The Basic Principles of Satyagraha
This is the eighth part of Dr. Prabhakar Kamathâs latest series onÂ Managing Life Without God and ReligionÂ In The Twenty First Century. Links to all published parts in this series can be foundÂ here.
In this article in my series âManaging Life Without God and Religionâ I am giving just the basic principles of Satyagraha, a nonviolent method of social action to tackle injustice perpetrated by a dominant social force against a weaker social entity. The dominant force might be the government, an agency of the government, or an owner of an industry. The weaker entity might be a society, a group of people or just one individual. Satyagraha empowers the weak to look the dominant force in the eye, and demand and get justice.
Satyagraha Works Well In All Democratic Societies
I believe that true Satyagraha method works wonderfully in any modern democratic society in which public and world opinion matter. For, Satyagraha even in a local area has a way of agitating the conscience of all good and influential people across the globe. Had Palestinian and Kashmiri people resorted to Satyagraha in their quest for justice and freedom, they would have been free nations a long time ago. Because these mentally weak people are unwilling to give up violence and embrace Truth Force, they have âchosen to remain victimsâ of their adversaries for over sixty years, and the rest of the world has no sympathy for their cause. These two societies are âmentally weakâ because they refuse to learn from their past mistakes, and are unwilling to learn from the experience of other societies, which have greatly benefited from Satyagraha. Just about all the terrorism and wars we see in the world today could be traced directly or indirectly to the door of these two truly pathetic societies, which are unable to transcend the mental blocks rooted in their sick culture of violence.
Satya means Truth; Aagraha means insistence. The literal meaning of this word is insistence on truth. Initially Gandhi referred to this method of fighting injustice as passive resistance. As he refined the technique over the years he realized that it required true Satyagrahis to be totally fearless and nonviolently militant, and therefore he changed the definition to Truth Force. In the West, Satyagraha is known as militant nonviolence.
The goal of Satyagraha is to resolve the conflict with an opponent without inflicting physical or emotional injury to him, and with willingness to suffer physical or emotional injury to oneself. During the course of the conflict, the adversaryâs essence is not violated, and the two sides develop respect and goodwill towards each other after the conflict is resolved. Both sides must not harbor resentment, bitterness and vengefulness during or after the conflict is resolved. Since Truth is relative, the Satyagrahi must be willing to compromise his initial demands to some extent. However, he must identify a certain irreducible minimum demand for which he should be willing to die. In other words, one must not take up Satyagraha lightly. At the same time, however, the adversary must not be humiliated and he must be given a chance to save his face.
Mahatma Gandhi developed the basic principles of Satyagraha in the course of his lifelong experiments with Truth and Nonviolence. Anyone wishing to practice Satyagraha must first thoroughly study various books on and by Gandhi; take steps to rid oneself of common human weaknesses such as greed, hatred, hubris, possessiveness, crookedness, jealousy, fear, passivity, hypocrisy, and the like; cultivate truthfulness, love of humanity, faith in the essential goodness of people, simplicity of lifestyle, detachment from sense objects, selfless service of humanity, generosity, infinite patience, willingness to admit oneâs mistakes, forgiveness, introspection, belief in equality of all human beings, respect for life, determination to fight injustice everywhere and at all times, unwillingness to inflict emotional and physical injury on adversaries, and willingness to cheerfully suffer physical and emotional injury. In other words, a Satyagrahi must constantly strive to become an extraordinarily good person.
To be a Satyagrahi, one must spend a great deal of time training oneself to control his fear of, hatred for and violent impulses against his adversary. This could take many years of contemplation and introspection. If a Satyagrahi decides to launch mass protest, such as the one initiated by the Yoga tycoon Ramdev, it is his duty to thoroughly educate all his followers in the fundamental principles of Satyagraha. Without such education and training, followers invariably react violently to police action against them. Riots, fire, destruction of property, serious injury and death follow. When police intervene, a true Satyagrahi does not run in fear of being killed. He does not resist arrest. On the contrary he extends his hands to them and requests them to arrest him. He does not dress himself as woman and hide in their midst. He stands tall and gestures to the police his location, invites them to come for him, and tells his supporters to make way for them. He tells his supporters to cheer the police as they arrest him. When presented before the judge, he refuses to post bail. At the trial he pleads guilty and demands that he be given the maximum sentence under the law for his âillegalâ behavior. And he cheerfully spends his time in the prison indulging in contemplation and periodic fasting for self-purification.
