The Gandhi-King Community

For Global Peace with Social Justice in a Sustainable Environment

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09415777229, 094055338

E-mail- dr.yogendragandhi@gmail.com;dr.yadav.yogendra@gandhifoundation.net

 

 

THE MEANING OF VOLUNTARY POVERTY

 

 

Chhaganlal Joshi is the Secretary to the Managing Committee of the Satyagraha Ashram, Sabarmati. He had a university scholarship for post-graduate study in economics and ever since he gave up that scholarship to take part in the non-co-operation movement he has been in the Ashram. About a fortnight ago he had a summons from a first class magistrate to appear as witness in a criminal case. The policeman who came to serve the summons behaved most carelessly. He came shouting for Chhaganlal Joshi. This I heard and directed him to Sjt. Chhaganlal Joshi. He gave him the summons. Sjt. Chhaganlal asked him to wait until he had read it, but “take it if you care” he said and went away. Sjt. Chhaganlal read out the summons to me. He seemed to do know nothing about the case, and he did not know what to do. He had no time of his own, nor had he any money for railway fare. For all his time and money belonged to the Ashram, as every member is supposed to have given his all to the Ashram. The money in possession of the Ashram is all public money ear-marked by the donors for the purpose for which it exists, and could certainly not be utilized for railway fare to respond to a summons. And so Sjt. Chhaganlal Joshi was in the predicament of the pauper of Orissa, the only difference being that whilst the latter could receive and use for him whatever others gave him the former could not use a donation except for the purpose of the Ashram. Herein lays the beauty as well as the restraint of voluntary poverty.

What then would an Orissa pauper do if he was served with a summons as in this case? The policeman had not cared to explain to him the meaning of the summons, or to pay him the railway fare to enable him to go to the court. In the present case the magistrate’s court was some miles away from Ahmadabad near a station on the Prantij line. The Orissa pauper would be absolutely helpless and would not know what to do. So Sjt. Chhaganlal decided to sit still and suffer the consequences. Otherwise his voluntary poverty would have no meaning, nor could he serve the poor if he did not behave like them. This inevitable inability to respond to the summons was interpreted by the magistrate as contempt of court and he issued a warrant of arrest against Sjt. Joshi. The man serving the warrant said: “We will not arrest you, if you promise to attend on the due date.” “I would willingly promise,” said Sjt. Joshi, “provided I got the railway fare and allowance.” The man had no authority to make the payment and so he produced Sjt. Joshi before a first class magistrate in Ahmadabad. The latter had no time to go into the as Joshi explained how he failed to obey the summons, but the magistrate trained in the traditions of the bureaucracy said: “I am afraid I can do nothing. I am prepared to release you on bail, and you may if you like agitate later on.” If he was prepared to give bail, without getting the fare and the allowance, why should he not have obeyed the original summons? The sun was blazing overhead when Sjt. Joshi was ordered to proceed to the police station.

He refused any longer to walk and the policemen in charge were compelled to hire a carriage. Ultimately Sjt. Joshi was taken to Talod under a full police escort and produced before the magistrate. The moment the magistrate saw Sjt. Joshi he realized his mistake, paid him the fare and allowance and released him on parole. It is reported that this simple act of courage had a very good effect on the people of Talod who were greatly delighted. Those who have accepted voluntary poverty can by acting in the manner of Chhaganlal Joshi easily hasten the end of the injustice and tyranny that seems today to be the lot of the poor. The thoughtless discourtesy of the magistrate in the case was remarkable. He issued summons without the least inquiry and having done so did nothing to provide the man summoned with the wherewithal to obey the summons. I am told that it is not the practice to pay the witnesses railway fare and allowance in advance. If that is the case, it means terrible hardship for the poor. The issue of warrant in the case betrayed the magistrate’s criminal negligence. He had no evidence of the proper service of the summons.

He did not care to inquire whether Sjt. Joshi had at all received the summons. One can only imagine what terrible injustice lies hidden in this Government’s department of “justice”. It is difficult to say what would have happened in Talod had Sjt. Chhaganlal been the dumb pauper of Orissa. What a shower of abuse he might have received and how fiercely the magistrate might have bullied him! The man who had been so much sinned against might have been branded as a sinner. Though the Government is responsible for this reckless and insolent behaviour towards the poor, one cannot help observing that the Indian officials who behave in this fashion have absolutely no excuse to do so. It is possible that this high-handedness was there even in pre-British days. But a wrong does not become right if it can be proved to be pre-British. And if even Indian officials do not mend their ways, those who have accepted voluntary poverty ought to correct them through Satyagraha.

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