In this interview Mahatma justifies the non co-operation movement. The interview also reflects his thoughts on khadi, reincarnation, god.
Italics - Questions
Normal - Answer
INTERVIEW TO “MANCHESTER GUARDIAN”
[Before March 18, 1922]1
. . . We came to the subject of non-co-operation. I asked him if--in view of the answer Christ gave in the incident of the tribute money--he did not think the policy of non-co-operation was contrary to Christ’s teaching. He replied:
Not being a Christian, I am not bound to justify my action by Christian principles. But, as a matter of fact, in this case I do not think there is any indication that Christ was against the principle of non-cooperation. I think His words show that He was for it.
“ I do not understand,” I protested. “Surely the meaning is quite clear. ‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s’ means that it is our duty to pay to the civil authorities what is their due. If it doesn’t mean that, what does it mean?”
Christ never answered a question in a simple and literal manner. He always gave in His replies more than was expected, something deeper--some general principle. It was so in this case. Here He does not mean at all whether you must or must not pay taxes. He means something far more than this. When He says “Give back to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”, He is stating a law. It means2 ‘give back to Caesar what is his, i.e., I will have nothing to do with it.’ In this incident Christ enunciated the great law--which He exemplified all his life--of refusing to cooperate with evil. When Satan said to Him, “Bow and worship me” --i.e., co-operate with me, --then He said,
“Get thee behind me, Satan.” When the crowds round Him wanted to take Him by force and make Him a military king, He refused to cooperate with them as their method was evil; they wanted Him to rely on force. Christ’s attitude against the authorities was defiant. When
Pilate asked Him if He were king, He answered, “Thou sayest it.” Is not that treating authority with defiance? He called Herod “that fox”. Was that like co-operation with authorities? And before Herod He would not answer a word. In short, He refused to co-operate with him;
and so I refuse to co-operate with the British Government.
“But” I said, “ Surely it is our duty in this imperfect world to co-operate with what is good in individuals and institutions.” The Mahatma said:
As a man. I would gladly co-operate and be friends with Lord Reading; but I could not co-operate with him as the Viceroy, being a part of corrupt Government.
Protesting further, I said “Granted the Government has made mistakes, yet you cannot surely say it is wholly bad; if there is miscarriage of justice here and there, the broad fact remains that the 300 millions of India are kept in a condition of law and order. Are you against governments in general? Can you point out to me any government on earth that is faultless and would satisfy you?” He replied at once:
Yes, look at the Government of Denmark. I should be satisfied with such a Government. It represents the people; it does not exploit a conquered nation; it is efficient; the people under it are cultured, intellectual, manly, contented and happy; it supports no large army and navy to keep others in imperial subjection.
“But,” I asked, “do you think empires are inherently bad? Surely the Roman Empire was a benefit to civilization. Christ never said a word against it as far as we know”
Quite so, but it was not His business to inveigh against imperialism. Every great reformer has to struggle against the special evil of his age. Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and, in a lesser way, Luther had their own evils and difficulties to contend with, peculiar to their age. So have we. Now it is imperialism that is the great Satan of our times.
“So you are out to destroy the Empire?” I asked.
I would not put it that way. I only wish to destroy the Empire by creating a commonwealth. I do not wish for complete separation from England; we have no right to wish for it. “What is your definition of this commonwealth to which India shall belong, what is to be its structure?”
It is to be a fellowship of free nations joined together by the “silver cords of love”. (I think it is Lord Salisbury’s phrase.) Such a fellowship already exists for many parts of the Empire. Look at South Africa, what fine fellows they are there! Australia--fine fellows! And New Zealand--splendid land and a fine people! I would have India enter freely into such a fellowship and with the same rights of equality for Indians as for other members of the commonwealth.
“ But surely that is just the very aim that the Government has for India: to become a self-governing unit in the Empire as soon as she is ready for the responsibility. Is not this the whole meaning of the Montagu reforms?” The Mahatma shook his head.
