Before embarking on civil disobedience, and taking the risk I have
dreaded to take all these years, I would fain approach you and find
a way out.
My personal faith is absolutely clear. I cannot intentionally hurt
anything that lives, much less fellow human beings, even though they
may do the greatest wrong to me and mine. Whilst, therefore, I hold
the British rule to be a curse, I do not intend any harm to a single
Englishman, or to any legitimate interest, he may have in India.
I must not be misunderstood. Though I hold the British rule in India
to be a curse, I do not, therefore, consider Englishmen in general,
to be worse than any other people on earth. I have the privilege of
claiming many Englishmen as dearest friends. Indeed much that I have
learnt of the evil of the British rule is due to the writings of frank
and courageous Englishmen, who have not hesitated to tell the unpalatable
truth about that rule.
And why do I regard the British rule as a curse?
It has impoverished the dumb millions by a system of progressive exploitation,
and by a ruinously expensive military and civil administration which
the country can never afford.
It has reduced us politically to serfdom. It has sapped the foundations
of our culture. And, by the policy of cruel disarmament, it has degraded
Lacking the inward strength, we have been reduced, by all but universal
disarmament, to a state bordering on cowardly helplessness.
In common with many of my countrymen, I had hugged the fond hope that
the proposed Round Table Conference might furnish a solution. But
when you said plainly that you could not give any assurance that you
or the British Cabinet would pledge yourselves to support a scheme
of full dominion status, the Round Table Conference could not possibly
furnish the solution for which vocal India is consciously, and the
dumb millions are unconsciously, thirsting. Needless to say, there
never was any question of Parliament's verdict being anticipated.
Instances are not wanting of the British Cabinet, in anticipation
of the parliamentary verdict, having itself pledged to a particular
The Delhi interview having miscarried, there was no option for Pandit
Motilal Nehru and me, but to take steps, to carry out the solemn resolution
of the Congress arrived at in Calcutta at its session in 1928.
But the resolution of independence should cause no alarm, if the word
dominion status mentioned in your announcement had been used in its
accepted sense. For, has it not been admitted by the responsible British
statesmen, that dominion status is virtual indepen¬dence? What,
however, I fear is that there never has been any intention of granting
such dominion status to India, in the immediate future.
But this is past history. Since the announcement many events have
happened which show unmistakably the trend of British policy.
It seems as clear as daylight that responsible British statesmen do
not contemplate any alteration in British policy, that might adversely
affect Britain's commerce with India, or require a close and impartial
scrutiny of Britain's transactions with India. If nothing- is done
to end the process of exploitation, India must be bled with an ever
increasing speed. The Finance Member regards as a settled fact the
ratio which by a stroke of the pen drains India of a few crores. And
when a serious attempt is being made through a civil form of direct
action, to unsettle this fact, among many others, even you cannot
help appealing to the wealthy landed classes, to help you to crush
that attempt, in the name of an order that grinds India to atoms.
Unless those who work in the name of the nation understand and keep
before all concerned, the motive that lies behind this craving for
independence, there is every danger of independence itself coming
to us so charged as to be of no value to those toiling voiceless millions,
for whom it is sought, and for whom it is worth taking. It is for
that reason, that I have been recently telling the public what independence
should really mean.
Let me put before you some of the salient points.
The terrific pressure of land revenue, which furnishes a large part
of the total, must undergo a considerable modification, in an independent
India. Even the much vaunted permanent settlement benefits few rich
zamindars, not the ryots. The ryot has remained as helpless as ever.
He is a mere tenant at will. Not only, then, has land revenue to be
considerably reduced, but the whole revenue system has to be so revised,
as to make the ryot's good its primary concern. But the British system
seems to be designed to crush the very life out of him. Even the salt
he must use to live is so taxed as to make the burden fall heaviest
on him, if only because of the heartless impartiality of its incidence.
The tax shows itself more burdensome on the poor man; when it is remembered
that salt is the one thing he must eat more than the rich, both individually
and collectively. The drink and drug revenue, too, is derived from
the poor. It saps the foundations both of their health and morals.
It is defended under the false plea of individual freedom, but, in
reality, is maintained for its own sake. The ingenuity of the authors
of the reforms of 1919 transferred this revenue to the so-called responsible
part of dyarchy, so as to throw the burden of prohibition on it, thus,
from the very beginning, rendering it powerless for good. If the unhappy
Minister wipes out this revenue he must starve education, since in
the existing circumstances he has no new source of replacing that
revenue. If the weight of taxation has crushed the poor from above,
the destruction of the central supplementary industry, that is, hand-spinning,
has undermined their capacity for producing wealth. The tale of India's
ruination is not complete without reference to the liabilities incurred
in her name. Sufficient has been recently said about these in the
public press. It must be the duty of a free India to subject all the
liabilities to the strictest investigation, and repudiate those that
may be adjudged by an impartial tribunal to be unjust and unfair.
The iniquities sampled above are maintained in order to carry on a
foreign administration, demonstrably the most expensive in the world.
