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For Global Peace with Social Justice in a Sustainable Environment

Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, M.S.

 Contact No. - 09404955338

Chauri Chaura incident and Mahatma Gandhi

 

Chauri Chaura was a small village before independent. Now it is a famous town in Gorakhpur district. In 1922, here happened an incident. On 5 February 1922, the police station put into the fire a group of mob. 22 people burnt in it. Gandhi was deeply hurted and called out Satyagraha movement.  After this Mahatma Gandhi Was arrested and sentenced 6 years jail. The five-day fast undertaken as a penance for the Chauri Chaura disaster began on the evening of Sunday, February 12, 1922.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Fasts are my lot. I consider myself fortunate for that and regardfasts as good omen. Crimes will certainly take place in this world. Weare no doubt responsible for them but they are an indirectresponsibility. However, there are certain crimes for which we aredirectly responsible. We have but to atone for those. One such crime isthat of Chauri Chaura. So, I have decided to fast till Saturday.He started the five-day fast on this date.’’1  “Despair of the people bearing the necessity of self-restraint onoccasions such as at Chauri Chaura which led to popular violence.The incident at Chauri Chaura would have been impossibleif the Congress and the Khilafat organizations were perfect.”2

 He wrote again, “The brutal conduct of the ChauriChaura crowd was indefensible. One does not know whether itcontained volunteers. Let-the volunteers who violence are punishedby all means; but no such mob misconduct can possibly excuse theuse of force against innocent and inoffensive men.”3 “God has been abundantly kind to me. He has warned me thethird time that there is not as yet in India that truthful and non-violentatmosphere which and which alone can justify mass disobediencewhich can be at all described as civil, which means gentle, truthful,humble, knowing, willful yet loving, never criminal and hateful.

He warned me in 1919 when the Rowlett Act agitation wasstarted. Ahmedabad, Viramgam, and Kheda erred; Amritsar and Kasurerred. I retraced my steps, called it a Himalayan miscalculation,humbled myself before God and man, and stopped not merely masscivil disobedience but even my own which I knew was intended to becivil and non-violent.

The next time it was through the events of Bombay that Godgave a terrific warning. He made me eyewitness of the deeds of theBombay mob on the 17th November. The mob acted in the interest ofnon-co-operation. I announced my intention to stop the mass civildisobedience which was to be immediately started in Bardoli. Thehumiliation was greater than in 1919. But it did me good. I am surethat the nation gained by the stopping. India stood for truth and nonviolence by the suspension.

But the bitterest humiliation was still to come. Madras did givethe warning, but I heeded it not. But God spoke clearly throughChauri Chaura. I understand that the constables who were so brutallyhacked to death had given much provocation. They had even goneback upon the word just given by the Inspector that they would not bemolested, but when the procession had passed the stragglers wereinterfered with and abused by the constables. The former cried out forhelp. The mob returned. The constables opened fire. The littleammunition they had was exhausted and they retired to the Thana forsafety. The mob, my informant tells me, therefore set fire to theThana. The self-imprisoned constables had to come out for dear lifeand as they did so, they were hacked to pieces and the mangledremains were thrown into the raging flames.

It is claimed that no non-co-operation volunteer had a hand inthe brutality and that the mob had not only the immediateprovocation but they had also general knowledge of the high handedtyranny of the police in that district. No provocation can possiblyjustify the brutal murder of men who had been rendered defenselessand who had virtually thrown themselves on the mercy of the mob.And when India claims to be non-violent and hopes to mount thethrone of Liberty through non-violent means, mob-violence even inanswer to grave provocation is a bad augury. Suppose the “nonviolent”disobedience of Bardoli was permitted by God to succeed,the Government had abdicated in favour of the victors of Bardoli, whowould control the unruly element that must be expected to perpetrateinhumanity upon due provocation? Non-violent attainment of self-governmentpresupposes a non-violent control over the violentelements in the country. Non-violent non-co-operators can onlysucceed when they have succeeded in attaining control over thehooligans of India, in other words, when the latter also have learntpatriotically or religiously to refrain from their violent activities atleast whilst the campaign of non-co-operation is going on. Thetragedy at Chauri Chaura, therefore, roused me thoroughly.

