Swaraj in Ideas
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We either accept of repeat the judgments passed on us by Western culture, or we impotently resent them but have hardly any estimates of our own, wrung from an inward perception of the realities of our position. In the field of politics, for example, we are only today beginning to realize that we have for long wrongly counted on principles that have application only to countries that are already free and already established and have not had sufficient perception of the dark think they call 'power' which is more real than any logic or political scholarship.
In the field of social reform, we have never cared to understand the inwardness of our traditional social structure and to examine how far the sociological principles of the West are universal in their application.
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We have contented ourselves either with an unthinking conservatism or with an imaginary progressiveness merely imitative of the West. Then again in the field of learning, how many of us have had distinctively Indian estimates of Western literature and thought? It is possible for a foreigner to appreciate the literature of a country, but it is only to be expected that his mind would react to it differently from the mind of a native of the country.
A Frenchman, for example, would not , I imagine, appreciate Shakespeare just as an Englishman would do. Our education has largely been imparted to us through English literature.
K. C. Bhattacharyya, “Svaraj in Ideas” (1928)
The Indian mind is much further removed by tradition and history than the French or the German mind from the spirit of English literature, and yet no Indian, so far as I am aware, has passed judgments on English literature that reflect his Indian mentality. His judgments do not differ materially from the judgment of an English critic and that raises the suspicion whether it is his judgment at all, whether it is not merely the mechanical thinking of the galvanic mind induced in us through our Western education.
In philosophy hardly anything that has been written by a modern educated Indian shows that he has achieved a synthesis of Indian thought with Western thought. There is nothing like a judgment on Western systems from the standpoint of Indian philosophy, and although some appraisement of Indian philosophy has been attempted from the Western standpoint, there appears to be no recognition yet that a criticism of the fundamental notions of either philosophy is necessary before there can be any useful comparative estimate.
Understanding India through some recent attempts at Swaraj in ideas
And yet it is in philosophy that one could look for an effective contact between Eastern and Western ideas. The most prominent contribution of ancient India to the culture of the world is in the field of philosophy and if the modern Indian mind is to philosophise at all to any purpose, it has to confront Eastern thought and Western thought with one another and attempt a synthesis or a reasoned rejection of either, if that were possible. It is in philosophy, if anywhere, that the task of discovering the soul of India is imperative for the modern Indian: the task of achieving, if possible, the continuity of his old self with his present-day self, of realizing what is nowadays called the Mission of India, if it has any.
Genius can unveil the soul of India in art, but it is through philosophy that we can methodically attempt to discover it. Our education has not so far helped us to understand ourselves, to understand the significance of our past, the realities of our present and our mission of the future. It has tended to drive our real mind into the unconscious and to replace it by a shadow mind that has no roots in our past and in our real present.
Our old mind cannot be wholly driven underground and its imposed substitute cannot function effectively and productively.
The result is that there is a confusion between the two minds and a hopeless Babel in the world of ideas. Our thought is hybrid through and through and inevitably sterile. Slavery has entered into our very soul. The hybridisation of our ideas is evidenced by the strane medley of vernacular and English in which our educated people speak to one another. For the expression of cultural ideas specially we find it very difficult to use the pure vernacular medium.
If I were asked, for example, to conduct today's discourse here in Bengali, I would have to make a particularly strenuous effort. One notices a laudable tendency at the present day to make such an effort.
It is not that it is always successful. Perhaps that is only to be expected in a period of transition. If the language difficulty could be surmounted, it would mean a big step towards the achievement of what I have called Swaraj in Ideas. The hybridisation of ideas brought about by our education and the impact of Western political, social and economic institutions of our daily life is one of the most distressing features of our present situation.
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It is unnatural and may be regarded with the same sentiment with which an old world Hindu looks upon varna-samkara. It does not simply mean a confusion in the intellectual region.
All vital ideas involve ideals. They embody an entire theory and an insight into life. Thought or reason may be universal, but ideas are carved out of it differently by different cultures according to their respective genius. No idea of one cultural language can exactly be translated in another cultural language. Every culture has its distinctive 'physiognomy' which is reflected in each vital idea and ideal presented by the culture. A patchwork of ideas of different cultures offends against scholarly sense just as much as patchwork of ideals offends against the spiritual sense.
There is room indeed for an adjustment and synthesis, within limits of different cultures and cultural ideals. Life means adaptation to varying times and to varying ideals. But we are not always clear about the method of this adaptation. As we have to live, we have to accept facts and adapt our secular life and secular ideas to the times. We have to alter ourselves here to suit the situation. In spiritual life, however, there is no demand for compromising our ideals in order to have a smooth sailing with the times.
Here, if possible and so far as lies in our power, the times have to be adapted to our life and not our life to the times. But the world confronts us not only with aggressive interests but also with aggressive ideals. What response should our traditional ideals make to these imposed ideals?
We may respect the new ideals without accepting them, we may attempt a synthesis without compromise or we may accept them as the fulfilment of our ideals. Different responses may be demanded with respect to different ideals, but in any case a patchwork without adjustment or with a mechanical adjustment, if complacently accepted as a solution, is an evil, as no ideal here gets the entire devotion of the soul. Where different ideals are accepted in the prayerful hope that a synthesis will come, the patchwork is not accepted as a solution and need not be an evil.
