The Case for India – Will Durant

Chapter One
For India
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VII. The Triumph of Death
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This is the conclusion of the play: taxation, exploitation, starvation, death.

And now, having quoted authorities sufficiently to guard against relying on my own too brief experience, I may be permitted, despite that limitation, to express my own judgment and feeling. I came to India admiring the British, marvelling at their imperial capacity for establishing order and peace, and thankful for the security which their policing of the world’s waters have given to every traveller. I left India feeling that its awful poverty is an unanswerable indictment of its alien government, that so far from being an excuse for British rule, it is overwhelming evidence that the British ownership of India has been a calamity and a crime. For this is quite unlike the Mohammedan domination: those invaders came to stay, and their descendants call India their home; what they took in taxes and tribute they spent in India, developing its industries and resources, adorning its literature and art. If the British had done likewise, India would to-day be a flourishing nation. But the present plunder has now gone on beyond bearing; year by year it is destroying one of the greatest and gentlest peoples of history.

The terrible thing is that this poverty is not a beginning, it is an end; it is not growing less, it is growing worse; England is not “preparing India for self-government,” she is bleeding it to death. “Even as we look on,” said another loyal Englishman, H.M.Hyndman, “India is becoming feebler and feebler. The very life-blood of the great multitude under our rule is slowly, yet ever faster ebbing away.”

Any man who sees this crime, and does not speak out, is a coward. Any Englishman or an American, seeing it and not revolted by it, does not deserve his country or his name.
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Chapter Two
Gandhi

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III. Revolution by Peace
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As offered by him now, Satyagraha meant many things: the surrender of all titles and offices held by Hindus under the Government; abstention from all Governmental functions, administrative or social; the gradual withdrawal of Hindu children form Government schools, and the establishment of national schools and colleges to take their place; the withdrawal of Hindu funds from Government bonds; the boycott of Government courts, and the establishment of private arbitration tribunals to settle disputes among Hindus; refusal to perform military service; the boycott of British goods; and the propaganda of Swaraj, Self-Rule.  Even the protection of the police and the state were to be scorned. “The sooner we cease to rely on Government-protection against one another, the better it will be for us, and the quicker and more lasting will be the solution.”

More important than all these details to Gandhi was the method to be used; for without the method the goal would be worthless. Greater than Satyagraha was Ahimsa, without injury. Unlike the Revolutionists of the West, Gandhi considers no end worth while whose attainment requires violence; the greatest aim of all is to lift man out of the beast: violence is a reversion to the jungle, and the ability to oppose without hating or injuring is the test of the higher man.

This gospel of a loving resistance pleased the Hindus because for two thousand years and more their religions had taught them gentleness and peace. Buddha had counselled them, five centuries before Christ, never to injure any living thing; Mahavira, earlier than Buddha, had instructed his Jain sect likewise ; Brahminism had taken over the doctrine, and had made it almost universal in India. Gandhi’s family had belonged to just the sect which had set most store on the practice of Ahimsa. Religion seemed to Gandhi more important than politics, and humanness more than independence ; his fundamental conception of religion was reverence for all life. He added to the Hindu form of the principle Christ’s doctrine of loving one’s enemies; time and again he has pardoned his foes; and in the breadth of his charity he loves even Englishmen.

He is not quite a doctrinaire; he recognizes exceptions. “1 believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.” If a man is peaceful out of fear, Gandhi would rather have him be violent. He says, with characteristic candor and bravery, risking his leadership with a word: “The Hindu, as a rule, is a coward.” Certain Hindus allowed robbers to loot their homes and insult their women; he asks : “Why did not the owners of the houses looted die in the attempt to defend their possessions? … My non-violence does not admit of running away from danger, and leaving dear ones unprotected.” For too many weaklings, he says, non-violence serves merely” as a mask to cover their abject cowardice … Must they not develop the ability to defend themselves violently before they could be expected to appreciate non-violence?” Nevertheless there is in such cases something higher than violent resistance ; it is when a man attacked resists as well as he can without violence, and then, overcome, refuses to surrender, but accepts I he blows unanswered, and if necessary dies at his post. So it should be with India.

I would risk violence a thousand times rather than emasculation of the race. I would rather have India resort to arms to defend her honor than that she hould in a cowardly manner become or remain helpless victim to her own dishonor. But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence.

