103. Nature Cure for Criminals

Speaking after the evening prayer at Uruli, Gandhiji said that in his opinion, nature cure was an essential ingredient in the building of Swaraj of his conception. The attaining of true Swaraj presupposed the triple purification of body, mind and soul.

He could have hardly imagined when he uttered those words, that within twenty-four hours an occasion would arise to put that precept into practice. On the very next day a villager was brought to him with injuries on his body, received at the hands of thieves who had taken away ornaments etc. from his house. There were three ways, Gandhiji told the villagers of Uruli, of dealing with the case. The first was the stereotyped orthodox way of reporting to the police. Very often it only provided the police a further opportunity for corruption and brought no relief to the victim. The second way, which was followed by the general run of the village people, was to passively acquiesce in it. This was reprehensible as it was rooted in cowardice. Crime would flourish, while cowardice remained. What was more, by such acquiescence we ourselves became party to the crime. The third way, which Gandhiji commended,, was that of pure Satyagraha. It required that we should regard even thieves and criminals as our brothers and sisters, and crime as a disease of which the latter were the victims and needed to be cured. Instead of bearing ill-will towards a thief or a criminal and trying to get him punished they should try to get under his skin, understand the cause that had let him into crime and try to remedy it. They should, for instance, teach him a vocation and provide him with the means to make an honest living and thereby transform his life. They should realize that a thief or a criminal was not a different being from themselves. Indeed, if they turned the searchlight inward and closely looked into their own souls, they would find that the difference between them was only one of degree. The rich, moneyed man who made his riches by exploitation or other questionable means, was no less guilty of robbery than the thief who picked a pocket or broke into a house and committed theft. Only the former took refuge behind the facade of respectability and escaped the penalty of law. Strictly speaking, remarked Gandhiji, all amassing or hoarding of wealth, above and beyond one's legitimate requirements was theft. There would be no occasion for thefts and therefore, no thieves, if there was a wise regulation of riches and absolute social justice prevailed. In the Swaraj of his conception, there would be no thieves and no criminals, or else it would be Swaraj only in name. The criminal was only an indication of the social malady and since nature cure, as he envisaged it, included the triple cure for body, mind and soul, they must not be satisfied with merely banishing physical illness from Uruli, their work must include the healing of the mind and soul too, so that there would be perfect social peace in their midst.

The Way of Satyagraha

If they followed the nature cure way of dealing with the criminal, which, as he had already explained, was the way of Satyagraha, they could not sit still in the face of crime. Only a perfect being could afford to lose himself within himself and withdraw completely from the cares and responsibilities of the world. But who could claim that perfection? "On the high sea a sudden calm is always regarded by experienced pilots and mariners with concern. Absolute calm is not the law of the ocean. It is the same with the ocean of life. More often than not, it portends rough weather. A Satyagrahi would therefore neither retaliate nor would he submit to the criminal, but seek to cure him by curing himself. He will not try to ride two horses at a time, viz. to pretend to follow the law of Satyagraha, while at the same time, seeking police aid. He must forswear the latter, in order to follow the former. If the criminal himself chooses to hand himself over to the police, it would be a different matter. You cannot expect to touch his heart and win his confidence, if at the same time you are prepared to go to the police and inform against him. That would be gross betrayal of trust. A reformer cannot afford to be an informer." And by way of illustration, he mentioned several instances of how he had refused to give information to the police, about persons who had been guilty of violence and came and confessed to him. No police officer could compel a Satyagrahi to give evidence against a person who had confessed to him. A Satyagrahi would never be guilty of a betrayal of trust. He wanted the people of Uruli to adopt the method of Satyagraha, for dealing with crime and criminals. They should contact the criminals in their homes, win their confidence and trust by loving and selfless service, wean them from evil and unclean habits and help to rehabilitate them by teaching them honest ways of living.

Badlapur, 5-8-'46

Harijan, 11-8-1946