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Durable Link to this BlogTuesday, May 25, 2004

Gandhi's Hind Swaraj

The book of 'Hind swaraj' was written by Gandhiji in 1908. He was on his return voyage from London to South Africa and wrote on the way. Hence it is often called 'Sermon on the sea'. It is a small book of about hundred pages but contains most of the principles Gandhi stood for. It became a Bible during Indian freedom struggle inspiring millions to resist British rule and adopt Swadeshi. Hind Swaraj is considered most relevant, universal and chief one among Gandhi's basic works.

He criticised large scale mechanization, modern civilization and colonialism. The book was banned by the British for his criticism of colonialism! After 96 years, mechanisation has increased over hundred times. The age of machines and robots has practically turned human-beings into machines. The fear that Gandhi predicted, of having everything a person needs, by pressing just a button, has become a reality. Civilization has made way to eco-destruction on an enormous scale. Colonialism has reappeared in the form of globalization, which ultimately means money and power concentrated in the hands of the few and exploitation of masses at large. Herein lies the universality and timelessness of Gandhi's thoughts. Terminology might have changed, but not the mind-set. It is in this light, that 'Hindswaraj' is to be read and interpreted.

Let us see why Gandhi was against mechanisation or machines:

Machinery impoverished India. Next to food, clothes being of prime importance, spinning and weaving were the cottage industries. But industrialisation in England set in and Manchester, factory clothes found way to India enmasse. Millions were rendered jobless and penniless. Even Bombay mills, though very few, proved a bane. "It would be a folly to assume that an Indian Rockfeller would be better than American Rockfeller" said Bapu. He was not against machines. It was the craze for large scale machinery, that he condemned. He was fully aware of a machine's utility to commoners. But mechanisation made people, who lived by handicrafts and manual labour, jobless and starve.

When asked whether he was against all machinery, his reply was significant. "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 craze for labour-saving machinery. Men went for saving labour, till thousands were without work and thrown on the streets to die of starvation. I want to save time and labour not for a fraction of mankind but for all. I want the concentration of wealth not in the hands of the few, but in the hands of all. Today machinery merely helps a few to ride on the backs of the millions. The impetus is not on philanthropy, or to save labour, but on greed.... It is against this constitution of things that I am fighting with all my might....... The supreme consideration is man. The machine should not tend to atrophy the limbs of man. I could make intelligent exceptions. Take the case of Singer's Sewing Machine. It is one of the few useful things ever invented and there is a romance about the device itself" he exclaimed.

Next (June 09,2004): Hind Swaraj on Modern Civilization and Colonization

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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