He distrusts violence because at the outset it empowers the unreasoning mob, and in the end it exalts not the just man but the most violent. He rejects Bolshevism, therefore, as alien to the character and purpose of India. “It may be that in other countries Governments may be overthrown by brute force; but India will never gain her freedom by the naked fist.”  His newer ideas, like the younger Nehru, are eager to arm the Hindus and follow Russia’s example; but Gandhi warns them that a freedom based upon killing can never lead to anything more than a change of masters. “I do not believe in short-violent-cuts to success. Bolshevism is the necessary result of modern materialistic civilization. Its insensate worship of matter has given rise to a school which has been brought up to look upon materialistic advancement as the goal, and which has lost all touch with the final things of life.”

It is our good fortune, in America, that Lenin and Gandhi do not agree, and that two great peoples, as if for our instruction, are moving by diverse paths to kindred ends. Just as Russia and America are rival laboratories designed, so to speak, by the Spirit of History to test the communistic vs. the individualistic method of production, distribution and living, so Russia and India will be rival laboratories to test the violent vs. the peaceful method of social revolution. Never has history made such crucial experiments on so vast a scale, or offered any generation, not even Christ’s, so significant a spectacle. For in India Christ is again on trial, and stands face to face once more with Rome.

But is not non-violent resistance a vain idealist’s dream? One hears the sardonic laughter of Lenin. And Gandhi asks in return what progress is made when one form of violence is replaced by another, or materialistic ambition is incorporated and nationalized at the point of a million bayonets? “You of the West,” he says, “have been taught it is violent power which wins. The truth is that it is passive resistance which has always won.” He cites the victory of the Christians over the Roman Empire as the classic example; and in our own day, he thinks, the League of Nations can re-order the world by practicing non-co-operation without violence. He regretted the decision of China to fight the West with the weapons of the West, and predicted that the only result would be a patriotic substitution of home-made violence for foreign. “In casting off Western tyranny it is quite possible for such a nation to become enslaved to Western thought and methods. This second slavery is worse than the first.” Always it is better to lose without violence than to win with it : in the one case we sacrifice our personal will (which is a delusion); in the other we sacrifice our distinctive humanity itself.

The West will think Ahimsa a weakling’s creed, a fig-leaf of philosophy to hide an intellectual’s cowardice. Therefore, Gandhi tells his people, India must be ready to suffer anything in its campaign for freedom, and yet never make violent retaliation. To blows and shots, to bombs and shells there must be but one reply : patient refusal to deal in any way with British merchants, British goods, or the British Government. “Bravery on the battlefield is impossible for India, but bravery of the soul remains open to us. Non-co-operation means nothing less than training in self-sacrifice.” It is as a brother said to Dhan Gopal Mukerji : “Until our blood is spilt in rivers, nothing can shake the foundation of British rule …. We should make a holocaust of ourselves. Even if we are beaten it will cleanse India of cowardice.” When Hindus talk like this, freedom is near.
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VII. Criticism
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We must not suppose, however, that all the leaders of Hindu thought accept Gandhi’s creed. The most interesting pages of his weekly, Young India, are those in which Hindus Of every rank, from Tagore to the Untouchables, write to him, question his views, and force him often to a precarious defense. When these critics are finished, hardly anything remains for a Westerner to add.

They attack his religion. They consider him not a Hindu but a Christian; they quote his favorite book, the Bhagavad-Gita, to show him that Hinduism counsels not non-violence but active striking, “natural killing,” for a good cause. At the Delhi Conference a Hindu rose and said: “I oppose this non-violence, this non-co-operation. I ask you, is it Hindu teaching? It is not. Is it Mohammedan teaching? It is not. I will tell you what it is. It is Christian.”

They attack his pacifism; lusty young revolutionists call him a coward; politicians call him a missionary; a thousand letters denounce his “non-violence” as playing into the hands of an England that respects (as the Irish Revolution shows) only bombs and guns. Politics, one writer tells him, is no field for saints; it is that everlasting struggle of group with group which is the human correlate of the biological struggle of species with species; and like that, it is part of the inescapable essence of life. Gandhi has remembered Christianity and forgotten Darwin; but life is Darwinian, not Christian. Individuals must compete, groups must compete, nations, alliances must compete; to reduce competition in one of these is to increase it in the others; “conflict is the father of all things.” To this traditional pacifism, this turning away from the competitive nature of existence, one critic traces the long subjection and abasement of India. “If we look back,” he says, “we discover that foreign dominion over India is a terrible revenge on the country, a revenge which life has taken on a nation which tried to deny life.” Meanwhile the younger Nehru pours into the blood of India the iron of his uncompromising creed-revolution without violence if possible, with violence if necessary. If the present pacific movement fails, without doubt violence will come.

