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Unformatted text preview: City University of New York (CUNY) CUNY Academic Works Publications and Research College of Staten Island Fall 1997 Mahatma Gandhi's Satyagraha and NonViolent Resistance David M. Traboulay CUNY College of Staten Island How does access to this work benefit you? Let us know! Follow this and additional works at: Part of the African History Commons, and the Asian History Commons Recommended Citation Traboulay, David M., "Mahatma Gandhi's Satyagraha and NonViolent Resistance" (1997). CUNY Academic Works. This Book is brought to you for free and open access by the College of Staten Island at CUNY Academic Works. It has been accepted for inclusion in Publications and Research by an authorized administrator of CUNY Academic Works. For more information, please contact [email protected] MAHATMA GANDHI’S SATYAGRAHA MOVEMENTS DAVID M. TRABOULAY ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS In my hometown of San Fernando, Trinidad, in the old administrative center called Harris Promenade, there is an impressive statue of Mahatma Gandhi striding forward with his head high looking towards the sea. I became interested in Gandhi as a boy, as, indeed, did all Indians of Trinidad. The descendants of nineteenth century indentured immigrants from India organized the movement to erect a statue of Gandhi to commemorate the achievements of Indians in Trinidad. West Indians of Indian and African ancestry experienced the bitterness of indentured servitude and slavery but by the 1950s had happily achieved advancement socially, economically, and politically, and in 1962 Trinidad won its independence from Great Britain. The statue of Gandhi signified not only the achievement of independence in India and Trinidad, but also the particular achievements of former indentured laborers. I have taught a course on Modern India at the City University of New York every year since 1981 and always placed Gandhi’s Satyagraha struggle at the center of the course. There were times when I was amazed how interested my American students were in the figure of Gandhi. When I asked them why, they often replied that it was because Gandhi was like them. Stunned because students today seem skeptical about idealism of any kind, I learned that they were very interested in Gandhi’s early life and his autobiography where he described his anxieties and fears as a young man. In other words, they were able to see Gandhi as human. If they were doubtful about the universal application of nonviolence, they remained firm in their respect for Gandhi as a human figure. There was yet another source that drove this work apart from the obvious interest in nonviolent solutions to political conflict. As a descendant of indentured Indians in Trinidad, I came to see how much Gandhi’s life and Truth-force were influenced by his experience with indentured Indians in South Africa. If Satyagraha has become an enduring movement for all peoples, the children of indentured Indians everywhere have every right to feel pride. As a US Fulbright visiting Professor to Delhi University, India, in 1993 and during my recent visit in 1998, I had the good fortune to meet many scholars and friends who encouraged me to dare to attempt another work on Gandhi. I know well the many outstanding studies of Gandhi, but I am hopeful that the perspective of a descendant of indentured laborers in the Americas will bring some fresh interest and insight. I am indebted to many people who were unfailing in their encouragement. Sarah-Rachel Walters, whose love for and interest in Gandhiji is great, read and commented on all the revisions; Arun Kumar, Harold Sirisena, Dr. Sadrul Khan, Dr. Tashi Tsering, and Michael Mohammed willingly gave their comments and advice; my nieces, Gayle Bickram, Charlene Mohammed, Marcia Abdool, Suzanne Bridgemohansingh, and Nicole Traboulay encouraged me constantly, especially when I considered giving up the project. Finally, I must give thanks to the thousands of my students at the College of Staten Island and the City University of New York who for over thirty five years persuaded me that the study of Gandhi was both inspirational and useful. 2 CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ii CHAPTER 1: PROLOGUE 1 Early life in Gujarat Young Gandhi in England CHAPTER 2: SOUTH AFRICA AND THE MAKING OF SATYAGRAHA(1893-1914) 23 Indians in South Africa Influence of Leo Tolstoy Home and Return to South Africa The Boer War Phoenix Farm Satyagraha CHAPTER 3: PREPARING THE GROUND FOR SATYAGRAHA IN INDIA Champaran The Mill Strike at Ahmedabad Kheda Recruiting Agent for World War I 70 CHAPTER 4: TRUTH FORCE VERSUS BRUTE FORCE: THE ROWLATT ACTS SATYAGRAHA The Rowlatt Acts India and World War I The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms The Rowlatt Satyagraha Massacre at Amritsar Trials for Sedition The Hunter Commission The Punjab Revisited: Congress Report 106 CHAPTER 5: NON-COOPERATION AND THE KHILAFAT MOVEMENT The Khilafat Movement Non-Cooperation Gandhi-Tagore Debate The Great Trial 157 3 CHAPTER 