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



Analogy and Mahatma Gandhi 



I remember an analogy. If there is any dirt in milk, it is easily noticed, while the filth in a dirty article is not so easily noticed. Non-Brahmins have set such a high ideal for Brahmins that any lapses on their part immediately attract attention. Personally, I would say that this very fact of small lapses of Brahmins being magnified is a testimony to their worth. I have not heard of any community in any country which has done tapascharya in the same measure as the Brahmins have done. And, therefore, I tell my non- Brahmin friends to exercise discrimination in judging the faults of Brahmins, and not commit suicide by non-co-operating with them. 1 An analogy has been cited in justification of it, viz., that a mother, after removing stools, does not touch anything without taking a bath. But in this instance the mother herself does not wish to touch anything and, if we sought to enforce such a rule in respect of Bhangis, nobody will object. By treating Bhangis and others as untouchables, we only tolerate filth and breed diseases. If we look upon untouchables as touchables, we shall see to it that that limb of ours remains clean. 2

Moreover, it is a farfetched analogy to compare the drink habit with education. In the matter of education, it is a conflict of ideals, and non-co-operation is for this generation a new ideal, Where as in the matter of drink, the conflict is between abstinence and a recognized vice. A young lad considers it a virtue to go to a Government college; a drinker knows drinking to be an evil habit. The educated youth read newspapers, know all the arguments for and against. Visitors to liquor shops read nothing, and not being in the habit of attending meetings, hear nothing. Picketing, therefore, in the case of colleges and schools was not only superfluous, but in the manner it was carried out, constituted a sort of violence utterly unjustified in any event, and for a non-cooperator a breach of his pledge. I am glad, therefore, that the picketing stopped, if it did, as a result of my severe criticism. 3

Reverting to the analogy of the army, those divisions that watch and wait are just as much co-operating actively as the division that is actually fighting. The only time, whilst the experiment is going on, that individual civil disobedience may be resorted to simultaneously, is when the Government obstructs even the silent prosecution of swadeshi. Thus if an order of prohibition is served upon an expert spinner going to teach or organize spinning, that order should be summarily disregarded and the teacher should court imprisonment. But in all other respects, in so far as I can judge at present, it will be best for every other part of India scrupulously to respect all orders and instructions whilst one part is deliberately taking the offensive and committing a deliberate breach of all the unmoral state laws it possibly can Needless to add that any outbreak of violence in any other part of India must necessarily injure and may even stop the experiment. The other parts will be expected to remain immovable and unperturbed, even though the people within the area of experiment may be imprisoned, riddled with bullets or otherwise ill-treated by the authorities. We must expect them to give a good account of themselves in every conceivable circumstance. 4

The better analogy for my purpose is that of anti-septic and aseptic treatment. The two cannot be applied at the same time and on the same patient. But the surgeons belonging to the two schools may try their methods on different patients likely to submit to them and can do so without hampering each other. 5 The analogy drawn by the first writer from false teeth seems to me to be inapplicable. False teeth are indeed artificial and unnatural but they may serve a necessary purpose. Whereas artificial methods are like antidotes taken by a man who wants to eat not for satisfying hunger but for pleasing the palate. Eating for the sake of pleasure is a sin like animal indulgence for the sake of it. 6 

Nor is the correspondent happy in his analogy. I have asked that a Panchama should be regarded as a Shudra because I hold that there is no warrant for belief in a fifth case. A Panchama does the work of a Shudra and he is, therefore naturally classified as such when he ceases to be regarded as a Panchama. I do believe that this constant confusion between untouchability and Varnashram and attack on the latter in the same breath as the former retards the progress of reform regarding untouchability. 7 Now, the analogy of the surgeon is wrong because he is concerned merely with the body. He operates on the body to benefit the body. His science ignores the soul. Who can say how many bodies have been repaired by surgeons at the expense of the soul? But the revolutionary destroys the body for the supposed benefit of the adversary’s soul. In the first instance, I do not know a single revolutionary who has ever thought of the adversary’s soul. His single aim has been of benefit the country even though the adversary may perish, body and soul. In the second instance, since you believe in the Law of Karma, a compulsory destruction of a body merely paves the way for the creation of a tougher body for the same soul. For the man whose body is destroyed will weave for himself a body after his own longing. That, to my mind, is the meaning of the persistence of evil and the crimes we see about us. The more we punish, the more persistent crimes become. They may change colour, but the substance is the same. The way to serve the adversary’s soul is to appeal to the soul. It defies destruction, but it is amenable to appeals tuned to the required pitch. Souls must react upon souls. And since non-violence is essentially a quality of the soul, the only effective appeal to the soul must lie through non-violence. And do we not arrogate to ourselves infallibility when we seek to punish our adversaries? Let us remember that they regard us to be as harmful to society as we regard them. It is idle to drag in the name of Krishna. Either we believe him to be the very God or we do not. If we do, we impute to him omniscience and omnipotence. Such a one can surely destroy. But we are puny mortals ever erring and ever revising our views and opinions. We may not without coming to grief ape Krishna, the inspirer of the Gita. You should remember too that the so-called Christians of the middle Ages thought exactly as you believe revolutionaries think. They burnt heretics for the benefit of the latter’s souls. We of today laugh at the atrocious folly of these ignorant so-called Christians of the middle Ages. We now know that the inquisitors were wrong, their victims were totally innocent. 8

