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THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. V - THE VOICE OF TRUTH > Part II- Section VI : Art, Literature and Science > Literature and Journalism

33. Literature and Journalism

For whose sake are we going to have our literature? Not certainly for the great gentry of Ahmedabad. They can afford to engage literary men and have great libraries in their homes. But what about the poor man at the well who with unspeakable abuse is goading his bullocks to pull the big leather bucket? ...Now I have hundreds of such folk for whom I want real life-giving literature. How I am to do so? I live in Segaon today where, in a population of 600, a little over ten are literate, certainly not more than fifty, very likely less. Of the ten or more who can read, there are scarcely three of four who can understand what they read, and among the women there is not one who is literate. 75 percent of the populations are Harijans. Now I thought of getting up a little library for them. The books had to be of course within their understanding, and so I begged a dozen school books from two or three girls who had no use for them. I have with me a young man who is an L.L.B. but who has forgotten all his law and cast in his lot with me. He goes to the village and reads to those who come to him from these books whatever they can follow and digest. He takes a newspaper or two with him. But how is he to make them follow our newspapers? What do they know of Spain and of Russia? What do they know of geography? What I am to read to them?...

You must know that much as I should have loved to bring with me a Segaon boy here, I have not done so. What would he do here? He would find himself in a strange world. But I am here as his representative, as those village folk’s representative. That is true democracy. I shall one day ask you to go with me there. I am clearing the way for you. Of course, the road is strewn with thorns, but I shall see that the thorns be not without roses too.

 As I am speaking to you just now, I am put in mind of Dean Farrar and his book on the life of Christ. I may fight the British rule, but I do not hate the English or their language. In fact I appreciate their literary treasures. And Dean Farrar’s book is one of the treasures of the English language. You know how he labored to produce that book? He read everything about Jesus in the English language, and then he went to Palestine, saw every place and spot in the Bible he could identify, and then wrote the book in faith and prayer, for the masses in England, in a language which all of them could understand. It is not in Dr. Johnson’s style but in the easy style of Dickens. Have we men like Farrar who will produce great literature for the village folk? Our literary men will pore of Kalidas and Bhavabhuti and English authors, and will give us imitations. I want them to go to villages, study them and give something life-giving….

I want art and literature that can speak to the millions.

Harijan, 14-11-36, pp. 314-15

Let me tell you Gujarati will be none the poorer without novels or literature which is popularly and rightly called ‘fiction’. The less we revel in the realm of fiction the better for us. When I went to South Africa some 40 years ago I had armed myself with a few books, one of which was Taylor’s Gujarati grammar. The book, I remember, captivated me, but I have never had the opportunity of reading it again. I had it taken out of the library on the day I presided, but could read nothing in it except a few remarks of the Epilogue that he was written to that book of grammar. Some words of his in that Epilogue gripped me. “Who said that Gujarati is a poor inadequate language?’’ asks Mr. Taylor passionately. “Gujarati, the daughter of Sanskrit, how can it be poor? How can it be inadequate?” As is the speaker so is his language. It is not its inherent poverty but the poverty of the people speaking it that is reflected in Gujarati. That poverty cannot be wiped out by a few novels. How will it profit us if, to take a simple instance, we had a number of Nanda Batrishis in our language? No, I must hark back again to the village, and tell you what I need. Take, for instance, astronomy of which my ignorance was a bysmal. In Yeravada Jail I saw Kakasaheb gazing at the stars every night and he infected me with his passion. I sent for books and even a telescope. Books in English there were numerous, but Gujarati books there were none. There was a little book that had been sent me, but it was a miserable affair. Now why should we not be able to give our people, our village folk, good books on astronomy? But have we for them even tolerable books on geography? I know of none. The fact is that we have neglected the village folk, and though we depend on them entirely for our food we have behaved all through as though we were their patrons and they were our wards. We have never thought of their needs. Our country presents in the world the solitary pitiable phenomenon of a nation carrying on its affairs through the medium of a foreign tongue. No wonder that our poverty of spirit is reflected in our language. There is no good book in French or German but is translated into English within a short time of its publication. Even its own classics are made available to the average reader, even to the children in convenient abridged sizes and at the cheapest prices. Have we anything like it? The field is vast and unexplored, and I want our litterateurs and linguists to explore it. I want them to go to the villages, feel the pulse of the people, examine their needs and supply what they want. We have Village Workers’ Training School in Wardha. I asked the Principal of the school to know the village crafts himself if he ever aspired to write intelligently about them. Don’t say that your intellects would lose their freshness in villages by being choked in their closed atmosphere. I will say that it is not the closed atmosphere, it is your own closed intellect with which you have gone there. If you will go there with your eyes and ears and intellects open, they will be all the fresher for a live contact with the virgin village air.