6: THE MAKING OF THE SALT MARCH, 1930, AND ITS AFTERMATH The Fast against Hindu-Muslim Riots, 1924 The Constructive Program The Simon Commission The Bardoli Satyagraha The Nehru Report The Salt March The Example of Abdul Ghaffar Khan 2nd Round Table Conference 189 CHAPTER 7: FASTING AGAINST UNTOUCHABILITY The Great Bihar Earthquake of 1934 229 CHAPTER 8: NONVIOLENCE AND WAR: WORLD WAR II Village Uplift Government of India Act of 1935 World War II: 1939-1942 Death of Charles Andrews Passing of Rabindranath Tagore Quit India Satyagraha 249 CHAPTER 9:TOWARDS INDEPENDENCE AND PARTITION Kasturbai Gandhi Constitutional Negotiations The Cabinet Mission 305 CHAPTER 10:INDIAN HOLOCAUST 351 Mrs. Sarojini Naidu Refugees from the Punjab CHAPTER 11: BROTHERS IN SATYAGRAHA 397 GLOSSARY 425 BIBLIOGRAPHY 427 INDEX 4 CHAPTER 1 PROLOGUE I worship God as Truth only. I have not found Him, but I am seeking after Him…as long as I have not realized his Absolute Truth, so long must I hold by the relative truth as I have conceived it. That relative truth must meanwhile be my beacon, my shield. M. K. Gandhi, An Autobiography, p. 11 In the context of one of the most destructive periods of world history during the first half of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi was able to practice ideals of service to humanity and so give hope to all human beings that it is always possible to live a life according to the highest principles and to engage in politics while insisting on its ethical grounding. When asked during the last year of his life what message he wanted to leave to posterity, he replied that his life was his message. What he meant was that he wanted to be judged by his actions. Gandhi certainly was not arguing that thought was insignificant to his life. On the contrary, he always found the time to meditate on his experience and ideas. At no time was his mind frozen and inflexible and he claimed for himself the right to change his opinion and judgment in light of new knowledge and insight. What he wanted, most of all, was to put into practice what he found useful in 5 uplifting and advancing human beings and reforming unjust social and political practices. It was not accidental that he entitled his autobiography “experiments with truth.” Gandhi is remembered most for his nonviolent struggle against British imperialism and as a seminal figure in the fight against colonialism. The study of Gandhi’s movement continues to illuminate the early challenge to the notion of empire and underlines how important India’s freedom movement was to anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa. It also pays tribute to a remarkable person who, unlike leaders like Hitler and Stalin who inflicted terror on humanity, gave hope to the world of the 20th century. But does Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement have any significance for the world of the 21st century? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela have acknowledged Gandhi’s influence in their political struggles against racism and apartheid. They were attracted in large part by Gandhi’s commitment to the use of nonviolent means to achieve his political ends. Nonviolence for Gandhi, however, was much more than an instrument in the struggle against injustice. As he conceived and developed Satyagraha or Truth-force, Gandhi made nonviolence the foundation for his method of engaging everyone in the pursuit of truth, whether the objective was individual or community development, or resistance against oppressive rule. Satyagraha came to cover a broad canvas of human aspiration. Gandhi struggled to find answers to questions that were to be binding on all human beings, beyond nation, religion, gender and race. Controversy often surrounded him, but he was willing to pay the price of controversy and misunderstanding for his principled commitment to a political style that encouraged openness and thinking out publicly his inner feelings and doubts. His humanism drove him to work tirelessly for the 6 equality of all and he found his inspiration in the struggles he shared with his comrades and in his inner religious vision which, one should add, had little to do with formal religion. He often said that if he were a dictator, he would separate religion and the state. This critique of communalism and the mix of religion and politics became more poignant as the conflict between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs raged in the 1940s and threatened to destroy India. What Gandhi hoped to find in his search for the Truth was an understanding of reality that would inspire people to a life of service. He placed the principles of inclusiveness and respect for diversity at the center of his movement because he assumed that they were integral to his notion of Truth. As was often the case, he found the validation for his principles in his experiences with the despised poor men and women with whom he identified. In the struggle for justice for the oppressed, he came to understand the significance of nonviolent means in resolving conflict in a humane way: “In