Hind Swaraj : A Fresh Look
In Hind Swaraj Gandhi does not provide a rigorous social analysis from which his political conclusions could be logically derived. His was a moral response to what he perceived as the evils of modern civilization. A fresh look at Hind Swaraj can, then, frustrate a mere intellectual approach that seeks either to lay bare the structure of Gandhian Thought as a means to reducing Gandhi to a formulae or to sharpen one's understanding of the forces that have created or sustained modern civilization in its present form. The sensibility underlying Hind Swaraj has its roots not in the intellectual but in the moral. As such, what is thus essentially a moral sensibility cannot be fully grasped by intellectual effort alone. No doubt, intellectual effort is necessary; but this intellectual effort will bear fruit only after it has been touched with the transforming illumination
TURN TO Hind Swaraj a full century after its writing must connote more than an intellectual curiosity to know what a "crank, prophet, genius, human", in T.K. Mahadevan's words1, had to say about modern ^civilization and how far what he says stands the time or logic or both. Written in Gujarati in 1908, and translated by him into English in 1909, it took the form of a debate between an 'editor' (Gandhi) and a 'reader'. It is significant that this most seminal of Gandhian texts should have taken the form of a dialogue. Gandhi accepted that this was an unusual way of putting forward an intellectual argument in English, but it came naturally to the Gujarati language. No doubt he had in mind here the interchange between Krishna and Arjun in the Bhagavad Gita. Gandhi stated in 1910 that he had engaged in a dialogue along similar lines with 'several friends', so that he was reporting a debate of the day.2 Although he does not state it as such, it almost certainly reflects discussions he had with the India House group in London in 1909, led by Shyamji Krishnavarma and including the militant Hindu nationalist V.D. Savarkar. The group as a whole advocated the use of violence against the British in India. Clearly, he saw it as his task to refuse their belief in this strategy.
As Gandhi himself says Hind Swaraj was written, "in answer to the Indian school of violence and its prototype in South Africa. I came in contact with every known Indian anarchist in London. Their bravery impressed me, but I felt that their zeal was misguided. I feel that violence was no remedy for India's ills and that her civilization required the use of a different and higher weapon for self-protection".3
Disputing that India can be freed from the bondage of the British Rule by violence and the view of Swaraj that took its inspiration from English people, their institutions and their way of life, Gandhi argues that it is equivalent to wanting English rule without the Englishman and having the tiger's nature, but not the tiger, that is to say, to making India English, "And when it becomes English", says Gandhi, "it will be called not Hindustan but Englistan. This is not the Swaraj that I want".4 Gandhi does not want this Swaraj because if India copied England, she would be ruined. And her ruination will come about not because of the fault of her people but because of her acceptance of modern civilization as definitive of her way of life.
While Gandhi was responding in Hind Swaraj specifically to violence as a method of attaining Swaraj or self-rule he saw violence rooted in modern industrial civilization. Violence was, for Gandhi, an inevitable result of the values that underline this civilization and its institutions. As long as this civilization continued to shape man's destiny, violence, he believed, would be the natural consequence. He, therefore, directed his moral sensibility to exposing what he considered the cancerous elements growing in the womb of industrial civilization producing contradictions that would ultimately bring its downfall.
