ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Gandhi's Adaptable Non-Violence

In his comment (“Gandhi’s Flexible Non-Violence”, EPW, 3 August 2013) on my article (“Towards a History of Non-Violent Resistance”, EPW,8 June 2013), Sumanta Banerjee states that he wants to put the record straight on Gandhian non-violence, and refers to a statement that Gandhi made in an interview with Charles Petrasch of Le Monde. While I have great admiration for Sumanta Banerjee as a historian, I think that in focusing on this particular issue he has missed much of the point of my article.

Let us start by examining this interview, which Banerjee says took place on 10 February 1932. In fact, the interview could not have taken place on that date as Gandhi was then in jail in Pune. Petrasch had, in fact, interviewed him on 29 October 1931, when they were both in London. In this interview, Gandhi was reported to have said that the Garhwali soldiers who had refused to fire on non-violent protestors in Peshawar in the previous year should accept the punishment that they had incurred for their disobedience to orders. This, at least, is the version that was translated from the article in French and published later in The Labour Monthly (April 1932). For some reason, this does not appear in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi’s version of the interview (electronic version, Vol 54, pp 101-08). There is, nonetheless, a similar statement made by Gandhi at a students’ meeting in London on 15 October 1931 (ibid: 14-15). Gandhi was asked by a student whether his advice to Indian soldiers to disobey orders was not contrary to non-violence. Gandhi replied that this showed some misunderstanding of his principles, as he had not given any such advice. While he admired the refusal of the Garhwali soldiers to shoot their countrymen, he did not ask that they be pardoned, as soldiers had a duty to obey orders. Indeed, Gandhi continued: “If the reins of Government were given in charge of the Congress, the Congress would discharge them tomorrow… It was no part of the Congress campaign that such soldiers should commit breach of discipline. The Congress had issued no such instructions. They were not civil resisters and remember every patriotic man is not a civil resister necessarily, nor every resister is a patriotic man.”

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