Relevance of Gandhi's Ahimsa and Satyagraha today

Posted in India | 17-Aug-07 | Author: Dr. Ravindra Kumar

The acid test of relevance of works and views of a great man is definitely the application of them in prevailing conditions of time and space. Mahatma Gandhi is fortunately among those few great men in the entire human history whose individual life, works and views, also known as Gandhism, not only had proved to be great and exemplary during his own lifetime but there relevance and significance remained intact after his passing away.

Gandhi became the ideal hero for thousands around the world in general and renowned figures like Martin Luther King Junior of America, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Ninoy Aquino of the Philippines in particular. Simultaneous to this, his views and works are still worth giving a thought, and if they are applied according to the prevailing conditions of time and space, no doubt, they are fully capable of bringing sound and beautiful results, sometimes beyond expectations.

How? To be familiar with this reality, it will be appropriate for us to look at those simple but most humanistic bases that were there in the personal practices of Mahatma Gandhi as well as in public actions initiated by him, especially during the National Liberation Movement of India between 1917 and 1942.


For Mahatma Gandhi, Ahimsa - non-violence - was a Dharma, no matter if, for him, it was a plant of slow growth; and along with its activities, applicable in day-to-day practices, it was the means to achieve the goal. Satyagraha, pursuit of Truth and fully imbibed with Ahimsa was the weapon applied in political actions. Gandhi, as we know, largely succeeded in Ahimsa and Satyagraha, because he was brave, humble and free from hatred. All these three were, and are, fully within the scope of non-violence; in other words, they were, and are, themselves the best introduction of Ahimsa. And Mahatma Gandhi practiced them in the best possible manner both in his individual life and in public life.

Further, he loved everybody without any discrimination. Love is a value supplementary to Ahimsa. It is an ornament of the brave. In it everything is good, positive and beneficial provided it is not momentary. Mahatma Gandhi saw the ultimate truth in love and said, “To see the universal and pervading spirit of Truth face-to-face one must be able to love the meanest of certain as myself.” That is why his non-violence was that of the brave. It was not born out of cowardice.

Out of pure love, he was prepared to suck the poison from a snakebite from the body of General Michael O’Dwyer. He did not hate the British. He was opposed to their exploitative rule. He was free from fear. In addition, his fearlessness was extraordinary or of a very high order. It was during the Champaran Satyragraha in 1917-18 when he heard that a British Indigo planter wanted to kill him if he was found alone. He went alone to the residence of that planter one early morning and offered himself to be killed. The Englishman did not have the heart to kill this great and brave soul.

Another incident took place in March 1930 when the Mahatma along with his selected colleagues was on his way to Dandi from his Sabarmati Ashram to break the Salt Law and through it to launch the historical Civil Disobedience Movement. A man of a place near Bharoach, who was opposed to the Gandhian way of Ahimsa, threatened to kill him in a lonely place. The news reached Mahatma. He was, as we know, a worshipper of non-violence and, therefore, fearless and brave. He knew that an ill-willed person could not withstand the power of non-violence. A few days passed. In the meantime Mahatma received the name and address of this ill-willed person and one day, in the early hours, he arrived at the home of the man and said to him:

“Brother! I am Gandhi; you want my life. Take it soon, none will know.”

But the ill-willed man could not see eye-to-eye with the votary of non-violence and he became a follower of the Mahatma. This is the reality of fearlessness and pure love - the basis of which is the Ahimsa.


The Gandhian approach requires both courage and freedom from malevolence. Before launching Satyagraha and during the course of Satyagraha, Gandhi was always ready to negotiate and discuss. In the late 1920s, he was opposed to the exploitation of the textile workers of Ahmedabad by the mill owners, but he was not in favor of a strike to end it. In all matters of dispute, whether they were small or big in nature or at the local or national level, he advocated discussions, negotiations or dialogues, conciliations, and arbitrations and adjudication as a last resort. He applied the same method with regard to gaining independence for the country. He inspired confidence and faith in his words; he was always dependable. Even today with changed circumstances, it is necessary that when we talk of Ahimsa and Satyagraha, we should bear in mind this background.

Today, most countries in the world are facing various kinds of internal and external crises. Due to unprecedented changes in social, political, economic and cultural spheres, various groups of people have become very aware of these issues. Many times, one particular group or groups of people create a problem that becomes so serious that the authorities become helpless. A few years back we witnessed such a situation in the province of Punjab, Assam and other parts of India.

In such a state of affairs, can the way shown by Gandhi be relevant? Can his Ahimsa and Satyagraha be applied to tackle such problems? Yes, it is possible. But prior to this it necessary familiarize oneself with how to apply them under changed circumstances. The application of the both, Ahimsa and Satyagraha is also not the exception in the law of change; they too are within the domain of it.

So those in authority in dealing with serious issues in the whole world in general must have the humility to understand and accommodate the opposite point of view. They should have love and regard for those who cry for justice and rights and even those clamouring for separation. In this case there would be room for discussion, negotiation and settlement. Non-violence and Satyagraha [pursuit of Truth] presuppose humility and readiness to understand even the most unpleasant stand of the opponent. This is applicable to those in power if they want to deal with the problem non-violently.

For those who cry for justice, and in this process even clamoring for separation in many countries, the non-violent Satyagraha would mean determined non-cooperation without ill-will, dogged determination to suffer for their rights and readiness to compromise if their demand is substantially met by granting them the maximum without separation, because separation anywhere in the world is not a permanent solution to a problem.

It is a fact that non-violent Satyagraha sometimes takes a long time to achieve but, definitely, it causes less damage to people and property and does not leave a trace of hatred and ill-will. Ultimately imbibed with Ahimsa, it is the pursuit of Truth and Truth wins always.


· Renowned Scholar, Indologist and India expert Dr. Ravindra Kumar is a Former Vice-Chancellor of CCS University, Meerut, India. Also he is the Editor of ‘GLOBAL-PEACE’-An International Journal of Philosophy, Peace, Education, Culture and Civilization.