PEACE, NON-VIOLENCE & CONFLICT RESOLUTION > GANDHI'S VIEWS ON NON-VIOLENCE > Non-violence
By M. K. Gandhi
425. The world is weary of hate. We see the fatigue overcoming the western nations. We see that this song of hate has not benefited humanity. Let it be the privilege of India to turn a new leaf and set a lesson to the world.
426. In the past, non-co-operation has been deliberately expressed in violence to the evil-doer. I am endeavoring to show to my countrymen that violent non-co-operation only multiplies evil and that as evil can only be sustained by violence, withdrawal of support of evil requires complete abstention from violence. Nonviolence implies voluntary submission to the penalty for non-co-operation with evil.
427. I am not a visionary. I claim to be practical idealist. The religion of nonviolence is not meant merely for the rishis and saints. It is meant for the common people as well. Nonviolence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law - to the strength of the spirit.
I have therefore ventured to place before India the ancient law of self-sacrifice. For satyagraha and its off-shoots, non-co-operation and civil resistance, are nothing but new names for the law of suffering. The rishis, who discovered the law of nonviolence in the midst of violence, were greater geniuses than Newton. They were themselves greater warriors than Wellington. Having themselves known the use of arms, they realized their uselessness and taught a weary world that its salvation lay not through violence but through nonviolence.
Nonviolence as a World-force
428. You might of course say that there can be no nonviolent rebellion and there has been none known to history. Well, it is my ambition to provide an instance, and it is my dream that my country may win its freedom through nonviolence. And, I would like to repeat to the world times without number, that I will not purchase my country’s freedom at the cost of nonviolence. My marriage to nonviolence is such an absolute thing that I would rather commit suicide than be deflected from my position. I have not mentioned truth in this connection, simply because truth cannot be expressed excepting by nonviolence.
429. Science of war leads one to dictatorship pure and simple. Science of nonviolence alone can lead one to pure democracy. England, France and America have to make their choice. That is the challenge of the two dictators.
Russia is out of the picture just now. Russia has a dictator who dreams of peace and thinks he will wade to it through a sea of blood. No one can say what Russian dictatorship will mean to the world.
430. True democracy or the Swaraj of the masses can never come through untruthful and violent means, for the simple reason that the natural corollary to their use would be to remove all opposition through the suppression or extermination of the antagonists. That does not make for individual freedom. Individual freedom can have the fullest play only under a regime of unadulterated ahimsa.
431. Granted that India produced sufficient arms and ammunition and men who knew the art of war, what part or lot will those who cannot bear arms have in the attainment of Swaraj? I want Swaraj in the winning of which even women and children would contribute an equal share with physically the strongest. That can be under ahimsa only. I would, therefore, stand for ahimsa as the only means for obtaining India’s freedom even if I were alone.
432. And so I plead for nonviolence and yet more nonviolence. I do so not without knowledge but with sixty years’ experience behind me.
433. The accumulated experience of the past thirty years, fills me with the greatest hope that in the adoption of nonviolence lies the future of India and the world. It is the most harmless and yet equally effective way of dealing with the political and economic wrongs of the downtrodden portion of humanity. I have known from early youth that nonviolence is not a cloistered virtue to be practised by the individual for his peace and tinal salvation, but it is a rule of conduct for society if it is to live consistently with human dignity and make progress towards the attainment of peace for which it has been yearning for ages past.
War Vs. Nonviolence
434. A believer in nonviolence is pledged not to resort to violence or physical force either directly or indirectly in defence of anything, but he is not precluded from helping men or institutions that are themselves not based on nonviolence. If the reverse were the case, I would, for instance, be precluded from helping India to attain Swaraj because the future Parliament of India under Swaraj, I know for certain, will be having some military and police forces, or to take a domestic illustration, I may not help a son to secure justice, because forsooth he is not a believer in nonviolence.
Mr. Zacharias’ proposition will reduce all commerce by a believer in nonviolence to an impossibility. And there are not wanting men, who do believe that complete nonviolence means complete cessation of all activity.
Not such, however, is my doctrine of nonviolence. My business is to refrain from doing any violence myself, and to induce by persuasion and service as many of god’s creatures as I can to join me in the belief and practice. But I would be untrue to my faith, if I refused to assist in a just cause any men or measures that did not entirely coincide with the principle of nonviolence. I would be promoting violence, if finding the Mussalmans to be in the right, I did not assist them by means strictly nonviolent against those who had treacherously plotted the destruction of the dignity of Islam. Even when both parties believe in violence there is often such a thing as justice on one side or the other. A robbed man has justice on his side, even though he may be accounted as a triumph of nonviolence, if the injured party could be persuaded to regain his property by methods of satyagraha, i.e. love or soul-force rather than a free fight.
