Did Mahatma Gandhi really oppose violence?

This article has been co-authored by Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh and Dikgaj.

 |  Breaking views  |   Long-form |   09-06-2015
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Read the first part of the series here.

Read the second part of the series here.

We first show that Mahatma Gandhi did not believe in the absolute sanctity of non-violence, at best, he preferred non-violence to violence. On June 1, 1921, while supporting the Khilafat agitation, he said: "A believer in non-violence is pledged not to resort to violence or physical force either directly or indirectly in defence of anything, but he is not precluded from helping men or institutions that are themselves not based on non-violence. If the reverse were the case, I would for instance be precluded from helping India to attain Swaraj because the future Parliament of India under Swaraj, I know for certain, will be having some military or police forces, or to take a domestic illustration, I would not help a son to secure justice, because forsooth he is not a believer in non-violence.....My business is to refrain from doing any violence myself, and to induce by persuasion and service as many as God's creatures as I can to join me in the belief and practice. But I would be untrue to my faith, if I refuse to assist in a just cause any men or measures that did not entirely coincide with the principle of non-violence. I would be promoting violence, if  finding the Mussalmans to be in the right, I did not assist them by means strictly non-violent against those who had treacherously plotted the destruction of the dignity of Islam. Even when both parties believe in violence, there is often such a thing as justice on one side or the other. A robbed man has justice on his side, even though he may be preparing to regain the lost property by force. And it would be accounted as a triumph of non-violence, if the injured party could be persuaded to regain his property by methods of Satyagraha, ie, love or soul force rather than a free fight" pp, 151, [16].

Gandhi's stance on violence then clearly does not represent a doctrinaire conflict with liberating India through war which revolutionaries including Bose espoused. Presuming then that Gandhi considered the cause of the independence of India as a just one he ought to have had no qualms assisting in "measures that did not entirely coincide with the principle of non-violence", that is, the act of the revolutionaries, including Bose, just as Gandhi was willing to assist the Mussalmans, by means strictly non-violent against those who had treacherously plotted the destruction of the dignity of Islam. He could easily have provided a political cover for revolutionaries, which would be strictly non-violent, like Sinn Fein did for IRA. Going by the repressive measures the British used against the revolutionaries, both sides in this case believed in violence. But, going by the argument Gandhi invoked in support of Muslims (agitating for Khilafat), there was clearly such a thing as justice on the side of the revolutionaries as they (like the rest of their compatriots) have been robbed of their freedom, which they were preparing to regain by force. Thus, by his argument, Gandhi could legitimately consider it as a triumph of non-violence if he could win them over to Satyagraha, but he was duty-bound to assist them even if he failed in doing so, again applying his own argument.  

Yet, curiously enough we will show that Gandhi's stance on violence changed based on the nationality and religion of the perpetrator and the target. First, he considered it his duty to support the Muslims in India even when they engaged in violence for establishing a trans-national and extra-territorial Khilafat in Turkey. Yet, as we will show, he tried his level best to dissuade the Hindus from using force even in self defence against Muslim perpetrators of violence. Next, years after an overwhelming urge for independence had already emerged in India, he would seek to extensively enlist Indians for fighting for the British during the first world war, that is, he actively sought to assist violence (perpetrated by Indians) in favor of the British, appealing to the duty of the Indians as citizens of the empire. Khudiram Bose, Kanai Lal Dutta, Satinder Pal, Pandit Kanshi Ram and Madanlal Dhingra had taken to the gallows in their quest to liberate India by the time Gandhi sought to enlist for the empire. It is then quite confounding that he and his coterie opposed violence directed against the British as part of India's freedom fight. Not only did he not oppose the violence perpetrated by the British in suppressing the revolutionaries with all the resources at their disposal, but he offered moral support to the former, while his coterie actively collaborated with the British in suppressing the revolutionaries. We have already discussed how he launched a Satyagraha against the repressive Rowlatt Act primarily to prevent the "Little Bengal cult of violence" from spreading - that is, to nip in the bud the possibility of a violent nationwide uprising against the British. We establish this part in a sequel.  