Hind Swaraj must not be seen merely as a heartfelt response to the doctrine of violent revolution or as a declaration of convictions chiefly derived from books that deeply affected Gandhi. The bold assertions in the booklet were really the logical extension of a line of thinking that had begun at least fourteen years earlier. Even as a young man of twenty-five, he wrote in South Africa that, despite its dazzling surface, its material attractions and madly feverish activity, industrial civilization was a hindrance rather than a help to the needs of the human soul and the craving for a better life.3 He felt that a grim tragedy lay behind all the tinsel splendor of modern civilization, that the ceaseless rush of living left no time for contemplation and the dead were soon forgotten, that the marvels of science, the claims of civilization and the gospel of progress could offer neither stability nor certainty, nothing substantial to struggling humanity. The moral he drew was, the conviction that on this earth we are merely sojourners, and consolation could come only from a firm faith "not in the theory, but in the fact, of the existence of a future life and real Godhead".6
It was not just the moral inadequacy and extravagant pretensions of this civilization, but its treacherously deceptive, hypnotic and self- destructive tendency that was the theme of Hind Swaraj. Gandhi did not simply adopt the method of questioning every single achievement of civilization, its excellence and permanence. He went much further in holding that a man labouring under the delusions engendered by industrial civilization is like a dreamer who revels in the seeming reality of his dream. Man to-day is an emasculated - a favorite word of Gandhi - victim of a vast humbug that is kept alive by schools, legislatures, armies, churches, prisons and hospitals. Our civilization has the seductive colour of a consumptive who clings to life but is doomed to die.7
Even in the era of Renaissance humanism, it was natural for good men to lament this corrupt world. Gandhi's critique of modern western civilization, however, was not the typical response of theological pessimism or of despairing world-weariness. Its relentless severity is bound up with his chosen standpoint which was closely similar to that of Tolstoy. Both felt that the consciousness of the common people was frustrated by a system of "life-corroding competition" which resulted in bondage rather than freedom. Both held that the fundamental guidance of the life of man can be only internal, and in no wise external, arising from the will of other people.8 Gandhi referred explicitly to the teachings of all religions that we should remain passive about worldly pursuits and active about godly pursuits, that we should set a limit to our worldly matters are far worse than the humbugs in religion, that the dire cruelties committed in the name of sectarian religion cannot compare with the endless victims destroyed in the fire of civilization, that religious superstition, thought repugnant, is harmless compared to that of modern civilization. All these judgements are disputable, but they are crucial to a comprehension of the Gandhian critique in Hind Swaraj:
"This civilization takes note neither of morality nor of religion. Its votaries calmly state that their business is not to teach religion. Some even consider it to be a superstitious growth. Others put on the cloak of religion, and prate about morality. But, after twenty year's experience, I have come to the conclusion that immorality is often taught in the name of morality. ... Civilization seeks to increase bodily comfort, and it fails miserably even in doing so. This civilization is irreligion, and it has taken such a hold on the people in Europe that those who are in it appear to be half mad. They lack real physical strength or courage. They keep up their energy by intoxication. They can hardly be happy in solitude. Women, who should be the queens of households, wander in the streets or they slave away in factories."9
Gandhi projects a different perspective. He moves beyond the central assumptions and the world view implicit in modern civilization and rejects them totally. By moving beyond, he replaces the living centre of modern civilization with one that lies at the root of his vision of desirable society. His critique is total and his rejection of modern civilization final. That is why his condemnation of modern civilization is so forthright, brutal and upsetting.
Gandhi does more than simply reject the basic premises of industrial civilization. He offers a concrete proposal for reordering society that promises to do away with the ills associated with modern civilization. The cornerstone of his proposal is provided by his conception of uniqueness of being human. Rejecting all attempts to reduce the uniqueness of being human to biological, psychological, or sociological considerations, he sees the destiny of man to lie in his ethico-religious quest of self-transformation. But this quest for self- knowledge, far from being pursued in the isolation of Himalayan cave, occurs in the world of here and now and provides the basis for man's relationship with the outer world that is characterized by an organismic vision emphasizing inseparable unity, harmony and non¬injury.10 The moral sensibility that lies behind Gandhi's condemnation of this civilization springs from his world-view. It is his world-view that gives a concrete shape to his moral perspective and defines its contents. Constituting an integral component of his world-view, Gandhi's moral perspective cannot be understood apart from his world-view.
It was the hey day of modernism when Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj. Western civilization was approaching its zenith. The sun did not set in the British Empire; Industrial Revolution had sucked even the European colonies of Asia, Africa and Latin America into its orbit and made them paupers to the hilt. The elites of the colonies were so educated that they believed in the superiority of Western (Industrial) Civilization; so much so that it was branded as modern civilization, an improvement over the pre-modern civilization, which still prevailed in the colonies.
