Gandhi's Views On Nonviolence
The world is weary of hate. We see the fatigue overcoming the Western nations.
We see that this song of hate has not benefited humanity. Let it be the
privilege of India to turn a new leaf and set a lesson to the world.- Gandhiji
in Indian Villages by Mahadev Desai.
In the past, non-co-operation has been deliberately expressed in violence to the
evil-doer. I am endeavoring to show to my countrymen that violent
non-co-operation only multiplies evil and that as evil can only be sustained by
violence, withdrawal of support of evil requires complete abstention from
violence. Nonviolence implies voluntary submission to the penalty for
non-co-operation with evil.
- Young India, 23-2-1922
I am not a visionary. I claim to be practical idealist. The religion of
nonviolence is not meant merely for the rishis and saints. It is meant for the
common people as well. Nonviolence is the law of our species as violence is the
law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but
that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law-to
the strength of the spirit.
I have therefore ventured to place before India the ancient law of
self-sacrifice. For satyagraha and its off-shoots, non-co-operation and civil
resistance, are nothing but new names for the law of suffering. The rishis, who
discovered the law of non-violence in the midst of violence, were greater
geniuses than Newton. They were themselves greater warriors than Wellington.
Having themselves known the use of arms, they realized their uselessness and
taught a weary world that its salvation lay not through violence but through
- Young India, 11-8-1920
Nonviolence as a World-force
You might of course say that there can be no nonviolent rebellion and there has
been none known to history. Well, it is my ambition to provide an instance, and
it is my dream that my country may win its freedom through non-violence. And, I
would like to repeat to the world times without number, that I will not purchase
my country’s freedom at the cost of nonviolence. My marriage to nonviolence is
such an absolute thing that I would rather commit suicide than be deflected from
my position. I have not mentioned truth in this connection, simply because truth
cannot be expressed excepting by nonviolence.
– Young India, 12-11-31
Science of war
leads one to dictatorship pure and simple. Science of nonviolence alone can lead
one to pure democracy. England, France and America have to make their choice.
That is the challenge of the two dictators.
Russia is out
of the picture just now. Russia has a dictator who dreams of peace and thinks he
will wade to it through a sea of blood. No one can say what Russian dictatorship
will mean to the world.
or the Swaraj of the masses can never come through untruthful and violent means,
for the simple reason that the natural corollary to their use would be to remove
all opposition through the suppression or extermination of the antagonists. That
does not make for individual freedom. Individual freedom can have the fullest
play only under a regime of unadulterated ahimsa.
India produced sufficient arms and ammunition and men who knew the art of war,
what part or lot will those who cannot bear arms have in the attainment of
Swaraj? I want Swaraj in the winning of which even women and children would
contribute an equal share with physically the strongest. That can be under
ahimsa only. I would, therefore, stand for ahimsa as the only means for
obtaining India’s freedom even if I were alone.
And so I plead
for non-violence and yet more nonviolence. I do so not without knowledge but
with sixty years’ experience behind me.
The accumulated experience of the past thirty years, fills me with the greatest
hope that in the adoption of nonviolence lies the future of India and the world.
It is the most harmless and yet equally effective way of dealing with the
political and economic wrongs of the downtrodden portion of humanity. I have
known from early youth that nonviolence is not a cloistered virtue to be
practised by the individual for his peace and final salvation, but it is a rule
of conduct for society if it is to live consistently with human dignity and make
progress towards the attainment of peace for which it has been yearning for ages
- Gandhiji’s Correspondence with the Government 1942-1944, Navajivan Publishing
War Vs. Nonviolence
A believer in nonviolence is pledged not to resort to violence or physical force
either directly or indirectly in defence of anything, but he is not precluded
from helping men or institutions that are themselves not based on non-violence.
If the reverse were the case, I would, for instance, be precluded from helping
India to attain Swaraj because the future Parliament of India under Swaraj, I
know for certain, will be having some military and police forces, or to take a
domestic illustration, I may not help a son to secure justice, because forsooth
he is not a believer in nonviolence.
Mr. Zacharias’ proposition will reduce all commerce by a believer in
non-violence to an impossibility. And there are not wanting men, who do believe
that complete non-violence means complete cessation of all activity.
Not such, however, is my doctrine of nonviolence. My business is to refrain from
doing any violence myself, and to induce by persuasion and service as many of
god’s creatures as I can to join me in the belief and practice. But I would be
untrue to my faith, if I refused to assist in a just cause any men or measures
that did not entirely coincide with the principle of non-violence. I would be
promoting violence, if finding the Mussalmans to be in the right, I did not
assist them by means strictly nonviolent against those who had treacherously
plotted the destruction of the dignity of Islam. Even when both parties believe
in violence there is often such a thing as justice on one side or the other. A
robbed man has justice on his side, even though he may be accounted as a triumph
of non-violence, if the injured party could be persuaded to regain his property
by methods of satyagraha, i.e. love or soul-force rather than a free fight.
- Young India, 1-6-1921
My resistance to war does not carry me to the point of thwarting those who wish
to take part in it. I reason with them. I put before them the better way and
leave them to make the choice.
