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29. Non-violence and World crisis

The Question, of Motive

Going to the very rock-bottom, one of the questioners asked Gandhiji what his motive in life was, “the thing that leads us to do what we do ", whether it was religious, or social or political.

“Purely religious," replied Gandhiji. "This was the question asked me by the late Mr. Montagu when I accompanied a deputation which was purely political. How have you, a social reformer, ' he exclaimed, ' found your way into this crowd?' My reply was that it was only an extension of my social activity. I could not be leading a religious life unless I identified myself with the whole of mankind, and that I could not do unless I took part in politics. The whole gamut of man's activities today con­stitutes an indivisible whole. You cannot divide social, eco­nomic, political and purely religious work into watertight compartments. I do not know any religion apart from human activity. It provides a moral basis to all other acti­vities which they would otherwise lack, reducing life to a maze of 'sound and fury signifying nothing'."

'Seeing the influence you wield over the people,' he was next asked, 'may we inquire whether it is the love of the cause or the love of the people that moves you?’

“Love of the people," was Gandhiji's unhesitating reply. ''Cause without the people is a dead thing. Love of the people brought the problem of untouchability early into my life. My mother said, 'You must not touch this boy> he is an untouchable.' 'Why not?' I questioned back, and from that day my revolt began."

No Exclusion of Politics

“You would expect us Christians to copy your example, Should we allow our religious motive to plunge us into Politics?" " Those who come from different parts of the world into this country cannot say," replied Gandhiji, "'we shall have nothing to do with the politics of the country They would not be true to their faith, if they bargained with the government in order to supersede their fellow- feeling with the people. Supposing the government does a grievous wrong to the people of the soil and the mis­sionaries are told that they must not lift a finger to prevent it, surely, the least they can do is to leave the country by way of signifying their displeasure at the perpetration of the wrong. If a missionary puts himself out for service, opportunities will come — today it may be in the economic sphere, tomorrow in the social, next time it may be in the political field. You cannot then say, ' I shall confine myself to this or that work and do nothing else.' When I went to South Africa I knew nothing about that country. I was bound to my client only. Yet, within seven days of my reaching there, I found that I had to deal with a situation too terrible for words."

Non-violence the Supreme Law

Gandhiji was next asked in what relation his non­violence stood to the pacifist attitude, 'which we Westerners are trying to adopt without much success.'

"In my opinion," replied Gandhiji, "non-violence is not passivity in any shape or form. Non-violence, as I understand it, is the activest force in the world. Therefore, whether it is materialism or anything else, if non-violence does not provide an effective antidote, it is not the active force of my conception. Or, to put it conversely, if you bring me some conundrums that I cannot answer, I would say my non-violence is still defective. Non-violence is the supreme law. During my half a century of experience I have not yet come across a situation when I had to say that I was helpless, that I had no remedy in terms of non­violence.

China's Ordeal

"What about China, you will ask. The Chinese have no designs upon other people. They have no desire for territory. True, perhaps, China is not ready for such aggres­sion; perhaps, what looks like her pacifism is only indo­lence. In any case China's is not active non-violence. Her putting up a valiant defence against Japan is proof enough that China was never intentionally non-violent. That she is on the defensive is no answer in terms of non-violence. Therefore, when the time for testing her active non-violence came, she failed in the test. This is no criticism of China. I wish the Chinese success. According to the accepted standards her behaviour is strictly correct. But when the position is examined in terms of non-violence I must say it is unbecoming for a nation of 400 millions, a nation as cultured as Japan, to repel Japanese aggression by resort­ing to Japan's own methods. If the Chinese had non­violence of my conception, there would be no use left for the latest machinery for destruction which Japan possesses. The Chinese would say to Japan, 'Bring all your machinery, we present half of our population to you. But the remaining two hundred millions won't bend their knee to you.' If the Chinese did that, Japan would become China's slave." And in support of his argument he referred to Shelley's celebrated lines from The Mask of Anarchy, “Ye are many, they are few”:

Stand ye calm and resolute, like a forest close and mute, with folded arms and looks which are Weapons of unvanquished war.

And if then the tyrants dare, let them ride among you there, Slash, and stab, and maim and hew,— what they like, that let them do.

With folded arms and steady eyes, And little fear, and less surprise, Look upon them as they slay Till their rage has died away.

Then they will return with shame to the place from which they came, And the blood thus shed will speak in hot blushes on their cheek.

Rise like Lions after slumber In unvanquishable number— Shake your chains to earth like dew Which in sleep had fallen on you— Ye are many — they are few.