No, but that analogy cannot be carried to the human platform because man is man, whether he believes in spinning or in Council obstruction, whether he believes in the cult of the tyrant and the slave or in the brotherhood of man. 9 I have not understood what the correspondent has in mind in the veiled reference he has made to the subject of association with women. The point did not become clear to me even after I had read the whole letter. But one can guess a little from the analogy the writer has used. I have no doubt that seeking women’s company for its own sake is sinful and reprehensive. Workers who are guilty of this can render little service to the people. But association with women in the ordinary course of public work is unavoidable and, therefore, to be accepted. We have kept women very much suppressed. They have lost their womanhood. A woman has a right to go out of her home in order to serve; it is her duty to do so. As day by day women come to take greater part in our movement, we shall see more and more men and women coming together in meetings. This seems to me quite a normal situation. 10 

The Irish analogy does not take us very far. It is perfect in so far as it enables us to realize the necessity of economic co-operation. But Indian circumstances being different, the method of working out cooperation is necessarily different. For Indian distress every effort at co-operation has to centre round the charkha if it is to apply to the majority of the inhabitants of this vast peninsula 1,900 miles long and 1,500 broad. Sir Gangaram may give us a model farm which can be no model for the penniless Indian farmer, who has hardly two to three acres of land which every day runs the risk of being still further cut up. 11 The analogy is dangerous. What seems to answer in the United States may not in India? But subject to that caution, I suppose the final constitution would be a free and healthy union amongst the different provinces to be formed on a linguistic basis. 12 

This is one out of many received by me pressing me to accept the invitation from America. My reason is simple. I have not enough self-confidence to warrant my going to America. I have no doubt that the movement of non-violence has come to stay. I have no doubt whatsoever about its final success; but I cannot give an ocular demonstration of the efficacy of non-violence. Till then, I feel that I must continue to preach from the narrower Indian platform. There is no analogy between the illustrations cited and my case. But in any case the Prophet and the Swami felt the call. I do not as yet. 13 Let us first examine the analogy of the snake-bite before considering the argument advanced. An analogy is always a little dangerous because two things are rarely, if ever, similar in all respects. And if there is absence of similarity in the essentials, the analogy cannot hold and becomes misleading. In snake-bite, there is hope of revival, the doctor has not declared the person dead; and if the body is cremated there can be no question of removing the poison. Therefore it is sometimes considered advisable to keep the body for two or three days for we do not have the power to recreate a body which has been burnt. But in the case of the so-called national school which I want should either be reformed or closed down, there will not be any of these three considerations to be taken into account, that is to say, there will be no possibility of its acquiring a national character. It is desirable that a school which has been pronounced dead after examination by a doctor and which being the creation of man can be revived, should be closed down.