“But what about your manifesto to the Viceroy and yourrejoinder to his reply?” spoke the voice of Satan? It was the bitterestcup of humiliation to drink. “Surely it is cowardly to withdraw thenext day after pompous threats to the government and promises to thepeople of Bardoli.” Thus Satan’s invitation was to deny Truthand therefore Religion, to deny God Himself. I put my doubts andtroubles before the Working Committee and other associates whomI found near me. They did not all agree with me at first. Some ofthem probably do not even now agree with me. But never has a manbeen blessed, perhaps, with colleagues and associates so considerateand forgiving as I have. They understood my difficulty and patientlyfollowed my argument. The result is before the public in the shape ofthe resolutions of the Working Committee.1 The drastic reversal ofpractically the whole of the aggressive programme may be politicallyunsound and unwise, but there is no doubt that it is religiously sound,and I venture to assure the doubters that the country will have gainedby my humiliation and confession of error.

The only virtue I want to claim is Truth and Non-violence. I layno claim to super human powers. I want none. I wear the samecorruptible flesh that the weakest of my fellow beings wears and istherefore as liable to err as any. My services have many limitations,but God has upto now blessed them in spite of the imperfections.For, confession of error is like a broom that sweeps away dirtand leaves the surface cleaner than before, I feel stronger for myconfession. And the cause must prosper for the retracing. Never hasman reached his destination by persistence in deviation from thestraight path.

It has been urged that Chauri Chaura cannot affect Bardoli.There is danger, it is argued, only if Bardoli is weak enough to beswayed by Chauri Chaura and is betrayed into violence. I have nodoubt whatsoever on that account. The people of Bardoli are in myopinion the most peaceful in India. But Bardoli is but a speck on themap of India. Its effort cannot succeed unless there is perfect cooperationfrom the other parts. Bardoli’s disobedience will be civilonly when the other parts of India remain non-violent. Just as theaddition of a grain of arsenic to a pot of milk renders it unfit as foodso will the civility of Bardoli prove unacceptable by the addition ofthe deadly poison from Chauri Chaura. The latter represents India asmuch as Bardoli.

Chauri Chaura is after all an aggravated symptom. I have neverimagined that there has been no violence, mental or physical, in theplaces where repression is going on. Only I have believed, I stillbelieve and the pages of Young India amply prove, that the repressionis out of all proportion to the insignificant popular violence in theareas of repression. The determined holding of meetings in prohibitedareas I do not call violence. The violence I am referring to is thethrowing of brickbats or intimidation and coercion practiced in straycases. As a matter of fact in civil disobedience there should be noexcitement. Civil disobedience is a preparation for mute suffering. Itseffect is marvelous though unperceived and gentle. But I regarded acertain amount of excitement as inevitable, certain amount ofunintended violence even pardonable, i.e., I did not consider civildisobedience impossible in somewhat imperfect conditions. Underperfect conditions disobedience when civil is hardly felt. But thepresent movement is admittedly a dangerous experiment under fairlyadverse conditions.

The tragedy of Chauri Chaura is really the index finger. Itshows the way India may easily go if drastic precautions be not taken.If we are not to evolve violence out of non-violence, it is quite clearthat we must hastily retrace our steps and re-establish an atmosphereof peace, re-arrange our programme and not think of starting masscivil disobedience until we are sure of peace being retained in spite ofmass civil disobedience being started and in spite of Governmentprovocation. We must be sure of unauthorized portions not startingmass civil disobedience.

As it is, the Congress organization is still imperfect and itsinstructions are still perfunctorily carried out. We have not establishedCongress Committees in every one of the villages. Where we have,they are not perfectly amenable to our instructions. We have notprobably more than one crore of members on the roll. We are in themiddle of February, yet not many have paid the annual four-annasubscription for the current year. Volunteers are indifferentlyenrolled. They do not conform to all the conditions of their pledge.They do not even wear hand-spun and hand-woven khaddar. All theHindu volunteers have not yet purged themselves of the sin ofuntouchability. All are not free from the taint of violence. Not bytheir imprisonment are we going to win swaraj or serve the holy causeof the Khilafat or attain the ability to stop payment to faithlessservants. Some of us err in spite of ourselves. But some others amongus sin willfully. They join Volunteer Corps well knowing that they arenot and do not intend to remain non-violent. We are thus untruthfuleven as we hold the Government to be untruthful. We dare not enterthe kingdom of Liberty with mere lip homage to Truth and Nonviolence.Suspension of mass civil disobedience and subsidence ofexcitement are necessary for further progress, indeed indispensable toprevent further retrogression. I hope, therefore, that by suspensionevery Congressman or woman wills not only not feel disappointed buthe or she will feel relieved of the burden of unreality and of nationalsin.

