The importance of Hindi Swaraj
The importance of Hindi Swaraj
Hind Swaraj cannot be considered a part of Indian writing in English. It was written originally in Gujarati, but what is equally important, translated by Gandhi himself into English. This is the only book of his which he himself translated. That is why we need to remember that we have to discard narrow yardsticks of what constitutes Indian English literature. All of Indian English literature, more properly speaking, is a translated literature. Therefore, considering Hind Swaraj as a valid text, we have done well to include it in the syllabus. It’s literary value, as I suggested earlier, is its direct and simple style The sentences are short and avoid excessive coordination or subordination. This is a plain style with little or no ornamentation. It is prose of thought which does not strive after needless elegance. It is the same style that we find in Gandhi’s later works, whether translated or written originally in English.
Yet, the importance of Hind Swaraj extends far beyond its literary value. It is. in my opinion, a seminal text for all those who wish to understand Gandhi. What is more? it is nothing less than a non-violent revolutionary’s handbook. It should be compulsory reading for all Indians. Why do I make such a sweeping statement? That’s because this book has the power to make us wake up from our stupor. We who are intoxicated by modernity and westernization, who are continuing to be brainwashed daily via the mass media to get entangled further into self-destructive lifestyles of consumerism, require the kind of jolt that Hind Swaraj offers.
The text extends much beyond its immediate political message, which, as we have already observed, concerns the achievement of Swaraj and the best means thereof. We have also seen how Gandhi clearly says that Swaraj obtained by violence will be no Swsuaj at all, but will demean us to the level of our firmer colonizers. But, Gandhi’s concerns are not merely political. Indeed, we need to recognize clearly that Gandhi’s approach is not fragmentary, but holistic. In Gandhian thought what helps us attain political independence should also help us develop spiritually.
Gandhi’s thought springs from a deep perspective which is not just intra-civilization. but transcivilizational. He identifies India as a spiritual and religious civilization. whose culture is superior to that of modem western civilization. Here Gandhi makes a crucial point that western civilization today is merely modem civilization: at one time, before the onset of modernity, Europe was not much different from India. Why is modern civilization condemned by Gandhi? It is condemned not only because it is materialistic, but because it is essentially immoral. It encourages vice and makes us forget the purpose of life which is the cultivation of virtue. Modern life regards the human being as essentially a physical entity the aim of whose life is to accu~nulate comforts. In order to give us the comforts that we seek modern civilization adopts a predatory and destructive approach to nature. All the progress and development. We will realize, is at the cost of enormous damage to our environment. Some of this damage is irreversible. The other way in which much of what we call modern development happens is through the exploitation of human beings. Slavery, colonialism, indentured labour, and other forced or ill-paid systems have been evolved so that the majority of the poor toil for the comforts of the rich few. Gandhiji shows us that modernity is driven by the baser instincts of greed, lust for power. urge to dominate over others, and so on. If all of us succumb to the creaze:: for modernity, the whole species would be dehumanized. Gandhi recognizes this and therefore criticize the west, which is the custodian of modernity.
He wants Indians to regain their lost pride in themselves and their culture, which he Gmdbi believes is superior to that of the modem West. That is because traditional Indian culture. at its best, was designed to ensure the moral and spiritual evolution of each of its members. Gandhi wants modem Indians to get rid of the colonial mentality which makes us worship everything that comes from the West. Instead, Gandhi deglamourizes the opponent, so that we can evaluate it afresh. The so-called backwardness of traditional India, according to Gandhi, was no backwardness at all, but a proof of its higher culture.
Gandhi considers the craze for machinery to be inappropriate to India. Here we have a surplus of labour, so labour saving machinery will actually render millions jobless. It will dehumanize and enslave those who are bound to machines in lifeless routines. It will concentrate the wealth in the hands of those few who own machines. Instead of so much centralization of power and wealth, Gandhi advocates decentralization. Each one must attempt to attain self-sufficiency; we should become both producers and consumers, to use postmodern jargon, we should all become “prosumers.”
Self-sufficiency, self-respect, self-realization are thus the planks of Gandhi’s idea of Swaraj. Swaraj itself is a concept more deep and wide than independence. Swaraj is a Vedic word which means more than just self-rule. It suggests not just individual autonomy but a very high level of moral and spiritual development. Such Swaraj is a life-long project and includes every aspect of our lives. It is interactive and evolutionary, not just static or inert. By Gandhi’s yardstick, we are still far from attaining Swaraj. Indeed, in the ultimate analysis, Swaraj is not just a self-centered or negative concept. It embraces all of humankind. both the oppressed and the oppressor. Political independence is merely the beginning. Swaraj will be impossible before the whole world learns to co-exist in peace and prosperity; it will be a world without the rampant inequalities, dehumanizing poverty, crippling disease. internecine warfare of today.