The continuance of these schools results in the spread of falsehood among us; money collected in the name of national schools is spent on these pseudo-national schools which is a betrayal of the trust of the donors; and the true national schools suffer in the estimation of the people because they are led to judge them from what they see in these pseudo-national schools. Those who collect funds for them lose their credit and money being received in the name of national schools stops coming in. If there are to be such undesirable results, it is better to take up a real national school, however small, and concentrate all our attention on it to make it a success. It would behoove us and there will be truth and practical sense in it. Just as no construction work is possible out of bricks made of sand spice together somehow, and if we continue with it there is greater burden and loss, an increase in the number of these so-called national schools merely adds to our burden and harms our cause. In the event of tide we can easily multiply the number of national schools even if there is only one true national school. But to produce anything good from a large number of schools national in name only is an utter impossibility. Not only that, if the need for national schools does arise at some future date, the first thing we shall have to do then will be to try to put an end to these pseudo-national schools. 14

 In the first instance, they have chosen a bad analogy. I do not know that people are afraid to approach me or to touch me. On the contrary, whenever I travel, I am embarrassed by the over-attention of crowds wanting to touch me. They will not leave me alone even while I am taking my bath. 15

You will notice the flaw in your analogy. You compare duty towards the ward with your duty towards moral welfare of the assailant. Now the moral welfare of the assailant is not at stake when you are defending the ward. It is his physical existence that is at stake. And, if instead of the assailant being a stranger, it was another ward, but stronger than the one then under your protection, you would still have to defend the one under your protection against the other ward who is about to assail the former and whom you have no other means of overcoming. God will judge your duty in accordance with your intentions. Indeed, one may go a step further and assume the one who is to be protected not to be a ward, but an utter stranger who has sought protection. There is a beautiful tale in the Mahabharata. A great prince had a pigeon flying to him for protection against a hawk. The hawk feels that the pigeon is his lawful prey duly appointed as such by God. The prince wards him off by saying that whilst pigeons ordinarily were a lawful prey for hawks, he cannot neglect the obvious duty of protecting those who sought his protection and the prince generously offered his own flesh as substitute. This, of course, is the most spiritual method of dealing with the hawk. But where one is too weak to adopt that method, one would be bound to carry out the law of protection by resisting the approach of the hawk by force. And this one would do in accordance with the law of ahimsa. I don’t know whether I have made my position clear. 16 

Moreover, physical analogies when applied to spiritual matters are good only up to a certain point. When you take up an analogy from Nature, you can stretch it only to a certain point. But I would take an illustration from the physical world and explain what I mean. If I want to hand a rose to you, there is definite movement. But if I want to transmit its scent, I do so without any movement. The rose transmits its own scent without a movement. Let us raise a step higher, and we can understand that spiritual experiences are self-acting. Therefore, the analogy of preaching sanitation, etc., does not hold good. If we have spiritual truth, it will transmit itself. You talk of the joy of a spiritual experience and say you cannot but share it. Well, if it is real joy, boundless joy, it will spread itself without the vehicle of speech. In spiritual matters we have merely to step out of the way. Let God work His way. If we interfere, we may do harm. Good is a self-acting force. Evil is not, because it is negative force. It requires the cloak of virtue before it can march forward. 17

Great confusion has been created by tearing the much abused expression ‘Dominion Status’ from its context. It is not an elixir of life to be imported from Westminster to put life into us. The expression has been used by the distinguished authors of the Report to show by analogy what in their opinion is needed for India’s political growth. The scheme of government adumbrated in the Report, whether it is known by the expression Dominion Status or any other, whilst it may fully answer our needs today, may easily fall short of them tomorrow. But it contains its own corrective. For it is a scheme to be worked out by the nation, not one to be imposed upon or thrown at her by Britain. If it fructifies, it contains all we need for future growth; hence I call it the Charter of our Independence. 18 

I do believe that there is much room yet for simplicity in our life at the Mandir. But I see that Kishorelal’s analogy is incomplete. The children in Ville Parle may be living in great simplicity, but they are not imprisoned by the chain of rules and may, therefore, be looked upon as living without self-control. Theirs is enforced simplicity. The labourers living near the Ashram live in still grater simplicity, but their simplicity has no value. Though you and I take milk every day, we deliberately abstain from using many other things which are available to us and, therefore, our life is simpler than that of the labourers. This is the principle of the matter. If, however, we get conceited because of this and believe ourselves on a higher pedestal, we shall fall. Our duty is to emulate the involuntary simplicity of our friends, the labourers, and, till we have succeeded in reaching the ideal, to nurse the purer type of discontent in regard to ourselves. 19

