Making of the Mahatma
-What events triggered the Gandhian Philosophy
-The beginning of Satyagraha and Ahimsa (Years in South Africa)
Influence of Religion
Views on Human Nature
Satyagraha and Ahimsa
-Limitation to Rationality and Violence
Movements and Methods
Conclusion : The Legacy
As one enters the renowned Mani Bhavan in Mumbai there is a particular quote referring to a certain barrister from Porbandar coming from the great scientist Albert Einstein, "Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.” Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was not merely a man of flesh and bones but a thought, an ideology that shaped the very foundations of modern day democracies. For him truth was the sovereign principle and let to the creation of his movements of Satyagraha (agitate for truth) and Ahimsa (non-violence). This essay will attempt to understand the dynamics of these two concepts, how they came about and their success not just in India but around the globe. Further conclude by understanding how the Gandhian political philosophy of agitation is still a force to be reckoned with.
Making of the Mahatma
What events triggered the Gandhian Philosophy?
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2nd October 1969 in the city of Porbandar (Gujarat). He belonged to the Bania caste. His father Karamchand was not a very educated man but was a very well respected senior civil servant and an important member of the Court that settled disputes (Rajashanik).
He attended school in Porbandar and then Rajkot, he was a mediocre student in school. In his autobiography Gandhi mentions an incident when he was in high school when the Supervisor had come and asked certain spellings and he mis-spelt the word ‘kettle’, even after being enticed to copy by the teacher Gandhi admits he could never learn the art of ‘copying’.
Another incident that captured the mind was the play ‘Harishchandra’ by a certain dramatic company. In his own words he says that the play influenced him deeply and the idea of truth as the path to eternal salvation was one that stayed with him for life.
He was married at- the age of 13 to Kasturbai who was a strong-willed woman. His early experience made him a staunch critic of the institution of child marriage. In his autobiography Gandhi states the idea of staying faithful to his wife forever did scare him and he was by his experience apprehensive of the concept of child marriage.
During his years in high school Gandhi was not fond of exercise and moreover had the responsibility to take care of his father. During these years in Rajkot he accepts falling into bad company of his fellow mate who justified eating meat as the British ate it and were strong. He began smoking and to be financially able to buy cigarettes he stole. Through a series of realisations Gandhi left these habits but was guilty inside hence wrote a letter to his father confessing. The agony of his father that he saw then was an object lesson in Ahimsa.
Gandhi was a mediocre student in high school and wanted to be a doctor. His uncle came with the idea of sending him to England to study law. At the day and time reaching England took 6 months and Kasturbai had to sell her jewellery to send him. He was called by the elders and warned if he goes to England he would be pronounced an ‘Outcaste’, he went still. The English experience as Gandhi admits made him closer to home while understanding the lifestyle of the English.While going to England he had promised his mother of abstaining from meat and alcohol which would be a herculean task but this experience is what I believe transformed Gandhi from a ‘Victorian Gentleman’ to a ‘Reformer’. It is interesting that in India he believed that eating meat was the way to be stronger than the British but in England he realised the importance of vegetarianism that revitalised the ideal of Ahimsa.
In England he read the Bhagvad Gita and The Bible that made him realise the importance of renunciation as the route of liberation and the ideals of Satya.
On returning to India after three years he had no idea of the Indian Law System, given a job by Dada Abdulla he was accidentally sent to South Africa. This is where Gandhi started looking at every difficulty as an opportunity and jumped at the chance and the discipline he learnt in England had helped him manifold.
-The Beginning of Satyagraha and Ahimsa (Years in South Africa)
Gandhi reached South Africa outcasted and professionaly wounded, it was the lowest point of his life. His first day In court he was asked to remove a turban he was wearing, he refused. This incident was his first colour prejudiced incident he has ever faced.
It was in South Africa where Gandhi saw the real face of racial abuse during the journey made from Durban to Pretoria for the purpose of work. At Maritzburg station where he was thrown out of the first class of the train as he was ‘coloured’. He sat all night in the shivering cold and in the morning decided that returning to India would be an act of weakness. It was that cold night where he decided never to use force to win a cause and with this incident evolved the concept of Satyagraha.
The waiting room where he sat was a pilgrimage journey. He decided not to go back but suffer this indignity. He says he wanted to try to root out the disease of colour prejudice and suffer in the process. He had found a cause, a cause that would develop his childhood qualities, a cause that justified his religious belief, a cause that made the man.
“I do not believe in short-violent-cuts to success. However much I may sympathise and admire worthy motives. I am an uncompromising opponent of violent methods even to serve the noblest of causes” – Gandhi (Eknath E., 1997, Pg:43)
Thirteen years later when he completely devoted himself to community service the South African government passed the ‘Black Act’. At Johannesburg Gandhi united the Indians settled there for a non-violent resistance to the end a fight for their civil rights. This put together brought all learnings and it just came to him and he began what we call ‘Satyagraha’ as a movement.
The movement spread like wild fire in South Africa. What he proposed was a method no one had used before a method of fighting in which hatred is returned by love and respect for contempt. He started the Natal Indian Congress (1893) and began the Indian Opinion (1904) for the interests of Indians in South Africa.
Having been greatly influenced by John Ruskin’s ‘Unto This Last’ he began the Phoenix Ashram near Durban, where the concept of community living was applied. Gandhi organised many protests while there like the one against Asiatic Regulation Bill (1906).
He established the Tolstoy Farm, near Johannesburg in 1910 on similar principles of the Phoenix Ashram. In 1913 he took up the cause of the 3 pound tax and passing immigration bill that had its focus of the status of married women, where Kasturbai and other Indian women were encouraged to join the struggle. During the last days in South Africa he organised a march from New Castle to Trasvaal without permit and courting arrest.
The ideals of Satyagraha and Ahimsa were followed for seven years and it worked in a foreign country against a hostile and powerful government.
A young inexperienced barrister in search of fame and fortune had reached the shores of South Africa but only to return as a Mahatma in 1915.
