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The Indian Freedom Struggle and Gandhi's Hind Swaraj

Info: 2474 words (10 pages) Essay
Published: 23rd Jul 2021 in History

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It was during the Indian freedom struggle when the concept of Swaraj or Self rule developed. Hind Swaraj is a small book written by Mahatma Gandhi. He wrote it while he was on his way back to South Africa after his brief stay in India. It is generally said that Gandhi completed it during voyage itself. Hind Swaraj appeared first in instalments in a newspaper that was founded by Gandhi. He was also the editor of the news paper. It took the shape of the book when it was published in 1909. It is very short book of around 80 pages. The book consists of twenty chapters. The narration of the book is in the form of a dialogue between Gandhi, “The Editor”, and his interlocutor, “The Reader.”

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In Hind Swaraj Gandhi has attempted to clarify the meaning of Swaraj. According to him Swaraj is much more than simply, a system of rule without the Englishmen. Gandhi had both traditional (Indian) and modern (western) ideas. The book itself is the combination of the two type of ideas. In Hind Swaraj Gandhi presents an argument for Indian self-rule which has characteristics of both Western and Indian thought. Gandhi has taken a Western attitude in his political arguments, such as his support for Indian nationalism and how to govern India. Many of his ideas can be considered modern simply because they are novel to India, such as nationalism. Hind Swaraj displays both Western and Indian thought, for it was meant by Gandhi for both moderate and extremist audience, the British and the rest of the world.

The most important point of his argument is centered on the belief that the socio-spiritual support of British political, economic, bureaucratic, legal, military, and educational institutions was inherently unjust and exploitive. He was in particular critical of the deeply embedded principles of ‘might is right’ and ‘survival of the fittest’. On another level the demand for Swaraj represents a genuine attempt to regain control of the self respect, self responsibility and capacity for self realisation from all exploitive institution. Gandhi states that it will be a great achievement if we will be able to rule ourselves on our own. He wanted all those who believed in Swaraj to reject and completely uproot the British rule and to create systems and structures which will enable individual and collective social development. It is a system where everyone will have an opportunity to pursue their goals and develop his personality.

Hind Swaraj is Mahatma Gandhi’s primary work. The book allows to understand his philosophy and his vision for South Asian politics in the twentieth century. In his foreword which is titled, “A Word of Explanation”, he writes that he had in London come into contact with Indian extremists. Gandhi writes that he was struck by their bravery and their pure desire to achieve independence. But he thought of them as a misguided group because they wanted to achieve independence through violence. Political assassination and use of bombs were their methods, however, Gandhi out rightly rejected these methods. Gandhi had been experimenting non-violent methods of resistance in South Africa, and he firmly believed that these methods can help India achieve its independence. As such his book, Hind Swaraj, is a book that can be put even into the hands of a child because it teaches the lesson of love in place of hate. Its aim is to replace violence with self-sacrifice.

However, it is not the only reason that Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj, though it is generally regarded as a treatise on non-violence. Gandhi continued to write on non-violence for remaining forty years of his life, which itself shows that the purpose of Hind Swaraj must have been much more than just preaching non-violence. Gandhi inaugurated the most far-reaching critique of modernity that one can imagine, and though it must have struck the predominant number of his contemporaries as an absurd piece of writing. Hind Swaraj for the reader of late modernity means a work of extraordinary prescience and insight. Throughout, Gandhi remains clear that the replacement of British (white) rulers by Indian (Brown) rulers would be of little consequence to the people.