his own mind there was then only one unfailing solution to the problem – to adopt a means which was in a sense itself the end, which would generate qualities that would effectively transform any situation. Nonviolent striving after truth, Satyagraha, was just such a means.”1 The search for Truth within the discipline of religion can sometimes lead to selfrighteousness and the presentation of Truth as dogma, a mode of operation that can bring intolerance and divisiveness to social and political struggles. In Gandhi’s understanding of religion and Truth, he genuinely found it difficult to find an absolute answer to his questions and, therefore, was never a fundamentalist at any time in his life. In large part this was the fruit of his experience with different religious cultures from his early childhood in Gujarat, his higher education in London, and his life in South Africa. He 7 concluded that all religions possessed the truth, but partially, and needed to be constantly reformed and enriched in the light of experience and interaction with other traditions and modernity. As he constructed his Satyagraha movement, he made diversity an important pillar of his Truth-force. What helped his understanding of Truth to take shape was the Jain teaching of the many-sided character of truth which said that everyone saw the truth of a situation from his particular angle of vision. From this view of the relative character of Truth came his idea that religious and social reform was an indispensable function of all religions.2 Gandhi found the principal source of his idea of nonviolence in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain teaching of Ahimsa, and also in Christianity, especially in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Gandhi’s definition of nonviolence signified not only not harming others physically, but also not violating their essence and respecting the truth in them. Nonviolence also embraced the larger notion of love and compassion. As an instrument in political struggles, Satyagraha meant the readiness to suffer injury, but not to inflict injury. Since there was no way to ascertain the absolute truth, no one was competent to punish. The use of coercion might produce calm and a truce in political conflict, but voluntary self-suffering had the power to transform a situation from confrontation to one where mutual trust and the courage to change one’s attitude would be dominant. In Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence, Erik Erikson, a disciple of Freud, brought the method of Western psychoanalysis to the understanding of what Gandhi meant by Truth. He had no doubt about the significance of Gandhi’s Truth in the “future which will pit man’s naked humanity against the cold power of super 8 machineries.” He formed this conclusion about Satyagraha: “Gandhi’s way…is that of a double conversion: the hateful person, by containing his egotistic hate and by learning to love the opponent as human, will confront the opponent with an enveloping technique that will force, or rather permit, him to regain his latent capacity to trust and love. In all these and other varieties of confrontation, the emphasis is not so much (or not entirely) on the power to be gained as on the cure of an unbearable inner condition.”3 As Jawaharlal Nehru asserted in the exhaustive study of Gandhi by D. G. Tendulkar, Gandhi’s Truth was “a truth applicable to all countries and to humanity as a whole…He told us to shed fear and hatred and of unity and equality and brotherhood, and of raising those who had been suppressed, and of the dignity of labour…”4 In the same way that he labored to reinterpret traditional terms and notions, and coined new words to define and make clearer projects and experiments, he made the notion of Swaraj or “Self-Rule” central to the meaning of Satyagraha. Gandhi used the term not only to mean India’s struggle for freedom from British rule, but also in the religious sense of freedom from illusion and ignorance. He expanded his definition of freedom to include a positive and creative side to freedom. On the personal level, positive freedom comes with the development of self-knowledge and self-discipline; on the community and national levels, equality, human dignity, civic participation, tolerance and respect for diversity were the goals of a truly free society.5 In his analysis of Gandhi’s values of “nonviolence and tolerance, truth and truthfulness, truth and openness,” Dennis Dalton cited the sentiments of Sissela Bok to illustrate the relationship between freedom, trust, and a sense of responsibility: 9 Along with nonviolence, the most important observance for Gandhi was a concern for truthfulness and truth. And fidelity – to his vows in their own right, to his ideals and thus to himself, to his obligations to others – was for him what held all the observances together and bound him to them in turn. Through making and • holding such vows, he trained himself to become someone who could trust himself and who could be trusted by others. Finally, Gandhi rejected secrecy in his dealings with