Satyagraha Should Be The Last Resort
Satyagraha can take several forms: civil disobedience; strike, protest march, and fasting. However, all these must be the last resort. Before initiating any of these actions, attempts must be made to resolve the conflict by means of reasoning, presentation of facts and figures, peaceful negotiation, and compromise. If all these methods fail, the adversary must be informed beforehand the proposed course of action. There should be no secret strategies. The adversary must be given ample time and opportunity to prepare himself to the Satyagrahiâs impending action. If the adversary is in trouble for some reason, the Satyagrahi should not take advantage of his misery. Instead he should suspend his agitation till the adversary regains his former status. There is no room to scold the adversaries or brand them as liars, cheats, crooks, and the like, as a frustrated Anna Hazare did the group of ministers who, according to him, reneged on their promise. Instead of blaming his adversaries for the debacle, a true Satyagrahi blames himself for not coming across as a person with sufficiently pure motive. His reaction should be one of introspection and actions to purify himself. He must ask himself, âWhat have I done to make my adversaries think that my motives are not honest and my demands are not valid?â If he goes on a fast, it should be solely for the purpose of ridding himself of impurities, which his adversaries intuitively sense in his motives and demands. In other words, the purpose of fasting is to further humble oneself and also to impress upon the adversary purity of Satyagrahiâs thought, words and action.
One way to purify oneself is to resort to fasting. Fasting should never be used to coerce or threaten opponents. A certain amount of coercion is present in every fast. However, if the adversary believes this to be true, he should not yield to such coercion or blackmailing. A person who threatens his adversaries by statements such as, âIf you do not accept my proposal in full by such and such a date, I will fast unto my death!â is not a true Satyagrahi. He is a blackmailer. Such statements indicate high level of egotism, which has no place in Satyagraha. A true Satyagrahi is always self-effacing and humble. If you study the behavior of Ram Dev, you will recognize various human weaknesses in him such as egotism, haughtiness, ostentation, display of wealth and power, hunger for publicity, etc. while he claimed to be a Yogi!
The question arises, âCan Satyagraha be applied by ordinary people in managing their everyday life?â The answers is, âYes, of course!â However, one should keep in mind that Satyagraha is not for the weak-minded people who are loaded with fear and passivity. It is the weapon of the strong. So, before resorting to it, one must be totally prepared. Otherwise one would suffer humiliation and despair like Ram Dev did.
Case study: A young man went to the local Road Transportation Office (R.T.O). It is a well-known fact that this office is perhaps the most corrupt of all offices of any state government. When he applied for a driverâs license, he was told that they have run out of application papers. This ruse was clearly to direct him to the local broker.
The young man, who knew Satyagraha tactics, told the R.T.O clerk, âI have come here in good faith to apply for my driverâs license. If you do not have the needed papers and some broker has them, there is something terribly wrong with your office. It is not fair that I should be deprived of the privilege to drive because of your inefficiency and questionable practices. Therefore, until such time as you can give me the application form, I will drive my vehicle without license. I know that it is illegal to do so. But you leave me with no choice, as I need to drive my vehicle to make my living. Here is my name, address and telephone number. Inform me when you have the application form and I will come here to get it. In the mean time, I will notify the police that due to these circumstances I have no choice but to drive my vehicle without a valid license. If arrested I will explain to the judge why I have been driving without a valid license. I will subpoena you as a witness in the court. Please give me your name.â
The clerk left his desk, returned after a few minutes and gave the young man the needed application papers.
Case study: A forty two year old retired Air Force man wanted to donate one half acre of his land to a local jaggery (unrefined sugar) manufacturing co-operative society. However, to do this he needed a âno objection certificate.â Because he refused to pay a hefty bribe, the bureaucrats kept giving him a thorough runaround for over eleven months. Letters to higher authorities and follow up letters even to the minister of revenue proved to be fruitless.