Influence of Religion
India is a country where most of the people are religious. The ideas of religion and spirit are within the soul of the population. Different countries are characterised by different traits for example: Britain and America are known for their political institutions, certain for their economic strides whereas India and China the two most ancient civilisations are known for their philosophy of religion.
According to Max Muller the study of religion is incomplete unless it is studied with reference to India. To quote him, "Take religion and where can you study its true origin, its natural growth, and its inevitable decay better than in India, the home of Brahmanism, the birth place of Buddhism and the refuge of zoroastrianism even now the matter of new superstitions - and why not, in the future the regenerate child of the purest faith, if only purified from the dust of nineteen centuries?"
Born on the shores of Porbandar Gandhi could not escape the realm of religion from his political life. What Gandhi devoted to was the concept of ‘spiritual humanism’, his belief of “Daridranaravana” that means to serve the poor which Gandhi has kept at top priority as a service of god.
God for Gandhi was found among the common man, his ideals were not only for Hindus and India only but rather for all humanity spread over all lands and regions. The best of all is what he gathered for society.
The way Gandhi interpreted religion was a work of vision. To him God is ‘Truth’ and a lot of emphasis was paid to this vis-à-vis his political thought. He does not deny the existence of ‘atheist’ people but even for them to deny the power of truth is not acceptable.
The word ‘Dharma’ as has been interpreted in the Hindu religion is actually much different than what it means for a country. In the Hindu belief ‘Dharma’ curtails a scope much wider than just religion. The ends that the word has is to finally garner mutual trust and fellowship of men that will unite them together as one. The word originates from ‘Dhre’ that is to ‘sustain’ i.e. sustaining the force that unites us. It is not merely connected to one sole religion but it is an interest of all. We have seen Gandhi striving all his life for the unity of Hindu and the Muslims, he took it upon himself to make us understand the duty of each individual to respect the culture of other and live in harmony and brotherhood.
Gandhi was a Sanatani Hindu. He did not just follow his religion blindly but spoke of it highly, he believed that it was a religion of tolerance and liberal views. Gandhi said, "The chief value of Hinduism lies in holding the actual belief that all life is one i.e. all life coming from one universal source, call it Allah, God or Parameshwara."(www.mkgandhi.org/religionmk) Gandhi was very inspired by the Gita in his life and it showed in his ideals. Even after being a Hindu he did not follow the ill practices that the religion propagates and did condemn it such as the caste hierarchy. He agreed that even Hinduism or any religion for that matter faults and limitations. He was not afraid to criticise animal sacrifice even though the Vedas had propagated it but it was shunned on the basis of non-violence.
Gandhi agrees that today we live in the Kali Yuga which is the age of darkness and we are very far from the ideal situation. But he does realise that Ram Rajya is unattainable at the moment due to materialistic temptations. The members of society must realise that Kali Yuga is ‘satanic’ and work towards achieving Ram Rajya.
Gandhi always believed in god being one and even though they have a thousand names. Allah for islam, Christ for Christians, Shiva or Rama for Indians but he said that there is only one god who is present everywhere we just call him in the names familiar to us.
Islam has influenced Islam as well as kept high stature for the religion. He understood Islam as a religion of love and brotherhood. Gandhi believed that what the fanatics propagated was not in accordance of Koran because several verses in the Koran speak of religious tolerance. The place of Jihad is Islam is given rationale to Gandhi by quoting the conditions laid down by Jihad, it is so rigorous that not everyone can follow it. He quoted the Koran about the idea of love and kindness is before the idea of drawing a sword where is that happening? He believes humans are too selfish to go a conflict for god.
The socio-cultural codes provided in Islam also left an impression. Certain aspects such as respecting elders, not committing crime, no cheating influenced him a great deal plus the five pillars of Islam were a great deal of learning for Mahatma Gandhi.
Christianity influenced Gandhi apart from Hinduism and Islam in his days in London. Christ was a crucial figure in his life and the concept of his death to purify the sins of humanity and an influence on his political thought. The teaching of the Sermon “You have heard that it hath been said: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you not to resist evil; but if one strikes thee on thy right cheek, turn to him thy other also” (www.mkgandhi.org/religionmk) had an impact which has been a quote all Indians have been referring to since ages and was the basis of satyagraha that believed in conquering evil by good.
Even though Christianity was loved by Gandhi because love was the central concept but he was hesitant of the superiority that Christians claimed to have over other religions of the world. He was against conversion of religion and not appreciative of the missionary activities. He was not against conversion by will it is the ones by force he was against.
The progress of a religion is based upon how one has realised his inner spirit and the devotion to daily life. The church, mosque, temple are just symbols to grow the faith but what needs to be worked upon is the inner spirit. The great religions should promote a life that involves self-control, sacrifice, brotherhood and peace. He believed that no religion should strive to win over the other but take the best out of all. Find the essence of your own and grow according to it.
There is no need for new religions in the world what is a necessity is for people to discover truth in their own religion and be bold enough to accept the same for other religions. Then will the world realise that how all religions can live in harmony, religion can then be a unifying force rather than a divisive one. The human spirit has the capability in it to the needful because the power of spirit has no boundary.
Views on human nature
The take of Mahatma Gandhi on the human nature was his basis for his ideas for the modern civilisation. The polity and social ethics that Gandhi devoted his utmost devotion to was on the basis of the ‘Perfectibility’ of man. He explains how a human is, how perversion in the ideals of a human take place and how he can overcome this to attain actualisation.
He explains the process and says that there is in a human the trait of being brute and having no self-control in the beginning but it is this very stage that teaches them the art of control. The path from beast to man is a product of renunciation. There is no human that is inherently brute and no human who cannot be altered with love and kindness. A man is as close to actualisation as much as he thinks of the good of other beings over himself.
of all without the rule of self is deceptive and
disappointing, as a painted toy mango."
