Frugalis Satyagraha


Frugalis Satyagraha

Non-violence requires much more courage than violence.

– Cesar Chavez


Cesar Chavez, whose marches were influenced by Gandhi’s salt march

Frugalis in Latin means “frugal” and satyāgraha in Sanskrit means “insistence on truth” (Satyā means “truth” and Agraha means ”insistence”), often as it related to civil disobedience or non-violent resistance. For Mahatma Gandhi, the ultimate symbol of frugalis was the khādī, the Indian homespun cotton cloth which was a satyāgraha, a non-violent protest against the exploitative British Empire’s Lancashire cotton mills from which Indians were coerced into purchasing high-priced foreign-manufactured cotton.


Martin Luther King’s “March Against Fear”, Mississippi, 1966

It may seem unusual in our modern age to juxtapose Latin and Sanskrit. Yet there was a time during the period of the Indo-European language where Latin, Sanskrit and Greek were firmly rooted together before they splintered off and grew as separate branches. Just as, within the Abrahamic tradition, Judaism, Christianity and Islam were aligned together before they also grew into individual separate branches.

In ancient Anatolia (see the map above), the family (phylum) of languages stretched back to the Hittite Empire around 1650 BC to the 13th century BC Bronze Age to 16th century AD when European visitors first arrived in India.

There is a long, well-documented Indo-European linguistic tradition of words in Classical Sanskrit, Roman Latin, Mycenaean Greek and dozens of languages spoken interchangeably.

Frugalis satyāgraha is a nod of acknowledgment to this ancient Anatolian linguistic tradition.

The Transmission of Ideas

In the article Frugalis Creativus, Thomas Thwaites (The Toaster Project) writes in the Forward:

What’s important, is the completely unpredictable transmission of ideas through writing and images. This transmission of ideas has now led to Pencils for Africa .

What tool enables the transmission of ideas in the simplest, most robust way..? I am giving that honor to the pencil.

Pencils for Africa will enable the transmission of ideas… Who knows where that can lead ?

– Thomas Thwaites

The Thomas Thwaites Toaster Transmission


It is a very powerful concept that Thomas focuses upon. Consider the transmission of ideas in context of Thoreau:

Henry David Thoreau’s “transmission of ideas” found their way to the minds and the activism of Ghandi in India, Martin Luther King Jr. in America, Lech Walesa in Poland, Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Cesar Chavez’s civil disobedience in California.

It appears from Thoreau’s example, that when the transmission of ideas are in excellent working order, there is fluid mobility in civilizations. If civilizations are the vehicles, then transmitted ideas are transmissions. Just like with our own cars, when the transmission breaks down we need a repair job – or a new car.

In countries where there is no longer a fully functioning transmission of ideas, the country breaks down. It splutters to a screeching halt. It can then either sit by the road, get sent to the scrap heap, or, get fixed   - get a new government, a new country.

Without a transmission there is no (socio-economic) mobility.

Transmission: an assembly of parts including the speed-changing gears and the propeller shaft by which the power is transmitted from an engine to a live axle. – Mirriam-Webster Dictionary

For Gandhi, the frugalis spinning wheel symbolized the satyagraha – the transmission that would mobilize India

Lech Walensa and Solidarity in the Gdansk Shipyards in Poland


Gandhi relevant to entire world: Walesa

New Delhi, Jan 29: Nobel Laureate Lech Walesa today said the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi was not confined to India or South Africa alone, but the apostle of peace was relevant to the entire world.

“Do not limit Mahatma Gandhi to India and South Africa, because he is relevant throughout the world,” he observed while speaking on the first day of the two-day international conference on the Satyagraha Movement, organised by the Congress here.

Calling himself a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, Mr Walesa said, “I consider myself as the follower of the Mahatma.” The Nobel Laureate felt that the Gandhian philosophy and his legacy could be used to end the divisions prevailing in the world for a lasting peace and to make the globalisation a success.

Stating that the world faced many new challenges, he said the solutions of them could be found in the adoption of Gandhian values and principles.



Vaclav Haval leading Czechoslovakia out of communism in 1989

Tagore’s Transmission

If Thoreau’s transmission of ideas had a counterpart in India it was Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali polymath and literary national treasure of India. Tagore’s fellow Bengali and fellow Nobel laureate, economist Amartya Sen writes affectionately about the man he knew since he was a boy in Bengal:

“For Tagore it was of the highest importance that people be able to live, and reason, in freedom. His attitudes toward politics and culture, nationalism and internationalism, tradition and modernity, can all be seen in the light of this belief. Nothing, perhaps, expresses his values as clearly as a poem in Gitanjali:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come from depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way to the dreary desert of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by into ever-widening thought and action

… let my country awake.”

- Rabindranath Tagore, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Gandhi’s farsighted refusal to see a nation as a federation did not ‘belong’ only to him… It belongs to any country in the world.

- Amartya Sen, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics

Nelson Mandela | 1962

Frugality is not poverty
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was careful to differentiate between frugality and poverty.
He was also careful to differentiate between education that can be obtained in the classroom and the wisdom that can be gained from the living of life. I asked Lisa Trivedi if she could help clarify these differentiations that Gandhi made, in the context of her Fullbright Scholarship sponsored research on women textile workers during the time that Gandhi was alive.
Below is Lisa’s bio and response to me.
About Lisa Trivedi

Lisa Trivedi is Associate Professor and Director of Asian Studies at Hamilton College, New York, where she teaches the histories of South Asia, comparative colonialism and women.

Clothing Gandhi’s Nation: Homespun and Modern India   (Indiana University Press, 2007) is Trivedi’s first book. She has also authored several articles in journals and edited collections. Trivedi is now working on a book titled, Bound By Cloth: women industrial textile workers in Bombay and Lancashire, 1860-1940, which was awarded grants from the Fulbright Foundation and the American Institute of Indian Studies.

Most recently, she has begun studying a remarkable collection of photographs of women working in Ahmedabad, India, in 1937 taken by Pranlal Patel.  Her work with this collection will lead to an exhibition and book. In addition to her work at Hamilton, Trivedi has contributed to her field in several leadership capacities.  She currently serves as Co-Editor of ASIANetwork Exchange: a Journal for Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts. She has served on the Board of ASIANetwork,  a consortium of 165 liberal arts colleges with Asian Studies programs.


Lisa’s Response to Karim
Gandhi wearing homespun and visiting the UK cotton mills during his satyagraha (non-violent protest)
In my ongoing research on women textile workers between 1860-1940, I am discovering more and more how savvy mill women were.  Although government officials and social reformers understood them as impoverished and, therefore, without access to healthful food, women workers deployed their meager income strategically in the marketplace to secure a range of foods than we might have thought possible.
They may not have had the same choices to make as their middle class counter-parts, but they may have made good choices with their limited resources nonetheless.
Women workers may have been frugal, but they were not impoverishedin terms of their ability to navigate the limited choices in their best interests. This is prompting me to recognize anew two related ideas:
  • an ordinary Indian today, though she is likely illiterate, has far more wisdom then we give her credit
  • our education does not necessarily mean we make decisions that are ultimately in our best interest

I am reminded about Gandhi’s simple but startling observation that frugality is not the same as poverty, and that the rich should live simply so that the poor can simply live.

Once we break down our presumptions about frugality and education, we are in a much better position to address issues such as economic development and the real challenges that working women face today.