Hind Swaraj : a relook

Usha Thakkar

This essay is from - Hind Swaraj by M.K. Gandhi, INDUS SOURCE BOOKS; First edition (2019). This edition of Hind Swaraj, with introductory essays by Dr. Usha Thakkar and Dr. Gita Dharampal, published in the 150th year of the Mahatma’s birth anniversary, contains the 1910 English translation by Gandhi himself.

Gandhi’s ideals of truth and non-violence serve as a beacon light to the human race caught in the rough winds and ferocious storms of hatred, ill-will and violence. His Hind Swaraj, the first text he wrote, contains the essence of his ideas that kept evolving as his journey continued in search of truth. This little book has attracted sky-high praises and sharp criticisms from scholars and leaders. Gerald Heard, a renowned author, finds it more significant than Rousseau’s Social Contract and Karl Marx’s Das Capital. 1. But Eric Erickson calls it a ‘rather incendiary manifesto for a man of peace’.2.

It is important to remember that the text had invited criticism from Gandhi’s political guru Gopal Kishna Gokhale and his political heir Jawaharlal Nehru. Gokhale regarded the book so crude and hastily conceived that he prophesied that Gandhi would himself destroy the book after spending a year in India. 3. Nehru in his reply dated 4th October 1945, to Gandhi’s letter, had written,” It is many years ago since I read Hind Swaraj and I have only a vague picture in my mind. But even when I read it 20 or more years ago it seemed to me completely unreal.” 4.

Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj, a small book in 20 chapters, between 13 and 22 November 1909, on his way to South Africa from England, on Kildonan Castle ship on the ship’s stationary. That he wrote Gandhi wrote 38 pages of the total 271 pages of the manuscript with left hand when right hand got tired displays intensity and passion with which he wrote. The text, first published in Indian Opinion, was proscribed in March 1910 by the Government of Bombay. It hastened Gandhi’s decision to publish its English translation ‘not a literal translation’ but ‘faithful rendering of the original’. He wrote to Hermann Kallenbach that he had produced ‘an original work’ and was happy to get Tolstoy’s positive comments on his book. 5.

Anthony Parel enumerates Gandhi’s possible reasons for writing Hind Swaraj. Firstly, an inner illumination and the consequent urge to write. According to him he had written because he was unable to restrain himself from writing the book as his heart was full. Secondly he wanted to clarify the meaning of Swaraj - by introducing a distinction between Swaraj as self-government or the quest for home rule or the good state, and Swaraj as self-rule or the quest for self-improvement. Thirdly, he felt that it was necessary to respond to the ideology of political terrorism adopted by the expatriates. He recalled in 1921 how in 1909 during his visit to London he had come in contact with ‘every known Indian anarchist’ there and how he wanted to write a book in answer to the Indian school of violence. Fourthly, he wanted to tell the Indians that the modern civilization posed a greater threat to them than did colonialism, which was a product of modern civilization. Fifthly he wanted to contribute to the reconciliation of Indians and Britons. Finally, he believed that through Hind Swaraj he would be able to give Indians a practical philosophy, an updated conception of dharma that would serve them for life in the modern world. 6.

Gandhi uses the method of dialogue for his text, a method which attracts the ordinary readers because of its simple way and also allures the intellectuals because of the philosophical insights. Gandhi is familiar with the traditions of the method of dialogue in the Bhagawad Gita and Plato’s Dialogues. It is important that he wrote the text in Gujarati, his mother tongue, and in the form of a dialogue. According to Dipankar Gupta, in many ways Gandhi was before and ahead of Habermas.7. Language of the text is simple, direct and that of colloquial style. According to Vinoba Bhave, just as the language of the Upanishads sounds crude to the ears, the language of Hind Swaraj also seems crude. The life and vigour that dwells in the crude language of the Upanishads is not to be found in other languages of argument and science. Gandhi’s purity of heart is reflected in Hind Swaraj. We need to understand and interpret it. 8.

The seemingly simplistic text of Hind Swaraj, is at times confusing, outdated and loaded with ideas that demand deep exploration. Some words of the text make us uneasy, some arguments seem to be archaic, some ideas may seem utopian and some comments as idiosyncrasies; and yet there is something genuine, something truthful that draws us and motivates the reader to look beyond the present. This text, showing the dangers of violence and modern civilization, and presenting an original interpretation of Swaraj by arguments and counter-arguments, needs to be read and re-read.  We need to go beyond the words and reach the essence. Douglas Allen comments discerningly that, “We are called upon to do with Hind Swaraj what Gandhi did with the Bhagvad-Gita, the Ramayana, and other texts. Through our rereading, rethinking, reformulating, and reinterpreting, contextually influenced by new information and new developments, our hermeneutical project is to raise critical questions, purify, expand, and improve Hind Swaraj so that it can become a more developed and more adequate text for the twenty-first century.” 9.

