GANDHI IN ACTION network

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

E-mail- dr.yadav.yogendra@gandhifoundation.net;

dr.yogendragandhi@gmail.com

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

 

Non-Violent Conduct and Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

The reader will naturally guess that I must have received more protests against the paragraph on Mr. Tyagi. Most of them were answered by my second reference containing my amends, but a Motihari correspondent tells me that my criticism has befogged him. He does not know what he should do in the same circumstances. I confess it is difficult to lay down an infallible rule. Cowardice, bravery, hate, love, untruth, truth are all qualifies of the heart. It is easy enough to dissemble virtue as it is difficult always for an outsider to discover it in another. The safest rule is to take men’s words at their face value till one has proof to the contrary. I judged Mr. Tyagi’s conduct as it was presented to me in its incomplete form. What our own conduct should be might be deduced from the following illustrations. Prahlad was forbidden to take the name of God. Whilst before the prohibition he was going about his way in a silent manner, now he became aggressive and drew on his head the most terrible punishment which he bore cheerfully. Daniel used to worship in secret, but when the prohibition decree was issued against him he flung open his door, worshipped God in public and was led like a lamb to the lion’s den. Hazrat Ali, who was more than a match for his adversary, kissed his hand when the latter spat upon him, and when the brave Ali felt that if he retorted it would be the retort of anger.

But I know that we possess neither the unalloyed bravery nor the godliness and therefore the true perception of these sages of old. We are not free from anger or fear. We are trying to imbibe the lesson of non-violence and learn fearlessness. Our non-violence is mixed. It is most of the weak and somewhat of the strong. The safest rule for us is to run the risk of becoming and feeling strong. Therefore when a magistrate gives me a slap, I must so act as to invite another. I must however never give any cause for the first slap. If I am rude I must apologize, if I am defiant I must be meek, if I swear I must humble myself. My conduct before the court must be punctiliously correct. Need I say that it cannot be put on and off at will? It must, in order to appear graceful, be natural. Lastly, whatever we do, we must err on the side of non-violence, if we would reach our goal in the quickest manner possible. 1

The longer Indian experience has but emphasized the truth and the beauty of non-violent conduct. It was the easiest thing for me to acerbate the authorities at Yeravda. For instance, I could have answered the Superintendent in his own coin when he made the insulting remarks described in my letter to Hakim Saheb. I would have in that case lowered myself in my own estimation and confirmed the Superintendent in his suspicion that I was a cantankerous and mischievous politician. But the experiences related in that letter were trivialities compared to what was to follow. Let me recall a few of them.  Non-violent conduct is never demoralizing, cowardice always is. I can detect no cowardice in the conduct of the volunteers. No one claims the highest form of bravery for them. The assault, it is said, was so brutal that some Mussalman women who were nearby expostulated with the assaulters for continuing their assault in spite of the apology that was tendered. If the facts are as they are related, in my opinion the conduct of the volunteers was exemplary and strictly non-violent in terms of the Congress creed. Opinions may differ as to the propriety of such conduct, but there can be no two opinions about the bravery of the volunteers. It is undoubtedly in keeping with the creed that no court proceedings have been taken by the injured parties. My own conviction is that the more the volunteers learn the law of suffering bravely and consciously, the greater will be their efficiency for service when the critical time comes. 2

Therefore I have not hesitated to remark in these columns that our non-violence has been non-violent conduct born of impotence. Hence we witness the sorry spectacle of us confessing that, though this non-violence of the weak may bring us freedom from English rule, it cannot enable us to resist foreign invasion. This fact and it is a fact shows that, if the English yield to the non-violence, miscalled, of the weak, it would prove that they had almost made up their mind to surrender power and would not hold on to it at the cost of creating frightfulness. Congressmen should not be surprised, if I would not declare civil disobedience unless I was morally certain that they had understood the full significance of non-violence and those they were carrying out the triple programme with as much zest as they would offer civil disobedience, so called. They would perhaps now understand why I call the three items of the programme essentials of non-violence. 3 

For non-violence does not consist in hiding the truth from oneself or the world; it consists in non-violent conduct towards the wrong-doer in spite of the most vivid knowledge of his misdeeds. My inculcation of non-violence has been effective because I have used almost the same adjectives as the school of violence has in describing the effects of British Rule, and showed the most effective remedy for undoing them. There is no merit in loving those who do you no ill, merit lies in being loving or being non-violent towards those who ill-use you. When I described modern civilization symbolized in imperialism as godless in Hind Swaraj I know that I had nothing but goodwill towards those who represented it. 4 Non-violent conduct requires toleration of and even generosity towards the opponent whether he is father or any other. Contrary conduct is a species of violence. Most of our difficulties arise from our ignorance. Unregulated sentiment is waste like unharnessed steam. 5

I have interpolated an examination of so-called non-violent conduct in cases of personal insult or injury. What about the child injured or the injury imagined by my correspondent? I think nonviolent conduct would not, should not, be different. The distinction that is often drawn between personal injury and injury done to wards is unjustified, if not wrong. A man is not expected to do more for his wards than he would for himself. He would no doubt sacrifice himself for his ward’s honour, but he would be expected to do likewise for his own. If he did otherwise, he would be voted a coward and is not likely to protect his ward’s honour, if he is not able to protect his own. But I own that correct non-violent conduct does not come through mere reasoning. Reason is a necessary preliminary. But correctness of conduct will come only through repeated practice, maybe even repeated failures. 6

It is interesting to hear about Mr. R.’s views. What you said was perfectly true, namely, without purity of heart real non-violence was impossible. If Mr. R. is of opinion that purity of heart is not an essential of non-violent conduct I would like to know the reason why he thinks so. That the real non-violent conduct of a person may well be followed in practice by the multitude is perfectly true. Such was my case and is today. But the prime mover has to be au fait with the science of non-violence. 7 I do wish you could see that in non-violent conduct, whether individual or universal, there is an indissoluble connection between private, personal life and public. You may be as generous and charitable as you like in judging men, but you cannot overlook private deflections from the right conduct. If you are convinced about this proposition, you should pursue my connection with Manu and if you find a flaw, try to show it to me. 8

He did not know that there was much non-violence in the air. Even nonviolent conduct could not arrest the course of law. And non-violent conduct on the part of the frightened injured party could not operate until the culprits declared themselves and were penitent. The fact was that not only was there no penitence on their part, but they were absconding. He was averse to mass arrests. And he was for severe punishment of those who were proved to have manufactured complaints. 9

 

References:

 

  1. Young India, 10-11-1921
  2. Young India, 15-5-1924
  3. Harijan, 30-12-1939
  4. Harijan, 3-2-1940
  5. Note to Anand T. Hingorani, April 6, 1941
  6. Harijan, 29-3-1942
  7. Letter to Edmond and Yvonne Privat, February 5, 1947
  8. Letter to M. K. Bose, February 7, 1947
  9. Harijan, 9-3-1947

 

 

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