There has often been a general reaction, especially among young people about Mahatma Gandhi and his principles of Non- Violence and Truth. A kind of revulsion is expressed at Gandhian advice of presenting the other cheek if slapped on one. Even in ‘Lage Raho, Munnabhai’ though not wrongly, this philosophy has been shown but not explained, thereby, in a manner showing the ineffectiveness of the principle. This piece is therefore being written to analyze and put before the young reader the true concept of Non-Violence as understood by me from Gandhiji’s writings, his observations, his conduct of the freedom struggle and his whole life which he used to say ‘was his message’.
Suppose two adversaries are having a fight with their choice of weapons. One chooses a sword and the other chooses the shield. Both fight manfully and courageously. In this scenario would you fault the warrior with the shield to be an impractical person, foolhardy or devoid of common sense only because he chose weapon of defense in the shield? A very common and kind of practical answer would be, ‘Yes, the warrior with the shield would not last long against the Warrior with a sword.’ And if I say that there is one warrior who chooses to challenge the armed Warrior with the sword without any arms but stood out for fight? You would be laughing out loud (LOL). ‘Ha Ha Ha, he would not last a minute, you see, Hee Hee Hee, what an impractical joker he is, Ho Ho Ho’. But the Warrior without arms dares the Warrior with a sword, parries him on all counts and lo and behold, Wins! Would you even now fault the warrior without arms of being foolhardy and impractical in fighting without arms? That’s what we are doing in faulting Mahatma Gandhi for his practice of Non-Violence in the freedom struggle or in offering the other cheek if one is slapped. Because Mahatma Gandhi chose Non-Violence as his weapon of choice, we cannot fault him in calling him impractical or devoid of common sense, as we are missing the actual spirit of the message that Mahatma Gandhi conveyed to the nation or people of this earth.
The question is what is the essential spirit of presenting the other cheek if one is slapped? It is the message of supreme courage, of a superior moral force and the spirit of ‘Dare’ against the unjust to do whatever he can do but still not be able to obtain submission to his oppression. You hit me, once or twice or as many times but I will oppose you still with all my might and would not submit or retrace my steps. It is this dare thing which had not happened to the British in their almost two hundred years of rule in India and it was all in the open, in the streets, in the public meetings, in towns, villages, railway stations, bus stations, churches, temples and mosques and British did not know what to do. The magnitude and scale of the movement of unarmed people opposing the might of British Empire made them look pigmy before a colossus of unarmed and truthful Mahatma Gandhi walking so tall yet so just and peaceful.
Mahatma Gandhi was a warrior and fought against injustice and oppression all through his life. He was a soldier by choice and not by force of circumstances. In Pietermaritzburg when he was evicted out of the train despite having a first class ticket and he lay on the Railway Platform he became alive to the racial discrimination and decided to fight against this injustice. Many might have pocketed it or might have lodged a complaint. The votaries of practicality might have advised the exigency of not doing anything in view of it being official policy of the state and lest it might affect his Law practice(After all many expatriate Indians settled in South Africa were tolerating this colour discrimination regime and no one gave any resistance to it ). Friends, had M.K. Gandhi then listened to this advice, it is here that the other cheek would not have been offered. But not for M.K. Gandhi, who forsook everything and started the movement against this colour discrimination till he achieved complete success, in 22 years (1893–1915) of almost relentless struggle. It is this spirit of taking the wrongdoer head-on and taking recourse of struggle in opposing the injustice that brought out in bold relief his character as a fighter. It is this taking up the fight against injustice and daring the oppressor by remaining unarmed and yet opposing him which we keep on missing all the time. Much later this incident was immortalized in the following manner,
“The story of Gandhi’s travails at Pietermaritzburg Railway Station has now acquired another life. In a moving ceremony at Pietermaritzburg Railway Station presided over by Nelson Mandela, the President of South Africa, the Freedom of Pietermaritzburg was conferred posthumously on Mahatma Gandhi on April 25, 1997. Gathered together to right a century-old wrong, President Mandela recalled “Gandhi’s magnificent example of personal sacrifice and dedication in the face of oppression”
His grandson, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, as Indian envoy to South Africa said in his acceptance speech.
“When Gandhi was evicted from the train, an Indian visiting South Africa fell but when Gandhi rose, an Indian South African rose.”
Unfortunately we remember the clichés more than the real substance. Despite Mahatma Gandhi’s copious enunciation of the Non-Violence as a principle and his deep disgust with cowardice to the extent of espousal of violence, we remember only the offering of the other cheek when slapped on one cheek, not realizing that not offering the second cheek would be cowardice. Therefore oppose we must and that is why I said that in ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’ his hitting the guard after being slapped on the other cheek was opposition by violence as recommended by Mahatma Gandhi, but not withdrawing from the protest was the spirit behind the principle. In this line only I remember a teacher telling my daughter in a school in the eighth class that, “Had Mahatma Gandhi not withdrawn the non-cooperation movement in 1922 after Chari Chaura, we would have attained independence by 1925!” For such faulty understanding of our freedom struggle and the practice of non-violence in the non-cooperation movement, it is necessary that we read the aftermath of Chari Chaura.
