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Anarchism in India

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Anarchism in India

In India, anarchism never took the form of formally named "anarchism".[1] The relevance of anarchism in India is primarily its effects on movements for national and social liberation.

Non-government philosophy in ancient Hindu thought

In ancient Hindu thought, there are predecessors to the concept of a stateless society; for example, the Satya Yuga is often described as a possible anarchist society in which people govern themselves based on the universal law of dharma.[2] But, at the same time while a stateless society is seen as a possibility, much of Hindu political thought focuses on the inherently mixed nature of man (benign and malign) and therefore of the divine right of kings to govern so long as they protect the people from harm; in the event that kings do not govern on the basis of dharma, Chanakya sutras allow that it is better not to have a king than have one who is wanting in discipline.[2] This contrasts with the Western notion of a universal divine right of kings regardless of the consequences.

Vedic Anarchism

Unlike the modern Western Anarchist theories, the Vedic Anarchism is a time tested and successfully established anarchist model of the ancients. The rishis who have given Vedas are the first founders of Vedic anarchist societies. They dwelled in forests outside the control of any state or governments, and enforced a values based living through the knowledge on Rta and dharma. Unlike the Western anarchism that emphasizes priority to anti-state and anti-rulers policies, Vedic Anarchism deals with balance of powers, non-hierarchical and decentralized polity, community living, and ecologically sustainable lifestyles through its varna, ashrama, dharma, and Janapada systems.[3]

The Janapada system created a non-hierarchical and decentralized polity of root-level democracy.

The dharma system is wisdom in action. The wisdom that brought awareness about natural and social powers is known as Rta. This system attempted values based living, and brought ecologically sustainable lifestyles.

The ashrama system empowered individual freedom and independent expressions. Based on the biological age, the needs and behavior of individuals are categorized as Student life (Brahmacharya), Householder life (Grahastha), Retiring life (Vanaprastha), and Renouncing life (Sannyasa).

The Vedic varna system ensured swadharma (natural attitude and developed aptitude) based entitlements that brought flexibility, non-hierarchical and decentralized distribution of powers among all the communities for a balanced society, smooth inter-dependency, as well as deals with social responsibilities.

From these Vedic systems, arose the Mahajanapada system that formed the basis of all kingdoms and republics of India. This system administered the root-level distribution of political, technological, economical, and social powers. The term "Janapada" literally means the foothold of the people. In Pāṇini, Janapada stands for country and Janapadin for its citizenry.[4]

Each of these Janapadas was named after the Kshatriya tribe (or the Kshatriya Jana) who had settled therein. Within each Janapadas existed the Varna system distributing the socioeconomic powers, creating village communities that are completely independent from the state and completely inter-dependent within itself.[5][6] All of the ancient Vedic period states followed grass-root democracy raising from the village communities.

The Vedic polity of root-level democracy has turned the entire India as a community and village based society. These villages are completely self-sufficient, self-governing (swaraj), cooperative, nature bound, and ensured complete independence from the state and its politics. Thomas Munroe, Charles Metcalfe, and Mark Wilks are a few of the Orientalists who have eloquently described this importance village communities held in India.

[7] [8]

Because of the Janapada system, anarchism ruled the roots and roosts of India irrespective of kings and other types of rulers. C.F. W. Hegel finds that this system ensured the whole of India and her societies not yielding to despotism, subjection, or subjugation of any rulers.[9] Its influence is very strong and far reaching, even in the colonial period, the colonialists found that the establishment of Vedic anarchism through its village communities as the most difficult barrier to break and could not completely enforce their hegemony.

Gandhi and anarchism

The local conditions were pertinent to the development of the heavily anarchic Mohandas Gandhi self-identified as an anarchist.[10] Anarchism in India finds its first well-known expression with a statement by Gandhi:[1]

In Gandhi's view, violence is the source of social problems, and the state is the manifestation of this violence. Hence he concluded that "[t]hat state is perfect and non-violent where the people are governed the least. The nearest approach to purest anarchy would be a democracy based on nonviolence."[1] For Gandhi, the way to achieve such a state of total nonviolence (ahimsa) was changing of the people's minds rather than changing the state which governs people. Self-governance (swaraj) is the principle behind his theory of satyagraha. This swaraj starts from the individual, then moves outward to the village level, and then to the national level; the basic principle is the moral autonomy of the individual is above all other considerations.[1]

Gandhi’s admiration for collective liberation started from the very anarchic notion of individualism. According to Gandhi, the conscience of the individual is the only legitimate form of government. Gandhi averred that "Swaraj will be an absurdity if individuals have to surrender their judgment to a majority." He opined that a single good opinion is far better and beneficial than that of the majority of the population if the majority opinion is unsound. Due to this swaraj [11]

Bhagat Singh

Before 1920, an anarchist movement was represented by one of the most famous revolutionaries of the Indian independence movement, Bhagat Singh. Singh was attracted to anarchism.[12] Western anarchism and communism had influence on him. He studied the writings of Mikhail Bakunin, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky.[1] Singh wrote in an article:[12]

Singh was involved in the [12] a pro-independence paper, on which he equated the traditional Indian idea of "universal brotherhood" to the anarchist principle of "no rulers". Despite being influenced by the writings of Lenin and Trotsky, Singh never joined the Communist Party of India because of the anarchist influence on him.[1] Anarchist ideas played a major role in both Gandhian and Singhian movements for swaraj.[1]

Har Dayal's anarchist activism in US

Indian revolutionary and the founder of the Mexicans Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón. Har Dayal understood the realisation of ancient Aryan culture as anarchism, which he also saw as the goal of Buddhism. The Ghadar Party attempted to overthrow the British in India by reconciling western concepts of social revolution - particularly those stemming from Mikhail Bakunin - with Buddhism.[14]