- Harijan, 18-1-1942
I accept broad facts of history and draw my own lessons for my conduct. I do not
want to repeat it in so far as the broad facts contradict the highest laws of
life. But positively refuse to judge man from the scanty material furnished to
us by history. De mortuis nil nisi bonum. Kamal Pasha and De Valera too I cannot
judge. But for me as a believer I nonviolence out and out they cannot be my
guides in life in so far as their faith in war is concerned. I believe in
Krishna perhaps more than the writer. But my Krishna is the Lord of the
Universe, the creator, preserver and destroyer of us all. He may destroy because
He creates. But I must not be drawn into a philosophical or religious argument
with my friends. I have not the qualification for teaching my philosophy of
life. I have barely qualifications for practising the philosophy I believe. I am
but a poor struggling soul yearning to be wholly good-wholly truthful and wholly
nonviolent in thought, word and deed, but ever failing to reach the ideal which
I know to be true. I admit, and assure my revolutionary friends, that it is a
painful climb, but the pain of it is a positive pleasure for me. Each step
upward makes me feel stronger and fit for the next. But all that pain and
pleasure are for me. The revolutionaries are at liberty to reject the whole of
my philosophy. To them I merely present my own experiences as a co-worker I the
same cause even as I have successfully presented them to the Ali Brothers and
many other friends. They can and do applaud whole-heartedly the action of
Mustafa Kamal Pasha and possibly De Valera and Lenin. But they realize with me
that India is not like Turkey or Ireland or Russia and that revolutionary
activity is suicidal at this stage of the country’s life at any rate if not for
all time, in a country so vast, so hopelessly divided and with the masses so
deeply sunk in pauperism and so fearfully terror-struck.
- Harijan, 12-7-1942
I would say to my critics to enter with me into the sufferings, not only of the
people of India but of those, whether engaged in the war or not, of the whole
world. I cannot look at this butchery going on in the world with indifference. I
have an unchangeable faith that it is beneath the dignity of men to resort to
mutual slaughter. I have no doubt that there is a way out.
- Hindustan Standard,20-7-1944
The accumulated experience of the past thirty years, the first eight of which
were in South Africa, fills me with the greatest hope that in the adoption of
nonviolence lies the future of India and the world. It is the most harmless and
yet equally effective way of dealing with the political and economic wrongs of
the downtrodden portion of humanity. I have known from early youth that
nonviolence is not a cloistered virtue to be practised by the individual for
peace and final salvation, but it is a rule of conduct for society if it is to
live consistently with human dignity and make progress towards the attainment of
peace for which it has been yearning for ages past.
- Gandhiji’s Correspondence with the Government 1942-1944, Navajivan Publishing
Moral Equivalent of War
Up to the year 1906, I simply relied on appeal to reason. I was a very
industrious reformer. I was a good draftsman, as I always had a close grip of
facts which in its turn was the necessary result of my meticulous regard for
truth. But I found that reason failed to produce an impression when the critical
moment arrived in South Africa. My people were excited; even a worm will and
does sometimes turn-and there was talk of wreaking vengeance. I had then to
choose between allying myself to violence or finding out some other method of
meeting the crisis and stopping the rot and it came to me that we should refuse
to obey legislation that was degrading and let them put us in jail if they
liked. Thus came into being the moral equivalent of war. I was then a loyalist,
because, I implicitly believed that the sum total of the activities of the
British empire was good for India and for humanity. Arriving in England soon
after the outbreak of the war I plunged into it and later when I was forced to
go to India as a result of the pleurisy that I had developed, I led a recruiting
campaign at the risk of my life, and to the horror of some of my friends. The
disillusionment came in 1919 after the passage of the Black Rowlatt Act and the
refusal of the Government to give the simple elementary redress of proved wrongs
that we had asked for. And so, in 1920, I became a rebel. Since then the
conviction to the people are not secured by reason alone but have to be
purchased with their suffering. Suffering is the law of human beings; war is the
law of the jungle. But suffering is infinitely more powerful than the law of the
jungle for converting the opponent and opening his ears, which are otherwise
shut, to the voice of reason. Nobody has probably drawn up more petitions or
espoused more forlorn causes than I and I have come to this fundamental
conclusion that if you want something really important to be done you must not
merely satisfy the reason, you must move the heart also. The appeal of reason is
more to the head but the penetration of the heart comes from suffering. It opens
up the inner understanding in man. Suffering is the badge of the human race, not
- Young India, 5-11-1931
The Essence of Nonviolence
Nonviolence is the law of the human race and is infinitely greater
than and superior to brute force.
In the last resort it does not avail to those who do not posses a
living faith in the God of Love
Nonviolence affords the fullest protection to one’s self-respect and sense of
honour, but not always to possession of land or movable property, though its
habitual practice does prove a better bulwark than the possession of armed men
to defend them. Nonviolence in the very nature of things is of no assistance I
the defence of ill-gotten gains and immoral acts.
Individuals and nations who would practise nonviolence must be
prepared to sacrifice (nations to the last man) their all except honour. It is
therefore inconsistent with the possession of other people’s countries, i.e.
modern imperialism which is frankly based on force for its defence.
Nonviolence is a power which can be wielded equally by
all-children, young men and women or grown up people, provided they have a
living faith in the God of Love and have therefore equal love for all mankind.
When non-violence is accepted as the law of life it must pervade the whole being
and not be applied to isolated acts.
It is a profound error to suppose that whilst the law is good
enough for individuals it is not for masses of mankind.