435. My resistance to war does not carry me to the point of thwarting those who wish to take part in it. I reason with them. I put before them the better way and leave them to make the choice.
436. I accept broad facts of history and draw my own lessons for my conduct. I do not want to repeat it in so far as the broad facts contradict the highest laws of life. But positively refuse to judge man from the scanty material furnished to us by history. De mortuis nil nisi bonum. Kamal Pasha and De Valera too I cannot judge. But for me as a believer I nonviolence out and out they cannot be my guides in life in so far as their faith in war is concerned. I believe in Krishna perhaps more than the writer. But my Krishna is the Lord of the Universe, the creator, preserver and destroyer of us all. He may destroy because He creates. But I must not be drawn into a philosophical or religious argument with my friends. I have not the qualification for teaching my philosophy of life. I have barely qualifications for practising the philosophy I believe. I am but a poor struggling soul yearning to be wholly good-wholly truthful and wholly nonviolent in thought, word and deed, but ever failing to reach the ideal which I know to be true. I admit, and assure my revolutionary friends, that it is a painful climb, but the pain of it is a positive pleasure for me. Each step upward makes me feel stronger and fit for the next. But all that pain and pleasure are for me. The revolutionaries are at liberty to reject the whole of my philosophy. To them I merely present my own experiences as a co-worker I the same cause even as I have successfully presented them to the Ali Brothers and many other friends. They can and do applaud whole-heartedly the action of Mustafa Kamal Pasha and possibly De Valera and Lenin. But they realize with me that India is not like Turkey or Ireland or Russia and that revolutionary activity is suicidal at this stage of the country’s life at any rate if not for all time, in a country so vast, so hopelessly divided and with the masses so deeply sunk in pauperism and so fearfully terror-struck.
437. I would say to my critics to enter with me into the sufferings, not only of the people of India but of those, whether engaged in the war or not, of the whole world. I cannot look at this butchery going on in the world with indifference. I have an unchangeable faith that it is beneath the dignity of men to resort to mutual slaughter. I have no doubt that there is a way out.
438. The accumulated experience of the past thirty years, the first eight of which were in South Africa, fills me with the greatest hope that in the adoption of nonviolence lies the future of India and the world. It is the most harmless and yet equally effective way of dealing with the political and economic wrongs of the downtrodden portion of humanity. I have known from early youth that nonviolence is not a cloistered virtue to be practised by the individual for peace and final salvation, but it is a rule of conduct for society if it is to live consistently with human dignity and make progress towards the attainment of peace for which it has been yearning for ages past.
Moral Equivalent of War
439. Up to the year 1906, I simply relied on appeal to reason. I was a very industrious reformer. I was a good draftsman, as I always had a close grip of facts which in its turn was the necessary result of my meticulous regard for truth. But I found that reason failed to produce an impression when the critical moment arrived in South Africa. My people were excited; even a worm will and does sometimes turn-and there was talk of wreaking vengeance. I had then to choose between allying myself to violence or finding out some other method of meeting the crisis and stopping the rot and it came to me that we should refuse to obey legislation that was degrading and let them put us in jail if they liked. Thus came into being the moral equivalent of war. I was then a loyalist, because, I implicitly believed that the sum total of the activities of the British empire was good for India and for humanity. Arriving in England soon after the outbreak of the war I plunged into it and later when I was forced to go to India as a result of the pleurisy that I had developed, I led a recruiting campaign at the risk of my life, and to the horror of some of my friends. The disillusionment came in 1919 after the passage of the Black Rowlatt Act and the refusal of the Government to give the simple elementary redress of proved wrongs that we had asked for. And so, in 1920, I became a rebel. Since then the conviction to the people are not secured by reason alone but have to be purchased with their suffering. Suffering is the law of human beings; war is the law of the jungle. But suffering is infinitely more powerful than the law of the jungle for converting the opponent and opening his ears, which are otherwise shut, to the voice of reason. Nobody has probably drawn up more petitions or espoused more forlorn causes than I and I have come to this fundamental conclusion that if you want something really important to be done you must not merely satisfy the reason, you must move the heart also. The appeal of reason is more to the head but the penetration of the heart comes from suffering. It opens up the inner understanding in man. Suffering is the badge of the human race, not the sword.
The Essence of Nonviolence
(1) Nonviolence is the law of the human race and is infinitely greater than and superior to brute force.
Is Perfection Possible?