Most of the assumptions of human nature by Gandhi comes from his interpretation of religion and god. He believes in the spirit that never dies and makes the real individual. In his view a human is a spirit in essence and curtails in him what takes to rise evil. The soul is not a physical entity and has spiritual backing hence what he concludes is that humans are united in spirit which he explains beautifully when he says that rays fall on different parts of the earth but the source always remains the sun. Humans may be different in their approach, personality, characteristics but they possess the same divine spirit that comes from God which is one for all.
He often quoted Mohammeden: "Man is not God; but neither is he different from the light (or spark) of God” (http://www.manasjournal.org/, 1962)
There is a difference between the soul and the body, the soul in non-violent and it stands for all the good human qualities. At a spiritual level evil is unexplainable but at the individual level it is a result of our past tendencies i.e. ‘Sanskaars’.
The faith that Gandhi has in the innate goodness of man has never been seen in any political philosopher. He explains the phenomena by the example of how a mother keeps a child in her womb and takes on the pain that pregnancy has for the sake of the child without one hesitation. How a father sacrifices the pleasures in his life to make the child and educated man and takes of him from bad influence and evils of society. The human civilisation is surviving due to qualities like these. Man has come a long way from an ancient cannibal to a nomad to a civilised being that we see him as today and takes as reference to prove that man in inherently good. One human losing spirituality is a setback for all of mankind and unconsciously everyone is working towards spiritual gains.
Everyone has some inherent qualities and limitation. Therefore an individual should not be a slave to his habits which he admits that human beings are but a person of will can be developed to a level where the exploitation level becomes non-existent and the idea of self-rule can be achieved. The struggle to survive must be changed with the idea of providing service to others. An individual’s true conquest is not the external but the internal i.e. self.
"I am an irrepressible optimist . . .
My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite
possibilities of the individual to develop nonviolence." (http://www.manasjournal.org/, 1962)
If compared to Rousseau, Gandhi never thought that social institution and a thinking man are perverted rather it developed his ‘Sanskaar’. He beleieved that sinfulness in a human is in the mind and needs to be dealt with at that level via psychological regeneration. A man must be striving for a higher self via spiritual and moral remaking almost daily. This will lead him to self-purification. He said that ‘sadhana’, ‘seva’ and the grace of god are the means to the end. Satya (truth) has to be attained by adopting fully the idea of ahimsa (non-violence) by the following three ways:
1) Will to root out evil
2) Constructive work
3) Having basic relations on the basis of ahimsa.
In the political sense Gandhi used ahimsa to make an impression on the opponent, he always appealed to the ‘satvik’ and divine in man. He always tried to touch the soul (aatman) of man. His assumption of man being spirit provides the basis for his oneness (unity) of human kind. Which further leads him to a belief that as spirit is equal in all therefore each one can achieve the same as the other can.
The idea should be on the focus of spirit and morality because finally mankind depends on the religious aspect in them and their hearts i.e. responsible for all the socio-political aspects and events.
The final step for everyone is to be one with the almighty. All the political and social events and activities that he has performed have been unconsciously with the guidance of God. Most important in the is the welfare of society, to understand god we have to see god in its very own creations i.e. humanity.
The virtue of reason in man takes over the feelings while the soul has not been awakened yet. To awaken the soul is to open your heart, to reason and to learn to distinguish between good and evil.
He realises that the environment plays the major role in what we are born influences our personality and ideas and is far from being ignored. What is interesting to note here is that the inherent goodness of man comes back into the picture and he believes the capability of self-direction is in them. It is a matter of pride to come over these adverse circumstances and make then sub serve him.
who understands the doctrine of self-help blames
himself for failure." (K.S. Bharti, 1991)
He gives an example of the Kali Yuga where the practices followed had become progressively worse and the mind of man was ahead of these, therefore this practice has been able to keep pace with his mind.
Giving a moral judgement of your own actions was essential for self-direction. Everyone has conflicts on deciding between wrong and right and self-realisation may go the other way sometimes wrong is believed and in the mind rationale is provided for it. But the progress made by reason that happens is where eventually man will discover between wrong and right. Not always will man be able to make distinction between right and wrong but it’s the conviction to rise above brute in the moral and spiritual sense that differentiates us from beasts. In a moment of doubt when the best of human nature is displayed and understood.
Satyagraha and Ahimsa
The Gandhian approach was developed on the basis of his experiences and experiments, these very ideals went on to be his ideology. His search for truth was intense. The concept of Satyagraha is condition of social, economic, political and cultural had influenced his life and characteristics of Gandhi.
The Supreme Law has a hold of all living things and the world should be nothing except love and harmony according to Gandhi. His belief that the start of all religions are in the realm of love.
Gandhi has devoted all his life to tackle injustice and racial discrimination first in South Africa then India including the social evils existing in his own home, he often thought how a moral and educated person handles these struggles. What Gandhi got was a procedure to exert and unleash the soul via the force of truth.
The campaigns taken out by Gandhi on the ideals of non-violence or Satyagraha proved to be very efficient and have been followed at a lot of other scenarios.
In the works of Gandhi we have often seen the use of the words ‘Ahimsa’ and ‘Satyagraha’ ample amount of times but they do not mean the same. Ahimsa is a way ahead to be applied in the process of Satyagraha that is the method to be applied in socio-political situations. Ahimsa is a product of Jain and Buddhist text whereas Satyagraha is a term coined by Gandhi on his own. As stated earlier the Satyagraha way was experimented by Gandhi in South Africa.
Ahimsa is the central concept of the Gandhian ideals. Non-violence is the English translation of the word ‘Ahimsa’. Ahimsa means non-injury, non-harm or inoffensiveness. Ahimsa requires the follower to respect all life.
Gandhi never could clearly define the stages of ahimsa which have been done by Lord Mahavir, Buddha, Moses and Christ. What Ahimsa seeks is the equal treatment and respect to all religions, it is a matter of the soul rather than the physical entity i.e. our body. It has been mentioned in our Hindu scriptures where it curtails a very generalised meaning of no harm but what Gandhi has added to it is the connect with love that has not been seen before.
