Modern Culture with reference to Hind Swaraj

Manish Jain

At a recently held seminar on ‘Hind Swaraj’ at Sarnath, Mr Manish Jain, from Udaipur addressed the audience on ‘Modern Lifestyle’ and backed up his information with statistics.  Having stayed in the US, Mr Jain, could closely observe several negative aspects of Western Civilisation, mentioned by Mahatma Gandhi in his book, ‘Hind Swaraj’. As a result of this, Mr Jain decided to return to India a decade ago. Seeing the futility of our hollow education system, Mr Jain has refrained from sending his seven-year-old daughter to school. He is doing his research on ‘Hind Swaraj’ and wants to bring about awareness amongst people by making Hind Swaraj his mission.

His contact details are: www.swaraj.org/shikshantar / Email: manish@swaraj.org

The US is considered to be a pillar of modern culture or lifestyle and the following information will help understand the hidden violence in the name of modern culture:

  • Annual global expenditure on defence is US $ 1200 billion, of which 48 per cent is spent by the US. There has been a 45 per cent increase in the expenditure on defence between 1998 and 2008.

  • Annual expenditure on advertising globally is US $ 500 billion. Nearly 3000 advertisements are thrust upon the US citizens daily.

  • Pharmaceutical companies, which lead the stock market, make profit of US $ 240 billion annually. It is believed that the combined annual income of Chief-Executive Officers of these companies is US $ 20 million.

  • Fifteen per cent of the world population owns or has access to 85 per cent of the world’s resources. 

  • Nearly 90 per cent of various types of big fish are extinct.

  • Only six per cent of the world forest cover remains today. Since 1970, an area of over six lakh sq km of Amazon forest in America has been destroyed.

  • Ninety-eight per cent of the food consumed in the US is in the form of fine wheat flour.

  • Everyday 4,26,000 cell phones are thrown in the trash and 1.2 trillion plastic bags are used and thrown yearly.

  • The world’s leading economic powers are consolidated in 48 countries and 52 corporations, with 70 per cent of the world trade being shared by 500 major corporations.

  • The divide between the poor and rich country in the year 1820, 1950 and 1992 is 3:1, 35:1 and 72:1 respectively.

  • In the developed countries of the world, 15 per cent of the population is victim of depression. The number of children going through depression in the US rises by 23 per cent every year.

  • Over 50 million people have been displaced in India in the last 60 years, due to developmental projects, 60 per cent of whom are dalits (downtrodden) and tribals.

Gandhiji had anticipated such a situation a century ago and had warned about it in his book, Hind Swaraj published in 1909. For some, it may look like a crazy thought but there is a systematic thinking behind this thought.

‘Hind Swaraj’ is not only for Indians but also for all those rooted in colonialism. Issues like environment and terrorism, bring to light the increasing divide in our social system over the last 100 years.

In the present situation Hind Swaraj should be read and understood as poetry and not as a report. The poetry is symbolic. Hind Swaraj represents the negative aspects of railways, doctors, advocates and the like, who are a part of modern social system. The British claimed themselves to be the best at the time as they had the railways, doctors, advocates and the like, but Gandhiji targeted these areas.

There is a need to give a deeper thought to what is health. What are we eating and drinking? Aren’t we falling sick due to our wrong eating and drinking habits? We have this false notion of becoming fit by taking medicines, instead of changing our wrong habits. Does not our modern culture teach us this? So is the doctor doing good for the society or harming it?

A majority of the people do not get justice in today’s judicial system. Instead of resolving the issues by honesty, love and graciousness, people rush to the advocates and through them make several trips to the courts for years, only to fill up the pockets of the advocates. Does not modern culture teach us this? So is the advocate doing good for the society or harming it?

The British had visualised the use of the railways primarily for the transport of raw materials. As a result, our nation’s trade and business as well as villages were destroyed.  So have the railways done good for the Indian society or bad?

How do we look at technology? Has it been able to reduce the pain of the workers at the lowest level in the country? Or has it been able to help a few individuals make profits by snatching away the employment of several others? It does increase the power of production, while most of the people are left devoid of the purchasing power. So will such technology help the society or harm it?

We should ask ourselves whether such facilities of modern culture improve interpersonal relationship. Does it bring people close to each other?

The question-answer style adopted in Hind Swaraj is representative and effective. It also aptly echoes the questions and doubts arising in the minds of the readers.

Just because we have created and adopted a certain system in our modern culture, does not mean that we cannot raise questions about it.

Who is progressive and who is backward in today’s culture, considering the points raised above?  Media and means of mass communication show that 98 per cent of the junk food consumed today contains fine wheat flour and there is a need to tackle some basic questions.  Only then would we be able to find answers to the questions raised above.  

There are a very few books, which explain modern culture.  Modern culture is being propagated as though it is the best, that it is based on advanced science and that there is no alternative to it.

Gandhiji has challenged this propaganda in his Hind Swaraj. According to him, a picture of the modern culture is presented in such a manner as though there is an unlimited stock of all the resources in the world. Modern culture claims to be the solution for all the problems ailing the society and should that be considered to be the ultimate truth.

