belongs, says Malandevi, “to a very respectable and loyal family of Lahore. Several relations of his occupy responsible positions in the service of Government.” He finished his studies in Glasgow. He returned from England in 1912. He was for some time State Engineer in the Poonch State.”6 Mahatma Gandhi said, “Amritlal Vithaldas Thakkar (1869-1951); Gujarati engineer who, as life member of Servants of India Society, took up full-time social work and later devoted himself to the cause of Harijans and aboriginal tribes.”8 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The statue is municipal property. It was put up in the early eighties when the sense of self-respect was not so keen as now, though I understand that even when it was put up, some of the citizens keenly felt the indignity. Recently the Lahore Municipality passed a resolution by a majority vote ordering removal of the statue to the Town Hall building pending final disposal. The resolution was sent in due course to the Government as all resolutions are. Three Or four days after, an engineer was sent by the Municipality to see how the statue could be removed. Without any notice to the Municipality, the Deputy Commissioner sent a party of police to turn away the engineer and his men. And when the Municipality wanted to know why and how this undue interference took place, the Commissioner issued the following orders.”9

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “What the engineer family is reported to be doing can be done by every Congress worker, whether lawyer, school-master or other. He need not then worry about other Congress work. The engineer is, I am sure, doing far more successful propaganda than many an orator without a living faith in khaddar, thundering to the people on its virtue.”10 Mahatma Gandhi told, “There was a deep trench. If that could be filled up the railway line could be laid. The engineer said: ‘Fill up the trench’. It could not be filled up in any way. The men who were trying to fill it up got tired and asked, ‘What shall we do now’? ‘Fill up the trench,’ was the reply received again.”11 Mahatma Gandhi said, “Some months ago Sjt. Ramachandran of Madras, an agricultural graduate, wrote to me to recommend his well-lift for use in the Ashram. He claimed for it great saving of labour to the animals used in the ordinary contrivances and also saving in cost. The invention attracted me and I wrote to the inventor telling him that if he came himself and successfully installed the lift, the lift would be bought. He promptly responded and his invention has been at work at the Ashram for over a month. Everyone who knows anything of agriculture at the Ashram is thoroughly satisfied with the working of the lift. To make assurance doubly sure, I had it examined by an engineer, who too considered the invention to be quite sound and extremely ingenious.”12

Mahatma suggested, “A wise engineer would know that, if this supply were not stopped, the engine could burst. The position with regard to food and the body is identical, and, therefore, if feeding the body results in the senses becoming turbulent, we should stop eating.”13 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The servant of the suppressed serves both himself and the society, as the oppressor ultimately oppresses himself, and the engineer is always hoist with his own petard.” Mahatma Gandhi told, “It is necessary to take the advice of an experienced engineer about how to change the course of the river. Such an engineer can suggest some practical means. Mahatma Gandhi told, “Shri Mullick is the Municipal Engineer. He will go there in a day or two and advise you on how to increase the supply of water. Show him the Chandrabhaga1 also. I have talked to Shri Mullick about Parnerkar. Get acquainted with him and introduce Parnerkar to him also.”16 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Shri Malik is the Municipal Engineer there. He will visit the Ashram in a day or two and advise you how to pump more water. Take him to see chandrabhaga too. I have talked to him about Parnerkar. Cultivate Shri Malik’s acquaintance and introduce Parnerkar also to him.”17

 Mahatma Gandhi advised, “If you are an engineer, build model houses suited to the means and needs of our people, and yet full of health and fresh air.”18 Mahatma Gandhi told, “Engineer, Mr. Malik, the spot on the prayer-ground which was threatened by the flood, he will help you. I think you know him. He used to visit the Ashram formerly. If you ask Bhai Mavalankar, he will request Shri Malik to come and see you. The danger from floods was known from the beginning. That is why the weaving shed and “Hridaykunj” were built as farther back as possible. Probably this work cannot be done during the rainy season, but it would be best to follow an engineer’s advice. Such things happen in Bengal every year. The rivers there are notorious for their power of causing erosions.