Another twits Gandhi with dietetic inconsistencies; if Ahimsa means non-violence to any living thing, is it not sinned against in the plucking of any plant, in the eating of any vegetable food? The discovery by the Hindu physicist, Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose, that plants have a sensory system, leaves the religious Hindu in a precarious dietetic condition; how can he live without taking life? Although thousands of Hindus are killed in every year by snake-bites, Gandhi prohibits the killing of serpents. “Let us never forget,” he says, “that the serpents have been created by the same God who created us and all other creatures … Thousands of Yogis and fakirs live in the forests of Hindustan amidst lions, tigers and serpents, but we never hear of their meeting death at the hands of these animals ….I have implicit faith in the doctrine that so long as man is not inimical to the other creatures, they will not be inimical to him.”

Merciless, his correspondents inform him that Ahimsa is especially unsuited to India, because the Hindus, as he admits, are cowards, and will use the doctrine as a cover, while the Mohammedans among the population are natural fighters, whose religion sanctifies killing for a holy cause, and finds many causes holy. “The Ahimsa doctrine,” says one, “has made us sneaking, snivelling cowards.” “Don’t you think,” asks another, “that armed and conspired resistance against something Satanic and ignoble is infinitely more befitting for any nation … than the prevalence of effortlessness and philosophical cowardice? I mean the cowardice which is pervading the length and breadth of India owing to the preaching of your theory of non-violence.” “Two years ago,” Gandhi writes, “a Mussulman friend said to me in all sincerity: ‘I do not believe your non-violence … Violence is the law of life. I would not have Swaraj by non-violence .. .I must hate my enemy.’ “This friend,” adds Gandhi, “is an honest man. I entertain great regard for him.”

The critics proceed to point out the difficulties of Satyagraha, non-co-operation. First, as regards the masses, they cannot be kept non-violent; aroused as they must be to achieve anything, they will soon smash and kill. Second, as regards Hindu holders of office under the British Raj, non-cooperation, by demanding that they resign, puts too heavy a strain on human nature; many who did resign in the first flush of enthusiasm or display have crept back to their sinecures; and hundreds of leading Hindus, who might have supported the demand for Home Rule, are alienated by the call for their resignations-i.e., for what they consider the starvation of their families. So with the boycott of Government schools : teachers who left them are now destitute, and wish they could return; pupils who left them are flocking back. The national schools organized to teach non-co-operating students had no funds, and could purchase only the most primitive equipment and the most depressing quarters; in one town with two Government high schools each having five hundred pupils, the one National high school has fifty. The national schools that sprang up in 1921, have, with few exceptions, died. The boycott of the courts has proved impracticable: e.g., what could be done when officials of the National Congress absconded with Congress funds? To which Gandhi gives reply: “At the risk of being considered inconsistent, I have no hesitation whatsoever in advising the Congress officials in Orissa to take legal proceedings against the culprits for the recovery of trust funds … The Congress has a perfect right to break its own law in its own favour. In a well-ordered state the maxim, ‘The King can do no wrong,’ has a legitimate purpose and place.” It is the strangest passage in Young India.

Above all, the critics ridicule his hostility to machinery. “The whole world,” says one, “is advancing in material civilization, without which we shall certainly be handicapped. It is now a settled fact that India fell a prey to Western nations because she was wanting in scientific and material progress. History has taught this lesson, and it cannot be overlooked. Sankara Nair, Gandhi’s bitterest Hindu opponent, reminds him again and again that partial industrialization is indispensable to the freedom of India, because freedom requires the capacity for self-defense, and self-defense requires wealth. Gandhi answers that he is not against machinery as such-that the spinning-wheel is itself a machine; but he is “a determined foe of all machinery that is designed for the exploitation of people.” Meanwhile fact moves on with no regard for argument: new factories spring up every week in Bombay, Calcutta, Ahmedabad and Madras; the Tata Brothers, Hindus, organize one of the greatest iron companies in the world; electric lights, trolleys-cars, railways, motor-cars, hotels, warehouses, daily transform the scene; and the traveller observes that the Hindus, just emerging though they are from the Middle Ages, drive automobiles as competently as though they had been raised in Detroit.

