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anarchism in India

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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.

Anarchism in ancient Hindu thought[edit]

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 evil nature of man 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, Chanakyasutras 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.

Gandhi and anarchism[edit]

See also: Anarcho-pacifism

File:Gandhi studio 1931.jpg
Gandhi self-identified as an anarchist

The local conditions were pertinent to the development of the heavily anarchistic Satyagraha movement in India. Mohandas Gandhi self-identified as an anarchist.[3] Anarchism in India finds its first well-known expression with a statement by Gandhi:[1]

"The state evil is not the cause but the effect of social evil, just as the sea-waves are the effect not the cause of the storm. The only way of curing the disease is by removing the cause itself."

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 govern 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 principal is the moral autonomy of the individual is above all other considerations.[1]

Gandhi’s admiration for collective liberation started from very anarchistic 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 individualism he rejected both parliamentary politics and their instrument of legitimization, political parties. According to swaraj individualism the notion that the individual exists for the good of the larger organization had to be discarded in favor of the notion that the larger organization exists for the good of the individual, and one must always be free to leave and to dissent.[1]

Bhagat Singh[edit]

Indian freedom fighter Bhagat Singh was attracted to anarchism

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.[4] 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:[4]

"The ultimate goal of Anarchism is complete independence, according to which no one will be ... crazy for money ... There will be no chains on the body or control by the state. This means that they want to eliminate ... the state; private property."

Singh was involved in the Hindustan Republican Association and Naujawan Bharat Sabha (Translated to 'Youth Society of India').[1][5] By the mid-1920s Singh began arming of the general population and organized people’s militias against the British. From May 1928 to September 1928, Singh published several articles on anarchism in Punjabi periodical "Kirti",[4] 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[edit]

See also: Buddhist anarchism

Indian revolutionary and the founder of the Ghadar Party Lala Har Dayal was involved in the anarchist movement in United States. He moved to the United States in 1911, where he became involved in industrial unionism. In Oakland, he founded the Bakunin Institute of California which he described as "the first monastery of anarchism". The organisation aligned itself with the Regeneracion movement founded by the exiled Mexicans Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magon. Har Dayal understood the realisation of ancient Aryan culture as anarchism, which he also saw as the goal of Buddhism. The Ghadar movement attempted to overthrow the British in India by reconciling western concepts of social revolution - particularly those stemming from Mikhail Bakunin - with Buddhism.[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Adams, Jason. Non-Western Anarchisms: Rethinking the Global Context Zalabaza Books, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Anarchist Thought in India by Adi Hormusji Doctor (1964)
  3. Woodcock, George (2004). Anarchism: a History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, Peterborough: Broadview Press.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Bhagat Singh and the Revolutionary Movement
  5. Martyrdom of Sardar Bhagat Singh by Jyotsna Kamat. Cited by University of California Berkely Library on South Asian History
  6. 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.


  • 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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