By offering an ideological critique of the western civilization in its modern phase, Gandhiji was effectively contesting the moral legitimacy of the Raj that rested on a stated assumption of the superiority of the west. Comment (10 marks)

Mentors Comment:

Gandhi Ji published Hind Swaraj which contained ideological critique of western civilization and its practices. When seen in isolation, these criticism are mere rebuttal of what western nations and civilisations practiced and their institutions. But when seen in the light of national freedom movement, you will realise that these criticisms were the backbone of Gandhi’s idea of opposing British rule through his non violent approach. After all, 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 brief intro of what was the idea of superiority of western nations and then discuss how they justified their rule over India and other parts through these idea 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.

In the last part discuss 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.

Model Answer:

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 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 modernise and industrialise, considered its citizens as the most civilised 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 civilised society.

Criticism of the 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 lied in unlearning most of the things she had learnt 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 civilisation.
  • According to him, the modern civilisation was equal to darkness and disease.
  • He condemned severely western democratic politics because they were plague-ridden with threefold contradiction.
  • Gandhi even criticized the Parliamentary form of governance that has its origin in the Western civilization.
  • Gandhi never aspired for a Parliamentary democracy but Swaraj, wherein there is a scope for self-regulation and the state, though not withers away, it would govern the least.
  • Gandhi concentrated that non-violence could lead to 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 democratisation of the political processes that already brought in hitherto socio- economic and cultural differences.

Through constantly targeting the concept of western superiority, through which 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 British have created. Swaraj became the demand of Indians and gradual benevolency of British was no longer sort after.

These ideals and his severe condemnation of modern western civilisation 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, marginalisation, violence and moral deficiency of the project of Western modernity.

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