The book presents Gandhi’s observations on the political, economic, social and cultural issues of his times and his philosophical reflections on them that were to take firm roots as the years passed. The editor (Gandhi) brings to the centre stage the ill consequences of the modern civilization, futility of violence, and the importance of Swaraj, i.e., self-rule. The issues raised by him are of importance and his attempts to answer the reader have retained their relevance.


Gandhi is emphatic that modern civilization is irreligion and will be self-destroyed. It must be shunned. 10. People living in modern civilization ‘make bodily welfare the object of life’. 11. This civilization takes note neither of morality nor of religion. According to the teaching of Mahomed it is a Satanic civilization and Hinduism calls it the Black Age.12. Abundance in material resources and mindless pursuit of all desires are not symbols of civilization. True civilization is in harmony with self-rule.   In Gandhi’s words, “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.” 13.

Gandhi states that “Our difficulties are of our own creation.” 14. The tendency of Indian civilization is to elevate the moral being, and that of the Western civilization is to propagate immorality. 15. Gandhi offers sharp criticisms against the modern ways of living, use of railways 16., and the professions of doctors 17. and lawyers 18., and the condition of workers in the mills in Bombay 19. He advocates the use of products made in our country and believes that hankering after material gains and aping the West will not lead India to her progress. He asserts that machinery is the chief symbol of modern civilization; it represents a great sin and has impoverished India. 20. it is like a snake-hole which may contain from one to a hundred snakes. 21.

Gandhi’s picture of the modern civilization as being an evil and the ancient Indian civilization as glorious seems to be exaggerated. But to tell that Gandhi was totally against all progress would be too harsh a judgement. He himself had learned a lot from the West. His ideas were nurtured by writers like Ruskin, Tolstoy and Thoreau and other western sources.  Exposure to the West has helped him to mould his views on democratic norms and to imbibe elements such as discipline and dignity of labour. In fact, the long list of books at the end of Hind Swaraj contains only two books written by Indian writers. 

On 29th December 1920 Gandhi clarified in the Navjivan that “The supremacy of the brute force, worshipping money as God, spending most of one’s time in seeking worldly happiness, breath-taking risks in the pursuit of worldly enjoyment of all kinds, the expenditure of limitless mental energy on efforts to multiply the power of machinery, the expenditure of crores on the invention of means of destruction, the moral righteousness which looks down upon people outside Europe,- this civilization, in my view, deserves to be altogether rejected.” 22.

It is interesting that John Middleton Murry, a Christian and a Socialist, argues that Gandhi forgets, “in the urgency of his vision, that the very spinning-wheel he loves is also a machine, and also unnatural. On his principles it should be abolished.” 23. A dialogue in Delhi in 1924, in this context, is important. Gandhi was asked whether he was against all the machinery. His reply was,””How can I be when I know that even this body is a most delicate piece of machinery? The spinning wheel is a machine; a little toothpick is a machine. What I object is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such.” 24. Gandhi is aware that the machines are capable of reducing the drudgery for human beings. So he acknowledges value of Singer sewing machine. 

G. D. G. Cole, a Fabian Socialist and an author, puts his views on Hind Swaraj succinctly. He does not consider the Western civilization ‘to be past mending’. 25. However he (writing in 1938) candidly accepts that  Gandhi’s case against the West looks “infinitely stronger than it looked, to us Westerners, thirty years ago.” 26.

Unbridled consumerism and relentless pursuit of materialism bothered Gandhi. Naturally he wanted to caution the Indians against the increasing expansion of the dehumanizing modern civilization.   Referring to Hind Swaraj he said,” The key to understand that incredibly simple (so simple as to be regarded foolish) booklet is to realize that it is not an attempt to go back to the so-called ignorant, dark ages. But it is an attempt to see beauty in voluntary simplicity, poverty and slowness. I have pictured that as my ideal. I shall never reach it myself and hence cannot expect the nation to do so.” 27.


Gandhi’s deep faith in nonviolence is expressed effectively in Hind Swaraj. His work in South Africa, his experience as a lawyer, a journalist and an activist against injustice intensified his awareness of the inadequacy of modern civilization and the frightening magnitude of violence. Gandhi’s criticisms against violence in all forms became more logical, persuasive and powerful with his experiences over the years.

