"It is not death that matters but how you meet death," Gandhiji
remarked on one occasion. To die at the hands of one's brother is a
privilege, provided you die bravely. But what about women who were
being abducted and forcibly converted? That no one could be
'converted' forcibly was here beside the point. "And why should
Indian women feel so helpless? Is bravery the monopoly of men only?
Women of course do not generally carry swords though the Rani of
Jhansi did and outdid all her contemporaries in the valour of the
sword. Still all cannot become Ranis of Jhansi. But all women can
emulate the example of Sita whom even the mighty Ravana dared not
touch. Ranis of Jhansi could be subdued."
"Let no one dismiss the example of Sita as legendary," he proceeded
and gave the example of Olive Doke who dared to go and live among
the unclad primitive Negro tribes in the heart of Africa without
fear of molestation. It was that higher type of valour which he
wanted Indian womanhood to cultivate. The military and police might
protect them from abduction but what about those who had already
been abducted or who might be abducted in spite of the police and
the military? They ought to learn to die before a hair of their head
could be injured. He averred that it was possible for a woman to put
an end to herself by choking or biting the tongue.
Death before Dishonour
The next evening he had to revise the technique suggested above.
Dr. Sushila who had heard him the day before had told him — Dr. B.
G. Roy who saw him the next morning confirmed her statement — that
one could not end one's life by choking or biting one's tongue. The
only way known to medicine for instant self-immolation was a strong,
poisonous dose. If this was so, he, the speaker, would advise every
one running the risk of dishonour to take poison before submission
to dishonour. He had, however, heard from those given to yogic
practices that it was possible by some yogic practice to end
life. He would try to inquire. His was not an idle idea. He meant
all he had said. The very fact of steeling oneself for death before
dishonour braced one for the struggle. Woman in our country was
brought up to think that she was well only with her husband or on
the funeral pyre. He would far rather see India's women trained to
wield arms, said the speaker, than that they should feel helpless.
The vogue of carrying daggers and revolvers by women was on the
increase. He knew, however, that arms were a poor weapon when it
came to the matter of defending one's honour against odds. Arms were
a symbol of one's helplessness, not strength. When one was deprived
of them, generally there was nothing left but surrender.
New Delhi, 18-10-'46