441. Perfect nonviolence is impossible so long as we exist physically, for we would want some space at least to occupy. Perfect nonviolence whilst you are inhabiting the body is only a theory like Euclid’s point or straight line, but we have to endeavour every moment of our lives.
Ahimsa, distinguished from Non-killing
442. Let us now examine the root of ahimsa. It is uttermost selflessness. Selflessness means complete freedom from a regard for one’s body. If man desired to realize himself i.e. Truth, he could do so only by completely detached from the body i.e. by making all other beings feel safe from him. That is the way of ahimsa.
443. Violence will be violence for all time, and all violence is sinful. But what is inevitable, is not only declared the inevitable violence involved in killing for sacrifice as permissible but even regarded it as meritorious.
It is no easy thing to walk on the sharp sword-edge of ahimsa in this world which is full of himsa. Wealth does not help; anger is the enemy of ahimsa; and pride is a monster that swallows it up. In this strait and narrow observance of this religion of ahimsa one has often to know so-called himsa as the truest form of ahimsa
444. The sin of himsa consists not in merely taking life, but in taking life for the sake of one’s perishable body. All destruction therefore involved in the process of eating, drinking etc. is selfish and therefore himsa. But man regards it to beunavoidable and puts up with it. But the destruction of bodies of tortured creatures being for their own peace cannot be regarded as himsa, or the unavoidable destruction caused for the purpose of protecting one’s wards cannot be regarded as himsa.
All have to destroy some life,
I see that there is an instinctive horror of killing living beings under any circumstances whatever. For instance, an alternative has been suggested in the shape of confining even rabid dogs in a certain place and allowing them to die a slow death. Now my idea of compassion makes this thing impossible for me. I cannot for a moment bear to see a dog, or for that matter any other living being, helplessly suffering the torture of a slow death. I do not kill a human being thus circumstanced because I have more hopeful remedies. I should kill a dog similarly situated, because in its case I am without a remedy. Should my child be attacked with rabies and there was no helpful remedy to relieve his agony, I should consider it my duty to take his life. Fatalism has its limits. We leave things to Fate after exhausting all the remedies. One of the remedies and the final one to relieve the agony of a tortured child is to take his life.
Why then not Kill Those Who Oppress Mankind?
446. No human being is so bad as to be beyond redemption, no human being is so perfect as to warrant his destroying him whom he wrongly considers to be wholly evil..
447. A satyagrahi must never forget the distinction between evil and the evil-doer. He must not harbour ill-will or bitterness against the latter. He may not even employ needlessly offensive language against the evil person, however unrelieved his evil might be. For it is an article of faith with every satyagrahi that there is no one so fallen in this world but can be converted by love. A satyagrahi will always try to overcome evil by good, anger by love, untruth by truth, himsa by ahimsa. There is no other way of purging the world of evil.
Absence of Hatred
448. I hold myself to be incapable of hating any being on earth. By a long course of prayerful discipline, I have ceased for over forty years to hate anybody. I know this is a big claim. Nevertheless, I make it in all humility. But I can and do hate evil wherever it exists. I hate the system of government that he British people have set up in India. I hate the ruthless exploitation of India even as I hate from the bottom of my heart the hideous system of untouchability for which millions of Hindus have made themselves responsible. But I do not hate the domineering Hindus. I seek to reform them in all the loving ways that are open to me. My non-co-operation has its roots not in hatred, but in love. My personal religion peremptorily forbids me to hate anybody.
449. We can only win over the opponent by love, never by hate. Hate is the subtlest form of violence. We cannot be really nonviolent and yet have hate in us.
Truth in Speech and Nonviolence
450. To say or write a distasteful word is surely not violent especially when the speaker or writer believes it to be true. The essence of violence is that there must be a violent intention behind a thought, word or act, i.e. an i9ntention to do harm to the opponent so-called.
False notions of propriety or fear of wounding susceptibilities often deter people from saying what they mean and ultimately land them on the shores of hypocrisy. But if nonviolence of thought is to be evolved in individuals or societies or nations, truth has to be told, however harsh or unpopular it may appear to be for the moment.
Satyam bruyat, Priyam bruyat na bruyat Satyam apriyam
451. In my opinion the Sanskrit text means that one should speak the truth in gentle language. One had better not speak it, if one cannot do so in a gentle way; meaning thereby that there is no truth in a man who cannot control his tongue.
