Critical Traditionalism

India's problems could neither be solely attributed to external forces nor could India's freedom emerge from only getting rid of the British. According to Makarand Paranjape, "Decolonization is not merely the overthrow of foreign domination, but also the conservation of what is indigenous. Without the latter, the former will have little meaning or value." Rediscovering, understanding and re-valuing the 'indigenous' is critical to swaraj. Though he wished to situate India's conceptions of itself and its development in the village, Gandhi was careful not to romanticize traditional village life, nor did he advocate its rigid preservation. Gandhi was acutely conscious of the injustices that had evolved in the villages. He clearly envisioned his struggle against traditions such as untouchability and caste oppression as the other side of his struggle against modern imperialism.  Neither of the two struggles could authentically be conceived of without consideration of the other.  

For swaraj today, we must first acknowledge and then seek to break the vast human divide that separates 'us' from 'them' - the developed, schooled, urban, middle class from the so-called developing, illiterate, rural, poor villagers. Our first role is not to teach/attack/change them but rather to humbly learn from them in order to understand ourselves and rediscover the 'sacred' that lies within each of us. Together, we must explore new ways of relating to one another and of building community - ways that are conscious and respectful of the diversity and complexity of humanity and seek to reconnect us to the 'sacred' web of life. For this to happen, we must strive to create a world that revalues the existence of the vast majority of the world's peoples. This starts with critically reflecting on the paternalistic, condemning and charity-based language and approaches that permeate the development discourse. From this critique, we must then create spaces for more honest reflection and genuine dialogue on both the modern and traditional worlds, without trying to negate one in favor of the other.