Gandhi shows in Hind Swaraj that modernization promotes violence and that the methods of violence for achieving justice and freedom had gripped the minds of many Indians, especially the youth; writings of persons like V.D. Savarkar had ignited the fury among young Indians. Gandhi intended Hind Swaraj to be a dialogue with the extremists who advocated violence to break the shackles of slavery. Madan Lal Dhingra, an Indian student, assassinated Sir William Curzon-Wyllie in London and was sentenced to death. According to Gandhi, Dhingra was a patriot, but his love was blind. 28.

For Gandhi, the connection between the means and the end is of crucial importance. In his words, “The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree.” 29. Violence begets more violence. This clear exposition of the relation between means and the end in Hind Swaraj stayed with Gandhi as one of his driving forces. Freedom achieved through violent means, is not real freedom. Gandhi states in unequivocal terms “the force of love and pity is infinitely greater than the force of arms. There is harm in the exercise of brute force, never in that of pity.” 30. In his opinion, “Passive resistance, that is, soul force, is matchless. It is superior to the force of arms.” 31. Gujarati version uses Satyagraha for passive resistance. Early in his political career, Gandhi had recognized the power of nonviolent resistance. He states that “Passive resistance is an all-sided sword; it can be used anyhow; it blesses him who uses it and him against whom it is used. Without dropping a drop of blood, it produces far-reaching results. It never rusts and cannot be stolen.” 32.

Significantly Gandhi firmly believed that passive resistance is a method of securing rights by personal suffering; it is the reverse of resistance by arms. 33. He also believed that rights are a result of performance of duty. Passive resistance cannot proceed a step without fearlessness. Gandhi makes it abundantly clear that it is the weapon of the strong, not the weak. Killing others is ‘a cowardly thought’.  34.

It is not that Gandhi’s views are endorsed by all. There have been various criticisms. W.J. Wybergh had written to Gandhi that the governments, laws, police and physical force are essential to average humanity. It is a fatal confusion to suppose that what is right for the saint is right for everyone else. 35. Political leaders like B.G. Tilak and the extremists who were Gandhi’s contemporaries had also no faith in Gandhi’s non-violence.

However, Gandhi does not view Satyagraha as just a political strategy; it is both the means and an end. Gandhian nonviolence is not solely concerned with resistance, it also wants to create stable and lasting values to bring transformation in the existing scenario. Therefore it gives importance to constructive work and voluntary efforts for better society that will help self-rule.  Gandhi’s ideas and life have not lost their appeal for those who pursue the goals of peace and justice. Persons across various countries working for better society and movements for environment, alternative science and technology, eco-feminism, human rights, resistance to war and nuclear programme draw inspiration from Gandhi.

For Gandhi democracy is the rule of unadulterated nonviolence. 36. He believes that non-violence cannot merely a personal virtue; rather, it must be a civic virtue. As his close associate J. B. Kriplani points out, Gandhi’s non-violence had a social content; it was not meant for the salvation of the soul directly. He made non-violence as an instrument for correcting political, social and economic wrongs. 37.


The concept of Swaraj in Hind Swaraj is fascinating. According to Gandhi real Home Rule is self rule or self control and the way to it is passive resistance, that is soul force or love force. 38. Gandhi has an innovative way to connect self with Swaraj. In his words, “It is Swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves”; and ”Swaraj has to be experienced by each one for himself. One drowning man will never save another. Slaves, ourselves, it would be a mere pretension to think of freeing others.” 39. Swaraj as self government is the rule of the people. In his words, “If we become free, India is free. And in this thought you have a definition of Swaraj.” 40. Gandhi’s Swaraj in not a utopia but can be achieved if the people of India decided to improve. Swaraj as the rule over the self is control over mind, impure thoughts and deeds.

Gandhi realized early in his life that mere duplication of the foreign ways of rule would not benefit India. Merely formal independence from the British rule is not Swaraj. It would mean merely the change of the rulers or personnel. Gandhi tells the reader, “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. This is not the Swaraj that I want.” 41. It is important to note that Gandhi has no hatred for the British; he believes that if the English become Indianised, we can accommodate them. 42.

