A conference series at Johannesburg, Mumbai, and New York, 16 August 2009–1 May 2010
Public Culture’s Sister Cities Project seeks to identify pathways for the circulation and production of knowledge in the Global South through translation, electronic publication, and workshops. Convened by Faisal Devji and Ritu Birla, the Hind Swaraj initiative has identified three cities over the course of a year and a half for conversations designed to rethink Gandhi’s critique of modernity.
The Sister Cities Project is undertaken by the Society for Transnational Cultural Studies.
Advisory Committee: Arjun Appadurai (New York University), Carol A. Breckenridge (New York University), Thomas Blom Hansen (University of Amsterdam), Claudio Lomnitz (Columbia University), Achille Mbembe (University of Witwatersrand) and Sarah Nuthall (University of Witwaterstrand)
Co-sponsors: Johannesburg: The University of Witwatersrand: WISER (Jonathan Hyslop) and The Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (Dir. Isabel Hofmeyr); Mumbai: PUKAR (Dir. Anita Patil Deshmukh) and Jnana Pravaha (Dir. Rashmi Poddar); New York: Institute for Public Knowledge (Dir. Craig Calhoun) at New York University
“Self-rule and Non-violence: Hind Swaraj a Century After” seeks to mark the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Gandhi’s first book, Hind Swaraj, with a series of conferences that engage Gandhian thought as a key moment in the modern history of transnational thinking and practice. A prominent product of the transnational politics of colonialism, Hind Swaraj emerged from Gandhi’s early political life and travels, and was written in a single sitting while on the ocean from England to South Africa. The text articulated the fundamental themes of Gandhian thought, themes which have most often been understood as motivated by a nationalist sensibility, but which in fact offered a prominent and groundbreaking example of transnational thinking (as distinct from cosmopolitanism or a return to the universalism of classical Indian thought).
While its title is generally translated as Indian Home Rule, Hind did not refer to a determinate nation-state, but rather was an old Arabic name for an indeterminate and vast region across the Indus river. And Swaraj (literally “self-rule”) is a modern term that de-territorialized the concept of political independence by linking it specifically with the ethical practice of the individual, with self-mastery and self-discipline as its touchstones. Drawing attention to these fertile ambiguities, the proposed discussions chart an innovative intellectual approach to Gandhi that speaks to global politics today. Reflection on Gandhi has been dominated by historians, social scientists and political activists on the one hand; and experts in philosophy and religion on the other. The former have focused their work on the much-examined Gandhian political concept of swadeshi, or home industry, while the latter have examined the well-known ethical concepts of ahimsa (non-violence) and satyagraha (truth-force). The idea of swaraj, and its conceptualization of transnational politics and ethics, remains understudied. Conceived as a conversation across Johannesburg, Mumbai and New York, this project will focus on the concept of swaraj as an analytical lever to discuss the empirical ground, philosophical implications, and public life of Gandhi’s imagining of transnational ethico-political practice. The task of these meetings is not only to think about self-rule in its transnational or global dimensions, but also to create a transnational space for such thinking by bringing together individuals and institutions from around the globe in a network to which each contributes and none leads. It is hoped that this network will continue to exist and even expand after the project is completed.