the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229


Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India



Ahimsa and Mahatma Gandhi-XX 



 We cannot observe ahimsa without fulfilling the vows. This does not mean that whoever is morally depraved and given to drinking commits violence. But then it is certain that he does not sincerely observe non-violence. We must examine everything from this standpoint, viz., whether it helps or hinders non-violence. I too can drink alcohol but as medicine, provided a vaidya prescribes it for me. If this movement of ours is conducive to non-violence, let us at least demonstrate unity amongst all Hindus.  The various items of constructive activity that you are doing are only outward expressions of truth and ahimsa. They only reveal how far they can carry you on the road of ahimsa and truth, and ultimately to freedom. 1 If anything, the darkness has deepened and the prayer becomes more intense. Add to this the fact that for causes some of which I know and some of which I do not, for the first time in my public and private life I seem to have lost self-confidence. I seem to have detected a flaw in me which is unworthy of a votary of truth and ahimsa. I am going through a process of self introspection, the results of which I cannot foresee. I find myself for the first time during the past 50 years in a Slough of Despond. I do not consider myself fit for negotiations or any such thing for the moment.  My Hinduism is not sectarian. It includes all that I know to be best in Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism. I approach politics as everything else in a religious spirit. Truth is my religion and ahimsa is the only way of its realization. I have rejected once and for all the doctrine of the sword. The secret stabbings of innocent persons and the speeches I read in the papers are hardly the thing leading to peace or an honourable settlement. 2

I like your letter for its transparent love. It tells me nothing new, but it comes at a moment when I am most receptive. The problem however is not so simple as you have put it. If complete brahmacharya under the conditions I am trying is like an attempt to climb the craters in the moon. What is the value of the species that requires the nine fortifications? You are quite right in describing my experiment as new. So is my experiment in ahimsa. The two hang together. Remember that my experiment has natural limitations. I may neither tempt God nor the Devil. I have not the time to prolong the argument. 3 That my ideal is Shukadevji does not mean that I should like to have a face like his, to sleep, sit and eat like him and go to the Himalayas as he did. It only means that I should like to cultivate brahmacharya like his. And if you say that this can’t be the ideal of one who wishes to live and serve in this world or that it cannot be attained by such a one, then brahmacharya like Shukadevji is of little value. A perfect brahmachari should remain unaffected by passion in any circumstances. If you say that nobody has ever been, and nobody will ever be, able to cultivate such freedom from passion, then it means that we should abandon the struggle to cultivate brahmacharya. If this is correct, then it follows that one can never cultivate perfect ahimsa. 4 

I began work among women when I was not even thirty years old. There is not a woman in S.A. who does not know me. But my work was among the poorest. The intellectuals I could not draw. My appeals have always been from heart to hearts. I have felt like fish out of water in the company of intellectuals. Hence you are wrong in laying down the sweeping proposition you have. You can’t blame me for not having organized the intellectuals among women. I have not the gift. And then my method of organizing is out of the ordinary, not necessarily superior. All I mean is that I have nothing to show on paper. But just as I never fear coldness on the part of the poor when I approach them, I never fear it when I approach poor women. There is invisible bond between them and me. And why do you miss the agony I am passing through? Is it not for woman kind? I am wringing my soul for adequate purity, to enable me to render greater service to them and through them to the whole of humanity. Ahimsa, which is my sheet-anchor, demands all this. 5 

I should like here to state one limitation of ahimsa. If a wrongdoer banks upon the ahimsa of his victim and goes on heaping wrong upon wrong till every one of the victims is crushed, a cry from the surrounding atmosphere rises and the force of public opinion or the like overtakes the wrongdoer. But no satyagrahi should think that he has never to suffer unto death. His victory lies in the defiance by his unconquerable spirit of death and loss of property. The wrongdoer’s certain defeat lies in his utter failure to bend or break the spirit of his victim.  If the States are badly advised and they rely upon organized violence for resisting the just demands of their people, ahimsa, so far generated in the country as a means of redressing social injustice, will not protect them. If it had grown into a Himalayan oak, it would have passed any test however severe. But, sad to confess, it has not gone deep enough into the Indian soil. 6