Gandhi argues against the prevailing notion that the British have usurped India and is retaining it. His observation is: “The English have not taken India; we have given it to them. They are not in India because of their strength, but because we keep them.” 43. He believes that political subjection of the people cannot take place without their willingness that may be due to fear and/or their weakness. The British rule has benefited the British and impoverished the Indians. Gandhi is against any authoritarian rule, it could be the British rule or the tyranny of Indian princes. 44.

Means to attain Swaraj are as essential as the end of getting Swaraj. Gandhi’s Swaraj is against authoritarianism and imperialism. It is nonviolent and nonhierarchical and is based on the principles of decentralization. It stresses the idea and practice of Swadeshi and the duties of the citizens. Gandhi presents his critique of the representative democracy and offers his vision of transformative democracy guided by ethics. His criticisms against the British political institutions are sharp. He has no hesitation in calling the British Parliament ‘a sterile woman’ and ‘a prostitute’; ‘a prostitute’ was the only word he would alter “in accordance with a promise made to an English friend.” 45. He opposed British imperialism because of its political, economic and moral consequences and remained an advocate of village republic that is self-contained.

Gandhi had studied writings of the scholars of the West and had also known the views of the extremists and the moderates in India. His years in England and South Africa had added dimensions to his thought process. He was conversant with the politics around him. Nationalism in India was in a nascent stage. In this context Gandhi in Hind Swaraj is much concerned about the adverse effect of the British rule in India and the damage done to the oneness and Indian-ness of the Indians. He wants the Indians to understand the reality and protest against the British rule as strong individuals and strong people.

Long back Gandhi had realized that all the communities in India have to live together and strive for a better life. He uses the word nation in the English version but uses the words like Praja (people), Ek Praja (one people), Ekdeshi and Ekmulki  (of one country) in the Gujarati original. The editor in Hind Swaraj tells the reader that the English have taught us that we were not one nation before, and that it will require centuries before we become one nation. This is without foundation. We were one nation (Ek Praja) word before they came to India. Subsequently they divided us. 46.

According to Gandhi, “India cannot cease to be one nation (Ek Praja) because people belonging to different religions live in it. The introduction of foreigners does not necessarily destroy the nation, they merge in it. A country is one nation only when such a condition obtains in it. That country must have a faculty for assimilation. India has ever been such a country.” 47. The Hindus, the Mahomedans, the Parsees and the Christians who have made India their country are fellow country-men, and they will have to live in unity if only for their own interest.  48. When the reader points out the terror practiced by the Thugs, the Pindaris and the Bhils, the editor says that it is better to suffer the Pindari peril than that someone else should protect us from it. After all, “the Bhils, the Pindaris, the Assamese and the Thugs are our own countrymen. To conquer them (to win over) is your and my work. So long as we fear our own brethren, we are unfit to reach the goal.”  49.

Moreover, in no part of the world are one nationality (Ek Praja) and one religion synonymous terms: nor has it ever been so in India. The Hindus and the Mahomedans flourished under each other. Both parties had decided to live in peace after some fighting, but with the advent of the English the quarrels recommenced. 50. He visualizes different communities living peacefully in India. Naturally his views on education are also rooted in Indian ethos. For him, character building is important and to give millions knowledge of English is to enslave them. 51.

According to the reader, the nation (Praja)  is those of us who are affected by the European civilization and who are eager to have Home Rule. But the editor corrects him and states that it is only those Indians who are imbued with love and who believe that Indian civilization is the best and who can speak to the English without being frightened. 52. Further, Gandhi writes that he should know that no nation (Praja) has risen without suffering and that, even in physical warfare, the true test is suffering and not the killing of others, much more so in the warfare of passive resistance (Satyagraha). 53. Gandhi exhorts the people to realize their potential and to chart their own destiny. Mere adoption of the outer form of government will not bring any qualitative change. Important issues for Gandhi are self-discipline, the rule over self and self-realization.  According to Shruti Kapila, ‘expulsion of the British’ was not the ‘essence’ of Swaraj but rather ‘self-transformation’ was. 54.

Gandhi’s views on nationalism are to be seen in his context. They stand for ethical principles, cultural integrity, political justice and inclusiveness. Gandhi in Hind Swaraj is an anti-imperialist who wants the people of India to get rid of all the outward and inward signs/symbols of imperialism and live in harmony sharing a common bond of togetherness. According to Ashis Nandy, “Gandhi was always keen to define his nationalism as a part of his universal struggle for justice and equality, and he made it clear that the other name for armed nationalism was imperialism, which he considered a curse.” 55. Bhikhu Parekh insightfully observes that Gandhi’s political thought more or less completely bypassed the characteristic nature and vocabulary of European nationalism, and conceptualized the Indian struggle for independence in a non-nationalist and non-national language. He rarely used the term 'nation' except when forced to do so by such antagonists as Jinnah; and then largely to refer to the fact that India was not a motley collection of groups but consisted of people sharing common aspirations and interests and a vague but nonetheless real commitment to a kind of spiritual civilization. When he occasionally used the term ‘nationalism’ he largely meant 'love of one's country'. 56.

