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Non-Violence and Satyagraha

Problems with Satyagraha

Organizational Meetings

The Service of the Press

Preferring Rights to Responsibilities

Non-Violent Actions

The Value of Silence

Truth in Business

Practicing Law as Service

Funding Public Organizations 

Public Service

Public Gifts

Justice and Compromise

Religion,Truth, Ahimsa 


Children and Family

Degradations of Empire







Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), later known as Mahatma Gandhi, was born in Porbandar, India, where he first went to school. He was the son of Kaba Gandhi, a Prime Minister in Porbandar and a member of a court body for settling disputes between chiefs and their clansmen. His father, said Gandhi, had no ambition to accumulate riches and left his Hindu family with very little property when he died. His mother and father were deeply religious, and strict vegetarians, as was Gandhi himself.


Gandhi devoted his life to public service. In South Africa he successfully developed a special form of non-violent protest that led to the removal of discriminatory laws against Indians in the early Twentieth Century. Gandhi devoted the latter part of his life to gaining independence for India. Through an extraordinary effort of will he had more impact on this massive undertaking than any other person. Unfortunately he experienced disillusion as he saw the subsequent corruption, internal struggles for power, and religious persecution that took place as independence was implemented.


Gandhi was married by edict of his parents at age thirteen. He matriculated from high school and, on the advice of a Brahman friend of the family, was sent to England in 1888 to be educated as a barrister. The local leader of his religious sect, the Seth, stated that their religion forbade voyages abroad, and angrily pronounced Gandhi an outcaste. When Gandhi arrived in London, he took an active part in English life. He was elected to the executive committee of the Vegetarian Society, learnt French and Latin, matriculated, was called to the bar, and was enrolled in the High Court in 1891. Gandhi then returned to India. Two years later he was sent to South Africa to take up a case for an Indian company, in which he successfully negotiated a compromise satisfactory to both parties.


In the next year he drafted a petition to the South African legislature on behalf of the Indian settlers and organized the Natal Indian Congress as a forum for Indian concerns. In the Boer war of 1899 he formed an Indian ambulance corps for the British. In the so-called Zulu Rebellion of 1906 he formed a similar corps, and organized another in England in 1914.


In 1906 Gandhi organized his first non-violent campaign, against an Asiatic Ordinance directed at Indians in South Africa. From then on, in a series of similar campaigns, he develop a very special form of non-violent protest that he called satyagraha. This brought an attitude of love and compassion to the practice of non-violence, providing an extension into social and political discourse of the Hindu concept of ahimsa, or non-injury to living beings. He used this both in civil protest and as a means of breaking down communal hatred, including traditional attitudes towards untouchability in Hinduism. The last was part of anew approach towards Hinduism put forward by Gandhi and may have caused his murder.


In South Africa, Gandhi used satyagraha against compulsory registration of Asians, nullification of non-Christian marriages, and other discriminatory legislation. He was imprisoned many times and developed the use of fasts as a weapon of protest. In 1908 he was attacked and wounded by an Indian Pathan for reaching a settlement with General Smuts, the leader of South Africa. Ultimately the campaigns in South Africa were successful and Gandhi returned to India in 1914.


He established a satyagraha Ashram near Ahmedabad, admitting to it a family of the untouchable caste. He then successfully led satyagraha campaigns against various abuses of peasants and workers. In 1919 he initiated the first all-India satyagraha campaign, against a law perpetuating the withdrawal of civil liberties for seditious crimes. Troops fired on an unarmed Punjab crowed, killing 400 people, causing Gandhi to admit to a Himalayan mistake of not properly preparing the millions of people now involved in satyagraha.


Gandhi was elected president of the All-India Home Rule League in 1920. At that time he persuaded the Moslem community of the validity of non-cooperation with the British. He also re-introduced the spinning wheel as a means of making peasants self-sufficient in cloth, presiding over a bonfire of foreign cloth in Bombay. After being involved in a renewed satyagraha campaign and mass civil disobedience, he was tried on a charge of publishing seditious writings and sentenced to six-years in Yeravda jail in 1922. In 1924 he was operated on for appendicitis and released.


Gandhi worked closely with the Indian Congress, presiding at a session at Belgaum in 1924. In 1929 the Congress declared a goal of complete independence from Britain and a boycott of the Indian legislature. The following year, Gandhi led a 200-mile march to gather salt free of tax on the seashore at Dandi, an event that attracted world attention. Gandhi was arrested and imprisoned without trial, being released with other Congress leaders after seven months.


Further protests, arrests, and fasts followed. In all, Gandhi spent over six years in jail during his life. Three attempts were made on his life in 1934. After a few years he withdrew from the Indian Congress, announcing his intention of devoting his life to the betterment of Indian villages. There his home was a one-room hut with a mud floor, containing a spinning wheel and a soap box that served as a desk. The spinning wheel was for him the symbol of the passive resistance that freed India from British rule, giving peasants self-respect and independence.


In 1940 he launched a campaign against Britain’s refusal to allow Indians to express their opinions regarding the Second World War. Over 20,000 people were imprisoned within a year. In 1942 a final nation-wide satyagraha campaign for Indian independence was started, followed by the arrest of Gandhi and other leaders and revolts in many parts of India.. In 1944 he held talks on Hindu-Moslem unity with Jinnah, hoping to prevent strife between the two religions. He began conferences with the British Viceroy and Jinnah in 1947, at which time he opposed the decision by the Indian Congress to accept the separation of Pakistan from India. He was assassinated by a Hindhu early in January1948.