Positive Aspects of Ahimsa: Love and Patience
452. In its positive form, ahimsa means the largest love, greatest charity. If I am a follower of ahimsa, I must love my enemy. I must apply the same rules to the wrong-doer who is my enemy or a stranger to me, as I would to my wrong-doing father or son. This active necessarily includes truth and fearlessness. As man cannot deceive the love one, he does not fear or frighten him or her. Gift of life is the greatest of all gifts; a man who gives it in reanty, disarms all hostility. He has paved the way for an honourable understanding. And none who is himself subject to fear can bestow that gift, He must therefore be himself fearless. A man cannot practise ahimsa and be a coward at the same time. The practice of ahimsa calls forth the greatest courage.
453. Having flung aside the sword, there is nothing except the cup of love which I can offer to those who oppose me. It is by offering that cup that I expect to draw them close to me. I cannot think of permanent enmity between man and man, and believing as I do in the theory of rebirth, I live in the hope that if not in this birth, in some other birth, I shall be able to hug all humanity in friendly embrace.
454. Love is the strongest force the world possesses and yet it is the humblest imaginable.
455. The hardest heart and the grossest ignorance must disappear before the rising sun of suffering without anger and without malice.
456. Love has special quality of attracting abundance of love in return. – Geylon
457. My goal is friendship with the whole world and I can combine the greatest love with the greatest opposition to wrong.
458. Nonviolence is ‘not a resignation from all real fighting against wickedness’. On the contrary, the nonviolence of my conception is a more active and real fight against wickedness than retaliation whose very nature is to increase wickedness. I contemplate, a mental and therefore a moral opposition to immoralities. I seek entirely to blunt the edge of the tyrant’s sword, not by putting up against it a sharper-edged weapon, but by disappointing his expectation that I would be offering physical resistance. The resistance of the soul that I should offer would elude him. It would at first dazzle him and at last compel recognition from him, which recognition would not humiliate him but would uplift him. It may be urged that this is an ideal state. And so it is.
Nonviolence, Militant in Character
459. Nonviolence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evil-doer, but it means the putting of one’ whole soul against the will of the tyrant. Working under this law of our beings, it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honour, his religion, his soul and lay the foundation for that empire’s fall or its regeneration.
Yours should not merely be a passive spirituality that spends itself in idle meditation, but it should be an active thing which will carry war into the enemy’s camp.*
Never has anything been done on this earth without direct action. I reject the word ‘passive resistance’, because of its insufficiency and its being interpreted as a weapon of the weak.
What was the larger ‘symbiosis’ that Buddha and Christ preached? Gentleness and love. Buddha fearlessly carried the war into the enemy’s camp and brought down on its knees an arrogant priesthood. Christ drove out the money-changers from the temple of Jerusalem and drew down curses from heaven upon the hypocrites and the Pharisees. Both were for intensely direct action. But even as Buddha and Christ chastized, they showed unmistakable love and gentleness behind every act of theirs.
462. Our aim is not merely to arouse the best in the Englishman but to do so whilst we are prosecuting our cause. If we cease to pursue our course, we do not evoke the best in him. The best must not be confounded with good temper. When we are dealing with any evil, we may have to ruffle the evil-doer. We have to run the risk, if we are to bring the best out of him. I have likened nonviolence to aseptic and violence to antiseptic treatment. Both are intended to ward off the evil, and therefore cause a kind of disturbance which is often inevitable. The first never harms the evil-doer.
True and False Nonviolence
463. Nonviolence 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 man who fears no one on earth would consider it troublesome even to summon up anger against one who is vainly trying to injure him.
464. Ahimsa is the extreme limit of forgiveness. But forgiveness is the quality of the brave. Ahimsa is impossible without fearlessness.
465. My creed of nonviolence is an extremely active force. It has no room for cowardice or even weakness. There is hope for a violent man to be some day nonviolent but there is none for a coward. I have therefore said more than once in these pages that if we do not know how to defend ourselves, our women and our places of worship by the force of suffering, i.e. nonviolence, we must, if we are men, be at least able to defend all these by fighting.
466. There are two ways of defence. The best and the most effective is not to defend at all, but to remain at one’s post risking every danger. The next best but equally honourable method is to strike bravely in self-defence and put one’s life in the most dangerous positions.
467. The strength to kill is not essential for self-defence; one ought to have the strength to die. When a man is fully ready to die, he will not even desire to offer violence. Indeed I may put it down as a self-evident proposition that the desire to kill is in inverse proportion to the desire to die. And history is replete with instances of men who by dying with courage and compassion on their lips converted the hearts of their violent opponents.
468. Nonviolence and cowardice go ill together. I can imagine a fully armed man to be at heart a coward. Possession of arms implies an element of fear, if not cowardice. But true nonviolence is an impossibility without the possession of unadulterated fearlessness.