Gandhi had realized the dangers of interpreting and practicing religion with narrow perspective and advocated equal respect for all religions. He remained a supporter of the cause of cow protection. However he offers important comments when the issue is seen in the context of the relation between the Hindus and the Mohemadans. Protection of cows has been a sensitive issue between the Hindus and the Mahomedans, as the latter eat beef and see nothing objectionable in the practice of sacrificial killing of the cows. Talking about the relation between the two communities and the cow protection, Gandhi’s opinion the cow is “the protector of India, because it, being an agricultural country, is dependent on the cow’s progeny.” and “A man is just as useful as a cow, no matter whether he be a Mahomedan or a Hindu.”  If a situation demands saving a cow from a Mahomedan, in Gandhi’s words, “the only method I know of protecting the cow is that I should approach my Mahomedan brother and urge him for the sake of the country to join me in protecting her. If he would not listen to me, I should let the cow go for the simple reason that the matter is beyond my ability. If I were overfull of pity for the cow, I should sacrifice my life to save her, but not take my brother’s. This, I hold, is the law of our religion.” 57. Gandhi draws attention to the cruelty of the Hindus to the cows. According to him, it is preposterous to suggest that the Hindus and the Mahomedans cannot live together amicably because the Hindus believe in Ahimsa and the Mahomedans do not. These thoughts are put into our minds by selfish and false religious teachers. The English put the finishing touch. 58. On 25th April 1947, Gandhi said that he held the same views on cow protection as he had expressed in Hind Swaraj. He stated that if we would have maintained friendly relations with the Mahomedans, they would have given up beef eating.  If we want to protect the cow, we must know our dharma, know true compassion, and learn how to look after cattle.  59.


Gandhi maintained that he had not altered his position from what he wrote in Hind Swaraj, with the passing of time and experience gained, though he moulded some of his views in the context of time.  He wrote in 1921 that “I am individually working for the self rule pictured therein (Hind Swaraj). But today my corporate activity is undoubtedly devoted to the attainment of parliamentary swaraj, in accordance with the wishes of the people of India.” 60. Again in 1924 he clarified that it was not Indian Home Rule depicted in Hind Swaraj that he was placing before India. He was placing before the nation parliamentary, i.e., democratic swaraj. He did not suggest a destruction of all the machines, but he was making the spinning-wheel the master-machine. 61. He reiterated in 1939 that “ I wrote Hind Swaraj in 1909. Its language may be crude but even today my pen is not prepared to polish it.” 62. In his famous letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, dated 5th October 1945, Gandhi wrote that  “ I have said that I fully stand by the kind of governance which I have described in Hind Swaraj. It is not just a way of speaking. My experience has confirmed the truth of what I wrote in 1909. If I were the only one left who believed in it, I would not be sorry.” He was aware that “My ideal village still exists only in my imagination. After all every human being lives in the world of his own imagination.” 63.

At the end of the text Gandhi writes that he has tried to explain Swaraj as he understands it, and his conscience testifies that his life henceforth is dedicated to its attainment. 64. His life is testimony to this decision.  In his opinion, Hind Swaraj is “not a mere political book. I have used the language of politics, but I have really tried to offer a glimpse of dharma.” 65.

Hind Swaraj has not failed to stimulate creative minds and to raise fundamental questions in contemporary contexts. Although dated in some respects, it inspires a search for alternatives. Gandhi’s emphasis on simple life, civic virtues and duties, his concepts of Swaraj, Satyagraha, and Swadeshi, his insistence of bringing ethics to politics, his eclectic vision of a good society composed of good individuals remain relevant. His philosophy in Hind Swaraj becomes relevant and insightful in the cotemporary context, as it is an anguished cry against evils of modern civilization, dehumanization of life, violence, war, exploitation, materialism and consumerism. It inspires us to ask uneasy questions about exploitation, inequality and decline in ethical and human values. Irene Rathbone, a reputed author, does not find passive resistance creed entirely convincing, but she is forced by Hind Swaraj’s “tremendous honesty to search my own honesty. I would implore people to read it. It is not dated-not in any essential way. It is suffused in light.” 66. Hind Swaraj inspires us to enter into dialogue with Gandhi, ideas and persons around including the self, to raise questions and to seek our own answers to disturbing questions of the contemporary times.


