Extract from “Anarchism, India” by Jesse Cohn

In the context of India and its anti-colonial struggle, the meaning of the word “anarchist” has been highly variable and contested since the turn of the twentieth century. The British colonizers then called Indian radicals – particularly rebels in Bengal, who had begun to use explosives as a means of fighting – “anarchists.” Around the same time, on a 1909 visit to London, Mohandas K. Gandhi, deeply influenced by the radical pacifism espoused by Leo Tolstoy, debated anti-colonial tactics with the residents of India House, among whom he encountered young radicals whose ideology he, too, described as “anarchist,” although he may have meant by this merely that they were advocates of armed struggle. While Gandhi’s manifesto, Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule) , repudiated their “brute force” methods ( Gandhi 1989 : 104–5), seven years later he was to alarm his allies by announcing, at the opening of Benaras Hindu University, that “I myself am an anarchist, but of another type” (1989: 134). This assertion was to be strongly endorsed by self-defined anarchists of other nations – not only anarcho-pacifists such as Brazil’s Maria Lacerda de Moura (1887–1945), who cited Gandhi as a positive example in her anarchist-feminist attack on militarism, but also by exiled Bombay radical Mandayam Prativadi Bhayankara Tirumal Acharya (a.k.a. M. P. T. Acharya, 1888–1954).


“Anarchism, India” by Jesse Cohn

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