The only conclusion that emerges from both the above evidences is that Gandhi would not countenance a violent overthrow of the British regime, not because of his doctrinaire opposition to violence, but because he wanted a continuity of regimes even if the British had to leave. Recall from our earlier pieces that Gandhi's stated goals vacillated between Spiritual Swaraj, which did not require British to cede even direct authority, and Dominion Status, which would allow them to retain indirect control. Bose was open to securing independence by any means as his concept of independence consistently involved complete dismantling of the authority wielded by the British. Big industrialists who sponsored Gandhi and influenced his policies also preferred a continuity of regimes for reasons that we have presented in Section B.2.3 [17]. Also, in the words of his ardent devotee, JB Kriplani, he was " always anxious to accommodate his opponents" p. 134, [5] - to the detriment of his own, we should add. his opponents would naturally find him an asset, and enhance his stature worldwide through publicity, encomiums, awards and velvet glove handling. This in turn fed into the personality cult surrounding him, thanks to the susceptibility of Indian masses to personae who appear as avatars, and in due course facilitated the subversion of national goals.  

Lastly, inconsistencies in Gandhi's logic in different places may also be attributed to his flexibility with facts, or truth as some may call. In his own words: "Critics may say, 'All this is sheer nonsense, because it is so inconsistent with facts. It is visionary.' But my contention is that we shall never achieve solidarity unless new facts are made to suit the principle, instead of performing the impossible feat of changing the principle to suit existing facts." (he highlighted the word in bold in his article) p. 26, [23].

Section A: Gandhi was not opposed to Muslims engaging in violence but opposed Hindus resorting to violence against Muslims even in self defence  

Gandhi persuaded Congress to support the Khilafat agitation of the Muslims. As part of this Khilafat movement, a revolt was initiated by the Moplah Muslims against the Hindus and the British, in which thousands of Hindus were butchered by the Moplahs. Gandhi's initial letters and speeches on this event does not contain a single word of sympathy for the dead Hindus or condemnation of the perpetrators of the violence (Appendix). By October, the horrors of the Moplah revolt were well reported by many newspapers all over India, and the set of articles that appeared in the various newspapers before October 1921 have been chronicled by C Gopalan Nair in [1]. The horrors are too graphic to reproduce here and it suffices to say that ISIS barbarities are not new. (see Appendix IX in [1]). The crimes were divided into the following categories : (a) Brutally dishonouring women, (b) Flaying people alive, (c) Wholesale slaughter of men, women and children, (d) Forcibly converting people in thousands, and murdering those who refused to be converted (e) Throwing half-dead people into wells, and leaving the victims for hours, to struggle till finally released from their sufferings by death (f) Burning a great many and looting practically all Hindu and Christian houses, in the disturbed area, in which even Moplah women and children took part, and robbing women, of even the garments on their bodies, in short reducing the whole non-Muslim population to abject destitution (g) Cruelly insulting the religious sentiments of the Hindus, by desecrating and destroying numerous temples, in the disturbed area, killing cows within the temple precincts,· putting their entrails on the holy images and hanging the skulls on the walls and roofs. Appendix IX, [1]

On December 8, 1921, Gandhi absolved the perpetrators of the indescribable atrocities during the riots from any responsibility and equated the plight of the rioters to that of their Hindu victims:  "Why is it 'strange' that I consider the Government solely responsible for the trouble? They could have avoided the trouble by settling the Khilafat question, they could have avoided it by allowing non-co-operators to take the message of non-violence to the Moplahs. The outbreak would not have taken place if the Collector had consulted the religious sentiment of the Moplahs. I do indeed accuse the Government of punishing the Moplahs after they have done the mischief instead of protecting the Hindus from Moplah outrage. Would the Government have acted in the same leisurely fashion if English families had been in danger instead of Hindus, and would it have inhumanly treated so-called rebels had they been Europeans instead of being Moplahs? I am sorry to be forced to the conclusion that the Government are betraying criminal negligence alike in their duty of protecting Hindus and of treating Moplah rebels as human beings." pp. 212-213, [22]. On January 26, 1922, he went on to rationalise the Moplah violence by blaming it on Hindus' neglect of them: "Hindus must find out the causes of Moplah fanaticism. They will find that they are not without blame. They have hitherto not cared for the Moplah. They have either treated him as a serf or dreaded him. They have not treated him as a friend and neighbour, to be reformed and respected. It is no use now becoming angry with the Moplahs or the Mussulmans in general." p. 27, [23].  In the same article,  he commended, as follows, Maulana Hasrat Mohani who defended the rioters:  "Maulana Hasrat Mohani is one of our most courageous men. He is strong and unbending. He is frank to a fault. In his insensate hatred of the English Government and possibly even of Englishmen in general, he has seen nothing wrong in anything that the Moplahs have done. Everything is fair in love and war with the Maulana. He has made up his mind that the Moplahs have fought for their religion. And that fact (in his estimation) practically absolves the Moplahs from all blame.....I advise my Malabar friends not to mind the Maulana. In spite of his amazingly crude views about religion, there is no greater nationalist nor a greater lover of Hindu-Muslim unity than the Maulana. His heart is sound and superior to his intellect, which, in my humble opinion, has suffered aberration." p. 25, [23].