Take your own salary. It is over Rs. 21,000 per month besides many
other indirect additions. The British Prime Minister gets £
5,000 per year, that is, Rs. 5,400/- per month, at the present rate
of exchange. You are getting over Rs. 700 per day, against India's
average income of less than two annas per day. The Prime Minister
gets Rs. 180 per day, against Great Britain's average income of nearly
Rs. 2 per day. Thus you are getting much over five thousand times
India's average income. The British Prime Minister is getting only
ninety times Britain's average income. On bended knee I ask you to
ponder over this phenomenon. I have taken a personal illustration
to drive home a painful truth. I have too great a regard for you as
a man to wish to hurt your feelings. I know that you do not need the
salary you get. But a system that provides for such an arrangement
deserves to be summarily scrapped. What is true of the Viceregal salary
is true generally of the whole administration.
A radical cutting down of the revenue, therefore, depends upon an
equally radical reduction in the ex¬penses of the administration.
This means a transforma¬tion of the scheme of government. This
transformation is impossible without independence. And hence the spontaneous
demonstration of 26th January, in which hundreds of thousands of villagers
instinctively partici¬pated. To them independence means deliverance
from the killing weight.
Not one of the great British political parties, it seems to me, is
prepared to give up the Indian spoils to which Great Britain helps
herself from day to day, often, in spite of the unanimous opposition
of Indian opinion.
Nevertheless, if India is to live as a nation, if the slow death by
starvation of her people is to stop, some remedy must be found for
immediate relief. The proposed conference is certainly not the remedy.
It is not a matter of carrying conviction by argument. The matter
resolves itself into one of matching forces. Conviction or no conviction,
Great Britain would defend her Indian commerce and interests by all
the forces at her command. India must consequently evolve force enough
to free herself from that embrace of death.
It is common cause that, however disorganized, and, for the time being,
insignificant, it may be, the party of violence is gaining ground
and making itself felt. Its end is the same as mine. But I am convinced
that it cannot bring the desired relief to the dumb millions. The
conviction is growing deeper and deeper in me that nothing but unadulterated
non-violence can check the organized violence of the British Government.
Many think that non-violence is not an active force. My experience,
limited though it surely is, shows that non-violence can be an intensely
active force. It is my purpose to set in motion that force as well
against the organized violent force of the British rule, as the unorganized
violent force of the growing party of violence. To sit still would
be to give rein to both the forces above-mentioned. Having an unquestioning
and immovable faith in the efficacy of non-violence, as I know it,
it would be sinful on my part to wait any longer.
This non-violence will be expressed through civil disobedience, for
the moment confined to the inmates of the Satyagraha Ashram, but ultimately
designed to cover all those who choose to join the movement with its
I know that in embarking on non-violence, I shall be running what
might fairly be termed a mad risk. But the victories of truth have
never been won without risks, often of the gravest character. Conversion
of a nation that has consciously or unconsciously preyed upon another,
far more numerous, far more ancient, and no less cultured than itself,
is worth any amount of risk.
I have deliberately used the word conversion. For my ambition is no
less than to convert the British people through non-violence, and
thus to make them see the wrong they have done to India. I do not
seek to harm your people. I want to serve them even as I want to serve
my own. I believe that I have always served them.
I served them up to 1919, blindly. But when my eyes were opened and
I conceived non-co-operation, the object still was to serve them.
I employed the same weapon that I have, in all humility, successfully
used against the dearest members of my family. If I have equal love
for your people with mine, it will not long remain hidden. It will
be acknowledged by them, even as the members of my family acknowledged,
after they had tried me for several years. If the people join me,
as I expect they will, the sufferings they will undergo, unless the
British nation sooner retraces its steps, will be enough to melt the
The plan through civil disobedience will be to combat such evils as
I have sampled out. If we want to sever the British connection it
is because of such evils. When they are removed, the path becomes
easy. Then the way to friendly negotiation will be open. If the British
commerce with India is purified of greed, you will have no difficulty
in recognizing our independence. I invite you then to pave the way
for immediate removal of those evils, and thus open a way for a real
conference between equals, interested only in promoting the common
good of mankind through voluntary fellowship and in arranging terms
of mutual help and commerce equally suited to both. You have unnecessarily
laid stress upon communal problems that unhappily affect this land.
Important though they undoubtedly are for the consideration of any
scheme of Government they have little bearing on the greater problems
which are above communities and which affect them all equally. But
if you cannot see your way to deal with these evils and my letter
makes no appeal to your heart, on the eleventh day of this month,
I shall proceed with such co-workers of the Ashram as I can take,
to disregard the provisions of the salt laws. I regard this tax to
be the most iniquitous of all from the poor man's standpoint. As the
independence movement is essentially for the poorest in the land,
the beginning will be made with this evil. The wonder is that we have
submitted to the cruel monopoly for so long. It is, I know, open to
you to frustrate my design by arresting me. I hope that there will
be tens of thousands ready, in a disciplined manner, to take up the
work after me, and, in the act of disobeying the Salt Act, to lay
themselves open to the penalties of a law that should never have disfigured
the statute book.
I have no desire to cause you unnecessary embar¬rassment, or any
at all, so far as I can help. If you think that there is any substance
in my letter, and if you will care to discuss matters with me, and
if to that end you would like me to postpone publication of this letter,
I shall gladly refrain on receipt of a telegram to that effect soon
after this reaches you. You will, however, do me the favour not to
deflect me from my course, unless you can see your way to conform
to the substance of this letter.
This letter is not in any way intended as a threat, but is a simple
and sacred duty, peremptory on a civil resister. Therefore, I am having
it specially delivered by a young English friend who believes in the
Indian cause and is a full believer in non-violence and whom Provi¬dence
seems to have sent to me, as it were, for the very purpose.