Thus Spake Gandhi

Select quotations by Mahatma Gandhi

Resistance to Aggression

I must live. I would not be a vassal to any nation or body. I must have absolute independence or perish. To seek to win in a clash of arms would be pure bravado. Not so if, in defying the might of one who would deprive me of my independence, I refuse to obey his will and perish unarmed in the attempt. In so doing, though I lose the body, I save my soul, i.e., my honour. (H, 15-10-1938, p290)


Duty of Resistance

The true democrat is he who with purely non-violent means defends his liberty and therefore, his country's and ultimately, that of the whole of mankind...But the duty of resistance accrues only to those who believe in non-violence as a creed-not to those who will calculate and will examine the merits of each case and decide whether to approve of or oppose a particular war. It follows that such resistance is a matter for each person to decide for himself and under the guidance of the inner voice, if he recognizes its existence. (H, 15-4-1939, p90)


The true meaning of non-resistance has often been misunderstood or even distorted. It never implies that a nonviolent man should bend before the violence of an aggressor. While not returning the latter's violence by violence, he should refuse to submit to the latter's illegitimate demand even to the point of death. That is the true meaning of nonresistance....


He is not to return violence by violence, but neutralize it by withholding one's hand and, at the same time, refusing to submit to the demand. This is the only civilized way of going on in the world. Any other course can only lead to a race for armaments interspersed by periods of peace which is by necessity and brought about by exhaustion, when preparations would be going on for violence of a superior order. Peace through superior violence inevitably leads to the atom bomb and all that it stands for. It is the completes negation of nonviolence and of democracy which is not possible without the former. (H, 30-3-1947, pp85-86)


To answer brutality with brutality is to admit one's moral and intellectual bankruptcy and it can only start a vicious circle.... (H, 1-6-1947, p174)


Resistance both forms [passive resistance and non violent resistance] are, but you have to pay a very heavy price when your resistance is passive, in the sense of the weakness of the resister. Europe mistook the bold and brave resistance, full of wisdom, by Jesus of Nazareth for passive resistance, as if it was of the weak. As I read the New Testament for the first time, I detected no passivity, no weakness about Jesus as depicted in the four gospels, and the meaning became clearer to me when I read Tolstoy's Harmony of the Gospels and his other kindred writings. Has not the West paid heavily in regarding Jesus as a Passive Resister? Christendom has been responsible for the wars which put to shame even those described in the Old Testament and other records, historical or semi-historical. I know that I speak under correction, for I can but claim very superficial knowledge of history-modern or ancient. (H, 7-12-1947, p453)


To die without killing requires more heroism [than to die in the act of killing]. There is nothing very wonderful in killing and being killed in the process. But the man who offers his neck to the enemy for execution, but refuses to bend to his will, shows courage of a far higher type. (H, 21-4-1946, p95)


The Way of Ahimsa

Ahimsa is one of the world's great principles which no power on earth can wipe out. Thousands like myself may die in trying to vindicate the ideal, but ahimsa will never die. And the gospel of ahimsa can be spread only through believers dying for the cause. (H, 17-5-1946, p140)


Ahimsa is the highest ideal. It is meant for the brave, never for the cowardly. To benefit by others' killing, and delude oneself into the belief that one is being very religious and non-violent is sheer self-deception. (H, 9-6-1946, p172)


No power on earth can subjugate you when you are armed with the sword of Ahimsa. It ennobles both the victor and vanquished. (ibid, p174)


The proper way to view the present outburst of violence throughout the world is to recognize that the technique of unconquerable non-violence of the strong has not been at all fully discovered as yet. Not an ounce of nonviolent strength is ever wasted. (H, 11-1-1948, p504)


I do not say 'eschew violence in you dealing with robbers or thieves or with nations that may invade India'. But, in order that we are better able to do so, we must learn to restrain ourselves. It is a sign not of strength but of weakness to take up the pistol on the slightest pretext. Mutual fisticuffs are a training not in violence but in emasculation. (YI, 29-5-1924, p176)


Whilst all violence is bad and must be condemned in the abstract, it is permissible for, it is even the duty of, a believer in ahimsa to distinguish between the aggressor and the defender. Having done so, he will side with the defender in a non-violent manner, i.e., give his life in saving him. His intervention is likely to bring a speedier end to the duel, and may even result in bringing about peace between the combatants. (H, 21-10-1939, p309)


My non-violence does recognize different species of violence-defensive and offensive. It is true that in the long run the difference is obliterated, but the initial merit persists. A non-violent person is bound, when the occasion arises, to say which side is just. Thus I wished success to the Abyssinians, the Spaniards, the Czechs, the Chinese and the Poles, though in each case I wished that they could have offered non-violent resistance. (H, 9-12-1939, p371)


If war is itself a wrong act, how can it be worthy of moral support or blessings? I believe all war to be wholly wrong. But, if we scrutinize the motives of two warring parties, we may find one to be in the right and the other in the wrong. For instance, if A wishes to seize B's country, B is obviously the wronged one. Both fight with arms. I do not believe in violent warfare, but all the same, B, whose cause is just, deserves my moral help and blessings. (H, 18-8-1940, p250)


You can return blow for blow if you are not brave enough to follow the path of non-violence. But there is a moral code for the use of violence also. Otherwise, the very flames of violence will consume those who light them. I do not care if they are all destroyed. But I cannot countenance the destruction of India's freedom. (H, 17-11-1946, p402)


India's Way

I have recognized that the nation has the right, if it so wills, to vindicate her freedom even by actual violence. Only, then India ceases to be the land of my love, even though the land of my birth, even as I should take no pride in my mother if she went astray. (YI, 20-11-1924, p382)