On October 20, 1921, Gandhi wrote in Young India: "And so I feel the Moplah revolt has come as a blessing to a system that is crumbling to pieces by the weight of its own enormity…..What was more detestable, the ignorant fanaticism of the Moplah brother, or  the cowardliness of the Hindu brother who helplessly muttered the Islamic formula or allowed his tuft of hairs to be cut or his vest to be changed?  Let me not be misunderstood. I want both the Hindus and Mussulmans to cultivate the cool courage to die without killing. But if one has not that courage, I want him to cultivate the art of killing and being killed, rather than in a cowardly manner flee from danger. For the latter in spite of his flight does commit mental himsa. He flees because he has not the courage to be killed in the act of killing.'' pp. 448, [2]

While defending the Khilafat agitation (refer to his speech on June 1, 1921 which we have cited), Gandhi considered it his duty to assist the Muslims if he found them to be in the right,  against those who had treacherously plotted the destruction of the dignity of Islam, even if they believed in violence. But, when Muslims perpetrated unspeakable atrocities against Hindus, which one may consider as a treacherous plot for the destruction of the dignity of Hinduism, he considered that the revolt had come as a blessing to a system and observed neutrality equating the perpetrators and victims of a deadly violence. Furthermore, in the speech above, he considered the Hindus cowardly for converting to avert persecution, and not cultivating the art of killing while being killed. Yet, he condemned and sided with the British, while the revolutionaries were doing just the latter.  And, during partition, Gandhi advocated that Hindus and Sikhs not violently retaliate even when they were threatened with mass extermination. Where was the noble consideration that even when both parties believe in violence, there is often such a thing as justice on one side or the other? Furthermore, Hindus would be reprimanded for violence if they violently retaliated, and for cowardice if they convert.

Gandhi's only prescription for Hindus is to die in hordes in abject surrender, and continue to help their murderers while they do so. He wrote on January 26, 1922: "I see nothing impossible in asking the Hindus to develop courage and strength to die before accepting forced conversion. I was delighted to be told that there were Hindus who did prefer the Moplah hatchet to forced conversion. If these have died without anger or malice, they have died as truest Hindus because they were truest among Indians and men..... Even so is it more necessary for a Hindu to love the Moplah and the Mussulman more, when the latter is likely to injure him or has already injured him..... Hindu help is at the disposal of the Mussulmans, because it is the duty of the Hindus, as neighbours, to give it.'' pp. 26-27, [23]. We reproduce some of Gandhi's relevant speeches during partition which show that the essence of his views pertaining to the above prescription for Hindus did not alter over time : 

"There is nothing brave about dying while killing. It is an illusion of bravery. The true martyr is one who lays down his life without killing. You may turn around and ask whether all Hindus and Sikhs should die. Yes, I would say. Such martyrdom will not be in vain. You may compliment me or curse me for talking in this manner; but I shall only say what I feel in my heart. " pp. 54-58, [10].  

"Hindus should not harbor anger in their hearts against Muslims even if the latter wanted to destroy them. Even if the Muslims want to kill us all we should face death bravely. If they established their rule after killing Hindus we would be ushering in a new world by sacrificing our lives. None should fear death. Birth and death are inevitable for every human being. Why should we then rejoice or grieve? If we die with a smile we shall enter into a new life, we shall be ushering in a new India " [9].   