If you are a bit of an engineer, you can even heat your water by the sun-heat. It requires a metal pot and a bit of piping undoubtedly. An American educational missionary, Sam Higginbottom, is heating his water by the sun-heat in Allahabad. But this is not yet for you. I am simply whetting your appetite for doing simple things in the villages. But if you can heat your water all you need to do is to obtain the crude washing soda. Add that to your water and it becomes as soft as soap water. Soak your clothes in that water while it is boiling and let them lie in that water overnight. Wash them well the next morning and they are free from dirt though not white as snow, because they take somewhat the

colouring of the crude soda. But that should not matter and is in keeping with the village life. But the clothes will be as clean as if washed in a first-class hotel in America, and all you want is cleanliness.”19

Mahatma Gandhi said, “That a person creates confusion of caste when he leaves his hereditary calling is obvious. When a Brahmin begins to earn his bread by, say, following the profession of a barber or engineer, he does create confusion of caste, as much as when a barber or an engineer begins to impart religious instruction as a means of livelihood. In the Gita, the adjective used in reference to women is ‘wicked’. It has, therefore, reference probably to promiscuous intercourse rather than the offspring born of the sacred tie of marriage.”20 Mahatma Gandhi said, “The Government may indeed be a machine, but is not the machine controlled by an engineer? There is no harm in attending music or dance performance, provided there is nothing obscene in it. But I would certainly mind going when somebody else pays for us. It may be possible to pay for one person, but who will pay for the millions? We are among the millions. In this matter, however, everyone should act according to his or her own strength.”21

Mahatma Gandhi told, “In the rainy season you should grow there the requisite vegetables as also a few flowering plants. You should also grow such food grain as could be harvested by December. All this should be utilized at the time of the Congress session. Measurements of the land should be obtained right now. Make notes of places which are waterlogged during the rainy season. If there is any tank which gets filled up, this water too should be conserved. For this job you should immediately obtain the services of an expert agriculturist and an expert engineer. I take it that you will get their help gratis.”22 Mahatma Gandhi told, “A Mysore engineer who is a Pole1 has sent me a box of handmade tools made to suit village requirements. Supposing an engineer of that character comes and studies our tools and our cottage machines and suggests improvements in them, he would be of great service. If you do this kind of work in a religious spirit you will have delivered the message of Jesus.”23

Mahatma Gandhi said, “He has given the address of Ramanlal Engineer who stays near Ellis Bridge. Puratan would probably know him since he is working among the Harijans.”24 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Ramdas Gulati saw the museum for the spinning models. His engineer eyes saw defects in the building. I asked him to reduce them to writing. Here is his report1. You should study it and if the defects pointed out are really defects you should find who is responsible and, where possible, they should be remedied. How much progress in Hindi?”25 “GANDHIJI: You are an engineer. You will therefore appreciate an illustration from mechanics. You know the parallelogram of forces. There the forces do not neutralize each other. Each force acts freely along its own line and we get the resultant which indicates the final direction of motion. It is the same with the problem you have mentioned.

As I look at Russia where the apotheosis of industriazation has been reached, the life there does not appeal to me. To use the language of the Bible, “What shall it avail a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?” In modern terms, it is beneath human dignity to lose one’s individuality and become a mere cog in the machine. I want every individual to become a full-blooded, fully developed member of society. The villages must become self-sufficient. I see no other solution if one has to work in terms of ahimsa. Now I have that conviction. I know there are others who believe in industrialization. I work with all my being for my conviction. The process of adjustment goes on all the time. I do not know what the outcome of it will be. But whatever it is, it will be to the good.”26

Mahatma Gandhi told, “The rebuke is well merited. To tell the truth, I did not even know that I had omitted to mention among Bapa’s many merits that he had given up his office of Road Engineer for the Bombay Municipal Corporation to become a Servant of India. A mason can build a village house, but it requires an engineer to plan and build a big building or a big dam. Much more talent, knowledge, application and research are required to improve the village implements than to build a bridge on the Ganga. When we are able to attract people of this type by our renunciation and methodical research, we will be able to make rapid far-reaching progress, not till then.”27 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “During the war many Englishmen had to leave the Transvaal. Some of them were taken in my home. One of them was an engineer and a good man in every way, when not under the effects of alcohol. He was a theosophist. Unfortunately, he was addicted to drink and lost all control over himself when he was drunk. He tried hard to give up the habit but as far as I know he never succeeded.”28

