Today marks the United Nations’ International Day of Non-Violence, which annually coincides with the birthdate of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Born on October 2, 1869 in the state of Gujarat, Gandhi studied law in London before spending 20 years as an expatriate lawyer in South Africa. It was here he founded the practice of satyagraha, employing love and truth as a force against injustice. The rest of his life – from 1915 to his death by assassins’ bullets in 1947 – was dedicated to Indian independence from British rule.
Jawaharlal Nehru was the first Prime Minister of India, leading the Indian National Congress during the freedom struggle. He worked closely with Gandhi for over three decades – both following and dissenting from the Mahatma’s guidance.
Here are four quotes from Gandhi and four excerpts about Gandhi from Nehru’s The Discovery of India.
- “Fearlessness is the first requisite of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral.” “The essence of his [Gandhi] teaching was fearlessness and truth, and action allied to these, always keeping the welfare of the masses in view. The greatest gift for an individual or a nation, so we had been told in our ancient books, was abhay (fearlessness, not merely bodily courage but the absence of fear from the mind. […] It was the function of the leaders of a people to make the fearless. But the dominant impulse in India under British rule was that of fear – pervasive, oppressing, strangling fear; fear of the army, the police, the widespread secret service; fear of the official class; fear of laws meant to suppress and of prison; fear of the landlord’s agent; fear of the moneylender; fear of unemployment and starvation, which were always on the threshold. It was against this all-pervading fear that Gandhi’s quiet and determined voice was raised: Be not afraid. Was it so simple as all that? Not quite. And yet fear builds its phantoms which are more fearsome than reality itself, and reality, when calmly analyzed and its consequences willingly accepted, loses much of its terror.”
- “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.” “It is said, and I think with truth, that the Indian habit of mind is essentially one of quietism. Perhaps old races develop that attitude to life; a long tradition of philosophy also leads to it and yet Gandhi, a typical product of India, represents the very antithesis of quietism. He has been a demon of energy and action, a hustler, and a man who not only drives himself but drives others. He has done more than anyone I know to fight and change the quietism of the Indian people.”
- “Sorrow and suffering make for character if they are voluntarily borne, but not if they are imposed.” “He is not enamoured of ever-increasing standards of living and the growth of luxury at the cost of spiritual and moral values. He does not favor the soft life; for him the straight way is the hard way, and the love of luxury leads to crookedness and loss of virtue. Above all he is shocked at the vast gulf that stretches between the rich and the poor, in their ways of living, and their opportunities of growth. For his own personal and psychological satisfaction, he crossed that gulf and went over to the side of the poor, adopting, with only such improvements as the poor themselves could afford, their ways of living, their dress or lack of dress. This vast difference between the few rich and the poverty-stricken masses seemed to him to be due to two principal causes: foreign rule and the exploitation that accompanied it, and the capitalist industrial civilization of the West as embodied in the big machine. He reacted against both. He looked back with yearning to the days of the old autonomous and more-or-less self-contained village community where there had been an automatic balance between production, distribution, and consumption; where political or economic power was spread out and not concentrated as it is today; where a kind of simple democracy prevailed; where the gulf between the rich and the poor was not so marked; where the evil of great cities were absent and people lived in contact with the life-giving soil and breathed the pure air of the open spaces.”
- “I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor. But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment.” “Gandhiji was getting on in years, he was in the seventies, and a long life of ceaseless activity, of hard toil, both physical and mental, had enfeebled his body; but he was still vigorous enough, and he felt that all his life work would be in vain if he submitted to circumstances then and took no action to vindicate what he prized most. His love of freedom for India and all other exploited nations and peoples overcame even his strong adherence to non-violence. […] It was no easy matter for him to commit himself in this way, but he swallowed the bitter pill, so overpowering was his desire that some settlement should be arrived as to enable India to resist the aggressor as a free nation.”