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40. My advice to Noakhali Hindus
Their case is more or less like the Sukkur case. There is a great difference in degree. But I feel sure that no popularly elected government can successfully cope with wide-spread goondaism as it is alleged to be in Noakhali.
It is essentially a case of self-defence. Self-respect and honour cannot be protected by others. They are for each individual himself or herself to guard. Governments can at best punish offenders after the offence has been committed. They cannot assure prevention except in so far as punishment acts as a deterrent. Self-defence can be violent or non-violent. I have always advised and insisted on non-violent defence. But I recognize that it has to be learnt like violent defence. It requires a different training from that which is required for violent defence. Therefore, if the capacity for non-violent self-defence is lacking, there need be no hesitation in using violent means.
But Manoranjan Babu, being an old Congressman, said, "You say I cannot retaliate even in self-defence?" "That is certainly my view," I replied. "There was, however, a resolution passed by the Gaya Congress that the use of force in self-defence was permissible to Congressmen. I have never justified the resolution. Non-violence becomes meaningless, if violence is permitted for self-defence. What is it but self-defence in national resistance against an aggressor nation? I would, therefore, advise secession from the Congress, if you contemplate the use of force in defending yourselves in the circumstances described by you."
"But," said Manoranjan Babu, "Supposing I adopt the Gaya resolution, would I be accused of communalism, if I defended the aggrieved Hindus?" "Certainly not," I replied. "In the first place, you do not cease to be Hindu because you are a Congressman. You will, however, be guilty of communalism, if you sided with Hindus right or wrong. In the case in point you will defend Hindus, not because they are Hindus but because they are afflicted.
I would expect you to defend Muslims if you found them molested by Hindus.
A Congressman recognizes or should recognize no communal distinction."
Calcutta, 26-2-'40
Harijan, 2-3-1940