Here the analogy of the cat and the mouse ends. The mouse has no capacity in him to alter his nature. A human being, however debased or fallen he may be, has in him the capacity of rising to the greatest height ever attained by any human being irrespective of race or colour. Therefore even whilst I may go with my countrymen a long way in satisfying their need for preparation for war, I should do so in the fullest hope of weaning them from war and of their seeing one day its utter futility. Let it be remembered that the largest experiment known to history in mass non-violence is being tried by me even as I seem to be lending myself for the purpose of war. For want of skill the experiment may fail, but the war-resister in Europe should strain every nerve to understand and appreciate the phenomenon going on before him in India of the same man trying the bold experiment in non violence whilst hobnobbing with those who would prepare for war. 20

The South African analogy you have quoted is improper. What you regard as generous action was really necessary action in terms of non-violence. In order to show that my fight was not intended to embarrass the Government or to seize power I was bound in pursuance of non-violence to suspend the struggle in order to show that I had no sympathy with the Europeans who were bent on embarrassing the Government to the point of making it so powerless as to enable them to seize the reins themselves. Occasions here for what you would call generosity occurred at the time of the Delhi Settlement and are occurring whilst the Settlement is being worked and it would delight your heart if you knew how every such occasion has been fully availed of. And even with reference to the present unemployment in England, many a generous gesture is possible but none is possible if it means continuance of injury to India or fresh injury. If England ceased to think imperially, if India came to her own and instead of being a dependency of England became a real partner or ally, England could get preferential treatment in hundreds of things, which an awakened India on her road to prosperity would require from the West. If therefore Lancashire cannot keep all its labour going through spinning and weaving mills working for other markets, it should find out some other use for it. Lastly, remember that even if there was no boycott of foreign cloth and open competition Japan would outdistance Lancashire as it is already doing. 21

I honour Mr. Phillips for his question. I don’t want to prevent by legislation or force the work of converting, but I wish I could convince Mr. Phillips and other missionaries that in my own humble opinion it is an erroneous way. He has used my analogy of the rose. He says that the missionaries have to take as it were a rose to the untouchables. I would call him a walking rose, and he does not need to be anything more. He does not need to talk about God because these men would be able to see God somewhere written in him and in his conduct, just as, if the rose were planted in front of the pariah’s house, it would silently spread its scent. The rose would not have to speak; neither would the Christian missionary have to speak. If Mr. Phillips thinks that before he can come to the help of the untouchables, he must bring the message of God, or the message of the Bible to the untouchables, and done much work of this kind. They do not understand his language. They understand me better because I speak their language. I speak to them about their degraded condition. I do not speak about God. I feel that I take the message of God to them in this particular manner just as to a starving man I take the message of God through the bread I give him. I have no axe to grind. I must not exploit him; I just give him the bread. If I want to convey God to the untouchable I must take Him in the way that he needs. I go to the untouchables and say, ‘What God can I give you unless it is what you need. 22 

Yes, I believe in the immortality of the soul. I would like to give you the analogy of the ocean. The ocean is composed of drops of water, each drop is an entity and yet it is part of the whole, ‘the one and the many’. In this ocean of life we are all little drops. My doctrine means that I must identify myself with life, with everything that lives, that I must share the majesty of life in the presence of God. The sum total of this life is God. 23 I was fully aware that the analogy of a dyer did not apply in all respects, but it was good enough for my purpose. You think that the problem of untouchability has been solved in prisons. But that is so only on paper. Nothing of the kind that you suppose is being done. I am speaking from personal observation. Whether in jails or outside, the fact is that in most parts of India and for most of the year, the Bhangi’s dress is no more than loincloth. I myself did a Bhangi’s duty continually for nearly one and-a-half years. I used to do it dressed like an ordinary labourer. In the Ashram it is done with the dhoti tucked in. A person doing Bhangi’s work does not become as much soiled as a dyer. If he does his work scientifically, he need not do anything more than clean himself with earth. You probably know that according to Smritis and Islam, such cleaning is as good as a full bath. But there are occupations in which this is not sufficient, nor is even washing with water. Soap and antiseptic medicines are required for cleaning oneself properly. Such occupations are those of the Chamar, the doctor, the dyer and the worker in a coal mine. There are many others besides these. Thus the cleanliness of Bhangis has very little part in the removal of untouchability. Think over all this very carefully. You should not lose your sense of perspective. If you wish to discuss the matter further, come and see me. 24 

