Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, often known as Indian home rule, provided a critique of several facets of colonialism and the succeeding western civilisation that it led to. Gandhi envisioned a different type of government for India—Hindu Swaraj—than the English system. You want the tiger’s nature, but not the tiger, he said. GANDHI, p. Gandhi’s ideals, according to Alter, prioritized respect for human dignity, freedom, and universal equality (Alter). As a result, he opposed colonialism both domestically in India and abroad, notably in South Africa. Although Gandhi differed with the colonialist position whereby he viewed the English colonialists as greedy and violent; his solution for the problem focused on peaceful methods that would enable India to get its independence. Moreover, he opined that Indian home rule should differ from the tenets of civilization already brought about by the British which he viewed as destructive for the Indian society. This paper will examine the manner in which Hind Swaraj offers a critique of modern civilization and colonialism. Hind Swaraj is based on national and self morality which ensures that there is good conduct, order and happiness within the society.
One aspect of modern civilization that Gandhi’s home rule differs from is on the role of the professions within the society. Hind Swaraj advocated for a national moral reform which included a change in the manner in which lawyers and doctors operated (GANDHI 67) (ALTER 12). Hind Swaraj argued against the effects of capitalism that were prevalent in civilization whereby professions such as doctors and lawyers acted out of self interest rather than trying to determine the best course of action for the populace. Doctors who were focused on western medicine and pharmacology were criticized as not focused on the cause of diseases but rather on the cure of those ailments. The difference with traditional Indian healing and the other forms of treatment he researched on was the fact that there were trials carried out on a part of the population in order to determine how to cure diseases in a manner that was focused on wellness or as he called it, mending the human soul as opposed to the body (GANDHI 43). Moreover, Hind Swaraj advocated for self independence whereby individuals themselves would focus on preventing illnesses through the type of food they ate, for example. He cited that there should be a national diet regulated scientifically whereby people could get pure butter, milk, vegetables and fruits to prevent diseases; which food ought to be cheaply accessible to all (ALTER 11). For lawyers, he criticized the manner in which they were more focused on the development of their careers than resolving the problems in the society. He argued against them becoming judges but rather helping out the poor and impoverished in society who underwent injustices. Hind Swaraj showed the difference between the lawyers in the civilized world and Manomohan Ghose who was not focused on self enrichment but defended the poor without pay (GANDHI 41).
Civilization is also criticized as embellishing the imperfections of the human soul. Gandhi does not disagree with the fact that human beings are imperfect but posits that western civilization made the human imperfections even more pronounced. Although he accepts that Indian civilization prior to colonialism was tainted by practices such as child marriages; he argues against the disorder that was brought about by Western civilization and colonialism. Some of the ways envisioned as a manifestation of the degradation of the human soul due to modern civilization is inebriacy when other parts of the population suffer from famine and hunger; (ALTER 12); and the exaltation of a western way of life which shunned the traditional life of Indians exemplified through dressing for example (GANDHI 30). The attempts by civilization to produce bodily comforts result in failure because men and women were exploited for the benefit of others. The exploited populace however went ahead with the servitude because they wanted to be able to afford luxuries which due to meager pay, they were unable to afford in the end. Hind Swaraj further goes ahead to belabor the manner in which civilization does not favor even Western people by stating: “This civilization is irreligion, and it has taken such a hold on the people in Europe who are in it appear to be half mad. They lack real physical strength or courage. They keep up their energy by intoxication” (GANDHI 30).
Civilization is further criticized as precursor to the disruption of societal roles and morality. The role of women as effeminate nurturers who were queens of their households is criticized as exposing them to exploitation which Hind Swaraj considers immoral (GANDHI 30). Moreover, men and women are exploited in factories with bad working conditions such as breathing of polluted air which ultimately affect their health (GANDHI 30) (ALTER 9). Hind Swaraj differs from civilization in the aspect of exploitation and risking of the lives of others for the purpose of self enrichment. Gandhi argues that morals are connected to health and when a person engages in immoral behavior, the result is that the health of the society is affected (ALTER 1).