I do believe that it is woman’s mission to exhibit ahimsa at its highest and best. But why should it be a man to move the woman heart? If the appeal is addressed exclusively to me not as man but as the (supposed to be) best exponent of ahimsa to be practised on a mass scale, I have no urge in me to go about preaching the doctrine to the women of India. I can assure my correspondent that there is no want of will in me that deters me from responding to her appeal. My feeling is that if men of the Congress can retain their faith in ahimsa and prosecute the non-violence programme faithfully and fully, the women would be automatically converted. And it may be that there shall arise one among them who will be able to go much farther than I can ever hope to do. For woman is more fitted than man to make explorations and take bolder action in ahimsa. For the courage of self-sacrifice woman is any day superior to man as I believe man is to woman for the courage of the brute. 7

I would feel more at home in their midst. If I allowed myself to succumb to the love of ease and comfort, it would be my undoing as a votary of ahimsa. What is it then that can provide a living link between me and the poor? The answer is the charkha. No matter what one’s occupation or rank in life is, the charkha, taken with all that it signifies, will provide the golden bridge to unite him to the poor. For instance, if I am a doctor, while I draw the sacrificial thread it will make me think how I can assuage the suffering of the destitute instead of the royalty in rich palaces with the prospect of fat fees. The charkha is not my invention. It was there before. My discovery consisted in linking it to the programme of non-violence and independence. God whispered into my ear: ‘If you want to work through non-violence, you have to proceed with small things, not big.’ If we had worked the fourfold constructive programme in its completeness during the last twenty years as I had envisaged it, we should have been our masters today. No foreign power would have dared to cast its evil eye upon us. No enemy from outside would have dared to come and do us harm if there had been none within. Even if one had come we would have assimilated him to ourselves and he would not have been able to exploit us. 8

This non-violence was not a mere passive quality. It was the mightiest force God had endowed man with. Indeed, possession of non-violence distinguished man from the brute creation. It was inherent in every human being, but in most it lay dormant. Perhaps the word ‘non-violence’ was an inadequate rendering of ahimsa which itself was an incomplete connotation of all it was used for conveying. A better rendering would be love or goodwill. Violence was to be met by goodwill. And goodwill came into play only when there was ill will matched against it. To be good to the good is an exchange at par. A rupee against a rupee gives no index to its quality. It does when it is matched against an anna. Similarly a man of good will is known only when he matches himself against one of ill will. 9 If the people have understood the lesson of ahimsa and suffer beatings, etc., they will never be defeated. Mahadev is here of course. He is quite well. He purposely writes less. This time I permitted him to write a good deal for Harijan. But I will not do that very often. It is desirable that he should have no responsibility at all. I keep very well these days. 10

Women alone can emancipate themselves not men. If women will, they can help in the fulfillment of ahimsa. Through the charkha, they can serve the cause of their poor sisters. By wearing khaddar, they can bring help to the homes of the poor. They can bring about Hindu-Muslim unity. They can abolish the purdah and drive away the ghost of untouchability. 11 The villages must become self-sufficient. I see no other solution if one has to work in terms of ahimsa. Now I have that conviction. I know there are others who believe in industrialization. I work with all my being for my conviction. The process of adjustment goes on all the time. I do not know what the outcome of it will be. But whatever it is, it will be to the good. 12

With regard to the first, there are two ways of dealing with the problem the apparently violent, and the non-violent. You can enforce the penalty of law against those who may infringe the laws of sanitation. I have used the word ‘apparent’ advisedly. Religious freedom, like liberty, becomes licence when it is indulged in at the expense of the health and safety of others, or in contravention of the principles of decency or morality. If you want to claim unrestricted and absolute liberty for yourselves, you must choose to retire from society and take to solitude. I call the practice of making evacuations anywhere and everywhere, regardless of the health and convenience of others, a travesty of ahimsa. Where there is filth, whether physical or moral, there is no ahimsa.  As for the nuisance of flies, mosquitoes, street dogs and monkeys, etc., I in my individual capacity may choose to put up with it, but society as a whole cannot afford to do so if it at all wants to exist. These pests are a result of our misdeeds. If I feed the monkeys in a public place and thereby make life impossible for others, it is I who commit himsa, and society will have no choice but to exterminate the pest that my himsa has created. The criterion of ahimsa is the mental attitude behind an act, not the mechanical act by itself. A citizen who lets loose pests on others by indulging in a mistaken humanitarian sentiment is guilty of himsa. 13 

