Reader : You have denounced railways, lawyers and doctors. I can see that you will discard all machinery. What, then, is civilization?
Editor : The answer to, that question is not difficult. I believe that
the civilization India has evolved is not to be beaten in the world.
Nothing can equal the seeds sown by our ancestors. Rome went, Greece
shared the same fate; the might of the Pharaohs was broken; Japan has
become Westernized; of China nothing can be said; but India is still,
somehow or other, sound at the foundation. The people of Europe learn
their lessons from the writings of the men of Greece or Rome, which
exist no longer in their former glory. In trying to learn from them, the
Europeans imagine that they will avoid the mistakes of Greece and Rome.
Such is their pitiable condition. In the midst of all this India remains
immovable and that is her glory. It is a charge against India that her
people are so uncivilized, ignorant and stolid, that it is not possible
to induce them to adopt any changes. It is a charge really against our
merit. What we have tested and found true on the anvil of experience, we
dare not change. Many thrust their advice upon India, and she remains
steady. This is her beauty: it is the sheet-anchor of our hope.
Civilization is that mode of conduct which points out to man the path of
duty. Performance of duty and observance of morality are convertible
terms. To observe morality is to attain mastery over our mind and our
passions. So doing, we know ourselves. The Gujarati equivalent for
civilization means "good conduct".
If this definition be correct, then India, as so many writers have
shown, has nothing to learn from anybody else, and this is as it should
be. We notice that the mind is a restless bird; the more it gets the
more it wants, and still remains unsatisfied. The more we indulge our
passions the more unbridled they become. Our ancestors, therefore, set a
limit to our indulgences. They saw that happiness was largely a mental
condition. A man is not necessarily happy because he is rich, or unhappy
because he is poor. The rich are often seen to be unhappy, the poor to
be happy. Millions will always remain poor. Observing all this, our
ancestors dissuaded us from luxuries and pleasures. We have managed with
the same kind of plough as existed thousands of years ago. We have
retained the same kind of cottages that we had in former times and our
indigenous education remains the same as before. We have had no system
of life-corroding competition. Each followed his own occupation or trade
and charged a regulation wage. It was not that we did not know how to
invent machinery, but our forefathers knew that, if we set our hearts
after such things, we would become slaves and lose our moral fibre.
They, therefore, after due deliberation decided that we should only do
what we could with our hands and feet. They saw that our real happiness
and health consisted in a proper use of our hands and feet. They further
reasoned that large cities were a snare and a useless encumbrance and
that people would not be happy in them, that there would be gangs of
thieves and robbers, prostitution and vice flourishing in them and that
poor men would be robbed by rich men. They were, therefore, satisfied
with small villages. They saw that kings and their swords were inferior
to the sword of ethics, and they, therefore, held the sovereigns of the
earth to be inferior to the Rishis and the Fakirs. A nation with a
constitution like this is fitter to teach others than to learn from
others. This nation had courts, lawyers and doctors, but they were all
within bounds. Everybody knew that these professions were not
particularly superior; moreover, these vakils and vaids did not
rob people; they were considered people's dependants, not their masters.
Justice was tolerably fair. The ordinary rule was to avoid courts. There
were no touts to lure people into them. This evil, too, was noticeable
only in and around capitals. The common people lived independently and
followed their agricultural occupation. They enjoyed true Home Rule.
And where this cursed modern civilization has not reached, India remains
as it was before. The inhabitants of that part of India will very
properly laugh at your newfangled notions. The English do not rule over
them, nor will you ever rule over them. Those in whose name we speak we
do not know, nor do they know us. I would certainly advise you and those
like you who love the motherland to go into the interior that has yet
been not polluted by the railways and to live there for six months; you
might then be patriotic and speak of Home Rule.
Now you see what I consider to be real civilization. Those who want to
change conditions such as I have described are enemies of the country
and are sinners.
Reader : It would be all right if India were exactly as you have
described it, but it is also India where there are hundreds of child
widows, where two year old babies are married, where twelve year old
girls are mothers and housewives, where women practise polyandry, where
the practice of Niyoga obtains, where, in the name of religion, girls
dedicate themselves to prostitution, and in the name of religion sheep
and goats are killed. Do you consider these also symbols of the
civilization that you have described?
Editor : You make a mistake. The defects that you have shown are
defects. Nobody mistakes them for ancient civilization. They remain in
spite of it. Attempts have always been made and will be made to remove
them. We may utilize the new spirit that is born in us for purging
ourselves of these evils. But what I have described to you as emblems of
modern civilization are accepted as such by its votaries. The Indian
civilization, as described by me, has been so described by its votaries.
In no part of the world, and under no civilization, have all men
attained perfection. The tendency of the Indian civilization is to
elevate the moral being, that of the Western civilization is to
propagate immorality. The latter is godless, the former is based on a
belief in God. So understanding and so believing, it behoves every lover
of India to cling to the old Indian civilization even as a child clings
to the mother's breast.