When India becomes self-supporting, self-reliant, and proof against temptations and exploitation, she will cease to be the object of greedy attraction for any power in the West or the East and will then feel secure without having to carry the burden of expensive armaments. Her internal economy will be the strongest bulwark against aggression. (YI, 2-7-1931, p161)


Nonviolent Resistance

History has no record of a nation having adopted non-violent resistance. If Hitler is unaffected by my suffering, it does not matter. For I shall have lost nothing worth. My honour is the only thing worth preserving. That is independent of Hitler's pity. But as a believer in nonviolence, I may not limit its possibilities. Hitherto he and his likes have built upon their invariable experience that men yield to force. Unarmed men, women and children offering nonviolent resistance without any bitterness in them will be a novel experience for them. Who can dare say that it is not in their nature to respond to the higher and finer forces? They have the same soul that I have....


I have a call I must answer. I must deliver my message to my people. This humiliation has sunk too deep in me to remain without an outlet. I, at least, must act up to the light that has dawned on me.


....When I first launched out on Satyagraha, I had no companion. We were thirteen thousand men, women and children against a whole nation, capable of crushing the existence out of us. I did not know who would listen to me. It all came as in a flash. All the 13,000 did not fight. Many fell back. But the honour or the nation was saved. New history was written by the South African Satyagraha....


My purpose will be fulfilled if I succeed in reaching these men's hearts and making them see that, if their nonviolence does not make them feel much braver than the possession of arms and the ability to use them, they must give up their non-violence, which is another name for cowardice, and resume their arms which there is nothing but their own will to prevent them from taking back.


I present...a weapon not of the weak but of the brave. There is no bravery greater than a resolute refusal to bend the knee to an earthly power, no matter how great, and that without bitterness of spirit and in the fullness of faith that the spirit alone lives, nothing else does. (H, 15-10-1938, pp290-1)


Basic Assumptions

I have argued from the analogy of what we do in families or even clans. The humankind is one big family. And if the love expressed is intense enough, it must apply to all mankind. If individuals have succeeded even with savages, why should not a group of individuals succeed with a group, say, of savages? If we can succeed with the English, surely it is merely an extension of faith to believe that we are likely to succeed with less cultured or less liberally-minded nations. I hold that, if we succeed with the English with unadulterated nonviolent effort, we must succeed with the others, which is the same thing as saying, that, if we achieve freedom with non-violence, we shall defend it also with the same weapon. If we have not achieved that faith, our non-violence is a mere expedient; it is the alloy, not pure gold.


In the first place, we shall never achieve freedom with doubtful nonviolence; and in the second, even if we do--we shall find ourselves wholly unprepared to defend the country against an aggressor. If we have doubt about the final efficacy of non-violence, it would be far better for the Congress to revise its policy and invite the nation to training in arms. A mass organization like the Congress will be untrue to its charge if, not knowing its own mind, it misled the people into a false belief. It would be an act of cowardice.... Because we cease to pin our faith to non-violence, we do not necessarily become violent. We merely throw off the mask and be natural. It would be a perfectly dignified course to adopt. (H, 22-10-1938, p298)


However small a nation or even a group may be, it is able, even as the individual, provided that it has one mind as also the will and the grit, to defend its honour and self-respect against a whole world in arms. Therein consists the matchless strength and beauty of the unarmed. That is non-violent defence which neither knows nor accepts defeat at any stage. Therefore, a nation or a group which has made non-violence its final policy cannot be subjected to slavery even by the atom bomb. (H, 18-8-1946, p265)


The Congress has declared that she would carry out the struggle for India's independence through the method of non-violence. But she has not yet decided whether she would adhere to that method for the protection of that freedom against possible foreign aggression.


To me it is a self-evident truth that, if freedom is to be shared equally by all--even physically the weakest, the lame and the halt--they must be able to contribute an equal share in its defence. How that can be possible when reliance is placed on armaments my plebian mind fails to understand. I, therefore, swear and shall continue to swear by non-violence, i.e., by Satyagraha or soul force. In it physical incapacity is no handicap and even a frail woman or a child can pit herself or himself on equal terms against a giant, armed with the most powerful weapon. (H, 21-4-1946, p94)


My ahimsa forbids me from denying credit where it is due, even though the creditor is a believer in violence. Thus, though I did not accept Subhash Bose's belief in violence and his consequent action, I have not refrained from giving unstinted praise to his patriotism, resourcefulness and bravery. Similarly, though I did not approve of the use of arms by the Union Government for aiding the Kashmiries, and though I could not approve of Sheikh Abdullah's resort to arms, I cannot possibly withhold admiration for either for their resourceful and praiseworthy conduct, especially if both the relieving troops and the Kashmiri defenders die heroically to a man. I know that if they can do so, they will perhaps change the face of India. But if the defence is purely non-violent in intention and action, I will not use the word 'perhaps', for I will be sure of change in the face of India even to the extent of converting to the defender's view the Union Cabinet, if not even the Pakistan Cabinet.


The nonviolent technique, I will suggest, will be no armed assistance to the defenders. Nonviolent assistance can be sent from the Union without stint. But the defenders, whether they get such assistance or not, will defy the might of the raiders or even a disciplined army in overwhelming numbers. And defenders dying at their post of duty without malice and without anger in their hearts against the assailants, and without the use of any arms including even their fists will mean an exhibition of heroism as yet unknown to history. Kashmir will then become a holy land shedding its fragrance not only throughout India, but the world. (H, 16-11-1947, p413)