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Discussion Aboard The Gurkha with Mahatma Gandhi

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Contact only on mail


Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India



Discussion Aboard The Gurkha with Mahatma Gandhi


December 16, 1920

I: The immediate aim of non-co-operation, then, is to protest against injustice, isn’t it?

G: No, it is not protest, but purification. Through self-purification, purification of the other party.

G. Quite so.

E. Well, do you feel that you have succeeded in bringing about such purification in any degree?

G. I have been touring the country these days and I am quite surprised to observe how people are learning self-restraint and self-reliance. Even the peasants are developing both these qualities and I feel that British officers, too, have not remained unaffected. Their minds, too, are being purified.

E. Through this purification, what would you have the British do? In what respect do you want their conduct to change?

G. I wish to bring about a state of affairs in which every Englishman would look upon every Indian as his equal. I want to bring down the Englishman from the superior heights from which he talks and to make him think of even the most ordinary Indian labourer as his equal. I want to create a state of affairs in which he

would not slight an Indian in any dealings with the latter, would, on the contrary, in all affairs deal with him as with an equal partner. On no other terms can the Englishman have a place in India. The moment the British and the Indians both come to feel this sense of equality, feel it as a reality, my country will have won its freedom. And to bring about this result, it will be enough if the fetish they make of prestige and dignity is destroyed. What do you find today on all sides? Indians

afraid of the British—Indians concealing their thoughts from others. What can be more degrading than this?

E. Don’t you think you are asking too much when you say that every Englishman should look upon even a labourer in India as his equal? Does every Indian gentleman do so? It would be reason if you merely asked that an Englishman should behave towards Indians as he would towards other Englishmen. He should behave towards an Indian labourer as any English squire would behave towards his farmers.

G. Wonderful. You have put it so much more beautifully than I. That is just what I mean.

I. So, then, you say even the immediate aim of non-co-operation with an unjust Government is purification irrespective of whether purification does or does not bring any material benefits?

G. When we have gone through a full measure of untainted self-suffering, material benefits will follow as a matter of course. For instance, nothing will then remain to be done in regard to the Punjab atrocities. Not only will none of those guilty of the Punjab crimes have any place in India, it will also be impossible to pay salary or

pension to any of them from our treasury.

E. Have you, then, reserved punishment only for the British? Crimes were committed even by Indians—common Indians. What about them?

G. This is an astonishing question. We have been punished for our crimes a thousand times more severely than we deserved. I assure you that not only have all the guilty been punished, but hundreds of innocent people also have been killed. Innocent people have had to suffer imprisonment. Even children suffered. Innocent women were humiliated. The victims of the Jallianwala massacre, too, were innocent people. What punishment more severe than this can you think of? However, I have said nothing about punishing British officers. All that I have suggested is that they should not still continue to receive Indian money and to hold any titles or posts. As for punishing them, the only punishment for some of them

can be hanging. My religion has no room for this. I do not know what India wants.

Talking of this subject, I remember an incident. When Mr. Andrews compared the Jallianwala Bagh massacre to the massacre of Glencoe1, I hastened to publish in Young India even an account of the latter. I did that only in order to show the revulsion Mr. Andrews must have felt at the cruelty of the Jallianwala massacre. But on rereading the account, I felt that Mr. Andrews had been a little unjust and I felt quite unhappy about the matter. I saw Principal Rudra2 had a talk with him; he also thought as I did. But I realize today the aptness of Mr. Andrews’ comparison. I now feel that the Jallianwala massacre was even more wicked, more reprehensible than the other one, for there is a whole world of difference between the state of civilization then and now.

I. Why do you say that the Government has attacked our religion? It was but one partner in the Grand Council of the victorious Allies.

G. I am surprised to hear a man like you asking such a question at this hour of the day. The leading part in planning the dismemberment of Turkey was taken by England. The Prime Minister’s actions are now recoiling on himself. Having outraged his nonconformist conscience, he has, in order to satisfy it, had to go back

on his promise5 and has hurt the Muslims thereby.

I. Well, let’s turn to another matter. You have been asking the students to leave their schools, but do you make any alternative arrangements for their education?

I. Is the present educational system bad, then?

G. The question doesn’t arise at all. But I have no objection to replying to it. I say, “Yes, it is bad.” The medium of education being English has doubled the load on the students’ brains. How should I explain to you what is in my mind? Men like Professor Jadunath Sarkar say that the class educated under the system of a foreign

medium has lost its intellectual vigour. Our imaginative and creative faculties have been completely destroyed. The whole of our time is taken up with learning the pronunciation and the idiom of a foreign tongue. From its very nature this is mere drudgery, and the result has been that we function like blotting-paper before Western civilization; instead of imbibing the best from it, we have become its superficial imitators. The second result is that a gulf has been created between us

and the masses. We cannot explain to them in a language which they will understand even the elements of hygiene and public health, let alone politics. We have become the modern counterparts of the Brahmins of old days; in fact, we are worse, for the Brahmins didn’t mean ill. They were the trustees of the nation’s culture. We are not even that. Actually, we have been misusing our education, behaving towards the common people as if we were superior. I should like you

to cross-examine me on this matter. Let me say, however, that these views of mine are not recent but are the fruit of many years’ experience.

E. We have never thought about this aspect of the matter, and so all we can say

is that we shall now think about it.

G. That’s right. I forgot one thing. I forgot to say that the system has killed us spiritually. Since you have been worshippers of secular education, the Hindus did not get any religious education. In England, the result has not been quite so bad. There the priests arrange to provide some religious education.

I. The thing is that you do not want your children to be educated with robbed

money; am I right?

