As I walked alongside Gandhi’s last steps in the garden where he was assassinated, the rain poured down as if to commemorate the sadness that most Indians felt when they lost their beloved Mahatma, or Great Soul. I say ‘most Indians’ because certain southern regions praise his assassin, Nathuram Godse, for killing Gandhiji. The assassination of Gandhi by a Hindu was really a foreshadowing of the murder that was to come in the days of Partition. Godse’s main motive was to stop Gandhi’s anti-Partition ideas, thus allowing the creation of a separate state for Muslims, Pakistan. He called Gandhi a Muslim-sympathizer, and Hindu nationalists revere his actions as a patriotic act. Indian/Pakistani displays of nationalism will be covered by Madeline’s post for Issue #3 of the World Wide Walkers.
Gandhi shared his philosophy and vision with all of India. A previous post on Ma’ats Defenders discusses his ideas on ahimsa (non-violence). This post will attempt to explain the concepts he shared in his effort to remove the British raj from India. Swaraj and Swadeshi are the Hindi terms that formed the crux of Gandhi’s movement for a free and economic independent India. The prefix in Hindi ‘swa’ means self, and ‘raj’ and ‘deshi’ translate to rule, and country. The ‘country’ in Swadeshi refers to an economically free nation.
The Indian Poet Tagore once wrote, “If there is no one to heed your call walk alone, walk alone.”
Mohatma K. Gandhi led an incredible movement to oust the British from India and was able to walk alone on an extremely difficult path. We had the pleasure of speaking with Dilip Simeon, a historian, political activist, and Indian academic who said, “Gandhi was world changer, a karma yogi but he was not a system builder.”
His ideas and concepts were ones that people could believe in. He was not creating a doctrine but rather following the footsteps of many great teachers and leaders before him as a dialogic practitioner. Siddartha Guatama and Socrates were also dialogic practitioners. Gandhi, like these men, would use the power of conversation to question, discuss and ultimately attempt to uncover truth.
In the conversation with Dilip we discussed that Gandhiji was the last world leader that lived amongst his people. He was not living in a palace or beyond his means, because of the power he had achieved through his message. He lived simply in a bedroom on the same property where he was assassinated.
Gandhi lived according the concepts that he preached. He called for ‘Swaraj.’ Indians were to be ruled by Indians, he inspired the masses of his countrymen to rise up and throw off the yoke of oppression imposed on them by the British.
In Young India (1925) Gandhi wrote,
“By Swaraj I mean the government of India by the consent of the people as ascertained by the largest number of the adult population, male or female, native-born or domiciled, who have contributed by manual labour to the service of the State and who have taken the trouble of having their names registered as voters.”
In Gandhi’s view, Indian’s needed to embrace their own culture, and stand up for themselves against their foreign landlords. As a blueprint, he explained,
“Real Swaraj will come, not by the acquisition of authority by a few, but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused. In other words, Swaraj is to be attained by educating the masses to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority.” (Young India, 29-1-1925, p. 41)
Swadeshi is a program for long-term national survival. Gandhi realized that the interests of British colonialism lay in India’s man power and natural resources. With ahimsa, he couldn’t violently oust the British, so he went to the source and used economic protest as his method for crippling the British raj in India. He instructed Indians to make their own clothing, and become self-sufficient. The spinning wheel shown above was a symbol for self-sufficiency and independence, to read the full article about the story behind this image check out LIFE Behind the Picture: Gandhi and his spinning wheel, 1946.
I recently posted about the inability of ahimsa functioning in today’s world of violence. I now realize that the true beauty and genius of Gandhi’s non-violent movement lie in Swadeshi. Economic non-violent protest is how to make change in the world today. Swadeshi is a call to economically oust the British colonial and economic interest in India.
Gandhi wrote, “The true India is to be found not in its few cities, but in its seven hundred thousand villages. If the villages perish, India will perish too.”
Gandhi knew that countries and peoples of our world should not be commodified. Still true today, economic expansion and colonialism are the cause of conflict. He said, “There is enough for everybody’s need, but not enough for anybody’s greed.” Swadeshi and Swaraj are as important today, as they were when Gandhi rallied the country to gain independence in the years leading up to 1947.
Hopefully we can call take a lesson from Gandhi and reevaluate the companies and governments we support with our everyday purchases. Self-sufficiency should not become an archaic ideal, especially with the disgusting malpractice that goes unchecked by multinational corporations who have billions of dollars. My small personal harvest at my home in Virginia is gone, but the next time I plant I will think back on Gandhi’s ideas of self-sufficiency and self-rule.