Ahimsa does not mean no action rather it is passive resistance which is influenced by many sources to quote a few: Hinduism where it is directed at an individual party and Christianity that aims at purifying sins of the world. These concepts are of great importance for the formation of Satyagraha.
According to Aldous Huxley: “Non-violence does not mean doing nothing. It means making the enormous efforts required to overcome evil.” (DR S.A. Bari, 1963) Gandhi took Truth as the supreme virtue and for him truth without non-violence is no truth. Hence the realisation of Ahimsa was essential to realise Satya.
Non-violence as stated is an approach of a person with a developed soul and when put in practice we get Satyagraha. The movement may be weak but the idea and the reason should be strong which allows one to be calm and exercise control even in the most difficult situations.
Gandhi’s devotion to non-violence is so rigid that he said he would die himself before committing ahimsa. Once in 1917 a snake crawled up his Ashram he still wasn’t killed because ahimsa believes in not even killing the leaves of a tree.
Not believing in violence is not merely non-violence it has a lot more to it. Ahimsa is the active dissatisfaction from untruthful means that is not replied to by any force, anger or malice, this behaviour must be presented to all creations of god and man. Gandhi saw around him the destruction and violence so therefore he created a force higher than that of destruction one that does not seek to reply violence with violence rather with love.
He goes back to his religious faith in saying that “Truth is God” rather than “God is Truth” therefore unshakable faith in god is a must. To him Ahimsa was a means and truth the actual end. A violent man relies on his sword a non-violent man on God.
Suffering aimlessly is not Ahimsa it is a concept that has a dynamic approach. To suffer injustice is as bad as to be unjust. Plus the suffering shall have no personal interest and no ill will in the soul shall exist.
Hence non-violence and truth are the most active force in the world. Violent methods have limitations but non-violent means win all the time. Means are as important as the end to Gandhi. The rationale behind of the means is as important as the movement. The approach should not be eye for an eye.
Strength is inherent in the non-violent as cowardice is in the violent, the want of love and the insecurities of a human pushes us towards violence that is why his utmost belief was that non-violence trumps violence in every battle. The victory that violence garners is momentary and leave a legacy of hatred where on the other hand non-violence struggle will always leave a legacy of love. In the language of Gandhi daya(Mercy) and ahimsa are as close as synonyms. Mercy is the physical manifestation of Ahimsa.
Non-violence is not reserved rishis and saints rather it is the duty of every common man. A non-violence meeting non-violence is not an issue the issue is when it meets violence the real problem occurs where the resolve of a person is tested. Gandhi believes that ahimsa paralyses violence.
According to Gandhi ahimsa does not fail. Here he goes back to his take on human nature and relies too much on the goodness of human nature he believes that wickedness is not a quality inherited in men rather it is gifted with the faculty to differentiate between the right and the wrong if this faculty develops itself into full force it would surely cultivate into non-violence. Himsa is not taught, man without the faculty of reasoning is violent but when his soul opens he cannot remain violent.
There could be different forms of non-violence according to Gane Sharp such as- non resistance, active reconciliation, moral resistance, peaceful resistance, non-violent direct action, Satyagraha and non-violent revolution. Gandhi is very hopeful about the potential of non-violence and the potential his weapon possesses.
“By introducing the new technique of non-violent non-cooperation, he put out of action all revolutionaries ad terrorists, all legalists and constitutionalists at one stroke.” (DR S.A. Bari, 1963)
The Gokahles, Besants and Dases when Gandhian methods took over became out of date and the extremist movement was rapidly replaced by non-violence. Non-violence has such an adverse effect on the rival which is why the mass support with Gandhi was created with such an unparalleled effect.
He experimented non-violence with both the English and His Indian comrades, with training he firmly put his faith on ahimsa and that it could be practiced successfully to get freedom which he publicly admitted in 1930. But the strong discipline needed to practice this principal was too big a challenge for the common man.
The rural mindedness that Gandhi had which was signified by the spinning wheel shows us the resolve for ahimsa. Non-violence and factory civilisation are terms that are opposite in essence. The economics of khadi is nothing but ahimsa. Cottage industries are just a way of the non-violent. His disapproval of machinery, his reply to international conflicts i.e. a decentralised rural economy show the same resolve. Gandhi saw true democracy in the realisation of non-violence.
Satyagraha is flower that has come out of non-violence. The history of the Indian culture is the product and constant growth of the Ahimsa doctrine and Satyagraha is the application of ahimsa. The idea of ahimsa has never been put into use politically by anyone but we can safely say that Gandhi not only introduced the idea but overthrew a regime with the same and the idea has been the most successful religious idea over a long period of time. The idea of non-violence today has spread all across the world from South Africa to Myanmar, non-violent protest today are a very common form of standing up against injustice.
The tool of Ahimsa in the hands of Gandhi became an efficacious social and political technique of action.
“Our history, our arithmetic, our science will have a non-violent approach, and our problems in these subjects will be coloured by non-violence” –Gandhi (DR. S.A. BARI,1963)
Limitations to Rationality and Violence
The methods before Gandhi as a way to show dissent or agitate were discussion and violence, for Gandhi a man who renounced violence for him the best way was a rational discussion. But even having a rational discussion had certain limitations. The person who is a party of the discussion must be an unbiased man who is empathetic to the views and ideas of the other party. But individuals are partial and hold a pre-assumed view point. Even prejudices are kept by humans and other characteristics hamper their power of reason and they cannot take the right decision.
A personal relation is another barrier that causes a rational man not to work even if he has recognised the problem still a feeling of indifference occurs and takes over which is a cause of problem. For instance when Gandhi tried to convince the British authority in South Africa about the problems and lack of rights of the Asian and Black community and discussed all the problems they face the reply of the Government was negative even if they accepted the issue they sometimes failed on having a broad sympathetic view and gave irrational counter-arguments.
