Swadeshi is a Sanskrit term comprised of two parts: swa- meaning “one’s own” and desh– meaning “home” or “country.” It conceptually translates as “localism.” Why is this such an important concept in Gandhi’s mind? First of all, it represents order–beginning with oneself and moving outward from strength to strength, first one’s family then one’s community, and so on. Secondly, it speaks to effective action. While there are exceptions to the rule, it is always going to be less effective to work in a community that you do not participate in fully than to work in your own, whose vernacular you speak, whose gestures are intimate to you. Whenever Gandhi is criticized for not fully taking up the struggle of other communities, sticking somewhat close to the Indian fold throughout his career, I like to remember his principle of swadeshi. When done well and effectively your work serves as what he called “an ocular demonstration,” that is, something you can see directly, from which another person can learn, if they chose to take up the same method in their own community of practice.
Even further, Swadeshi is the opposite of the most nefarious human institution: war. We will come to force you to change. In nonviolence, the people opposing you will change, many have to, especially if they are carrying out violence and exploitation; but that only comes, or only comes permanently, by our demonstrating that of which we are capable ourselves.
What do you see as the strategic advantages of swadeshi in making the world less willing to enact violence?
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