1   A variety of incidents in my life have conspired to bring me in close contact with people of many creeds and many communities, and my experience with all of them warrants the statement that I have known no distinction between relatives and strangers, countrymen and foreigners, white and colored, Hindus and Indians of other faiths, whether Musalmans, Parsis, Christians or Jews. I may say that my heart has been incapable of making any such distinctions. I cannot claim this as a special virtue, as it is in my very nature rather than a result of any effort on my part, whereas in the case of ahimsa (non- violence), brahmacharya (celibacy), aparigraha (non-possession) and other cardinal virtues, I am fully conscious of a continuous striving for their cultivation.


2   Hatred ever kills, love never dies—such is the vast difference between the two. What is obtained by love is retained for all time. What is obtained by hatred proves a burden in reality for it increases hatred.


3   A very stringent enactment was passed in the Transvaal in 1885. It was slightly amended in 1886, and it was provided under the amended law that all Indians should pay a poll tax of £3 as fee for entry into the Transvaal. They might not own land except in locations set apart for them, and in practice even that was not to be ownership. They had no franchise. All this was under the special law for Asiatics, to whom the laws for the colored people were also applied. Under these latter, Indians might not walk on public footpaths, and might not move out of doors after 9 p.m. without a permit.

    The consequences of the regulation regarding the use of footpaths were rather serious for me. I always went out for a walk through President Street to an open plain. President Kruger's house was in this street—a very modest, unostentatious building. . . Only the presence of a police patrol before the house indicated that it belonged to some official. I nearly always went along the footpath past this patrol without the slightest hitch or hindrance. . .

    Once one of these men, without giving me the slightest warning, without even asking me to leave the footpath, pushed and kicked me into the street. I was dismayed. Before I could question him as to his behavior, Mr. Coates, who happened to be passing the spot on horseback, hailed me and said: "Gandhi, I have seen everything. I shall gladly be your witness in court if you proceed against the man. I am very sorry you have been so rudely assaulted."

    "You need not be sorry," I said. "What does the poor man know? All colored people are the same to him. He no doubt treats Negroes just as he has treated me. I have made it a rule not to go to court in respect of any personal grievance So I do not intend to proceed against him."

    "That is just like you," said Mr. Coates, "but do think it over again. We must teach such men a lesson." He then spoke to the policeman and reprimanded him. I could not follow their talk. as it was in Dutch, the policeman being a Boer. But he apologized to me, for which there was no need. I had already forgiven him.


4   It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honored by the humiliation of their fellow beings.


5   My work will be finished if I succeed in carrying conviction to the human family, that every man or woman, however weak in body, is the guardian of his or her self-respect and liberty, and that this defense prevails, though the world be against the individual resister.


6   Whenever I see an erring man, I say to myself I have also erred; when I see a lustful man I say to myself, so was I once; and in this way I feel kinship with everyone in the world and feel that I cannot be happy without the humblest of us being happy.


7   [A new ordinance that put stringent restrictions on Indians was proposed in the Transvaal.] I shuddered as I read the sections of the Ordinance one after another. I saw nothing in it except hatred of Indians. It seemed to me that if the Ordinance was passed and the Indians meekly accepted it, that would spell absolute ruin for the Indians in South Africa. I clearly saw that this was a question of life and death for them. I further saw that even in the case of memoranda and representations proving fruitless, the community must not sit with folded hands. Better die than submit to such a law. But how were we to die? What should we dare and do so that there would be nothing before us except a choice of victory or death? An impenetrable wall was before me, as it were, and I could not see my way through it.


8   [Gandhi spoke at a meeting held to discuss the ordinance mentioned above.] If the Ordinance were passed and if we acquiesced in it, it would be imitated all over South Africa. As it seems to me, it is designed to strike at the very root of our existence in South Africa. It is not the last step, but the first step with a view to hound us out of the country. We are therefore responsible for the safety, not only of the ten or fifteen thousand Indians in the Transvaal but of the entire Indian community in South Africa. Again, if we fully understand all the implications of this legislation, we shall find that India's honor is in our keeping. For the Ordinance seeks to humiliate not only ourselves but also the motherland. The humiliation consists in the degradation of innocent men.



Non-Violence and Satyagraha


9   [In the most important resolution passed by the meeting, the Indians solemnly swore not to submit to the Ordinance and to suffer all the penalties attaching to such non-submission. Gandhi explained the implications of such action.] We may have to go to jail, where we may be insulted. We may have to go hungry and suffer extreme heat or cold. Hard labor may be imposed upon us. We may be flogged by rude warders. We may be fined heavily and our property may be attached and held up to auction if there are only a few resisters left. Opulent today we may be reduced to abject poverty tomorrow. We may be deported. Suffering from starvation and similar hardships in jail, some of us may fall ill and even die. In short, therefore, it is not at all impossible that we may have to endure every hardship that we can imagine, and wisdom lies in pledging ourselves on the understanding that we shall have to suffer all that and worse.

    If someone asks me when and how the struggle may end, I may say that if the entire community manfully stands the test, the end will be near. If many of us fall back under storm and stress, the struggle will be prolonged. But I can boldly declare, and with certainty, that so long as there is even a handful of men true to their pledge, there can be only one end to the struggle, and that is victory. . .

    A word about my personal responsibility. If I am warning you of the risks attendant upon the pledge, I am at the same time inviting you to pledge yourselves, and I am fully conscious of my responsibility in the matter. It is possible that a majority of those present here may take the pledge in a fit of enthusiasm or indignation but may weaken under the ordeal, and only a handful may be left to face the final test. Even then there is only one course open to someone like me, to die but not to submit to the law. It is quite unlikely but even if everyone else flinched leaving me alone to face the music, I am confident that I would never violate my pledge. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying this out of vanity, but I wish to put you, especially the leaders upon the platform, on your guard. I wish respectfully to suggest it to you that if you have not the will or the ability to stand firm even when you are perfectly isolated, you must not only not take the pledge yourselves but you must declare your opposition before the resolution is put to the meeting and before its members begin to take pledges, and you must not make yourselves parties to the resolution.