Harijan, 21-11-36, pp. 326-27

I am told that our literature is full of even an exaggerated apotheosis of women. Let me say that it is an altogether wrong apotheosis. Let me place one simple test before you. In what light do you think of them when you proceed to write about them? I suggest that before you put your pens to paper, think of woman as your own mother, and I assure you the chastest literature will flow from your pens even like the beautiful rain from heaven which waters the thirsty earth below. Remember that a woman was your mother before a woman became your wife. Far from quenching their spiritual thirst some writers stimulate their passions, so much so that poor ignorant women waste their time wondering how they might answer to the description our fiction gives of them. Are detailed descriptions of their physical form an essential part of literature, I wonder? Do you find anything of the kind in the Upanishada, the Quran or the Bible? And yet do you know that the English language would be empty without the Bible? Three parts Bible and one part Shakespeare is the description of it. Arabic would be forgotten without the Quran. And think of Hindi without Tulsidas! Do you find in it anything like what you find in present-day literature about women?

Harijan, 21-11-36, p. 327

A language mirrors the character of the people who use it. We acquire information about the manners and customs of the Negroes of South Africa by studying their native tongue. A language takes its form from the character and life of those who speak it. We can say without hesitation that the people whose language does not reflect the qualities of courage, truthfulness and compassion are deficient in those virtues. Importing of words expressive of courage or compassion from other tongues will not enrich or widen the content of a language nor make its speaker brave and kind. Courage is not to be had as a gift; if it is there within, covered with rust though it be, it will shine forth when that covering disappears. In our own mother tongue, we find a large number of words denoting an excess of meekness, because we have lived under subjection for many years. Similarly, no other language in the world has as many nautical terms as English. Supposing that an enterprising Gujarati writer were to render books on the subject from English into Gujarati, it would not add one whit to the range and power of our language, nor would it in any way increase our knowledge of ships. But as soon as start building ships and raise a navy, the necessary technical phraseology will automatically establish itself.

The Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XIV, pp. 11-12

I had promised the Editor a contribution for the Diwali Number of Hindustan, but I find that I have no time to make good the promise. However, thinking that I must write something, I am placing before the readers my views on newspapers. I happened to work in a newspaper office in South Africa owing to certain circumstances, and had given this subject much thought. I have acted upon the views which I and presenting here.

In my opinion, a newspaper should not be used as the means of earning a living. There are certain spheres of work which have a direct bearing on public welfare; to undertake them for earning one’s livelihood is fraught with danger-inasmuch as it obscures, and might hurt, the essential aim which one should put before oneself in taking to such an activity. And when newspapers are made an instrument of earning not only one’s livelihood but also of making profits, it leads to a number of evils. It is not necessary to prove to those familiar with newspaper work that such evils are actually operating today on quite a big scale.

