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PEACE, NON-VIOLENCE & CONFLICT RESOLUTION > MY NON-VIOLENCE > From Europe
11. From Europe
When I think of my littleness and my limitations on the one hand and of the expectations raised about me on the other, I become dazed for the moment; but I come to myself as soon as I realize that these expectations are a tribute not to me, a curious mixture of Jekyll and Hyde, but to the incarnation, however imperfect but comparatively great, in me of the two priceless qualities of truth and non-violence. I must, therefore, not shirk the responsibility of giving what aid I can to fellow seekers after Truth from the West.
I have already dealt with a letter from America. I have before me one from Germany. It is a closely reasoned letter. It has remained with me for nearly a month. At first I thought I would send a private reply and let it be published in Germany if the correspondent desired it. But having re-read the letter I have come to the conclusion that I should deal with it in these columns. I give the letter below in full:
"Not only India but also the rest of the earth has heard your message of Satyagraha and Swadeshi. A great number of young people in Europe believe in your creed. They see in it a new attitude to political things put into action, of which till now they had only dreamed.
But also among the young people who are convinced of the truth of your message are many who dissent from some details of your demands on men which seem wrong to them. In their -name is this letter written.
In answer to a question you declared on the 21st of March, 1921, that Satyagraha demands absolute non-violence, and that even a woman who is in danger of being violated must not defend herself with violence. On the other hand, it is known that you recommended the punishment of General Dyer by the English Government, which shows that you see the necessity for law guaranteed through violence. From this I can but conclude that you do not object to capital punishment and so do not condemn killing in general. You value life so low that you allow thousands of Indians to lose theirs for Satyagraha; and doubtless you know that the least interference with the life of men — imprisonment — is mainly based on the same principle as the strongest — killing — for in each case men are caused by an outside force to diverge from their Dharma. A man who thinks logically knows that it is the same principle that causes his imprisonment for a few days or his execution, and that the difference is only in the size, not in the kind, of interference. He knows, too, that a man who stands for punishment in general must not shrink from killing.
You see in non-cooperation not an ideal only but also a safe and quick way to freedom for India, a way possible only where a whole population has to revolt against a Government that has the force of arms. But when a whole State wants to get its rights from another State, the principle of non-co-operation is powerless, for this other one may get a number of other States to form an alliance with it even when some of the other States remain neutral. Not until a real League of Nations exists, to which every State belongs, can non- co-operation become a real power, since no State can afford to be isolated from all the others. That is why we fight for the League of Nations; but that is also the reason why we try to retain a strong police force, lest internal revolts and disorder should make all foreign policy impossible. That is why we understand that other Governments are doing what they forbade us to do, arming themselves in case of an attack by their enemies. They are, for the time being, obliged to do so, and we really ought to do the same if we do not want to be continually violated. We hope that you will see our point. If you do, we should be very much obliged to you if you would say so in answer to this letter, or it is necessary that the youth of Europe learns your true attitude to these questions. But please do not think that we want you to forswear something that is one of the main points of your creed — Satyagraha.
But we see Satyagraha not in an absolute non-violence which never, nowhere, has been really carried out, even by you, or even by Christ himself who drove the usurers out of the temple. With us Satyagraha is the unreserved disposition to brotherhood and sacrifice which you are showing us so splendidly with the Indian People; and we hope to be growing into the same state of mind, since it has been understood that a system may be wicked but never a whole class or a whole people (you wrote about this on the 13th of July, 1921), and that one ought to feel pity but not hatred for the blind defenders of wickedness. Men who come to understand this are taking their first steps on the new way to brotherhood between all men; and this way will lead to the goal, to the victory of truth, to Satyagraha.
We ask you in your answer not only to advice us to fight for our country in the way we think right, but we would very much like to know what you think to be right, especially how you justify an entire non-violence which we see as a resignation to all real fighting against wickedness and for this reason wicked in itself — as we would call a policeman wicked who let a criminal escape unpunished.
Our conviction is that we ought to follow our own Dharma first, and before all that we ought to live the life designed for us by God, but that the right and the duty is given to us to interfere with the life of our fellow-men when they ask us to do so or when we see in such interference a way to fight a threatening evil for all the world. We believe that, otherwise one is not right in interfering, for only God can see through the soul of men and judge what is the right way for men; and we believe that there is no greater sacrilege to be found than to assume the place of God — which sacrilege we believe the English people to be guilty of, as they think to have the mission to interfere with people all over the world.
For this reason we do not understand how you can recommend to married people to deny themselves to each other without mutual agreement, for such an interference with the rights given by marriage can drive a man to crimes. You ought to advice divorce in those cases.
Please answer our these questions. We are so glad to have the model given by you that we want very much to be quite clear about the right way to live up to your standard."
In my travels I have not the file of Young India before me, but there is no difficulty about my endorsing the statement that "Satyagraha demands absolute non-violence, and that even a woman who is in danger of being violated must not. defend herself with violence. “Both these statements relate to an ideal state, and therefore are made with reference to those men and women who have so far purified themselves as to have no malice, no anger, no violence in them. That does not mean that the woman in the imagined case would quietly allow herself to be violated. In the first instance, such a woman would stand in no danger of violence; and in the second, if she did, without doing violence to the ruffian she would be able completely to defend her honour.
