( Gandhiji's evidence given on January 9, 1920 at Hathising's Wadi in Ahmedabad before the Disorders Inquiry Committee presided over by Lord Hunter to inquire into the disorders in the Punjab and Gujarat : )
Definition of Satyagraha
*"For the past thirty years I have been preaching and practising Satyagraha. The principles of Satyagraha, as I know it today, constitute a gradual evolution.
Satyagraha differs from passive resistance as North Pole from South. The latter has been conceived as a weapon of the weak and does not exclude the use of physical force or violence for the purpose of gaining one's end, whereas the former has been conceived as a weapon of the strongest and excludes the use of violence in any shape or form.
The term 'Satyagraha' was coined by me in South Africa to express the force that the Indians there used for full eight years and it was coined in order to distinguish it from the movement then going on in the United Kingdom and South Africa under the name of 'passive resistance.'
Its root meaning is holding on to truth, hence truth-force. I have also called it love-force or soul-force. In the application of Satyagraha, I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one's opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on one's own self.
But in the political field, the struggle on behalf of the people mostly consists in opposing error in the shape of unjust laws. When you have failed to bring the error home to the lawgiver by way of petitions and the like, the only remedy open to you, if you do not wish to submit to error, is to compel him by physical force to yield to you or by suffering in your own person by inviting the penalty for the breach of the law. Hence, Satyagraha largely appears to the public as civil disobedience or civil resistance. It is civil in the sense that it is not criminal. It applies to the breach of only those laws that have no moral background.
The law-breaker breaks the law surreptitiously and tries to avoid the penalty; not so the civil resister. He ever obeys the laws of the State to which he belongs not out of fear of the sanctions but because he considers them to be good for the welfare of society. But there come occasions, generally rare, when he considers certain laws to be so unjust as to regard it as disgraceful to render obedience to them. He then openly and civilly breaks them and quietly suffers the penalty for their breach. And in order to register his protest against the action of the lawgivers, it is open to him to withdraw his co-operation from the State by disobeying such other laws whose breach does not involve moral turpitude.
In my opinion, the beauty and efficacy of Satyagraha are so great and the doctrine so simple that it can be preached even to children. In was preached by me in South Africa to thousands of men, women and children commonly called indentured Indians, with excellent results.
When the Rowlatt Bills were published I felt that they were so restrictive of human liberty that they must be resisted to the utmost. I observed too that the opposition to them was universal among Indians. I submit that no State, however despotic, has the right to enact laws which are repugnant to the whole body of the people, much less a government guided by constitutional usage and precedents such as the Indian Government. I felt too that the oncoming agitation needed a definite direction if it was not to collapse or to run into violent channels.
Sixth of April
I ventured, therefore, to present Satyagraha to the country emphasizing its civil resistance aspect. And as it is purely an inward and purifying movement, I suggested the observance of fast, prayer and suspension of all work for one day-the 6th of April. There was a magnificent response throughout the length and breadth of India, even in little villages, although there was no organization and no great previous preparation. The idea was given to the public soon as it was conceived. On the 6th April there was no violence used by the people and no collision with the police worth naming. The hartal was purely voluntary and spontaneous. I attach hereto the letter1 in which the idea was announced.
1.LETTER TO THE PRESS ON SATYAGRAHA MOVEMENT
Satyagraha, as I have endeavoured to explain at several meetings, is essentially a religious movement. It is a process of purification and penance. It seeks to secure reforms or redress of grievances by self-suffering. I, therefore, venture to suggest that the second Sunday after the publication of Viceregal assent to Bill No. 2 of 1919 ( i. e., 6th April ) may be observed as a day of humiliation and prayer. As there must be an effective public demonstration in keeping with the character of the observance, I beg to advise as follows :
(i) A twenty-four hours' fast counting from the last meal on the preceding night should be observed by all adults, unless prevented from so doing by consideration of religion or health. The fast is not to be regarded, in any shape or form, in the nature of a hunger-strike, or as designed to put any pressure upon the Government. It is to be regarded, for the Satyagrahis, as the necessary discipline to fit them for civil disobedience, contemplated in their Pledge, and for all others, as some slight token of the intensity of their wounded feelings.
(ii) All work, except such as may be necessary in the public interest, should be suspended for the day. Markets and other business places should be closed. Employees who are required to work even on Sundays may only suspend work after obtaining previous leave.
I do not hesitate to recommend these two suggestions for adoption by public servants. For though it is unquestionably the right thing for them not to take part in political discussions and gatherings, in my opinion they have an undoubted right to express upon vital matters their feelings in the very limited manner harein suggested.
