Understanding Hind Swaraj

Of Gandhi and the concepts redefined



Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proven innocent.
George orwell

Gandhi isn’t a super being. He is just innocent. He is as critical of himself and his actions as of others. He is an absurdist in a way. Hind Swaraj  is a reflection of Gandhi and his innocence. Greatness perhaps! As  reader and as a biased human, one may not agree with Gandhi but as a subaltern one may  agree with Gandhi’s every word.  With my own bias, I was able to understand and infer following from Hind Swaraj:
For Gandhi Swaraj isn’t mere change of guard. Gandhi compares the English rule to Tiger and Swaraj for him is attainment of freedom from both Tiger as a material object and his cruel nature. Swaraj is thus not about getting rid of material things but from limitations and greed of one’s self.  Thus it is not feasible to define  Swaraj as a political concept only, because it deals with individuals, human nature, human greed, needs, faith, beliefs and mis-beliefs. However  Gandhi rather than engaging with  modernity and dialectically creating a logical antithesis or arriving at a synthesis, seeks refuge in demons and angels and henceforth  deals with it as an evil and hence rejects modernity with bitterness. Gandhi is an anarchist and Hind Swaraj a constitution of anarchy.
Gandhi doesn’t consider expulsion of English necessary for attaining Swaraj, but he has problems with English civilization. Civilization is though defined negatively  when it comes to modern civilization  and positively when it is about ancient civilization more so when it is about Indian civilization. Negative civilization is defined as living in better houses, using technology and believing in bodily comforts. This civilization is considered irreligious and immoral. Civilization started because of technology whether it be the invention of wheel or invention of plough or use of rafts as water transport. Also it was technology which was necessary for sustainability of civilization, be it vaccination or better agriculture. Another  aspect of negative civilization as attributed by Gandhi to negative civilization is disrespect for religion. This again is a gross exaggeration.  Religion if it had been a controlled, private and un- institutionalized  affair would have not yielded great wars. But Gandhi considers religion as an essential component of civilization. Western or modern civilization should have been appreciated for unistitutionalizing religion but Gandhi happens to criticize them. 
Gandhi is anti feministic in its modern purview. He wants women to be confined to households and not to wander in streets, that way he is in accordance with Mullah Omar in Afghanistan , isn’t it exactly  the same male cultural ego for which Omar and Taliban have been criticized and Gandhi is no exception.
  Hind Swaraj sympathizes with the proletariat class. But it is more pity than sympathy as rather than criticizing capitalist bourgeoisie it criticizes lifeless machines and technology. Rather than encouraging labour class to rise against bourgeoisie and overthrow them. Gandhi criticizes but doesn’t show way of liberation  from the  plight he pities on. Here Gandhi takes two distinct paths, one  is adopting revivalist approach where by villages would be a units of production. The  second path is technology, which he suddenly begins to concede as against his own position against it. All of a sudden the debate is not against the technology but the kind of technology, here Gandhi begins to even consider use of electricity. Gandhi sees capitalism as the dynamic behind colonial imperialism. Lenin too had said as much, and like Marx, Gandhi’s rejection of capitalism is based on a profound repugnance to a system where profit is allowed to degrade labour, where the machines are valued more than humans, where automation is preferred to humanism.
When  it comes to criticism of congress and its leaders , only Gandhi seems to have monopoly over criticizing them. He discourages criticism of Congress by others. Gandhi messes himself in a tangled deep barbed wire of personality cult while defending Dadabhai, professor Gokhale and other congress elitists, while continuing to advocate Swaraj. 
Gandhi criticizes Railways, to operationalize the word Railways in its modern context would mean to associate present communication networks including phones, internet, satellite networks, transport etc. Here Gandhi speaks as an environmentalist, though the rhetoric is slightly different , he argues with respect to movement and migration of both people and goods. His view is that frequent movement of people that transgress natural boundaries which before this used to impart immunity to communities from diseases. He also sees railways as a threat to indigenous goods and as a tool of development of import –export model, which according to him is a tool of imperialism.
Gandhi is critical of Lawyers and doctors. He accuses lawyers of poking their noses in conflicts of humans that would be otherwise solved amicably by his principles of sacrifice. Lawyers for him are catalysts in a dispute as they side with clients in any dispute, so rather than helping people get out of miseries they enrich themselves and multiply disputes. Similarly doctors have been criticized and condemned. To quote Gandhi
“I overeat, I get sick , I go to a doctor, he cures me and I overeat again”
He thus holds doctors responsible for providing people with the liberty of not exercising control over their self. Hind Swaraj again dwells on traditional system of medicine ,and puts it much above modern medicine which uses alcoholic elixirs. Gandhi is of the view that illness and disease  are natural punishments of soul to body ,when the later crosses the boundaries of need and enters pleasure . If the body is given its due punishment naturally , an individual is likely to give up  the habit of satisfying the greed of his self. But now if a doctor intervenes in the natural punishment of soul, he does no good . He actually is spoiling the individual’s ability to control his self. Gandhi however seems to be unaware of diseases and ailments that are caused not because of overeating but by pathogens and parasites. He also deliberately doesn’t talk about two great medical interventions, vaccination and pasteurization that saved millions of lives in the times that Gandhi lived in. What about infections and old age ? Is that also the greed of soul.
Gandhi then explores the  core of Hind Swaraj - passive resistance. It is about making one’s self suffer for securing rights, it is thus opposite of resistance by arms. Gandhi  is against using brute force against enemies. Resistance however is dear and compulsory for Gandhi. For him passive resistance doesn’t require a scabbard but just courage to suffer and control over mind.  It is about disobeying laws that are imposed on the weak by strong. The requirements for practicing passive resistance are not sophisticated  arms training and jiu-jitsu but dedication  and belief. Gandhi thus coins soul force , as opposite to brute force.  However Gandhi refutes the claim that passive resistance is weapon of weak only. He wants people in majority and strength also to practice Passive resistance. Chastity for Gandhi  is one of the greatest disciplines of mind for passive resistance. Hence again he uses soul force as synonymous with truth force. Hatred for individuals motivates a man to use brute force but men who rise above worldly emotions of hatred and pleasure will therefore always practice passive resistance and henceforth achieve their due  without  a sword or a cannon.

(Umair Gul is a student of MA final year at Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies Jamia Millia)

Lastupdate on : Tue, 29 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 29 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 30 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST

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