10   None of us knew what name to give to our movement. I then used the term "passive resistance" in describing it. I did not quite understand the implications of passive resistance, as I called it. I only knew that some new principle had come into being. As the struggle advanced, the phrase "passive resistance" gave rise to confusion. . .A small prize was therefore announced in Indian Opinion to be awarded to the reader who invented the best designation for our struggle . . . Shri Maganlal Gandhi was one of the competitors and he suggested the word "Sadagraha", meaning "firmness in a good cause". I liked the word, but it did not fully represent the whole idea I wished it to connote. I therefore corrected it to "Satyagraha". Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement "Satyagraha", that is to say, the force which is born of truth and love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase "passive resistance", . . .


11   Non-violence and cowardice are contradictory terms. Non-violence is the greatest virtue, cowardice the greatest vice. Non-violence springs from love, cowardice from hate. Non-violence always suffers, cowardice would always inflict suffering. Perfect non-violence is the highest bravery. Non-violent conduct is never demoralising, cowardice always is.


12   But brute force had absolutely no place in the Indian movement in any circumstance, and the reader will see, as we proceed, that no matter how badly they suffered, the Satyagrahis never used physical force, and that too although there were occasions when they were in a position to use it effectively.


13   However much I may sympathize with and admire worthy motives, I am an uncompromising opponent of violent methods even to serve the noblest of causes.


14   If we continue to believe ourselves and let others believe, that we are weak and helpless and therefore offer passive resistance, our resistance would never make us strong, and at the earliest opportunity we would give up passive resistance as a weapon of the weak. On the other hand if we are Satyagrahis and offer Satyagraha believing ourselves to be strong, two clear consequences result from it. Fostering the idea of strength, we grow stronger and stronger every day. With the increase in our strength, our Satyagraha too becomes more effective and we would never be casting about for an opportunity to give it up. Again, while there is no scope for love in passive resistance, on the other hand not only has hatred no place in Satyagraha but is a positive breach of its ruling principle. While in passive resistance there is a scope for the use of arms when a suitable occasion arrives, in Satyagraha physical force is forbidden even in the most favorable circumstances. . . Satyagraha postulates the conquest of the adversary by suffering in one’s own person.


15   Man and his deed are two distinct things. Whereas a good deed should call forth approbation and a wicked deed disapprobation, the doer of the deed, whether good or wicked always deserves respect or pity as the case may be. 'Hate the sin and not the sinner' is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.

    This ahimsa is the basis of the search for truth. I am realizing every day that the search is vain unless it is founded on ahimsa as the basis. It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself.


16   Non-violence is not a cover for cowardice, but it is the supreme virtue of the brave. Exercise of non-violence requires far greater bravery than that of swordsmanship. Cowardice is wholly inconsistent with non-violence. Translation from swordsmanship to non-violence is possible and, at times, even an easy stage. Non-violence, therefore, 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.


17   I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. Thus when my eldest son asked me what he should have done, had he been present when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether he should have run away and seen me killed or whether he should have used his physical force which he could and wanted to use, and defended me, I told him that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence.



Problems with Satyagraha


18   Before one can be fit for the practice of civil disobedience one must have rendered a willing and respectful obedience to the state laws. . . A Satyagrahi obeys the laws of society intelligently and of his own free will, because he considers it to be his sacred duty to do so. It is only when a person has thus obeyed the laws of society scrupulously that he is in a position to judge as to which particular rules are good and just and which injust and iniquitous. Only then does the right accrue to him of the civil disobedience of certain laws in well-defined circumstances. .

.    My error lay in my failure to observe this necessary limitation. I had called on the people to launch upon civil disobedience before they had thus qualified themselves for it, and this mistake seemed to me of Himalayan magnitude. . . .I realized that before a people could be fit for offering civil disobedience, they should thoroughly understand its deeper implications. That being so, before restarting civil disobedience on a mass scale, it would be necessary to create a band of well-tried, pure-hearted volunteers who thoroughly understood the strict conditions of Satyagraha. They could explain these to the people, and by sleepless vigilance keep them on the right path.


19   I had long discussions on the subject [the non-cooperation movement in India] with the late Maulana Abdul Bari and the other Ulema, especially, with regard to the extent to which a Musalman could observe the rule of non-violence. In the end they all agreed that Islam did not forbid its followers from following non-violence as a policy, and further, that, while they were pledged to that policy, they were bound faithfully to carry it out.



Organizational Meetings


20   After the inauguration of Satyagraha our meetings were so largely attended that no building could accommodate them. The entire Indian population in the Transvaal did not exceed 13,000 souls, of whom over 10,000 lived in Johannesburg and Pretoria. An attendance at public meetings of two thousand from an aggregate population of ten thousand would be considered large and satisfactory in any part of the world. A movement of mass Satyagraha is impossible on any other condition. Where the struggle is wholly dependent upon internal strength, it cannot go on at all without mass discipline. The workers therefore did not consider such large attendance as anything surprising. From the very first they had decided to hold public meetings only in the open so that expense was nearly avoided and none had to go back from the place of meeting disappointed for want of accommodation. All these meetings, again, were mostly very quiet. The audiences heard everything attentively. If those who were far away from the platform could not hear a speaker, they would ask him to speak louder. The reader scarcely needs to be told that there were no chairs at these meetings. Everyone sat on the ground. There was a very small platform designed to accommodate the chairman, the speaker and a couple of friends, and a small table and a few chairs or stools were placed upon it.