Ah, I am afraid I do not believe in those reforms. When they were first introduced, I rejoiced and said to myself, “Here at last is a small ray of light in the darkness, just a small chink¾but I will go forward to meet it.” I welcomed it; I fought against my own people to give it a fair chance. I said this was a sign of true repentance on the part of the Government. When the War broke out, I went about speaking at recruiting meetings because I thought the Government did really mean to give us what it promised. It is only a small beginning, I thought, but I will wait and see. I will humble myself, make myself small to go through this narrow opening. But events have changed
me. Then came the Punjab atrocities, then the Khilafat question, and finally, all the repressive actions of the Government, and now I can believe in the reforms no longer. They were a mere blind, a camouflage to prolong the agony. That is why I call the Government Satanic and why I refuse to co-operate with it in any way.
From the subject of non-co-operation, the conversation passed naturally enough to the question of the boycott of foreign goods and the great khadi (homespun) campaign. Here the Mahatma’s face lit up, his eyes shone with enthusiasm.
Of all my plans and foibles, of all my weaknesses and fanaticisms, or whatever you like to call them, khadi is my pet one. Touching the rough homespun shawl over his shoulder, he said:
This is sacred cloth. Think what it means. Imagine the thousands and hundreds of thousands of home in the famine areas. When the famine comes they are stricken down; they are helpless. They do nothing in their homes--can do nothing--they wait and die. If I can introduce the spinning-wheel into these homes, their lives are assured; them over the famine. This coarse stuff is dearer and finer to me than the softest silks of Japan. Through it I am bound nearer to millions of my humble and starving countrymen. Look at the cloth you are wearing. When you buy that, you put one or two annas into the hands of the workman and six or seven into the pocket of the capitalist. Now look at mine. All the money I spend on this goes straight into the hands of the poor¾to the weaver, the spinner, and the carder, and not a pice into the hands of the rich man. To know this fills me with a heavenly joy. If I can act thus, if I can introduce the spinning-wheel into every cottage in India, then I shall be satisfied for this life; I could go on with my other schemes in my next if it pleased God.
“What do you mean?” I asked, not quite sure of the drift of his last remarks. “You think we come back again to this earth?” He replied:
Yes. I think we all come back here again if we are not pure enough to go to heaven. You see, it is the same principle we were talking about before. “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s--the body must give back to the earth the things that are of the earth before the soul can give itself absolutely to God; or, rather, the soul must refuse to co-operate with the things of this earth; it must become quite free from any earthly desires and entanglements.
“And do you believe animals have soul too?”
Of course. It is the same with them; they, too, must learn to give back to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s. That is why as Hindus we do not kill animals; we leave them free to work out their own destinies.
“Then you think it is wrong to kill even such things as snakes, scorpions, and centipedes?”
Yes, we never kill them at our Ashram. It is a high stage in the development of the soul to feel a love for all humanity, but it is a higher stage still to have a heart of love for every living thing. I
confess that I have not reached this stage. I still feel afraid when I actually see these creatures come near me. If we have no fear at all, I do not think they will harm us.
(I might mention here an incident related to me by one of Gandhiji’s followers. At evening prayer one day at his Ashram, a cobra came through the dusk and crawled right on to Mr. Gandhi, raising its head in front of him. His followers were going to catch it, but he signed to them to be still. He remained motionless himself and the reptile slid over his knees and went back into the garden.) The Mahatma, still on the subject of our relation to the animal world, continued:
I met an Englishman once. He was a veterinary surgeon and had a wonderful way with animals. We were visiting a house together, and suddenly a gigantic brute of a dog rushed towards us, fierce as a lion, and raised himself up almost to the height of a man as he flung himself at us. I was petrified with fear, but this Englishman went forward to meet it as it charged, and embraced it without a trace of fear. Its anger evaporated at once and it began wagging its tail. It impressed me very much. That is the true way of meeting animals by non-resistance.
