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This article has been written by Kaushiki Vatsa pursuing the Diploma in Advanced Contract Drafting, Negotiation, and Dispute Resolution from LawSikho. The article has been edited by Ruchika Mohapatra (Associate, LawSikho) and Dipshi Swara (Senior Associate, LawSikho).

Introduction

Hind Swaraj, written by M.K. Gandhi is famous due to its critique of modern civilization. This book was published in 1910 (5 years after the Bengal Partition). This book acted as a foundational base for the ideas of the Indian Nation-state. Gandhi, through this book, talks about his ideas of self-rule and what according to him is independence. He shared his thoughts from Swaraj, western civilization to doctors and lawyers. The main four themes that he focuses on in the book are nationalism, civilization, swaraj, and Satyagraha. According to Anthony Parel, the major argument of Gandhi in Hind Swaraj is that he thinks that India needs a complete and systematic transformation, political, economic, ethical, aesthetic, and spiritual. Gandhi also seems to believe that these spheres of development should not work in isolation but should work interactively.

Effect of British on India

According to Gandhi, under colonial rule, India changed drastically and became an increasingly irreligious country. When he talked about religion, he did not indicate a particular religion. What he meant is that the concept of religion basically includes worshipping some deity and while doing that needs to be following some set of rules. He later on also added that we are turning away from God which in some sense also means forgetting our beliefs and culture which have been passed to us by our forefathers. Later on, he also talked about the major developments of India which include railways and an increase in the number of lawyers and doctors. All these developments have only contributed to the process of losing the strength and vitality of India.

Gandhi on railways, doctors and lawyers

He has an opinion that railways helped Britishers more than they helped Indians. It helped them tighten their grip over the whole of India, thus, leading to a more centralized colonization of India. He also held the British responsible for various famines and epidemics that were spread across India in which thousands of Indians died. There were some people who favoured railways and they said that railways helped or defined what nationalism is. Later on, Gandhi argued that India was a nation even before railways and the Britishers have nothing to do with nationalism. He also made a very critical assessment of lawyers and doctors. He felt that lawyers and doctors have also degraded India rather than contributing in its development by following British conduct of work and in a way destroying people’s habits. They made people ’self-indulgent’ and careless regarding their own bodies. 

Gandhi on modern civilization

What Gandhi did in this book is that he critiqued modern civilization by criticizing several parts of it like railways, doctors, etc. He concluded his critique on modern civilization by comparing it to the Upas tree, a tree that is known to be very poisonous and therefore destroys all the life surrounding it. He had a problem with English as a mode of education or the education system which was introduced by the British in India and called it a fallacious mode of education. For him, education meant the development of oneself so that one could control their senses and be ethical in behaviour. 

Gandhi on Hind Swaraj

The main highlight of the book was Gandhi’s take on Hind Swaraj and how that can be attained. What he believed was that the mere transfer of power from the British to India will not be a hind swaraj. If this is the case, it would be nothing different than having ’English rule without Englishmen’. He also argued that if this happens, India may be called ‘Hindustan’ but actually, it would remain forever ‘Énglishtan.’ His views on attaining Swaraj were different. According to him, Swaraj can be attained if the people become free which will eventually lead to India becoming free. Gandhi said, “it is Swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves!”

Swaraj should be something that has to be experienced by everyone. According to Gandhi, Swaraj is basically home-rule or self-government or self-rule for the people of India. He, later on, explained how this relationship occurs. According to him both of them (people and the state) are equally dependent on each other. And therefore, there is a dependency between Swaraj as ‘self- rule’ of each India and Swaraj as the home rule or self-government for the people of India. Gandhi put forward his opinion that the real challenge or the most important task is not to put an end to British rule and change the government but to free millions of his people. 

Gandhi on Ahimsa

Gandhi wanted India which to be free from the clutches of the British but he wanted to complete this task without the use of violence. Gandhi was against violence mainly because of two reasons. The first reason was based on a practical approach and was that to prepare for armed rebellion, the people should first become armed themselves which was a difficult task. The second reason signifies more of a moral aspect. If the people of India use violence then, India will become the land of unholy from the land of holy and during the process, it will become something which is worse than Europe. 

