The Class of Nonviolence
Lesson 2, Reading 6
by Mohandas Gandhi
I accept the interpretation of ahimsa, namely, that it is not merely a negative state of harmlessness but it is a positive state of love, of doing good even to the evildoer. But it does not mean helping the evildoer to continue the wrong or tolerating it by passive acquiescence. On the contrary, love, the active state of ahimsa, requires you to resist the wrongdoer by dissociating yourself from him even though it may offend him or injure him physically. Thus if my son lives a life of shame, I may not help him to do so by continuing to support him; on the contrary, my love for him requires me to withdraw all support from him although it may mean even his death. And the same love imposes on me the obligation of welcoming him to my bosom when he repents. But I may not by physical force compel my son to become good. That in my opinion is the moral of the story of the Prodigal Son.
Noncooperation is not a passive state; it is an intensely active state-more active than physical resistance or violence. Passive resistance is a misnomer. Noncooperation in the sense used by me must be nonviolent and, therefore, neither punitive nor vindictive nor based on malice, ill-will, or hatred. It follows therefore that it would be sin for me to serve General Dyer and cooperate with him to shoot innocent men. But it will be an exercise of forgiveness or love for me to nurse him back to life, if he was suffering from a physical malady. I would cooperate a thousand times with this government to wean it from its career of crime, but I will not for a single moment cooperate with it to continue that career. And I would be guilty of wrongdoing if I retained a tide from it or “a service under it or supported its law courts or schools.” Better for me a beggar’s bowl than the richest possession from hands stained with the blood of the innocents of Jalianwala�. Better by far a warrant of imprisonment than honeyed words from those who have wantonly wounded the religious sentiment of my 70 million brothers.
Noncooperation and civil disobedience are but different branches of the same tree called Satyagraha. It is my Kalpadruma-my Jam-i-Jam-the Universal Provider. Satyagraha is search for Truth; and God is Truth. Ahimsa or non-violence is the light that reveals that Truth to me. Swaraj� for me is part of that truth. This Satyagraha did not fail me in South Africa, Kheda, or Champaran and in a host of other – cases I could mention. It excludes all violence or hate. Therefore, I cannot and will not hate Englishmen. Nor will I bear their yoke. I must fight unto death the unholy attempt to impose British methods and British institutions on India. But I combat the attempt with nonviolence.
In theory, if there is sufficient nonviolence developed in any single person, he should be able to discover the means of combating violence, no matter how widespread or severe, within his jurisdiction. I have repeatedly admitted my imperfections. I am no example of perfect ahimsa. I am evolving.
From Nonviolent Resistance, New York, Schocken Books, 1961
* Jalianwala Bagh is a park in Amritsar where some 2,000 Indians-most of them Sikhs-were slaughtered by soldiers of the British colonial army on April 13, 1919. The massacre marked a turning point in India’s struggle for self-rule: until then, many Indians might have been content with a high degree of autonomy under British rule; after Jalianwala, they would settle for nothing short of full independence.
* Swaraj is a sacred Vedic word meaning self-rule and self-restraint. By Swaraj Gandhi meant the government of India by the consent of the people.
This reading is from The Class of Nonviolence, prepared by Colman McCarthy of the Center for Teaching Peace, 4501 Van Ness Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20016 202.537.1372