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Ming Zhao (mz2377)

MDES 2650: Gandhi and His Interlocutors

Gandhis Idiosyncratic Formuation of Swaraj

In his famed discourse Hind Swaraj Mohandas Gandhi meditates on the issues
of Indian sovereignty and national freedom. Writing at a time when India was plagued by
Western oppression under the British Parliament, Gandhi presents his ultimate vision for
a free, self-sovereign people through his complex idea of swaraj. He defines swaraj
or self-rule in a highly idiosyncratic and concentric manner involving not only self-rule
at the Indian nationalist level but also at a personal humanist level, and at a universal
civilization level. To achieve true swaraj, according to Gandhi, one must achieve it
consistently at the national, personal, and universal levels: all three are inseparable.

First, Gandhi defines swaraj specific to twentieth-century India in its historical

and political context. For him, Indian self-rule does not simply mean the end of British
rule; driving out the oppressors physically does not equate to driving them out
ideologically. In other words, the Indian people must learn to rule themselves by
reawakening their own principals of civilization to supplant the principals of Western
civilization. To simply drive out the British while continuing to import their institutions
would mean to keep the tigers nature but not the tiger to make India English This
is not the Swaraj I want (Hind Swaraj, IV). Gandhi insists that the British took over

India because the Indian people let them do sobecause the Indians desired their modern
civilization and internalized their materialistic ways of life, from railways to medicine to
justice courts. In order to reconstruct the political foundations of modern India under
swaraj, Gandhi insists that the Indian people must attack such existing Western
institutions with satyagraha, or truth-force.

He defines truth-force and its relation to swaraj as refusing to act in accordance to

institutions or laws that are repugnant to ones conscience because doing so enslaves a
man and prevents him from self-sovereignty: it is contrary to our manhood if we obey
laws repugnant to our conscience. Such teaching means slavery If only man will
realize that it is unmanly to obey laws that are unjust, no mans tyranny will enslave him.
This is the key to self-rule or home rule. (Hind Swaraj, XVII) Gandhi elaborates on the
concept of truth force to emphasize that it is indivisible from ahimsa, or the absence of
desire to harm (more colloquially known as non-violence). To achieve independence
via resistance by arms would not allow the Indian people to achieve swaraj because We
reap exactly as we sow. The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree. (Hind
Swaraj, XVI) To take up arms against the British would merely be propagating the
repugnant Western approaches to achieving national goals. Therefore, ultimately, only
soul-force and not brute force could lead the volatile Indian people of the mid-twentieth
century to true political freedom.

And more than just political freedom for India at the national level, Gandhis
swaraj depicts a broader notion of complete human emancipationemancipation at once

personal and universal, individualist and collectivist. First, let us examine the national to
personal connection: Gandhis rhetoric in Hind Swaraj upholds swaraj as not merely an
ethical cornerstone of some historical moral philosophy but also a practical and necessary
tool for living life. When he discusses how one may execute truth-force or passive
resistance, Gandhi illustrates explicitly the synonymy between political liberation and
transcendental liberation of the soul from materialistic shackles: Those who want to
become passive resisters for the service of the country have to observe perfect chastity,
follow truth, and cultivate fearlessness those alone can follow the path of passive
resistance who are free from fear whether as to their possessions, false honor, their
relatives, the government, bodily injuries, or death (Hind Swaraj, XVII). In other words,
a nations swaraj is dependent on its peoples personal swaraj. Individually the men must
carry out their daily lives with discipline and bodily asceticismwith anasakti, the nonattachment to the physical material world. Gandhis own personal behaviors and habits
consistently support such a framework: he wholeheartedly practiced brahmacarya
(chastity) , was doggedly vegetarian, regularly mediated, and fasted over prolonged
intervals in order to discipline his mind and soul toward detachment from materialistic
desires. Thus Indian national self-rule, and political freedom in general, is just one
incomplete aspect of Gandhis definition of swarajto the extent that a nations swaraj is
dependent on its peoples personal swaraj.

We now move beyond the national-to-personal interconnection of swaraj to

examine its national-to-universal significance. In discussing what it means to be a true
civilization Gandhi suggests that the traditional Indian village founded upon the Gujarati

principles of good conduct could serve as a beacon to the world in humanitys universal
quest for complete swaraj. He states, The Swaraj I wish to picture is such that, after we
have once realized it, we shall endeavor to the end of our life-time to persuade others to
do likewise If the English become Indianized we can accommodate them (Hind
Swarj, XIV). Here, Gandhi envisions a universal uplift, or savodaya, that extends swaraj
beyond the scope of his own homeland to encompass all nations and all peoples of the
world, even including Western nations. He hopes to universally unhinge the principals
that underlay Western civilizationthe principals of modern materialismto regain
mastery over our minds and our passions (Hind Swaraj, XIII). Traditional Indian
villages were true civilizations in such a sense: not the whole of India came into contact
with the West, and according to Gandhi, where this cursed modern civilization has not
reached India remains as it was before our forefathers were satisfied in small villages
[and] saw that our real happiness and health consisted in the proper use of our hands and
feet... a nation with a constitution like this is fitter to teach others than to learn from
others (Hind Swaraj, XIII). In the small villages, the peasants labored using their hands
and feet, emphasized ethical dialogue over violence, lived independently following their
agricultural occupations, and avoided courts: they enjoyed true Home Rule. Gandhi
further advocates that anyone who claims to love freedom should spend six months in
such a village without modern railways before speaking of Home Rule. Then, only after
experiencing Swaraj, each man for himself individually, can the world achieve
collectivist freedom.

Thus, viewed from Gandhis idiosyncratic perspective of the world, his rigorous
routines of self-discipline, his devoted political teachings, and passive-resistance-focused
social movements all converge on that singular yet multifaceted formulation of Swaraj.
Personal liberation is the bedrock of Indian political liberation, which is the bedrock and
pioneer of universal liberation. Freedom of the man, of the nation, and of human
civilization is inseparable. Only by simultaneously striving for all can humanity truly
ultimately master itself.