True and False Nonviolence
469. Nonviolence to be a potent force must begin with the mind. Nonviolence of the mere body without the co-operation of the mind is nonviolence of weak or the cowardly, and has therefore no potency. If we hear malice and hatred in our bosoms and pretend not to retaliate, it must recoil upon us and lead to our destruction. For abstention from mere body violence not to be injurious, it is at least necessary not to entertain hatred if we cannot generate active love.
If we are unmanly today, we are so, not because we do not know how to strike, but because we fear to die. He is no follower of Mahavira, the apostle of Jainism, or of Buddha or of the Vedas who, being afraid to die, takes flight before any danger, real or imaginary, all the while wishing that somebody else would remove the danger by destroying the person causing it. He is no follower of ahimsa who does not care a straw if he kills a man by inches by deceiving him in trade, or who would protect by force of arms a few cows and make away with the butcher or who, in order to do a supposed good to his country, does not mind killing off a few officials. All these are actuated by hatred, cowardice and fear. Here the love of the cow or the country is a vague thing intended to satisfy one’s vanity or soothe a stinging conscience.
Ahimsa, truly understood, is in my humble opinion a panacea for all evils mundane and extra-mundane. We can never over do it. Just at present we are not doing it at all. Ahimsa does not displace the practice of other virtues, but renders their practice imperatively necessary before it can be practised even in its rudiments. Mahavira and Buddha were soldiers, and so was Tolstoy. Only, they saw deeper and truer into their profession and found the secret of a true, happy, honourable and godly life. Let us be joint-sharers with these teachers, and this land of ours will once more be the abode of gods.
Violence, rather than Cowardice
I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour.
But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment. Forgiveness adorns the soldier. But abstinence is forgiveness only when there is the power to punish; it is meaningless when it pretends to proceed from a helpless creature. But I do not believe India to be helpless. I do not believe myself to be a helpless creature. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
473. The people of a village near Bettiah told me that they had run away whilst the police were looting their houses and molesting their womenfolk. When they said that they had run away because I had told them to be nonviolent, I hung my head in shame. I assured them that such was not the meaning of my nonviolence. I expected them to intercept the mightiest power that might be in the act of harming those who were under their protection, and draw without retaliation all harm upon their own heads even to the point of death, but never to run away from the storm centre. It was manly enough to defend one’s property, honour o0r religion at the point of the sword. It was manlier and nobler to defend them without seeking to injure the wrongdoer. But it was unmanly, unnatural and dishonourable to forsake the post of duty and, in order to save one’s skin, to leave property, honour or religion to the mercy of the wrongdoer. I could see my way of delivering the message of ahimsa to those who knew how to die, not to those who were afraid of death.
474. The weakest of us physically must be taught the art of facing dangers and giving a good account of ourselves. I want both the Hindus and the Mussalmans to cultivate the cool courage, to die without killing. But if one has not that courage, I want him to cultivate the art of killing and being killed, rather than in a cowardly manner flee from danger. For the latter in spite of his flight does commit mental himsa. He flees because he has not the courage to be killed in the act of killing.
475. Self-defence is the only honourable course where there is unreadiness for self-immolation.
476. I would risk violence a thousand times than the emasculation of a whole race.—YI, 4-8-20, Tagore, 32I
477. The Hindus think that they are physically weaker than the Mussalmans. The latter consider themselves weak in educational and earthly equipment. They are now doing what all weak bodies have done hitherto. This fighting, therefore, however unfortunate it may be, is a sign of growth. It is like the Wars of the Roses. Out of it will rise a mighty nation.—YI, 9-9-26, 3I6.
Limitations of Violence
478. Hitherto I have given historical instances of bloodless non-co-operation. I will not Insult the intelligence of the reader by citing historical instances on non-co-operation combined with violence, but I am free to confess that there are on record as many successes as failures in violent non-co-operation.
479. Revolutionary crime is intended to exert pressure. But it is the insane pressure of anger and ill-will. I contend that non-violent acts exert pressure far more effective than violent acts, for that pressure comes from goodwill and gentleness.
480. I do not blame the British. If we were weak in numbers as they are, we too would perhaps have resorted to the same methods as they are now employing. Terrorism and deception are weapons not of the strong but of the weak. The British are weak in numbers, we are weak in spite of our numbers. The result is that each is dragging the other down. It is common experience that Englishmen lose in character after residence in India and that Indians lose in courage and manliness by contact with Englishmen. This process of weakening is good neither for us two nations, nor for the world.