“But do you not think a man’s life is worth more than an animal’s? Take yourself now. You are the leader of a great movement which you believe to be for the good of your country. Supposing you were confronted by a crocodile and you could only escape by injuring it, would you not think your duty and responsibility as a leader were more important than the life of that reptile?”
No, I should say--or at least I ought to say--o this crocodile, “Your need is greater than mine”, and let it devour me. You see, our life does not finish with the death of the body. God knows all about it. We none of us know what will happen next. If I escaped the crocodile, I could not escape the flash of lightning that might come next minute.
“But surely,” I urged, “ a man’s soul is different from that of a crocodile¾ if it has one at all. You remember what Chesterton says about it, ‘when a man is taking his sixth whiskey and soda, and is beginning to lose control over himself, you come up to him and give him a friendly tap on the shoulder and say, ‘Be a man’. But when the crocodile is finishing his sixth missionary, you do not step up to it and tap it on the back and say. ‘Be a crocodile’. Doesn’t this show a man has an ideal in him to strive after in a way no animal has?” The Mahatma laughed and said:
True, there is a difference between the souls of men and of animals. Animals live in a sort of perpetual trance; but man can wake up and become conscious of God. God says, as it were, to man, “Look up and worship Me; you are made in My image.”
“And the souls of animals, where do they come from?” I queried. “Do you think
the soul of a man can become the soul of an animal?”
Yes, I think all these horrible and evil creatures are inhabited by the souls of men who have gone wrong--snakish men, greedy, unmerciful crocodile men, and so on.
“But look at the infinite number of animals, the countless millions upon millions of insects, to mention only one group of the animal kingdom; are they all souls¾the mosquitos, the sandflies, the microbe?”
Who are we, to set a limit to God’s sphere of action? Are there not countless other suns and planets in this universe?
It was time for me to go, for I had another appointment, so at this point I rose to take my leave. I went to the edge of the little carpet on the verandah where we had been sitting and began to put on my shoes (for I had removed them, eastern fashion, being in a manner his guest). As I lifted one shoe, I saw a spider in it. “See,” I said to him, laughing, as I shook out the loathsome thing, and resisting the impulse to crush it, let it run away. “Look; it has been sent to me as a temptation, to try if I have profited by your sermon.” He laughed—he has an infectious and hearty laugh—and said:
Yes, a spider may be a great matter. Don’t you remember the story of Mohammed and the spider?
I confessed my ignorance, wondering vaguely if he had got the story muddled up with Robert Bruce.
Yes, one day Mohammed was fleeing from his enemies in great danger. In desperation he turned into a sort of cave in the rock. A few hours afterwards the pursuers came along. “Ah,” said one,“let’s look in here; this is a likely place.” “No” replied the other, “he couldn’t be in here, for, see, there is a spider’s web across the entrance.” Not realizing how recently it had been spun, they passed on, and so Mohammed escaped by the help of the spider and the will of Allah.3
The Hindu, 15-8-1922
1 The interview must have taken place before Gandhiji was tried and sentenced
on March 18; vide “The Great Trial” 18-3-1922.
2 Here Gandhiji waved his hand as though putting something away from him.
3The following are the concluding remarks of the reporter:
While he had been telling this, his friend and fellow-prisoner, Mr. Banker,
had brought him his charkha or spinning-wheel. As I bade good-bye to the Mahatma,
he was just settling down to the daily duty, shared by all his followers (in theory if
not in practice), of spinning or weaving a certain amount each day.
As I reached the end of the verandah, I turned for a last look. There was this
unassuming-looking little man, dressed with less ceremony than the meanest coollie,
squatting cross-legged in front of his charkha, spinning away as contentedly as
Mohammed’s spider. Was he, I wondered, spinning a web that was to save the Indian
peasant from the menace of an industrial system, untinged with even a veneer of
Christian ethics; or was he himself caught in the centre of a vast web of illusions,
spun from his own extraordinary brain, into which he had drawn hundreds and
thousands of his ignorant and emotional countrymen?
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