The Service of the Press


21   About this time Sjt. Madanjit approached me with a proposal to start Indian Opinion and sought my advice. He had already been conducting a press, and I approved of his proposal. The journal was launched in 1904, and Sjt. Mansukhlal Naazar became the first editor. But I had to bear the brunt of the work, having for most of the time to be practically in charge of the journal. . .

    In the very first month of Indian Opinion, I realized that the sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy. If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control. It can be profitable only when exercised from within. If this line of reasoning is correct, how many of the journals in the world would stand the test? But who would stop those that are useless? And who should be the judge? The useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on together, and man must make his choice.


22   I believe that a struggle which chiefly, relies upon internal strength can be carried on without a newspaper, but it is also my experience that we could not perhaps have educated the local Indian community, nor kept Indians all over the world in touch with the course of events in South Africa in any other way, with the same ease and success as through Indian Opinion, which therefore was certainly a most useful and potent weapon in our struggle.

    As the community was transformed in course of and as a result of the struggle, so was Indian Opinion. In the beginning we used to accept advertisements for it, and also execute job work in the printing press.

    I observed that some of our best men had to be spared for this kind of work. If we did receive advertisements for publication, there was constant difficulty in deciding which to accept and which to refuse. Again one would be inclined to refuse an objectionable advertisement, and yet be constrained to accept it, say because the advertiser was a leading member of the community and might take it ill if his advertisement was rejected. Some of the good workers had to be set apart for canvassing and collecting payment from advertisers, not to speak of the flattery which advertisers claimed as their due. Moreover, the view commended itself, that if the paper was conducted not because it yielded profit but purely with a view to service, the service should not be imposed upon the community by force but should be rendered only if the community wished. And the clearest proof of such a wish would be forthcoming if they became subscribers in sufficiently large numbers to make the paper self-supporting.

    Finally it seemed that it was in every way better for all concerned that we should approach the generality of the community and explain to them the duty of keeping their newspaper going rather than set about to induce a few traders to place their advertisements with us in the name of service. On all these grounds we stopped advertisements in the paper with the gratifying result that those who were previously occupied in the advertisement department could now devote their labors to improving the paper.


23   [Gandhi considered that the right action contained its own propaganda.]. It’s the same with all these movements, societies, or sects, they waster their time and energies saying what everyone ought to do, but if they themselves were to act up to their own principles that would be sufficient and arresting propaganda. Truth needs no publicity other than itself, and like a small stone thrown into a pool, its ripples will in time inevitably reach the circumference. The only thing to consider is the solidity and weight of the stone. . .



Preferring Rights to Responsibilities


24 The charge had often been made that the Indian was slovenly in his habits and did not keep his house and surroundings clean. The principal men of the community had, therefore, already begun to put their houses in order, but house-to-house inspection was undertaken only when plague was reported to be imminent in Durban. This was done after consulting, and gaining the approval of, the city fathers, who had desired our co-operation. . . .But I had some bitter experiences.

    I saw that I could not so easily count on the help of the community in getting it to do its own duty, as I could in claiming for it rights. At some places I met with insults, at others with polite indifference. It was too much for people to bestir themselves to keep their surroundings clean. To expect them to find money for the work was out of the question. These experiences taught me, better than ever before, that without infinite patience it was impossible to get the people to do any work. It is the reformer who is anxious for the reform, and not society, from which he should expect nothing better than opposition, abhorrence and even mortal persecution. Why may not society regard as retrogression what the reformer holds dear as life itself?



Non-Violent Actions


25   [The Indian protestors decided to burn the registration certificates they were required to submit to the South African government.] The Committee had already received upwards of 2,000 certificates to be burnt. These were all thrown into the cauldron, saturated with paraffin and set ablaze by Mr. Ynsuf Mian, The whole assembly rose to their feet and made the place resound with the echoes of their continuous cheers during the burning process.. . . A description of the meeting was sent to the Daily Mail (London) by its Johannesburg correspondent, in course of which he compared the act of the Indians in burning their certificates with that of the Boston Tea Party. I do not think this comparison did more than justice to the Indians, seeing that if the whole might of the British Empire was ranged against the hundreds of thousands of able Europeans in America, here in South Africa a helpless body of 13,000 Indians had challenged the powerful Government of the Transvaal.


26   [Gandhi comments on the effect of his fasts as part of non-violent action] In spite of all these fasts, fasting has not been accepted as a recognized part of satyagraha. It has only been tolerated by the politicians. I have, however, been driven to the conclusion that fasting unto death is an integral part of satyagraha program, and it is the greatest and most effective weapon in its armory under given circumstances. Not every one is qualified for undertaking it without a proper course of training. . . . I hold it therefore to be wrong to limit the use of non-violence to cave dwellers and for acquiring merit for a favored position in the other world. All virtue ceases to have use if it serves no purpose in every walk of life. I would therefore plead with the purely political-minded people to study non-violence and fasting as its extreme manifestation with sympathy and understanding.



The Value of Silence


27   My hesitancy in speech, which was once an annoyance, is now a pleasure. Its greatest benefit has been that it has taught me the economy of words. I have naturally formed the habit of restraining my thoughts. And I can now give myself the certificate that a thoughtless word hardly ever escapes my tongue or pen. I do not recollect ever having had to regret anything in my speech or writing. I have thus been spared many a mishap and waste of time. Experience has taught me that silence is part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man, and silence is necessary in order to surmount it. A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech; he will measure every word. We find so many people impatient to talk. There is no chairman of a meeting who is not pestered with notes for permission to speak. And whenever the permission is given the speaker generally exceeds the time-limit, asks for more time, and keeps on talking without permission. All this talking can hardly be said to be of any benefit to the world. It is so much waste of time.