481. I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent. I do not believe that the killing of even every Englishman can do the slightest good to India. The millions will be just as badly off as they are today, if someone made it possible to kill of every Englishman tomorrow. The responsibility is more ours than that of the English for the present state of things. The English will be powerless to do evil if we will but be good. Hence my incessant emphasis o reform from within.
482. Good brought through force destroyed individuality. Only when the change was effected through the persuasive power of nonviolent non-co-operation, i.e. love, could the foundation of individuality be preserved, and real, abiding progress be assured for the world.
483. History teaches one that those who have, no doubt with honest motives, ousted the greedy by using brute force against them, have in their turn become a prey to the disease of the conquered...
To the Revolutionary
484. Those whom you seek to depose are better armed and infinitely better organized than you are. You may not care for your own loves, but you dare not disregard those of your countrymen who have no desire to die a martyr’s death.
485. Form violence done to the foreign ruler, violence to our own people whom we may consider to be obstructing the country’s progress is an easy natural step. Whatever may have been the result of violent activities in other countries and without reference to the philosophy of nonviolence, it does not require much intellectual effort to see that if we resort to violence for ridding society of the many abuses which impede our progress, we shall add to our difficulties and postpone the day of freedom. The people unprepared for reform because unconvinced of their necessity will be maddened with rage over their coercion, and will seek the assistance of the assistance of the foreigner in order to retaliate. Has not this been happening before our eyes for the past many years of which we have still painfully vivid recollections?
486. I hold that the world is sick of armed rebellions. I hold too that whatever may be true of other countries, a bloody revolution will not succeed in India. The masses have no active part can do no good to them. A successful bloody revolution can only mean further misery for the masses. For it would be still foreign rule for them. The nonviolence I teach is active nonviolence of the strongest. But the weakest can partake in it without becoming weaker. They can only be the stronger for having been in it. The masses are far bolder today than ever were. A non-violent struggle necessarily involves construction on a mass scale. It cannot therefore lead to tamas or darkness or inertia. It means a quickening of the national life. That movement is still going on silently almost imperceptibly, but none the less surely.
I do not deny the revolutionary’s heroism and sacrifice. But heroism and sacrifice in a bad cause are so much waste of splendid energy and hurt the good cause by drawing away attention from it by the glamour of the misused heroism and sacrifice in a bad cause.
I am not ashamed to stand erect before the heroic and self-sacrificing revolutionary because I am able to pit an equal measure of nonviolent men’s heroism and sacrifice untarnished by the blood of the innocent. Self-sacrifice of one innocent man is a million times more potent than the sacrifice of million men who die in the act of killing others. The willing sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful retort to insolent tyranny that has yet been conceived by God or man.
Nonviolence, the Swifter Way
487. The spiritual weapon of self-purification, intangible as it seems, is the most potent means of revolutionizing one’s environment and loosening external shackles. It works subtly and invisibly; it is an intense process though it might often seem a weary and long-drawn process, it is the straightest way to liberation. The surest and quickest and no effort can be too great for it. What it requires is faith-an unshakable mountain-like faith that flinches from nothing.
488. You need not be afraid that the method of nonviolence is a slow long-drawn out process. It is the swiftest the world has seen, for it is the surest.
489. India’s freedom is assured if she has patience. That way will be found to be the shortest even though it may appear to be the longest to our impatient nature. The way of peace insures internal growth and stability.
Nonviolence also the Noble Way
490. I am more concerned in preventing the brutalization of human nature than in the prevention of the sufferings of my own people. I know that people who voluntarily undergo a course of suffering raise themselves and the whole of humanity; but I also know that people who become brutalized in their desperate efforts to get victory over their opponents or to exploit weaker nations or weaker men, not only drag down themselves but mankind also. And it cannot be a matter of pleasure to me or anyone else to see human nature dragged to the mire. If we are all sons of the same God and partake of the same divine essence, we must partake of the sin of every person whether he belongs to us or to another race. You can understand how repugnant it must be to invoke the beast in any human being, how mush more so in Englishmen, among whom I count numerous friends. I invite you all to give all the help that you can in the endeavour that I am making.
491. The doctrine of violence has reference only to the doing of injury by one to another. Suffering injury in one’s own person is on the contrary of the essence of nonviolence and is the chosen substitute for violence to others. It is not because I value life low that I can countenance with joy thousands voluntarily losing their lives for satyagraha, but because I know that it results in the long run in the least loss of life and what is more, it ennobles those who lose their lives and morally enriches the world for their sacrifice.
492. The method of passive resistance is the clearest and safest, because, if the cause is not true, it is the resisters, and they alone, who suffer.
493. Passive resistance is an all-sided sword; it can be used anyhow; it blesses him who uses it and him against whom it is used.
