Hind Swaraj

by

Mohandas K. Gandhi

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Hind Swaraj Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Mohandas K. Gandhi's Hind Swaraj. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Mohandas K. Gandhi

Mohandas K. Gandhi, the most celebrated leader of India’s independence movement, was born and raised in a humble Hindu family in what is now the state of Gujarat. As was usual in his time, he married very young, at the age of 13. After finishing high school, he went on to study law in London, where he learned public speaking and became a vegetarian activist. He then spent 21 formative years of his life in South Africa, where he was shocked and infuriated at the racist prejudice he faced. He dedicated his energy to organizing the local Indian community and began formulating his satyagraha (passive resistance) protest method. It was during this period that he wrote Hind Swaraj. He gained a reputation in India, where he returned in 1915 and dedicated himself to leading the Indian National Congress and its struggle for independence. Based on his teachings in Hind Swaraj, he began leading a nationwide movement of non-cooperation, satyagraha, and swadeshi (or the boycott of English goods). He was imprisoned multiple times for his activism, which gained widespread support over the next three decades, until India finally won its independence after World War II. However, Gandhi was dismayed to see the country partitioned into India and Pakistan, a move he never supported. In 1948, shortly after independence, Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist and member of the RSS paramilitary.
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Historical Context of Hind Swaraj

The English colonization of India began with the formation of the East India Company in the early 1600s and took off in the mid-1700s, when the Company fought a series of wars and allied itself with several existing Indian rulers in order to control the subcontinent. The Company’s sole purpose was to extract all the resources it possibly could from India’s land and population—historians have estimated the cost of this plunder in the tens of trillions of dollars. After the enormous Indian Rebellion of 1857—which is often considered India’s first revolution for independence—the British government nationalized the East India Company and took direct control over India during the period conventionally known as the British Raj (or British Rule). Over the next 50 years, British policy accelerated a series of devastating famines that killed tens of millions of people. Funded by Indian capital and labor, the industrial revolution also transformed Britain into the world’s economic powerhouse. One famous example of Britain’s vicious economic policy was the way it exploited cotton markets: the British bought Indian cotton at incredibly cheap prices but then manufactured cloth back in Britain and forced Indians to pay sky-high prices for textiles. This is the context to which Gandhi was responding when he condemned “modern civilization” as the disease afflicting India and famously proposed that Indians boycott British goods and weave their own textiles. Of course, he was also responding to a growing pro-independence sentiment during this period. Through the creation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 and the enormous popular backlash to the Partition of Bengal in 1905, questions of Indian nationhood and identity were at the forefront of many Indians’ minds. Gandhi belonged to and specifically hoped to address the emerging class of educated, politically radical Indian professionals who lived in places like South Africa and London and generally favored a violent overthrow of the British Raj. In particular, the assassination of British army officer Curzon Wyllie by the Indian revolutionary Madan Lal Dhingra in 1909 certainly made an impact on Gandhi—he wrote Hind Swaraj just a few months later. Although this book did not become popular for roughly a decade after its publication, it soon became one of the cornerstones of the Indian Independence Movement, which Gandhi went on to lead. India won its independence in 1947, but not as the unified secular democracy that Gandhi hoped for. Indeed, despite Gandhi’s hopes, communal and religious divisions remain a driving force in Indian politics today.

Other Books Related to Hind Swaraj

Besides Hind Swaraj, Gandhi’s most important work is his famous autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth (1948), which covers his early life. Although Gandhi argues for a specifically Indian philosophy of life and society in Hind Swaraj, this vision is deeply influenced by Western writers as well as Indian ones. The most significant of Gandhi’s Western influences is probably the famed Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, whose nonfiction works—including The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894), The Slavery of Our Times (1900), and “A Letter to a Hindu” (1908)—Gandhi read voraciously during his time in South Africa. (They began corresponding after the publication of Hind Swaraj.) Gandhi was also an avid reader of the American transcendentalist thinker Henry David Thoreau (especially the 1849 Civil Disobedience) and the English critic John Ruskin (including the 1860 book on political economy Unto This Last). Beyond seminal texts of ancient Indian philosophy like the Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, and Upanishads, Gandhi’s Indian influences particularly include the Jain philosophy of Shrimad Rajchandra and the historical work of scholars like Dadabhai Naoroji (Poverty and Un-British Rule in India, 1901). Other crucial texts of the Indian independence movement include Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India (1946) and the Hindu nationalist V.D. Savarkar’s The Indian War of Independence (1909), with which Gandhi sharply disagreed. Among the numerous books on Gandhi’s life and impact, a few significant works include Dennis Dalton’s Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action (1995), the edited volume Gandhi’s ‘Hind Swaraj’: A Fresh Look (1985), and contemporary historian Ramachandra Guha’s two-part biography: Gandhi Before India (2013) and Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948 (2018).
Key Facts about Hind Swaraj
  • Full Title: Hind Swaraj, or Indian Home Rule
  • When Written: November 13–22, 1909
  • Where Written: Aboard the S.S. Kildonan Castle, en route from London, England, to Durban, South Africa
  • When Published: December 1909 (Gujarati edition); March 1910 (Gandhi’s English translation)
  • Literary Period: Modern/Late Colonial Indian Philosophy
  • Genre: Philosophical Dialogue, Political Philosophy, Revolutionary Manifesto, South Asian Economic and Social History
  • Setting: Early 20th-century India, under British rule
  • Climax: The editor convinces the reader that a popular campaign of passive resistance is the best way to transform India morally, spiritually, economically, and politically.
  • Antagonist: Modern civilization, the British Empire, violent rebellion, communal divisions, the elevation of material goals over spiritual ones
  • Point of View: Dialogue

Extra Credit for Hind Swaraj

Burst of Inspiration. Gandhi famously wrote Hind Swaraj in only 10 days, while aboard a ship from London to South Africa, and barely edited his first draft.