We have seen in his take of human nature the importance given to the heart and he says that if someone has decided on something in his heart the head will follow so therefore these prejudices cannot be eliminated via rationality. The argument about having reason in an argument will eventually sway people was false due to the feeling of ill-will and hatred that lies in the heart of people. Even though rationality is something that sound good it was pretty impractical when it came to the experiences of Gandhi with the British.
With the realisation that rationality was not an idea to be executed for the problem at hand many shifted to the ambit of violence, it was justified by the whole means-end debated where the end was noble i.e. removal of injustice and evil. Gandhi pondered how violence all throughout history got legitimacy. He did accept that the frustration built within people was the place of creation for violence and injustice done to them is the blame for the narrow mindedness of majority groups but violence as an instrument and used for social change was dismissed by him in the initial stage only.
Violent means went again all of Gandhian beliefs of human nature, the goodness of humanity and there strive to find their spirit. He believed no one was so lowly that love could not win his heart. It out rightly defied the beliefs of Gandhi because to justify violent means one should be certain of the wrong done by the opponent and the opponent should be sure too as life if once damaged cannot be given back and such actions need proper reason that is not the power of humans. The scope of reflection was dismissed via violence and according to Gandhi if a human has a little doubt about what he is doing is wrong, he would never go through with the actions.
Gandhi a staunch believer in the morality of an individual so he dismissed violence on moral grounds as well. The rationale was simple that morality said to believe in your actions but violence was forcing the victim to surrender to something he did not truly believe hence defying his moral integrity. Traditionally all the societies that have been carved out of a violent revolution are not the model to look upto and somewhere the drawback of violence can be seen.
The visionary man that Gandhi was he never agreed to the fact that violence as a means had a long term result and society had to seek a solution to the problem rather than alternatives.
Morality in the ideals of Gandhi rely upon truth and non-violence and these two ideals were used in the widest possible sense, it enfolds a variety of Gandhian principles taking into its ambit patience and other virtues.
Satyagraha is a way of conducting ‘war’ by the means of non-violence. As long as men do not change from the behaviour they have now conflicts of interest are an inevitable truth, but these conflicts should be carried out in the most efficient and mannered way possible. Mahatma Gandhi put his faith in Satyagraha to be that method because Satyagraha is a method oblivious to defeat.
War in general has the concept of a winner and a loser but what Satyagraha has to offer is a truce of both sides via negotiation and come on a consensus based on equality and fairness. It offers a joint win.
A satyagrahi is different in a way that he fights against the unjust system rather than individuals. There is a clear distinction between the individual and the system. Thus he draws punishment upon himself in the course of non-cooperation. The idea is to make the opponent feel no threat to his life. When the enemies heart is touched is opens the door to reason, this happens by the recognition of the heroic in the satyagrahi.
Throughout the course of this non-violent non-cooperation the satyagrahi is on the route to discover what is right on his enemies’ side. He further discovers what is essential and what is non-essential. The essential cannot be left but what is important is to see the side of what is essential to your opponent, it is a just and fair relationship. Non-essentials can be sacrificed to come to a truce. The end result is always an agreement where both the sides have an equal say in course of the conflict.
A satyagrahi must go to the aggressor, they must be prepared to be mowed down but shall not lift a finger in order to hurt the enemy even with the rationale of self-defence. What a satyagrahi does is makes the opponent feel welcome and try to involve him in the social structure but if this doesn’t work the satyagrahi can use the means of non-cooperation or disobedience but in a way that does not make the opponent feel threatened.
Here the conviction of the satyagrahi comes into action, if his determination is full the opponent camp will start thinking. The idea of Gandhi was to make even the general of the other side and even the common soldier change. Even in the worst possible space the general is a shrewd man, he hoped that the changed soldier can change the isolated heart of the general. This is according to him the highest achievement humanly possible by means of non-violence.
The idea takes roots from many stalwarts such as Socrates or even Jesus, they have proved the worth of non-violence in the past. They had unflinching courage and steadfast adherence to what they held to be true even to the point of death. Gandhi only tried to use the same principle to a larger mass of people. He always believed that non-violence in order to achieve your goal could not wait for everyone to become perfect, it was open to common men and women. In due course of time by using the same they would come to the realisation that their agitation was showing result and their non-violent instinct was growing every day.
Those who are subjected to injustice should alone stand for the right and ask for remedy. Others may or may not join according to their will but can help by offering criticism. A satyagrahi hence must fight only for a moral or just cause. Satyagraha is not only open to people who have attained perfection but everyone who can adhere to the rules of the campaign. It is a force to be used by individuals or communities for domestic as well as domestic issues. Only those who are ready to obey the law and maintain discipline at all times should be a part of the civil disobedience. By instinct a satyagrahi must be a law abiding person, he should have the voice of conscience and respect for the highest authority of law.
As experience grows satyagrahis should guide more and more people to take up the campaign. Decentralisation has always been an integral part of Gandhi’s Satyagraha. The fruit that Satyagraha bores is in the movement itself it requires self-sacrifice and utmost faith in god.
The demand of the campaigners should be brought out in the form irreducible minimum but never shall the essentials be compromised. The demand shall never be lowered in order to please an adversary. For a satyagrahi jail is liberty and death a delivery of his duty.
“No matter how strong we are, the present struggle must close, when the demands for which it is commenced are accepted…” (N.K.BOSE, 1972)
Satyagraha allows the resolve to be examined and re-examined again and again to repair errors if they occur. Gandhi says that Satyagraha is always open to negotiation but if that situation is never reached it is the fault of the Satyagrahi. Gandhi does not allow taking advantage of the opponent’s weak moment that is a result of external pressure, he constitutes this as violence. Satyagraha further propounds trusting the opponent even if he has deceived you twenty times because there is implicit trust on human nature.
He believes that an awakened and intelligent public is a must and the most potent weapon to a satyagrahi. The individual who leads the Satyagraha must be ready to go against the mass opinion if it is wrong and choose righteousness over popularity.
