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Gandhi – A Religion of the Question: Ajay Skaria

[The following is the ‘Preface’ to AJAY SKARIA’s recent book, Unconditional Equality: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance by Ajay Skaria. The preface raises interesting questions not only about Gandhi’s politics but also about the idea/s of secularism and religion in what we might call a postsecular world – a world that is, where the naive and uninterrogated binary between the two terms is constantly put into question. Also of interest to readers might be the attempt made by the author to read Gandhi’s writings as a long and ongoing struggle to articulate or ‘understand’ his own politics – a politics that Skaria claims is as much premised on equality among humans as it is on the equality of all being/s.]

Unconditional Equality by Ajay Skaria
Unconditional Equality by Ajay Skaria

Somewhere in the early 2000s, while preparing to teach Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s English translation of Hind Swaraj to my undergraduate class, a passage about history in the text intrigued me. Since I happened to have the Gujarati version of that text at hand, I consulted it. The divergence is striking. The Gujarati text criticizes “history” (the English word occurs in the Gujarati text) and contrasts  it to itihaas [usually translated as “history”]. The English text criticizes “history,” but in it there is no equivalent for itihaas; the contrast between history and itihaas is thus obscured. The gap between the Gujarati and English texts, I have since come to realize, is symptomatic of Gandhi’s struggles to think his politics. What this politics involves is by no means clear to him; perhaps he writes so prolifically and indefatigably (his collected works run to ninety-eight volumes in English) precisely in order to try and understand his own politics. This politics becomes even more intriguing when we attend not only to Gandhi as an author or “intending subject,” but to his writing.[1] By dwelling in and on the gaps (between Gujarati and English and also within each of these languages) in his writing, this book tries to draw out his politics.

For me, writing this book has been difficult also because of another gap—that between Gandhi’s insistence that there can be “no politics without religion” and the secular inheritance that I have, as far as I know, no desire to abandon. Gandhi repeatedly describes satyagraha (his most famous neologism, which he coins initially as a translation of “passive resistance”) as his “dharma” or “religion,” even as the religion that stays in all religions.[2] Symptomatic of my difficulty with this religious politics was my inability for long to even recognize it. When Vinay Lal first asked me in 2007 to write an essay on Gandhi’s religion for a volume he was planning on political Hinduism, I protested that I was not interested in this aspect of Gandhi. But with his characteristic persistence, Vinay did not accept my protests, and I ended up writing that essay, which became a precursor of this book.

In the process, my own understanding of dharma and religion as “concepts” has been transformed.[3]

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