Only those who were imbued with Protestant Ethics could progress. In such an era Gandhi made a frontal attack on Western civilization; he called it un-modern, regressive, a disease, an intoxicant, satanic and Black Age. "This civilization is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self destroyed".11
He debunked western (industrial) civilization as a caricature of modern civilization and declared that a truly modern civilization was still in the womb of time. Civilized people, according to him, were those who were morally strong; who were prepared to die rather than abandon the path of Truth (which is God). Civilization was the sum total of thoughts, life styles, actions and hopes and aspirations that enriched human life, that respected the dignity of individuals, that advanced human freedom, that maintained peace and harmony, and that ensured a better future for humankind. Those who worked against these values were mal-civilized, if not uncivilized.
Hind Swaraj, in essence, is designed to counter the generally held view that modern industrial civilization marks a quantum jump in human progress. Gandhi debunked this civilization as Satanic; people all over the world like it because they have developed a materialistic bent of mind. He gave the outline of a truly modern civilization that would ensure happiness for man and take him forward on the path of his destiny.
Gandhi gave primacy to spiritual development of man. By spiritual development he meant moral and ethical progress. Gandhi indicts modern civilization as immoral and therefore anti-developmental. Gandhi was critical of modern industrial civilization on several counts; he branded it satanic; elsewhere he labeled it as a disease requiring urgent cure. He even called it 'a civilization only in name. Under it the nations of Europe are becoming degraded and ruined day by day.
It would be pertinent to warn the reader that Gandhi was not against the original European civilization imbued with Christian values. He was a follower of Christ and hence there was no question of his advocating anything against a civilization based on Christian philosophy. In fact, Gandhi's contention was that western civilization as it was practiced in his time was non-Christian in its broad contours as well as details.
When Gandhi condemned the western civilization, he was referring to modern industrial civilization, which took birth in the west sometime in the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries. It spread its tentacles so that by the turn of the seventeenth century it brought practically the whole of Europe under its sway. The Christian values and ethical standards were lost and a new set of values that sidetracked morality and ethics were propagated and put into practice.
He criticized this civilization on four main counts:
Gandhi considered western civilization immoral because it subordinated morality and ethics to the lust for power and money. Success was measured in terms of how much political, economic and military power one had, not on how the moral and spiritual a person was. "This civilization takes note neither of morality nor of religion. Its votaries calmly state that their business is not to teach religion. Some even consider it a superstitious growth. Others put on the clock of religion, and prate about morality. But after twenty years experience I have come to the conclusion that immorality is often taught in the name of morality. Even a child can understand that in all I have described above, there can be no inducement to morality. Civilization seeks to induce bodily comfort and it fails miserably even in doing so".13
In Gandhian praxis all humans are born to achieve self-realisation and this was possible only if they followed the moral and ethical path. The ends and means of modern civilization are just the opposite. It mattered little what means were used; all that mattered was the end and the end was the accumulation of power to subdue others. Gandhi stood and worked for a world, which was founded on morality, on love and sacrifice, not on power and money. And that is the reason why he branded modern civilization immoral and irreligious. "This civilization is irreligious, and it has taken such a hold on the people in Europe that those who are in it appear to be half mad. They lack real physical strength or courage. For the sake of pittance half a million women in England alone are labouring under trying circumstances in factories or similar institutions".
Most of the twenty short chapters of Hind Swaraj continue in an uncompromisingly critical vein about the political and social institutions of modern civilization, the glaring gap between its lofty claims and its unedifying conduct, and the destructive impact .of an imperialistic, commercial system upon a traditional rural culture. Gandhi was religiously convinced from the first as he insisted later on in a controversy with Rabindra Nath Tagore that the rejection of untruth is as much of an ideal as the acceptance of truth. "All religions teach us that two opposite forces act upon us and that the human endeavour consists in a series of eternal rejections and acceptances."15
Many readers of Gujarati Indian Opinion had asked him questions about the conditions in India he said, and similar questions were asked of him in London. He had, therefore, thought it proper to publicly ventilate the views that he had expressed privately. These views, he said, were his, because he hoped to act in accordance with them. They were almost a part of his being. And yet they were not his because he could not claim originality with regard to these views. He had formed them after reading many books. These views were held not only by many Indians not touched by what is known as civilization, but also by thousands of Europeans.