Finally he called a press conference and declared his intention to go on indefinite fast. He declared that he was willing to die, but not willing to pay a bribe. His story appeared in the local newspaper. The article whipped up public opinion against the local revenue officers. This Satyagrahi got his N.O.C. immediately as the local officials did not want any light thrown on their everyday dark dealings. It should be noted here that this man did not attack his adversaries in private or public. He merely demanded what was his just right, and declared his decision to suffer personal consequences resulting from his fasting.
Farce Of So-called Satyagraha
It should be amply clear from the above outline of Satyagraha that it is not for everyone. Most so-called Satyagraha agitations in India today are not Satyagraha at all. Even despicable characters threaten to go on âfast unto deathâ to protest some minor real or imaginary problem in their personal or public life. Yoga tycoon Ram Devâs public spectacle of âfast unto death,â and subsequent public humiliation in the hands of his opponents is a classic example of Satyagraha gone awry. Recently, Kumaraswamy, the ex-chief minister of Karnataka, announced âfast unto deathâ to protest a pamphlet his political opponents drew up on him. He dared not file a libel lawsuit in the court against his detractors because that would certainly expose his past misdeeds for all to see. Elsewhere in India, some people resort to gherao to force their opponents to accede to their demands. Gherao (imprisonment of opponents) is a despicable act of desperate people. Almost without exception, most so-called Satyagrahis in India today know very little about Mahatma Gandhi or his weapon of mass empowerment.
It has been over 63 years since Gandhi fell victim to hatred and violence of right wing fanatics. Since then no improvement has been made in the tactics of Satyagraha in resolving conflicts. I believe that Satyagraha can be applied even more effectively by improvising its tactics. One such improvisation could be applied in dealing with labor disputes.
Labor disputes often lead to strikes. The very word strike has violent connotation. It implies that aggrieved laborers are âstriking backâ at the owners of the industry employing them. When a labor union demands an increase in the salary and fringe benefits for the laborers, the management has three options: Reject the demand outright, and declare a lockout if the union strikes; make a counter offer, which is less than the demand and negotiate; or simply accede to the demand without a fight.
- First the labor union should justify its demands by providing owners with accurate facts and figures. They should provide proof that their salary is less than salary offered to laborers in other comparable factories.
- The labor union should recognize the right of owners and shareholders to get a fair share of profits.
- If the owners refuse to negotiate, the labor union decides to strike. However this strike is different from all other strikes.
The labor union tells the owners:
1. We believe that we have been loyal laborers of our beloved factory for many years. We recognize that our welfare rests with the welfare of our factory and everyone including the owners and shareholders.
2. Your refusal to negotiate with us for a fair and equitable raise of salary makes us believe that you do not think we deserve the same even though we have always been loyal and hardworking. Somewhere along the way we have failed to impress upon you our love and commitment to our factory.
3. To impress upon you our earnestness and goodchampaness of heart, we have decided to offer you one extra hour of work everyday free of charge. We will work nine hours a day for a whole month for our regular salary.
4. If at the end of one month you are not convinced about the fairness of our demand, we will begin to work ten hours a day, offering you two extra hours of work for the same salary. We hope that our extra work might produce more goods leading to more profit for you.
5. If you are still not convinced about our cause in another month, we will increase our working hours by another hour per day. If you have no extra work for us to do, we will clean the machines, floor, toilet and yard. We will give fresh coat of paint to the walls, windows and doors at our expense. We will make the whole factory shine.
6. If at the end of another month you still refuse to negotiate with us, and we have no work to do in the factory, we will donate our extra time to the city on your behalf. We will clean the gutters, streets and toilets in your name. We will carry garbage, water plants, and plant trees and do other public service on behalf of our factory. Let the public know that we laborers of this great factory are good people whose demands are just and honorable.
7. Sooner or later, you will be proud of us as your laborers. We know you will see justness in our demand.
When I presented this scenario to a group of businessmen and administrators of various factories in the U. S., they shook their head in disbelief âand horror!
I recommend interested readers to study the following books: The Story of My Experiment with Truth, by M. K. Gandhi, Conquest of Violence, by Joan V. Bondurant, Gandhiâs Truth, by Erik H. Erickson, and Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Clayborne Carson.
(To be continued)