Gandhi's Views On Satyagraha
Satyagraha At Viramgam
From Poona I went to Rajkot and
Porbandar, where I had to meet my brother's widow and other relatives.
During the Satyagraha in South
Africa I had altered my style of dress so as to make it more in keeping with
that of the indentured labourers, and in England also I had adhered to the same
style for indoor use. For landing in Bombay I had a Kathiawadi suit of clothes
consisting of a shirt, a dhoti, a cloak and a white scarf, all made of Indian
mill cloth. But as I was to travel third from Bombay, I regarded the scarf and
the cloak as too much of an encumbrance, so I shed them, and invested in an
eight-to-ten-annas Kashmiri cap. One dressed in that fashion was sure to pass
muster as a poor man.
On account of the plague prevailing
at that time third class passengers were being medically inspected at Viramgam
or Wadhwan I forget which. I had slight fever. The inspector on finding that I
had a temperature asked me to report myself to the Medical Officer at Rajkot and
noted down my name.
Someone had perhaps sent the
information that I was passing through Wadhwan, for the tailor Motilal, a noted
public worker of the place, met me at the station. He told me about the Viramgam
customs, and the hardships railway passengers had to suffer on account of it. I
had little inclination to talk because of my fever, and tried to finish with a
brief reply which took the form of a question:
'Are you prepared to go to jail?'
I had taken Motilal to be one of
those impetuous youths who do not think before speaking. But not so Motilal. He
replied with firm deliberation:
'We will certainly go to jail,
provided you lead us. As kathiawadis, we have the first right on you. Of course
we do not mean to detain you now, but you must promise to halt here on your
return. You will be delighted to see the work and the spirit of our youths, and
you may trust us to respond as soon as you summon us.'
Motilal captivated me. His comrade
eulogizing him, said:
'Our friend is but a tailor. But he
is such a master of his profession that he easily earns Rs. 15 a month which is
just what he needs working an hour a day, and gives the rest of his time to
public work. He leads us all, putting our education to shame.
Later I came in close contact with
Motilal, and I saw that there was no exaggeration in the eulogy. He made a point
of spending some days in the then newly started Ashram every month to teach the
children tailoring and to do some of the tailoring of the Ashram himself. He
would talk to me every day of Viramgam, and the hardships of the passengers,
which had become absolutely unbearable for him. He was cut off in the prime of
youth by a sudden illness, and public life at Wadhwan suffered without him.
On reaching Rajkot, I reported
myself to the Medical officer the next morning. I was not unknown there. The
Doctor felt ashamed and was angry with the inspector. This was unnecessary, for
the inspector had only done his duty. He did not know me, and even if he had
known me, he should done have otherwise. The Medical Officer would not let me go
to him again insisted on sending an inspector to me instead.
Inspection of third class passengers
for sanitary reasons is essential on such occasions. If big men choose to travel
third, whatever their position in life, they must voluntarily submit themselves
to all the regulations that the poor are subject to, and the officials ought to
be impartial. My experience is that the officials, instead of looking upon third
class passengers as fellowmen, regard them as so many sheep. They talk to them
contemptuously, and brook no reply or argument. The third class passenger has to
obey the official as though he were his servant, and the letter may with
impunity belabour and blackmail him, and book him his ticket only putting him to
the greatest possible inconvenience, including often missing the train. All this
I have seen with my own eyes. No reform is possible unless some of the educated
and the rich voluntarily accept the status of the poor, travel third, refuse to
enjoy the amenities denied to the poor and, instead of taking avoidable
hardships, discourtesies and injustice as a matter of course, fight for their
Wherever I went in Kathiawad I heard
complaints about the Viramgam customs hardships. I therefore decided immediately
to make use of Lord Willingdon's offer. I collected and read all the literature
available on the subject, convinced myself that the complaints were well
founded, and opened correspondence with the Bombay Government. I called on the
Private Secretary to Lord Willingdon and waited on His Excellency also. The
latter expressed his sympathy but shifted the blame on Delhi. 'If it had been in
our hands, we should have removed the cordon long ago. You should approach the
Government of India,' said the secretary.
I communicated with the Government
of India, but got no reply beyond an acknowledgment. It was only when I had an
occasion to meet Lord Chelmsford later that redress could be had. When I placed
the facts before him, he expressed his astonishment. He had known nothing of the
matter. He gave me a patient hearing, telephoned that very moment for papers
about Viramgam, and promised to remove the cordon if the authorities had no
explanation or defence to offer. Within a few days of this interview I read in
the papers that the Viramgam customs cordon had been removed.
I regarded this event as the advent
of Satyagraha in India. For during my interview with the Bombay Government the
Secretary had expressed his disapproval of a reference to Satyagraha in a speech
which I had delivered in Bagasra (in Kathiawad).
'Is not this a threat?' he had
asked. 'And do you think a powerful Government will yield to threats?'
'This was no threat', I had replied.
'It was educating the people. It is my duty to place before the people all the
legitimate remedies for grievances. A nation that wants to come into its own
ought to know all the ways and means to freedom. Usually they include violence
as the last remedy. Satyagraha, on the other hand, is an absolutely non- violent
weapon. I regard it as my duty to explain its practice and its limitations. I
have no doubt that the British Government is a powerful Government, but I have
no doubt also that Satyagraha is a sovereign remedy.'
The clever Secretary skeptically
nodded his head and said: 'We shall see.'
[Source: This article is taken from
the book "The selected works of Mahatma Gandhi"
Autbiography-Vol II, Navneet Publications, Ahmedabad, India]