Note -

(a) References of Hind Swaraj in this article are from M.K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and Other Writings, edited by Anthony J. Parel, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997 and Hind Swaraj is cited as HS. 

(b) The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, Delhi/ New Delhi, are referred to as CWMG.

1. Gerald Heard, A Great Natural Phenomenon, The Aryan Path, IX, 9, September 1938, p. 450.

2. Eric H. Erickson, Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence, Faber and Faber Limited,  London, 1970, p. 217.

3. Mahadev Desai, Preface to Hind Swaraj, p. 14, cited in footnote 2 in Gandhi’s message dated 14th July 1938  to The Aryan Path, September 1938, IX, 9, p. 423, CWMG, Vol. 67, New Delhi, 1976, pp. 169-70.

4. Jawaharlal Nehru, Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol. 14, Orient Longman Limited, New Delhi, 1981, p. 556.

5. Editors’ Introduction, M.K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj: A Critical Edition, annotated and edited by Suresh Sharma and Tridip Suhrud, Orient BlackSwan, Bangalore, 2010, pp. xi-xxiv.

6. Editor’s Introduction, M.K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and Other Writings, edited by Anthony J. Parel, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997,  pp. xiv- xvii.

7. Dipankar Gupta, Gandhi before Habermas: The Democratic Consequences of Ahimsa, Economic & Political Weekly, XLIV, 10. 7th March 2009, pp. 27-33.

8. Vinoba Bhave, Vinoba Sahitya (Hindi), Vol.20, Paramdham Prakashan, Pavnar, Wardha, 2001, pp.  365-366.

9. Douglas Allen,  Gandhi after 9/11: Creative Nonviolence and Sustainability, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2019, pp. 234-235.

10. HS, p. 37-38.

11. HS, p.35. According to Parel, what is meant here is the civilization produced by the industrial revolution.

12. HS, p.37.

13. HS, p. 67. The Gujarati equivalent for civilization is sudharo, i.e., ‘good conduct’.

14. HS, p. 51.

15. HS, p. 71. 

16. HS, pp. 46-50.

17. HS, pp. 62-65.

18. HS, pp. 58-61.

19. HS, p. 108.

20. HS, p.107.

21. HS, p.110.

22. Navajivan, 29-12- 1920, CWMG 19, Delhi, 1966,  p. 178.

23. John Middleton Murry, A Spiritual Classic, The Aryan Path, IX, 9, September 1938, p. 440.

24. Young India, 13-11-1924 and 20-11-1924, CWMG, 25, Delhi, 1967, pp. 250-251.

25. G.D.H. Cole, A Disturbing Book, The Aryan Path, Vol, IX, no.9, September 1938, p. 430.

26. Ibid., p. 429.

27. Harijan, 14-10-1939, CWMG 70, New Delhi, 1977, p. 242.

28. HS, p.78.

29. HS, p. 81.

30. HS, p.84.

31. HS, p. 93.

32. HS, p. 94.

33. HS, p. 90.

34. HS, p. 77.

35. W.J. Wybergh’s letter to Gandhi, 3 May 1910, Indian Opinion, 21-5-1910, CWMG, Vol. 10, Delhi, 1963, p. 510.

36. Harijan, October 13, 1940.

37. Usha Thakkar and Jayshree Mehta, Understanding Gandhi: Gandhians in Conversation with Fred J. Blum, Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2011, pp. 75-76

38. HS, p. 118.

39. HS, p. 73.

40. Ibid.

41. HS, p. 28.

42. HS, p. 73.

43. HS, p.39.

44. HS, p. 77

45. Foreword to Indian Home Rule, 28th May 1919, CWMG 15, Delhi, 1965, p. 330.

46. HS, p. 48. 

47. HS, p. 52.

48. HS, pp. 52-53. 

49. HS, p. 44-45.

50. HS, p. 53.

51. HS, pp. 100-106.

52. HS, p. 115-116.

53. HS, p.118.

54. Shruti Kapila, Self, Spencer and Swaraj: Nationalist Thought and Critiques of Liberalism, 1890-1920, Modern Intellectual History, 4, 1, 2007, p. 125.

55. Ashis Nandy, Nationalism, Genuine and Spurious: A Very Late Obituary of Two Postnationalist Strains in India, Occasion, Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities, V. 3. March 1, 2012, p. 5.

