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Letter to a Hindoo - Taraknath Das, Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi

"Letter to a Hindoo" was the title of a 1908 letter from Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) to the Bengal social scientist Taraknath Das (1884-1958). This letter and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's pamphlet, "Indian Home Rule," were two of the most impressive early twentieth-century critiques of modern Western civilization. Tolstoy's letter warned, above all, that nationalism, religious fanaticism, excessive belief in science and "progress", fascination with violence, militarism, industrialization, and the various addictions, cravings, and self-delusions of "civilized" Americans and Europeans would lead the people of the twentieth century to ruin. Tolstoy challenged his Indian contemporary to throw off the yoke of British colonialism, so that Indians would no longer sanction imperialism's functioning system of lies, violence, and profit through their own "voluntary servitude" (Etienne de la Boétie) and subordination. As Taraknath Das could not resist this challenge, he was later forced into a bitter exile in Canada. His analysis of British rule in India elucidates the refined methods of structurally generated injustice with which a relatively small number of British merchants, bureaucrats, and soldiers enslaved millions of Indian subjects in the Victorian Empire. At that time, Taraknath Das recommended violence in pursuit of revolutionary goals as the means of political conflict with the British; later, in the 1920s, this former social revolutionary and U.S. political prisoner became a recognized educational reformer and political scientist who taught at New York's Columbia University. Taraknath Das through his Foundation also enabled many Indian students to study abroad, some of whom later became distinguished Indian intellectuals. However, after his death, few remembered his exchange of letters with Leo Tolstoy. It was ultimately this "Letter to a Hindoo" by Leo Tolstoy that moved Mahatma Gandhi to take up his correspondence with Leo Tolstoy from 1909 through Tolstoy's death in 1910. Tolstoy had consented to the use of his name by the "Tolstoy Farm" in South Africa and Mahatma Gandhi, after being addressed in a testamentary letter written by Leo Tolstoy, had adopted the heritage of nonviolent resistance for his emancipation struggle in South Africa. Decades later, in 1997, the complete correspondence between Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi has finally been published in our latest book, which is dedicated to Taraknath Das, whose initiative we can thank for the insights that are now finally documented in this book. Dr. Ranendra Nath Das, Taraknath Das' nephew, a retired economic adviser who lives in Berlin and founded the Taraknath-Das-Foundation in Berlin, generously supported these volumes' publication of the Tolstoy-Gandhi-correspondences, pathfinder for searchers of Truth on the Path of Nonviolence. "Letter to a Hindoo" is a well illustrated English language documentary volume, published by the Gandhi Information Centre in the year 1997.


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