By Chandra Ganguly

gandhi-on-non-violence_frontGandhi on Non-Violence was first published in 1965. It would be hard for any book on Gandhi not to be full of Gandhi’s own seemingly rather intractable views on non-violence as well as the author’s views, either in support or not, of the activist. The author, Thomas Merton (1915-1968), was well-known in the fields of spirituality, philosophy and social justice. In this book he brings forth a collection of Gandhi’s quotes on non-violence along with a couple of essays with his own views, mainly in support of Gandhi and non-violence as a doctrine.

In many ways, regardless of one’s own personal take on the man or the doctrine, this book is a fascinating read because it brings together effectively for the reader so many of Gandhi’s ruminations, convictions and sometimes contradictions about non-violence as a political act of defiance. Non-violence as a revolutionary act can be an excuse for the weak who do not wish to protest or fight, and the book reveals how this troubled Gandhi. It is not oft-publicized and these little-known quotes are what makes this a valuable read. Morton ends the book with quotes that reveal a more vulnerable and unsure Gandhi — “I failed to recognize, until it was too late, that what I had mistaken for ahimsa was not ahimsa, but passive resistance of the weak, which can never be called ahimsa even in the remotest sense.”(p.143)

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The political scope of non-violence

Gandhi does not envisage a tactical non-violence confined to one area of life or to an isolated moment.

His non-violence is a creed which embraces all of life in a consistent and logical network of obligations. One cannot be violent, for example, in interpersonal or family relations, and non-violent with regard to conscription and war. Genuine non-violence means not only non-cooperation with glaring social evils, but also the renunciation of benefits and privileges that are implicitly guaranteed by forces which conscience cannot accept.

Austere political implications of the non-violent way of life are suggested in some of these texts.

So long as I lived under a system of government based on force and voluntarily partook of the many facilities and privileges it created for me, I was bound to help that government to the extent of my ability when it was engaged in a war, unless I non-cooperated with that government and renounced to the utmost of my capacity the privileges it offered me.            I–73

There is no escape for any of us save through truth and non-violence. I know that war is wrong, is an unmitigated evil. I know too that it has got to go. I firmly believe that freedom won through bloodshed or fraud is no freedom.      I–75

Merely to refuse military service is not enough…This is [to act] after all the time for combating evil is practically gone.     I–106

Non-cooperation in military service and service in non- military matters are not compatible.        I–108

Non-Violence to be a creed has to be all-pervasive. I cannot be non-violent about one activity of mine and violent about others. That would be a policy, not a life force. [1935]

I–110