"If all the Punjab were to die to the last man without killing, the Punjab would become immortal. It is more valiant to get killed than to kill. Of course my condition is that even if we are facing death we must not take up arms against them. But you take up arms and when you are defeated you come to me. Of what help can I be to you in these circumstances? If you cared to listen to me, I could restore calm in the Punjab even from here. One thousand lost their lives of course, but not like brave men. I would have liked the sixteen who escaped by hiding to come into the open and courted death. More is the pity. What a difference it would have made if they had bravely offered themselves as a nonviolent, willing sacrifice! Oppose with ahimsa if you can, but go down fighting by all means if you have not the nonviolence of the brave. Do not turn cowards. " pp. 200-201, [8].

"Today a Hindu from Rawalpindi narrated the tragic events that had taken place there. The villages around Rawalpindi have been reduced to ashes The Hindus of the Punjab are seething with anger. The Sikhs say they are followers of Guru Govind Singh who has taught them how to wield the sword. But I would exhort the Hindus and Sikhs again and again not to retaliate. I make bold to say that if Hindus and Sikhs sacrifice their lives at hands of Muslims without rancor or retaliation they will become saviors not only of their own religions but also of Islam and the whole world. "  pp. 225-226, [7].  "But Jinnah Saheb presides over a great organisation. Once he has affixed his signature to the appeal, how can even one Hindu be killed at the hands of the Muslims?  I would tell the Hindus to face death cheerfully if the Muslims are out to kill them. I would be a real sinner if after being stabbed I wish in my last moment that my son should seek revenge. I must die without rancour. "  [6]. pp.5, [19].

Section B: Gandhi-the Apostle of peace who sought to enlist soldiers for the British

Gandhi was certainly not opposed to Indians resorting to violence for defending the British. In his own words: "Not only did I offer my services (in organising ambulance corps) at the time of the Zulu revolt but before that at the time of the Boer war, and not only did I raise recruits in India during the late war, but I raised an ambulance corps in 1914 in London" pp. 172, [16]. His speeches and letters during WW1 are revealing. In 1915, when Gandhi was in London, he first raised ambulance corps for the British from the Indian students who were studying in London (and adjoining areas). He even exhorted them, congratulating them on duty well done. He declared, too, that despite the dictum of two doctors, he felt that if he had been allowed to take his part even now, the work itself would have cured his weakness! When the Ambulance Corps was formed, it had been a matter of great joy to him that so many students and others came forward and willingly offered their services. Men such as Colonel Kanta Prasad, and Mr Turkhud, and Mr Parikh were none of them expected to do the work of hospital orderlies at Netley, but nevertheless they had cheerfully done it. Indians had shown themselves thereby capable of doing their duty (speech in London on December 14, 1914 , account comes from a Reuters' despatch), pp.323, [11].

He did not however support violence directly until 1918, when the allies were desperately in need of new manpower for the war. Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy of India, invited Indian leaders like Gandhi to a War conference on April 29, 1918 to urge them to help procure more manpower for the Allies. Gandhi promised JL Maffey, Secretary to the Viceroy on April 30, 1918 that he would be able to recruit a large number of  Indians for serving as soldiers if he was given relief regarding a Kaira trouble: "Further I desire relief regarding the Kaira trouble. Relief will entirely disengage me from that preoccupation which I may not entirely set aside. It will also enable me to fall back for war purposes upon my co-workers in Kaira and it may enable me to get recruits from the district. I suppose I must give you something of my past record. I was in charge of the Indian Ambulance Corps consisting of 1,100 men during the Boer Campaign and was present at the battles of Colenso, Spionkop and Vaalkranz. I was specially mentioned in General Buller's despatches. I was in charge of a similar corps of 90 Indians at the time of the Zulu Campaign in 1906, and I was specially thanked. pp10-12, [12]. Gandhi, in his second letter to JL Maffey, on April 30, 1918, promised to "rain men on the British if he is made the chief recruiting agent in Kaira district': I would like to do something which Lord Chelmsford would consider to be real war work. I have an idea that, if I became your recruiting agent-in-chief, I might rain men on you. " pp.12, [12].

Not only was Gandhi very enthusiastic about recruiting men for war himself, but he also wrote a letter to Jinnah that they go head hunting together to gather enough men for the British war. Gandhi's letter to Jinnah on July 9, 1918 from Nadiad: What a proud thing it would be if we recruited and, at the same time, insisted on amendments in the Reform Scheme! pp.125, [13].