Let the opponent glory in our humiliation or so-called defeat. Itis better to be charged with cowardice and weakness than to be guiltyof denial of our oath and sin against God. It is a million times betterto appear untrue before the world than to be untrue to ourselves.And so, for me the suspension of mass civil disobedience andother minor activities that were calculated to keep up excitement is notenough penance for my having been the instrument, howeverinvoluntary, of the brutal violence by the people at Chauri Chaura.I must undergo personal cleansing. I must become a fitterinstrument able to register the slightest variation in the moralatmosphere about me. My prayers must have much deeper truth andhumility about them than they evidence. And for me there is nothingas helpful and cleansing as a fast accompanied by the necessary

Mental co-operation.

I know that the mental attitude is everything. Just as a prayermay be merely a mechanical intonation as of a bird, so may a fast be amere mechanical torture of the flesh. Such mechanical contrivancesare valueless for the purpose intended. Again, just as a mechanicalchant may result in the modulation of voice, a mechanical fast mayresult in purifying the body. Neither will touch the soul within.But a fast undertaken for fuller self-expression, for attainmentof the spirit’s supremacy over the flesh, is a most powerful factor inone’s evolution. After deep consideration, therefore, I am imposingon myself a five days’ continuous fast, permitting myself water. Itcommenced on Sunday1 evening; it ends on Friday evening. This isthe least I must do.

I have taken into consideration the All-India CongressCommittee meeting in front of me.2 I have in mind the anxious paineven the five days’ fast will cause many friends; but I can no longerpostpone the penance nor lessen it.

I urge co-workers not to copy my example. The motive in theircase will be lacking. They are not the originators of civildisobedience. I am in the unhappy position of a surgeon proved skill lessto deal with an admittedly dangerous case. I must either abdicateor acquire greater skill. Whilst the personal penance is not onlynecessary but obligatory on me, the exemplary self-restraintprescribed by the Working Committee is surely sufficient penance foreveryone else. It is no small penance and, if sincerely carried out, itcan become infinitely more real and better than fasting. What can bericher and more fruitful than a greater fulfillment of the vow of nonviolencein thought, word, and deed or the spread of that spirit? It willbe more than food for me during the week to observe that comradesare all, silently and without idle discussion, engaged in fulfilling theconstructive programme sketched by the Working Committee inenlisting Congress members after making sure that they understandthe Congress creed of truth and non-violence for the attainment ofswaraj, in daily and religiously spinning for a fixed time, inintroducing the wheel of prosperity and freedom in every home, invisiting “untouchable” homes and finding out their wants, ininducing national schools to receive “untouchable” children, inorganizing social service specially designed to find a commonplatform for every variety of man and woman, and in visiting thehomes which the drink curse is desolating, in establishing realpanchayats and in organizing national schools on a proper footing.The workers will be better engaged in these activities than in fasting. Ihope, therefore that no one will join me in fasting, either through falsesympathy or an ignorant conception of the spiritual value of fasting.All fasting and all penance must as far as possible be secret. Butmy fasting is both a penance and a punishment, and a punishment hasto be public. It is penance for me and punishment for those whom Itry to serve, for whom I love to live and would equally love to die.

They have unintentionally sinned against the laws of the Congressthough they were sympathizers if not actually connected with it.Probably they hacked the constables their countrymen and fellowbeings with my name on their lips. The only way love punishes is bysuffering. I cannot even wish them to be arrested. But I would let themknow that I would suffer for their breach of the Congress creed. Iwould advise those who feel guilty and repentant to hand themselvesvoluntarily to the Government for punishment and make a cleanconfession. I hope that the workers in the Gorakhpur district will leaveno stone unturned to find out the evil-doers and urge them to deliverthemselves into custody. But whether the murderers accept my adviceor not, I would like them to know that they have seriously interferedwith swaraj operations, that in being the cause of the postponement ofthe movement in Bardoli, they have injured the very cause theyprobably intended to serve. I would like them to know, too, that thismovement is not a cloak or a preparation for violence. I would, at anyrate, suffer every humiliation, every torture, absolute ostracism anddeath itself to prevent the movement from becoming violent or aprecursor of violence. I make my penance public also because I amnow denying myself the opportunity of sharing their lot with theprisoners. The immediate issue has again shifted. We can no longerpress for the withdrawal of notifications or discharge of prisoners.