supporters and with those who opposed him6 Even Gandhi’s admirers found some of his ideas enigmatic and eccentric. None was more baffling to them than his critique of modern industrial civilization in Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule. The prevailing wisdom from both the Western liberal tradition as well as Marxism implied that no bridge could be built between a society’s traditions and modernity. Marx himself had argued that imperialism would at least serve the function of destroying India’s backward and irrational traditions. Gandhi took issue with this view of development. It is ironic that almost a century later, in a world where modern industrial capitalism and technology are dominant, Gandhi’s critique has been taken seriously.7 His effective use of India’s traditions for modern purposes like organizing the Indian masses to fight injustice, removing inequality, and constructing a modern state showed that, indeed, a society’s traditions could be marshaled in the service of modernity. Gandhi was also acutely aware that what most people understood by modernization was really Westernization. He could not accept this version of modernity because he felt that India’s rich inheritance of religious, artistic, linguistic, ethnic, and historical traditions were more than adequate to inspire Indians to construct an authentic Indian personality as well as to lay the foundation of a more humane society. 8 On the issue of identity and courage, Gandhi was, of course, aware that racism was a part of the structure of the modern imperial system. He could not accept the 10 defense of imperialism that it was bringing material progress to India when British rulers treated Indians as socially inferior. To repair the wounds of Indian self-esteem, Gandhi consciously chose as his model for defining courage the ancient Indian traditional ideal of Ahimsa or nonviolence and love, celebrated in the teachings of Dharma of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu traditions. He found the source of this ideal not in the caste-bound Orthodox Hindu tradition but in the more popular and democratic Hindu religious movements known as Bhakti which emphasized devotion to God and service to humanity. In particular, he found the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita a treasure-trove of ideas about compassion and service to the poor.9 But Gandhi interpreted these texts to affirm the call to be active in the defense and service of the poor and oppressed. For Gandhi, then, the courage to be true to one’s conscience meant the preparation and readiness to serve others. This definition of courage was vital to the construction of Satyagraha. Gandhi rejected the idea of indifference to the concerns of others, and reinterpreted the traditional notion of non-attachment to mean to run along with life rather than running away from life. As Gandhi repeated often, Satyagraha was not passive but active courage. The project of building an egalitarian and humane society which was the purpose behind his constructive program was, perhaps, the most significant objective of the nonviolent movement. At a more radical level and utilized only when other nonviolent measures did not work, self-suffering was practiced as an active instrument of resistance and not passive at all. As Stanley Wolpert saw it, the key to understanding Gandhi’s selfsuffering was his passion to experience the sorrow and pain of India’s poorest people.10 The courage implicit in Satyagraha was the willingness to do what was morally right. When Dr. Sushila Nayar, Gandhi’s disciple and personal physician, received the news of 11 Gandhi’s assassination while she was tending the refugees at a camp in the Punjab, she broke down with sadness and depression. She received a fitting consolation when she was reminded that her sense of duty and devotion to serve others was the greatest gift of thanks she could have given to Gandhi. EARLY LIFE IN GUJARAT Born in Porbandar, a small town in West India, Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948) was the son of Karamchand and Putlibai Gandhi. The family was well-to-do and owned homes in Porbandar, Rajkot, and Kutiana, Princely States, where his father often served as prime minister to one of the local princes . The state of Porbandar lies on the Arabian sea and was a center of trade with the rest of India as well as with Persia, Arabia, and Africa. It is not surprising that this commercial state should be the home of the Gandhi family who belonged to the Bania sub-caste of the Vaishya or merchant caste. There were innumerable religious sects in his home town which adopted a mixture of beliefs and practices of the different religions. His mother was Hindu but practiced many Jain beliefs. Her family descended from the Pranami sect which sought to unify Hinduism and Islam. Mohandas’s early scholastic education was not remarkable. married Kasturbai, herself a thirteen year old. At 13, he The marriage was an arranged one. Gandhi himself commented on his fears and...
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