“Gandhiji Wrote On Our Behalf”

Hind Swaraj Journey: June 2002

I was facing an almost exclusively women’s group for the first time since we started Hind Swaraj study Camps. It was June 2002 at Lakshmi Ashram, Kausani ( Kumaon, Uttarakhand) established by Sarala Bahen a British disciple of Gandhiji  

We sat on the floor in rectangular fashion so that every one faced everyone and the speaker. I could see on their faces a certain passive reluctance. Lakshmi Ashram was established by Mahatma Gandhi’s British disciple Sarla bahen  born Catherine Mary Heilman; (5 April 1901 – 8 July 1982) for promoting women’s education on Gandhian lines. With three man the rest thirty were women, teachers, women activists and a few students.

I introduced Hind Swaraj by exploring the meaning of the term ‘mukti’ or liberation, the inner meaning of ‘being in a state of swaraj’. Uttarakhand being a land of Himalayas, the Ganges and high pilgrim places has a sacred self-image. When I explained how the Mahatma related ‘bhakti’ — devotion – with ‘mukti’— liberation — and chose the path of national service, which, he said “…was his training for the liberation of his soul from the bondage of the flesh,” participants had a lot to say how they understood ‘liberation’. Taking example of anti-liquor campaigns they had initiated they analyzed it in its political, economic, social and moral dimensions. Spirituality and religion in its true sense  make individual and society moral. This brought us to the central theme of Hind Swaraj. What do we mean by ‘freedom’, ‘independence’ ‘sovereignty’, ‘autonomy’, ‘liberation’ and ‘swaraj’. Participation became spontaneous.   

After the first session a middle aged lady, Vimla bahen, remarked that they “had expected a usual boring, repetitive, cliché-ridden  Gandhian discourse;  that is why they were very passive and reluctant. But it was just when, at the beginning, you asked us what we understood by ‘Swa’  –“Self” – we thought this was different. “You spoke our language”.

As the post-lunch session started, they asked me if I can extend the sessions for one more day; four days instead of three days!  

It was reassuring and inspiring to learn how close the meaning of the each line of Hind Swaraj was to them. They did not laugh at Gandhiji’s attack on railways, doctors and lawyers, much less on Parliament.  They could grasp the inner meaning of it all very readily as if it was a confirmation coming from a great source for what they themselves believed. Every one, like earlier groups, wanted Hind Swaraj discourse in their villages. Kavita  of Dhaniya said “It was not a religious language, nor a political, it was Mahatmaji’s language of our culture and our dharma…”  Gayatribahen thought that “the uniqueness of Gandhiji’s Hind Swaraj was that it is not talking of any one aspect of life as separated from others.”  Parvati Keda wrote “There should be a continuous dialogue in our society on Hind Swaraj…Good thoughts came to my mind after reading it, because Gandhiji made nonviolence and power of Satyagraha the weapon of God,  trust and love. In order to better serve our society we must develop a better understanding of Gandhiji’s thought and of Hind Swaraj…I will study this book again and again and promote its study”.

Throughout four-and-a-half days it was most enjoyable because of the lively, informal and spontaneous participation and discussions in which everyone would get involved. Chandra bahen remarked as she finished her part of the reading “If I knew writing, I would have written similarly. When we read other books we don’t feel that the author is writing on our behalf; but here, Gandhiji is writing on our behalf…”

One of the three male participants, Munna Joshi, working at Lakshmi Ashram read out a poem he composed during these days inspired by the experience ! Nima Vaishnav, the Director of the place, herself a student of Gandhian thought from Gujarat Vidyapeeth (Ahmedabad) established by Gandhiji as center of education for Satyagrahis and spreading Swaraj awareness, later told me that even after three months their colleagues and students were talking about Hind Swaraj study camp. “ It has created strong sense of sharing  common vision and purpose, which is so crucial for us. “It has infused new life in our work” she said.