Gandhi put Hind Swaraj with characteristic forthrightness, addressing his imaginary interlocutor, ‘we want English rule without the Englishman.’ you want the tiger’s nature, but not the tiger. That is to say, you would make India English. And when it becomes English, it will be called not Hindustan but Englistan. As he further writes, that it is not the kind of Swaraj that we want. Hind Swaraj in this sense can be read as a critique to the western thought because Swaraj in this sense means to be against modern industrial civilization. It again shows Gandhi’s knowledge of western ideology. But Gandhi remained unequivocally bound to the view that India had been grounded into submission not so much by the British as by modern civilization. It is the modernisation that subjugated India and rendered it captive. Gandhi is most definitely an Indian, also in his bashing of civilization and machinery. The modern thought was that civilization and machinery will promote the community and spread knowledge around the world. Gandhi takes a traditional view of civilization and railways when he says, “Civilization is irreligion and that railways, too have spread the bubonic plague.”

Gandhi’s arguments are rooted in Indian tradition, however, they are presented as a Western text. Religion is the most important aspect of life for Gandhi. Though there is no distinct chapter on it, he constantly discusses religion in Hind Swaraj. Gandhi says that Religions are different roads converging to the same point. Gandhi’s religious values are obviously in line with traditional Indian Hindu ideals, and his religious thought doesn’t exactly mirror (or even come close to) the majority of Western Christian society. Western society promotes a structured, organized religion, while a belief in God is good enough for Gandhi. His basic belief is that all religions inherently strive for the same goal, all religions point to the same true God. This idea of religion doesn’t mix with the West, but the way Gandhi applies it does mix with the society rather becomes the strength of a nation. Gandhi is a known professor of Hindu-Muslim unity. In Hind Swaraj one can see evidence of a sort of civil religion for India that Gandhi is promoting, not unlike the civil religion displayed in America in which many Americans find unity in the collective belief in God and divine guidance. This idea can be considered Western due to its correlation with modern American thought (freedom of religion), and because it is a new thought for India.

Gandhi’s roots of Indian civil religion rests in the traditional Hindu view of many paths to salvation. He brought religion close to the Indian Nationalism in his own modern way. Gandhi thinks that the Indian civil religion will promote nationalism. The idea of nationalism is a modern or western idea. Historically nationalism was associated with a German nation-state formed by the Bismarck and it was the same nationalism that made possible the unification of Italy, a European country. It was the concept that originated as against competition and colonialism that were responsible for World Wars. The basic idea behind nationalism is the concept of one nation. Gandhi says that we were one nation before the foreigners came to India. He says that we are inspired by being a one nation that is India is one undivided land so made by the nature. As such they established religious places in various parts of India, and inspired the people with an idea of nationality (Nationalism combined with Religion) peculiar to India. It shows Gandhi’s knowledge about a western born idea of nationalism and its traditional use in Indian conditions by bringing it close to religion.

In a traditional way Historians might disagree with this sentiment because before the British imperialism the Mughal empire sad its own weaknesses with Indian Rulers fighting against each other for land and power. But, Gandhi writes that Indians had a sense of nationalism not in the sense as is it perceived in the western world. Though Indians may have been living under different rulers but India is a nation because of the nature of the un-divided land as if geographically speaking. It shows how Gandhi has used the concept of Nationalism in India. In this way showed the way for the rest of the sub-continent which like India was under the British rule. Although the foundations for many of Gandhi’s arguments are primarily Indian influenced but he often colours them with western thought. Gandhi’s distrust for civilization, his idea of unity of religions, and his love for his homeland are all traditional thoughts.

Hind Swaraj primarily deals with Colonial Imperialism, Industrial Capitalism, and Rationalist Materialism:

Colonial Imperialism: Imperialism means subjugation of one country by another. Gandhi’s views on Colonialism are distinct. He writes that we are subjugated not because the Britishers are powerful but because we have become too week. He wanted inspire the people to overcome the fear of colonialism and overcome it through non-violent and truthful (Satyagarh) means. He wanted to replace colonialism with the will of people (Democracy). He did not want to replace external oppressor with an internal one. The colonialisation was initially justified by the missionaries, the primary purpose of whom was to Christianise the Indian Society. Later on the claim that they were civilizing Indian people. In the words of Rudyard Kipling, “to civilize Indian people is the white man’s burden”. Gandhi rejected this sort of thinking on the part of colonisers and questioned their legitimacy in India. In other words he wanted to eliminate the virus of colonialism in India and in long run in the rest of the world. Thus, Hind Swaraj fully analyses, discusses the colonialism and also lays forward the ways to overcome this menace. In this way Hind Swaraj is regarded by some as a small booklet against colonialism and this claim is justified to a large extent.