(iii) Public meetings should be held on that day in all parts of India, not excluding villages, at which resolutions praying for the withdrawal of the two measures should be passed.
If my advice is deemed worthy of acceptance, the responsibility will lie, in the first instance, on the various Satyagraha Associations for undertaking the necessary work of organization, but all other associations will, I hope, join hands in making this demonstration a success.
The observance of the 6th April was to be followed by civil disobedience. For the purpose the Committee of the Satyagraha Sabha had selected certain political laws for disobedience. And we commenced the distribution of prohibited literature of a perfectly healthy type, e. g., a pamphlet written by me on Home Rule, a translation of Ruskin's Unto This Last, The Defence and Death of Socrates, etc.
But there is no doubt that the 6th of April found India vitalized as never before. The people who had so far been fear-stricken now ceased to fear authority. Moreover, hitherto the masses had lain inert. The leaders had not really acted upon them. They were undisciplined. They had found a new force but they did not know what it was and how it was to be used.
At Delhi, the leaders found it difficult to restrain the very large number of people who had remained unmoved before. At Amritsar, Dr. Satyapal was anxious that I should go there and explain to the people the peaceful nature of Satyagraha. Swami Shraddhanandji from Delhi and Dr. Satyapal from Amritsar wrote to me asking me to go to their respective places for pacifying the people and for explaining to them the nature or Satyagraha. I had never been to Amritsar and for that matter, to the Punjab before. These two messages were seen by the authorities and they knew that I was invited to both the places for peaceful purposes.
I left Bombay for Delhi and the Punjab on the 8th April and had telegraphed to Dr. Satyapal, whom I had never met before, to meet me at Delhi. But after passing Mathura I was served with an order prohibiting me from entering the province of Delhi. I felt that I was bound to disregard this order and I proceeded on my journey. At Palwal, I was served with another order prohibiting me from entering the Punjab and confining me to the Bombay Presidency. And I was arrested by a party of police and taken off the train at that station. The Superintendent of Police who arrested me acted with every courtesy. I was taken to Mathura by the first available train and thence by goods train early in the morning to Sawai Madhopur, where I joined the Bombay Mail from Peshawar and was taken charge of by Superintendent Bowring. I was discharged at Bombay on the 10th April.
Riots in Gujarat
But the people of Ahmedabad and Viramgam and in Gujarat generally had heard of my arrest. They became furious, shops were closed, crowds gathered, and murder, arson, pillage, wire cutting and attempt at derailment followed.
I had worked in the midst of Kaira ryots just before and had mixed among thousands of men and women. I had worked at the instance of and with Miss Anasuya Sarabhai among the mill-hands of Ahmedabad. The mill-hands appreciated her philanthropic work and adored her. The fury of the labourers in Ahmedabad reached its height when a false rumour was started that she too was arrested. Both of us had visited and interceded for the mill-hands of Viramgam when they were in trouble. And it is my firm belief that the excesses were due to the great resentment of the mobs over my arrest and the rumoured arrest of Miss Anasuya Sarabhai.
I have mixed with the masses in practically the whole of India and talked to them freely. I do not believe that there was any revolutionary movement behind the excesses. They could hardly be dignified by the term 'rebellion'.
And, in my opinion, the Government erred in prosecuting the offenders for waging war. This hasty view has caused unmerited or disproportionate suffering. The fine imposed on poor Ahmedabad was heavy and the manner of collecting it from the labourers was unnecessarily harsh and irritating. I doubt the justice of inflicting on the labourers a fine so large as 1,76,000 (one hundred and seventy-six thousand) rupees. The stationing of additional police force and realisation of the cost from the farmers of Barejadi and from the Banias and Patidars of Nadiad was totally unjustified and even vindictive. I think that the introduction of Martial Law in Ahmedabad was also unjustified and its thoughtless administration resulted in the loss of several innocent lives.
At the same time, and, subject to the reservations mentioned by me, I have no doubt that, in the Bombay Presidency, the authorities acted with considerable restraint at a time when the atmosphere was surcharged with mutual suspicion and the attempt at wrecking the train which was bringing the troops to restore order had naturally angered the authorities.
(From DAY-TO-DAY WITH GANDHI-II, pages 91-96, previously available on Internet at http://web.mahatma.org.in)
previously available at : http://web.mahatma.org.in/books/showbook.jsp?link=og&book=og0009&id=91&lang=en&file=4606&cat=books