ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Only One Word, Properly Altered

In the first Indian edition of his book, Hind Swaraj, Gandhi confessed that there was only one word that he would wish to alter: "prostitute", an English translation of the word, 'veshya'. In Hind Swaraj, Gandhi etched out his ideas for an India freed of British control and also makes a critique of modern civilisation with his emphasis on the "proper". The book juxtaposes the connotations evoked by the prefix, 'swa', against that evoked by the image of the veshya, who is always at someone's control and whose agency is perforce without. The use of these words served Gandhi well in seeking to enunciate his own beliefs regarding violence and domination. He breaks from the modern tradition that sees domination as the taking away of power and agency, and reconceptualises resistance as the recovery of resistance. It also questions domination by insisting on a subaltern responsibility for subordination; not as a loss of power, but the loss of swa.

I n a foreword in 1919 to the first Indian edition in English Indeed, there is a proliferation of the prefix swa in his writing of Indian Home Rule (as many early English translations of for instance, swadharma, swadeshi, swaadhyaya, swaroop.Hind Swaraj were titled), Gandhi wrote: if I had to revise But what is ones own? To ask this question seriously is to insist it, there is only one word I would alter in accordance with a that the own is not transparent, it is to ask: what is proper to promise made to an English friend. She took exception to my the own? Etymologically, this questioning nature of the own, use of the word prostitute in speaking of the Parliament. Her which always transforms a thoughtful consideration of the own fine taste recoiled from the indelicacy of the expression.1 into a concern for the proper, is marked in both the swa and its As the only suggests, Gandhi did not think of the change European cognate se both carry connotations of the proper. that he suggested as major it was merely a matter of making In the word swaraj, furthermore, the swa is conjoined with raj the book a little less indelicate so that it would not upset fine a term conventionally rendered as rule. Hind Swaraj: involved tastes (such as that of Annie Beasant, who Anthony Parel specu-in this title is the question of proper nature of rule for India or lates was the English friend). Effectively, he seemed to con-Hind. And attending to this question is itself impossible without template an alteration that retained the argument signalled by attention to the ownmost or proper nature of the proper what the word the argument that more robust minds would already it is (if indeed the proper is), and what its rule would entail.have muscled onto, brushing past the word. This insistence on thinking the proper produces Gandhis attackWhat is at stake in this word, and in the desire to alter it? on civilisation, which he also sometimes describes as modern Here, I would like to argue that the word is not only a forceful civilisation (aadhunik sudhaara).4 To such modern civilimanifestation of the sexism which pervades Hind Swaraj, and sation, he opposes true civilisation (kharu sudhaara), which that the proposed alteration is not only an ineffectual attempt stays with the question of the proper. For the reader, because to mute this sexism. More, the word and the desire to alter it the swa is transparent, not worth hesitating over, swaraj is simply as symptom of a trembling in the texture of Hind Swaraj itself. self-rule an Indian sovereignty instead of British sovereignty, The word veshya (prostitute) marks the moment when a certain best achieved by adopting modern civilisation. tension within Hind Swaraj over the question of the proper becomes For Gandhi in contrast, the sovereignty involved in modern especially fraught. It occurs at a crucial turn in the books argument.civilisation cannot be swaraj since it is not attentive to the swa.Hind Swaraj is organised as a dialogue between a nationalist Indeed, Gandhi thought only one thought about modern reader who is willing to use violence to drive the British out of India, civilisation that it erased and forgot the swa or proper. For and an editor who, ventriloquising Gandhis explicit positions,argues Gandhi, modern civilisation eschewed the finitude of the proper that such violence would not bring about swaraj (home rule). For and claimed infinity and godliness for itself. Within its terms the reader, initially, swaraj is a self-evident term: it involves driving the question of the proper and thus of swaraj could not even be out the British but retaining British institutions. By the fourth raised. Thus the remark at the end of chapter 4: when viewed chapter, the editor has problematised this understanding, suggest-truly, what you call swaraj is not swaraj. Viewed truly, which ing that this means that we want English rule, but dont want the is to say viewed in terms of the swa that it did not attend to, English.2 With this rejection, swaraj is no longer a self-evident modern civilisation was not swaraj. term. Now the question can be seriously asked: what is swaraj? Through attentiveness to the word veshya and its alteration,The fourth chapter draws to a close with the reader asking the this essay seeks to elicit not only this thought about the swa andeditor this question. The editor refuses an immediate answer. modern civilisation, but its unthought.There is still timeI find it just as difficult to understand swaraj While Hind Swaraj criticises modern civilisation for not as you find it easy.3 staying with the proper, and while it affirms a staying with theWhat makes the question of swaraj so vertiginous in Hind proper, it nevertheless remains profoundly fractured in its ownSwaraj is that it is meticulously attentive to the prefix swa. thinking of the proper, and of swaraj. The word veshya and the desire to alter it are particularly forceful, even violent, symptoms of this fracture. The term occurs during the discussion of swaraj in chapter 5. When the reader describes the English parliament as the mother of parliaments, as effectively the model of the swaraj for Indians, the editor says: That which you call the mother of parliaments, that parliament is a vaanjani (sterile woman) and a veshya [prostitute].5

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