In the course of his recruitment for the war, here is Gandhi's speech at Nadiad on June 22, 1918, where he extolled the virtues of fighting and dying for the British and learning the ability to bear and use arms (we reproduce the speech in its entirety at the expense of repeating parts of it). If everything could be achieved bloodlessly against the British and with no fighting, why then would Indians need to know how to use arms?

Sisters and brothers of Kheda district:

You are all lovers of Swaraj; some of you are members of the Home Rule League. One meaning of Home Rule is that we should become partners in the Empire. Today we are a subject people. We do not enjoy all the rights of Englishmen. We are not today partners in the Empire as are Canada, South Africa and Australia. We are a dependency. We want the rights of Englishmen, and we aspire to be as much partners in the Empire as the Dominions overseas. We look forward to a time when we may aspire to the Viceregal office. To bring about such a state of things we should have the ability to defend ourselves, that is, the ability to bear arms and to use them. pp. 83-87, [14].

Continuing in the same pamphlet that contained his appeal, Gandhi promised his countrymen Swaraj (which he had no authority to grant) if they would fight for the British - whither truth, one could have asked the Mahatma? Further, Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence, had no problems sending "an inexhaustible number of men to fight for the British": Partnership in the Empire is our definite goal. We should suffer to the utmost of our ability and even lay down our lives to defend the Empire. If the Empire perishes, with it perish our cherished aspirations. Hence the easiest and the straightest way to win Swaraj is to participate in the defence of the Empire. It is not within our power to give much money. Moreover, it is not money that will win the war. Only an army inexhaustible in number can do it. That army India can supply. If the Empire wins mainly with the help of our army, it is obvious that we would secure the rights we want. pp. 83-87, [14]. Indians did lay down their lives defending the empire, but did not get the cherished Swaraj which the Mahatma promised them.

Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence, wanted Indians to fight and die for the British against the Germans, even if the British themselves were to forbid it: "It is my firm belief that even if the Government desires to prevent us from enlisting in the army and rendering other help by refusing us commissions or by delay in granting them, it is our duty to insist upon joining the army. "  pp. 83-87, [14].

Nor was the scale of violence Gandhi intended moderate: "The Government at present wants half a million men for the army. ...... I expect from Kheda and Gujarat not 500 or 700 recruits but thousands. If Gujarat wants to save herself from the reproach of effeminacy, she should be prepared to contribute thousands of sepoys. pp. 83-87, [14]. Gandhi also extolled the virtues of sacrificing sons for the glory of the empire. Violence again, but in service of Brittania: "I hope also that those who have grown-up sons will not hesitate to send them as recruits. To sacrifice sons in the war ought to be a cause not of pain but of pleasure to brave men. Sacrifice of sons at this hour will be a sacrifice for Swaraj. To the women, my request is that they should not be alarmed by this appeal but should welcome it. It contains the key to their protection and their honour. There are 600 villages in Kheda district. Every village has on an average a population of over 1,000. If every village gave at least twenty men, Kheda district would be able to raise an army of 12,000 men. " pp. 83-87, [14].

Gandhi rationalised violent death in a British war as a mere trifle: "The population of the whole district is seven lakhs and this number will then work out at 1.7 per cent, a rate which is lower than the death rate. If we are not prepared to make even this sacrifice for the Empire, for the sake of Swaraj, no wonder that we should be regarded unworthy of it. If every village gives at least twenty men, on their return from the war they will be the living bulwarks of their village. If they fall on the battle-field, they will immortalise themselves, their village and their country, and twenty fresh men will follow their example and offer themselves for national defence. If we mean to do this, we have no time to lose. I desire that the fittest and the strongest in every village should be selected and their names forwarded. I ask this of you, brothers and sisters. To explain things to you and to answer the many questions that may be raised, meetings will be held in important villages. Volunteers will also go round. " pp. 83-87, [14].