They and we must suffer for the crime of Chauri Chaura. The incidentproves, whether we wish it or no, the unity of life. All, including eventhe administrators must suffer. Chauri Chaura must stiffen theGovernment, must still further corrupt the police, and the reprisals thatwill follow must further demoralize the people. The suspension andthe penance will take us back to the position we occupied before thetragedy. By strict discipline and purification we regain the moralconfidence required for demanding the withdrawal of notificationsand the discharge of prisoners.

If we learn the full lesson of the tragedy, we can turn the curseinto a blessing. By becoming truthful and non-violent, both in spiritand deed, and by making the swadeshi i.e., the khaddar programmecomplete, we can establish full swaraj and redress the Khilafat and thePunjab wrongs without a single person having to offer civildisobedience.”4

“I was one of the six deputed at Hata Tehsil by the District CongressCommittee, Gorakhpur, to help the villages in resuming their normal aspect.Hata Tehsil is in the vicinity of Chauri Chaura. During my short stay there, Iwas flooded with the reports of the unbridled tyranny of the police fromvarious quarters. News came from Dhanavti (and I had no reasons to dismissthem as untrue) that the police had exacted bribes from the people on pain ofimplicating them in the Chauri Chaura affair. While I was touring through thevillages, I was authentically informed at Usri that three persons of Deogaon,Chattar Dhari, Ram Khagid and Amlu were made to pay Rs. 10, 2 and 1respectively by the sowars at the point of the spear. Reports of brutal assaultswere not lacking. I myself saw with my own naked eyes the cuts inflicted bythe merciless shower of lashes (or cane) to which one Bhagelua Koeri ofUbhaon village was subjected. One rupee was subsequently snatched awayfrom him who belonged to the Congress Fund. I have known the people whohave been actually looted. If the Government cares to contradict the reports, Iwill take it upon myself to prove the substance of the allegations I have made.”5

 “We, who were privileged to be with Gandhi, when he took that momentousdecision to fast for 21 days, were also privileged to engage him in long discussionsduring the first week of the fast and my article produces the substance of two important conversations one with me and one with Maulana Shaukat Ali.

GANDHIJI: Do you see the meaning of my fast on account ofthe Bombay and Chauri Chaura incidents.

MAHADEV DESAI: Yes.Then why cannot you see the meaning of this fast?

Mahatma Gandhi: There you fasted by way of penance for what you thought was a crimecommitted by you. There is no such thing here. There is not the semblance of anoffence that may be attributed to you.What a misconception! In Chauri Chaura the culprits were thosewho had never seen me, never known me. Today the culprits are thosewho know me and even profess to love me.”6

 “Chauri Chaura was asymptom of the disease that was poisoning us. Ours was claimed to bea peaceful, non-violent way. We could not sustain the claim in itsfullness. The ‘enemy’s’ taunts we need not mind. They saw violenceeven where there was no trace of it. But we could not disregard thejudgment of the still small within.”7

 “It is not necessary now to discuss the question as to what I woulddo if incidents similar to those of Chauri Chaura occur again. This isso because I do not have the capacity to take such a decision inadvance. It is my desire to plan my strategy by taking into accountincidents such as those which took place in Chauri Chaura so that wecan deal with them when the time comes for launching the struggle. Ido not know whether it is possible to plan this way or not. While manaspires and tries,: it is for God to fulfill his wishes.”8

 “I ask myself, and perhaps others are asking, why I am not repeatingwhat I did after Chauri Chaura.2 I have no call in that direction.When or if it comes, nothing in the world will prevent me, ill or well.Let me reaffirm the truth that I love the Englishman as well as theIndian. Both are humans. Yet I want the rule of and for the masses ofIndia. Lokamanya has taught us that Home Rule or swaraj is ourbirthright. That swaraj is not to be obtained by what is going on nowin Bombay, Calcutta and Karachi.”9 So it is a important incident and gave a new direction to Indian politics and its freedom movement.

 

 

  1. Letter to Chaganlal Gandhi on dated 12 February 1922
  2.  INTERVIEW TO “THE BOMBAY CHRONICLE”BARDOLI, February 15, 1922I do not
  3. Young India, 16-2-1922
  4. Young India, 16-2-1922
  5. Young India, 9-3-1922
  6. September 18, 1924
  7. Young India, 20-5-1926
  8. Navajivan, 10-11-1929
  9. Harijan, 3-3-1946

 

 

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