Dave Andrews

Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984, thousands of Sikhs were murdered by violent mobs. Andrews resisted this through non-violent methods of intervention. The Andrews' were forced to flee India soon thereafter.[15][16][17]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Adams, Jason. Non-Western Anarchisms: Rethinking the Global Context Zalabaza Books, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  2. ^ a b Doctor, Adi Hormusji. (1964) Anarchist Thought in India. Bombay; New York: Asia Pub. House.
  3. ^ Y. K Mishra - Bihar (India); Tribes of Ancient India, 1977
  4. ^ India as Known to Panini: A Study of the Cultural Material in the Ashṭādhyāyī, 1963, p 427
  5. ^ Vasudeva Sharana Agrawala - India; India in the Time of Patañjali, 1968, p 68, Dr B. N. Puri - India; Socio-economic and Political History of Eastern India, 1977, p 9, Y. K Mishra - Bihar (India); Tribes of Ancient India, 1977, p 18, Mamata Choudhury - Ethnology; Tribal Coins of Ancient India, 2007, p xxiv, Devendra Handa - Coins, Indic - 2007; The Journal of the Numismatic Society of India, 1972, p 221, Numismatic Society of India - Numismatics .
  6. ^ A History of Pāli Literature, 2000 Edition, p 648, Some Ksatriya Tribes of Ancient India, 1924, pp 230-253, Dr B. C. Law.
  7. ^ Metacalfe, Charles (1830). Report from the Select committee in the House of Commons, Evidence, III Revenue, Appendices, minute dated November 7, 1830. London. 
  8. ^ Elphinstone, Mountstuart Elphinstone (1821). Report on the Territories Conquered from the Paishwa. Calcutta: Government Press. p. 17. 
  9. ^ Hegel, C.F.W. (1899; reprint 1956). The Philosophy of History. London: reprint London: Dover. pp. 113–142. 
  10. ^ Woodcock, George (2004). "Prologue". Anarchism: a History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. Peterborough: Broadview Press. p. 21.  
  11. ^ Weber, Thomas (January 2010). "Tolstoy and Gandhi's Law of Love". SGI Quarterly. Retrieved 2012-11-21. 
  12. ^ a b c Bhagat Singh and the Revolutionary Movement
  13. ^ Martyrdom of Sardar Bhagat Singh by Jyotsna Kamat. Cited by University of California Berkely Library on South Asian History
  14. ^ Ghadar Movement: Ideology, Organisation and Strategy, Harish K. Puri, Guru Nanak Dev University Press, Amritsar: "The only account of Hardayal's short stay in that island Martinique, comes from Bhai Parmanand, a self exiled Arya Samajist missionary from Lahore, who stayed a month with him there. Har Dayal used that time, says Parmanand, to discuss plans to found a new religion: his model was the Buddha. He ate mostly boiled grain, slept on the bare floor and spent his time in meditation in a secluded place. Guy Aldred, a famous English radical and friend, tells us of Hardayal's proclaimed belief at that time in the coming republic "which was to be a Church, a religious confraternity . . . its motto was to be: atheism, cosmopolitanism and moral law' Parmamand says that Har Dayal acceded to his persuasion to go to the USA and decided to make New York a centre for the propagation of the ancient culture of the Aryan Race." (page 55) and "the ideal social order would be the one which approximated to the legendary Vedic period of Indian history because, as Har Dayal affirmed, practical equality existed only in that society, where there were no governors and no governed, no priests and no laymen, no rich and no poor." (page 112), referencing The Social Conquest of the Hindu Race and Meaning of Equality.
  15. ^ "The Spirit of Things". Archived from the original on 10 January 2008. Retrieved 2007-12-25. Look, we looked out the window and mobs of people were chasing down Sikhs because a Sikh had killed the Prime Minister, and people were in the backlash, slaughter the Sikhs. But I said, ‘If it was your father, or your husband, or your son, wouldn’t you want somebody to intervene?’ And I can remember at the time Ange said, ‘Yes, of course I would.’ The framework for a global ethic is recognising we’re all part of the same family, and realising that we’ve got that responsibility. Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes, I am, because I’m part of the same family, and that was an impulse to respond, to intervene, and to save some people’s lives. And that was I think highly significant. 
  16. ^ Dave Andrews; David Engwicht (1989). Can You Hear The Heartbeat?. Manila: OMF Literature. There is one thing you need to know about Dave Andrews. He is dangerous. For example, after Indira Gandhi was shot, two or three thousand people were killed in twenty-four hours in the riots that followed. Mobs rampaged through streets looking for Sikhs to murder. Dave convinced Tony, a friend , that it was their job to go out and save these Sikhs. Finding a besieged house, they put themselves between an armed mob and a Sikh family and saved them from certain death. That's why Dave Andrews is dangerous. He is ordinary, yet believes ordinary people should take extraordinary risks to confront the cruelty in our world. 
  17. ^ "Lion Hudson: Christi-Anarchy - Dave Andrews". Archived from the original on 10 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-01. Graduated from Queensland, Australia, and went to India in 1972 with his wife Angie to set up a home for junkies, drop-outs and other disturbed people in Delhi. They subsequently founded a community for Indians, which they developed and ran until they were forced to leave India in 1984. 

Further reading

  • The Libertarian. (quarterly,1951- ) Bombay: Bombay Socialist Institute.
  • The gentle anarchists : a study of the leaders of the Sarvodaya movement for non-violent revolution in India by Geoffrey Ostergaard and Melville Currell, Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1971
  • "The Perennial Appeal of Anarchism" in Polity, Vol. 7, No. 2. (Winter, 1974), pp. 234–247 by Michael R. Dillon
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