The resistance must be one that is well planned out because an unplanned one will always lead to military intervention and violence. An important aspect of Satyagraha is to retreat when the situation is not right and Gandhi has no shame in admitting it. He says the bravery of retreating if the situation dictates is no less than a man dying in violence. It does not need the assent of the opponent rather it is strengthened when the opponent resists it.
Further he says there is no limit to the amount of suffering a satyagrahi can take. Satyagraha requires an unshakable faith in ahimsa to rid the society of himsa. True ahimsa lies in fighting himsa head on. The disbelief in ahimsa has to be left behind to achieve the impossible.
“Let us all be brave enough to die the death of a martyr, but let no one lust for martyrdom” (N.K. BOSE, 1972)
The meaning of satyagraha already gives us an idea of what it serves to the people. Satyagraha was a very powerful instrument to bring about change, he believed it was the best method to stand up against any political authority. It could be used by anyone, there was no prerequisite to become a satyagrahi.
It is used for impersonal public causes and to attain justice. It can also be used as an instrument to educate oneself. Satyagraha is connected ideally with two things
1) Duty of man to struggle against injustice
2) Obligation to serve the community.
The law abiding citizens can use this method without any fear of it being unconstitutional or illegal in anyway. It instils a sense of self belief and a ray of confidence in the population.
Since Satyagraha ideally causes self-suffering, even in the heart of the wrong-doer it creates an effect and enables him to understand the point of view of the other party. Therefore the solution at hand is one based on mutual cooperation and benefit, obviously without sacrificing the essential rights. It is untrue to say that it is a force of the weak who cannot meet violence with violence as a satyagrahi requires more vigour than a violent resistance.
This force is to violence and to all tyranny, all injustice what light is to the dark. In a political sense it is based upon the idea that a government can only be in power until the people give their consent either consciously or unconsciously.
Movements and Methods
Gandhi learnt this technique from Leo Tolstoy. Non-cooperation according to him was an alternative to anarchy. It was not a negative force rather it was positive in the sense that it meant cooperation with whatever is right. It made the people self-reliant and was applicable to all circumstances.
The non-cooperation movement of 1920-22 was undertaken by the Indian National Congress which was undertaken by Gandhi.
Various events had triggered discontent in the Indian minds and they wanted to do something to show this anger- events such as Rowlatt Act, the Jallianwalla Bagh massace, martial law in Punjab, the Khilafat aspirations, inflation and other epidemics had all stirred a sense of anger in the Indian mind.
The movement was perfectly based on the ideals of non-violence. It perfectly caught the attention of the Indian Mass. Many stalwart leaders such as Nehru, Lala Lajpat Rai, C.R. Das etc. gave up their legal practice and joined hands with Gandhi.
Everyone was convinced that non-cooperation was the way to attain Swaraj. The stark feature of the movement was the boycotting of election. The steps taking by British were to ban the Congress and Khilafat and announce them as unlawful. Mass arrests of common people took place. Public meeting were declared banned.
In 1922 an ultimatum reached Lord Reading to withdraw all the discriminatory laws within a week or another ‘Satyagraha’ is on its way. Before the launch of Civil disobedience movement the unfortunate incident at Chauri Chaura ooccured in Gorakhpur, U.P.
The news came as a shock to Gandhi and the movement was called off.
A.R. Desai is of the view, “with the section of workers and peasants participating in it, the national movement which was restricted to the upper and middle classes till 1917 got a mass basis for the first time”. Griffith concludes, “Gandhi taught India new self-respect which could be content with nothing less than self-government. He inspired his countrymen with a tradition to suffer in the case of their country. Gandhi, who had himself learnt from Britain the meaning of justice and freedom, imparted these ideas to his fellow countrymen with such success that Indian nationality and Indian nationalism a unanimous expression of the feeling of the Indians”.
2) Civil Disobedience:
Another weapon in the fold of Gandhi was Civil disobedience which he said would replace violence and arms. There is a great sacrifice required to use the method as it is non-violent. To use the method there is a deliberate effort to break the law, the purpose is simple to exchange force by voluntary cooperation. Gandhi had experimented with this method in South Africa before applying it to India in 1907.
It can be undertaken when a group of oppressed people are deprived of their basic rights or their condition has not improved by means lawful or not. It is when a group of people feel that a law is against their civil rights they can defy it but the goal is public welfare.
It is of great importance with regards to the end, the end needs to be one that serves the community such as for the ideals of justice, liberty, equality or human rights. To obey or not to obey depends upon the consequence of the action. To commit to this cause is to protect the justice of the society.
In 1930 the civil disobedience movement was started by Gandhi. The beginning point was the Dandi March. Followers of Gandhi joined him from the Sabarmati Ashram at Ahmedabad and made their way towards Dandi on 12th march, 1930. They travelled for a total of 25 days and covered a distance of 85kms. This signified the beginning of the movement.
Bipan Chandra Pal. correctly point out “the deceptively innocuous move was to prove devastatingly effective”
Nearly 90000 people that belonged to diverse sections of the society all over the country joined hands to support Gandhiji. The most important feature was the involvement of women who had come to the mainstream of the freedom movement. The British government resorted to cruel laws even after a protest which was purely non-violent. The INC was once again banned and Gandhi was arrested.
The arrest angered the Indian mass and the support received by Gandhi was breath taking for example Thota Narasayya Naidu who held the flag even after getting hit by lathis by the police. The increase in the importance of the national flag was seen even in backward villages.
3) Boycott: Gandhi’s yet another tactic came in the form of boycotting goods. This method was very useful in pressurising the authority. Boycotting involved persons, goods, clothes, titles, persons. In the non-cooperation and the civil disobedience both the movements the nation was called to boycott British goods and many of the institutions that were British were boycotted. It caused a breakdown in the law system and administration of the British and to make everyone aware that the satyagrahis were not partners in the wrong doings.
Gandhi used this technique in various circumstances almost all of his movements had a faction of boycotting. Peaceful boycott put pressure and created consciousness among the masses. The speech used by a satyagrahi during this was gentle and inoffensive. This method was experimented with in South Africa before it found roots in India.