56. Bhikhu Parekh, Gandhi's Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination, Delhi, Ajanta Publications, 1995, p. 194.

57. HS, p. 54.

58. HS, pp. 55- 56

59. Speech at Prayer Meeting, Gandhijike Dukhe Dilki Pukar III, pp. 40-3, CWMG 87, New Delhi, 1983, pp. 357-359.

60. Young India, 26-1-1921, CWMG vol. 19, Delhi, 1966, pp. 277-78.

61. Navajivan, 10-8-1924 and Young India, 14-8-1924, CWMG, 24, Delhi, 1967, p. 548.

62. May 3 1939, Gandhi Seva Sanghke Pancham Varshik Adhiveshan (Brindaban, Bihar) ka Vivaran, CWMG 69, New Delhi, 1977, p. 197.

63. Letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, October 5 1945, from the Hindi original: Gandhi-Nehru Papers. Courtesy: Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. CWMG 81, New Delhi, 1980, pp. 319-20.

64. HS, p. 119.

65. Bapuna Patro- Ashramni Behnone (Gujarati),  CWMG 32, New Delhi, 1969, p.  489.

66. Irene Rathbone,  What About The Children? The Aryan Path, IX, 9, September 1938, p. 455.

Reproduced with permission from Hind Swaraj: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Introductory Essays by: Usha Thakkar & Gita Dharampal, Indus Source Books, Mumbai, 2019.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

History against sectarianism

Ramachandra Guha

Echoes of the words of historian Mohammad Habib are relevant even today

A refugee special train at Ambala Station during Partition. Seventy-two years ago, India was a land at war with itself, as a wave of intense communal rioting had both preceded and followed Independence and Partition

Courtesy: Photo Division, Government of India, via Wikipedia

In December 1947, the annual Indian History Congress was held in Bombay. The president-elect that year was Professor Mohammad Habib of the Aligarh Muslim University, a historian of early medieval India, known especially for his studies of the Delhi Sultanate. From the late 1930s, many students and faculty at AMU had been active supporters of M.A. Jinnah and his Pakistan movement. Mohammad Habib was not one of them. He was resolutely committed to an inclusive Indian nationalism, whereby citizenship was to be defined by shared values rather than by common religious beliefs. He idolized Gandhi; as did his wife, Sohaila, whose father, Abbas Tyabji, had worked closely with the Mahatma.

In December 1947, India was a land at war with itself. A wave of intense communal rioting had both preceded and followed Independence and Partition. Professor Habib’s friends and family urged him not to take the long train journey from Aligarh to Bombay. They worried that he might be identified by his religion, and attacked. The patriot disregarded them, and delivered a presidential address whose words and warnings resonate 72 years later.

Mohammad Habib began his speech at the History Congress by praising Gandhi, whom he called “the greatest Indian teacher of all times”, under “[whose] divinely inspired guidance” his compatriots had “liquidated peacefully and by mutual agreement one of the most powerful empires the world has seen”. He then turned to the fact of Partition and what had led to it. He himself thought that the prime cause was the British creation of communal electorates, “a hideous arrangement no western democracy would have tolerated for a moment”. After Muslims were asked to vote separately, argued Habib, “differences of religion, inevitable in a large country like ours, were thus fused into two opposite political groups, and their increasing hostility was inevitable as with each succeeding election, and an expanding body of voters, all representatives were required to appeal exclusively to masses of their own denomination.” An inevitable (and noxious) consequence of communal electorates was that “the minority would lean more and more on the foreign power, and try to prove worthy of its support by sabotaging the national movement.”

Pakistan had been created as a homeland for Muslims. However, many Muslims had voted to stay behind in India. To those who questioned their commitment, Mohammad Habib answered that “the overwhelming mass of the Muslims of this land have an undoubted Indian paternity. It is true that there are innumerable Muslim families in India who claim a foreign origin, but this affiliation is purely fictitious.”

Habib warned Indian Muslims against nostalgia for the medieval past, when the rulers were of their faith. As he remarked: “The position of the Indian Musalmans in the middle ages was, if a very rough simile be allowed, not unlike Indian Christians during the British period.” Ruler and ruled might worship the same god; but in everything else they were separate and different. Habib further remarked: “In days when we were suffering from an inferiority complex owing to the brutal fact of a foreign government, which seemed unshakable, we made the best we could of our medieval Rajput Rajas and Turkish Sultans. That attitude is no longer necessary; and the plain truth has to be told that all our medieval governments were intensely exclusive aristocratic organisations... War and politics were games which only the well-born were allowed to play. The governments were in no sense governments of the people. An analysis of the officers of the Moghul and the pre-Moghul governments of Delhi will reveal the plain and sad fact that Muslims of Indian birth were rigidly excluded from the higher military and civil offices of the state. An Indian Muslim had as little chance of becoming a warlord of the Empire of Delhi as a Hindu Sudra had of ascending a Rajasthan throne.”