Truth in Business


28   I had always heard the merchants say that truth was not possible in business. I did not think so then, nor do I now. Even today there are merchant friends who contend that truth is inconsistent with business. Business, they say, is a very practical affair, and truth a matter of religion; and they argue that practical affairs are one thing, while religion is quite another. Pure truth, they hold, is out of the question in business, one can speak it only so far as is suitable. I strongly contested the position in my speech and awakened the merchants to a sense of their duty, which was two-fold. Their responsibility to be truthful was all the greater in a foreign land, because the conduct of a few Indians was the measure of that of the millions of their fellow-countrymen.



Practicing  Law as Service


29   I saw that the facts of Dada Abdulla's case [his first major client] made it very strong indeed, and that the law was bound to be on his side. But I also saw that the litigation, if it were persisted in, would ruin the plaintiff and the defendant, who were relatives and both belonged to the same city. . . I approached Tyeb Sheth [the defendant] and requested and advised him to go to arbitration. I recommended him to see his counsel. I suggested to him that if an arbitrator commanding the confidence of both parties could be appointed, the case would be quickly finished. The lawyers' fees were so rapidly mounting up that they were enough to devour all the resources of the clients, big merchants as they were . . .

    I felt that my duty was to befriend both parties and bring them together. I strained every nerve to bring about a compromise. At last Tyeb Sheth agreed. An arbitrator was appointed, the case was argued before him, and Dada Abdulla won. . .

    But that did not satisfy me. If my client were to seek immediate execution of the award, it would be impossible for Tyeb Sheth to meet the whole of the awarded amount, and there was an unwritten law among the Porbandar Memans living in South Africa that death should be preferred to bankruptcy. It was impossible for Tyeb Sheth to pay down the whole sum of about £37,000 and costs. He meant to pay not a pie less than the amount, and he did not want to be declared bankrupt. There was only one way. Dada Abdulla should allow him to pay in moderate installments. He was equal to the occasion, and granted Tyeb Sheth installments spread over a very long period. It was more difficult for me to secure this concession of payment by installments than to get the parties to agree to arbitration. But both were happy over the result, and both rose in the public estimation.

    My joy was boundless. I had learnt the true practice of law. I had learnt to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men's hearts. I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder. The lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that a large part of my time during the twenty years of my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby—not even money, certainly not my soul.


30   [On the point of leaving Natal for India, Gandhi was asked to remain and lead the fight against a bill directed against the Indian community. Abdulla Sheth asked how Gandhi’s fees would be paid.] The mention of fees pained me, and I broke in: "Abdulla Sheth, fees are out of the question. There can be no fees for public work. I can stay, if at all, as a servant. And as you know, I am not acquainted with all these friends. But if you believe that they will co-operate, I am prepared to stay a month longer. There is one thing, however. Though you need not pay me anything, work of the nature you contemplate cannot be done without some funds to start with. Thus we may have to send telegrams, we may have to print some literature, some touring may have to be done, the local attorneys may have to be consulted, and as I am ignorant of your laws, I may need some law-books for reference. All this cannot be done without money. And it is clear that one man is not enough for this work. Many must come forward to help him."

    And a chorus of voices was heard: "Allah is great and merciful. Money will come in. Men there are, as many as you may need. You please consent to stay, and all will be well."


31   A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.


32   It was now impossible for me to leave Natal. The Indian friends surrounded me on all sides and importuned me to remain there permanently. I expressed my difficulties. I had made up my mind not to stay at public expense. I felt it necessary to set up an independent household. I thought that the house should be good and situated in a good locality. I also had the idea that I could not add to the credit of the community, unless I lived in a style usual for barristers. And it seemed to me to be impossible to run such a household with anything less than £300 a year. I therefore decided that I could stay only if the members of the community guaranteed legal work to the extent of that minimum, and I communicated my decision to them. . The upshot of this discussion was that about twenty merchants gave me retainers for one year for their legal work..


33   Practice as a lawyer was and remained for me a subordinate occupation. It was necessary that I should concentrate on public work to justify my stay in Natal. The dispatch of the petition regarding the disfranchising bill was not sufficient in itself. Sustained agitation was essential for making an impression on the Secretary of State for the Colonies. For this purpose it was thought necessary to bring into being a permanent organization. So I consulted Sheth Abdulla and other friends, and we all decided to have a public organization of a permanent character [the Natal Indian Congress].



Funding Public Organizations


34   My desire was to secure for the Congress a permanent fund, so that it might procure property of its own and then carry on its work out of the rent of the property. This was my first experience of managing a public institution. I placed my proposal before my co-workers, and they welcomed it. The property that was purchased was leased out and the rent was enough to meet the current expenses of the Congress. The property was vested in a strong body of trustees and is still there today, but it has become the source of much internecine quarrelling with the result that the rent of the property now accumulates in the court.

    This sad situation developed after my departure from South Africa, but my idea of having permanent funds for public institutions underwent a change long before this difference arose. And now after considerable experience with the many public institutions which I have managed, it has become my firm conviction that it is not good to run public institutions on permanent funds.


