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February 20, 2017

Gandhi and the Raj


February 20, 2017

Gandhi was an important figure in the 20th century and inspired a large number of people to join his non-violent movement to show resistance against the British Raj.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869 in Porbandar, Ahmedabad. He passed his matriculation examinations in 1877. In 1988, Gandhi left for England to study law. He passed his exams in 1891. After completing his studies, he returned to India for a couple of years and then left for South Africa in 1893.

In South Africa, Gandhi was not allowed to travel in the first-class compartment by the racist government. This incident triggered a chain of events and Gandhi ended up staying in South Africa for 21 years. His stay in South Africa was important in many ways. During his time in South Africa, Gandhi led the human rights movement and carried out some interesting experiments on community living and holistic education.

In 1904, Gandhi and his colleagues set up a settlement called Phoenix by acquiring 20 acres of land. They subsequently added 80 more acres to the settlement. Phoenix was acquired to set up a printing press for the newspaper ‘Indian Opinion’, and the community living of like-minded families.

Later between 1910 and 1913, Gandhi and his colleagues established the Tolstoy Farm for community living. This farm was open to Muslim, Hindu, and Parsi families. The education system that was put in place laid emphasis on practical work. The major objective of this education was the holistic development of children. It took care of the educational, literary, spiritual, and physical development of children. Similarly Hindi, Tamil and Urdu were taught to connect students to their cultural roots. Some of the major subjects taught in the school were history, geography, and arithmetic. Corporal punishment was strictly discouraged. One important feature was the absence of fixed textbooks. Teachers would teach students concepts and build on them through examples. There was a conscious effort on the part of teachers to inculcate love for Indian culture, languages and values.

Gandhi’s experiments with education in South Africa led him to realise the significant role education can play in inculcating the emancipation of thoughts and actions among the youth. Gandhi’s non-violent struggle against the hegemonic structures of the racist government in South Africa made him a popular figure. In 1915, just a year after WWI began, Gandhi returned to India. He decided to lead his countrymen in the movement to reclaim their independence from the British Raj. He was convinced that a non-violent approach would be more effective to resist the Raj. Soon after his return to India, Gandhi established Satyagraha Ashram at Ahmedabad. He was actively engaged in the social and political movements of India, spreading the message of non-violence and peace.

The large-scale massacre at Jallianwala Bagh – where hundreds of Indians were slaughtered – shook the whole country. There was strong public resentment against colonial rulers. Gandhi instructed his followers to calm down and unite to resist the hegemony of the Raj. To establish a united front, Gandhi lent his help to the Khilafat Movement, spearheaded by Muslim leaders. In return, he received Muslim support for his Non-Cooperation Movement. Later in 1924, he fasted for 21 days for Hindu-Muslim unity. The atrocities of foreign rule were increasing and it was time to challenge the Raj upfront.

In 1930, Gandhi decided to violate the unfair British Salt Act 1882 and organised the Dandi March. The participants marched to the Arabian Sea and protested against the unfair rule by making salt. Though a number of participants were arrested, the march infused a new life to the resistance movement. Gandhi, after his experience of teaching in the Phoenix and Tolstoy farms in South Africa, was convinced that education can be used as a tool to decolonise the minds. Gandhi was critical of the education that was being disseminated by government schools in India. He believed that English education disconnects the learners from their roots and strengthens the structures of slavery.

In his autobiography, ‘The story of my experiments with truth’, Gandhi wrote that “it was far better to remain unlettered and break stones for the sake of liberty than to go in for a literary education in the chains of slaves”. It is important to recall that one of the features of the Non-Cooperation Movement was to quit government educational institutions. Following Gandhi’s call, a number of educational institutions were set up to provide the Indian youth an alternative system of education.

Gandhi established an ashram at Wardah in 1936. He decided to use the tool of education to provide an alternative system of education that was aimed at the holistic development of children. His educational initiatives challenged colonial educational practices revolving around ‘conformity’ and offered an alternative vision. This led people to believe in self-reliance and take pride in national values, languages, and cultural practices. The vision of Nai Taleem, offered by Gandhi, entailed the notion of swaraj (freedom) at the levels of the individual and society. The curricula in Nai Taleem gave special importance to skills, values, local languages, and pedagogical practices that employed interactive classroom dynamics.

Gandhi’s experiment of Nai Taleem – which envisioned holistic education – was constructed with the elements of the body, mind, and soul and was geared towards the social transformation of Indian society. A chain of schools was established on the principles of Nai Taleem. These schools were self-reliant. There was special emphasis on vocational education.

A fixed number of hours were devoted to practical skills, such as spinning, binding books, mending shoes. There were multiple reasons for this. First, students were taught that doing menial work is not odd and each profession should be respected. Second, by selling the products made by students, the schools could earn money to meet their recurring expenses. The financial self-reliance would enable schools to have an independent policy which was vital to avoid the influence of colonial rulers. Another important advantage of teaching these productive skills to students enabled them to earn their livelihood when they left schools. The schools also promoted contextual learning by going beyond the fixity of textbooks.

In India’s freedom movement, Gandhi’s educational efforts, through Nai Taleem, played a vital role in decolonising the minds of youth through culturally relevant curricula, an emphasis on indigenous languages, the focus on the emancipation of thought and action and love for indigenous culture and identities.


The writer is an educationist.

Email: [email protected]



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