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Speech At Bhatgam
March 29, 1930
I have been asked to deliver a sermon. I have little fitness for the task. But tonight I propose to make a confession and turn the searchlight inward. You may call this introspection a sermon if you like.
India in general and you in particular are acquainted with one part of my nature. Moreover, more than in any other part of Gujarat, in this district are concentrated workers who have come in closest touch with me. They know this habit of mine from personal experience.
I am plain-spoken. I have not hesitated to describe the mountain-high faults of the Government in appropriate language. And I have not hesitated often to picture as mountain-high our faults appearing to us as trifling. You know, the common rule is to see our own big lapses as tiny nothings. And when we do realize our blemishes somewhat, we at once pass them on to the broad shoulders of God and say He will take care of them; and then with safety thus assured we proceed from lapse to lapse. But as you know I have disregarded this rule for years. So being, I have hurt the feelings of many friends and even lost some of them. Tonight I have to repeat the painful operation.
I have already told the group of people who are accompanying me that this is the last week of our march. As we shall reach our destination next Saturday, we shall not have to march any further. But we shall be faced with another task. During this last week we shall have to go through Surat district.
Only this morning at prayer time I was telling my companions that as we had entered the district in which we were to offer civil disobedience, we should insist on greater purification and intenser dedication. I warned them that as the district was more organized and contained many intimate co-workers, there was every likelihood of our being pampered. I warned them against succumbing to their pampering. We are not angels. We are very weak, easily tempted. There are many lapses to our debit. God is great. Even today some were discovered. One defaulter confessed his lapse himself whilst I was brooding over the lapses of the pilgrims. I discovered that my warning was given none too soon. The local workers had ordered milk from Surat to be brought in a motor lorry and they had incurred other expenses which I could not justify. I therefore spoke strongly about them. But that did not allay my grief. On the contrary it increased with the contemplation of the wrongs done.
In the light of these discoveries, what right had I to write to the Viceroy the letter in which I have severely criticized his salary which is more than 5,000 times our average income? How could he possibly do justice to that salary? And how can we tolerate his getting a salary out of all proportion to our income? But he is individually not to be blamed for it. He has no need for it. God has made him a wealthy man. I have suggested in my letter that probably the whole of his salary is spent in charity. I have since learnt that my guess is largely likely to be true. Even so, of course, I should resist the giving of such a large salary. I could not vote Rs. 21,000 per month, not perhaps even Rs. 2,100 per month. But when could I offer such resistance? Certainly not if I was myself taking from the people an unconscionable toll. I could resist it only if my living bore some correspondence with the average income of the people. We are marching in the name of God. We profess to act on behalf of the hungry, the naked and the unemployed. I have no right to criticize the Viceregal salary if we are costing the country, say, fifty times, seven pice, the average daily income of our people. And the way things are going, I should not be surprised if each of us is costing something near fifty time seven pice. What else can be the result if they will fetch for me from whatever source possible, the choicest oranges and grapes, if they will bring 120 when I should want 12 oranges, if when I need one pound of milk, they will produce three? What else can be the result if we would take all the dainties you may place before us under the excuse that we would hurt your feeling if we did not take them? You give us guavas and grapes and we eat them because they are a free gift from a princely farmer. And then imagine me with an easy conscience writing the Viceregal letter on costly glazed paper with a fountain pen, a gift from some accommodating friend! Will this behove you and me? Can a letter so written produce the slightest effect?
To live thus would be to illustrate the immortal verse of Akho Bhagat, who says that "stolen food is like eating unprocessed mercury". And to live above the means befitting a poor country is to live on stolen food. This battle can never be won by living on stolen food. Nor did I bargain to set out on this march for living above our means. We expect thousands of volunteers to respond to the call. It will be impossible to keep them on extravagant terms. My life has become so busy that I get little time to come in close touch even with the eighty companions so as to be able to identify them individually. There was therefore no course open to me but to unburden my soul in public. I expect you to understand the central point of my message. If you have not, there is no hope of swaraj through the present effort. We must become real trustees of the dumb millions.
I have exposed our weaknesses to the public gaze. I have not yet given you all the details, but I have told you enough to enable you to realize our unworthiness to write the letter to the Viceroy.
Now the local co-workers will understand my agony. Weak, ever exposed to temptations, ever failing, why will you tempt us and pamper us? We may not introduce these incandescent burners in our villages, it is enough that one hundred thousand men prey upon three hundred millions. But how will it be when we begin to prey upon one another? In that event dogs will lick our corpses. These lights are merely a sample of the extravagance I have in mind. My purpose is to wake you up from torpor. Let the volunteers account for every pice spent. I am more capable of offering satyagraha against ourselves than against the Government. I have taken many years before embarking upon civil resistance against the Government. But I should not take as many days for offering it against ourselves. The risk to be incurred is nothing compared to what has to be incurred in the present satyagraha.
Therefore in your hospitality towards servants like us, I would have you to be miserly rather than lavish. I shall not complain of unavoidable absence of things. In order to procure goat's milk for me you may not deprive poor women of milk for their children. It would be like poison if you did. Nor may milk and vegetables be brought from Surat. We can do without them if necessary. Do not resort to motor-cars on the slightest pretext. The rule is, do not ride if you can walk. This is not a battle to be conducted with money. It will be impossible to sustain a mass movement with money. Anyway it is beyond me to conduct the campaign with a lavish display of money.
Extravagance has no room in this campaign. If we cannot gather crowds unless we carry on a hurricane expensive propaganda, I would be satisfied to address half a dozen men and women.
It will be said that in that case reports will not appear in newspapers. I wish to tell you once and for all that this campaign will not succeed through newspaper reports, but with the assistance of Shri Rama. And, no light is necessary when we are near Him; neither are pen and ink and such other accessories required, nor even speech. An appeal can be made to Him even if one has lost one's limbs.
We may not consider anybody low. I observed that you had provided for the night journey a heavy kerosene burner mounted on a stool which a poor labourer carried on his head. This was a humiliating sight. This man was being goaded to walk fast. I could not bear the sight. I therefore put on speed and outraced the whole company. But it was no use. The man was made to run after me. The humiliation was complete. If the weight had to be carried, I should have loved to see someone among ourselves carrying it. We would then soon dispense both with the stool and the burner. No labourer would carry such a load on his head. We rightly object to begar (forced labour). But what was this if it was not begar? Remember that in swaraj we would expect one drawn from the so-called lower class to preside over India's destiny. If then we do not quickly mend our ways, there is no swaraj such as you and I have put before the people.
From my outpouring you may not infer that I shall weaken in my resolve to carry on the struggle. It will continue no matter how co-workers or others act. For me there is no turning back whether I am alone or joined by thousands. I would rather die a dog's death and have my bones licked by dogs than that I should return to the Ashram a broken man.
I admit that I have not well used the money you have given out of the abundance of your love. You are entitled to regard me as one of those wretches described in the verses sung in the beginning. Shun me.
Young India, 3-4-1930