- Harijan, 5-9-1936
Is Perfection Possible?
Perfect nonviolence is impossible so long as we exist physically, for we would
want some space at least to occupy. Perfect non-violence whilst you are
inhabiting the body is only a theory like Euclid’s point or straight line, but
we have to endeavour every moment of our lives.
- Harijan, 21-7-1940
Ahimsa, distinguished from Non-killing
Let us now examine the root of ahimsa. It is uttermost selflessness.
Selflessness means complete freedom from a regard for one’s body. If man desired
to realize himself i.e. Truth, he could do so only by completely detached from
the body i.e. by making all other beings feel safe from him. That is the way of
Ahimsa does not simply mean non-killing. Himsa means causing pain to or killing
any life out of anger, or from a selfish purpose. Or with the intention of
injuring it. Refraining from so doing is ahimsa.
- Young India, 4-11-1926
be violence for all time, and all violence is sinful. But what is inevitable, is
not only declared the inevitable violence involved in killing for sacrifice as
permissible but even regarded it as meritorious.
It is no easy
thing to walk on the sharp sword-edge of ahimsa in this world which is full of
himsa. Wealth does not help; anger is the enemy of ahimsa; and pride is a
monster that swallows it up. In this strait and narrow observance of this
religion of ahimsa one has often to know so-called himsa as the truest form of
The sin of
himsa consists not in merely taking life, but in taking life for the sake of
one’s perishable body. All destruction therefore involved in the process of
eating, drinking etc. is selfish and therefore himsa. But man regards it to be
unavoidable and puts up with it. But the destruction of bodies of tortured
creatures being for their own peace cannot be regarded as himsa, or the
unavoidable destruction caused for the purpose of protecting one’s wards cannot
be regarded as himsa.
impossible to sustain one’s body without the destruction of other bodies to some
All have to
destroy some life,
for sustaining their own bodies,
for protecting those under their care, or
Something for the sake of those whose life is taken.
(a) and (b) in ‘2’ mean himsa to a greater or less extent. (c) means no himsa
and is therefore ahimsa. Himsa in (a) and (b) is unavoidable.
ahimsaist will, therefore, commit the himsa contained in (a) and (b) as little
as possible, only when it is unavoidable, and after full and mature deliberation
and having exhausted all remedies to avoid it.
may be a duty. We do destroy as much life as we think necessary for sustaining
our body. Thus for food we take life, vegetable and other, and for health we
destroy mosquitoes and the like by the use of disinfectants etc. and we do not
think that we are guilty of irreligion in doing so…for the benefit of the
species, we kill carnivorous beasts…Even man-slaughter may be necessary in
certain cases. Suppose a man runs amuck and goes furiously about sword in hand,
and killing anyone that comes in his way, and no one dares to capture him alive.
Any one who dispatches this lunatic, will earn the gratitude of the community
and be regarded as a benevolent man.
I see that
there is an instinctive horror of killing living beings under any circumstances
whatever. For instance, an alternative has been suggested in the shape of
confining even rabid dogs in a certain place and allowing them to die a slow
death. Now my idea of compassion makes this thing impossible for me. I cannot
for a moment bear to see a dog, or for that matter any other living being,
helplessly suffering the torture of a slow death. I do not kill a human being
thus circumstanced because I have more hopeful remedies. I should kill a dog
similarly situated, because in its case I am without a remedy. Should my child
be attacked with rabies and there was no helpful remedy to relieve his agony, I
should consider it my duty to take his life. Fatalism has its limits. We leave
things to Fate after exhausting all the remedies. One of the remedies and the
final one to relieve the agony of a tortured child is to take his life.
- Young India,
Why then not Kill Those Who Oppress Mankind?
No human being is so bad as to be beyond redemption, no human being is so
perfect as to warrant his destroying him whom he wrongly considers to be wholly
– Young India, 26-3-1931
A satyagrahi must never forget the distinction between evil and the evil-doer.
He must not harbour ill-will or bitterness against the latter. He may not even
employ needlessly offensive language against the evil person, however unrelieved
his evil might be. For it is an article of faith with every satyagrahi that
there is no one so fallen in this world but can be converted by love. A
satyagrahi will always try to overcome evil by good, anger by love, untruth by
truth, himsa by ahimsa. There is no other way of purging the world of evil.
– Young India, 8-8-1929
Absence of Hatred
I hold myself to be incapable of hating any being on earth. By a long course of
prayerful discipline, I have ceased for over forty years to hate anybody. I know
this is a big claim. Nevertheless, I make it in all humility. But I can and do
hate evil wherever it exists. I hate the system of government that he British
people have set up in India. I hate the ruthless exploitation of India even as I
hate from the bottom of my heart the hideous system of untouchability for which
millions of Hindus have made themselves responsible. But I do not hate the
domineering Hindus. I seek to reform them in all the loving ways that are open
to me. My non-co-operation has its roots not in hatred, but in love. My personal
religion peremptorily forbids me to hate anybody.
- Young India, 6-8-1925
We can only win over the opponent by love, never by hate. Hate is the subtlest
form of violence. We cannot be really nonviolent and yet have hate in us.
Truth in Speech and Nonviolence
To say or write a distasteful word is surely not violent especially when the
speaker or writer believes it to be true. The essence of violence is that there
must be a violent intention behind a thought, word or act, i.e. an i9ntention to
do harm to the opponent so-called.