4) Strikes and Hartals: It is mainly an instrument that a worker uses against employer. The colonial rule saw wide subjugation, Gandhi used this first during the 1918 mill workers strike in Ahmedabad and asked workers to not work until problem was solved.
It was a means to solve political and economic problems but to be a success the strike must be non-violent and conviction should be nothing less than what is needed. Even during a long strike no dishonest mean must be used.
Hartals are a method to voluntary close shops and suspend business, ideally only for 24 hours. Gandhi used this to put down arbitrary laws. Hartals are a form to express extreme dissatisfaction.
5) Courting Arrest: A separate method of working to exert pressure on the government was courting arrest. According to Gandhi breaking an improper law and being deliberately imprisoned was method to show dissatisfaction. If a large quantity of people are put behind bars it will force the Government to provide justice. Many a times Gandhi’s followers have followed him to jail to attain the same. A satyagrahi goes to jail not to embarrass authorities but to convert them by demonstrating to them the innocence of a satyagrahi.
6) Hijarat: Hijarat means voluntary exile. It is a technique of collective as well as individual Satyagraha. People of Bardoli, Borsad, Jambusar in Gujarat used this method at a mass level in 1930, they protested against the oppression that the government did during the tax regime. It is a difficult method because by nature a man is attached to his home and he does not want to leave.
7) Demonstration: Demonstrations and processions were used to hold public meetings and this was banned by the British but to show defiance it was very important. Peaceful raids, constructive marches, National days and weeks are some other methods of Satyagraha.
8) Fasting: Many people looked at fasting as a method of political coercion. Gandhi described it as an essential part of Satyagraha even though certain critics called it political blackmail. In 1932 Gandhi vowed to fast unto death until Hindu reformed the caste system and remove ‘untouchability’. His determination moved the whole Hindu world and suitable steps were taken to save lives. In 1947 again he fasted through a period of civil strife and this too bore fruit.
The aim of a satyagrahi was to reform the opponent not coerce him. Once in 1947 his friend told him that even if he died it would not make a difference to anti-Hindu elements and Gandhi agreed on the fact that a person that takes satyagrahi as his enemy will not be affected. On several occasions such as an instance where he believed the Musalmans of Naokhali who were doing injustice to local Hindus could not be converted via fasting so therefore the way of dealing changed, he befriended them. He wanted to prove he was a friend of Muslims as much as Hindus.
It was similar reason that he befriended the Muslims of Calcutta when after experiencing a year of injustice with the Muslim League Government, Hindus retaliated when the Congress party came to power in Bengal. This gave him the right to fast against Musalmans and his identification with the Hindus gave him the right to fast against the latter.
During his fast in Calcutta someone spoke to Gandhi saying that his fast will not make an issue for turbulent forces and his reply was that his resistance was against his friends Hindus and Muslims. Society as we see it is not only made up of turbulent aspects it has good people too but the good generally lies beneath. Good people therefore have a duty to assert themselves and non-cooperate with evil.
If all the Gandhian weapons were wisely and energetically pursued the end result would see all the evil elements isolated and that is the type of determination Gandhi was ready to give his life for.
The question around his methods remained that if they were only used temporarily and for a leader like Gandhi to lose his life for such a temporary gain is worth? To which his explanation was if such irregular acts of goodness were all he could have from his influence world around then he would die than live a life where he is of no use to society. If his death could invoke more action and more people to come in intimate contact with his methods then
Yes death was worth the effort. Isolating evil is the most a satyagrahi can achieve and his life was devoted to the same cause.
Gandhian methods, did they fail or not well at least the standards that the man had set for himself made him believe he did fail. Gandhi in his lifetime had committed some serious blunders and he was too idealistic for the society that he lived in at the time and that holds true even today. Gandhi was a man in flesh and bones and many a times dealt with doubts.
But he was a man of vision fundamentally and a man who believed in action who raised questions that were key to humankind. The combination of the Gandhian vision and action gives him the utmost importance in the Indian Context for generations to come.
But if we look at Gandhi not as his contribution through the times i.e. his role and relevance but at a specific time of when he lived and his actions we can see that it was much less than claimed.
If we see from 1915-1948 all of Gandhi’s movements, none of them met its demands in a complete sense. Beginning from Non-cooperation going till Quit India Movement, the revolt even with these methods with all possibility should have been predicted to go violent as all humans are not the same. The sacrifice that people made leaving their jobs and education were not fulfilled with equal vigour which is mainly the reason for people losing trust in the British.
The British Raj some critics point out would have as it is freed the country with or without Gandhi as the reason for their going was the impact and aftermath of the World Wars especially the second in which both the Indian soldiers were sacrificed. The aftermath is the immediate cause that led the Labour Party Government to then transfer power.
The political ethics of Gandhi depend upon his interpretation of the origin, which like every thinker is subjective and brings that element into his thought plus the dedication and belief that what is morally right will always prevail is too doubtful in the long-run. Those who do not share his views will always question his methods. Therefore the actual result from the implementation may be very different from what Gandhi intended even because of the uneducated and unprepared people that went in with him.
Whether Gandhi took the British out with a certain speed is missing out the big picture, which is the idea that he developed, the idea of political agitation without the use of violence. The Indian Nationalist Movement can be given credit for being non-violent largely due to the contribution of Mahatma Gandhi. He was able to put into action the ideas of Swaraj and Satyagraha further the idea of revolting and overthrowing authority by non-violent means which had never been seen before.
He played a major part in invoking the sense of nationalism into Indian minds and bringing different constituencies together. He taught the coloured man that he is equal in every right and how to live coherently.
Gandhi was one of the few who used morals in politics while being a rebel, he did not once think what he was doing was impossible. He had opinions on what problems people faced rather than the functioning of the government, he was involved with the people at a more personal level. Even his ideals of ahimsa and satya were not only applied to political matters but in matters of employment, decentralisation, labor and capital relation, education and other realms of social life. Recommendations of Gandhi cannot be unaccounted for and they served a purpose to the future generations even if not feasible at the moment.