We talk — a little too glibly perhaps — of a conflict of the ideas and ideals of the West with our traditional ideas and ideals. In many cases it is confusion rather than a conflict and the real problem is to clear up the confusion and to make it develop in the first instance into a definite conflict. The danger is in the complacent acquiescence in the confusion. The realization of a conflict of ideals implies a deepening of the soul. There is conflict proper only when one is really serious about ideals, feels each ideal to be a matter of life and death.
We sometimes sentimentally indulge in the thought of a conflict before we are really serious with either ideal. We speak also a little too readily of the demand for a synthesis of the ideals of the East and the West. It is not necessary in every case that a synthesis should be attempted. There are ideals of the West which we may respect from a distance without recognizing any specific appeal to ourselves. Then again there are ideals that have a partial appeal to us, because they have an affinity with our own ideals, though still with a foreign complexion.
What they prescribe to us is to be worshipped in our own fashion with the ceremonials of our own religion. The form of practical life in which an ideal has to be translated, has to be decided by ourselves according to the genius of our own community. A synthesis of our ideal with western ideals is not demanded in every case. Where it is demanded, the foreign ideal is to be assimilated to our ideal and not the other way.
There is no demand for the surrender of our individuality in any case: Svadharme nidhanam sreyah paradharmo bhayaavahah. There are those who take this emphasis on the individuality of a historical community to be overstrained. It appears to them to be the expression of national, communal or racial conceit and the excuse for a perverse obscurantism. They believe in abstract self-luminous ideals for all humanity, in a single universal religion and a single universal region. There is, however, a case for universalism. The progress of a community and of humanity implies a gradual simplification and unification of ideals.
Kashmiri leaders in prisons or under house arrest should be released and allowed to go about their business, including addressing public meetings, talking to the press, leading prayers at mosques and shrines, and entering into talks with the government. A timebound government-appointed commission of independent investigators needs to prepare a comprehensive report on the deaths, disappearances, unlawful detention, rapes and torture cases in Jammu and Kashmir, between and , to be presented to the Indian Parliament.
All of this is not just imperative for Kashmir to survive the immediate crisis — it is necessary for India too, to weather this storm. One thing all players can agree on: the house has to be set in order without any reference whatsoever, in the first place, to third parties. After the Indian state and the people of Kashmir have taken these steps together , then comes the time to open up the issue for multilateral talks, with Pakistan , the UN , the US, and international humanitarian organisations. The process cannot reach the point of dialogue without an intensive period of soul-searching , homework and justice within the Indian Union.
Once India has established the rule of law to its utmost capacity, I am convinced it will have nothing to fear from any external agency. Kashmiris may still demand partial autonomy or complete secession, but that is a bridge to be crossed only after a bridge has been built. Talking about Gandhi in Kashmir or in Maoist India seems laughable. But Gandhi it was whom India listened to, when it fought hardest for its own decolonisation between and Throughout this time, the Mahatma tried to establish certain core ethical values for a new politics of swaraj.
Among these were ideas that had a long history on the Indian subcontinent, such as ahimsa. THIS moral courage is difficult to achieve between any two persons, but it is hardest, and most essential, that ahimsa prevail in the relationship between adversaries, so Gandhi believed. He got the lesson of ahimsa, oddly enough, not from Asoka the Mauryan emperor of the 3rd century BC, who became a pacifist after causing great carnage , nor from Jain doctrine, which enshrines ahimsa as a key practice, but from the Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna teaches Arjuna how to put up a good fight, without compromising his basic sense of morality and decency.
Gandhi sought not just political independence from British rule, but a truly liberating political culture, grounded in age-old ethical norms like non-violence , moral courage, non-cruelty , truthfulness and compassion. Without these values in place, he said, India would never be free, never have true swaraj. Most Indians have little sympathy for an independent Kashmiri nation. But an Indian mother would feel the pain of her Kashmiri counterpart whose teenage son was brutally killed while shouting slogans in a street demonstration.
Many Indians favour a strong army, but few would condone torture as a routine part of governance. Every Indian ought to recognise the moral courage it takes for Kashmiris, long beset by the overwhelming might of a militarised state, to come out on the streets asking for justice with nothing but stones in their hands. And as a democracy, India has to face the facts about how its elected representatives and security forces protect or abuse the rights of its citizens, regardless of religion, ethnicity or gender, whether in the Northeast, Maoist areas, or Kashmir.
Gandhi Swaraj is relevant today also. In that, it represents a deep recognition that people themselves must continuously strive to create a different set of reference points, institutions, structures and processes which are consistent with diverse cultures, values, philosophies, wisdom traditions and needs of the sub-continent. Such development must be geared towards supporting the struggle to liberate our individual and collective potentialities and to discover what it means to be fully human.
The discovery of being fully human starts with education. The current education system of India has a number of gaps at delivery level. These gaps vary from scarce availability of expert subject teachers to the available ones being engaged in an array of administrative and other non-academic work.
The ideal pattern of transmission of knowledge i. The mid-day meal scheme has been a game changer of sorts for school attendance numbers to go up, but that is up to class 8 th only, the challenge is to retain students beyond primary school into high school where the foundation of their livelihood takes shape. Unfortunately, most drop-outs happen between the transitions from class 8 th to class 9 th. The areas of their competency lacunae could be varied, for example: subject knowledge, classroom management, method of instruction, evaluation techniques, etc.