Mahatma Gandhi told, “Besides your contribution as a great engineer, what has captivated me is the art you have cultivated of keeping up in old age robust physical and mental energy. I have not forgotten the way in which you used to climb up the Nandi Hill without any effort. I would like you to give the young men and women of the country the secret, as you have known it, of feeling young and vigorous even in old age. It is a rare gift in our country.”29 Mahatma Gandhi said, “I have gone through your letter. Please let me know what harm is caused by the eating of lemons and tomatoes. I have taken these in large quantities and made others do so. I have noticed no harm. I take plenty of fruit. I have observed no ill effects from it. Let me know why one should not take fruit. I would like to take less fruit and more vegetables because the latter are cheaper. Have you tried pumpkin seeds? If that remedy should work, I would consider it very good and it is also cheap. What can you say from your experience? The impression Dr. Mehta has formed of you is that you have read a great deal but seem to have no experience. I understand that you are busy translating Lindbar’s book. It would be better if you gained some experience either under Dr. Dinshaw or, if you can put up with the heat, at Sevagram, where you can stay even in my absence. If you have an extra copy of Lindbar, lend it to me to read.”30

Mahatma Gandhi said, “I have your frank letter. Your handwriting is so good that I excuse you for writing in pencil. Otherwise writing in pencil is uncivilized. It is violence. There is frankness in your letter and it should be so. It is not impolite at all. It should be like that. I do not agree with some of your suggestions but I do not have the time to go into them. I wish I were proved wrong and what you write should turn out to be true. I note your inclination. What you like would be best. The book arrived yesterday. It has still to reach my hands.”31 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I may also inform you that a well-known Manchester engineer as also an American told me that the machine of the type I have conceived was not a possibility and that the wheel we have was the best possible.”32 So the people who are working in field of constructive work, they must follow it. They must utilize engineers in every field.




  1. VOL. 4 : 23 MAY, 1904 - 4 NOVEMBER, 1905 275
  2. VOL. 5 : 6 NOVEMBER, 1905 - 3 NOVEMBER, 1906 63
  3. VOL. 12: 15 JULY, 1911 - 8 MARCH, 1913 33
  5. 5.      SPEECH AT AHMEDABAD MEETING; January 1, 1918
  6. LETTER TO R. P. PARANJAPYE; July 14, 19l9
  7. Young India, 10-9-1919
  9. VOL. 25 : 27 OCTOBER , 1921 - 22 JANUARY, 1922 113
  10. VOL. 27 : 12 JANUARY, 1924 - 21 MAY, 1924 403
  11. LETTER TO KALYANJI MEHTA; August 20, 1925
  12. Young India, 28-10-1926
  13. VOL. 37 : 11 NOVEMBER, 1926 - 1 JANUARY, 1927 114
  14. VOL. 41: 3 DECEMBER, 1927 - 1 MAY, 1928 410
  15. 15.  LETTER TO CHHAGANLAL JOSHI; October 8, 1929
  16. LETTER TO NARANDAS GANDHI; About March, 1930
  17. LETTER TO NARANDAS GANDHI; On or after May 11, 1931
  19. 19.  August 4, 1932
  20. Harijan, 28-9-1934
  21. VOL. 66 : 16 DECEMBER, 1934 - 24 APRIL, 1935 391
  22. 22.  LETTER TO VITHAL V. DASTANE; May 27, 1936
  23. VOL. 70 : 21 OCTOBER, 1936 - 24 FEBRUARY, 1937 139
  24. 24.  LETTER TO NARAHARI D. PARIKH; February 16, 1937
  25. 25.  LETTER TO BHARATAN KUMARAPPA; August 31, 1938
  26.   DISCUSSION WITH MAURICE FRYDMAN; On or before January 1, 1939
  27. SEGAON, October 28, 1939
  28. 28.  October 8, 1942
  29. 29.  LETTER TO M. VISVESVARAYYA; August 6, 1944
  30. 30.  LETTER TO RAMANLAL ENGINEER; April 23, 1945
  31. 31.  LETTER TO RAMANLAL ENGINEER; May 12, 1945
  32. 32.  LETTER TO V. K. KRISHNA MENON; August 8, 1945





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