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71. Non-violence and Molestation of Women
On the night of 29th December 1945, Gandhiji met about 200 men and women of Mahishadal and the near about villages. They included local workers and victims of police and military atrocities during the 1942 upheaval. Gandhiji invited questions. The first question was whether they were expected to remain non-violent even in the face of their women being dishonoured. They believed in suffering for Swaraj. They believed that any departure from non­violence would delay the coming of Swaraj. Then, what could they do in cases of molestation of their womenfolk?
Gandhiji replied that he had been asked the same question in 1920 and 1921 and he could only repeat the reply which he gave then. The question betrayed ignorance of non-violence and also of Swaraj of his conception. He did not want Swaraj at the cost of women's honour. If what passed as non-violence did not enable them to protect the honour of women or if it did not enable the women to protect their own honour, it was not non-violence. "Believe, it is something quite different," and he described what he had written in Hind Swaraj in 1909. The reader should read the argument on pages 44 to 51* of the Navajivan Press edition. Gandhiji observed that experience had added force to the argument. "After all who protected Sita from Ravan? The Poet tells us that her purity was such that Ravan dared not compass his end without her consent."
He warned them in the end that if anybody came to him with the plea that, they could not protect the honour of their womenfolk because they had taken the vow of non-violence, he would give them no quarter. Non­violence should never be used as a shield for cowardice. It was a weapon of the brave. He would rather they died fighting violently than became helpless witnesses to such atrocities. A truly non-violent man would never live to tell the tale of such atrocities. He would have laid down his life on the spot in non-violent resistance.
In this connection I am reminded of Gandhiji's Frontier tour where the Khudai Khidmatgars had asked him the same question. "What if the miscreant does not kill you but ties you up instead and gags you so that you are forced to be a silent witness of his misdeed," they had asked after hearing his reply which was practically the same as he gave to the people at Mahishadal. "I will struggle," he had replied, "so that I will either break the bonds or break myself in the effort. In no case will I remain a helpless witness. When that intensity of feeling is there, God will come to your aid and somehow or other spare you the agony of being a living witness to such a deed."
Mahishadal, 29-12-'45
Harijan, 10-2-1946

* Pages 77 to 86 in the 1958 edition.