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57. How to quench it ?
Elsewhere in these columns the reader will see "A Seeker's" letter* in which he has asked a question which must have occurred to everyone. The beauty lies in the way in which he has introduced the question. He has depicted the present conflagration in such lurid colours that violence cannot but stink in our nostrils. The reader is sure instinctively to exclaim: "Even if it were possible to win the kingdom of the world by means of such violence, I would not have it."
But this exclamation will be of no avail to quench the conflagration. No doubt it will someday quench itself but it means mutual fratricidal slaughter like that of the Yadavas of old who destroyed themselves and relieved the earth of so much burden. And such a consummation would any day be preferable to a perpetual conflagration. But no one would wish for this. What one would devoutly wish for is some brave step to stop the conflagration before there is total destruction. This can only be a non-violent step. How and when it can be taken has to be discovered. The "Seeker" will be satisfied when the discovery is made. In my opinion the discovery has already been made. If India can win Swaraj non-violently even while this conflagration is going on, the latter is bound to be extinguished by that one event.
We read in our religious books that whenever, in the days of old, all ordinary means failed to secure release from an ordeal or a calamity, people resorted to tapasya (penance), i. e., actually burnt themselves. I do not regard these stories as legendary. Tapasya is of various kinds. Misguided men can resort to it, as we find them doing today. The wise also can do it. It is worth while understanding the implication of tapasya. It was by dint of tapasya that Western scientists made their discoveries. Tapasya does not simply consist of betaking oneself to the forest and sitting down there surrounded by blazing fires. That tapasya may even be the height of folly. We have, therefore, to discriminate.
The question asked by "A Seeker" does not arise out of despair. It is intended to quicken the conscience of those who believe in Ahimsa. I have already shown the way. It is the fulfillment of the thirteenfold constructive programme* described in a recent article. Those who will carry it out in faith, in full knowledge, and without the slightest fuss, will have done their share in the tapasya to quench the conflagration. They will achieve two ends at the same time. They will make India free, and will also quench the conflagration. It is likely that the number of such people is limited, so limited that it can have no effect. I have maintained that, even if there is one individual who is almost completely non-violent, he can put out the conflagration. But I have suggested a tapasya which can easily be performed by the average individual. In this age of democracy it is essential that desired results are achieved by the collective effort of the people. It will no doubt be good to achieve an objective through the effort of a supremely powerful individual, but it can never make the commu-nity conscious of its corporate strength. An individual's success will be like a millionaire doling free food to millions of starving people. We should, therefore, bend our energies to a fulfillment of the thirteenfold constructive programme1. It may or may not bring Swaraj, but we shall surely have the satisfaction of having done our best.
There is a warning in the "Seeker's" letter to which I should like to draw the reader's attention. He says papers and broadcasts describe with devilish pleasure the amount of injury each is able to inflict upon the other, and suggests that such news should sicken people instead of providing pleasure, if they arc to take part in the propagation of peace. I agree. Such people will not be able to carry out even the constructive programme, for they will have no faith in it.
However that may be, it is as clear as daylight that, if this conflagration is to be put out through non-violent effort, it will be done only by India.
Sevagram, 2-9-'40
Harijan, 8-9-1940

[1] Constructive Programme, reprint of second revised, enlarged edition. Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad-14.
* "A Seeker's" Question
The Editor,
You must be reading in the papers how the war between Germany and England is being waged. Aeroplanes filled with thousands of incendiary bombs do untold havoc, and newspapers and broadcasts- describe with pleasure the amount of injury each side is able to inflict on the other. The general public is consoled by being told that the damage done in the enemy country is greater than what the enemy has done in theirs. It is said that military objectives are the sole targets of the raiders: but it is impossible to believe that, flying at great heights and often through smoke screens, the bombers can really take proper aim. And then we hear from both sides of the 'successful* blockades, the object of which is to spread famine; and famine must necessarily, more than even bombs, hurt the civilian population.
Is it impossible for these belligerents to think in terms of humanity and stop this carnage? How can any good ever come out of war? And must we not, therefore, declare ourselves unreservedly against war for or against anybody or any ideology?
There must be many godly people in the warring countries who think in this way but have not the strength to raise their voice in protest. May we not help them to do so and at the same time rouse the sleeping conscience of all thinking people?
A Seeker