Therefore Gandhi’s critics laugh at the spinning-wheel, as a vain attempt to turn time back in its flight. It will revolve for a while, by the power of enthusiasm, poetry and imagination, but never can the Charka compete with the machine; sooner or later even pious Hindus will buy cloth where it is cheapest and best. The younger reformers think no longer of the Charka, but of a protective tariff that will promote the development of factory industry in India. Life inevitably moves out of the village into the city. The first flush of native wealth will put an end to the mysticism of Khaddar. “Khaddar is dearer than mill cloth,” writes one correspondent to Gandhi, “and our means are poor.” “The mill-owners,” another informs him, “do not hesitate to palm off fraudulent imitations of Khaddar on the gullible public.” To which Gandhi answers: “I would ask skeptics to go to the many poor homes where the spinning-wheel is again supplementing their slender resources, and ask the inmates whether the spinning wheel has not brought joy to their homes. ”

Finally the poet-sage of India, Rabindranath Tagore, expresses in his gentle way certain difficulties which he finds in the program of his friend. A courteous rivalry has arisen between the Satyagrahashram at Ahmedabad, and Tagore’s school, Santiniketan, at Calcutta. The poet speaks always with the greatest respect of the saint, but always with careful reservations. He finds a note of narrow nationalism in Gandhi; and worse, an unmistakable quality of medieval reaction. “Spin and weave!-is this the gospel of a new creative age?” To hug the Charka to oneself, and try to step out of the universal industrializing current of the world, to think that a people can become great by going backward to primitive conditions irrelevant to modern life-this again is a narrow vision. India must move with the age, she must think not in terms of her own oppressed people, but in terms of the oppressed of every nation. To attempt to divide India from the West is spiritual suicide. To which Gandhi replies:

When all about me are dying for want of food, the only occupation permissible for me is to feed the hungry … To a people famishing and idle, the only acceptable form in which God can dare appear is work, and promise of food as wages … Everyone must spin. Let Tagore spin like the others. Let him burn his foreign cloths. That is the duty today. God will take care of the tomorrow.

Nothing is more admirable in Gandhi than his conscientious printing of these criticisms in his own press, and his patient and courteous reply to all of them except Tagore’s. He knows that he is but human; there is no non-sense of inspiration about him; he says, disarmingly: “Even if my belief is a fond delusion, it will be admitted that it is a fascinating delusion.”

And yet, he hopes, it is not a delusion. It is not a nationalist dream: it abhors war and aggrandizement, and trusts to establish a mode of life in which the West, weary of haste, may find something worthy of imitation; it envisages not India only as unhappy and oppressed, but all mankind. He knows that non-co-operation is an imperfect thing, that the ideal would be to co-operate with all; but today it is a necessary discipline, forging into unity the scattered races and villages of India; already it has awakened India from torpor and given it new strength. He knows how frail a weapon of the spirit non-violence is in a world bristling with guns; but what other course is open to a country absolutely weaponless? “You know that we are powerless,” he writes in an Open Letter to All Englishmen in India, “for you have ensured our incapacity to fight in open and honorable battle.” That is a strange phrase for Gandhi! “The British,” he writes, “want us to put the struggle on the plane of machine-guns. They have these weapons and we have not. Our only assurance of beating them is to keep it on the plane where we have the weapons and they have not…. The way of the sword is not open to India.” Yes, violence is the law of the animal world, more and more the strength of the spirit outweighs the power of fists and guns. Ahimsa may make cowards, or offer them a philosophy of escape; but also it makes saints of limitless bravery, who stand up to the pikes and pistols of the oppressor without fear and without retreat. Let the history of the Rovolution prove it! And if India cannot attain freedom without violence, she will not, in the judgment of Gandhi, attain it with violence.

History teaches one that those who have, no doubt with honest motives, ousted the greedy by using brute force against them, have in their turn become a prey to the disease of the conquered … My interest in India’s freedom will cease if she adopts violent means. For their fruit will be not freedom, but slavery.

VII. An Estimate

How does the man appear now, in the perspective of these examples of his thought? Of course he is above all an . idealist, not a realist. He makes very little application of history to the understanding of the present; he is unaware of the careless regularity with which fate has trampled Right under Might, and Beauty under Power; his citation of the christian conquest of Rome as an instance of successful nonviolent non-co-operation ignores the political and economic factors in that “conversion” of Constantine which determined the victory of the Church. The biological view of life is unknown to him; he does not realize that morals and cooperaion have been developed only to give a group coherence and strength against competing groups. His theory of the spinning-wheel indicates an over-simplification of this complex and interdependent economic world; no nation can now remain medieval and be free.