He invited criticism from his readers. His only motive in writing Hind Swaraj, he said was to serve his country, to find out the truth and to follow it. If his views proved to be wrong, he would gladly reject them, if they proved to be right, he would naturally wish, for the sake of the motherland, that others should adopt them.
Mahadev Desai Gandhi's Private Secretary wrote about Hind Swaraj in the Special Number of the Aryan Path published in September 1938, as "unique in its conception" and "beautifully successful in its execution".16 It was mainly due to the devoted labours of the gifted lady. Shrimati Sophia Wadia that this special number on Hind Swaraj was brought out. She sent copies of Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule) to numerous friends and invited some of the most prominent ones to express their views on the book. She herself wrote special articles on the book and saw in it the hope for future India. But she wanted the European thinkers and writers to realize that it had the potential to help even Europe out of its chaos. It was for this reason that she had adopted thin plan.
Gandhi sent the following message from his village Segaon, later named Sevagram for the Special Hind Swaraj Number of the Aryan Path in September 1938:
I welcome your advertising the principles in defence of which Hind Swaraj was written. The English edition is a translation of the original which was in Gujarati. I might change the language here and there, if I had to rewrite the booklet. But after the stormy thirty years through which I have since passed, I have seen nothing to make me alter the views expounded in it. Let the reader bear in mind that it is a faithful record of conversations I had with workers, one of whom was an avowed anarchist. He should also know that it stopped the rot that was about to set in among some Indians in South Africa. The reader may balance against this the opinion of a dear friend, who alas! is no more, that it was the production of a fool.17
It is true that insofar as Hind Swaraj is a manifesto of moral condemnation, it contains imagery of compelling power rather than a closely reasoned statement. It might profoundly disturb the doubter but it cannot convert the convinced believer in the mystique of modern civilization. Gandhi did not provide a rigorous social analysis from which his political conclusions could be logically derived. He did not even attempt this in Hind Swaraj. He was more concerned to declare and define his position to those in South Africa and in India who were willing to listen. In a way the impact of Hind Swaraj is not dissimilar to that of the Communist Manifesto, despite the latter's greater reliance on a seemingly scientific argument. Both manifestoes provide dismal portraits of a world they felt to be self contradictory in its basic assumptions and institutions, a world self doomed to destruction.
For Gandhi, the villain is the creed of hypocritical materialism, the judge is the individual who frees himself from the collective hallucination, and the executioner is the Moral Law, (Karma) that inexorably re-adjusts disturbed equilibrium in the cosmos and in the affairs of men.18
Gandhi, went through an evolutionary process of formulating his ideas and approaches, classifying, developing and correcting his views as he went along. The correct way to interpret Gandhi would be to follow the course of that evolution and take it to its logical end through a correct historical perspective. Hind Swaraj was not a model of economic development. There is no evidence to show that in 1909 Gandhi had much knowledge of economics and whatever he said was highly tentative.19 Therefore it could not be taken as a blueprint for the future.
It is important to understand the context in which Hind Swaraj was written. Gandhi's political experience then was confined to the struggle against the white man's repression of Indians and Africans in South Africa and a limited contact with Indian politicians who had come under the more subtle and dangerous influence of British education and way of life. He was a lawyer who had gone through personal suffering for a social cause, whereas his ideas were influenced by European philosophers and Indian religious writings. The dominant passion in Gandhi in 1909 was patriotism and even the language used against the British in Hind Swaraj is unbelievably harsh and often abusive. Judged by any standard, Hind Swaraj was not a blueprint for future India but simply an intense expression of patriotism on the one hand, and defence against the evils of Western civilization in the form it was being imposed on India on the other.
In one respect the book is quite important. It is a seminal work which contains the seeds of development of some of Gandhi's important and powerful ideas of a later day. In Hind Swaraj one finds the beginning of the discussion on means and ends, nonviolence, passive resistance, social reforms, the meaning of civilization, etc. One can clearly see the initial thrust of these ideas or concepts without a single one having been finally clinched.
