Meaning of Swadesh
Swadeshi, the word, originates from Sanskrit. It is a conjunction, or ‘sandhi’ of two
words ‘swa’ meaning self or own and ‘desh’ meaning country. So while swadesh means one’s own country,
swadeshi is an adjective that means something or someone ‘of one’s own country’. The antonym of swadeshi is
videshi: videshi means ‘not of one’s country’.
Interpretations of the word ‘Swadesh’
The word ‘swadesh’ and ‘swadeshi’ assumed unprecedented significance in the context of
British colonisation and the Indian struggle for independence from it. Mahatma Gandhi, the pioneering figure
in India’s freedom movement popularised it to strengthen patriotic sentiments among fellow-Indians. Gandhi
explained his interpretation of swadeshi at length. He said that ‘swadeshi’ is the spirit which forbids us
against embracing anything which is not our own and limit ourselves to the use and service of our own. Gandhi
contended that a nation’s people must engage themselves totally with everything that is swadeshi and do
things that promote one’s own nation’s welfare and not others.
Based on this premise, Gandhi popularised the use of charkha and rejection of foreign
goods to promote self-sufficiency. He also encouraged the home-grown associations of village panchayats as
institutions of self-governance or ‘swaraj’, another term popularized by him. As part of the swadeshi
program, Gandhi instilled in people the need to relearn the knowledge in vernaculars, history and science
that India has to offer.
Gandhi intended to make it conspicuous that swadeshi was not a form of revenge against
the foreign coloniser or an exclusivist agenda but an expression of sincerity and loyalty to one’s country
and taking responsibility for its well-being.