I am not guilty of violence of language when I correctly characterize action. I would be guilty of violence if I harboured any ill-feeling against the Kathiawar Resident or the Jaipur Prime Minister. For ought I know, they may be most estimable men to meet, but their being estimable does not help the people of Rajkot or Jaipur. As a votary of truth and ahimsa, my business is to state the naked truth without fear but without ill will against the wrongdoers. My non-violence does not require any gilding of a bitter pill. I must, therefore, plead not guilty to the charge of racial animosity. 14 Who knows? But somehow I think it would not happen that way. I expect this visit to be brief. My relations with the Rajkot ruling family are such as to warrant a frank talk. Either the Thakore Saheb will restore the pact or he will refer me to the Resident and I shall settle it up with him in no time. The case is so clear that I do not expect any serious resistance. It will be a test of my ahimsa too. People may think that I am gone crazy in my old age to give so much importance to a small State like Rajkot. But I am made that way. When the moral fiber in me is touched to the quick I simply cannot sit still. 15

I do not want to humiliate the naked by giving them clothes of which they have no need. Instead I will give them work which they need very badly. I will never commit the sin of becoming their benefactor. But having realized that I had a hand in their ruination, I will give them a respectable place in society. I will never give them left-overs and discarded things. I will share with them my best food and clothes and help them in their work. My ahimsa will not tolerate giving free food to a healthy person who does not put in honest labour. If I had my say I would close down all charitable institutions and alms-houses. It is because of them the country has fallen and such vices as laziness, hypocrisy and crime have got encouragement. 16 The swaraj of my conception will come only when all of us are firmly persuaded that our swaraj has got to be won, worked and maintained through truth and ahimsa alone. True democracy or the swaraj of the masses can never come through untruthful and violent means, for the simple reason that the natural corollary to their use would be to remove all opposition through the suppression or extermination of the antagonists. That does not make for individual freedom. Individual freedom can have the fullest play only under a regime of unadulterated ahimsa. 17

In swaraj based on ahimsa people need not know their rights, but it is necessary for them to know their duties. There is no duty but creates a corresponding right, and those only are true rights which flow from a due performance of one’s duties. Hence rights of true citizenship accrue only to those who serve the State to which they belong. And they alone can do justice to the rights that accrue to them. Everyone possesses the right to tell lies or resort to goondaism. But the exercise of such a right is harmful both to the exerciser and society. But to him who observes truth and non-violence comes prestige, and prestige brings rights. And people who obtain rights as a result of performance of duty, exercise them only for the service of society, never for themselves. Swaraj of a people means the sum total of the swaraj (self-rule) of individuals. And such swaraj comes only from performance by individuals of their duty as citizens. In it no one thinks of his rights. They come, when they are needed, for better performance of duty. 18 

I am told the people of Jaipur have maintained peace during the Satyagraha. Let everyone remember that the individual or groups that fully observe truth and ahimsa in the pursuance of their aim are ever victorious.  As with regard to the goal so with the means, unadulterated purity is of the very essence in this species of Satyagraha. The leader in such a movement must be a man of deeply spiritual life, preferably a brahmachari whether married or unmarried. He must be a believer in as in fact everybody participating in such a movement must be and practiser of the particular religious observance for which the movement is launched. The leader must be versed in the science of Satyagraha. Truth and ahimsa should shine through his speech. All his actions must be transparent through and through. Diplomacy and intrigue can have no place in his armory. Absolute belief in ahimsa and in God is an indispensable condition in such Satyagraha. 19 So much for those who are in prison, what about those outside? They must engage in constructive work as the embodiment of the active principle of ahimsa. If it does not appeal to them, it will only betray their lack of faith in ahimsa. 20 

Let me explain to you the working of my mind in making that offer. I hold it to be an axiomatic truth that true ahimsa never fails to impress itself on the opponent. If it does, to that extent it is imperfect. All the time that I have been engaged in the Rajkot question, this question has been forcing itself upon me: ‘Why has our ahimsa failed to gain recognition from the State authorities?’ In South Africa whatever the Indians had won as a result of Satyagraha did not leave any ill-feeling behind it. For eight long years General Smuts fought uncompromisingly against the claims of the Indian community. But in the end he recognized the justice of the claims and became my lifelong friend. He helped me a great deal even in London during the Round Table Conference and had he his way he would have helped me to get everything. When the final settlement was arrived at in South Africa he had said: “I on my part had inflicted severe hardships on Gandhi’s men but they had borne them silently. How long could I inflict severities on such people?”  Do not believe that it is more difficult to win over Virawala than it was to win over General Smuts. Time and again the question arises in my mind: ‘Why what should was possible in South Africa be not possible here? Why can’t Virawala say the same thing which General Smuts had said?’ What was possible in South Africa should be possible in Rajkot too. There we were a handful of Indians pitted against the entire Boer population. Here numbers are on your side. There our fight was against a Government and the governments are always fettered by rigidity. But here you have only to gain entrance into the heart of one man. Surely there must be something seriously wrong about us and our ahimsa if we cannot do even that. I want you to put your supreme effort into this.