35   A permanent fund carries in itself the seed of the moral fall of the institution. A public institution means an institution conducted with the approval, and from the funds, of the public. When such an institution ceases to have public support, it forfeits its right to exist. Institutions maintained on permanent funds are often found to ignore public opinion, and are frequently responsible for acts contrary to it. In our country we experience this at every step. Some of the so-called religious trusts have ceased to render any accounts. The trustees have become the owners and are responsible to none. I have no doubt that the ideal is for public institutions to live, like nature, from day to day. The institution that fails to win public support has no right to exist as such. The subscriptions that an institution annually receives are a test of its popularity and the honesty of its management; and I am of opinion that every institution should submit to that test. But let no one misunderstand me. My remarks do not apply to the bodies which cannot, by their very nature, be conducted without permanent buildings. What I mean to say is that the current expenditure should be found from subscriptions voluntarily received from year to year.



Public Service


36   Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.


37   A life of service must be one of humility. One, who would sacrifice his life for others, has hardly time to reserve for himself a place in the sun. Inertia must not be mistaken for humility, as it has been in Hinduism. True humility means most strenuous and constant endeavor entirely directed to the service of humanity.


38   [In the so-called Zulu Rebellion in South Africa, Gandhi organized an ambulance corps.] While I was working with the Corps, two ideas which had long been floating in my mind became firmly fixed. First, an aspirant after a life exclusively devoted to service must lead a life of celibacy. Secondly, he must accept poverty as a constant companion through life. He may not take up any occupation which would prevent him or make him shrink from undertaking the lowliest of duties or largest risks.


39   The Zulu "rebellion" was full of new experiences and gave me much food for thought. The Boer War had not brought home to me the horrors of war with anything like the vividness that the "rebellion" did. This was no war but a man-hunt, not only in my opinion, but also in that of many Englishmen with whom I had occasion to talk. To hear every morning reports of the soldiers' rifles exploding like crackers in innocent hamlets, and to live in the midst of them was a trial. But I swallowed the bitter draught, especially as the work of my Corps consisted only in nursing the wounded Zulus. I could see that but for us the Zulus would have been uncared for. This work, therefore, eased my conscience.


40   That service is the noblest which is rendered for its own sake.



Public Gifts


41   On my relief from war duty I felt that my work was no longer in South Africa but in India. Not that there was nothing to be done in South Africa, but I was afraid that my main business might become merely money-making. Friends at home were also pressing me to return, and I felt that I should be of more service in India.

    At this time I was intimately connected only with Natal. The Natal Indians bathed me with the nectar of love. Farewell meetings were arranged at every place, and costly gifts were presented to me. . .Gifts had been bestowed on me before when I returned to India in 1899, but this time the farewell was overwhelming. The gifts of course included things in gold and silver, but there were articles of costly diamond as well.

    What right had I to accept all these gifts? Accepting them, how could I persuade myself that I was serving the community without remuneration? All the gifts, excepting a few from my clients, were purely for my service to the community, and I could make no difference between my clients and co-workers; for the clients also helped me in my public work.

    One of the gifts was a gold necklace/worth fifty guineas, meant for my wife. But even that gift was given because of my public work, and so it could not be separated from the rest. . . .

    I had no costly ornaments in the house. We had been fast simplifying our life. How then could we afford to have gold watches? How could we afford to wear gold chains and diamond rings? Even then I was exhorting people to conquer the infatuation for jewelry. What was I now to do with the jewelry that had come upon me ?

    I decided that I could not keep these things. I drafted a letter, creating a trust of them in favor of the community and appointing Parsi Rustomji and others trustees. . .

    The children readily agreed to my proposal. "We do not need these costly presents, we must return them to the community, and should we ever need them, we could easily purchase them," they said. . .

    "You may not need them," said my wife. "Your children may not need them. Cajoled they will dance to your tune. I can understand your not permitting me to wear them. But what about my daughters-in-law? They will be sure to need them. And who knows what will happen tomorrow? I would be the last person to part with gifts so lovingly given. . . And pray what right have you to my necklace?"

    "But," I rejoined," is the necklace given you for your service or for my service?"

    "I agree. But service rendered by you is as good as rendered by me. I have toiled and moiled for you day and night. Is that no service? You forced all and sundry on me, making me weep bitter tears, and I slaved for them!"

    These were pointed thrusts, and some of them went home. But I was determined to return the ornaments. . . .I am definitely of opinion that a public worker should accept no costly gifts.


42   Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in the minutest details in the activities of man, and she has an equal right of freedom and liberty with him.


Justice and Compromise


43   The symbol of a Court of Justice is a pair of scales held evenly by an impartial and blind but sagacious woman. Fate has purposely made her blind, in order that she may not judge a person from his exterior but from his intrinsic worth. But the Law Society of Natal set out to persuade the Supreme Court to act in contravention of this principle and to belie its symbol. . . by serving me with a notice opposing my application for admission. One of their objections was that the original English certificate was not attached to my application. But the main objection was that, when the regulations regarding admission of advocates were made, the possibility of a colored man applying could not have been contemplated. Natal owed its growth to European enterprise, and therefore it was necessary that the European element should predominate in the bar. If colored people were admitted, they might gradually outnumber the Europeans, and the bulwark of their protection would break down. . . .

    The Chief Justice said in effect:

    "The objection that the applicant has not attached the original certificate has no substance. If he has made a false affidavit, he can be prosecuted, and his name can then be struck off the roll, if he is proved guilty. The law makes no distinction between white and colored people. The Court has therefore no authority to prevent Mr. Gandhi from being enrolled as an advocate. We admit his application. Mr. Gandhi, you can now take the oath."


44   I stood up and took the oath before the Registrar. As soon as I was sworn in, the Chief Justice, addressing me, said:

    "You must now take off your turban, Mr. Gandhi. You must submit to the rules of the Court with regard to the dress to be worn by practicing barristers."

