Gandhi's Views On Satyagraha
My first experience of jail life was
in 1908. I saw that some of the regulations that the prisoners had to observe
were such as should be voluntarily observed by a Brahmachari, that is, one
desiring to practice self-restraint. Such, for instance, was the regulation
requiring the last meal to be finished before sunset. Neither the Indian nor the
African prisoners were allowed tea or coffee. They could add salt to the cooked
food if they wished, but they might not have anything for the mere satisfaction
of the palate. When I asked the jail medical officer to give us curry powder,
and to let us add salt to the food whilst it was cooking, he said: 'You are not
here for satisfying your palate. From the point of view of health, curry powder
is not necessary, and it makes no difference whether you add salt during or
Ultimately these restrictions were
modified, though not without much difficulty, but both were wholesome rules of
self-restraint. Inhibitions imposed from without rarely succeed, but when they
are self-imposed, they have a decidedly salutary effect. So, immediately after
release from jail, I imposed on myself the two rules. As far as was then
possible, I stopped taking tea, and finished my last meal before sunset. Both
these now require no effort in the observance.
There came, however, an occasion
which compelled me to give up salt altogether, and this restriction I continued
for an unbroken period of ten years. I had read in some books on vegetarianism
that salt was not a necessary article of diet for man, that on the contrary salt
less diet was better for the health. I had deduced that a brahmachari benefited
by a salt less diet, I had read and realized that the weak- bodied should avoid
pulses. I was very fond of them.
Now it happened that Kasturbai, who
had a brief respite after her operation, had again begun getting hemorrhage, and
the malady seemed to be obstinate. Hydropathic treatment by itself did not
answer. She had not much faith in my remedies, though she did not resist them.
She certainly did not ask for outside help. So when all my remedies had failed.
I entreated her to give up salt and pulses. She would not agree, however much I
pleaded with her, supporting myself with authorities. At last she challenged me,
saying that even I could not give up these articles if I was advised to do so, I
was pained and equally delighted, delighted in that I got an opportunity to
shower my love on her. I said to her: 'You are mistaken. If I was ailing and the
doctor advised me to give up these or any other articles, I should
unhesitatingly do so. But there! Without any medical advice, I give up salt and
pulses for one year, whether you do so or not.'
She was rudely shocked and exclaimed
in deep sorrow: 'Pray forgive me. Knowing you, I should not have provoked you. I
promise to abstain from these things, but for heaven's sake take back your vow.
This is too hard on me.'
'It is very good for you to forego
these articles. I have not the slightest doubt that you will be all the better
without them. As for me, I cannot retract a vow seriously taken. And it is sure
to benefit me, for all restraint, whatever prompts it, is wholesome for men. You
will therefore leave me alone. It will be a test for me, and a moral support to
you in carrying out your resolve.'
So she gave me up. 'You are too
obstinate. You will listen to none,' she said, and sought relief in tears.
I would like to count this incident
as an instance of Satyagraha, and it is one of the sweetest recollections of my
After this Kasturbai began to pick
up quickly whether as a result of the salt less and pulse less diet or of the
other consequent changes in her food, whether as a result of my strict vigilance
in exacting observance of the other rules of life, or as an effect of the mental
exhilaration produced by the incident, and if so to what extent, I cannot say.
But she rallied quickly, hemorrhage completely stopped, and I added somewhat to
my reputation as a quack.
As for me, I was all the better for
the new denials. I never craved for the things I had left, the year sped away,
and I found the senses to be more subdued than ever. The experiment stimulated
the inclination for self-restraint, and I returned to India. Only once I
happened to take both the articles whilst I was in London in 1914. But of that
occasion, and as to how I resumed both, I shall speak in a later chapter.
I have tried the experiment of a
salt less and pulse less diet on many of my co-workers, and with good results in
South Africa. Medically there may be two opinions as to the value of this diet,
but morally I have no doubt that all self-denial is good for the soul. The diet
of a man of self-restraint must be different from that of a man of pleasure,
just as their ways of life must be different. Aspirants after brahmacharya often
defeat their own end by adopting courses suited to a life of pleasure.
[Source: This article is taken
from the book "The selected works of Mahatma Gandhi"
Autobiography-Vol. 1, Navneet Publications, Ahmedabad, India]