Gandhi's Views On Satyagraha
Satyagraha In South Africa
Though I thus took part in the war
as a matter of duty, it chanced that I was not only unable directly to
participate in it, but actually compelled to offer what may be called miniature
Satyagraha even at that critical juncture.
I have already said that an officer
was appointed in charge of our training, as soon as our names were approved and
enlisted. We were all under the impression that this Commanding Officer was to
be our chief only so far as technical matters were concerned, and that in all
other matters I was the head of our Corps, which was directly responsible to me
in matters of internal discipline; that is to say, the Commanding Officer had to
deal with the Corps through me. But from the first the Officer left us under no
Mr. Sorabji Adajania was a shrewd
man. He warned me. 'Beware of this man,' he said. 'He seems inclined to lord it
over us. We will have none of his orders. We are prepared to look upon him as
our instructor. But the youngsters he has appointed to instruct us also feel as
though they had come as our masters.'
These youngsters were Oxford
students who had come to instruct us and whom the Commanding Officer had
appointed to be our section leaders.
I also had not failed to notice the
high-handedness of the Commanding Officer, but I asked Sorabji not to be anxious
and tried to pacify him. But he was not the man to be easily convinced.
'You are too trusting. Those people
will deceive you with wretched words, and when at last you see through them, you
will ask us to resort to Satyagraha, and so come to grief, and bring us all to
grief along with you,' said he with a smile.
'What else but grief can you hope to
come to after having cast in your lot with me?' said I. 'A Satyagrahi is born to
be deceived. Let the Commanding Officer deceive us. Have I not told you times
without number that ultimately a deceiver only deceives himself?'
Sorabji gave a loud laugh. 'Well,
then,' said he, 'continue to be deceived. You will some day meet your death in
Satyagraha and drag poor mortals like me behind you.'
These words put me in mind of what
the late Miss Emily Hobhouse wrote to me with regard to non-co-operation: 'I
should not be surprised if one of these days you have to go to the gallows for
the sake of truth. May God show you the right path and protect you.'
The talk with Sorabji took place
just after the appointment of the Commanding Officer. In a very few days our
relations with him reached the breaking point. I had hardly regained my strength
after the fourteen days' fast, when I began to take part in the drill, often
walking to the appointed place about two miles from home. This gave me pleurisy
and laid me low. In this condition I had to go week-end camping. Whilst the
others stayed there, I returned home. It was here that an occasion arose for
The Commanding Officer began to
exercise his authority somewhat freely. He gave us clearly to understand that he
was our head in all matters, military and non-military, giving us at the same
time a taste of his authority. Sorabji hurried to me. He was not at all prepared
to put up with this high-handedness. He said: 'We must have all orders through
you. We are still in the training camp and all sorts of absurd orders are being
issued. Invidious distinctions are made between ourselves and those youths who
have been appointed to instruct us. We must have it out with the Commanding
Officer, otherwise we shall not be able to go on any longer. The Indian students
and others who have joined our Corps are not going to abide by any absurd
orders. In a cause which has been taken up for the sake of self-respect, it is
unthinkable to put up with loss of it.'
I approached the Commanding Officer
and drew his attention to the complaints I had received. He wrote asking me to
set out the complaints in writing, at the same time asking me 'to impress upon
those who complain that the proper direction in which to make complaints is to
me through their section commanders, now appointed, who will inform me through
To this I replied saying that I
claimed no authority, that in the military sense I was no more than any other
private, but that I had believed that as Chairman of the Volunteer Corps, I
should be allowed unofficially to act as their representative. I also set out
the grievances and requests that had been brought to my notice, namely, that
grievous dissatisfaction had been caused by the appointment of section leaders
without reference to the feeling of the members of the Corps; that they be
recalled, and the Corps be invited to elect section leaders, subject to the
This did not appeal to the
Commanding Officer, who said it was repugnant to all military discipline that
the section leaders should be elected by the Corps, and that the recall of
appointments already made would be subversive of all discipline.
So we held a meeting and decided
upon withdrawal. I brought home to the members the serious consequences of
Satyagraha. But a very large majority voted for the resolution, which was to the
effect that, unless the appointments of Corporals already made were recalled and
the members of the Corps given an opportunity of electing their own Corporals,
the members would be obliged to abstain from further drilling and week-end
I then addressed a letter to the
Commanding Officer telling him what a severe disappointment his letter rejecting
my suggestion had been. I assured him that I was most anxious to serve. I also
drew his attention to a precedent. I pointed out that, although I occupied no
official rank in the South African Indian Ambulance Corps at the time of the
Boer War, there was never a hitch between Colonel Gallwey and the Corps, and the
Colonel never took a step without reference to me with a view to ascertain the
wishes of the Corps. I also enclosed a copy of the resolution we had passed the
This had no good effect on the
Officer, who felt that the meeting and the resolution were a grave breach of
Hereupon I addressed a letter to the
Secretary of State for India, acquainting him with all the facts and enclosing a
copy of the resolution. He replied explaining that conditions in South Africa
were different, and drawing my attentions to the fact that under the rules the
section commanders were appointed by the Commanding Officer, but assuring me
that in future, when appointing section commanders, the Commanding Officer would
consider my recommendations.
A good deal of correspondence passed
between us after this, but I do not want to prolong the bitter tale. Suffice it
to say that my experience was of a piece with the experiences we daily have in
India. What with threats and what with adroitness the Commanding Officer
succeeded in creating a division in our Corps. Some of those who had voted for
the resolution yielded to the Commander's threats or persuasions and went back
on their promise.
About this time an unexpectedly
large contingent of wounded soldiers arrived at the Netley Hospital, and the
services of our Corps were requisitioned. Those whom the Commanding Officer
could persuade went to Netley. The others refused to go. I was on my back, but
was in communication with the members of the Corps. Mr. Roberts, the Under-
Secretary of State, honoured me with many calls during those days. He insisted
on my persuading the others to serve. He suggested that they should form a
separate Corps and that at the Netley Hospital they could be responsible only to
the Commanding Officer there, so that there would be no question of loss of
self-respect, Government would be placated, and at same time helpful service
would be rendered to the large number of wounded received at the hospital. This
suggestion appealed both to my companions and to me, with the result that those
who had stayed away also went to Netley.
Only I remained away, lying on my
back and making the best of a bad job.
[Source: This article is taken
from the book "The selected works of Mahatma Gandhi"
Autobiography-Vol. II, (Navneet Publications, Ahmedabad, India]