Mechanical Warfare and Non-violence

"It has been objected, however," said Gandhiji, M that non-violence is all right in the case of the Jews because there is personal contact between the individual and his persecutors, but in China Japan comes with its long-range guns and aeroplanes. The person who rains death from above has never any chance of even knowing who and how many he has killed. How can non-violence combat aerial warfare, seeing that there are no personal contacts? The reply to this is that behind the death-dealing bomb there is the human hand that releases it, and behind that still is the human heart that sets the hand in motion. And at the back of the policy of terrorism is the assumption that terrorism, if applied in a sufficient measure, will produce the desired result, namely, bend the adversary to the tyrant's will. But supposing a people make up their mind that they will never do the tyrant's will, nor retaliate with the tyrant's own methods, the tyrant will not find it worth his while to go on with his terrorism. If sufficient food is given to the tyrant, a time will come when he will have had more than surfeit. If all the mice in the world held conference together and resolved that they would no more fear the cat but all run into her mouth, the mice would live. I have actually seen a cat play with a mouse. She did not kill it outright but held it between her jaws, then released it, and again pounced upon it as soon as it made an effort to escape. In the end the mouse died out of sheer fright. The cat would have derived no sport, if the mouse had not tried to run away. I learnt the lesson of non-violence from my wife, when I tried to bend her to my will. Her determined resistance to my will on the one hand, and her quiet submission to the suffering my stupidity involved on the other, ultimately made me ashamed of myself, and cured me of my stupidity in thinking that I was born to rule over her, and in the end she became my teacher in non-violence. And what I did in South Africa was but an extension of the rule of Satyagraha which she unwillingly practised in her own person.'

What about Dictatorships?

But one of the visitors objected: "You do not know Hitler and Mussolini. They are incapable of any kind of moral response. They have no conscience, and they have made themselves impervious to world opinion. Would it not be playing into the hands of these dictators if, for instance, the Czechs, following your advice, confronted them with non-violence? Seeing that dictatorships are unmoral by definition, would the law of moral conversion hold good in their case?"

"Your argument," replied Gandhiji "presupposes that the dictators like Mussolini or Hitler -are beyond redemption. But belief in non-violence is based on the assumption that human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love. It should be remembered that they have up to now always found ready response to the violence that they have used. Within their experience, they have not come across or­ganized non-violent resistance on an appreciable scale, if at all. Therefore it is not only highly likely, but I hold it to be inevitable, that they would recognize the superiority of non-violent resistance over any display of violence that they may be capable of putting forth. Moreover the non­violent technique that I have presented to the Czechs does not depend for its success on the goodwill of the dictators, for, a non-violent resister depends upon the unfailing assistance of God which sustains him throughout difficul­ties which would otherwise be considered insurmountable. His faith makes him indomitable."

The visitor retorted that these dictators wisely refrain from using force, but simply take possession of what they want. In the circumstances what can non-violent resisters do?

"Suppose," replied Gandhiji, "they come and occupy mines, factories and all sources of natural wealth belonging to the Czechs, then the following results can take place: (1) The Czechs may be annihilated for disobe­dience to orders. That would be a glorious victory for the Czechs and the beginning of the fall of Germany. (2) The Czechs might become demoralized in the presence of over­whelming force. This is a result common in all struggles. But if demoralization does take place, it would not be on account of non-violence, but it would be due to absence or inadequacy of non-violence. (3) The third thing that can take place is that Germany might use her new possessions for occupation by her surplus population. This, again, could not be avoided by offering violent resistance, for we have assumed that violent resistance is out of the question. Thus non-violent resistance is the best method under all conceivable circumstances.

"I do not think that Hitler and Mussolini are after all so very indifferent to the appeal of world opinion. But today these dictators feel satisfaction in defying world opinion because none of the so-called Great Powers can come to them with clean hands, and they have a rankling sense of injustice done to their people by the Great Powers in the past. Only the other day an esteemed English friend owned to me that Nazi Germany was England's sin, and that it was the treaty of Versailles that made Hitler. "

Visitor: "What can I as a Christian do to contribute to international peace? How can international anarchy be broken down and non-violence made effective for establishing peace? Subject nations apart, how can nations at the top be made to disarm themselves?"

Gandhiji: "You as a Christian can make an effective contribution by non-violent action even though it may cost you your all. Peace will never come until the Great Powers courageously decide to disarm themselves. It seems to me that recent events must force that belief on the Great Powers, I have an implicit faith — a faith that today burns brighter than ever, after half a century's experience of unbroken practice of non-violence — that mankind can only be saved through non-violence, which is the central teaching of the Bible as I have understood the Bible."

Sevagram, 12-12-'38


Harijan, 24-12-1938