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PEACE, NON-VIOLENCE & CONFLICT RESOLUTION > MY NON-VIOLENCE > A discourse on Non-violence
23. A discourse on Non-violence
Negro's the Same Problem
Readers of Harijan will perhaps remember how the central topic of the members of the Negro delegation who saw Gandhiji about a year ago was non-violence. Two Negro gentlemen, who came for the recent world's meeting of the committees of the Y. M. C. A., also had the same question to discuss, which shows how remarkably similar are their problems to ours: I am going to take up Dr. Tobias' questions first, though he saw Gandhiji later and on his day of silence. For the long discourse with Prof. Mays was a kind of commentary on the brief replies given in writing to Dr. Tobias, and both together make up one of the interesting talks Gandhiji often gives on the subject of non-violence.
"Your doctrine of non-violence has profoundly influenced my life," said Dr. Tobias. "Do you believe in it as strongly as ever?"
"I do indeed," said Gandhiji. "My faith in it is growing."
"Negroes in U. S. A. — 12 million — are struggling to obtain such fundamental rights as freedom from mob- violence, unrestricted use of the ballot, freedom from segregation, etc. Have you, out of your struggle in India, a word of advice and encouragement to give us?"
"I had to contend against some such thing, though on a much smaller scale, in South Africa. The difficulties are not yet over. All I can say is that there is no other way than the way of non-violence — a way, however, not of the weak and ignorant but of the strong and wise."
"Travancore indicates that your full identification with the untouchables is bearing fruit. Do you think Travancore's example will be followed by other States in the near future?"
"I shall be surprised if it is not."
"What word shall I give to my Negro brethren as to the outlook for the future?"
"With right which is on their side and the choice of non-violence as their only weapon, if they will make it such, a bright future is assured."
"Passive resistance," said Gandhiji, "is a misnomer for non-violent resistance. It is much more active than violent resistance. It is direct, ceaseless, but three-fourths invisible and only one-fourth visible. In its visibility it seems to be ineffective, e. g. the spinning wheel which I have called the symbol of non-violence. In its visibility it appears ineffective, but it is really intensely active and most effective in ultimate result. This knowledge enables me to detect flaws in the way in which the votaries of non-violence are doing their spinning. I ask for more vigilance and more untiredness. Non-violence is an intensely active force when properly understood and used. A violent man's activity is most visible, while it lasts. But it is always transitory. What can be more visible than the Abyssinians done to death by Italians? There it was lesser violence pitted against much greater. But if the Abyssinians had retired from the field and allowed themselves to be slaughtered, their seeming inactivity would have been much more effective though not for the moment visible. Hitler and Mussolini on the one hand and Stalin on the other are able to show the immediate effectiveness of violence. But it will be as transitory as that of Ghenghis ' slaughter. But the effects of Buddha's non-violent action persist and are likely to grow with age. And the more it is practised, the more effective and inexhaustible it becomes, and ultimately the whole world stands agape and exclaims, 'a miracle has happened.' All miracles are due to the silent and effective working of invisible forces. Non-violence is the most invisible and the most effective."
Can Masses be Trained?
"I have no doubt in my mind about the superiority of non-violence," said Prof. Mays. “But the thing that bothers me is about its exercise on a large scale, the difficulty of so disciplining the mass mind on the point of love. It is easier to discipline individuals. What should be the strategy when they break out? Do we retreat or do we go on?"
"I have had that experience," said Gandhiji, "in the course of our movement here. People do not gain the training by preaching. Non-violence cannot be preached. It has to be practised. The practice of violence can be taught to people by outward symbols. You shoot at boards, then at targets, then at beasts. Then you are passed as an expert in the art of destruction. The non-violent man has no outward weapon and, therefore, not only his speech but his action also seems ineffective. I may say all kinds of sweet words -to you without meaning them. On the other hand I may have real love in me and yet my outward expression may be forbidding. Then outwardly my action in both cases may be the same and yet the effect may be different. For the effect of our action is often more potent when it is not patently known. Thus the unconscious effect you are making on me I may never know. It is, nevertheless, infinitely greater than the conscious effect. In violence there is nothing invisible. Non-violence, on the other hand, is three-fourths invisible, and so the effect is in the inverse ratio to its invisibility. Non-violence, when it becomes active, travels with extraordinary velocity, and then it becomes a miracle. So the mass mind is affected first unconsciously, then consciously. When it becomes consciously affected there is demonstrable victory. In my own experience, when people seemed to be weakening there was no consciousness of defeat in me. Thus I was fuller of hope in the efficacy of non-violence after the renunciation of civil disobedience in 1922, and today I continue to be in the same hopeful mood. It is not a mere emotional thing. Supposing I saw no signs of dawn coming, I should not lose faith. Everything has to come in its proper time.
