ARTICLES : Satyagraha / Civil Disobedience

Read articles written by very well-known personalities and eminent authors about their views on Gandhi, Gandhi's works, Gandhian philosophy, Satyagraha and Civil Disobedience.

Revaluating Satyagraha

By E. Sudhakar

E. Sudhakar is Reader in Political Science, Kakatiya Government College, Hanamkonda, Andhra Pradesh.

On the basis of his experiences and experiments, Gandhi developed an integrated approach and perspective to the concept of life itself. His ideas, which came to be known as his philosophy were a part of his relentless search for truth.1
The concept of satyagraha is related to the social, political, cultural, economic and psychological conditions which influenced the life and personality of Gandhi. He adopted the nonviolent approach to resist all the forces that exerted pressure on him physically and psychologically.
He believed that the supreme law that governs all living things and the universe is nothing but love and nonviolence. It was Gandhi's firm belief that the basis of all religions of the world was the law of love. The very purpose of nonviolent resistance and upholding the principles of truth was none other than asserting the freedom of oneself over his mind and body.
Gandhi's concept of Satyagraha is an integrated concept and includes truth, nonviolence, non-stealing, chastity or Brahmacharya, poverty or non-possession, bread labour, fearlessness, control of the palate (asvada), tolerance, Swadeshi and removal of untouchability.
Scope of Satyagraha
According to Gandhi, Satyagraha can be adopted by anybody. Gandhi said that Satyagraha was like a banyan tree which had innumerable branches. Satya and ahimsa together made its parent trunk from which all the innumerable branches shoot out.2
Satyagraha has also been considered as a weapon of soul force to resist any kind of oppression. While Gandhi regarded satyagraha as a way of life, during the freedom struggle of India, Satyagraha was used as a weapon to resist the authority of the state and to achieve various things for the general welfare of the people.
The Champaran and Bardoli Satyagrahas were conducted by Gandhi not only to achieve material gains for the people, but also to resist the unjust authority of the then British regime. The civil disobedience movement of 1930, the Dandi Salt Satyagraha and the Quit India Movements were classic examples when Gandhi used Satyagraha as a weapon of the soul force.
Satyagraha as a means of resistance and conflict resolution, has different forms. Hunger strike (fasting), hartal (striking work), hijrat (immigration) are some of the forms suggested. The principles, conditions and qualifications of Satyagraha are relevant to all these forms.
Relevance of Satyagraha in the Twenty-first Century
Is Satyagraha relevant to the present-day society or the twenty-first century? The answer is not a simple "yes" or "no".
When we try to decide whether it is relevant to the present day society, the fundamental thing we have to consider is the nature of the present-day individual.
Gandhi was well aware of the increasing influence of materialistic considerations on the modern society and individual.
According to Gandhi, the main objective of satyagraha was to eradicate the evil or to reform the opponent. In the present socio-economic political system, there is a dire necessity to wean the individual away from the influence of wealth, luxuries and power.
In all educational institutions, right from the lowest level to the level of university, it would be worthwhile to teach young people the concept of Satyagraha and the principles of truth and nonviolence, as the basic factors contributing to the peace, harmony and welfare of the society.
In all industrial establishments and other places of mass employment also, satyagraha would be a viable alternative to other methods for the peaceful resolution of disputes and conflicts. And in all walks of life, wherever there is scope for conflict and disharmony, the practice of the principles of truth and nonviolence in the smallest way possible, would definitely make a great contribution in bringing about peace and harmony.
Satyagraha as an ideal and as a great weapon of conflict resolution will always serve as a great inspiration to people of all generations to come, both in India and elsewhere. It may not be possible for ordinary human beings to practise brahmacharya, poverty and simple living in the age of scientific and technological development, but the usefulness of truth and nonviolence will always be relevant wherever the goal is prosperity, welfare and development, because without truth and nonviolence, there cannot be peace and without peace there cannot be development.

Notes And References:
  1. Quoted by Raghavan Iyer, The Moral and Political thought of Mahatma Gandhi (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), p.270
  2. Ibid.,P.265.

Source: Gandhi Marg, Vol. 24, No. 2, July-September2002