According to Gandhi, Europe was the worst model to follow because of all the immoral work it does. And therefore, he passionately rejects the use of brutal force or violence for achieving Swaraj for India. He was completely against the idea that major revolts and violence are the only way by which India could achieve its freedom. He felt that in order to achieve complete freedom what is necessary is passive resistance to Britishers and their rule. There should be a movement that should be based on the idea of unity, love, morality, and the sense of belonging for India to move forward on the road to Swaraj. What he meant from passive resistance is the fight for our own right and he believed that it’s the only way by which we can achieve freedom

Criticism 

His opinions were strongly criticized by W.J. Wybergh, who was a good friend of Gandhi though they both had very different opinions. He contested one of the basic ideas or concepts of Hind Swaraj that Western Civilization or civilization, in general, is nothing but a ‘kingdom of Satan’ and due to which it deserves to go lock stock and barrel forthwith (Kriplani, 299). Moreover, Wybergh also said that the number of Indians is huge and to move their competition is necessary and therefore Gandhi’s measure of liberation as the solution for all of this would do more harm than good to them. Wybergh did not agree with the idea of passive resistance too. According to him, it will just take the form of battle from physical to mental plane and therefore passive resistance would not lead to a spiritual path or mode. Wybergh thought instead of calm and religious, it would be dangerous and extreme.

On casually reading about the views and concepts of Gandhi, it would appear very strict and extreme. Gandhi wrote in such a manner because he strongly wanted that Indian people should not fall into the trap of western civilization and hence it involves very strong criticism of western civilization which leads to almost rejecting the concept. A very careful reading would make readers believe that his criticism was in fact much more balanced and rational than it’s mostly understood. First of all, Gandhi makes a clear-cut distinction between western civilization per se and modern civilization and he measures modern civilization more than western civilization under the parameters of morality (Tidrick,97). He focused mainly on the activities, as well as accepting positive aspects like time management and better control over the environment, and better organizational efforts. He does not stop only on the criticism of western civilization; he lays out a perfect plan for alternate modernity. 

Conclusion

Looking at his views from today, it is easy to say that Gandhi anticipated the ills or the aftereffects of modern civilization much before most of his contemporaries. For example, ecological imbalances leading to climate change and many other severe problems. By a much deeper understanding of his opinions on nature and society, we could say that they have somehow stood the test of time. The indiscriminate use of technology and science has led to various problems. Environment degradation and climatic changes are most probably because of the reasons mentioned earlier. Moreover, unrestrained or unconstrained use of technology led to the concentration of power in few hands which also led to decentralization of power which resulted in marginalization and exploitation of groups that are backward by the hands of those who had technology in their hands and thus making the backward group victims. Gandhi not only predicted all these but he also gave the solution for them. Moreover, Satyagraha attracted worldwide recognition as the only correct way by which we can win over wrong in a right way. Some of Gandhi’s opinions contain some truth that would not lose their shine even after centuries. But many of his ideas regarding tradition, culture, and women are highly controversial.

Bibliography

1. M.K. Gandhi, “What is true civilization?” and “How can India become free?” from Hind Swaraj edited by Anthony Parel. (Cambridge: CUP, 1997, 2009) pp. 66-75.

2. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, The Mahatma and the Poet: Letters and Debates between Gandhi and Tagore 1915-1941, pp 54-59, 65-68

3. .BR Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste – The Annotated Critical Edition, pp 321-328,333-356

4. Shahid Amin, “Gandhi as Mahatma” in Guha and Spivak (eds)Selected Subaltern Studies, pp 288-296, 338-342.

5. Singh, U.V. Gandhian Philosophy and Terrorism. 2011

6. Tidrick, Kathryn. Gandhi: A Political and Spiritual Life.2006

7. Kripalani, J.B. Gandhi: His life and thought. 1970


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