Gandhi and Satyagraha – Validity and Relevance – Part Two

By Dr C. Sheela Reddy, PhD Assistant Professor, Dept. of Political Science & Public Administration, SV University, Tirupati

A three part series of a paper presented by Dr C Sheela Reddy at the Satyagraha Centenary Conference in New Delhi, India

The theory of Satyagraha sees means and ends as inseparable. The means used to obtain an end are wrapped up and attached to that end. Therefore, it is contradictory to try to use unjust means to obtain justice or to try to use violence to obtain peace. As Gandhi wrote: “They say, 'means are, after all, means'. I would say, 'means are, after all, everything'. As the means so the end…” Gandhi used an example to explain this: “If I want to deprive you of your watch, I shall certainly have to fight for it; if I want to buy your watch, I shall have to pay for it; and if I want a gift, I shall have to plead for it; and, according to the means I employ, the watch is stolen property, my own property, or a donation”.

Gandhi rejected the idea that injustice should, or even could, be fought against by violent, coercive, unjust means. This is because the end produced employing such means will necessarily embed that injustice. Satyagraha is a weapon of the strong, not a cover for the cowardice of the weak. To those who preached violence and called nonviolent actionists cowards, he replied: “I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence….I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour….But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment.”

The essence of Satyagraha is that it seeks to eliminate antagonisms without harming the antagonists themselves, as opposed to violent resistance, which is meant to cause harm to the antagonist. A Satyagrahi therefore does not seek to end or destroy the relationship with the antagonist, but instead seeks to transform or “purify” it to a higher level. Gandhi contrasted Satyagraha (holding on to truth) with “Duragraha” (holding on by force), as protest meant more to harass than enlighten opponents. He wrote: “There must be no impatience, no barbarity, no insolence, and no undue pressure. If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one's cause.” Civil disobedience and non-cooperation as practiced under Satyagraha are based on the “law of suffering”, a doctrine that the endurance of suffering is a means to an end. This end usually implies a moral upliftment or progress of an individual or society. Therefore, non-cooperation in Satyagraha is in fact a means to secure the cooperation of the opponent consistently with truth and justice.

Satyagraha incorporates sincerity, respect and restrain in it. It involves greatest patience and highest faith. It is based upon some well-understood principles and it must not be capricious. In it, there is no place for ill-will or hatred. It believes in universalism; all are brothers in it. For survival, it rejects the idea of physical struggle. Rather it believes in love, mutual cooperation and understanding, which are the principal basis of existence and progress and also to reach the goal.

Satyagraha is not negative but a positive concept. It means the combination of truth and non-violence which are so inter-twined that it is practically impossible to disentangle them. They are like two sides of a coin, or rather of a smooth unstamped metallic disc: Who can say which the obverse is and which the inverse? Nevertheless Ahimsa is the means; truth is the end.”

A man with Satya [truth] and Ahimsa [Non-Violence] through Satyagraha can bring the world to his feet, because he accepts and adopts truth as a principle as well as the way of life. And, definitely, it was the power of Satyagraha on the basis of which Mahatma Gandhi succeeded to get the Black Act and Immigration Act abolished in South Africa; he became successful in getting removed the provision of Pound-3 Tax imposed on each and every Indian and other Asians there. Later, he not only transformed India into a nation by uniting people which resulted in creating a will amongst compatriots to live together but he also successfully lead his countrymen to the door of freedom from centuries old slavery.

Satyagraha, according to Mahatma Gandhi himself, “is a Dharmayuddha, one of the most powerful methods of direct action. It is a force that works silently and apparently slowly. But in reality, there is no force in the world that is so direct or so swift in working. It excludes every form of violence, veiled or unveiled, and whether in thought, word or deed.” And it is a fact that what Mahatma Gandhi claimed in respect of power and strength of Satyagraha that proved in various Satyagrahas-the non-violent struggle, launched for freedom of India under his own leadership.

