The Case for India by Will Durant – Book Review


The Case for India by Will Durant
Written in 1930, at the peak of Indian freedom struggle, by a visiting American historian – this is book The Case for India, that takes you back to the year. You feel as if you are standing in 1930. Gandhi is somewhere around leading a movement. British are exploiting India and Indians. You get that feeling of being amidst the mood of a worldwide revolt against the British with dreams of independence.

Divided into 4 parts, of which the first is like a journalist’s report, giving lots of data on the plundering of Indian wealth by the British. Will Durant quotes many numbers like export and import, the amount of forest area lost. The loss of the handicraft industry. And of course the population numbers. He talks about the men who fought under the British flag in various wars and numbers of them who lost their lives.

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He presents the reader with a picture of how things are and how he saw them. Without really putting his judgment here. Though it is self-evident what he wants you to read there.

In section 3 he presents the British side of the story. Where they elaborate on the changes or so-called developments that they brought to the country. Including laying down the railways. And social reforms like putting a ban on the tradition of Sati or allowing re-marriage of widows. They talk about the education system that they brought in. They also talk about the character of native people who they project as cowards and always fighting in the name of religion.

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In the next section, he reflects the mirror and talks about the same thing from India’s perspective. He talks about how the social reforms were led by some of the thinkers in India like Raja Ram Mohan Roy. He puts light on many facts that are contrary to the popular perceptions propagated by the British like the caste system.

Even I was surprised to know that the then ruling kings of Baroda and Gwalior, both of which were fairly prominent and rich states, were Shudras – the lowest class in the caste hierarchy. Similarly, the then Maharaja of Mysore was a Vaishya and not a Kshatriya as expected. If these were the cases, can we really say the caste system was as bad as it was projected to be? Both the angles make a very interesting read. You get to see the issue from both perspectives and make your own decision of what you want to believe. If you are an Indian, you would look around and add your own experiences and conclude. If you are not an Indian, it is a well-balanced presentation of perspectives.

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The second section of this small book is dedicated to Gandhi. He creates a portrayal of the man, his principles, his philosophy, his lifestyle, his unique way of protest and his impact on the Indian freedom struggle. The first thing that he establishes is that the idea of liberty or freedom came from the Indian elite who managed to reach England for higher education and where they first experienced a life of freedom. This is where their dreams of making their own country and its people independent were born. He talks extensively about Gandhi’s South African experience. And how he basically replicated the learning from there in India, maybe on a much larger scale. He speaks about his principle of non-violence in detail.

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Of course, it came from the faith of Gandhi that was based on Ahimsa, but the levels to which he took was unparalleled. He describes in detail the blows that his followers took without retaliating. He describes in detail the atrocities of British at Jalianwalan Bagh. And how Gandhi and Tagore gave up all the honors bestowed on them. You can see his disbelief in what he saw and his need to internalize and understand this.

In the end of The Case for India, what he says is his empathy as an American for the Indian public. Remember, It was 1930.

Read it if you can get your hands on the book The Case for India.

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