To say that there can be no peace in Rajkot so long as Durbar Virawala is there is to speak not the language of ahimsa but of himsa. The attribute of ahimsa is to run straight into the mouth himsa. If the cows had wisdom they would in full understanding run straight into the mouth of a lion and if they did so it is possible that the lion would lose the taste for cow’s flesh.  Capacity to convert the heart of Durbar Virawala is the acid test of your ahimsa as it is of mine. The discovery I have made after introspection is this. No matter what concessions you succeed in getting from the State authorities, it is only to the extent they are the result of a true heart-conversion on their part that you will be able to enjoy or digest them. But if you wish to launch a successful Satyagraha to win your rights, your speech must improve. If you do so, your actions and general behaviour will take a different form. Ahimsa is not the weapon of the coward. It is the highest manly effort. It is the dharma of the brave. If you wish to be a satyagrahi you should get rid of ignorance, indolence and the like. You must cultivate constant vigilance. There should not be any trace of inertia in you.

Only then can ahimsa function. When you have imbibed true ahimsa, your speech, action and general behaviour will reflect love and willy-nilly your enemies will have to recognize it.  I can understand ahimsa inspiring a kind of fear, the sort of fear that a mother feels when her child gets offended and goes to sleep hungry. But genuine Satyagraha should never excite contempt in the opponent even when it fails to command regard or respect. This is not super-refinement on my part. Satyagraha is nothing if not a ceaseless quest after perfection. A satyagrahi therefore turns the searchlight inward relentlessly to weed out the defects that may be lying hidden there still. Thereby he increases his capacity to serve the cause he has espoused a thousand fold. Tell me if this definition of ahimsa is beyond you and you are free to choose your own path. I will render all possible help from outside.  I have asked you always to rely upon your own inner strength instead of banking upon outside help. But I now want you to go a step further and wish to see a different kind of strength in you.

You must now cease to look for guidance from without. Satyagraha should become to you an independent inspiration. It should be intolerable for you and me both that you should depend in every little thing on my advice. I am therefore going away, throwing the whole burden on you. You must make a firm resolve that you will now arrive at a settlement according to your inner light and conviction and that, too, with Durbar Virawala, not without him. Now you will have to make your choice between ahimsa and himsa. You may drop ahimsa if you find that it does not suit you or is likely to make cowards of you. I only wish that you should never become cowards. It is possible that some day you will come to learn pure ahimsa from disciplined himsa. But it is a dangerous condition if you, like Trishanku, keep on hanging in mid air between himsa and ahimsa. The country is also faced with this same problem as you are. You should solve it for yourself immediately. If you cling to ahimsa, that ahimsa should not be the one bequeathed by me but should originate from independent inspiration. But if you decide to follow the path of ahimsa, then you should know that it will be an empty name unless it aims at the conversion of the heart of the opponent.  Ahimsa must express itself through acts of selfless service of the masses. I cannot think of a better symbol of it or medium for its expression than the spinning-wheel. Ahimsa is a science. The word ‘failure’ has no place in the vocabulary of science. Failure to obtain the expected result is often the precursor to further discoveries. It is in that spirit that you should approach and pursue your present mission. 21

Agonizing experiences of the fifteen days have resulted in my making the discovery that my ahimsa should be voted down as failure if the Thakore Saheb and Durbar Shri Virawala were to feel that they had to give anything under pressure from above. My ahimsa demanded that I should remove that feeling. And so when the opportunity came to me, I tried to assure Durbar Shri Virawala that I took no delight in invoking the assistance of the Paramount Power. Apart from ahimsa, my connection with Rajkot should impose that restraint on me. I assured him that my spontaneous offer to Mr. Gibson was an effort in that direction. He immediately retorted: “But if you are not satisfied with His Highness’s Committee’s report, you claim the right to scrutinize the report in the light of the Notification, and if the Parishad dissents you want to have the report and the dissent to be examined by the Hon. the Chief Justice of India.  There was bitterness in his speech and contempt for the Parishad people. But with the sudden consciousness of my imperfect handling of ahimsa, instead of carrying the blow, I recognized the force of his argument as showing want of faith in the essential goodness of human nature and littleness of my own belief in ahimsa. And so our conversation went on and covered many proposals. But it was inconclusive.

