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Did Gandhi criticize or support the Indian Railways?

The name of Mahatma Gandhi is widely known across the globe for his struggle in the history of India, mainly his battle against the British Rule and during the Colonization Era is unforgettable. Mahatma Gandhi, initially named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was born in a poor family in Porbandar on October 2nd, 1869. Owing to the poverty in his family, he did not receive a formal education but was “an able administrator who knew how to steer his way between the capricious princes, their long-suffering subjects, and the headstrong British public officers in power” (B.R. Nanda, “Mahatma Gandhi, Indian Leader”).

Attributing to the society of the eighteenth century, Gandhiji was married at the early age of thirteen and soon learned, in his words, “to carry out the orders of the elders, not to scan them” (B.R. Nanda, “Mahatma Gandhi, Indian Leader”). After dropping out from the University of Bombay, he changed his native language to English from Gujarati. In order to not have to follow the family tradition of holding high offices in the states of Gujarat, he decided to pursue law, which in those times meant a trip to England and he was determined to take that trip. Although the Modh Bania subcaste of the Vaishya Caste forbid his trip to England (overseas) as a violation of the Hindu religion, he sailed overseas in September 1888 and joined the Inner Temple, which was one of the four law colleges in England at that time.

Written in 1909 by Gandhi, ‘Hind Swaraj’ was later described to be the “whole theory of life” in 1921 and further he stated, “I have seen nothing to make me alter the views expressed in it” (Aryan Path, 1938). He stood by his vision of the then society as expressed in his book with a strong head. Referring to the chapters of seven to fourteen in ‘Hind Swaraj’, Gandhiji’s explicit criticism towards various transformations in the society can be vividly noted. Gandhiji was lucidly not happy with the revolutions that were taking place in the country during his time. Quoting from his book, “It is my deliberate opinion that India is being ground down, not under the English heel, but under that of modern civilization. It is groaning under the monster’s terrible weight.” (Gandhi, Mohandas, ‘Hind Swaraj’, 33) One of his most disparaged topics was the Railways. He was of the opinion that the country has been so terribly impoverished by the railways, that if the citizens don’t wake up now and realize its consequences, the nation would be ruined.

During the 19th century, in India, railways was considered to be a beneficial institution as it helped in faster and more efficient communication between the people of the country living far away. It helped connect people of different ideologies and sentiments that were spread all across the geography of India. While everyone appreciated the influence of the railways, Gandhi was determined on his judgement of the institution being unhealthy for the nation as he says, “…the railways can become a distributing agency for the evil one only” (Gandhi, Mohandas, ‘Hind Swaraj’, 37). He was extremely troubled by its impact and consequences and called civilization “a disease” and that it was time to be vigilant about it.

Gandhiji gave various reasons for his strong antagonism towards the railways. Firstly, he imputed the mode of travel for having spread the bubonic plague. As more and more people travelled by trains, the more there was a spread of the plague germs. Further, railways were said to have increased the pressure on famines as people would sell out their grains so as to collect the money to buy tickets and venture to places. “Railways accentuate the evil nature of man.” (Gandhi, Mohandas, ‘Hind Swaraj’, 36). According to Gandhiji, all theists who wanted to visit holy shrines were full of composure and perseverance, so they walked (sometimes barefoot) to pay homage to God and didn’t necessitate any locomotive. On the contrary, he stressed upon railways having propagated evil and helped immoral men fulfil their malicious desires as in line of his opinion, and since bad men did not know how to hold their horses and the locomotive provided faster reach to holy places, “The holy places of India have become unholy” (Gandhi, Mohandas, ‘Hind Swaraj’, 37).