Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

99. Hind Swarajya

I came across Hind Swarajya few years ago. It is a very small book, the Marathi version has just 79 pages. The booklet was written by Gandhiji long back in 1909, during his return journey from England to South Africa. The writing style is interesting as it is presented as a dialogue between a reader (who supports extremists view against British Raj) and the Editor. So, Gandhiji speaks about sustainable development even when the concept was yet to emerge and yet to take control of the development discourse.

Development is comparatively a recent theme of policy making and strategic planning. It is attracting a great deal of sociological inquiry covering not only its positive gains but also its distressing outcomes. Unlike Economists, sociologists are weary of worshiping GNP God. To them development is not mere economic growth, it is growth with social justice.

Development is a process of going to a ‘better’ world, the objective of development is well being of all. It can also be defined as: a process by which vulnerabilities are reduced. Sustainable development is a pattern of resource use that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for future generations. The term was first used by the Brundtland Commission which coined what has become the most often-quoted definition of sustainable development.

Frankly speaking, it is difficult to agree with the ideas of Gandhiji at first instance. He presents altogether different paradigm of sustainable development. I appreciate his courage but almost everybody in rural areas talks about ‘roads, hospitals, schools, employment opportunities, health services’ as development. When one comes across communities who have to walk for at least 25 kilometers to access primary health, one cannot deny that road is necessity. With the whopping number of illiterates and school dropouts and the jobs getting linked with education, one cannot deny the necessity of schools.

The first reading of Hind Swarajya gave me a feeling that Gandhi was short sighted, he loved his own ideas, he was not progressive, and he was anti Western culture and so on. By the time I read Hind Swarajya again, I had grown up and had enough of ‘development’ experience to listen to Gandhiji openly. Though I still do not agree with each and every point in Hind Swarajya, I think it is time we should re-look at the development concept and its application for poverty alleviation and social welfare.

What are the major facets of Gandhiji’s ideology?

Gandhiji presents an alternate ideology which is based on Swarajya, Satyagraha and Swadeshi. He elaborates his ideas on what civilization he wants and appeals to readers to develop long term vision for the poorest of the poor in India by thinking with open eyes and open mind and acting accordingly.

Gandhji opposes the modern civilization which is based on consumerism. He says that the modern social systems like Parliament, Railway, Judiciary and Medicine are not for the benefit of the poor. None of these systems make us strong and unselfish; on the contrary they make us physically and mentally weak and competitive rather than cooperative. We have turned into slave since we forgot our ancient ways of life and started following western civilization. He reminds the reader that he does not want all of us to go back to ‘Dark Age’ but warns that if we continue to live modern civilization, it will take us to another type of Dark Age. Gandhiji wants us to see the beauty in voluntary simple living, material poverty and slowness of life.

For Gandhiji, technology like Railway and system like Judiciary are means to keep control, they are not to help the people of India. Gandhiji’s criticism on Railway seems far fetched, because we see railway as a tool to ‘connect India’. But he has a point. For example he says, due to railway facility people who produce wheat are selling to the distant places where they get better price and the local people have no wheat to consume. Thus with technology, people tend to become selfish, so we need to use technology with adequate thinking. He adds that even before railway was introduced Indians had a tradition of visiting pilgrimage centers in various parts of the country because the country was always ONE, it is not one due to railways. Similarly, judicial system instead of keeping peace motivates people to fight. If we can resolve our own conflicts, why would we need an external person or agency to solve it? The key is self reliance.

Before talking about rights, Gandhiji talks about duties of all citizens. He says Nation building is a long term processes and Swarajya should take into consideration the needs and rights of the poorest of the poor, especially farmers. He emphasizes that Swarajya does not only mean lack of English Government but lack of English way of governing.

Gandhiji says the opinions of the elite in the country are based on newspapers and hence are always changing. Elites have no connection with real India and hence their vision and ideas are not relevant to the country.

Gandhiji says the establishing big cities/towns is not beneficial because they become places where rich exploit poor more. He adds that violence is not sustainable in the long run and to practice non violence one needs to mentally very strong. He emphasizes importance of ‘means’ in achieving ‘end’ and warns that bad means would definitely bring bad end. He speaks about various context specific actions one needs to take and criticizes expectations of standardized responses and actions.

Gandhiji’s remarks on ‘Education’ are indeed thought provoking. He says that unless one has life skills, just knowing letters won’t help. He laments that we are giving unnecessary importance to ‘literacy’ and burdening rural people with our whims. For Satyagraha courage and determination is needed. For Satyagraha weapon is not needed but one needs to use him/herself as weapon for the cause. He adds that non-cooperation is very powerful tool.

It is a ‘must read’ book for all who want to think and who care for the strengthening process of equity and justice. Hind Swarajya gives us opportunity to reflect, to re-think, to re-formulate ideas and to return to basics if required.


  1. You have got me sufficiently interested in the book now !

    He sure seems to be ahead of his times !

    Thanks for sharing

  2. that was very interesting and the book surely a valuable read..

  3. Only if Gandhiji was alive, we would not have been in the mess we are in.
    Iam tempted to buy the book.

  4. Thanks Kavi, magiceye and Chowlajee.


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