Gandhi Ji published Hind Swaraj which contained an ideological critique of western civilization and its practices. When seen in isolation, these criticisms are mere rebuttal of what western nations and civilizations practiced and their institutions. But when seen in the light of the national freedom movement, you will realize that these criticisms were the backbone of Gandhi’s idea of opposing British rule through his non-violent approach. After all, the British, for a long time, justified their rule over India and other parts of the world through their western superiority. This is the premise of this question and how you have to approach the answer.
Start with just a brief intro of what was the idea of the superiority of western nations and then discuss how they justified their rule over India and other parts through these ideas of superiority.
Then discuss the critique of Gandhi Ji on these western concepts of capitalism, politics, and institutions. He based his non-violent approach through these ideas of swaraj.
The last part discusses how this approach made Indian people aware of their own superiority and showed the backwardness of western societies and hypocrisies existing in those parts of the world.
British colonial rule subjugated and oppressed Indians, and enforced a system where the white British controlled the economic structure. For centuries, the British East India Company exploited the natural resources of the region, generating massive profits and forming a monopoly from trade. Over time, British culture and lifestyle infiltrated every aspect of Indian life, impacting the legal system, medicine, science, education, religion, and the very foundation of Indian society. This notion was finally broken by Gandhi ji through his ideological critique of western civilization.
How the British rested their claim through western superiority:
- Britain always tried to justify their imperialism in the name of protecting democratic values, freedom, and justice and as if they were doing it selflessly by taking pain themselves for the betterment of the people they mastered.
- British have ruled by creating the myth that British rule “ is not only benevolent for the subjects but also is invincible.”
- Britain, being the earliest nation to modernize and industrialize, considered its citizens as the most civilized of all men.
- Even the common man of England took pride in being a modern ‘white’.
- It is this arrogant pride of being white that threw Gandhiji out of his train in South Africa.
- Hence Britain justified imperialism by saying that in occupying third world countries in Asia and Africa it is actually civilizing the inhabitants who are uncultured and barbaric.
- It was said to be the White Man’s burden, his additional responsibility, to bring the dark men to a civilized society.
Critique of western civilization by Gandhi:
- Gandhi’s critique of the British is grounded in opposition to many aspects of British life, government, and rule over India.
- Gandhi in 1908, in Hind Swaraj, denounced all the instruments and institutions of Western civilization.
- Gandhi’s critique of British colonialism was grounded in a rejection of cultural and racial supremacy; capitalism or socioeconomic inequality; and materialism.
- Therefore Gandhi employed the concepts of Swaraj and satyagraha in his effort to liberate the Indian people from the stranglehold of British rule.
- For him, the salvation of India lies in unlearning most of the things she had learned from the British.
- Tolstoy’s writings strengthened Gandhi’s ability to resist Westernization and build a new culture from traditional foundations.
- He challenged the practicalities of modern western civilization.
- According to him, modern civilization was equal to darkness and disease.
- He condemned severely western democratic politics because they were plague-ridden with a threefold contradiction.
- Gandhi even criticized the Parliamentary form of governance that has its origin in Western civilization.
- Gandhi never aspired for a Parliamentary democracy but Swaraj, wherein there is a scope for self-regulation and the state, though not wither away, it would govern the least.
- Gandhi concentrated that non-violence could lead to an exact democracy. Democracy and violence could not be reconciled.
- As an idea and strategy, swaraj gained unusually in the context of the nationalist articulation of the freedom struggle and the growing democratization of the political processes that have already brought in hitherto socio-economic and cultural differences.
Through constantly targeting the concept of western superiority, through which the British justified their rule over half of the world and India, Gandhi contested the rule of British. His thoughts on western civilizations and practices opened the eyes of Indian masses about the bubble that the British have created. Swaraj became the demand of Indians and the gradual benevolence of the British was no longer sort after.
These ideals and his severe condemnation of modern western civilization played a decisive role in bringing about what Nehru called “a vast psychological revolution” among the Indian masses, which led to the success of the largely non-violent Indian national movement. Gandhi was also a pioneer in pointing out the inherent divisiveness, exploitation, marginalization, violence and moral deficiency of the project of Western modernity.