494. The beauty of satyagraha, of which non-co-operation is but a chapter, is that it is available to either side in a fight; that it has checks that automatically work for the vindication of truth and justice for that side, whichever it may be, that has truth and justice in preponderating measure. It is as powerful and faithful a weapon in the hand of the capitalist as in that of the labourer. It is as powerful in the hands of the government, as in that of the people, and will bring victory to the government, if people are misguided or unjust, as it will win the battle for the people if the government be in the wrong. Quick disorganization and defeat are bound to be the fate of bolstered up cases and artificial agitations, if the battle is fought with satyagraha weapons. Suppose the people are unfit to rule themselves, or are unwilling to sacrifice for a cause, then, no amount of noise will bring them victory in non-co-operation.
495. The main thing, however, is for women to know how to be fearless. It is my firm conviction; that a fearless woman who knows that her purity is her best shield can never be dishonoured. However beastly the man, he will bow in shame before the flame of her dazzling purity. There are examples even in modern times of women who have thus defended themselves. I can, as I write, recall two such instances. I therefore recommend women who read this article to try to cultivate this courage. They will become wholly fearless, if they can and cease to tremble as they do today at the mere thought of assaults. It is not, however, necessary for a woman to go through a bitter; experience for the sake of passing a test of courage. These experiences mercifully do not come in the way of lakhs or even thousands. Every soldier is not a beast. It is a minority that loses all sense of decency. Only twenty per cent of snakes are poisonous, and out of these a few only bite. They do not attack unless trodden on. But this knowledge does not help those who are full of fear and tremble at the sight of a snake. Parents and husbands should, therefore, instruct women in the art of becoming fearless. It can best be learnt from a living faith in God. Though He is invisible, He is one’s unfailing protector. He who has this faith is the most fearless of all.
But such faith or courage cannot be acquired in a day. Meantime we must try to explore4 other means. When a woman is assaulted she may not stop to think in terms of himsa or ahimsa. Her primary duty is self-protection. She is at liberty to employ every method or means that come to her mind in order to defend her honour. God has given her nails and teeth. She must use them with all her strength and, if need be, die in the effort. The man or woman who has shed all fear of death will be able not only to protect himself or herself but others also through laying down his life. In truth we fear death most, and hence we ultimately submit to superior physical force. Some will bend the knee to the invader, some will resort to bribery, some will crawl on their bellies or submit to other forms of humiliation, and some women will even give their bodies rather than die. I have not written this in a carping spirit. I am only illustrating human nature. Whether we crawl on our belies or whether a woman yields to the lust of man it is symbolic of that same love of life which makes us stoop to anything. Therefore only he who loses his life shall save it; (tena tyaktena bhunjithah). Every reader should commit this matchless shloka to memory. But mere lip loyalty to it will be of no avail. It must penetrate deep down to the innermost recesses of his heart. To enjoy life one should give up the lure of life. That; should be part of our nature.
So much for what a woman should do. But what about a man who is witness to such crimes? The answer is implied in the foregoing. He must not be a passive onlooker. He must protect the woman. He must not run for police help; he must not rest satisfied by pulling the alarm chain in the train. If he is able to practise nonviolence, he will die in doing so and thus save the woman in jeopardy. If he does not believe in nonviolence or cannot practise it, he must try to save her by using all the force he may have. In either way there must be readiness on his part to lay down his life.
496. Q. what is a woman to do when attacked by miscreants? To run away, or resist with violence? To; have boats in readiness to fly o0r prepare to defend with weapons?
A: My answer to this question is very simple. For me there can be no preparation for violence. All preparation must be for nonviolence if courage of the highest type is to be developed. Violence can only be tolerated as being preferable always to cowardice. Therefore I would have no boats ready for a flight in emergency. For a nonviolent person there is no emergency, but quiet dignified preparation for death. Hence whether it Is a man or a woman he or she will defy death even when he or she is unassisted; for the real assistance is from God. I can preach no other thing and I am here to practise what I preach. Whether such an opportunity will occur to me or be given to me I do not know. If there are women who when assailed by miscreants cannot resist themselves without arms they do not need to be advised to carry arms. They will do so. There is something wrong in this constant enquiry as to whether to bear arms or not. People have to learn to be naturally independent. If they will remember the central teaching, namely, that the real effective resistance lies in nonviolence, they will model their conduct accordingly. And that is what the world had been doing although unthinkingly. Since it is not the highest courage, namely, courage born of nonviolence, it arms itself even unto the atom bomb. Those who do not see in it the futility of violence will naturally arm themselves to the best of their ability.