Let us look at the use of the basic definition of modern culture: 

Development: Where there is a centralisation of technology and infrastructure as is seen in the US, where raw materials are transported quickly from a small place to a bigger town. Gandhi questions this definition.

Monoculture: Modern culture sets the same standard for all the utilities, whether they be the interior of a hotel or a home, clothes, food items or any consumer items. There is no scope for unity in diversity as seen in Indian culture.

Commercialisation: Everything is looked at in a commercial sense. Nothing is sacred in such a system. Even water is sold, though it was unheard of in the Indian culture. Never was any money taken at a drinking water fountain. Love and relationships are now saleable. Gandhi raises questions about this.

Modernity: It has become fashionable to deem what is modern to be right and finding fault with all that is old.

Power Game: Power is subtly connected to this modern culture resulting in a power game. Everybody seems to feel that he does not have power, even if he be the President of the World Bank. There is a need to understand this power game.

Institutionalism: In the modern culture we suppress our conscience and raise the flags of institutions. For example, however much Americans may not want to support war, they have to join it due to orders.  These are offences against humanity.

Mechanisation of life and thoughts: We are not given training to think on our own. We do not give a thought to why we are doing what we are doing. Human Resource Development looks at human beings as a commodity.

Labelling: We are taught to continue to do what we are doing, according to the way we are labeled and not to think out of the box. For example, if one is an economist one should be a human first and there should not be any questions about being an economist first or a human being. What should one give priority to—to humanity or to economics?

Centricity: On the basis of the above, our thinking becomes centric, limited and selfish. We lose our sensitivity. Dependence on others brings about a feeling of insecurity in us and we are mentally prepared for division.

Pre-dominance of Experts and Professionals: We shunt our commonsense. We depend on experts, giving up our ability to think independently, as though we cannot live without the knowledge of the experts.

Readymade alternatives: We do want solutions to our problems, but expect to get them from others. There is an alternative in Hind Swaraj. Gandhi maintains that we are neither without work nor are we poor and we should make ourselves strong on the basis of our strength, power and culture, but we have lost that mindset.

Gandhiji speaks about the shortcomings listed above and emphases the points listed below:

Self-control: Modern culture encourages consumerism. It believes that nature, resources and the human body, are meant for consumption, whereas in Hind Swaraj, Gandhi speaks about the need for self-control.

Voluntary Simplicity: Gandhiji believes that we can adopt voluntary simplicity by keeping our needs limited with self-control.

Peaceful Life: Modern culture forces us to lead a fast life. But we need to slow down the pace of our life to lead a peaceful life.

Self-rule:  According to Gandhiji, self-rule means ruling oneself. God has made us unique as well as mutually dependent. But modern culture teaches us to live a compartmentalised life. Hence, we are not living in self-rule in the true sense.

Sharing: Modern culture teaches to lead a selfish life; whereas as our Indian culture teaches us to refrain from accumulation and to increase selflessness by sharing. There is a need to revive the culture of giving gifts, so that we learn to think about others.

Physical Work: Physical work is considered lowly in modern culture, hence school children are taught to depend on books, making them handicapped and a burden on the society. Physical work is not meant only in the service of the others, but also for our spiritual, intellectual and moral development. There is nothing wrong if children develop the habit of physical work.

Moral education is true education: True education is that which teaches to live a moral life. Gandhiji has given great importance to this in Hind Swaraj.

What kind of issues should be raised after a century of writing of Hind Swaraj?

Following are the examples of such questions:

Why is it that every child should go to School? Mechanically, we have been pushing our children in the rat race of modern culture.  Why don’t parents think of an alternative, although they are themselves worked-up about their problems?

We speak about democracy, but where is democracy in its real sense?

Raise question on the unlimited usage of computers.  Are we aware of how much water and other resources are being used for computers? Every time we go on Google search, we emit 1.5 kg carbon in the air.

Liberate our minds from colonialisation. Question ourselves on who and what we are? What is modernisation? Why are we bent upon imitating others? Do we believe that for everyone self-respect and self-esteem are the fundamental things?

Struggling countries like India and Tibet should ask why they want to be independent and what they want to become. Tibet’s struggle is not only against China. We will have to redefine our battle for humanity. It’s a question of purifying our conscience.

We should look out for the answers to these questions, which touch our lives, in Hind Swaraj. How many plastic bags do we use? How many clothes do we keep beyond our needs? To what extent do we understand the process behind the manufacture of goods that we use?

It is not just these modern things, but the modern system has had an impact on us and Gandhiji warns us against this in Hind Swaraj. We should rethink over the definition of Swadeshi. We should consider how many things have had an impact on our lives. We should ponder how the ‘use and throw’ culture has had an impact on our thinking and has become a part of it.

In Hind Swaraj, we get an idea of how Gandhiji looks at not only the people of India, but also of the world in terms of ideal political, social, economic, moral, cultural, educational and legal structure.