Newspapers are meant primarily to educate people, and apprise them of current trends in the history of the world. This is responsible work. Yet we see that readers cannot always depend on the information supplied by newspapers. Often, facts are found to be quite the opposite of what has been reported. If newspaper editors and staff realized that it was their duty to educate the people, they would wait to check the veracity of the news they print. It is true that, often, they have to work under difficult conditions, and sift the mass of information they receive and then infer hurriedly, within the limited time at their disposal, the true facts in each case. And, yet, I feel that it is better not to publish a particular piece of news until its truth has been definitely established.

The reporting of speeches in Indian newspapers is generally defective. There are very few who can write down a speech verbatim while it is being delivered or afterwards from memory. This result in much distortion and interpolation. The best rule would be to send the proof of the reported speech to the speaker for correction and publish its own report of the speech only if the speaker does not revise the proof sent to him.

It is generally seen that newspapers publish any matter they have without regard to its need or importance just to fill in vacant space. This practice is almost universal. It is so in the West also. The reason is that most newspaper have an eye on profits. There is no doubt that newspapers have done great service to the people and these defects are therefore overlooked. But to my mind, they have done equally great harm. There are newspapers in the West which are so full of trash that it would be a sin to read them. Many create and promote ill-will among people with their prejudices. At times, they produce bitterness and strife even between different families communities. Thus, newspapers cannot escape criticism merely because they also serve the interests of the people. On the whole, it would seem that the gain and loss from newspapers are almost equal.

It is a now an established practice with newspapers to derive their main income from advertisements rather than from subscribers. The result is deplorable. The very newspaper which in its editorial columns strongly denounces the drink-evil publishes advertisements in praise of drink. We read about the ill effects of tobacco as well as where to buy good tobacco or which brand of cigarette to smoke in the same newspapers. Or, it may, on the one hand, publish a severe denunciation of a certain play and, on the other, elsewhere in its columns a long advertisement of it. The largest source of revenue is derived from medical advertisements, which are the cause of much harm to our people. They, almost wholly, nullify the other services rendered by newspapers. I have seen the harm caused by such advertisements, for many people are lured into buying the medicines-supposed to increase virility, overcome debility, etc. Many of these medicines are those which encourage immorality. It is strange that such advertisements find a place even in religious papers. This custom has been adopted from the West. Whatever the effort, we must either put an end to this undesirable practice or, at least, reform it. It si the duty of every newspaper to exercise care in accepting advertisements for publication in its pages.

The last, though not the least, question is: “What is the duty of a newspaper in a country where there are laws like the ‘Seditious Writing Act’ and the ‘Defence of the India Act’ to restrict its freedom?”  In order to get over this limitation our newspapers have evolved a style of writing which makes it possible to interpret what they say on a particular matter, which may seem to fall within the purview of these Acts, in two different ways. Some have perfected this art to a science. But in my opinion, this causes harm to our country. People develop a tendency to equivocate and fail to cultivate the courage to speak the truth. It changes the form of the language which, instead of being an instrument for expressing one’s thoughts, becomes a mask for concealing them. I am convinced that this is not the way to educate our people. Both people and individuals must cultivate the habit of speaking their minds. Newspapers are in a position to impart such training to them. The right course, and the one which will ultimately be found to be of the greatest advantage to us, would be that those who are afraid of the above laws and who do not want to get entangled in them should stop publishing newspapers, or that they should frankly state their true views and bear the consequences. Justice Steven has said somewhere that there can be no hatred in the language of a man who has no hatred in his heart. And if there is any hatred on should frankly express it. In case one has not the courage to act thus, one should stop publishing a newspaper. In this lies the good of our people and our country.

True Education, (1962), pp. 171-73

The sole aim of journalism should be service.

An Autobiography, (1966), p. 215

One of the objects of a newspaper is to understand popular feeling and to give expression to it; another is to arouse among the people certain desirable sentiments; and the third is fearlessly to expose popular defects.

Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, (1962), p. 19

Reference to abuses in the States is undoubtedly a necessary part of journalism and it is a means of creating public opinion. Only, my scope is strictly limited, I have taken up journalism not for its sake but merely as an aid to what I have conceived to be my mission in life. My mission is to teach by example and precept under severe restraint the use of the matchless weapon of Satyagraha which is a direct corollary of non-violence and truth. I am anxious, indeed I am impatient to demonstrate that there is no remedy for the many ills of life save that of non-violence. It is a solvent strong enough to melt the stoniest heart. To be true to my faith, therefore, I am not write in anger or malice. I may not write idly. I may not write merely to excite passion. The reader can have no idea of the restraint I have to exercise from week to week in the choice of topics and my vocabulary. It is training for me. It enables me to peep into myself and make discoveries of my weaknesses. Often my vanity dictates a smart expression or my anger a harsh adjective. It is terrible ordeal but a fine exercise to remove these weeds. The reader sees the pages of the Young India fairly well dressed up and sometimes, with Romain Rolland, he is inclined to say ‘what a fine old man this must be.’ Well, let the world understand that the fineness is carefully and prayerfully cultivated. And if it has proved acceptable to some whose opinion I cherish, let the reader understand that when that fineness has become perfectly natural i.e., when I have become incapable of evil and when nothing harsh or haughty occupies, be it momentarily, my thought-world, then and not till then, my non-violence will move all the hearts of all the world. I have placed before me and the reader no impossible ideal or ordeal.

Young India, 2-7-25, p. 232

Unfortunately, the newspapers have become more important to the average man than the scriptures. I would fain advise them to give up reading newspapers. They would lose nothing by so doing whereas real food for their minds and spirits lies in the scriptures and other good literature.

The Press is called the Fourth Estate. It is definitely a power but to misuse that power is criminal. I am a journalist myself and would appeal to fellow journalists to realize their responsibility and to carry on their work with no idea other than that of upholding the truth.

Harijan, 27-4-47, p. 128

We think the editors of all such newspapers, which do not run with a commercial motive but only with a view to public service, must be prepared to face extinction at any moment. It is oblivious that all newspapers do not come within the scope of this rule, but only those which aim at public service by advocating reforms in the Government or among the people or in both. What should an editor do when something he has published displeases the Government or is held to violate some law, but is none the less true? Should he apologize? We would say, certainly not. True, he is not bound to publish such matter, but once it has been published, the editor ought to accept responsibility for it.

This raises a very important issue. If the principle we have laid down is correct, it follows that, if any provocative writing has been published unintentionally and no apology is offered for the same, the newspaper will in consequence be prevented from rendering other services as well and the community will go without that benefit. We would not, therefore, apply this principle to matter published unintentionally, but it should apply to what is published after full deliberation. If a newspaper runs into difficulties for publishing any such matter, we think the closing down of the newspaper will be a better service to the public. The argument that in that case one may have to face the confiscation of all one’s property and be reduced to poverty has no force. Such a contingency may certainly arise, and it was precisely for this reason that we said that the editor of a journal devoted to public service must be ever ready for death….

Let us take an illustration. Suppose that the government has committed a gross injustice and robbed the poor. A progressive newspaper is being published in such a place. It writes against the oppressive measure and advises the people to disregard the unjust law of the Government. The Government takes offence and threatens confiscation of property if no apology is forthcoming. Should the reformer apologize? We think the reply is again the same, that he should stand the confiscation of his property and close down the newspaper but certainly not offer an apology. The people would then see that, if the reformer could lose his all for their sake, they should also in their own interest oppose the law. If the reformer should apologize, the effect on the people would exactly be the reverse of this. They would know that the man would not be concerned overmuch even if their houses were on fire, that, from a safe distance, he would only indulge in meaningless declamations. When he himself ran into trouble (they would say) he meekly retired. And so they will think of doing likewise and resign themselves to the inevitable. They will thus argue themselves into greater weakness. It is, therefore, clear in this instance that the best service that the reformer can render will be stop the newspaper.

The collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi-Vol. X, pp. 226-27