But I must not enter into details. Even women who can defend themselves with violence are not many. Happily, however, cases of indecent assaults are not also very many. Be that as it may, I believe implicitly in the proposition that perfect purity is its own defence. The veriest ruffian becomes for the time being tame in the presence of resplendent purity.
The writer is not correctly informed about my attitude in regard to General Dyer. He would be pleased to know that not only did I not recommend any punishment of General Dyer, but even my colleagues, largely out of their generous regard for me, waived the demands for punishment. What, however, I did ask for, and I do press for even now, is the stopping of the pension to General Dyer. It is no part of the plan of non-violence to pay the wrongdoer for the wrong he does, which practically would be the case if I became a willing party to the continuation of the pension to General Dyer. But let not me be misunderstood. I am quite capable of recommending even punishment to wrong-doers under conceivable circumstances; for instance, 1 would not hesitate under the present state of society to confine thieves and robbers, which is in itself a kind of punishment. But I would also admit that it is not Satyagraha, and that it is a fall from the pure doctrine. That would be an admission, not of the weakness of the doctrine but the weakness of myself. I have no other remedy to suggest in such cases in the present state of society. I am therefore satisfied with advocating the use of prisons more as reformatories than as places of punishment.
But I would draw the distinction between killing and detention or even corporal punishment. I think that there a difference not merely in quantity but also in quality. I can recall the punishment of detention. I can make reparation to the man upon whom I inflict corporal punishment. But once a man is killed, the punishment is beyond recall or reparation, God alone can take -life, because He alone gives it.
I hope there is no confusion in the writer's mind when he couples the self-immolation of a Satyagrahi with the punishment imposed from without. But in order to avoid even a possibility of it, let me make it clear that the doctrine of violence has reference only to the doing of injury by one to another. Suffering injury in one's own person is, on the contrary, of the essence of non-violence and is the chosen substitute for violence to others. It is not because I value life low that I can countenance with joy thousands voluntarily losing their lives for Satyagraha, but because I know that it results in the long run in the least loss of life, and, what is more, it ennobles those who lose their lives and morally enriches the world for their sacrifice. I think that the writer is correct in saying that non- co-operation is not merely an ideal but also "a safe and quick way to freedom for India". I do suggest that the doctrine holds good also as between States and States. I know that I am treading on delicate ground if I refer to the late war. But I fear that I must, in order to make the position clear. It was a war of aggrandizement, as I have understood, on either part. It was a war for dividing the spoils of the exploitation of weaker races —- otherwise euphemistically called the world commerce. If Germany today changed her policy and made a determination to use her freedom, not for dividing the commerce of the world but for protecting, through her moral superiority, the weaker races of the earth, she could certainly do that without armament. It would be found that before general disarmament in Europe commences, as it must someday unless Europe is to commit suicide, some nation will have to dare to disarm herself and take large risks. The level of nonviolence in that nation, if that event happily comes to pass, will naturally have risen so high as to command universal respect. Her judgments will be uneming, her decisions will be firm, her capacity for heroic self-sacrifice will be great, and she will want to live as much for other nations as for herself. I may not push this delicate subject any further. I know that I am writing in a theoretical way upon a practical question without knowing all its bearings. My only excuse is, if I understand it correctly, that that is what the writer has wanted me to do.
I do justify entire non-violence, and consider it possible in relation between man and man and nations and nations; but it is not " a resignation from all real fighting against wickedness On the contrary, the non-violence of my conception is a more active and more real fighting against wickedness than retaliation whose very nature is to increase wickedness. I contemplate a mental, and therefore a moral, opposition to immoralities. I seek entirely to blunt the edge of the tyrant's sword, not by putting up against it a sharper-edged weapon, but by disappointing his expectation that I would be offering physical resistance. The resistance of the soul that I should offer instead would elude him. It would at first dazzle him, and at last compel recognition from him, which recognition would not humiliate him but would uplift him. It may be urged that this again is an ideal state. And so it is. The propositions from which I have drawn my arguments are as true as Euclid's definitions, which are none the less true, because in practice we are unable even to draw Euclid's line on a blackboard. But even a geometrician finds it impossible to get on without bearing in mind Euclid's definitions. Nor may we, the German friend, his colleagues and myself, dispense with the fundamental propositions on which the doctrine of Satyagraha is based.
There remains for me now only one ticklish question to answer. In a most ingenious manner the writer has compared the English arrogation of the right of becoming tutors to the whole world to my views on relations between married people. But the comparison does not hold good. The marriage bond involves seeing each other only by mutual agreement. But surely abstention requires no consent. Married life would be intolerable, as it does become, when one partner breaks through all bonds of restraint. Marriage confirms the right of union between two partners to the exclusion of all the others when in their joint opinion they consider such union to be desirable. But it confers no right upon one partner to demand obedience of the other to one's wish for union. What should be done when one partner on moral or other grounds cannot conform to the wishes of the other is a separate question. Personally, if divorce was the only alternative, I should not hesitate to accept it, rather than interrupt my moral progress — assuming that I want to restrain myself on purely moral grounds.
Young India, 8-10-1925