A Sister's Questions
Q. "May a non-violent man possess wealth, and if he may, how can he keep it non-violently?"
A. “He may not own any wealth, though he may possess millions. Let him hold it in trust. If he lives among dacoits and thieves, he may possess very little, indeed little beyond a loin-cloth. And if he does this, he will convert them.
"But you must not generalize. In a non-violent State there will be very few dacoits. For the individual the golden rule is that he will own nothing. If I decided to settle and work among the so-called criminal tribes, I should go to them without any belongings and depend on them for my food and shelter. The moment they feel that I am in their midst in order to serve them, they will be my friends. In that attitude is true Ahimsa."
Q. "How is one to protect the honour of women?"
A. "I am afraid you do not read Harijan regularly. I discussed this question years ago, and have discussed it often since. The question may be discussed under two heads: (1) how is a woman to protect her own honour? and (2) how are her male relatives to protect it?
"As regards the first question, where there is a nonviolent atmosphere, where there is the constant teaching of Ahimsa, woman will not regard herself as dependent, weak or helpless. She is not really helpless when she is really pure. Her purity makes her conscious of her strength. I have always held that it is physically impossible to violate a woman against her will. The outrage takes place only when she gives way to fear or does not realize her moral strength. If she cannot meet the assailant's physical might, her purity will give her the strength to die before he succeeds in violating her. Take the case of Sita. Physically she was a weakling before Ravana, but her purity was more than a match even for his giant might. He tried to win her with all kinds of allurements but could not carnally touch her without her consent. On the other hand, if a woman depends on her own physical strength or upon a weapon she possesses, she is sure to be discomfited whenever her strength is exhausted.
“The second question is easily answered. The brother or father or friend will stand between his protegee and her assailant. He will then either dissuade the assailant from his wicked purpose or allow himself to be killed by him in preventing him. In so laying down his life he will not only have done his duty, but given a new accession of strength to his protegee who will now know how to protect her honour."
"But," said one of the sisters from Poona, "there lies the rub. How is a woman to lay down her life? Is it possible for her to do so?"
“Oh!” said Gandhiji, "any day more possible for her than for man. I know that women are capable of throwing away their lives for a much lesser purpose. Only a few days ago a young girl of twenty burnt herself to death as she felt she was being persecuted for refusing to go in for ordinary studies. And she perished with such cool courage and determination! She ignited her sadi with an ordinary oil-light and did not so much as raise a cry, so that the people in the neighbouring room were unaware of the happening until all was over. I do not give these details to commend her example, hut to show how easily woman can throw away her life. I, at any rate, am incapable of this courage. But I agree that it is not the external light but the inner light that is needed. "
The same sister wondered how one was to avoid anger and violence altogether in dealing with children. "You know our old adage," said Gandhiji laughing heartily, "Play with him till he is five, hammer him for ten years, treat him as your friend when he is sixteen." "But," he added, “don’t you worry. If you have to be angry with your child on occasions, I shall call that anger non-violent anger. I am speaking of wise mothers, not the ignorant ones who do not deserve to be mothers."
Central Teaching of the Gita
The discussion again took a serious turn with a challenging question on the philosophy of the Gita: "Is the central teaching of the Gita selfless action or non-violence?"
"I have no doubt that it is anasakti — selfless action. Indeed I have called my little translation of the Gita Anasa- ktiyoga. And anasakti transcends Ahimsa. He who would be anasakta (selfless) has necessarily to practise non-violence in order to attain the State of self-lessness. Ahimsa is, therefore, a necessary preliminary, it is included in anasakti, it does not go beyond it."
"Then does the Gita teach Himsa and Ahimsa both?"
"I do not read that meaning in the Gita. It is quite likely that the author did not write it to inculcate Ahimsa, but as a commentator draws innumerable interpretations from a poetic text, even so I interpret the Gita to mean that, if its central theme is anasakti, it also teaches Ahimsa. Whilst we are in the flesh and tread the solid earth, we have to practise Ahimsa. In the life beyond there is no Himsa or Ahimsa."
"But," said Balasaheb Kher, "Lord Krishna actually counters the doctrine of Ahimsa. For Arjuna utters this pacifist resolve:
‘Better I deem it, if my kinsmen strike, to face them weaponless, and bare my breast to shaft and spear, than answer blow with blow.'
And Lord Krishna teaches him to answer blow with blow."
What to Do?
"There I join issue with you," said Gandhiji. "Those words of Arjuna were words of pretentious wisdom. 'Until yesterday,' says Krishna to him-, 'You fought your kinsmen with deadly weapons without the slightest compunction. Even today you would strike if the enemy was a stranger and not your own kith and kin!' The question before him was not of non-violence, but whether he should slay his nearest and dearest."
Again the questioners came down to solid earth, and began to put questions about the Congress and the attitude f those who believed in complete non-violence. Gandhiji explained that they should refrain till he gave the word. He wanted still to plead with the leaders who had passed the Poona resolution. He expected to show them that the Congress would lose all its prestige if they adhered to the new policy. But the question had to be dealt with patiently. On the other hand it did not matter even if the Congress resolution received no response. The resolution was as good as enforced, when it was deliberately passed, and their duty did not alter with refusal of the government to respond. "Besides," he added, "there is an inherent flaw in the Poona resolution. It should be obvious to the meanest understanding that, if you think that you cannot do without arms in meeting foreign aggression, they would a fortiori be needed in dealing with daily disturbances — internecine feuds, dacoities and riots. For organized unarmed resistance against an organized invasion is any day easier than deliberate Ahimsa in face of a dacoit who breaks into your house at night. That calls for Ahimsa of the highest type."