You have done well in writing to me. If the analogy you have taken was correct, what you say will be quite true, but there is no analogy between a public temple and a private house. Public temples are the common property of Hindus or sects of Hindus, and members of those sects have a perfect right to regulate admission. All I claim is just that and no more, the right of the temple-goers of the existing temples to decide whether Harijans shall enter. 25 Then, Mr. Ranga Iyer, in his enthusiasm and blind affection for me, has been betrayed into an unfortunate analogy. I do not consider myself in any way fit to be compared with the Buddha. I regard myself as a very common man a poor worker, liable to all the errors mankind is prone to make. I am merely a humble truth-seeker. But the analogy is unfortunate for another reason also. Sanatanists would say that the Buddha was an atheist, and that he did not accept the authority of the Vedas and did not believe in their divinity not that as a matter of fact he was an atheist or did not believe in the Vedas. But, what he really was is not pertinent to our point. Therefore, if I am also considered an atheist or non-believer in the divinity of the Vedas, I am certainly out of court, as a reformer asking Hindus to reject modern untouchability as being wholly against Hindu Shastras regarded as a whole. 26

The fourth is an invidious question. Perhaps it is also profitless. But I must answer it, if only to show what I mean by religion. The closest, though very incomplete, analogy for religion I can find is marriage. It is or used to be an indissoluble tie. Much more so is the tie of religion. And just as a husband does not remain faithful to his wife, or wife to her husband, because either is conscious of some exclusive superiority of the other over the rest of his or her sex but because of some indefinable but irresistible attraction, so does one remain irresistibly faithful to one’s own religion and find full satisfaction in such adhesion. And just as a faithful husband does not need, in order to sustain his faithfulness, to consider other women as inferior to his wife, so does not a person belonging to one religion need to consider others to be inferior to his own. To pursue the analogy still further, even as faithfulness to one’s wife does not presuppose blindness to her shortcomings, so does not faithfulness to one’s religion presuppose blindness to the shortcomings of that religion? Indeed faithfulness, not blind adherence, demands a keener perception of shortcomings and therefore a livelier sense of the proper remedy for their removal. Taking the view I do of religion, it is unnecessary for me to examine the beauties of Hinduism. The reader may rest assured that I am not likely to remain Hindu, if I was not conscious of its many beauties. Only for my purpose they need not be exclusive. My approach to other religions, therefore, is never as a fault-finding critic but as a devotee hoping to find the like beauties in the other religions and wishing to incorporate in my own the good I may find in them and miss in mine. 27 

The analogy between meat-eating and theft or murder drawn by the correspondent in question is altogether untenable. Theft and murder, unlike meat-eating, are universally held to be crimes and are heavily punishable under the law. But even so one may not, in the hypothetical case cited above, try to wean dependents and relations from their career of theft and murder through compulsion. My correspondent must, therefore, try to convert members of his household to his view by patient argument alone, tempered by love, and pending their conversion, cultivate an attitude of the broadest tolerance and forbearance towards them. 28 The analogy of the Singer machine v. the tailor’s needle adduced by the writer is misleading. The Singer machine was intended to supplement the work of the needle. It was never intended to be introduced into every hut and home. The purpose which it was calculated to serve and which it has actually served is to increase the speed of the individual needle to such an extent as to make hand stitching a profitable whole-time avocation for the needy, unemployed of the cities. The fountain-pen has rendered an analogous service to the art of stenography, and as such it can certainly claim a place as a useful adjunct of city life. 29 

From the economic point of view it is enough to take to khadi. But if khadi is to be our weapon for winning swaraj, spinning is of equal necessity. Khadi gives us economic self-sufficiency, whereas spinning links us with the lowest paid labour. In militarized countries everyone gives a certain time for military purposes. Ours being a non-violent basis, everyone should do sacrificial spinning for a minimum period from year to year. Maulana Mohamed Ali used to call the takli and the yarn our arms and ammunition for winning swaraj. The analogy is telling. Is it too much for us to give half an hour or one hour per day to spinning as a measure of voluntary conscription? I remember, at the beginning of the last war when I was in England I was given pyjama suits to stitch for the soldiers. Many others from the most aristocratic families including some venerable old ladies and gentlemen were doing such work. We all finished our quota of work as we were required to. No one considered it beneath his or her dignity to do so. Towards the end of the war far more work was given by the whole nation. Yet no one complained. I warn you that, although today I am asking you only to give half an hour or one

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