    I saw my limitations. The turban that I had insisted on wearing in the District Magistrate's Court I took off in obedience to the order of the Supreme Court. Not that, if I had resisted the order, the resistance could not have been justified. But I wanted to reserve my strength for fighting bigger battles. I should not exhaust my skill as a fighter in insisting on retaining my turban. It was worthy of a better cause.


45   But all my life through, the very insistence on truth has taught me to appreciate the beauty of compromise. I saw in later life that this spirit was an essential part of Satyagraha. It has often meant endangering my life and incurring the displeasure of friends. But truth is hard as adamant and tender as a blossom.


46   All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.



Religion,Truth, Ahimsa


47   Morality is the basis of things and truth is the substance of all morality.


48   It was impossible for me to believe that I could go to heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian. When I frankly said so to some of the good Christian friends, they were shocked. But there was no help for it.

My difficulties lay deeper. It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in him would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself. . .The pious lives of Christians did not give me anything that the lives of men of other faiths had failed to give. I had seen in other lives just the same reformation that I had heard of among Christians. Philosophically there was nothing extraordinary in Christian principles. From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed to me that the Hindus greatly surpassed the Christians.


49   Thus if I could not accept Christianity either as a perfect, or the greatest religion, neither was I then convinced of Hinduism being such. Hindu defects were pressingly visible to me. If untouchability could be a part of Hinduism, it could but be a rotten part or an excrescence. I could not understand the raison d'etre of a multitude of sects and castes. What was the meaning of saying that the Vedas were the inspired Word of God? If they were inspired, why not also the Bible and the Koran?


50   I am sorry that I find a nervous fear among some Hindus and Mohammedans that I am undermining their faith, and that I am even doing irreparable harm to India by my uncompromising preaching of non-violence. They seem almost to imply that violence is their creed. I touch a tender spot if I talk about extreme non-violence in their presence. They confound me with texts from the Mahabharata and the Koran eulogizing or permitting violence. Of the Mahabharata I can write without restraint, but the most devoted Mohammedan will not, I hope, deny me the privilege of understanding the message of the Prophet. I make bold to say that violence is the creed of no religion and that, whereas non-violence in most cases is obligatory in all, violence is merely permissible in some cases.


51   My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than Truth. And if every page of these chapters [his autobiography] does not proclaim to the reader that the only means for the realization of Truth is Ahimsa, I shall deem all my labor in writing these chapters to have been in vain. . .

    To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself. And a man who aspires after that cannot afford to keep out of any field of life. That is why my devotion to Truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.


52   Ahimsa is a comprehensive principle. We are helpless mortals caught in the conflagration of himsa . The saying that life lives on life has a deep meaning in it. Man cannot for a moment live without consciously or unconsciously committing outward himsa. The very fact of his living eating, drinking and moving about necessarily involves some himsa, destruction of life, be it ever so minute. A votary of ahimsa therefore remains true to his faith if the spring of all his actions is compassion, if he shuns to the best of his ability the destruction of the tiniest creature, tries to save it, and thus incessantly strives to be free from the deadly coil of himsa. He will be constantly growing in self-restraint and compassion, but he can never become entirely free from outward himsa.

    Then again, because underlying ahimsa is the unity of all life, the error of one cannot but affect all, and hence man cannot be wholly free from himsa. So long as he continues to be a social being, he cannot but participate in the himsa that the very existence of society involves. When two nations are fighting, the duty of a votary of ahimsa is to stop the war. He who is not equal to that duty, he who has no power of resisting war, he who is not qualified to resist war, may take part in war, and yet whole-heartedly try to free himself, his nation and the world from war.


53   But the path of self-purification is hard and steep. To attain to perfect purity one has to become absolutely passion-free in thought, speech and action; to rise above the opposing currents of love and hatred, attachment and repulsion. I know that I have not in me as yet that triple purity, in spite of constant ceaseless striving for it. That is why the world's praise fails to move me, indeed it very often stings me. . . So long as a man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him. Ahimsa is the farthest limit of humility.





54   Every reader of the Gita knows that fearlessness heads the list of the divine attributes enumerated in the 16th chapter. Whether this is merely due to the exigencies of meter, or whether the pride of place has been deliberately yielded to fearlessness, is more than I can say. In my opinion however, fearlessness richly deserves the first rank assigned to it there. For it is a sine qua non for the growth of the other noble qualities. How can one seek truth, or cherish love, without fearlessness?


55   As I have stated at the very outset, we must give up all external fears. But the internal foes we must always fear. We are rightly afraid of animal passion, anger, and the like. External fears cease of their own accord, when once we have conquered these traitors within the camp. All fears revolve round the body as the center, and would therefore disappear, as soon as one got rid of attachment for the body. We thus find, that all fear is the baseless fabric of our own vision. Fear has no place in our hearts, when we have shaken off the attachment for wealth, for family and for the body. "Enjoy the things of the earth by renouncing them" is a noble precept. Wealth, family and body will be there, just the same; we have only to change our attitude towards them.


56   Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.



Children and Family


57   I am convinced that for the proper upbringing of children the parents ought to have a general knowledge of the care and nursing of babies. At every step I have seen the advantages of my careful study of the subject. My children would not have enjoyed the general health that they do today, had I not studied the subject and turned my knowledge to account. We labor under a sort of superstition that a child has nothing to learn during the first five years of its life. On the contrary, the fact is that the child never learns in after life what it does in its first five years. The education of the child begins with conception. The physical and mental states of the parents at the moment of conception are reproduced in the baby. Then during the period of pregnancy it continues to be affected by the mother's moods, desires and temperament, as also by her ways of life. After birth the child imitates the parents, and for a considerable number of years entirely depends on them for its growth.