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Industrial Capitalism: Capitalism means when the wealth is in the hands of few people and the majority is at loss economically. Gandhi believes that the driving force of imperialism or colonialism is capitalism. The Britishers colonised India because of their economic interests in India. Lenin and Marx also shared this thought. Marx influenced and Lenin made possible the Russian revolution which was against capitalism. Gandhi’s rejection of capitalism is based on the fact that this economic system profits few, degrades labour, values machines higher than humans and humanism has no place.

Machinery is the chief symbol of western modern civilization, which has been rejected by Gandhi in Hind Swaraj. However the views expressed by Gandhi in Hind Swaraj began to change when we come close to 1947. At that time Gandhi did appreciate the time saving and the labour saving advantages of the machinery. Thus his views on machinery expressed in Hind Swaraj are not sound though they are right in their own way particularly valuing machines over humans. In Hind Swaraj he criticises the profession of medicines and law because he believed that in colonies they don’t in any way benefit the poor. However, he later on gave a suggestion of nationalising these professions that is appointing Indians in judiciary and medicines.

Rationalist Materialism: Technology is the expression of science which in modern civilisation has become an uncompromising rationalism. Gandhi’s perception of technology was negative because he thought that it blinds humanism. Gandhi infact pleaded not to suppress reason which he thought technology was doing. In Hind Swaraj, Gandhi writes that technology promotes materialism. It was the fear of spreading of materialism that Gandhi rejected technology. It was reasonable to believe in technology however, Gandhi would test his faith with his reason but he will not allow his reason to destroy his faith. It will be wrong to say that Gandhi was not aware of the benefits of the technology.

Gandhi in hind Swaraj has questioned the so called civilizing mission under the umbrella of colonialism. He would have made India to unlearn or forget everything un-ethical brought by the western civilizations to the shores of India. He discusses the ethical issues between the coloniser and the colonised, the dominant and the dominated, the oppressor and the oppressed. The post colonial era has again brought these issues into focus across the world. In the name of civilization whether infrastructural or financial or educational, the neo-colonialism is pursued. Gandhi had visualised this as early as 1909, when this book was published.

The new economic policy pursued in the global society promotes neo-colonialism. There is still exploitation of the developing world by the developed world. In most countries there is internal colonialism where upon wealth is restricted within few pockets. Hind Swaraj is against all such type of modern or neo-colonialism. However, Gandhi has visualised it differently, e.g., his rejection of technology, machinery, etc. He believed that these things will keep India subjugated even after getting political independence.

Hind Swaraj is also against excessive and aggressive rationalism. Gandhi had visualised in his book that materialism may shape itself in the form of post-modern revolt. It will promote unregulated capitalism and finally give a death blow to morality and ethics. Indian society without morality and ethics is as dead as fish outside water. Hind Swaraj wanted to contain excessive rationality.

Hind Swaraj though published way back in 1909 has still its relevance in contemporary India and the world. Hindu-Muslim unity promoted by Gandhi in Hind Swaraj and many of his other works has currently become necessary to be ignited again. Currently there are communal forces and extremists in both the communities which influence the young brains. This promotes communalism. Hind Swaraj clearly shows how Hindu-Muslim unity can promote development and prosperity. As such hind Swaraj is a must read for the current generation which often sees itself on the wrong way. Gandhi is a strong believer in democracy at root levels. He says, “Democracy is a failure if it not reaches at village level”. Currently there is a need to promote democracy at the root level although the process has been already initiated through Municipal and Panchayat raj acts. Yet the Hind Swaraj can prove as an inspiration at places where it is yet to be realised.


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