G. Yes, not only not with robbed money, but not under the robber’s flag either. I have said that we should have nothing to do with schools controlled by a Government which has forfeited our loyalty and our love. I shall tell you a simple thing. There was a time when not only did I myself use to sing “God save the King” with the greatest fervour but had even got my sons, who did not know English, to learn it by heart. When I returned from Africa to Rajkot, I taught the anthem to the students of the Training College also, for I thought that every loyal citizen must know it. But what is the position today? I certainly cannot lay my hand on my heart and sing it or ask anyone else to sing it. I would say that as a good man, King George should live long. But I cannot bring myself to pray that an Empire which has debased itself before man and God should live a moment longer.

I. You said you did not care what the actual system of education was.

G. Yes, that is so.

I. Our universities are run by Indians; their policies are also determined by Indians.

G. Yes, that is true. If the people who run the universities would listen to me, I would simply ask them to tear up their charters. Then I would say that the universities were mine. If they protest that in that case Government grants would stop, I am prepared to give them a guarantee that I would get the funds. All that I am asking them to do is to make the universities national. What did I tell even Panditji? “Return the charter to the Viceroy and, if the Maharajas want their

money back, return even that. We shall meet the deficit by begging. If you have an incomparable gift of begging from Maharajas, I have some gift of begging from the common people.”

I. But what harm has the “charter” done?

G. Why, with the charter comes all that the Government means. It is because of its charter that the Hindu University will honour the Duke of Connaught. How can I stand this? No; I tell you the truth. Mrs. Besant was right when she once said that I wanted a political revolution. Only, the revolution should not be a simple revolution but an evolutionary revolution. But a revolution, I think, there must be.

There is no alternative. Just see how the Government has lost all sense of decency. Look at the shameless public statement it has issued recently. Weaving an elaborate web of big phrases, the Government say that at present they have given freedom to the Press, that they do not intend to gag anyone. But actually what are they doing? Why did they gag the silent worker of the Punjab, Aga Sufdar? He has nothing of the fanatic in him; I have not seen another silent worker like him in the Punjab. And only the other day, Babu Shyam Sunder Chakravarti of The Servant told me that he had received a warning from the Government. Why? Is it for reproducing Mr. Rajagopalachari’s article “Suggestion to Voters” published in Young India? This is an intolerable situation.

I. Let us now turn to courts. What do you have in mind when you ask lawyers to

leave courts and give up practice?

G. I want to shatter the Government’s prestige. It is these courts and schools that strengthen the foundation on which its prestige rests. It is with them that the Government has ensnared the people.

I. How will disputes be settled, then?

G. Shall I tell you my experience? In the course of my practice, I got 75 per cent of my cases settled out of court, and I was considered an expert in getting cases settled in this way. I had earned a name there for my impartiality. And, therefore, as soon as the party received a notice from me, he came running to me and requested a settlement. Many people felt obliged for this reason to engage two solicitors. If they did not get things their way with me, they would approach another solicitor to fight their case. I accepted only clean cases.

E. Do you think there will be many litigants who will have such trust?

G. If 50 per cent of the litigants avoid going to courts, the number of cases will be reduced by 50 per cent. I have been told that 50 per cent of the cases are created by touts. Mr. Das said that this was not so in Calcutta but others told me that he had no experience about this.

A Calcutta pleader who had been following the conversation intervened at this

point to remark that mofussil courts were full of touts.

I. Maybe, but I am talking about cities. The Bengal Chamber of Commerce has

set up an “Arbitration Tribunal”. The Chamber is said to be an influential body, bat

the number of business men’s cases going to courts has not gone down.

G. It is possible, for the number of lawyers has not decreased.

I. What effect will it have if a solitary individual gives up practice?

G. It is bound to have some; effect, relatively speaking. I would certainly say that the tottering structure of the Government’s prestige has received one more push by Pandit Motilal Nehru’s giving up practice. You may ask Sir Harcourt Butler.

E. You have been dissuading intending litigants, too, from going to courts; haven’t you?

G. Yes.

E. But how will that be? In your case, the litigants trusted you. You could only

settle the affairs of those who approached you with a clean conscience and with clean hands. You didn’t even look at others with unclean hands who might come to you. What will you do about such people? There will hardly be any cases in which both the parties have clean consciences and clean hands.

G. Without the least hesitation, I would make a gift of the unclean ones to the Government.

I. I hope you know that we have not come to you to quarrel with you, but only

to understand. We will ask only one more question. Isn’t it true that the

non-co-operation of your followers rests on malice and hatred?

G. Yes. An English friend from Madras has also written to me about this.

E. I understand your principle, but the tongues of your followers utter undiluted


G. Yes, yes, but my position is that a noble action, whether done with love or hatred, cannot but yield fruit. Whether truth is spoken out of fear or purposefully, it cannot but have its fruit.

I. Your principle is: hate the sin, but not the sinner. But that of your followers seems to be the reverse of this—hate the sinner; there is no need to hate sin.

G. Are you not being unjust? Some hate both sin and the sinner. It is because they hate sin that they have been renouncing so much, have come forward to make such heavy sacrifices. Do you think anyone who merely hated the sinner could make these sacrifices? Never.

E. Your fundamental principle is not to associate yourself with sinners. Then

how can you work with ungodly colleagues? How can a man working from the exalted position that you take work with impure instruments?

G. Will you compare the Government’s ungodliness with the imperfections of my colleagues? Consider a little further and you will understand. Any reformer—and I am a reformer—is bound to carry on with whatever instruments are available to him—not impure instruments, but, say, imperfect instruments.

I. We have given you so much trouble today. Kindly excuse us. I have been till now opposing non-co-operation, but today I realize that the non co-operation I opposed was not non-co-operation as I understand it from you today. We are both grateful to you.



Navajivan, 29-12-1920



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