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THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. V - THE VOICE OF TRUTH > Part II- Section II: Means and Ends > Non-co-operation


Non-co-operation

Non-co-operation is not a passive state; it is an intensely active state, more active than physical resistance or violence. Passive resistance is a misnomer. Non-co-operation in the sense used by me must be non-violent and therefore, neither punitive, nor vindictive nor based on malice, ill will or hatred.

Young India, 25-8-20, p. 2


My Non-co-operation, I hold, is not only not a way of violence, but may be an act of love, if love is the motive that has prompted my refusal. The fact is that all Non-co-operation is not violent, and Non-violent Non-co-operation can never be an act of violence. It may not be always an act of love. For love is an active quality which cannot always be inferred from the act itself. A surgeon may perform a most successful operation, and yet he may have no love for his patient….

Non-co-operation is not violence when the refusal of the restraint is a right and a duty, even though by reason of its performance some people may have to suffer. It will be an act of love when non-cooperation is restored to solely for the good of the wrong doer.

Young India, 10-4-24, p. 122


The spirit of non-violence necessarily leads to humility. Non-violence means reliance of God, the Rock of ages. If we would seek His aid, we must approach Him with a humble and a contrite heart…. We must act, even as the mango tree which droops as it bears fruit, its grandeur lies in its majestic lowliness….

A non-co-cooperationist strives to compel attention and to set an example not by his violence, but by his unobtrusive humility. He allows his solid action to speak for his creed. His strength lies in his reliance upon the correctness of his position. And the conviction of it grows most in his opponent when he least interposes his speech between his action and his opponent. Speech, especially when it is haughty, betrays want of confidence and it makes one’s opponent sceptical about the reality of the act itself. Humility, therefore, is the key to quick success.

Young India, 12-1-21, p. 13


Public opposition is effective only where there is strength behind it. What does a son do when he objects to some action of his father? He requests the father to desist from the objectionable course, i.e. presents respectful petitions. If the father does not agree in spite of repeated prayers, he non-cooperates with him to the extent even of leaving the paternal roof. This is the pure justice. Where father and son are uncivilized, they quarrel, abuse each other and often even come to blows. An obedient son is ever modest, ever peaceful and ever loving. It is only his love which on due occasion compels him to non-co-operate.  The father himself understands this loving non-co-operation. He cannot endure abandonment by or separation from the son, is distressed at heart and repents. Not that it always happens thus. But the son’s duty of non-co-operation is clear.

Such non-co-operation is possible between a prince and his people. In particular circumstances it may be the people’s duty. Such circumstances can exist only where the latter are by nature fearless and are lovers of liberty. They generally appreciate the laws of the State and obey them voluntarily without the fear of punishment. Reasoned and willing obedience to the laws of the State is the first lesson in non-co-operation.

The second is that of tolerance. We must tolerate many laws of the State, even when they are inconvenient. A son may not approve of some orders of the father and yet he obeys them. It is only when they are unworthy of tolerance and immoral that he disobeys them. The father will at once understand such respectful disobedience. In the same way it is only when a people have proved their active loyalty by obeying the many laws of the state that they acquire the right of Civil Disobedience.

The third lesson is that of suffering. He who has not the capacity of suffering cannot non-co-operate. He who has not learnt to sacrifice his property and even his family when necessary can never non-co-operate. It is possible that a prince enraged by non-co-operation will inflict all manner of punishments. There lies the test of love, patience, and strength. He who is not ready to undergo the fiery ordeal cannot non-co-operate. A whole people cannot be considered fit or ready for non-co-operation when only an individual or two have mastered these three lessons. A large number of the people must be thus prepared before they can non-co-operate. The result of hasty non-co-operation can only lead to harm. Some patriotic young men who do not understand the limitations noted by me grow impatient. Previous preparation is needed for non-co-operation as it is for all importance things. A man cannot become a non-co-operator by merely wishing to be one. Discipline is obligatory.

Young India, 8-1-25, p. 14


Non-co-operation, when its limitations are not recognized, becomes a licence instead of being a duty and, therefore, becomes a crime. The dividing line between right and wrong is often so thin as to become indistinguishable. But it is a line that is breakable and unmistakable.

What is, then, the difference between those who find themselves in jails for being in the right, and those who are there for being in the wrong?  Both wear often the same dress, eat the same food and are subject outwardly to the same discipline. But while the latter submit to discipline most unwillingly and would commit a breach of it secretly, and even openly if they could, the former will willingly and to the best of their ability conform to jail discipline and prove worthier and more serviceable to their cause than when they are outside.

Indeed, whilst on the one hand Civil Disobedience authorizes disobedience of unjust laws or unmoral laws of a State which one seeks to overthrow, it requires meek and willing submission to the penalty of disobedience and , therefore, cheerful acceptance of the jail discipline and its attendant hardships.

It is now, therefore, clear that civil resister’s resistance ceases and his obedience is resumed as soon as he is under confinement. In confinement, he claims no privileges because of the civility of his disobedience. Inside the jail, by his exemplary conduct he reforms even the criminals surrounding him, he softens the hearts if jailors and others in authority, such meek behaviour springing from strength and knowledge ultimately dissolves the tyranny of the tyrant. It is for this reason that I claim that voluntary suffering is the quickest and the best remedy for the removal of abuses and justices.

Young India, 29-12-21, p. 434


Non-violence is the most vital and integral part of Non-co-operation. We may fail in everything else, and still continue our battle if we remained non-violent. But we capitulate miserably, if we fail in adhering to non-violence…. Any violence on our part must be a token of our stupidity, ignorance and impotent rage. To exercise restraint under the gravest provocation is the truest mark of soldiership. The veriest tyro in the art of war knows, that he must avoid the ambushes of his adversary. And every provocation is a dangerous ambush into which we must resolutely refuse to walk.

Young India, 28-7-21, p. 237


I consider non-co-operation to be such a powerful and pure instrument, that if it is enforced in an earnest spirit, it will be like seeking first the Kingdom of God and everything else following as a matter of course. People will have then realized their true power. They would have learnt the value of discipline, self-control, joint action, non-violence, organization and everything else that goes to make a nation great and good, and not merely great.

Young India, 2-6-20, p. 3