Having made this obeisance to reality, we are free to accept and honor Gandhi for his astonishing record of achievements. First, though leaping far ahead of the moral consciousness of mankind, which is yet tribal and national, he has helped the international organization of industries and states to prepare us for the larger morality, in which the code of conduct between gentlemen will be-because world order will necessitate it-applied to the conduct of nations. Second, he has given life and meaning to a Christianity which had become, among ourselves, mere poetry an pretense; he has lifted it up to a plane where the most unscrupulous statesman must reckon with it as a great force; he has ennobled it beyond modern precedent by unconsciously attaching to its banner one-fifth of the human race. Third, he has for a generation kept a great revolutionary movement from all but sporadic violence; he has refused to unleash the mob; in this way he has been a boon to all humanity, which is so sensitive now to disorder anywhere. He has approached one of the fundamental principles of statesmanship: to persuade radicals that change must be gradual in order to be permanent, and to persuade conservatives that change must be. Fourth, he has educated his people: he has aroused them, as no man before in their history, to the evils of Untouchability, temple prostitution, child-marriage, unmarriageable widows, and the traffic in opium. Fifth, and despite his partial defense of that caste system which perpetually divides and weakens India, he has, by the power of imagination and the word, given to India a psychological unity never possessed by it before, making all these races, languages and creeds feel and think alike, as the prelude to united action. Sixth, he has given to his countrymen what they needed above everything else-pride. They are no longer hopeless or supine; they are prepared for danger and responsibility, and therefore for freedom.

If his way of thought seems alien to our skeptical and realistic West, let us remember that our way of thought would be maladapted and useless to the Hindus. The unifer of India could not be a politician, he had to be a saint. Because Gandhi thought with his heart all India has followed him. Three hundred million people do him reverence, and no man in the world wields so great a spiritual influence. It is a Tagore said of him:

He stopped at the threshold of the huts of the thousands of dispossessed, dressed like one of their own. He spoke to them in their own language. Here was living truth at last, and not only quotations from books. For this reason the” Mahatma,” the name given to him by the people of India, is his real name. Who else has felt like him that all Indians are his own flesh and blood? ….. When love came to the door of India that door was opened wide … At Gandhi’s call India blossomed forth to new greatness, just as once before, in earlier times, when Buddha proclaimed the truth of fellow-feeling and compassion among all living creatures.

Perhaps Gandhi will fail, as saints are like to fail in this very Darwinian world. But how could we accept life if it did not, now and then, fling into the face of our successes some failure like this?
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Conclusion
With Malice Towards None
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It is a situation profoundly interesting, for it represents the most extensive effort ever made to test the practicability of Christianity. “Probably for the first time in history,” says an American missionary, “a nation in the attainment of its national ends has repudiated force, and has substituted suffering, or what it calls ‘soul-force.’ Who can say that this is not more Christian than the ordinary attitude we have taken in the West?” It is an astonishing thing, after all, that this “heathen” nation should be inflamed with devotion to a leader and a cause dedicated to ahimsa-non-violence-kindliness to every living thing. If India should succeed, the stock of Christianity (by which we mean here the ethical ideas of Christ) would rise throughout the world; courtesy and peace would be in good repute unparalled. Every moral ideal would be reinvigorated, and perhaps the age of cynicism and despondency in which we live would come to an end. As Gandhi himself has said : “If the Indian movement is carried to success on a non-violent basis, it will give a new meaning to patriotism, and, if I may say so in all humility, to life itself.” Yes, life would be dearer to us, it would again have significance beyond ourselves, if India should win.

To Ramsay MacDonald the situation offers such a chance for nobility as does not come twice to many men. What an opportunity to speak the healing word, even if it should destroy him! Will he remember his promise, and keep it at whatever cost to himself and his party? He must go down in defeat soon; for what better cause, then, than for dealing honorably with India? Perhaps, if his measures for Indian Home Rule should be framed, with his customary caution and good sense, to ease the problems which Hindu freedom might bring to British industry, the ancient English love of liberty and fair play would see him through, as it has lifted him up now despite his heroic opposition to the War. What a chance for England to be England again!

As for America, officially it can do nothing; it must leave Britain to face alone and unhindered these issues that involve the very life of her Empire. But as individuals we are free to be true to our national tradition of lending a sympathetic hearing to every people struggling for liberty. Writers who are not mere dilettantes, not mere money-makers, bear a moral obligation to leave no word unturned until the case of India has been presented to the world. Christian clergymen who are still in touch with Christ will speak out unequivocally, time and again, for India, until their united voices are heard beyond the sea. Let them ferret out the facts and pour them forth among their people, until not an American will be left to stand by in ignorant comfort while one-fifth of mankind is on Golgotha.
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