58  It is a sign of national degradation when little children are removed from schools and are employed in earning wages. No nation worthy of the name can possibly afford so to misuse her children. At least up to the age of sixteen they must be kept in schools. Similarly women also must be gradually weaned from mill labor. If man and woman are partners in life and complementary each of the other, they become good householders only by dividing their labor, and a wise mother finds her time fully occupied in looking after her household and children. But where both husband and wife have to labor for mere maintenance, the nation must become degraded. It is like a bankrupt living on his capital.


59   We must refuse to wait for the wrong to be righted till the wrong-doer has been roused to a sense of his iniquity. We must not, for fear of ourselves or others having to suffer, remain participators in it. But we must combat the wrong by ceasing to assist the wrong-doer directly or indirectly.

    If a father does an injustice, it is the duty of his children to leave the parental roof. If the headmaster of a school conducts his institution on an immoral basis, the pupils must leave the school. If the chairman of a corporation is corrupt, the members thereof must wash their hands clean of his corruption by withdrawing from it; even so, if a government does a grave injustice, the subject must withdraw co-operation wholly or partially, sufficiently to wean the ruler from his wickedness.



Degradations of Empire


60   I came reluctantly to the conclusion that the British connection had made India more helpless than she ever was before, politically and economically.. . . Before the British advent, India spun and wove in her millions of cottages just the supplement she needed for adding to her meager agricultural resources. This cottage industry, so vital for India's existence, has been ruined by incredibly heartless and inhuman processes as described by English witnesses. Little do town dwellers know how the semi-starved masses of India are slowly sinking to lifelessness. Little do they know that their miserable comfort represents the brokerage they get for the work they do for the foreign exploiter, that the profits and the brokerage are sucked from the masses. Little do they realize that the Government established by law in British India is carried on for this exploitation of the masses. No sophistry, no jugglery in figures can explain away the evidence that the skeletons in many villages present to the naked eye.

    I have no doubt whatsoever that both England and the town dwellers of India will have to answer, if there is a God above, for this crime against humanity which is perhaps unequalled in history. The law itself in this country has been used to serve the foreign exploiter. My unbiased examination of the Punjab Martial Law cases has led me to believe that at least ninety-five per cent of convictions were wholly bad. My experience of political cases in India leads me to the conclusion that in nine out of ten the condemned men were totally innocent. Their crime consisted in love of their country. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred justice has been denied to Indians as against Europeans in the courts of India. This is not an exaggerated picture. It is the experience of almost every Indian who has had anything to do with such cases. In my opinion, the administration of the law is thus prostituted consciously or unconsciously for the benefit of the exploiter.


61 To-day defense of citizenship is a defense of national commerce, i.e. exploitation. That exploitation presupposes the use of force for imposing commerce upon an unwilling people. Nations have, in a sense, therefore, almost become gangs of robbers, whereas they should be a peaceful combination of men and women united for the common good of mankind. In the latter case, their strength will lie not in their skill in the use of gunpowder, but in the possession of superior moral fiber.


62 [Gandhi pleaded guilty to writing seditious material and was sentenced to seven years by the British colonial government.] Section 124A under which I am happily charged is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence. But the section under which Mr Banker and I are charged is one under which mere promotion of disaffection is a crime.





63   I saw that the writers on vegetarianism had examined the question very minutely, attacking it in its religious, scientific, practical and medical aspects. Ethically they had arrived at the conclusion that man's supremacy over the lower animals meant not that the former should prey upon the latter, but that the higher should protect the lower, and that there should be mutual aid between the two as between man and man. They had also brought out the truth that man eats not for enjoyment but to live.


64   The first condition of humaneness is a little humility and a little diffidence about the correctness of one's conduct and a little receptiveness.





1, 3, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 32, 33, 35, 39, 41, 43, 44, 45, 48, 59, 51, 52, 53, 57, 63 Gandhi, An Autobiography, by Mohandas K. Gandhi Volumes I and II. Navajivan Press, Ahmedabad, India, 1927, 1929.


2, 4, 5, 6, 11, 13, 31, 36, 40, 42, 46, 47, 56, 64 The Official Mahatma Gandhi eArchive & Reference Library, Quotes. Mahatma Gandhi Foundation, India. This site also has the text of the above autobiography.


7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 20, 22, 25, 34, 38 Satyagraha in South Africa by M. K. Gandhi, translated from the Gujarati by Valji Govindji Desai. S. Ganesan, Publisher, Triplicane, Madras, 1928.


60, 62 Report of the Trial of Mahatma Gandi in 1922 at Ahmedabad. Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi. G. A. Natesan & Co, Madras, India, 1933.


23 Selected Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, edited by Ronald Duncan. Fontana Collins, London, 1971. More extensive extracts from the following references are quoted by Duncan.


16, 17 Non-Violence in Peace & War, by M. K. Gandhi. Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1942.


26, 37 Harijan (Journal of Applied Gandhiism, issued by Harijan Sevak Sangh, Ahmedabad, India), 29 July 1942.


50, 58, 59, 61 Article in Young India, by M. K. Gandhi. Ganesan Limited, Triplecane, Madras, 1922.


54, 55 From Yeravada Mandir, by M. K. Gandhi. Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1932.


Authors born between 1665 and 1700 CE

Darwin ] Tolstoy ] Hardy ] Sun Yat-sen ] [ Gandhi ] Rodó ] Zitkala-Sa ]



Introduction and selection of  extracts Copyright © Rex Pay 2005