These warnings are still relevant, except that they apply to Hindus rather than Muslims. Indeed, Hindutva, the philosophy that animates our ruling regime, is entirely based on an inferiority complex. Hence its glorification of Hindu rulers such as Chandragupta and Shivaji, disregarding the fact that their regimes practised gender and caste discrimination absolutely at odds with what a modern, democratic republic should countenance.

As a thoroughgoing democrat himself, Mohammad Habib deplored the fact that, in the India of December 1947, “the hold of the ‘community’ over the individual is as complete today as it was in the middle ages.” Thus, “[s]ocial conventions and social prejudices, stronger than they have ever been in the past, strengthen the slavery of the individual. He is completely at the mercy of the community and its leaders in every sphere, including even the sacred sphere of his personal and domestic life.”

In India, the religious community defined and controlled the individual when he or she was alive, and when he or she died. Thus, as Mohammad Habib remarked: “It is impossible even now to be an Indian without being a member of an Indian community. There is, I believe, at present no graveyard in the land to which an Indian could lay claim merely on the basis of his Indian citizenship, and admission to every one of them lies through some community rite.”

To elevate the individual over the community, argued Professor Habib in 1947, “is the real challenge of the hour”. As he put it: “The present-day ‘communalist’ is a creature of tradition, a tradition so vitiated as to be next door to barbarism. The future ‘citizen’ will be a creation of laws consciously planned for the public good.” Habib accepted that “[d]ifferences of religion there are and will be; in this there is no harm.” However, he was emphatic that a central task of the Republic taking shape was to create “one State, one Law and one National Community for the whole land”. Mohammad Habib would certainly have been in favour of a common civil code for all citizens; elsewhere in the lecture, he lamented the fact that “the Indian citizen has neither a law of marriage nor a law of inheritance.”

In the last part of his lecture, Mohammad Habib turned to his own profession, the writing of history. He notes, accurately, that most Indian historians were from an elite background (they still are), and “this fact has inevitably coloured their vision”. Thus, while “[m]odern works on Indian history do not show any antipathy to the peasants and the working classes,” at the same time, “their attitude to the higher classes has been one of uncritical adulation.”

Because of this focus on the ruling classes, said Professor Habib, “[t]he lot of the Indian worker and everything connected with it — his wages, the prices of commodities necessary for the maintenance of his family, the struggles of his life, his joys, his sufferings and his hopes — all these are a virgin field for the historical investigator.” In asking for closer attention to the lives of workers and peasants, Mohammad Habib anticipated what became known as Subaltern Studies. Notably, even here he warned against dogmatism. Thus, while advocating a history from below, he observed: “I do not wish to postulate the theory of class-conflicts, nor am I unaware of how difficult the application of this [Marxian] theory becomes when, regardless of the fact that it is based on the experience of Europe during the modern machine age, it is applied to all countries and all times.”

A state-dominated interpretation of history is one of the most effective means of sabotaging democracy

— Mohammad Habib

I first read Professor Mohammad Habib’s lecture some 25 years ago, when, on the shelf of a university library, I came across the printed proceedings of the Indian History Congress of 1947. I came across an online text recently, and read it again, to be struck afresh by its sagacity and wisdom. The quotes offered above demonstrate this adequately, I think, but let me nonetheless offer some last examples. Back in December 1947, Professor Habib argued that while the State could fund historical research, it “should not interfere in the question of interpretation”. A free India, he said, “implies a free history of India in which every point of view has a right to be heard. Free and untrammelled discussion will lead us to the truth; and there is no other way of reaching it.”

Professor Mohammad Habib urged politicians to stay away from controlling or monitoring how the past was presented or re-presented. As he remarked: “A state-dominated interpretation of history is one of the most effective means of sabotaging democracy.” This was extraordinarily prescient, anticipating what Indira Gandhi sought to do with history and historians in the 1970s, and what Narendra Modi seeks to do with history and historians today.

courtesy : "The Telegraph", - Published 07 December 2019

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features