Ahimsa, not arms

The advertisement issued by the department of information and broadcasting, government of India, on Gandhi Jayanti day is mischievous

The minister of information and broadcasting, government of India issued an advertisement
on 2nd October 2003, in almost all newspapers in which Gandhi was quoted as having said: “I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should in cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour.”

We were horrified to see the advertisement issued by the government of India on Gandhi Jayanti, quoting Gandhi on the need to take up arms rather than suffer dishonour. The mischievous intent of the advertisement is obvious. Given its preoccupation with reinventing histories to suit its agenda and the discomfort of living with the internationally-famed Gandhian legacy of non-violence, it is no surprise that the present government should choose a line from Gandhi’s writings, totally removed from its context, to prove that even the great Apostle of Peace endorsed violence in the name of nationalism.

The quote used in the advertisement is a line from Gandhi’s article in Young India dated August 11, 1920, titled, ‘The Doctrine of the Sword’. The article was written by Gandhi in the wake of countrywide violence following the passing of the Rowlatt Bills and the Jallianwalla Baug massacre in 1919, and centred on the call for non-cooperation from August 1, 1920. It sought to explain his concept of non-violent non-cooperation, and the spirit of non-violence itself. The article, unlike its misrepresentation by the line used in the advertisement, is devoted to the real possibility of non-violence as a political strategy, and its moral significance.

The opening sentence of the article reads: “In this age of the rule of brute force, it is almost impossible for anyone to believe that anyone else could possibly reject the law of the final supremacy of brute force.” Gandhi goes on to explain how violence can be resorted to where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence. However, the real intent of the article is made clear in the sections following the line quoted in the advertisement issued by the government on Gandhi Jayanti: “But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence.”

Gandhi goes on to explain how violence is resorted to by the helpless, whereas the people of India should not see themselves as being helpless. The advertisement could just as well have quoted his other famous lines in this article: “I am not a visionary. I claim to be a practical idealist. The religion of non-violence is not meant merely for the rishis and saints. It is meant for the common people as well. Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law, to the strength of the spirit; or, I am not pleading for India to practise non-violence because it is weak. I want her to practise non-violence being conscious of her strength and power. No training in arms is required for realisation of her strength. We seem to need it because we seem to think that we are but a lump of flesh. I want India to recognise that she has a soul that cannot perish and that can rise triumphant above every physical weakness and defy the physical combination of (the) whole world.”

Perhaps the most apt quotation that could have been used to honour Gandhi in these conflict-ridden times would have been one of the closing lines from the same article: “India’s acceptance of the doctrine of the sword will be the hour of my trial.” More than 80 years later, this is precisely what is coming about: we seem to be accepting the doctrine of the sword, subverting Gandhi’s ideals to legitimise an agenda of violence. That this is now being done even through an official agency of the government like the department of I & B, is a shame and a tragedy. Gandhi could only have grieved if he were alive today.

(The above statement was issued jointly by human rights activists Rohit Prajapati, Nandini Manjrekar, Anand Mazgaonkar, Johannes Manjrekar, Trupti Shah, Deeptha Achar on October 4, 2003).

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2003 Year 10   No. 92, Saffronwatch



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