As the movement advanced, Englishmen too began to watch it with interest. Although the English newspapers in the Transvaal generally wrote in support of the Europeans and of the black Act, they willingly published contribution from well-known Indians. They also published Indian representations to Government in full or at least a summary of these, sometimes sent their reporters to important meetings of the Indians, and when such was not the case, made room for the brief reports we sent them.
These amenities were of course very useful to the community, but by and
by some leading Europeans came to take interest in the movement as it
progressed. One of these was Mr Hosken, one of the magnates of Johannesburg.
He had always been free from colour prejudice but his interest in the
Indian question deepened after the starting of Satyagraha. The Europeans
of Germiston, which is something like a suburb of Johannesburg, expressed
a desire to hear me. A meeting was held, and introducing me and the movement
I stood for to the audience, Mr Hosken observed, “The Transvaal
Indians have had recourse to passive resistance when all other means of
securing redress proved to be of no avail. They do not enjoy the franchise.
Numerically they are only a few. They are weak and have no arms. Therefore
they have taken to passive resistance which is a weapon of the weak.”
These observations took me by surprise, and the speech, which I was going
to make, took an altogether different complexion in consequence. In contradicting
Mr. Hosken, I defined our passive resistance as ‘soul force’.
I saw at this meeting that a use of the phase ‘passive resistance’
was apt to give rise to terrible misunderstanding. I will try to distinguish
between passive resistance and soul force by amplifying the argument which
I made before that meeting so as to make things clearer.
I have no idea when the phrase ‘passive resistance’ was first
used in English and by whom. But among the English people, whenever a
small minority did not approve of some obnoxious piece of legislation,
instead of rising in rebellion they took the passive or milder step of
not submitting to the law and inviting the penalties of such non-submission
upon their heads. When the British Parliament passed the Education Act
some years ago, the Non-conformists offered passive resistance under the
leadership of Dr.== Clifford. The great movement of the English women
for the vote was also known as passive resistance. It was in view of these
two cases that Mr Hosken described passive resistance as a weapon of the
weak or the vote less. Dr Clifford and his friends had the vote, but as
they were in a minority in the Parliament, they could not prevent the
passage of the education Act. That is to say, they were weak in numbers.
Not that they were averse to the use of arms for the attainment of their
aims, but they had no hope of succeeding by force of arms. And in a well-regulated
state, recourse to arms every now and then in order to secure popular
rights would defeat its own purpose. Again some of the Non-conformists
would generally object to taking up arms even if it was a practical proposition.
The suffragists had no franchise rights. They were weak in numbers as
well as in physical force. Thus their case lent colour to Mr Hosken’s
observations. The suffragist movement did not eschew the use of physical
force. Some suffragists fired buildings and even assaulted men. I do not
think they ever intended to kill anyone. but they did intend to thrash
people when an opportunity occurred, and even thus to make things hot
But brute force had absolutely no place in the Indian movement in any
circumstances, and the reader will see, as we proceed, that no matter
how badly they suffered, the Satyagrahis never used physical force, and
that tooalthough there were occasions when they were in a position to
use it effectively. Again, although the Indians had no franchise and were
weak, these considerations had nothing to do with the organization of
Satyagraha. This is not to say, that the Indians would have taken to Satyagraha
even if they had possessed arms or the franchise. Probably there would
have taken to Satyagraha even if they had possessed arms or the franchise.
Probably there would not have been any scope for Satyagraha if they had
the franchise. If they had arms, the opposite party would have thought
twice before antagonizing them. One can therefore understand, that people
who possess arms would have fewer occasions for offering Satyagraha. My
point is that I can definitely assert that in planning the Indian movement
there never was the slightest thought given to the possibility or otherwise
of offering armed resistance. Satyagraha is soul force pure and simple,
and whenever extent there is room for the use of farms or physical force
or brute force, there and to that extent is there so much less possibility
for soul force. These are purely antagonistic forces in my view, and I
had full realization of this antagonism even at the time of the advent
We will not stop here to consider whether these views are right or wrong.