Gandhi's views on several subjects, other than those related to basic values, as mentioned in Hind Swaraj, underwent drastic changes in subsequent years. For example, Hind Swaraj revolved around the idea of Home Rule, of self-government and not of complete freedom. He was sympathetic to the moderates and the extremists alike. In later years he had to conduct a total fight against the former. He called the British parliament "a sterile woman or a prostitute."20 He described journalists and newspapermen as dishonest. But later on he never used these terms in any context whatever.
In Hind Swaraj Gandhi picked up three categories of institutions for total and uncompromising condemnation railways, lawyers and doctors and called for their complete elimination from Indian society. To quote one example about doctors, Gandhi said, "The English have certainly effectively used the medical profession for holding us .... Doctors have almost unhinged us. Sometimes I think that quacks are better than highly equipped doctors.... Hospitals are institutions for propagating sin."21 Clearly, Gandhi did not hold these views subsequently.
The historical and contextual interpretation of Hind Swaraj would suggest that Gandhi was trying to fight the so called white man's -civilizing mission in India and other colonies, which meant fighting the danger of newly educated natives collaborating with and cringing before their foreign masters. The new educated classes consisting of doctors, teachers, lawyers and technicians had already accepted the superiority of European civilization. Gandhi's patriotism was deeply hurt when he saw the emerging elite as collaborationists on the one hand and exploiters of the masses on the other. He said, "My eyes water and my throat gets parched"22 at these, conditions. These were the words of a patriot burning with new fire.
Most Importantly, Hind Swaraj was an expression of Gandhi's consciousness about the main conflict between India and Britain. To Gandhi the conflict was between two civilizations and not, merely between two countries. Once this conceptualization of Hind Swaraj is accepted, everything else falls into place.
Gandhi himself was witnessing the crushing of Indian civilization by the new social patterns Britain was imposing on India from outside and the exploitation of the people by old and new exploiters from within. That is why, on the one hand he asserted, with a great deal of overemphasis that "the Indian civilization is unquestionably the best" and said on the other that "my patriotism does not teach me that I am to allow people being crushed under the heels of Indian princes if only the English retire." He concluded by saying, "In order to restore India to its pristine conditions, we have to return to it. In our own civilization, there will naturally be progress, retrogression, reforms and reaction; but one effort is required, and that is to drive out Western civilization."23
From the vantage point of history since 1909, one may argue that in Hind Swaraj Gandhi was throwing out the baby with the bathwater. This apparent illogicality was no more than a defence mechanism and an expression of his deep seated fervour and urge to defend the best in Indian civilization against the cultural onslaught from outside. One also finds in Hind Swaraj a great plea against luxury and ostentation, and for austere living. Therefore, when Gandhi defended Hind Swaraj in 1945 after forty years of its publication it could only mean that Gandhi was still of the view that the conflict between Indian and European civilizations would be no less significant after India achieved independence than, it was before.
Therefore it would be a great mistake to revive, as some orthodox Gandhians are trying to, Hind Swaraj as a blueprint for new India. It would amount to negating much of what Gandhi said subsequently. In general, such a view would Nbe anti historical, anti evolutionary and certainly anti revolutionary.
Without comprehending the essentials of his approach, we are likely to distort him as indeed many have done before. The Gandhian approach, seem to be very basic to understanding and revalidating Gandhi.
Gandhi was not a system or model builder. He was essentially a pathfinder towards definite social and individual goals. What was important for him as a pathfinder was the right path and its. maximum, though not absolute, consistency with the goals. Both were equally important. To adopt a path without a goal, was an exercise in a vacuum and a goal without the right path could degenerate into an anti goal?
Gandhian philosophy was comprehensive and not partial. For Gandhi rationalism, idealism and similar philosophies were weak and partial and hence unacceptable. For him, the heart, the intellectual and soul were three essential components of man and any philosophy which ignored even one aspect was defective.