Gandhi wrote on an enlistment leaflet on July 22, 1918, in which he urged violence, invoked duty to be violent even, recruited soldiers on behalf of Britain, against Germany and other Central Powers: "Be that as it may, today our salvation lies in helping the British. To help them is to help ourselves. When the interests of the two lie in the same direction, it would be the very height of recklessness for either side to keep thinking of the other's faults and refuse to go to its help. If a raid were to descend on an enemy of ours in the village in which we are living, and if it threatened the whole village, we would forget our enmity and run to the succour of that enemy and beat back the raiders. The same holds true in this war today. To rise against the common danger is not only expediency but our duty as well. " pp.139-142, [15].

Gandhi lectured on how, five lakh Indians dying for Britain, would prepare fifty lakhs for fighting for Swaraj: "In preparing five lakhs of men who would be willing to fight to death, we shall have made fifty lakhs familiar with 'war', 'swaraj', etc. We want to train five lakhs of free men. " pp.139-142, [15]. Gandhi considered it a betrayal of Swaraj if Indians do not take up arms in favour of the British: "I would call it a betrayal of the swaraj to which we are all pledged if we refuse to participate in the war at any rate for the sake of that pledge. " pp.139-142, [15].

Gandhi called on the Indians to unhesitatingly embrace violence for the British: "In laying down conditions for joining the army, there is a danger that the occasion to join may slip past and the scheme for Swaraj may be shelved. The security of our nation, as also the certainty of Swaraj, lies only in our joining up. All the parties would agree that our enlisting in the army will in no way harm the cause of swaraj. So, even on a comparative view, of the three the one counsel which advocates enlistment seems to me the best." pp.139-142, [15]. Here Gandhi called on the women to sacrifice, and let the men obey the call of duty for the British: "It is my hope that the comrades of Kheda district will be true to the call of duty and give their names to the volunteers or send them directly to the Ashram. Women will also, I trust, help in this work. I know that some of them dissuade their husbands and sons from enlisting. If they reflect over the matter carefully enough, they will see that it is in their own interests, and certainly in the interests of the nation, that their husbands and sons should be brave men. " pp.139-142, [15].

On November 5, 25, Gandhi was asked "Were you not helping the cause of war when you, both while in Africa and here, enlisted men for field service ? How does it tally with your principle of ahimsa ? " He responded: "By enlisting men for ambulance work in South Africa and in England, and recruits for field service in India, I helped not the cause of war, but I helped the institution called the British Empire in whose ultimate beneficial character I then believed. My repugnance to war was as strong then as it is today; and I could not then have and would not have shouldered a rifle. But, one's life is not a single straight line; it is a bundle of duties very often conflicting. And one is called upon continually to make one's choice between one duty and another. " pp. 174, [16]. He continued to insist, as on January 18, 1942, "My resistance to war does not carry me to the point of thwarting those who wish to take part in it. I reason with them. I put before them the better way and leave them to make the choice. " pp. 151, [16].

The Mahatma may perhaps belong to a minuscule minority of peace activists who also solicit enlistments in war. Be that as it may, it turns out that during the first world war, far from putting before Indians "the better way", he was urging them to enlist for killing the enemies of the British. The depth of his repugnance to war, when it is in British interests, may accordingly be judged. One wonders why the Mahatma did not consider if the revolutionaries were also not helping the cause of violence, but helping the cause of the right to be free - one of the fundamental human rights? Perhaps they also chose the option of the supreme sacrifice after resolving conflicts on duties to their families or commitments to peace? Why did the Mahatma never make a sincere attempt to engage with them let alone providing them political cover. He urged the Indians to discharge their duties as citizens of the British empire, by sacrificing their lives in service of their masters, promising them immortality in return. Yet, why did he not consider rising against the illegal occupiers, by whatever means at disposal, a duty of each Indian? Why did he distinguish between means in the battle against the British? Why did he not stoop to consider that the young men and women, who took to guns against the British, were also not sacrificing their lives to free their nation? Or, that the revolutionaries executed by the British would also immortalise themselves? Instead, he collaborated with the British to suppress the revolutionaries, both directly and indirectly by providing them legitimacy and moral support.