In India since my return from South Africa, there has been conscious and constant training in nonviolence with the result we have seen.
Q. Can a woman be advised to take her own life rather than surrender?
A. The question requires a definite answer. I answered it in Delhi just before leaving for Noakhali. A woman would most certainly take her own life rather than surrender. In other words, Surrender has no room in my plan of life. But I was asked in what way to take one’s own life. I promptly said it was not for me to prescribe the means, and behind the approval of suicide under such circumstances was and is the belief that one whose mind is prepared for even suicide will have the requisite courage for such mental resistance and such internal purity that her assailant will be disarmed. I could not carry the argument any further because it does not admit of further development. It requires positive proof which, I own, is lacking.
Q. If the choice is between taking one’s own life and that of the assailant. which would you advise?
A. When it is a question of choice between killing oneself or the assailant, I have no doubt in my mind that the first should be the choice.
Nonviolence during Riots
497. To quell riots nonviolently, there must be true ahimsa in one’s heart, an ahimsa that takes even the erring hooligan in its warm embrace. Such an attitude cannot be cultivated. It can only come as a result of prolonged and patient effort which must be made during peaceful times. The would-be members of a peace brigade should come into close touch and; cultivate acquaintance with the so-called goonda element in his vicinity. He should know all and be known to all and win the hearts of al by his living and selfless service. No section should be regarded as too contemptible or mean to mix with. Goondas do not drop from the sky, nor do they spring from the earth like evil spirits. They are the product of social disorganization, and society is therefore responsible for their existence. In other words, they should be looked upon as a symptom of corruption in our body politic. To remove the disease we must first discover the underlying cause. To find the remedy will then be a comparatively easy task.
Can Aggression Be Stopped by Nonviolence?
498. Q. How could a disarmed neutral country allow other nations to be destroyed? But for our army which was waiting ready at our frontier during the last war we should have been ruined.
Q. Is it open to a soldier to fire in the air and avoid violence ?
A. A soldier who having enlisted himself flattered himself that he was avoiding violence by shooting in the air did no credit to his courage or to his creed of nonviolence. In my scheme of things, such a man would be held guilt of untruth and cowardice both—cowardice in that in order to escape punishment he enlisted, and untruth in that he enlisted to serve as soldier and did not fire as expected. Such a thing discredits the cause of waging war against war. The war-resisters have to be like caesar’s wife –above suspicion. Their strength lies in absolute adherence to the morality of the question.
499. Indeed the weakest State can render itself immune from attack if it learns the art of nonviolence. But a small State, no matter how powerfully armed it is, cannot exist in the midst of a powerful combination of will-armed States. It has to be absorbed by or be under the protection of one of the members of such a combination.
500. Whatever Hitler may ultimately prove to be, we know what Hitlerism has come to mean, It means naked, ruthless force reduced to an exact science and worked with scientific precision. In its effect it becomes almost irresistible. Hitlerism will never be defeated by counter-Hitlerism. It can only breed superior Hitlerism raised to nth degree. What is going on before our eyes is the demonstration of the futility of violence as also of Hitlerism.
What will Hitler do with his victory? Can he digest so much power? Personally he will go as empty-handed as his not very remote predecessor Alexander. For the Germans he will have left not the pleasure of owning a mighty empire but the burden of sustaining its crushing weight. For they will not be able to hold all the conquered nations in perpetual subjection. And I doubt if the Germans of future generations will entertain unadulterated pride in the deeds for which Hitlerism will be deemed responsible. They will honour Herr Hitler as genius, as a brave man, a matchless organizer and much more. But I should hope that the Germans of the future will have learnt the art of discrimination even about their heroes. Anyway I think it will be allowed that all the blood that has been spilled by Hitler has added not a millionth part of an inch to the world’s moral stature.
As against this imagine the state of Europe today if the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the French and the English had all said to Hitler: ‘You need not make your scientific preparation for destruction. We will meet your violence with nonviolence. You will therefore be able to destroy our non-violent army without tanks, battleships and airships.’ It may be retorted that the only difference would be that Hitler would have got without fighting what he has gained after a bloody fight. Exactly. The history of Europe would then have been written differently. Possession might (but only might) have been taken under nonviolent resistance, as it has been taken now after perpetration of untold barbarities. Under nonviolence, only those would have been killed who had trained themselves to be killed, if need be, but without killing anyone and without bearing malice towards anybody. I dare say that in that case Europe would have added several inches to its moral stature. And in the end I expect it is moral worth that will count. All else is dross.
Source: Selections from Gandhi - By Nirmal Kumar Bose