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PEACE, NON-VIOLENCE & CONFLICT RESOLUTION > MY NON-VIOLENCE > Has Non-violence limits ?
13. Has Non-violence limits ?
The following is an extract from a detailed letter from a correspondent who gives his full name and address:
"You may know what is happening to Congress workers in Madras. During the last two days the Justice Party men have excelled themselves in their abominations. Shri... accompanied by Shri... was canvassing votes for Shri..., the Congress candidate. A group of Justice men who kept following Shri — and others when they came near the Justice candidate's house suddenly surrounded the Congress workers and spat upon ... and ...'s faces. You know, none better, what indignity it is to be spat upon. Has communalism been able to demoralize public life and work to such a depth? The object of addressing you these few words is to ask you to enunciate your theory of non-violence with reference to what a Congressman should do under circumstances of such grave indignity and insult. There have also been assaults upon*... So far as our attitude towards the Government is concerned, we admit it is expedient to be non-violent in conduct. But is that attitude to be continued in relation to our own misguided and cruel countrymen who take to assaulting, spitting, and to throwing night-soil on peaceful Congress workers? May I also bring to your notice that Congress sympathizers are many, while the paid hooligans are counted on one's fingers, so that, if we only want to put a stop to hooliganism, we can do it effectively by resorting to violent methods? But we happen to be members of an organization pledged to non-violence. The provocation is increasing every day, and it may not be possible for Congress workers to restrain the youthful followers from taking the law into their own hands. Therefore, may I ask you to state «f private defence is compatible with non-violence and with what qualifications it should be exercised? The hooligan tactics of the Justice Party are testing our faith in non-violence very severely. Therefore we in Madras will greatly benefit by your advice at this critical moment." I have purposely erased names of men and places; for, their discovery is not required for my purpose. Time for expedient non-violence passed away long ago. Those who Cannot be non-violent at heart are under no obligation to be non-violent under the circumstances mentioned by the correspondent. Though non-violence is the creed of the Congress, nobody now refers to the creed for being or remaining non-violent. Every Congressman who is nonviolent, is so because he cannot be otherwise. My advice, therefore, emphatically is that no one need refer to me or any other Congressman for advice in the matter of nonviolence. Everyone must act on his own responsibility, and interpret the Congress creed to the best of his ability and belief. I have often noticed that weak people have taken shelter under the Congress creed or under my advice, when they have simply, by reason of their cowardice, been unable to defend their own honour or that of those who were entrusted to their care. I recall the incident that happened near Bettiah when non-co-operation was at its height. Some villagers were looted. They had fled, leaving their wives, children and belongings to the mercy of the looters. When I rebuked them for their cowardice in thus neglecting their charge, they shamelessly pleaded nonviolence. I publicly denounced their conduct and said that my non-violence fully accommodated violence offered by those who did not feel non-violence and who had in their keeping the honour of their womenfolk and little children. Non-violence is not a cover for cowardice, but it is the supreme virtue of the brave. Exercise of non-violence requires far greater bravery than that of swordsmanship. Cowardice is wholly inconsistent with non-violence. Translation from swordsmanship to non-violence is possible and, at times, even an easy stage. Non-violence, therefore, presupposes ability to strike. It is a conscious, deliberate restraint put upon one's desire for vengeance. But vengeance is any day superior to passive, effeminate and helpless submission. Forgiveness is higher still. Vengeance too is weakness. The desire for vengeance comes out of fear of harm, imaginary or real. A dog barks and bites when he fears. A man who fears no one on earth would consider it too troublesome even to summon up anger against one who is vainly trying to injure him. The sun does not wreak vengeance upon little children who throw dust at him. They only harm themselves in the act.
I do not know whether the statements made by the correspondent about the misdeeds of the Justice Party men are true. Perhaps there is another side to the story. But, assuming the truth of the statements, I can only congratulate those who were spat upon, or assaulted, or had night-soil thrown upon them. No injury has happened to them, if they had the courage to suffer the insult without even mental retaliation. But it was wholly wrong on their part to suffer it, if they felt irritated but refrained out of expedience from retaliating. A sense of self-respect disdains all expediences. But I wonder what kind of punishment could be meted out by distinguished Congressmen who, as the correspondent states, were too numerous for the few hooligans of the Justice Party. Were they to return night-soil with night-soil, spitting with spitting, and abuse with abuse? Or would the self-respect of this numerous party be better consulted by ignoring the few hooligans? When non-co-operation was the fashion, I know what was done to hooligans who tried to disturb meetings. They were held down by volunteers who caused them no hurt, but, if they continued to howl, their howling was ignored. I know that even in those days in several cases the law of nonviolence was broken, and any man who dared to disturb the meetings or put in a word of opposition was howled down by the violent majority or sometimes even roughly handled to the discredit of the majority and the movement which they so thoughtlessly betrayed and misrepresented. I suggest also to this Congressman and to those whom he may represent that, if the object is to win over the Justice Party or any other Party to the Congress, then they should be treated gently even though they may act harshly. If it to suppress all opponents, then double retaliation or Dyerism is the chosen remedy. Whether that can bring us any nearer Swaraj is of course another question.
But all my advice is useless where conviction is wanting. Let every Congressman, therefore, weigh all the pros and cons, then make his definite choice and act accordingly, irrespective of consequences. He will then have acted truly even though it may be mistakenly. A thousand mistakes unconsciously made are better than the most scrupulously correct conduct without conviction behind to back it. It is like a whited sepulcher. Above all we must be true to ourselves, if we will be true to the country and lead it to its chosen goal. Let there be no cant about nonviolence. It is not like a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.
Young India, 12-8-1926