Importance of Physical Labour in Education (Kaam ki Shiksha)

(from book “Hindi Patti- Patan Ki Partal” – publisher, Medha Books)


It was around 11 am on a working day when a colleague of mine made a telephone call from the telephone installed on my table. My attention got diverted towards the conversation when I heard her making enquiries as to whether the person called had woken up, ‘freshened’ himself and had his breakfast. My curiosity got the better of me and I asked her whether she had some guest at home. ‘No’, she declared, “ it’s my son who has come home from the hostel. You see, their vacations have started and he has come home to spend his holidays. But I’m surprised to see the life style that he has picked up in the hostel. I don’t know whether there is any discipline at all in these hostels”, she lamented. But she quickly added with a genuine sense of pride that her son was doing his degree in Engineering and such minor things can be ignored!
My mind immediately switched over to my neighbours whose son had also come from the hostel. My neighbour’s wife was complaining that her son had stuffed his bags with clothes that were so dirty and stinking that when she was unpacking his bags, the maid servant thought that a dead rat was rotting in the bedroom. The hostel had laundry facility and yet the boy was so careless that he could not hand over the dirty clothes for washing. It is not that he kept on studying round the clock. He was so lazy that he could not even wash a couple of cloths while taking his bath. Or did he think it beneath his dignity to wash his own clothes? Why to bother when his mother would take care of this problem during her occasional visits to the hostel or when he himself came home during holidays ? Perhaps, we parents are ourselves to blame for this. We have failed to inculcate in them the value and pride of doing their own work. Or, worse, we have told them that they are not required to do their own chores—-they are supposed to concentrate on their studies only. In the process, we have failed to teach them one vital lesson in their life—- the dignity of labour.


In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi has written that “I had instructed the teachers in my school that apart from teaching them grammar, the students should also be taught the importance of a proper life style and the methods to achieve the same. Lessons on cleanliness should go hand in hand with their curricular studies. I had also told them that instead of having a paid cook, it would be better if the teachers and students cook their own food. In this way the students would become self-reliant and learn practical skills. My points were well taken and over a period of time, the students started taking keen interest in their daily work in addition to their studies and the school became a happy family.” Every member of Gandhiji’s ashram had to do some amount of physical labour. In fact, the students belonging to the post –independence era had actually been brought up in this kind of culture. In the case of villages, each child had to contribute physically to the daily chores like grazing cattle, cutting fodder, running the manually operated farming machines, etc.. The grown up children had to help in ploughing the fields also. Even today, people in the villages do not wash other’s clothes— they wash their own clothes. The importance of physical labour is a basic lesson which should form part of our education system. Unfortunately, these days physical labour or performing the daily chores is looked down upon. This is more so in the urban areas where physical labour is considered to be undignified—- even demeaning. The result is that when these students ultimately come out with impressive degrees, they remain far removed from the basics of practical life. When they enter service, be it the government or private sector, this negative attitude towards physical labour acts as a major hindrance to their overall development, both as an individual and a as a citizen of the country. It is not understood as to why Gandhiji’s idea of education cannot be followed by the modern administrators of education.


There is one more area of concern which arises out of this reluctance towards physical labour. In the cities, there are hardly any open places for children to play and indulge in physical exercises. Even if some isolated pockets do have open places, the parents discourage their children from playing on the mistaken apprehension that this would adversely affect their studies. Moreover, the over-emphasis of the parents on studies alone is responsible for rearing up physically weak children. Most of the schools going children are either thin or obese. Their faulty life style results in their requiring spectacles quite early in life, which becomes another impediment towards physical activity. Even employed young adults these days suffer from diseases like hypertension, diabetes and gastritis. No amount of health clubs, gyms or health tonics can rejuvenate bodies which are basically weak. Not only that, affluent youngsters suffering from mental depression has become quite common these days. They try to imitate the Europeans and Americans by putting jeans and T shirts and partying hard till late hours. But they do not try to emulate the positive habits of these Europeans and Americans who mostly do their own work and do not depend on servants, helpers—even parents.


Gandhiji used to lay a lot of stress on physical labour and cleanliness. He felt that some amount of physical labour during the course of our everyday life is a must for our physical and mental well being. According to Gandhiji, those who do not indulge in physical labour do not have the right to have food also.


Coming back to my colleague who was waking up her son at 11 am the morning, what good would become of him after he completes his Engineering degree if he continues to remain ignorant of basics of education which are essential for his future life?


(Translation from Hindi by Sh. A.K.Sen )

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *