Swaraj is an ancient Sanskrit term, composed of the particle swa (or sva), which means self, or one’s own, and raj, which means rule. Swaraj then is self-rule or self-restraint. It is the basis for human liberation from the influence of outward control over the mind, as well as the starting point for nonviolent coexistence in society at large. The premise is that when a person is able to control thoughts and desires, the inherent sense of connectedness or unity will be free to operate. Then that person will spontaneously act in ways that are more beneficial personally and for others. Like most of Gandhi’s key terms, swaraj was applied on various levels. Thus, in addition to the traditional, personal, level, he used it to mean India’s political independence from foreign rule.
One of Gandhi’s seminal works, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, was written in Gujarati, in 1909, aboard a ship traveling from South Africa to India. Later it was translated into English, to boost Gandhi’s independence movement. In this widely regarded classic, Gandhi describes his ideal form of self-rule and his wish for the people of India, noting, however that, “I would warn the reader against thinking that I am today aiming at the Swaraj described therein. I know that India is not ripe for it. It may seem an impertinence to say so. But such is my conviction. I am individually working for the self-rule pictured therein.” By this he meant that change to be profound and lasting, must come from within, as it did, for India, 38 years later. To Gandhi swaraj is our birthright and responsibility and, “any other rule is foreign rule.”