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Truth & Nonviolence - Gandhiji’s Tenets For Passive Resistance

Jay Subramanyam, Lucknow

Gandhiji had said during his lifetime, ‘What I have done shall endure, not what I have said or written—my life is my message’, which propounded never to despise the enemy but foster goodwill amidst disorder and never to dither from one’s faith in the Almighty even in the face of death. Such thoughts may appear a tad anachronous today when violence and strife have exceeded all limits of reason and logic. 

A Hindu fanatic was led by the belief that Gandhiji’s acts were prejudicial & detrimental to the interests of the Hindu community and hence his existence had to be brought to an end. This was symptomatic of the kind of communal frenzy that had been whipped up in the aftermath of the country’s vivisection. The truth however, was that Gandhiji was a staunch follower of Hinduism from which emanated an all-pervading and all-encompassing creed of religious tolerance; that led its followers not merely to respect all other religions but to admire and assimilate whatever may be good in other faiths. He essentially felt that Hinduism propagated the search for truth through non-violent means, an element that was lost on his detractors, one of whom took him away from our midst at a time when the country needed him the most. 

Whatever may have been the mode of his mass-movements, none of them were borne out of spontaneity but supported by practical wisdom. Whether it was the non-cooperation movement, which he launched as a protest against an unwitting and unwilling perpetration of evil, in other words, to curb the powers of the evil-doers by withdrawing all co-operation from them or the Civil Disobedience movement, which pre-supposed a law-abiding spirit combined with self-restraint, they all tugged the spirit of the nation because if anything, they challenged the might of imperialism, with the abstention of any and every form of violence. 

It was Gandhiji’s firm belief that thoughts alone do not constitute anything unless they are put into practice. Whatever his belief, his thought, he used to first experiment its impact on himself and then propound it, which in many ways turned into an axiomatic truth for the world. His fasts were a mode of passive resistance, to secure peace and amity through personal suffering. Gandhiji believed that fasting for the sake of purifying the spirit was a discipline that was absolutely necessary at some stage in the evolution of an individual. For him the crucifixion of flesh was quite meaningless unless one voluntarily went through the pangs of hunger. Importantly, for him, fasting should be inspired by what he propounded throughout his lifetime—perfect truth and perfect non-violence and the call for it should come from within without being imitative. It was Gandhiji’s rationale that the less the violence a religion permits, more is the truth contained in it. A follower of non-violence should not succumb meekly to the will of the enemy but suffer punishment for disobeying the enemy’s will until he is won over. Herein lay the quintessential spirit of his passive resistance.  

Pandit Nehru put it so succinctly at the time of Gandhiji’s tragic demise—‘The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later, that light will be seen in this country and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts’. Prophetic words indeed! For a moment let us pause and cogitate over our beloved Bapu’s creed that in a non-violent conflict no rancour should surface as anger and intolerance are twin enemies of correct understanding; non-violence demands that we seek every opportunity to win over our opponents. Thus, a person who can express non-violence in life exercises a power superior to all forces of brutality.  Is our society geared up to this test of fortitude? Following this cult in spirit and emotion may well be difficult, even painful but not impossible, though.