False notions of propriety or fear of wounding susceptibilities often deter
people from saying what they mean and ultimately land them on the shores of
hypocrisy. But if non-violence of thought is to be evolved in individuals or
societies or nations, truth has to be told, however harsh or unpopular it may
appear to be for the moment.
Satyam bruyat, Priyam bruyat na bruyat Satyam apriyam
In my opinion the Sanskrit text means that one should speak the truth in gentle
language. One had better not speak it, if one cannot do so in a gentle way;
meaning thereby that there is no truth in a man who cannot control his tongue.
- Young India, 17-9-1925
Positive Aspects of Ahimsa: Love and Patience
In its positive form, ahimsa means the largest love, greatest charity. If I am a
follower of ahimsa, I must love my enemy. I must apply the same rules to the
wrong-doer who is my enemy or a stranger to me, as I would to my wrong-doing
father or son. This active necessarily includes truth and fearlessness. As man
cannot deceive the love one, he does not fear or frighten him or her. Gift of
life is the greatest of all gifts; a man who gives it in realty,, disarms all
hostility. He has paved the way for an honourable understanding. And none who is
himself subject to fear can bestow that gift, He must therefore be himself
fearless. A man cannot practise ahimsa and be a coward at the same time. The
practice of ahimsa calls forth the greatest courage.
- Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi , G.A. Natesan & Company
Having flung aside the sword, there is nothing except the cup of love which I
can offer to those who oppose me. It is by offering that cup that I expect to
draw them close to me. I cannot think of permanent enmity between man and man,
and believing as I do in the theory of rebirth, I live in the hope that if not
in this birth, in some other birth, I shall be able to hug all humanity in
- Young India,2-4-1931
Love is the strongest force the world possesses and yet it is the humblest
- Young India, 6-8-1925
The hardest heart and the grossest ignorance must disappear before the rising
sun of suffering without anger and without malice.
- Young India, 19-2-1925
Love has special quality of attracting abundance of love in return.
– With Gandhii in Ceylon by Mahadev Desai
My goal is friendship with the whole world and I can combine the greatest love
with the greatest opposition to wrong.
Nonviolence is ‘not a resignation from all real fighting against wickedness’. On
the contrary, the non-violence of my conception is a more active and real fight
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
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 is an ideal state. And so it is.
- Young India,8-10-1925
Nonviolence, Militant in Character
Nonviolence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean
meek submission to the will of the evil-doer, but it means the putting of one’
whole soul against the will of the tyrant. Working under this law of our beings,
it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust
empire to save his honour, his religion, his soul and lay the foundation for
that empire’s fall or its regeneration.
- Young India,11-2-1920
not merely be a passive spirituality that spends itself in idle meditation, but
it should be an active thing which will carry war into the enemy’s camp.
anything been done on this earth without direct action. I reject the word
‘passive resistance’, because of its insufficiency and its being interpreted as
a weapon of the weak.
What was the
larger ‘symbiosis’ that Buddha and Christ preached? Gentleness and love. Buddha
fearlessly carried the war into the enemy’s camp and brought down on its knees
an arrogant priesthood. Christ drove out the money-changers from the temple of
Jerusalem and drew down curses from heaven upon the hypocrites and the
Pharisees. Both were for intensely direct action. But even as Buddha and Christ
chastized, they showed unmistakable love and gentleness behind every act of
- Young India,
Our aim is not merely to arouse the best in the Englishman but to do so whilst
we are prosecuting our cause. If we cease to pursue our course, we do not evoke
the best in him. The best must not be confounded with good temper. When we are
dealing with any evil, we may have to ruffle the evil-doer. We have to run the
risk, if we are to bring the best out of him. I have likened nonviolence to
aseptic and violence to antiseptic treatment. Both are intended to ward off the
evil, and therefore cause a kind of disturbance which is often inevitable. The
first never harms the evil-doer.
True and False Non-violence
Non-violence presupposes ability to strike. It is a conscious, deliberate
restraint put upon one’s desire for vengeance. But vengeance is any day superior
to passive, effeminate and helpless submission. Forgiveness is higher still.
Vengeance too is weakness. The desire for vengeance comes out of fear of harm,
imaginary or real. A man who fears no one on earth would consider it troublesome
even to summon up anger against one who is vainly trying to injure him.
- Young India, 12-8-1926
Ahimsa is the extreme limit of forgiveness. But forgiveness is the quality of
the brave. Ahimsa is impossible without fearlessness.
-Young India, 4-11-1926
My creed of non-violence is an extremely active force. It has no room for
cowardice or even weakness. There is hope for a violent man to be some day
nonviolent but there is none for a coward. I have therefore said more than once
in these pages that if we do not know how to defend ourselves, our women and our
places of worship by the force of suffering, i.e. nonviolence, we must, if we
are men, be at least able to defend all these by fighting.
- Young India,16-6-1927
There are two ways of defence. The best and the most effective is not to defend
at all, but to remain at one’s post risking every danger. The next best but
equally honourable method is to strike bravely in self-defence and put one’s
life in the most dangerous positions.