Gandhi was not exactly the product of his time in terms of a national consciousness but lagged it substantially. We show this by contrasting his intent to help the institution called the British Empire in whose ultimate beneficial character he then believed, with the mindset that revolutionary Madanlal Dhingra revealed while taking to the gallows seeking to liberate India. Enraged by the executions of revolutionaries like Khudiram Bose, Kanai lal Dutta, Satinder Pal, Pandit Kanshi Ram. Madanlal Dhingra exacted revenge upon the British by assassinating Curzon Wylie on July 1, 1909. In his trial, he said:  

"And I maintain that if it is patriotic in an Englishman to fight against the Germans if they were to occupy this country, it is much more justifiable and patriotic in my case to fight against the English.I hold the English people responsible for the murder of 80 millions of Indian people in the last fifty years, and they are also responsible for taking away ?100,000,000 every year from India to this country. I also hold them responsible for the hanging and deportation of my patriotic countrymen, who did just the same as the English people here are advising their countrymen to do. And the Englishman who goes out to India and gets, say, 100 Pounds a month, that simply means that he passes a sentence of death on a thousand of my poor countrymen, because these thousand people could easily live on this 100 Pounds, which the Englishman spends mostly on his frivolities and pleasures. Just as the Germans have no right to occupy this country, so the English people have no right to occupy India, and it is perfectly justifiable on our part to kill the Englishman who is polluting our sacred land. I am surprised at the terrible hypocrisy, the farce, and the mockery of the English people. They pose as the champions of oppressed humanity - the peoples of the Congo and the people of Russia - when there is terrible oppression and horrible atrocities committed in India; for example, the killing of two millions of people every year and the outraging of our women. In case this country is occupied by Germans, and the Englishman, not bearing to see the Germans walking with the insolence of conquerors in the streets of London, goes and kills one or two Germans, and that Englishman is held as a patriot by the people of this country, then certainly I am prepared to work for the emancipation of my Motherland. Whatever else I have to say is in the paper before the Court I make this statement, not because I wish to plead for mercy or anything of that kind. I wish that English people should sentence me to death, for in that case the vengeance of my countrymen will be all the more keen. I put forward this statement to show the justice of my cause to the outside world, and especially to our sympathisers in America and Germany. " [18] [21].

From the gallows, Dhingra said that: "I believe that a nation held down by foreign bayonets is in a perpetual state of war. Since open battle is rendered impossible to a disarmed race, I attacked by surprise. Since guns were denied to me I drew forth my pistol and fired. Poor in wealth and intellect, a son like myself has nothing else to offer to the mother but his own blood. And so I have sacrificed the same on her altar. The only lesson required in India at present is to learn how to die, and the only way to teach it is by dying ourselves. My only prayer to God is that I may be re-born of the same mother and I may re-die in the same sacred cause till the cause is successful. Vande Mataram! " [18], pp. 79-80, [20].

Appendix: Gandhi's speeches and letters on the Moplah riots

On August 26, 1921, Gandhi commented on the Moplah riots as: Though I am here far away in the north-east at present, I have received some reports of the sudden outbreak of violence in Malabar. I am writing this article on the train, on Friday, the Janmashtami day. The reader will have the article in his hands after nine days. Meanwhile, further reports will have appeared. But we can discuss some principles on the basis of the reports already received, regardless of whether the facts turn out to be more serious or less.  

The Moplahs are Muslims. They have Arab blood in their veins. It is said that their forefathers came from Arabia many years ago and settled in Malabar. They are of a fiery temperament, and are said to be easily excitable. They are enraged and resort to violence in a matter of seconds. They have been responsible for many murders. Many years ago a special Act was also passed to subdue them. There are said to be a million of them. The community, though illiterate, is courageous. They have simply no fear of death. They always set out for fighting with a pledge not to return defeated. That is why it is generally said that the Moplahs think nothing of assaulting or killing anyone. Mr Yakub Hussain was stopped and later imprisoned because it was feared that they would break out into violence. It is not clear as yet what led to their present outburst. They are reported to have taken the lives of six officers, four Indian and two British. It is believed that some others also may have been killed. Five hundred Moplahs are believed to have been killed. It is also reported that they have resorted to arson and looting. Calicut and some areas to its north are under martial law at present.  

Thus, for the time being progress has been arrested in Malabar and the Government has had its way. It is well versed in the art of suppressing such revolts. Many innocent men must have been, and more will be, killed. Who will come forward to blame the Government ? And even if anyone does, what is the chance of the Government paying attention to him? pp. 166-167, [2].