Hind Swaraj criticizes western civilization as a pretentious concept developed with ulterior motives of critiquing native communities they wanted to colonize and exploit as barbaric. The intended result was to have a justification for the violence they later inflicted on the communities they governed. In contrast, Hind Swaraj was aimed at an honest relationship whereby all members of the community were cared for, financially as well as morally. Hind Swaraj was used to argue against western civilization that subverted healthy Indian practices related to dressing, medicine and food (ALTER 5). The result was that the health of the society was affected as they were also exploited by the colonialists.
According to Hind Swaraj, civilization was more about good conduct whereby every person aspired to attain morality and better their relationship with God. The focus on earthly gain was not a tenet for Hind Swaraj which viewed human discontent and self gratification as the precursor to meting out violence against others or oneself through jeopardizing of health (ALTER 5). The belief that immoral behavior through self indulgence led to violence in the society; which could be sanitized by calling the endeavor a bid to bring about civilization, was based on a subversion of fundamental rights. Restraint was reiterated by Hind Swaraj in order to enable civilization (ALTER 5).
Hind Swaraj criticizes the manner in which colonialism signified greed and violence which was aimed at fellow human beings in the society. Unlike Hind Swaraj which advocates for peaceful methods even against those who may be perceived as being erroneous in their ways, colonialism was the perpetration of offences and greed in the name of bringing about civilization (GANDHI, 52). Colonialism was used, in the view of Gandhi, to exploit natural resources of the Indians and exploit their labor. The manner in which the colonialists went about achieving the feat of exploitation is also criticized by Hind Swaraj. Colonialists pitted Mahomedans and Indians by using previous societal divisions based on religion (GANDHI, 38). They also used corrupt methods to seduce the natives in India through gifts in order to be able to secure their support to rule over them In contrast, Hindu Swaraj differs from the position of differences based on religion as it believes that all men are equal and come from one God thus men should treat each other with dignity (ALTER, 2).
The use of force that colonialism brought about was also criticized by Hind Swaraj. “England is, I believe, easily influenced by the use of gun-power” stated Gandhi (GANDHI, 50). Brute force was used to compel native Indians into submission under colonialism because the English colonialists had superior weapons, namely firearms. Despite English colonialists having used brute force to secure their freedom and rights such as the right to vote and self determination; they continued to use violence against those whom they colonized thus differing from the position of Hindu Swaraj which did not advocate for violence. Gandhi states: “We, therefore, have before us in English the force of everybody wanting and insisting on his rights, nobody thinking of his duty” (GANDHI, 52). Hind Swaraj on the other hand advocated for non forceful methods to end colonialism. The value of each life was emphasized within Hind Swaraj thus differing from the colonialist position whereby people could be killed in order to deprive them of the resources that were to be exploited. Hind Swaraj advocates for non violence (ALTER, 5). To end colonial rule, Hind Swaraj advocated for neither extremism nor moderation but rather through diplomatic means that were supposed to convince the rest of the world that Indians did not want colonial rule.
Civilization according to Hind Swaraj means good conduct (GANDHI, 45). Civilization as defined by colonialists was to point out immorality while Hind Swaraj was aimed at elevating morality and improving upon human imperfections (GANDHI, 46). The focus of Hind Swaraj, in contrast to Western civilization and colonialists was n improvement in the national morality, order and development of the entire society. Extremities in human nature such as self-indulgence and greed were disapproved and self restraint commended. Hind Swaraj therefore offers national and self morality aimed at the improvement of all aspects of life for an entire society as opposed to selfish destructive gains (Gandhi and Gandhi).
Alter, Joseph. Gandhi’s body: Sex, diet, and the politics of nationalism. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.
Gandhi, Mahatma and M. K. Gandhi. Hind swaraj, or, Indian home rule. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1939.