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Challenges to Learning from the Swadhyaya Movement


Challenges to Learning from the Swadhyaya Movement
Challenge to learning
Social movements as communities of discourse
The challenge of language
The leadership challenge
The spiritual challenge
The challenge of deference
The challenge of continuity

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Printed in Vital Connections (Edited by R K Srivastava. Inside-Outside Corporation, 1997)



Evaluation and praise for the Swadhyaya Movement have been presented most effectively in other papers and documents. It suffices to say that any movement that successfully involves large numbers of impoverished villagers in the Third World, empowering them to improve their own quality of life, merits careful attention. This is even more true when such a movement refuses any external, official or foreign resources. The question is whether lessons of relevance to other cultures may be learnt from such initiatives -- and how.

Although primarily based on the western coast of India, the movement defies simplistic definition. As expressed by one sympathetic scholar, Shri R K Srivastava of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (New Delhi): 'Swadhyaya is neither a cult nor a sect; it is neither a party nor an association; it is neither messianic nor limited to a particular section of society; it is neither directed against centralising state power nor to overcoming flaws in Indian society, though such consequences may follow. Swadhyaya is both a metaphor and a movement. It is a metaphor in the sense of a vision, and a movement in terms of its orientation in social and economic spheres.' (1986)

Building on qualities long articulated within the Hindu spiritual tradition, emphasis is placed on the quality of relationship between people, especially within the context of the most impoverished villages. This has led to a remarkable, and growing, capacity to regenerate village life. Refusing any economic assistance from either Indian government or foreign sources, unusual achievements have been made in thousands of villages, even in such physical terms as replenishing wells and managing farms. The exceptional quality of the initiative has been confirmed by the former Iranian representative to UNESCO, Majid Rahnema (1990?)

The following paragraphs therefore focus on the questions raised by this initiative and how those from other cultures may respond to the challenges to learning from it. Westerners usually expect others to learn from them and tend to be insensitive to the problems those in other cultures experience in the process. The case of the Swadhyaya Movement highlights some of these cross-cultural learning problems as they might by experienced by westerners.

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