- Young India,18-12-1924
The strength to kill is not essential for self-defence; one ought to have the
strength to die. When a man is fully ready to die, he will not even desire to
offer violence. Indeed I may put it down as a self-evident proposition that the
desire to kill is in inverse proportion to the desire to die. And history is
replete with instances of men who by dying with courage and compassion on their
lips converted the hearts of their violent opponents.
Young India, 23-1-30
Non-violence and cowardice go ill together. I can imagine a fully armed man to
be at heart a coward. Possession of arms implies an element of fear, if not
cowardice. But true non-violence is an impossibility without the possession of
True and False Nonviolence
Nonviolence to be a potent force must begin with the mind. Nonviolence of the
mere body without the co-operation of the mind is non-violence of weak or the
cowardly, and has therefore no potency. If we hear malice and hatred in our
bosoms and pretend not to retaliate, it must recoil upon us and lead to our
destruction. For abstention from mere body violence not to be injurious, it is
at least necessary not to entertain hatred if we cannot generate active love.
All the songs and speeches betokening hatred must be taboo.
- Young India, 2-4-1931
The mysterious effect of non-violence is not to be measured by its visible
effect. But we dare not rest content so long as the poison of hatred is allowed
to permeate society. This struggle is a stupendous effort at conversion. We aim
at nothing less than the conversion of the English. It can never be done by
harbouring ill-will and still pretending to follow non-violence. Let those
therefore who want to follow the path of non-violence and yet harbour ill-will
retrace their steps and repent of the wrong they have done to themselves and the
- Young India,2-4-1931
If we are
unmanly today, we are so, not because we do not know how to strike, but because
we fear to die. He is no follower of Mahavira, the apostle of Jainism, or of
Buddha or of the Vedas who, being afraid to die, takes flight before any danger,
real or imaginary, all the while wishing that somebody else would remove the
danger by destroying the person causing it. He is no follower of ahimsa who does
not care a straw if he kills a man by inches by deceiving him in trade, or who
would protect by force of arms a few cows and make away with the butcher or who,
in order to do a supposed good to his country, does not mind killing off a few
officials. All these are actuated by hatred, cowardice and fear. Here the love
of the cow or the country is a vague thing intended to satisfy one’s vanity or
soothe a stinging conscience.
understood, is in my humble opinion a panacea for all evils mundane and
extra-mundane. We can never over do it. Just at present we are not doing it at
all. Ahimsa does not displace the practice of other virtues, but renders their
practice imperatively necessary before it can be practised even in its
rudiments. Mahavira and Buddha were soldiers, and so was Tolstoy. Only, they saw
deeper and truer into their profession and found the secret of a true, happy,
honourable and godly life. Let us be joint-sharers with these teachers, and this
land of ours will once more be the abode of gods.
- Speeches and
Writings of Mahatma Gandhi , G.A. Natesan & Company
Violence, rather than Cowardice
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 non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly
than punishment. Forgiveness adorns the soldier. But abstinence is forgiveness
only when there is the power to punish; it is meaningless when it pretends to
proceed from a helpless creature. But I do not believe India to be helpless. I
do not believe myself to be a helpless creature. Strength does not come from
physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
The people of
a village near Bettiah told me that they had run away whilst the police were
looting their houses and molesting their womenfolk. When they said that they had
run away because I had told them to be nonviolent, I hung my head in shame. I
assured them that such was not the meaning of my nonviolence. I expected them to
intercept the mightiest power that might be in the act of harming those who were
under their protection, and draw without retaliation all harm upon their own
heads even to the point of death, but never to run away from the storm centre.
It was manly enough to defend one’s property, honour o0r religion at the point
of the sword. It was manlier and nobler to defend them without seeking to injure
the wrongdoer. But it was unmanly, unnatural and dishonourable to forsake the
post of duty and, in order to save one’s skin, to leave property, honour or
religion to the mercy of the wrongdoer. I could see my way of delivering the
message of ahimsa to those who knew how to die, not to those who were afraid of
- Gandhiji in
Indian Villages by Mahadev Desai
The weakest of us physically must be taught the art of facing dangers and giving
a good account of ourselves. I want both the Hindus and the Mussalmans to
cultivate the cool courage, to die without killing. But if one has not that
courage, I want him to cultivate the art of killing and being killed, rather
than in a cowardly manner flee from danger. For the latter in spite of his
flight does commit mental himsa. He flees because he has not the courage to be
killed in the act of killing.
- Young India,20-10-1921
Self-defence is the only honourable course where there is unreadiness for
I would risk violence a thousand times than the emasculation of a whole race.
- Young India,4-8-1920
The Hindus think that they are physically weaker than the Mussalmans. The latter
consider themselves weak in educational and earthly equipment. They are now
doing what all weak bodies have done hitherto. This fighting, therefore, however
unfortunate it may be, is a sign of growth. It is like the Wars of the Roses.
Out of it will rise a mighty nation.
- Young India,9-9-1926
Limitations of Violence
Hitherto I have given historical instances of bloodless non-co-operation. I will
not Insult the intelligence of the reader by citing historical instances on
non-co-operation combined with violence, but I am free to confess that there are
on record as many successes as failures in violent non-co-operation.