"I have discussions here -with my co-workers about the scavenging work we are doing. 4 Why can't we do it after Swaraj?' they say. 'We may do it better after Swaraj.' I say to them, 'No. The reform has to come today, it must not wait for Swaraj; in fact the right type of Swaraj will come only out of such work.' Now I cannot show you, as perhaps I cannot show some of my co-workers, the connection between Swaraj and scavenging. If I have to win Swaraj non-violently, I must discipline my people. The maimed and the blind and the leprous cannot join the army of violence. There is also an age-limit for serving in the army. For a non-violent struggle there is no age-limit; the blind and the maimed and the bed-ridden may serve, and not only men but women also. When the spirit of non-violence pervades the people and actually begins to work, its effect is visible to all.
“But now comes your poser. There are people, you say, who do not believe in non-violence as you do. Are you to sit quiet? The friends ask: 'If not now, when will you act?' I say in reply: 'I may not succeed in my lifetime, but my faith that victory can only come through non-violence is stronger than ever. When I spoke on the cult of the spinning wheel at Faizpur, a newspaper correspondent imputed astuteness to me. Nothing could be farther from my mind. When I came to Sevagram I was told the people might not co-operate and might even boycott me. I said: 'That may be. But this is the way nonviolence works. If I go to a village which is still farther off, the experiment may work better. This thing has come in my search after the technique of non-violence. And each day that passes makes my faith brighter. I have come here to bring that faith to fruition and to die in the process if that is God's will. Non-violence to be worth anything has to work in the face of hostile forces. But there may be action in inaction. Arid action may be worse than inaction. "
Violence in a Spirit of Love?
"Is it ever possible to administer violence in a spirit of love?"
"No. Never. I shall give you an illustration from my own experiment. A calf was lame and had developed terrible sores; he could not eat and breathed with difficulty. After three days' argument with myself and my co-workers I put an end to its life. Now that action was non-violent because it was wholly unselfish, inasmuch as the sole purpose was to achieve the calf's relief from pain. Some people have called this an act of violence. I have called it a surgical operation. I should do exactly the same thing with my child, if he were in the same predicament. My point is that non-violence as the supreme law of our being ceases to be such the moment you talk of exceptions."
"How is a minority to act against an overwhelming majority?" asked Prof. Mays.
"I would say that a minority can do much more in the way of non-violence than a majority. I had an English friend called Symonds. He used to say: 'I am with you so long as you are in a minority. After you are in a majority we are quits.' I had less diffidence in handling my minority in South Africa than I had here in handling a majority. But it would be wholly wrong for that reason to say that non-violence is a weapon of the weak... The use of non-violence requires greater bravery than that of violence. When Daniel defied the laws of the Meads and Persians, his action was non-violent."
Consequences to the Enemy
“Should the thought of consequences that might accrue to the enemy as a result of your non-violence at all constrain you?"
"Certainly. You may have to suspend your movement X did in South Africa when the Government was faced with the revolt of European labour. The latter asked me to make common cause with them. I said 'no'."
"And non-violence will never rebound on you, whereas violence will be self-destroyed?" interposed the Professor.
"Yes. Violence must beget violence. But let me tell you that here too my argument has been countered by a great man who said: 'Look at the history of non-violence. Jesus dies on the cross, but his followers shed blood.' This proves nothing. We have no data before us to pass judgment. We do not know the whole of the life of Jesus... The followers perhaps had not imbibed fully the message of nonviolence. But I must warn you against carrying the impression with you that mine is the final word on non-violence. I know my own limitations. I am but a humble seeker after truth. And all I claim is that every experiment of mine has deepened my faith in non-violence as the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. Its use is not restricted to individuals merely, but it can be practised on a mass scale."