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39. The hour of trial
( With the members of the Gandhi Seva Sangh )
"Non-violence is not a cloistered virtue, confined only to the Rishi and the cave-dweller. It is capable of being practised by the millions, not with full knowledge of its implications, but because it is the law of our species. It distinguishes man from the brute. But man has not shed the brute in him. He has to strive to do so. This striving applies to the practice of non-violence, not to the belief in it. I cannot strive to believe in a principle: I either believe in it or I do not. And if I believe in it, I must bravely strive to practise it. Ahimsa is an attribute of the brave. Cowardice and Ahimsa do not go together any more than water and fire. It is that Ahimsa that every member of the Gandhi Seva Sangh has to make a conscious effort to develop in himself.
"We have often thought about this question, but the hour of our trial has arrived today, as much with reference to war as with the struggle for Swaraj and equally with reference to Hindu-Muslim unity. Remember also that your non-violence cannot operate effectively unless you have faith in the spinning wheel. I would ask you to read Hind Swaraj with my eyes and see therein the chapter on how to make India non-violent. You cannot build non-violence on a factory civilization, but it can be built on self-contained villages. Even if Hitler was so minded, he could not devastate seven hundred thousand non-violent villages. He would himself become non-violent in the process. Rural economy, as I have conceived it, eschews exploitation altogether, and exploitation is the essence of violence. You have, therefore, to be rural-minded before you can be non-violent, and to be rural-minded you have to have faith in the spinning wheel."

The members slept over this discourse and met Gandhiji again the next day. Numerous questions were troubling them, as they should everyone who is a votary of Ahimsa. But out of regard for Gandhiji's time they limited themselves to a few.
"How can a believer in the non-violence of your con-ception be a minister?"
"I fear he cannot in the present state of things," said Gandhiji. "We have seen that our ministers have had to resort to violence even as the British Government in the pre-autonomy days. It was inevitable perhaps. Had Congressmen been truly non-violent, there would have been no resort to force. But the Congress majorities were not based on unadulterated non-violence. A minister said the other day that, although he had not given up an iota of non-violence, he could not do without resorting to the minimum of firing. He had resorted to it only to the extent that it was unavoidable. He may have said it then; he may not say it again if I can help it. For, if he goes in again, he will have made his position clear, and he will represent a House that is predominantly non-violent. In other words, he will take office, if he is sure that the people would let him carry on the government on a non-violent basis."
"But may it not be that whereas a non-violent minister will confine violence to the lowest minimum, one who does not believe in non-violence would observe no such restraint?"
"That belief is a delusion. All those who are using violence today make the same claim. Hitler too would say the same thing. General Dyer was acclaimed as the hero of the hour by the House of Lords because his object was said to be to prevent the spread of mob violence. Soviet Russia believes its violence is a transitional stage to the establishment of an order without violence.
Non-violence is impossible without self-purification. Let us, therefore, be members of a self-purification association, but no association is necessary for that purpose. Therefore let us try, each in our own way, to face difficulties and problems as they come and see how far we can go. In Hudli, two years ago, I asked you to help in the elections and in sending the best possible men to the legislature. I gave advice in the atmosphere as it existed then. I cannot give you that advice today. In fact the time may have come when it becomes necessary for such of you as believe in the non-violence of the brave to retire from the Congress as I did in 1934."
"How do you think that the masses can practise non-violence, when we know that they are all prone to anger, hate, ill-will? They are known to fight for the most tri-vial things."
"They are, and yet I think they can practise non-violence for the common good. Do you think the thousands of women that collected contraband salt had ill-will against anyone? They knew that the Congress or Gandhi had asked them to do certain things, and they did those things in faith and hope. To my mind the most perfect demonstration of non-violence was in Champaran. Did the thousands of ryots who rose up in revolt against the agrarian evils harbour the least ill-will against the Government or the planters? Their belief in non-violence was unintelligent, even as the belief in the earth being round with many is unintelligent. But their belief in their leaders was genuine, and that was enough. With those who lead it is another matter. Their belief has got to be intelligent, and they have to live up to all the implications of the belief."
"But then are not the masses the world over like that?"
"They are not, for others have not that background of non-violence."
"But if there was non-violence ingrained in our ma-sses, how should they have come to this state of slavery?"
"There indeed is what I flatter myself is going to be my contribution. I want that non-violence of the weak to become non-violence of the brave. It may be a dream, but I have to strive for its realization."
Sevagram, 29-10-'39
Harijan, 4-11-1939