Hind Swaraj Summary

Mahatma Gandhi

Hind Swaraj

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Hind Swaraj Summary

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Hind Swaraj, written as a dialogue between the Reader and the Writer, outlines Gandhi’s feelings about the relationship between India and the British Empire, as well as his attitude toward modernization and resistance. Written well before Gandhi’s rise to international attention, many of the ideas in the book would later become cornerstones of Gandhi’s non-violent resistance to the British rule of India.

The title of the book refers to the concept of Indian home rule, and that concept forms the first section of the work. Gandhi argues that home rule means a governing of the self. At this time, the British Empire was ruling India. Gandhi argued that Indians should rule India. He is quick to point out, however, that Indians governing India in the same manner as the British is not the same as self-rule. India, he states, should be governed in accordance with Indian practices and principles. Keeping the same policies and just changing the people in charge would not be good enough and would not count as self-rule.

Gandhi is quite clear about his attitude toward English society. “The condition of England at present is pitiable,” he writes when considering the government of England. He also adds, “I pray to God that India may never be in that plight.”

Even as he advocates for self-rule, Gandhi reminds his reader to approach the English with compassion. He writes, “I can never subscribe to the statement that all Englishmen are bad. Many Englishmen desire Home Rule for India. That the English people are somewhat more selfish than others is true, but that does not prove that every Englishman is bad. We who seek justice will have to do justice to others.”

This perspective is highlighted again later when Gandhi makes clear that violence is not the correct approach for securing Indian self-rule. He clearly states that violence is never an answer, and quite the contrary, is counter-productive to Indian goals.

Gandhi spends a large amount of this small book denouncing modernization and modern civilization. He is quite pointed in his criticism, and describes how people become fooled by and enamored with modernity:

A man whilst he is dreaming, believes in his dream; he is undeceived only when he is awakened from his sleep. A man labouring under the bane of civilization is like a dreaming man. What we usually read are the works of defenders of modern civilization, which undoubtedly claims among its votaries very brilliant and even some very good men. Their writings hypnotize us. And so, one by one, we are drawn into the vortex.

He goes on to say that people who abandon the ways of the past are essentially driven crazy—his term is “half mad”—and they lose the strength and courage that comes from a life that focuses on things other than the hallmarks of a modern civilization. Civilizations that lose themselves to modernity will ultimately, Gandhi claims, destroy themselves.

Gandhi argues that the most-powerful way for Indians to resist English rule would be to stop participating in trade with the English. Seeing India’s primary purpose for the English as economic, Gandhi proposes to remove economics from the situation. This would be in keeping with his advocacy of non-violent resistance, and, he writes, really address the underlying reasons for the British Empire’s interest in India.

Gandhi’s final main point is that India must reject all of Western civilization’s tenets. Despite its ability to lure people in, Western civilization at its core is destructive, and will result in the ruination of all countries and peoples who adopt its priorities. In one of his most-pointed observations of modern and Western civilization, Gandhi writes, “My firm opinion is that the lawyers have enslaved India, have accentuated Hindu-Mahomedan dissensions and have confirmed English authority.” Gandhi’s Reader later responds by stating, “ I now understand the lawyers; the good they may have done is accidental. I feel that profession is certainly hateful.”

For Gandhi, India is among the last, great civilizations, unrefined by Western ideas. He writes, “Rome went, Greece shared the same fate; the might of the Pharaohs was broken; Japan has become Westernized; of China nothing can be said; but India is still, somehow or other, sound at the foundation.”

While many critics have applauded Gandhi’s devotion to non-violent resistance, the Hind Swaraj has attracted criticism for its unyielding denunciation of modernity. Gandhi sees automation of any kind as an entry to a bad future. For example, Gandhi writes, “Railways accentuate the evil nature of man.” For many critics, this type of strict anti-modernity stance seems out of touch with the reality of the development of human civilization.

Critics have frequently pointed to Gandhi’s championing of the honor of working a handloom as a contradiction within the book. Handlooms are, in their way, machines, and examples of the positive impact of modernization.

Still, nearly all critics recognize the wisdom in Gandhi’s endorsement of non-violence, and the brave rebellion that Gandhi promotes in seeking a better life for his countrymen.

Hind Swaraj has a format similar to the dialogues written by the ancient Greeks, and can be read and evaluated in the same way.