User:Enakshi Sharma/sandbox

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Critical Abstractions of Tagore’s Crisis of Civilization and Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj

Abstract: This paper looks into two essential texts produced by two very important philosophers and thinkers - one by Gandhi, another by Tagore. Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj records his observations on Modern Civilization and his very profound critique of the notion of modernity. On the other hand is Tagore’s Crisis of Civilization, where he debates the future of the colonized, and expresses his dismal at the way India has progressed. Much is common to both, yet their varied social contexts led them to have different approaches to how this modernity was to be achieved. The debates between the two essentially centered on the freedom struggle and India’s stance towards the West; towards Britain as the colonial power. They point towards a complicated engagement with the West, its position in the world, its relationship to India and the influences that it had in India.


What is civilisation?


After initially holding the English concept of ‘civilization’ in high esteem as representing ‘proper conduct’, Tagore refers to a painful feeling of disillusion’, when he realizes that India has been exploited and cheated. Western civilization was already largely synonymous with modern, industrial civilization. To this extent Hind Swaraj too can be read as a critique of the West. Gandhi did not blame the British, but rather modern civilization itself. He echoed – ‘ The English have not taken India; we have given it to them. They are not in India use of their strength, but because we keep them. (p 38) An intellectual people drifting into the disorder of barbarism Tagore contrasts the efforts of Russia to fight disease and illiteracy with the approach in India: “when I look about my own country and see a very highly evolved and intellectual people drifting into the disorder of barbarism, I cannot help contrasting the two systems of governments, one based on co-operation, the other on exploitation, which have made such contrary conditions possible.” Gandhi too linked an intellectual group and accused them of cruelty. In Hind Swaraj, Gandhi criticized of the "parasitic" professionals who staff modern society, particularly doctors, engineers, lawyers, and the like. He gave it as his opinion that sometimes "quacks are better than highly qualified doctors"; as for doctors trained in modern, allopathic medicine, Gandhi observed that "for the sake of a mistaken care of the human body, they kill annually thousands of animals. (pg 59) The social fabric is being rent to shreds Tagore’s references to Iran and Afghanistan appear odd today as countries which “were marching ahead, while India, smothered under the dead weight of British administration, lay static in her utter helplessness. Another great and ancient civilization for whose recent tragic history the British cannot disclaim responsibility, is China.” Of course, it is India and China which are now considered to be among the economic superpowers while the recent histories of Iran and Afghanistan are less fortunate. “If in its place [the British] have established, with baton in hand, a reign of ‘law and order’, in other words a policeman’s rule, such mockery of civilization can claim no respect from us. It is the mission of civilization to bring unity among people and establish peace and harmony. But in unfortunate India the social fabric is being rent into shreds by unseemly outbursts of hooliganism daily growing in intensity, right under the very aegis of ‘law and order’.” Perhaps this image is now more closely associated with countries such as Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps that dawn will come from this horizon, from the East Tagore notes that he has been fortunate to meet “really large-hearted Englishmen”, particularly referring to C F Andrews, considering them to be “friends of the whole human race”. However, he is concerned about what kind of India would be left after the British granted it independence. “When the stream of their centuries’ administration runs dry at last, what a waste of mud and filth they will leave behind them!” Nonetheless, he looks forward to a period “after the cataclysm is over and the atmosphere rendered clean with the spirit of service and sacrifice. Perhaps that dawn will come from this horizon, from the East where the sun rises.” From references earlier in the speech, he may have had Japan in mind. However, the economic crisis appears to have affected Asia far less than it has Western countries. Tagore’s closing remark seems from the perspective of 2011 to be remarkably prescient: “Today we witness the perils which attend on the insolence of might; one day shall be borne out the full truth of what the sages have proclaimed: ‘By unrighteousness, man prospers, gains what appears desirable, conquers enemies, but perishes at the root.’” 70 years on, as people in various countries have come together with the help of social media to demand collectively a more honest and less brutal regime, and as the economies of countries once referred to as “Third World” prepare to overtake those of their former rulers, Tagore seems to have been proved right.