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Comment : Stunning job in recreating history

Comment : Stunning job in recreating history
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Has there been any revolution in all the world which set out, and achieved its aim, through eco-political subversion? Except in India? That was done...

Has there been any revolution in all the world which set out, and achieved its aim, through eco-political subversion? Except in India? That was done by one man and one means: Gandhi, through his message of khadi and swadeshi

mv kamathThere never has been in all of history an empire greater than what the British established which spread from one end of the world to the other. The sun, it was said, never set on it, which was literally true. But has there been any revolution in all the world which set out, and achieved its aim, through eco-political subversion? Except in India? That was done by one man and one means: Gandhi, through his message of khadi and swadeshi. It was sartorial subversion at its most assertive. And it succeeded beyond measure. As the author of this brilliant study of swadeshi movement sums up "it exploded the myth of the civilising mission of colonial powers and gave birth to the world's largest democracy".

With swadeshi, Gandhi gave his people a power they had never experienced before. To quote Gonsalves again: "The axe was laid at the root. The Imperial lie stood exposed. The garb of 'the mission to civilise the natives' under which the loot had been carried out for countries was stripped bare". More, as Gonsalves sums up in his thesis: "Never before were pieces of clothing on the sweaty backs of skinny peasants infused with such holy defiance. Never before did the slender thread of hand-spun yarn unbraid the industrialised fabric of the greatest empire on earth.

To understand what all this means, one must study the economic history of India and the British assault on the socio-cultural life of the ordinary Indian from 1768 onwards. First the British destroyed India's thriving textile industry with singular determination. Second, the British sought to impose on India a sense of inferiority never before attempted by any foreign conqueror.

The British discouraged their own people from accepting any form of Indian culture. On the other hand they encouraged Indians to accept British concepts of dress and department. It left Gandhi with no other option but to turn to the loin cloth around his waist, a khadi shawl round his shoulders and sandals on his feet to show to the British what their destruction of the Indian textile industry has done to the people. He even had the courage to call a king George V at Buckingham Palace, thus dressed.

When asked if he ever felt embarrassed being a trifle under-dressed, he had the wit, and the courage, to say: "Why should I be embarrassed? His Majesty had enough clothes on for both of us". It was a soft slap on the monarch's face and well-deserved, too. Two chapters in this revelatory book make it clear how the British planned to demolish India's greatness and get it to accept servility. One is entitled 'The Rape of India'. This chapter shows clearly how, step by deliberate step, the British wiped out India's splendid textile industry which was once the pride and wonder of the world. The second on 'Inferiorisation of People' is an attempt to show how the British sought to wash out India's self-respect and self-confidence.

khadiPrior to Gandhi, the perception of Indians as inferior to the British had been tacitly accepted. Shockingly, those who thought and acted differently risked social ostracism and even courted charges of sedition! Gandhi not only stood up to such rascality and hypocrisy but got the nation to follow him. His strategy succeeded. His challenge, as Gonsalves has noted, was directed not merely to the empire alone, but also to fellow Indians accustomed to being docile subjects. That was the power excerted by just one man and through just one means: swadeshi. But it wasn't all that easy as it sounds on paper.

It should be remembered that when Gandhi took over the Congress it was largely an elite organisation of the rich. To get such people to accept his novel technique took time and a great deal of persuasion. To get them again to accept native standards of clothing, the burning of foreign cloth and the use of khadi took time, but in the end Gandhi won. As Gonsalves rightly notes: "Even his (Gandhi's) contemporaries disbelieved him when he said that the 'message of the spinning wheel is much wider than his circumstance'. Not many would have imagined that its circumstance embraced the whole world.

As Carl Sagan whom Gonsalves quotes said: "Gandhi's militant non-violent non-cooperation freed a quarter of the world from imperialism�..He stripped imperialism of its romance and gold trim and revealed it to be simple theft. He made it much easier for other countries to win their freedom". In the bare span of just 37 years after India became free, 44 other nations that once belonged to the British Empire were freed as well. Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to just one man � Gandhi! Gonsalves study is exceptional � and brilliant, and, may one add, deeply emotive. Gandhi once said: "Place khadi in my hands and I shall place swaraj in yours. This book, as the introduction rightly notes, investigates the personal, eco-political, psycho-cultural, socio-religious and philosophical underpinnings that contributed to making Gandhi's bold assertion a reality. Gonsalves has done a stunning job in recreating history and giving new meaning to an old tenet.

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