There is, in Gandhi's letter, not a word about the dead Hindus as one may observe. Gandhi's second letter is equally unsympathetic to Hindus, as can be seen from his writing on September 8, 1921 from Sylhet.  He says this: "Violence and non-violence are two incompatible forces destructive of each other. Non-violence for its success therefore needs an entirely non-violent atmosphere. The Moplah outbreak has disturbed the atmosphere, as nothing else has since the inauguration of non-co-operation. I am writing this at Sylhet on the 29th August. By the time it is in print, much more information will have reached the public. I have only a hazy notion of what has happened. I have seen only three issues of daily papers containing the Associated Press messages. One cannot help noting the careful editing these messages have undergone. But it is clear that Moplahs have succeeded in taking half a dozen lives and have given already a few hundred. Malabar is under martial law. The reprisals on the part of the Government are still to follow. The braver the insurgents, the sterner the punishment. Such is the law of governments" pp. 188-189, [2].

Gandhi's non-chalant response to the Hindu on September 16, 1921, when asked about Moplah lawlessness:

Referring to the Moplah outbreak Gandhi continued:

"I have not yet been able to understand the genesis of the outbreak except the provocation-very great provocation-which I believe was caused when the mosque was surrounded. I do not understand the looting of so many Hindu houses. Whilst was in Calcutta I had what seemed definite information that there were only three cases of forced conversions. But I now understand that some other cases also have been brought to the notice of the Congress people and they are very much regretted. The Moplah lawlessness is a thing which takes one back, but I do not think that it seriously interferes with the Hindu-Muslim unity. " pp.232, [2].


[1] C Gopalan Nair, ``Moplah Rebellion'', 1921

[2] Complete Works of Mahatma  Gandhi, Gandhi's speech on the Moplah Outbreak, http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL024.PDF

[3] Complete Works of Mahatma Gandhi,  Conversations with Members of the Rashtriya Yuvak Sangh, http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL082.PDF p.337

[4] - Collected Works of Gandhi, Statements to the Press, Poona, 26/02/1946 and 03/03/1946, http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL090.PDF

[5] JB Kripalani , Gandhi His Life and Thought   

[6]  May 1, 1947, Prarthana Pravachan: Part I, pp. 54-8, CWOMG, Vol. 87, pp. 394-5

[7]``Speech at prayer meeting, April 7, 1947, Prarthana Pravachan Part I pp. 32-35, CWOMG, vol 87

[8] ``Talk with refugees, April 4, 1947''  Mahatma Gandhi The Last Phase II, p. 97, CWOMG, vol . 87

[9] Prayer meeting, April 6, 1947, New Delhi, CWMG Vol. 94 page 249

[10] Prarthana Pravachan: Part I, CWOMG, Vol. 87, pp. 394-5

[11] Complete Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi's farewell reception in London, on 14/12/1914 http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL014.PDF

[12] - ibid, Gandhi's letter to JL Maffey, Secretary to the Viceroy, 30/04/1918 http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL017.PDF.

[13] - ibid, Gandhi's letter to Jinnah, 09/07/1918  http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL017.PDF

[14] - ibid, Gandhi's appeal in a speech in Nadiad, 22/06/1918. http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL017.PDF

[15] - ibid, Gandhi's second appeal in an enlistment poster, 22/07/1918, http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL017.PDF

[16] Nirmal Kumar Bose, Selections From Gandhi, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, April, 1957

[17] Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Dikgaj, Chandra Mauli Singh, Why Brits disliked Netaji and made a Mahatma out of Gandhi /politics/the-gandhi-bose-interaction-personality-cult-money-power-foreign-influence-divisive-politics/story/1/3967.html

[18] http://www.revivaloftrueindia.com/2012/10/madan-lal-dhingra.html

[19] - Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Speech at Prayer Meeting, 01/05/1947, http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL095.PDF

[20] - Reginald Massey, ``Shaheed Bhagat Singh and the Forgotten Indian  Martyrs'', Abhinav Publications.

[21] - Old Bailey Proceedings online, http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/print.jsp?div=t19090719-55

[22] Moplah Tragedy, December 8, 1921, Young India, http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL025.PDF

[23] Hindus and Moplahs, Young India, January 26, 1922, http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL026.PDF


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