His political ambition was largely based on Ram Rajya (City of God). He redefined both religion and politics so as to reemphasize the beliefs between small minded people and religious commitments further between power politics and pure politics.
His idea of pure politics i.e. greater involvement in politics without the ulterior motive of power may be responsible for the ‘apolitical’ attitude of worthy people.
His attempt to introduce religion into polity may have been a factor in hurting religious sentiments and the entry of religious fanaticism into Indian Politics which today is used by Hindu as well as Muslim leaders.
According to him violence and untruth are so rampant that a man should always follow his moral values in life and Satya was the supreme moral value and ahimsa the basis for all conduct.
People who take these vows without the correct practice and are not fully prepared to carry them out create further doubt than existed before. For instance wearing the Gandhi Cap today in our nation dwells a feeling of suspicion rather than respect. In this age and times of corruption the portrayal of idealism by anyone is not giving the results it should. His ideas of ‘satya’ and ‘ahimsa’ are very idealistic and do not carry the truth of the present scenario.
The important point to remember while referring to Gandhi’s satya is the distinction between relative and absolute truth that he does not make. A truth can be accepted in the relative term but that is inflexible as it cannot be used absolutely. All men are in conflict in finding the truth. Further it is very difficult for people to adhere to truth without the involvement of their personal feelings.
The difficulty that comes with the concept of ahimsa is the demanding nature of the word which seems all too embracing. It requires disciplining oneself to such an extent that it becomes safer to avoid the term in politics than adopt it. Ahimsa makes it difficult to choose between two evils due to the teachings of ahimsa with regard to Satyagraha.
Satyagraha requires such a high standard of compliance with the community norms without a trace of fear or self-interest that very few people are actually capable of implementing it.
All the objections that are stopping the practical implementation of Gandhian ideals is the assumption over human nature. How are we sure about the consistency of the human nature because it is circumstantial and how can one man change the human nature which has not been achieved even by the religious leaders? Was then the Gandhian preaching just a moral lecture or did he just ignore the human weakness which in politics plays a major role.
It would be incorrect to think that Gandhian ideals were culture bound and only limited to India. Western countries even then were on the route to reduce himsa and punishments of that sort such as capital punishment, his idea of Satyagraha also mildly spread but it was acknowledged more after his death than during his time.
The thinker Gandhian seems to be fascinated by the concept of Tolstoy’s heaven on earth which is his Hindu belief of Ram Rajya and the Dostoevsikan concept of it never being attainable on earth. He started his journey with Ram Rajya but by the end of his life it seems that even without losing the vigour he knew his dream was too utopian.
He never felt that he was wrong in his programmes and pushing fellow countrymen to reach the standards that he had in his life but towards the end of his life he realised that expecting them to do so each time was a fault he was making. In 1947 a few months prior to his death he felt betrayed by Congress members and his countrymen but never once did he blame them for not reaching to his standards.
Relevance of Gandhi
Post-independent India emerged as the world’s largest democracy and Gandhi did dream of a democratic India. But India is not what Gandhi believed it should become. In 1939 Gandhi wrote “Democracy must in essence mean the art and science of mobilizing the entire physical, economical and spiritual resources of all the various sections of the people in the service of the common good of all.”
His notion of democracy meant that even the minority should have an equal say in the democratic process of the country as the majority. This is only possible by non-violence because capitalist land holdings by the rich are only sustained by violence so therefore ahimsa opens the door for negotiation and equal representation, it holds true for South Africa as much as for India.
For him democracy included equality and freedom from fear and insecurity, he valued individual freedom but always remembered that a man is social by nature. The balance between freedom of individual and social restraint had to be maintained. Gandhi through his interactions with different creeds of people over his life never learned to make any distinction between religions or colour, for him humanity was the focus.
Gandhi over three decades showed us that political sphere is not the wrong place to perfect your ideals because that is where most vision is required. Satya and ahimsa bring to the table no fear and insecurity that otherwise would be created via untruth and violence. Distrust is a sign of a fearful man and Gandhian ideals were not afraid as everything, every movement of his was done after a prior notice to the British Government just as the salt march was informed to Lord Irwin.
Gandhi’s teachings were a nexus of non-violence, truth and tolerance and his connect with people was both at a political and personal level. He made a connect between Swaraj and Truth where to be independent we must become liberated from fear and suspicion, we must just not reform ourselves but be socially aware to help others and take each other forward because in essence we are all one.
Gandhi tapped from people their moral energy and pointed them towards spiritualisation of politics for the future of our civilisation.
Today we have the example of so many countries that face the problem of internal and external violence. Gandhian ideals though clearly not followed today have gained relevance, in the midst of corruption, terrorism and violence we need to remember the man who led taught us about Satya and Ahimsa. Tolerance of religions today is a very huge uproar and debated in all parts of our country for Gandhi all religions were the same. He has been quoted saying “Yes I am a Christian, Buddhist and a Jew”. He was not a man for India but Gandhi was an idea for the world. Gandhi realised the social evils of India and knew that sacrifice was to be made to achieve the ideal situation. Gandhi as a political thinker may be seen as far ahead of his time, he was a visionary. With all the regional conflicts that we see in India have adopt the route of violence. Divisions on communal lines, religious lines, caste etc. are used to divide and gain votes which is causing an uproar in the country.
Today politics in our country is not for the welfare of our citizens but to come in power and gain more power. Gandhi warned us about power politics if only politicians can find relevance in his teaching today.
Economic inequalities today are rampant, living in a nation of 72% rural population and majority under the poverty line saddens me deeply. Gandhi said that the world is enough for every mans need but not every mans greed, he believed in equality but these thoughts were too idealistic for this world.
Globally if we compare Gandhian ideals to the George Bush war on terror we can see that violence spread more violence. The NATO coalition of the willing set upon forces that are rampantly ruling and de-stabilising world order. Gandhi knew “an eye for an eye will make the world blind&
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