The Gandhian road, path or progress towards the goal was neither linear nor pyramidical. His concept of social progress, following the general view of Indian philosophy, was one of ever expanding unbroken concentric or oceanic circles. Gandhi was often bombarded with questions about the structure of the future Indian society but, he did not dilate upon the structure of future societies. Although he had developed the habit of answering every question, whether personal, social or political, put to him, he was diffident in talking about the future Indian society except in terms of the value system on which it would have to be based. He wrote in the Harijan of 28 July 1946:
"In this structure composed of innumerable villages, there will be ever widening, never ascending circles. Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose centre will be the individual always ready to perish for the village, the latter ready to perish for the circle of villages, till at last the whole becomes one life composed of individuals, never aggressive in their arrogance but ever humble, sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they are integral units.
Therefore, the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle but will give strength to all within and derive its own strength from it. I may be taunted with the retort that this is all Utopian and, therefore, not worth single thought. If Euclid's point, though incapable of being drawn by human agency, has an imperishable value, my picture has its own for mankind to live. Let India live for this true picture of what we want, before we can have something approaching it."24
Therefore, judged by the evolution of Gandhi's ideas and his overall methodology and philosophy, the revalidation of Hind Swaraj in 1945 had a definite meaning. The main thrust of that book was the emphasis it laid on the continuous struggle between Indian and European civilizations. That struggle was not to end with the achievement of formal in-dependence but was to begin really when India started restructuring itself. Those who follow a linear or pyramidical approach are likely to find contradictions in Gandhi. But in terms of Gandhi's own approach, there were no such contradictions. Things that remained on one or the other circle were relevant. Those that got off the circles were of no relevance. Indeed, Gandhi answered this charge of falling into contradictions by saying, "I am not concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my pursuit after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. Old as I am in age, I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly or that my growth will stop with the dissolution of the flesh."25
At another place he writes, "I have never made a fetish of consistency. I am votary of Truth and I must say what I feel and think at a given moment on the question, without regard to what I may have said before on it.... As my vision gets clearer, my views must grow clearer with daily practice. Where I have deliberately altered an opinion, the change should be obvious. Only a careful eye would notice a gradual and imperceptible evolution."26
Speaking of his growing experience he wrote: "At the time of writing I never think of what I have said before. My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment. The result has been that I have grown from truth to truth; I have saved my memory an undue strain; and what is more, whenever I have been obliged to compare my writing even of fifty years ago with the latest, I have discovered no inconsistency between the two. But friends who observe inconsistency will do well to take the meaning that my latest writing may yield unless, of course, they prefer the old. But before making the choice they should try to see if there is not an underlying and abiding consistency between the two seeming inconsistencies."27 He modified his views according as the circumstances demanded. To quote him:
"People say that I have changed my view, that I say today something different from what I said years ago. The fact of that matter is that conditions have changed. I am the same. My words and deeds are dictated by prevailing conditions. There has been a gradual evolution in my environment and I react to it."28
This evolutionary character is manifest in whole of his philosophy. The amazing thing about Gandhi was that he adhered, in all its fullness, to his ideals. He was not inflexible. He was very much alive to the necessities of the moment, and he adapted to the changing circumstances. But all these adaptations were about secondary matters. In regards to the basic things he was inflexible and firm as a rock. There was no compromise in him with what he considered evil.
To revalidate Gandhi by suggesting that Hind Swaraj was his blueprint of India's social reconstructions for all the times to come is nothing but putting a lid. Gandhian thought and practices should meet the requirements of a changing society with new forces and new questions of life. Hence, it will be ungandhian to confine Gandhi to Hind Swaraj only, for a proper and objective understanding of the Mahatma and his philosophy we should look beyond Hind Swaraj.
Hind Swaraj represents a moral condemnation of modern civilization; it is therefore all the more penetrating, compelling and unsetting.
The sensibility underlying Hind Swaraj has its roots not in the intellectual but in the moral. As such, what is thus essentially a moral sensibility cannot be fully grasped by intellectual effort alone. No doubt, intellectual effort is necessary to make clear what is only dimly perceived and to provide a rationale to what is only clear to one's innermost being. But this intellectual effort will bear fruit only after it has been touched with the transforming illumination of moral sensibility.
* JAI NARAIN SHARMA is a Professor, and Chairman & Hon. Director, Gandhi Bhawan Department of Gandhian Studies, Pujnab University, Chandigarh. E-mail:email@example.com.