Aftermath of Chauri Chaura was immediate proclamation of Martial Law( This entails appointment of highest ranking Military Officer as the Governor of the Province, suspension of civil liberties and habeous corpus etc.) by the British Government. There were hundreds of arrests and 228 people were put to trial of which 6 died in police custody and led to death sentence to 172 people by the lower court (Imagine the gall of British) which was later confirmed for 19 persons and life imprisonment for 110 persons and long imprisonment sentences for the rest by the High Court(please note that 22–23 Indian policemen and 3 civilians were killed in Chauri Chaura). Mahatma Gandhi accepted the culpability in the bloodshed and went for five days penance fast. He was also arrested and sentenced to six years imprisonment (He was released in 1924 due to ill health). The Chauri Chaura incident took place on 4.02.1922 and the Indian National Congress withdrew the non-cooperation movement on 12.02.1922.The honourable teacher of my daughter never realized and expanded that had Mahatma Gandhi not withdrawn the non-cooperation movement at that time, the British would have got perfect reason to declare the movement as any other violent movement or rather a mutiny and would have taken recourse to brutal repressive measures and internationally claim that non-violence of Gandhi was a hoax and the lifework of Mahatma Gandhi would have been laid waste. The beauty of withdrawal of non-cooperation movement was that the justification of tightening their control over the movement was never provided and British remained stupefied as to how to deal with the morality of actions of Mahatma Gandhi which finally won international acclaim for him and all round condemnation of the British which finally won us the freedom. But I was surprised that in these days also, with all this being part of our written history of freedom struggle and being taught in the school, the school teacher still harbor such faulty notions about Mahatma Gandhi and his principles and practice of Truth and non-violence.
The movement of Mahatma Gandhi was so unique and novel that people from all over the world showed keen interest and tried to connect with, or correspond or practice his methods. The most striking part of it was his becoming darling of the workers of mills in Lancashire where he went to particularly meet them during his visit to England for Round Table Conference as they were directly hit by his Swadeshi movement. What a man who said that he has the misfortune of being called a Great Soul during his life time only and placed on a pedestal, perhaps not to be followed by his countrymen.
One great soul said the following about Mahatma Gandhi
“Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”
The recent observation of an eminent judge that ‘Gandhi was a British spy’ peeved me such that this piece has taken shape to just state the Truth about the matter.
So be it,
Windsor Park Pankaj Gupta
P.S. Certain observations of Mahatma Gandhi are given below to understand the current of his thoughts
Gandhi: Where there’s injustice, I always believed in fighting. The question is, do you fight to change things or to punish? For myself, I’ve found we’re all such sinners, we should leave punishment to God. And if we really want to change things, there are better things than derailing trains or slashing someone with a sword.
Margaret Bourke-White: Do you really believe you could use non-violence against someone like Hitler?
Gandhi: [thinks] Not without defeats, and great pain. But are there no defeats in war? No pain? What you cannot do is accept injustice. From Hitler, or anyone. You must make the injustice visible, and be prepared to die like a soldier to do so.
Gandhi: I, for one, have never advocated passive anything. We must never sumbit to such laws. And I think our resistance must be *active* and provocative!
Gandhi: We must defy the British… Not with violence that will inflame their will but with a firmness that will open their eyes. English factories make the cloth that makes our poverty. All those who wish to make the English see bring me the cloth from Manchester and Leeds that you wear today and we will light a fire that will be seen in Delhi, and in London!
Gandhi: Poverty is the worst form of violence.
I WOULD risk violence a thousand times rather than risk the emasculation of a whole race
Violence the Choice
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 dishonor.
But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment. Forgiveness adorns a 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.
We do want to drive out the best in the man, but we do not want on that account to emasculate him. And in the process of finding his own status, the beast in him is bound now and again to put up his ugly appearance.
The world is not entirely governed by logic. Life itself involves some kind of violence and we have to choose the path of least violence.
But a man who, when faced by danger, behaves like a mouse, is rightly called a coward. He harbors violence and hatred in his heart and would kill his enemy if he could without hurting himself. He is a stranger to nonviolence. All sermonizing on it will be lost on him. Bravery is foreign to his nature. Before he can understand nonviolence, he has to be taught to stand his ground and even suffer death, in the attempt to defend himself against the aggressor who bids fair to overwhelm him. To do otherwise would be to confirm his cowardice and take him further away from nonviolence.
Whilst I may not actually help anyone to retaliate, I must not let a coward seek shelter behind nonviolence so-called. Not knowing the stuff of which nonviolence is made, many have honestly believed that running away from danger every time was a virtue compared to offering resistance, especially when it was fraught with danger to one’s life. As a teacher of nonviolence I must, so far as it is possible for me, guard against such an unmanly belief.
Self-defence….is the only honourable course where there is unreadiness for self-immolation.
Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defence or for the defence of the defenceless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission. The latter befits neither man nor woman. Under violence, there are many stages and varieties of bravery. Every man must judge this for himself. No other person can or has the right.
My creed of nonviolence 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 non-violent, but there is none for a coward. I have, therefore, said more than once….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.