We are only concerned to note the distinction between passive resistance
and Satyagraha, and we have seen that there is a great and fundamental
difference between the two. If without understanding this, those who call
themselves either passive resisters or Satyagrahis believe both to be
one and the same thing, there would be injustice to both leading to untoward
consequences. The result of our using the phrase ‘passive resistance’
in South Africa was, not that people admired us by ascribing to us the
bravery and self-sacrifice of the suffragists but we were mistaken to
be a danger to person and property which the suffragists were, and even
a generous friend like Mr. Hosken imagined us to be weak. The power of
suggestion is such, that a man at last becomes what he believes himself
to be. If we continue to believe ourselves and let others believe, that
we are weak and helpless and therefore offer passive resistance, our resistance
would never make us strong, and at the earliest opportunity we would give
up passive resistance, our resistance would never make us strong, and
at the earliest opportunity we would give up passive resistance as a weapon
of the weak. On the other hand If fewwe are Satyagrahis and offer Satyagraha
believing ourselves to be strong, two clear consequences result from it.
Fostering the idea of strength, we grow stronger and stronger every day.
With the increase in our strength, our Satyagraha too becomes more effective
and we would never be casting about for an opportunity to give it up.
Again, while there is no scope for love in passive resistance, on the
other had not only has hatred no place in Satyagraha but is a positive
breach of its ruling principle. While in passive resistance there is a
scope for the use of arms when a suitable occasion arrives, in Satyagraha
physical force is forbidden even in the most favorable circumstances.
Passive resistance is often look upon as a preparation for the use of
force while Satyagraha can never be side by side with the use of arms.
Satyagraha and brute force, being each a negation of the other, can never
go together. Satyagraha may be offered to one’s nearest and dearest;
passive resistance can never be offered to them unless of course they
have ceased to be dear and become an object of hatred to us. In passive
resistance there is always present an idea of harassing the other party
and there is a simultaneous readiness to undergo and hardships entailed
upon us by such activity, while in Satyagraha there is not the remotest
idea of injuring the opponent. Satyagraha postulates the conquest of the
adversary by suffering postulates the conquest of the adversary by suffering
in one’s own person.
These are the distinctions between the two forces. But I do not wish to
suggest that the merits, or if you like, the defects of passive resistance
thus enumerated are to be seen in every movement which passes by that
name. But it can be shown that these defects have been notices in many
cases of passive resistance. Jesus Christ indeed has been acclaimed as
the prince of passive resisters but I submit in that case passive resistance
must mean Satyagraha and Satyagraha alone. There are not many cases in
history of passive resistance in that sense. One of these is that of the
Doukhobors of Russia cried by Tolstoy. The phrase passive resistance was
not employed to denote Christians in the early days of Christianity. I
would therefore class them as Satyagrahis. And if their conduct be described
as passive resistance, passive resistance becomes synonymous with Satyagraha.
It that has been my object in the present chapter to show that Satyagraha
is essential different from what people generally mean in English by the
phrase ‘passive resistance’.
While enumerating the characteristics of passive resistance, I had to
sound a note of warning in order to avoid injustice being done to those
who had recourse to it. It is also necessary to point out that I do not
claim for people calling themselves Satyagrahis all the merits which I
have described as being characteristic of Satyagraha. I am not aware of
the fact that many a Satyagraha so called is an utter stranger to them.
Many suppose Satyagraha to be a weapon of the weak. Others have said that
it is a preparation for armed resistance. But I must repeat once more
that hit has not been my object to describe Satyagrahis as they are but
to set forth the implications of Satyagraha and characteristics of Satyagrahis
as they ought to be.
In a word, we had to invent a new term clearly to denote the movement
of the Indians in the Transvaal and to prevent its being confused with
passive resistance generally so called. I have tried to show in the show
in the present chapter the various principles which were then held to
be part and parcel of the connotation of that term.