I was no nearer solution of the tangle. Nevertheless, I parted with the feeling that we had come to know each other better, and that in trying to woo Durbar Shri Virawala I was on the right track and so I presented this new line of approach to my co-workers. They had more than once told me that Durbar Shri Virawala was the source of all the evil that had descended upon Rajkot and that his removal would mean for they full swaraj. I had no difficulty in showing them that what they were thinking of was good government, not self-government. At this meeting, which only took place yesterday, I told them that if they accepted my explanation of ahimsa, they would have to set their heart not on getting rid of Durbar Shri Virawala, but on converting him. This they could do only if they would set about finding his good points and working at them. They must develop infinite faith in the capacity of ahimsa to neutralize every person of himsa. True ahimsa lay in running into the mouth of himsa. If cows could be credited with intelligence, it is conceivable that given a sufficient number of such cows who would run into the tiger’s mouth; the latter would lose the relish for cow flesh and change his nature. They must, therefore, shed their fear of Durbar Shri Virawala and their disbelief in the power of ahimsa to achieve the seemingly impossible.  22

Why is it so difficult to discover the points of agreement? The royal road of non-violence consists of mutual trust and willingness to understand another’s point of view with an unprejudiced mind. In this connection I take up once again the matter of that circular. I have read it again. The central point in it is the same. The central point is the Sardar. Many people have a feeling that the Sardar does not work properly. Deep down in their hearts they feel that he has been unfair in the cases of Nariman, Khare and Subhas. But they should frankly express themselves. This is the inviolable dharma of the votaries of ahimsa. This is our dharma in relation to the whole world. If we feel distrust or anger for anybody, it is our duty to go straight to that person and understand his point of view. We should remember two statements from the Bible. In the matter of morality the word of the Bible or any other scripture should be considered as authentic as that of the Vedas. One of these statements is: “Agree with thine adversary quickly” and the other statement is: “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath”. To me these utterances are as precious as anything in the Vedas. This is the very root of ahimsa. Indeed ahimsa has to rush into the mouth of himsa. If you feel that the Sardar has been unfair to Subhas Babu, unfair to Nariman and unfair to Khare, let me say that the blame for the Khare affair and the Nariman affair lies with me. I am not saying this to protect the Sardar. I am making a statement of fact. But it is now irrelevant. I call myself a seeker of truth, a speaker to truth and a satyagrahi. I will not therefore deliberately give support to those resorting to injustice. But if you have anything against the Sardar in your hearts, you should go and speak to him. If you are not satisfied with his explanation or if there is still something rankling in your heart, it becomes your duty to relieve the Sardar from the Sangh. Thereby he would not cease to belong to the Gandhi Seva Sangh. I freed myself from the Congress and continued to serve the Congress. Your relieving the Sardar from the Sangh would not mean that you have become his enemies or he has become your enemy. 23 

Eighteen days have elapsed since I discussed with you the new line of approach to the Rajkot question. The passage of time has confirmed my opinion. I confess I was guilty of impatience when I wrote to Mr. Gibson about the interminable delays and to the Bhayats about their suggestion to refer to the Chief Justice the meaning of my assurance to them. Such impatience reflects little credit on my ahimsa. My legal position was correct. But ahimsa does not go by legal rights. I have now realized that I must be content to plod on with infinite patience. It is no mango trick that can be performed in the twinkling of an eye. It calls for a more potent force even than civil disobedience, viz., the application of the active principle that lies at the core of ahimsa. This is the new light that I sense I have seen. I see it but dimly. And I am therefore unable to define it.  My ahimsa tells me that I must tear up the Award. But the reason is not yet fully convinced. ‘What is the meaning of not seeking aid from the Paramount Power,’ I argue to myself, ‘when you are trying to secure the co-operation of Durbar Shri Virawala and the Thakore Saheb? Are they not all parts of one and the same system?’ Thus I am caught in the net of my own reasoning. All this I know is a sign of lack of faith on my part. 24

Having read the reply more than once, I must say that I see no reason to change the opinion I expressed in my article. It is highly probable that, as the writer says, “a Jewish Gandhi in Germany, should one arise, could function for about five minutes and would be promptly taken to the guillotine”. But that will not disprove my case or shake my belief in the efficacy of ahimsa. I can conceive the necessity of the immolation of hundreds, if not thousands, to appease the hunger of dictators who have no belief in ahimsa. Indeed the maxim is that ahimsa is the most efficaci

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