( With the members of the Gandhi Seva Sangh )
“Non-violence is not a cloistered virtue, confined only to the Rishi
and the cave-dweller. It is capable of being practised by the
millions, not with full knowledge of its implications, but because
it is the law of our species. It distinguishes man from the brute.
But man has not shed the brute in him. He has to strive to do so.
This striving applies to the practice of non-violence, not to the
belief in it. I cannot strive to believe in a principle: I either
believe in it or I do not. And if I believe in it, I must bravely
strive to practise it. Ahimsa is an attribute of the brave.
Cowardice and Ahimsa do not go together any more than water and
fire. It is that Ahimsa that every member of the Gandhi Seva Sangh
has to make a conscious effort to develop in himself.
“We have often thought about this question, but the hour of our
trial has arrived today, as much with reference to war as with the
struggle for Swaraj and equally with reference to Hindu-Muslim
unity. Remember also that your non-violence cannot operate
effectively unless you have faith in the spinning wheel. I would ask
you to read Hind Swaraj with my eyes and see therein the
chapter on how to make India non-violent. You cannot build
non-violence on a factory civilization, but it can be built on
self-contained villages. Even if Hitler was so minded, he could not
devastate seven hundred thousand non-violent villages. He would
himself become non-violent in the process. Rural economy, as I have
conceived it, eschews exploitation altogether, and exploitation is
the essence of violence. You have, therefore, to be rural-minded
before you can be nonviolent, and to be rural-minded you have to
have faith in the spinning wheel."
The members slept over this discourse and met Gandhiji again the
next day. Numerous questions were troubling them, as they should
everyone who is a votary of Ahimsa. But out of regard for Gandhiji's
time they limited themselves to a few.
"How can a believer in the non-violence of your conception be a
"I fear he cannot in the present state of things," said Gandhiji.
"We have seen that our ministers have had to resort to violence even
as the British Government in the pre-autonomy days. It was
inevitable perhaps. Had Congressmen been truly non-violent, there
would have been no resort to force. But the Congress majorities were
not based on unadulterated non-violence. A minister said the other
day that, although he had not given up an iota of non-violence, he
could not do without resorting to the minimum of firing. He had
resorted to it only to the extent that it was unavoidable. He may
have said it then; he may not say it again if I can help it. For, if
he goes in again, he will have made his position clear, and he will
represent a House that is predominantly non-violent. In other words,
he will take office, if he is sure that the people would let him
carry on the government on a non-violent basis."
"But may it not be that whereas a non-violent minister will confine
violence to the lowest minimum, one who does not believe in
non-violence would observe no such restraint?"
"That belief is a delusion. All those who are using violence today
make the same claim. Hitler too would say the same thing. General
Dyer was acclaimed as the hero of the hour by the House of Lords
because his object was said to be to prevent the spread of mob
violence. Soviet Russia believes its violence is a transitional
stage to the establishment of an order without violence.
Non-violence is impossible without self-purification. Let us,
therefore, be members of a self-purification association, but no
association is necessary for that purpose. Therefore let us try,
each in our own way, to face difficulties and problems as they come
and see how far we can go. In Hudli, two years ago, I asked you to
help in the elections and in sending the best possible men to the
legislature. I gave advice in the atmosphere as it existed then. I
cannot give you that advice today. In fact the time may have come
when it becomes necessary for such of you as believe in the
non-violence of the brave to retire from the Congress as I did in
"How do you think that the masses can practise nonviolence, when we
know that they are all prone to anger, hate, ill-will? They are
known to fight for the most trivial things."
"They are, and yet I think they can practise nonviolence for the
common good. Do you think the thousands of women that collected
contraband salt had ill-will against anyone? They knew that the
Congress or Gandhi had asked them to do certain things, and they did
those things in faith and hope. To my mind the most perfect
demonstration of non-violence was in Champaran. Did the thousands of
ryots who rose up in revolt against the agrarian evils harbour the
least ill-will against the Government or the planters? Their belief
in non-violence was unintelligent, even as the belief in the earth
being round with many is unintelligent. But their belief in their
leaders was genuine, and that was enough. With those who lead it is
another matter. Their belief has got to be intelligent, and they
have to live up to all the implications of the belief."
"But then are not the masses the world over like that?"
"They are not, for others have not that background of non-violence."
"But if there was non-violence ingrained in our masses, how should
they have come to this state of slavery?"
"There indeed is what I flatter myself is going to be my contribution. I
want that non-violence of the weak to become non-violence of the
brave. It may be a dream, but I have to strive for its realization."