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Gandhi’s Latters


India’s struggle for justice under the colonial British power remains one of the most memorable events in India’s history. Their passive approach to liberation and their critical look at the question of civilization made India a very unique among all the British protectorates by then. While natives of other British protectorates were obliged to adopt violent means to antagonize the British rule, Indians valued passivity. Led by the Legendary Mahatma Gandhi, Indians demonstrated great restraint from employing violence in search for their ‘home rule’, instead chose examine the British rule in an objective and liberal manner; to determine what could work for them and to discard whatever that could not work for them. Though he highly condemned modern civilization for that fact that its spirit was evil, Gandhi reiterated that home rule which was obtained by violence would be totally different from that which was obtained through diplomacy. This essay is research analysis of the letters that were exchanged between Gandhi and W.J Wybergh in Anthony J Parel’s, Hind Swaraj and other writings. It discloses the authorship and the broader context of the document and how it relates to the struggle for justice in India. It also shows the significance of the document to the contemporary historians, its limitations as a reliable source as well as the impact it has on historians.

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Who Authored This Document, When, Where, For What Audience and To What Purpose

The, Hind Swaraj and other writings, is a compilation of correspondence letters which were written by Mahatma Gandhi and his allies in early 20th century. The writings targeted the Indian nationals as a way of reinforcing the spirit of nationhood. In addition, Gandhi’s latters were meant to help Indian citizens reflect upon the purpose of their quest for independence and strengthen their resolve fight for their emancipation

The, Hind Swaraj, which was first published in 1997 by the University Press of Cambridge, Great Britain, has also been relevant to the successive Indian generations for reflecting upon their independence as their heritage from the founding father and nationalist; Mahatma Gandhi. They also help historians around the world who have interest in the history of India’s independence and who are keen to make comparison with other countries’ histories as well as inferences pertaining to the different approaches used in the struggle for independence in various countries around the world.  

Broader Context

The document, Hind Swaraj and other writings, by Mahatma Gandhi, primarily features the exchange of letters way back in 1910, between Gandhi and Tolstoy who was by then in Johannesburg and between Gandhi and wybergh; who was the executive member of Transvaal Legislature in India. In this letters, Gandhi was very pivotal on his mission of fighting for ‘Home rule’. He is categorical about the means to true liberation which he argues must not be violent but rather passive. Though Tolstoy seemed to agree with the ideologies of Gandhi where he termed passive resistance to British rule as a question for whole humanity, Wybergh dismisses Gandhi in sharply criticism. He considers Gandhi’s book; Indian Home Rule as highly dangerous for it preaches against British rule in India. According to Wybergh, it does not matter the kind of approach used in the fight for liberation, but as long as the main agenda is to antagonize the British rule, is equally wrong.

Mrs. Besant, a close consociate of Wybergh also condemns Gandhi’s ideologies warning him against preaching liberation to people who were not ready to be free. According to Mrs. Besant the people of India did not require abandoning the modern civilization as propagated by the British but rather were supposed to learn from them otherwise passivity pragmatically meant stagnation for the Indians. Resonating with her sentiments, Wybergh elucidated that western ideals were quite necessary to India not as a way of superseding the culture of Indians but to help them modify and develop their own civilization.

The duo maintained that preaching of liberation was a venture that was far more injurious to the people of India. They equated it to fatal confusion to suppose that what was purportedly right for Gandhi; whom they dubbed ‘saint’ would still be right and good for everyone. Using the analogy of Caesar and God from the bible, they admonished Gandhi to acknowledge that civilization in India by then need most to be amended that to be ended. Wybergh summed up his letter to Gandhi by reiterating his strong opposition to Gandhi’s objects and methods.

How the Demands of Justice Were Framed

However, in his reply to Wybergh, Gandhi remained steadfast in defending his ideologies on liberation to mitigate violence. Much he had high affinity for justice for all in a free India, Gandhi was slow to advocating for liberation through a violent approach as he reiterated that home rule which is attained violently would indeed be totally different from that which would obtained diplomatically. He maintained his negative attitude towards western civilization on account that its spirit was evil and would not suffice to benefit all the people of India. According to Gandhi, the function of violence was to obtain reform by external means whereas the function of passive resistance; which he equated to ‘soul force’ would necessitate attainment of reforms from within. This, according to him was what India needed more that the former.

Gandhi sounded passionate about his ideologies on passivity as he rebuked violence which he termed as always a means to failure whereas resistance that is approached passively ever succeeds because it is always anchored on strong moral ground which does not permit or trigger cruelty. The spirit held by a passive resister, he says, was nonetheless spiritual since the fighter’s motive would be to win unlike the violent fighter who may only be after destruction. Gandhi prepared the minds of his fellow Indians for the struggle by touching on the essence of conscience which he said every man was to obey the voice of his conscience. He admonished people of India to always learn to control the flesh even while the spirit was weak, for with time every spirit was bound to become stronger and that would enable them to reach the right correspondence.

Gandhi’s advocacy for passive liberation would also plunge him into trouble. First, his book on the original Guraji writing was confiscated by the colonial government of India to eliminate the access by people of India. By 9th August 1942, Gandhi arrested by the British government on grounds of spreading antagonistic ideologies among the Indians to galvanizing them against the British rule. Even as he was on his way to detention, he kept reiterating that there was great need for independence to begin at the grass-root level, as rulers were obliged to depend on the will of those who were under their heels for justice to prevail in their rein.

