Hind Swaraj- 100 years: A Review

November 3, 2010 at 9:15 PMNov (Letter, Literature, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life)

New Delhi: Lines written in Gujarati on two plain sheets, one tilting towards right and the other towards left. The right tilting words have more breathing space between the lines and the latter with left. The earlier one was written with right hand and the latter one with left hand, but both were written by the same man in one stretch as a part of a single text. The year 2009 is being observed as the centenary year of this text titled Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule which was penned in 1909 by M.K. Gandhi.

To commemorate the centenary year of Hind Swaraj, National Gandhi Museum has organized an exhibition titled ‘Hind Swaraj-100 year’ at the National Gandhi Museum. The exhibition opens with the photo of the ship R.M.S. Kildonan Castle which sets the physical context of the writing of the text. It was while travelling by this ship from England to South Africa, between November 13 and 30, that Gandhi penned the text of Hind Swaraj. Next to this opening photo of the exhibition is the photo of the handwritten sheets of Hind Swaraj, one written with the right hand and the other with the left hand. This reflects the intensity of the involvement of Gandhi and the uncontrollable overflow of thoughts in him while writing Hind Swaraj.

The exhibition from here continues to go into and take, the viewers, into the heart and soul of Hind Swaraj. Photos of pocket watches, popularly known as Gandhi watch, Gandhi looking through a microscope, the S.S. Rajputana ship which Gandhi took to attend the round table conference in the year 1931, his photo at the Safdarjung airport, which are supported by texts of Hind Swaraj on machine era and machinery in general, which are critical in nature.

The flow is suddenly interrupted with several recent newspaper paper cuttings carrying headlines and reports on H1N1. This photo is supported with the text from Hind Swaraj: “The railways, too, have spread the bubonic plague. Without them, the masses could not move from place to place. They are the carriers of plague germ.” This collage of H1N1 report and the text of Hind Swaraj appear like reinventing and re-reading of Hind Swaraj in a different time period where Plague has to be replaced with H1N1. But the underlying meaning of the text Hind Swaraj remains the same despite the change in the name of the disease.

The photos of war tanks and women being trained to use weapons are juxtaposed not just with the Gandhian non-violent methods of protest lead by Gandhi but also about his comments on war and violence in his text Hind Swaraj. This is followed with the display of Khadi handkerchief and photos of people spinning Khadi and C. Rajgopalachari working the field using a plough. This set of photos is titled ‘Production by the masses.’ This is followed by a set of photos under the title ‘Mass production,’ including a photo of Nehru on a tractor. This placing of photos and naming them puts forth, before the viewers, the debate of Gandhi in his work. The ‘Mass production’ photos are juxtaposed with the lines, “We cannot condemn mill owners; we can only pity them,” from Hind Swaraj.

The exhibition ends with Gandhi’s views on education and the photo of Kishore Sinhji Primary School at Rajkot where Gandhi studied and photos of certain rural experiments of Self-Rule in the rural parts of India which has given birth to the Gandhi’s after Gandhi.

Interestingly the book Hind Swaraj which was first published in the columns of Indian Opinion, edited by Gandhi, was banned by the then Bombay government. Today it is one of the most important texts for people involved in the works of alternative development and also political science. The celebration of its centenary through a collage of photos and quotes from the book appears meaningful.

Born to a dewan in an urban family, getting city education and going to London for higher studies, the working in South African cities, mainly Durban, Gandhi even after returning to India started operating in the cities. It was only after being advised by his political teacher Gopalkrishan Gokhale that Gandhi goes to explore the village. Later he started appearing like a man from the village. This was when he was in his late forties. But the book Hind Swaraj was written when he was forty.

Pointing out at these details from Gandhi’s life Ashis Nandy asks, “How did a finished product of the city begin to speak and even look like a villager? Was there latent in Gandhi a retrievable imagination of the village which he could revive when he physically countered the village? The answer may well be that the village was never dead within him. Its survival within him was ensured through rituals, folklores, epics, legends and myths to which he was exposed through the tradition of his family peer group, caste, sect and language. That imagination was waiting to be reclaimed. When Gandhi reclaimed the village within him, he could easily slip into the role of a larger than life Indian village headman. He had been only apparently an outsider.”

Gandhi himself once said that as he was writing Hind Swaraj, Hind Swaraj wrote him. The village within Gandhi was surfacing while he wrote Hind Swaraj it appears. If the exhibition, which will go on till September 2010, can reclaim the villages within at least a few of the visitors who are “apparently an outsider”, it is worth it.

13 November 2009

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