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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), the Mahatma as he has come to be known to generations of people worldwide, is widely acclaimed as the apostle of non-violent resistance to injustice. More narrowly, he is known as the architect of Indian independence from British colonial rule. Both statements are true but overly simple. Gandhi’s views on violence were more nuanced—as befits someone who saw the Bhagvad Gita as a major source of inspiration. His role in the independence movement has been studied ad nauseam and is beyond question but this paper suggests that it should be seen as part of a complex of forces that ultimately brought the Raj to a closure. However, the singular focus on Gandhian non-violence—particularly in the West—has been accompanied by a curious ignorance about Gandhi’s more significant ideas about social transformation, first developed in the Hind Swaraj, composed in 1909, and developed over time—ideas based on an uncompromising critique of modernity. Gandhi was interested in Indian independence more as a necessary first step to a greater transformation of India in which the entire society would be changed from the ground up. He has been ridiculed in India (and presumably elsewhere) by those who, like Nehru and Ambedkar, believed that village India was a den of backwardness and iniquity. Gandhi experienced village India first hand, more so than most of his critics ever did, and understood the limits of the villages of his day, both socially and economically. But, he believed that the village was still the basic building block of Indian society and would remain so for the foreseeable future. Rather than endure its existence as a necessary evil to be overcome Gandhi believed that it should be transformed and linked upwards to the centres of governance and thus play a part in the overall life of the country. People who now witness the second modern tragedy of the countryside under globalisation—the first being British colonial rule—will perhaps acknowledge Gandhi’s wisdom and farsightedness. This paper suggests that Gandhi’s ideas in this regard should receive equal, if not greater, exposure as his better known ideas on non-violence.
One of the central characteristics of postcolonial theory is the contention that colonialism—defined not so much as the history of the physical occupation and rule by European states of vast regions of the world beyond Europe but more so the attempted erasure or submergence of a whole host of life-worlds and ‘unbroken traditions’ that flourished in those regions until the arrival of modern Europe—is the defining experience of humanity in our epoch. Central to this theory is contention that traditions kept alive through generations have, by now, either been reduced to ‘history’ or simply assumed submerged forms in the consciousness and ‘world’ of the subalterns. Colonialism, with pre- and post-fixes, becomes the foundation of history, the category around which a virtual rather than historical periodisation is constructed; the postcolonial in some readings is said to originate in the first act of resistance to colonialism. However, since colonialism is defined as the usurpation of others’ life-worlds, there is no intrinsic reason why European colonization or the Enlightenment should be privileged. This privileging, one might assume, is purely strategic, related to where the postcolonial theorists are from and where they find themselves.