The struggle for independence in India was legitimized when the British government realized that Gandhi was in fact acting in their defence as he sternly opposed the ideologies of Indian extremists who advocated for nothing but total evacuation of English people so that they would govern themselves the way English people were government. Gandhi liked this mentality to that of eradicating the tiger but retaining the traits of a tiger, terming it as not true swaraj. According to him, what he advocated was freedom and equality for all including the English, without necessarily evicting them. To him evicting the English and retaining their way of government would amount to pretension; which was not the kind of liberation that they would really fight for. His sharp criticism of the extremists’ conspiracies sent a strong signal to the British government that indeed Gandhi’s ideologies did not mean any harm, hence were legitimized.

Significance of the Document to Historians

Historians can find this document vital for their studies as it illuminates on India’s heritage courtesy of Mahatma Gandhi and the lessons that they draw from the struggled for independence. The life, the struggle and the final victory of India over the British sent a strong message to the world of historians that humility is a very powerful weapon too in the fight for lasting freedom. The texts and lessons learnt from Mahatma Gandhi can be useful not just for the current studies of the history of the world leadership but also for future illustrations of exemplary revolutionary activities.

From this document, historians can make comparisons between various approaches that were adopted during the struggle for independence by different territories that were under colonial powers, and the aftermath of those approaches to the same territories. In this case historians deduce that indeed violence did not suffice to bring total liberation since the same colonial powers were contracted later to perpetuate indirect rule over the same territories purported to be free. Gandhi foresaw this condition before hand as he restated severally that violence means to freedom never succeeds but passive means triumphs. Historians can also use India as a benchmark to evaluate the degree of impact of passive means to liberation in comparison to other countries which adopted violence.

In an argument with an anonymous reader in chapter XIV of ‘How can India become free?, Mahatma is given the example of Mazzini and  Garibaldi; the Italian extremists who led the struggle for independence against the colonial powers. According to the reader, India was also obliged to employ the same approach if true liberation was anything to go by. Nevertheless, Gandhi assertively refuted any possibility of adopting violence claiming that it would be equivalent to pretension since Indians themselves were the reason why the British existed in India and evicting them then retain their style of leadership together with their weapons and civilization would not serve much good to Indians.

In another example given about the Japanese revolution against over Russia way back in 1905, Gandhi categorically rejects the model of development by japan to which majority of the Indians were powerfully attracted to. He recalled the epic heroism which the Japanese exhibited in their 1905 naval victory over Russia in comparison to the British victories over the armada of Spain and over Napoleon. Gandhi deduced that the secret of Japanese victory over Russia was unity, patriotism as well as their resolve to do or die. Since then, he observed that all the Japanese were animated by the same spirit and it has been perpetuated in their day-to-day lives. They consider themselves equal and no one is above the other. This spirit is said to have been the reason behind the solidarity of the Japanese people who always thought about nothing else but service to the nation. According to Gandhi, the unity and patriotic spirit of the Japanese people with their heroic indifference to life is what had summarily created an atmosphere in Japan which was till then not witnessed anywhere else in the world.   

Limitations of the Document as a Reliable Source

The obvious limitation of this document is that the period it took to make the first publication may have provided an ample room for manipulation of the content. Historian cannot therefore ascertain the authenticity of this document because no one knows what could have possibly happened to it all that time till 1997.

Besides, the manner of approach portrayed by Gandhi as described in Chapter XIV is coward and it could be possible that India was just granted independence on the basis that the British never felt any threat from the natives. The freedom at last was not got out of many struggles as the case may have been with other countries. Some extremists wished that they could adopt violent means to be remembered as heroes, a mentality that was rejected completely by Gandhi.

Impact of the Document

This document can have both positive and negative impacts. First, it inculcates in reader the mentality that diplomacy is the best means for trues justice in the society. It can make people develop a positive mental attitude towards passivity as an approach towards fighting for their individual and society rights. By reading the document carefully people would know that leaders can be easy going depending on how they are approached and that if any leadership is antagonized it is bound to retaliate and the consequences of that can be detrimental to the common citizens.

However on the negative not, the document depicts that fighting for independence was only but an exercise in futility since India got independence without shedding blood. Gandhi maintained in his defense reply to Wybergh that violence leads to failure but passive revolution becomes successful. Readers will therefore develop the mentality of pacifism at the expense of their fundamental rights.


Gandhi will forever remain in history for his pacifist attitude towards the fight against the colonial misrule in India. Many of the world leaders have in many occasions used Gandhi as a model worthy emulation. Through his liberality and patience to allow for the consolidation of his ideologies both among the colonial rulers and among the Indian revolutionaries, India finally became a sovereign state without counting loses of lives and property which would have occurred because of violence. It is sad that even which such splendid example, violence has hitherto remained the order of the day in many countries where people use force to express their concerns to their respective leaders. Had the people embraced Gandhi’s ideologies in the quest for freedom as well as in dispute resolution, this could be the most peaceful place for mankind.

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