The UN General Assembly Resolution
The UN General Assembly has unanimously adopted a resolution on June 15, 2007 to declare October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, as the International Day of Non-Violence in recognition of his role in promoting the message of ‘peace through non-violence’ around the world. The UN resolution to honour ‘the apostle of humanity and peace’ was unanimously sponsored by all the major countries of the world and the subcontinent of India, including Great Britain against whom Gandhi successfully led an agitation through non-violent Satyagraha for India’s independence. The resolution “stresses the need for non-violence, tolerance, full respect for human rights, fundamental freedom for all, democracy, development, mutual understanding and respect for diversity as reinforcement for peace and growth of mankind”. The resolution is a reflection of the international community’s collective yearning for peace and the recognition of the relevance of Gandhi’s ideals and methods in today’s world which is confronted with violence, terrorism, intolerance, discrimination and exclusiveness.

Gandhiji’s message and gospel of non-violence “is more important today than ever before since nations across the world continue to grapple with the threat of conflict, violence and terrorism”. Gandhi himself stated: “Non violence is the rule of conduct for a society, if it is to live consistently with human dignity and make total progress towards the attainment of peace.” As observed, non-violence is not a value principle alone but a science based on the reality of mankind, society and polity.

Gandhiji has presented non-violence in a new form and shape before the world. The form of his non-violence is no escape or exile but resistance. He marched forward using non-violence as the best weapon to encounter immorality for morality, inhumanity for humanity and injustice for justice. His objective was to create a society based on the principle of non-violence, where alone man’s freedom would be safe and mankind would be free from repression and tyranny, whereby peaceful social life is ensured.

As practiced by Gandhi, non-violence is a total philosophy of life, the realisation of which makes self-purification imperative. It is noted as ‘a bravery of the soul, warfare of the ascetic and an adventure in love’. It is the moral weapon to replace the man-made weapon. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. To him truth alone is the objective and hence he says: “Non-violence is truth and truth alone is non-violence.”

The philosophy of Gandhian non-violence is a pre-requisite for the total development, including the personality, of a man. The application of non-violence is also relevant both in private and public spheres of life. In the economic field it means a decentralised village economy, in the political field it means a federation of autonomous village republics and in the international field it means avoidance of the use of force and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

The absence of violence brings eternal peace. Peace is visible when there is freedom, equality, justice, good governance, and the enjoyment of human rights. Between the two directions of peace – negative and positive – the former is the total absence of violence, that is, the state has a set of socio-political structures to put down violence and to provide security of life and property of the individual and the communities. The latter places ‘global justice’ as the central concept of peace stressing on the full enjoyment of the entire range of human rights of all peoples and the sovereignty of nations. The concept non-violence is thus a universal phenomenon covering a wide area of social and political life. Further, its ultimate goal is the harmonious co-existence of all life forms in the universe.

The Gandian philosophy of non-violence is best reflected and enshrined in the purpose behind the formation of the United Nations Organisation. The primary concern of this world organisation, born on October 24, 1945, was to bring all nations under one roof to toil for peace and development, based on the principles of justice, human dignity and the well-being of all the people. Despite the fact that the UNO has a strong and broad perspective, it faces many limitations in materialising the objective of global peace, freeing the nations and the people from intolerable violence.

The contemporary developments of terrorism, communalism and exclusiveness are the major threats to all that the UN stands for. Maintaining world peace, extending the rule of law, respecting human rights, protecting weaker sections, tolerance among the people and nations are still elusive. Yet the global people and the member-states have a strong faith in the UN bodies for their safety and security. However ‘Preventive action’ or ‘Preventive diplomacy’ – the new techniques adopted by the UN General Assembly and member-states for preventing human beings from sufferings caused by violence – constitutes a breakthrough in the direction of peace-building in the Gandhian way. Preventive actions such as Preventive Deployment, Preventive Disarmaments, and Preventive Humanitarian Action are alternative ways to the costly politico-military operations. These measures are to be worked out and applied through the processes of good governance, peace building, protecting human rights and enhancing economic and social developments. In fact these peace techniques of the UN reflect the very spirit of the Gandhian thought of non-violence: tackling the enemy by love-force and soul-force.

In Part Three Dr Reddy writes on the relevance of Satyagraha in the twenty-first century.