Young India, 4-8-20
Revolutionary crime is intended to exert pressure. But it is the insane pressure
of anger and ill-will. I contend that non-violent acts exert pressure far more
effective than violent acts, for that pressure comes from goodwill and
I do not blame the British. If we were weak in numbers as they are, we too would
perhaps have resorted to the same methods as they are now employing. Terrorism
and deception are weapons not of the strong but of the weak. The British are
weak in numbers, we are weak in spite of our numbers. The result is that each is
dragging the other down. It is common experience that Englishmen lose in
character after residence in India and that Indians lose in courage and
manliness by contact with Englishmen. This process of weakening is good neither
for us two nations, nor for the world.
Young India, 22-9-20
I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only
temporary; the evil it does is permanent. I do not believe that the killing of
even every Englishman can do the slightest good to India. The millions will be
just as badly off as they are today, if someone made it possible to kill of
every Englishman tomorrow. The responsibility is more ours than that of the
English for the present state of things. The English will be powerless to do
evil if we will but be good. Hence my incessant emphasis o reform from within.
Young India, 2I-5-25
Good brought through force destroyed individuality. Only when the change was
effected through the persuasive power of nonviolent non-co-operation, i.e. love,
could the foundation of individuality be preserved, and real, abiding progress
be assured for the world.
History teaches one that those who have, no doubt with honest motives, ousted
the greedy by using brute force against them, have in their turn become a prey
to the disease of the conquered.
Young India, 6-5-26
To the Revolutionary
Those whom you seek to depose are better armed and infinitely better organized
than you are. You may not care for your own loves, but you dare not disregard
those of your countrymen who have no desire to die a martyr’s death.
Young India, 26-I2-24
Form violence done to the foreign ruler, violence to our own people whom we may
consider to be obstructing the country’s progress is an easy natural step.
Whatever may have been the result of violent activities in other countries and
without reference to the philosophy of non-violence, it does not require much
intellectual effort to see that if we resort to violence for ridding society of
the many abuses which impede our progress, we shall add to our difficulties and
postpone the day of freedom. The people unprepared for reform because
unconvinced of their necessity will be maddened with rage over their coercion,
and will seek the assistance of the assistance of the foreigner in order to
retaliate. Has not this been happening before our eyes for the past many years
of which we have still painfully vivid recollections?
Young India, 2-I-30
I hold that
the world is sick of armed rebellions. I hold too that whatever may be true of
other countries, a bloody revolution will not succeed in India. The masses have
no active part can do no good to them. A successful bloody revolution can only
mean further misery for the masses. For it would be still foreign rule for them.
The non-violence I teach is active non-violence of the strongest. But the
weakest can partake in it without becoming weaker. They can only be the stronger
for having been in it. The masses are far bolder today than ever were. A
non-violent struggle necessarily involves construction on a mass scale. It
cannot therefore lead to tamas or darkness or inertia. It means a quickening of
the national life. That movement is still going on silently almost
imperceptibly, but none the less surely.
I do not deny
the revolutionary’s heroism and sacrifice. But heroism and sacrifice in a bad
cause are so much waste of splendid energy and hurt the good cause by drawing
away attention from it by the glamour of the misused heroism and sacrifice in a
I am not
ashamed to stand erect before the heroic and self-sacrificing revolutionary
because I am able to pit an equal measure of non-violent men’s heroism and
sacrifice untarnished by the blood of the innocent. Self-sacrifice of one innocent
man is a million times more potent than the sacrifice of million men who die in
the act of killing others. The willing sacrifice of the innocent is the most
powerful retort to insolent tyranny that has yet been conceived by God or man.
Young India, I2-2-25
the Swifter Way
weapon of self-purification, intangible as it seems, is the most potent means of
revolutionizing one’s environment and loosening external shackles. It works
subtly and invisibly; it is an intense process though it might often seem a
weary and long-drawn process, it is the straightest way to liberation. The
surest and quickest and no effort can be too great for it. What it requires is
faith-an unshakable mountain-like faith that flinches from nothing.
You need not
be afraid that the method of nonviolence is a slow long-drawn out process. It is
the swiftest the world has seen, for it is the surest.
freedom is assured if she has patience. That way will be found to be the
shortest even though it may appear to be the longest to our impatient nature.
The way of peace insures internal growth and stability.
Young India, 20-5-26
Non-violence also the Noble Way
I am more concerned in preventing the brutalization of human nature than in the
prevention of the sufferings of my own people. I know that people who
voluntarily undergo a course of suffering raise themselves and the whole of
humanity; but I also know that people who become brutalized in their desperate
efforts to get victory over their opponents or to exploit weaker nations or
weaker men, not only drag down themselves but mankind also. And it cannot be a
matter of pleasure to me or anyone else to see human nature dragged to the mire.
If we are all sons of the same God and partake of the same divine essence, we
must partake of the sin of every person whether he belongs to us or to another
race. You can understand how repugnant it must be to invoke the beast in any
human being, how mush more so in Englishmen, among whom I count numerous
friends. I invite you all to give all the help that you can in the endeavour
that I am making.
Young India, 29-I0-31
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.
Young India, 8-I0-25
The method of
passive resistance is the clearest and safest, because, if the cause is not
true, it is the resisters, and they alone, who suffer.
- Speeches and
Writings of Mahatma Gandhi , G.A. Natesan & Company
Passive resistance is an all-sided sword; it can be used anyhow; it blesses him
who uses it and him against whom it is used.
