My first constructive act on returning to India in 1915 was to found the Satyagraha Ashram for the purpose of serving Truth. The inmates are under the vows of truth, Ahimsa, celibacy, control of palate, poverty, fearlessness, removal of untouchability, Swadeshi with Khadi as the centre, equal respect for all religions and bread labour. The present site for the Ashram was bought in 1916. It conducts today certain activities mostly through the labour of inmates. But it does need to supplement that labour with ordinary paid labour. Its principal activities are:—Khadi production as a village industry without the aid of power-driven machinery, dairy, agriculture, scientific scavenging and literary education. The Ashram has 107 inmates at present (men 42, women 31, boys 12 and girls 22). This number excludes those who are in prison and those who are otherwise engaged outside. Up to now it has trained nearly 1,000 persons in the manufacture of Khadi. Most of these, so far as my knowledge goes, are doing useful constructive work and earning an honest livelihood.
The Ashram is a registered trust. The funds at its disposal are earmarked. Whilst the aim has been to make every department self-supporting, it has hitherto been obliged to receive donations from friends to meet all the obligations. Experience has shown that so long as it remains a predominantly educational service (using the term in the widest sense) and not only charges no fees but actually feeds and clothes the learners, it cannot be wholly self-supporting.
The Ashram owns immovable property estimated at about Rs. 3,60,000 and movables including cash estimated at over Rs. 3,00,000. The Ashram takes no part in politics so-called. But it does believe in non-co- operation and civil disobedience as indispensable, under certain circumstances, for the observance of truth and non-violence. Hence, the Civil Disobedience campaign of 1930 was started by the march to Dandi of nearly eighty inmates of the Ashram.
Time has now arrived for the Ashram to make a greater sacrifice in the face of the existing situation— on the one hand the growing terrorism by the Govern-ment and on the other the equally growing demoralization among the people.
The statements that have come under my observation since the breaking of my fast show that;
- Methods of torture have been adopted by the police in various parts of India in order to cow down individual civil resisters,
- Women have been insulted,
- Free movement of people has become almost impossible,
- In many parts of India, village work by Congressmen has become all but impossible,
- Civil Resistance prisoners have been subjected to humiliations and bodily injury in many lock-ups and prisons,
- Unconscionably heavy fines have been imposed and gross irregularities committed for their recovery,
- Peasants withholding revenue or rent have been punished in a manner out of all proportion to their offence, obviously with a view to terrifying them and their neighbours,
- The public press has been gagged,
- In short freedom with self-respect has become impossible throughout the length and breadth of the land.
Hence, mere incarceration can bring a little satisfac¬tion. Moreover, I quite clearly see that the vast construc¬tive programme of the Ashram cannot be carried on with safety, unless the Ashram ceases entirely to have any¬thing to do with the campaign. To accept such a position will be to deny the creed. Up to now I have hoped that the existence of the Ashram side by side with the Civil Resis¬tance of its individual members was possible and that there was bound to be an honourable peace between Government and the Congress in the near future even though the Congress goal might not be immediately real-ized. The unfortunate rejection by His Excellency the Viceroy of the honest advance of the Congress through me, in the interest of peace, shows clearly that the Gov¬ernment do not seek or desire peace, they want an abject surrender by the largest and the admittedly most, if not the only popular, political organization in the country. This is impossible so long as the Congress continues to repose confidence in its present advisers. The struggle therefore is bound to be prolonged and calls for much greater sacrifice than the people have hitherto under¬gone. It follows that the greatest measure of sacrifice is to be expected of me as the author of the movement. I can therefore only offer that which is nearest and dearest to me and for the building of which I and many other mem¬bers of the Ashram have laboured with infinite patience and care all these eighteen years. Every head of cattle and every tree has its history and sacred associations. They are all members of a big family. What was once a barren plot of land has been turned by human endeavour into a fair-sized model garden colony. It will not be with¬out a tear that we shall break up the family and its activi¬ties. I have had many and prayerful conversations with the inmates and they have, men and women, unani¬mously approved of the proposal to give up the present activities. Those who are at all able have decided to offer individual Civil Disobedience after the suspension period is over.
It may not be superfluous to mention that the Ashram has for the past two years refused to pay revenue dues and consequently goods of considerable value have been seized and sold in respect of them. I make no complaint of the procedure. But it cannot be a matter of pleasure or profit to carry on a great institution in such precarious circumstances. I fully realize that whether a State is just or unjust and whether it is under popular or foreign control, the citizen's possessions may at any time be forcibly taken away from him by the State if he comes in conflict with it. In the circumstances, it seems to me to be simple prudence to anticipate the inevitable in a conflict which promises to be indefinitely prolonged.
But whilst it has been decided to break up the Ashram we want everything to be used for public purpose. Therefore, unless the Government for any reason desire to take charge of any or all of the movables including cash, I propose to hand them over to those friends who will take them and use them for public benefit and in accordance with the earmarking. Thus the Khadi stock and contents of the workshop and the weaving sheds will be handed over to the All-India Spinners' Association on whose behalf that activity has been carried on. The cows and other cattle will be handed to a representative of the Goseva Sangh on whose behalf the dairy has been conducted. The library will be handed, probably to an institution that will take care of it. The moneys and articles belonging to various parties will be returned to them or kept for them by friends who will care to take charge of them.
Then there remain the land, the buildings and the crops. I suggest that the Government take possession of these and do what they like with them. I would gladly have handed these also to friends but I cannot be party to their paying the revenue dues. And naturally I may not hand them to fellow resisters. All, therefore, I wish is that beneficial use be made of the land, buildings and the valuable trees and crops instead of being allowed to run to waste as I see has been done in many cases.
There is a plot of land with building occupied by Harijan families. They have hitherto paid no rent. I have no desire to invite them to take part in Civil Resistance. They will now pay the nominal rent of one rupee per year to the trustees of the Ashram and be responsible for the revenue due on that portion.
If for any reason, the Government decline to take possession of the property mentioned, the Ashram will still be vacated by the inmates as soon as may be after the expiry of the suspension period, viz., 31st instant unless the date is anticipated by the Government. I request a telegraphic reply to this letter, at least, in so far as the Government's wishes regarding the movables are concerned so as to enable me to remove them in due time if I am to remove them at all.
I am,AHMEDABAD, JULY 26, 1933
M. K. GANDHI
M. K. GANDHI
THE SECRETARY TO THE GOVERNMENT OF BOMBAY,