- Indian Home Rule
The beauty of satyagraha, of which non-co-operation is but a chapter, is that it
is available to either side in a fight; that it has checks that automatically
work for the vindication of truth and justice for that side, whichever it may
be, that has truth and justice in preponderating measure. It is as powerful and
faithful a weapon in the hand of the capitalist as in that of the labourer. It
is as powerful in the hands of the government, as in that of the people, and
will bring victory to the government, if people are misguided or unjust, as it
will win the battle for the people if the government be in the wrong. Quick
disorganization and defeat are bound to be the fate of bolstered up cases and
artificial agitations, if the battle is fought with satyagraha weapons. Suppose
the people are unfit to rule themselves, or are unwilling to sacrifice for a
cause, then, no amount of noise will bring them victory in non-co-operation.
Young India, 23-6-20
The main thing, however, is for women to know how to be fearless. It is my firm
conviction; that a fearless woman who knows that her purity is her best shield
can never be dishonoured. However beastly the man, he will bow in shame before
the flame of her dazzling purity. There are examples even in modern times of
women who have thus defended themselves. I can, as I write, recall two such
instances. I therefore recommend women who read this article to try to cultivate
this courage. They will become wholly fearless, if they can and cease to tremble
as they do today at the mere thought of assaults. It is not, however, necessary
for a woman to go through a bitter; experience for the sake of passing a test of
courage. These experiences mercifully do not come in the way of lakhs or even
thousands. Every soldier is not a beast. It is a minority that loses all sense
of decency. Only twenty per cent of snakes are poisonous, and out of these a few
only bite. They do not attack unless trodden on. But this knowledge does not
help those who are full of fear and tremble at the sight of a snake. Parents and
husbands should, therefore, instruct women in the art of becoming fearless. It
can best be learnt from a living faith in God. Though He is invisible, He is
one’s unfailing protector. He who has this faith is the most fearless of all.
But such faith or courage cannot be acquired in a day. Meantime we must try to
explore4 other means. When a woman is assaulted she may not stop to think in
terms of himsa or ahimsa. Her primary duty is self-protection. She is at liberty
to employ every method or means that come to her mind in order to defend her
honour. God has given her nails and teeth. She must use them with all her
strength and, if need be, die in the effort. The man or woman who has shed all
fear of death will be able not only to protect himself or herself but others
also through laying down his life. In truth we fear death most, and hence we
ultimately submit to superior physical force. Some will bend the knee to the
invader, some will resort to bribery, some will crawl on their bellies or submit
to other forms of humiliation, and some women will even give their bodies rather
than die. I have not written this in a carping spirit. I am only illustrating
human nature. Whether we crawl on our belies or whether a woman yields to the
lust of man it is symbolic of that same love of life which makes us stoop to
anything. Therefore only he who loses his life shall save it; (tena tyaktena
bhunjithah). Every reader should commit this matchless shloka to memory. But
mere lip loyalty to it will be of no avail. It must penetrate deep down to the
innermost recesses of his heart. To enjoy life one should give up the lure of
life. That; should be part of our nature.
So much for what a woman should do. But what about a man who is witness to such
crimes? The answer is implied in the foregoing. He must not be a passive
onlooker. He must protect the woman. He must not run for police help; he must
not rest satisfied by pulling the alarm chain in the train. If he is able to
practise non-violence, he will die in doing so and thus save the woman in
jeopardy. If he does not believe in non-violence or cannot practise it, he must
try to save her by using all the force he may have. In either way there must be
readiness on his part to lay down his life.
Q. what is a woman to do when attacked by miscreants? To run away,
or resist with violence? To; have boats in readiness to fly or prepare to defend
A: My answer to this question is very simple. For me there can be
no preparation for violence. All preparation must be for non-violence if courage
of the highest type is to be developed. Violence can only be tolerated as being
preferable always to cowardice. Therefore I would have no boats ready for a
flight in emergency. For a non-violent person there is no emergency, but quiet
dignified preparation for death. Hence whether it Is a man or a woman he or she
will defy death even when he or she is unassisted; for the real assistance is
from God. I can preach no other thing and I am here to practise what I preach.
Whether such an opportunity will occur to me or be given to me I do not know. If
there are women who when assailed by miscreants cannot resist themselves without
arms they do not need to be advised to carry arms. They will do so. There is
something wrong in this constant enquiry as to whether to bear arms or not.
People have to learn to be naturally independent. If they will remember the
central teaching, namely, that the real effective resistance lies in
non-violence, they will model their conduct accordingly. And that is what the
world had been doing although unthinkingly. Since it is not the highest courage,
namely, courage born of non-violence, it arms itself even unto the atom bomb.
Those who do not see in it the futility of violence will naturally arm
themselves to the best of their ability.
In India since my return from South Africa, there has been
conscious and constant training in non-violence with the result we have seen.
Q. Can a woman be advised to take her own life rather than
A. The question requires a definite answer. I answered it in Delhi
just before leaving for Noakhali. A woman would most certainly take her own life
rather than surrender. In other words, Surrender has no room in my plan of life.
But I was asked in what way to take one’s own life. I promptly said it was not
for me to prescribe the means, and behind the approval of suicide under such
circumstances was and is the belief that one whose mind is prepared for even
suicide will have the requisite courage for such mental resistance and such
internal purity that her assailant will be disarmed. I could not carry the
argument any further because it does not admit of further development. It
requires positive proof which, I own, is lacking.
Q. If the choice is between taking one’s own life and that of the
assailant. which would you advise?
A. When it is a question of choice between killing oneself or the assailant, I
have no doubt in my mind that the first should be the choice.
Nonviolence during Riots
To quell riots nonviolently, there must be true ahimsa in one’s heart, an ahimsa
that takes even the erring hooligan in its warm embrace. Such an attitude cannot
be cultivated. It can only come as a result of prolonged and patient effort
which must be made during peaceful times. The would-be members of a peace
brigade should come into close touch and; cultivate acquaintance with the
so-called goonda element in his vicinity. He should know all and be known to all
and win the hearts of al by his living and selfless service. No section should
be regarded as too contemptible or mean to mix with. Goondas do not drop from
the sky, nor do they spring from the earth like evil spirits. They are the
product of social disorganization, and society is therefore responsible for
their existence. In other words, they should be looked upon as a symptom of
corruption in our body politic. To remove the disease we must first discover the
underlying cause. To find the remedy will then be a comparatively easy task.
Can Aggression Be Stopped by Non-violence?
Q. How could a disarmed neutral country allow other nations to be
But for our army which was waiting ready at our frontier during the last war we
should have been ruined.
A. At the risk of being considered a visionary or a fool I must answer this
question in the only manner I know. It would be cowardly of a neutral country to
allow an army to devastate a neighbouring country. But there are two ways in
common between soldiers of war and soldiers of non-violence, and if I had been a
citizen of Switzerland and a President of the Federal State what I would have
done would be to refuse passage to the invading army by refusing al supplies.
Secondly, by re-enacting a Thermopylae in Switzerland, you would have presented
a living wall of men and women and children and inviting the invaders to walk
over your corpses. You may say that such a thing is beyond human experience and
endurance. I say that it is not so. It was quite possible. Last year in Gujarat,
women stood lathi charges unflinchingly and in Peshawar thousands stood hails of
bullets without resorting to violence. Imagine these men and women staying in
front of an army requiring a safe passage to another country. The army would be
brutal enough to walk over them, you might say. I would then say you will still
have done your duty by allowing yourselves to be annihilated. An army that dares
to pass over the corpses of innocent men and women would not be able to repeat
that experiment. You may, if you wish, refuse to believe in such courage on the
party of the masses of men and women; but then you would have to admit that
non-violence is made of sterner stuff. It was never conceived as a weapon of the
weak, but of the stoutest hearts.
Q. Is it open to a soldier to fire in the air and avoid violence ?
A. A soldier who having enlisted himself flattered himself that he was avoiding
violence by shooting in the air did no credit to his courage or to his creed of
non-violence. In my scheme of things, such a man would be held guilt of untruth
and cowardice both—cowardice in that in order to escape punishment he enlisted,
and untruth in that he enlisted to serve as soldier and did not fire as
expected. Such a thing discredits the cause of waging war against war. The
war-resisters have to be like caesar’s wife –above suspicion. Their strength
lies in absolute adherence to the morality of the question.
Young India, 31-12-31
Indeed the weakest State can render itself immune from attack if it learns the
art of non-violence. But a small State, no matter how powerfully armed it is,
cannot exist in the midst of a powerful combination of will-armed States. It has
to be absorbed by or be under the protection of one of the members of such a
Whatever Hitler may ultimately prove to be, we know what Hitlerism has come to
mean, It means naked, ruthless force reduced to an exact science and worked with
scientific precision. In its effect it becomes almost irresistible.
Hitlerism will never be defeated by counter-Hitlerism. It can only breed
superior Hitlerism raised to degree. What is going on before our eyes is the
demonstration of the futility of violence as also of Hitlerism.
What will Hitler do with his victory? Can he digest so much power? Personally he
will go as empty-handed as his not very remote predecessor Alexander. For the
Germans he will have left not the pleasure of owning a mighty empire but the
burden of sustaining its crushing weight. For they will not be able to hold all
the conquered nations in perpetual subjection. And I doubt if the Germans of
future generations will entertain unadulterated pride in the deeds for which
Hitlerism will be deemed responsible. They will honour Herr Hitler as genius, as
a brave man, a matchless organizer and much more. But I should hope that the
Germans of the future will have learnt the art of discrimination even about
their heroes. Anyway I think it will be allowed that all the blood that has been
spilled by Hitler has added not a millionth part of an inch to the world’s moral
As against this imagine the state of Europe today if the Czechs, the Poles, the
Norwegians, the French and the English had all said to Hitler: ‘You need not
make your scientific preparation for destruction. We will meet your violence
with non-violence. You will therefore be able to destroy our non-violent army
without tanks, battleships and airships.’ It may be retorted that the only
difference would be that Hitler would have got without fighting what he has
gained after a bloody fight. Exactly. The history of Europe would then have been
written differently. Possession might (but only might) have been taken under
non-violent resistance, as it has been taken now after perpetration of untold
barbarities. Under non-violence, only those would have been killed who had
trained themselves to be killed, if need be, but without killing anyone and
without bearing malice towards anybody. I dare say that in that case Europe
would have added several inches to its moral stature. And in the end I expect it
is moral worth that will count. All else is dross.