No Salvation For India Is A Plea For India To Retrieve Its Own Language, Culture And Independence After Years Of British Rule
The speech from which these extracts are taken was given on 4 February 1916 at Benares Hindu University. It illustrates Gandhi’s early thoughts on India’s need to gain independence from British rule. His beliefs led to his repeated imprisonment before independence was finally achieved in 1947. This, together with his self-sacrificing lifestyle, work for religious unity and championing of the rights of the poor, earned him the title Mahatma (‘great soul’).
Married by arrangement at the age of 1 3, Gandhi went to London to study law and was admitted to the Bar in 1891. In 1893 he joined an Indian firm in South Africa, where he stayed until 1914. During his time there he organized fellow Indians passively to resist discriminatory laws against them.
Born in India in 1869, Mohandas Gandhi cited his mother, a keen follower of jainist beliefs in the importance of non-violence and vegetarianism, as the biggest influence on him. He described her life as ‘an endless chain of fasts and vows’.
Through reading Thoreau, Tolstoy, the New Testament and the Hindu scriptures, Gandhi developed a creed of non-violent resistance known as satyagraha (,steadfastness in truth’). He believed that truth was vindicated not by inflicting suffering on one’s opponent but on oneself and that the opponent must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. This was more than passive resistance because it depended upon a positive and continuous interaction between the two parties with the aim of reconciliation. Gandhi was very concerned about how to bring about change and always put as much stress on the means as on the end.
Gandhi returned to India in 1914 and rapidly became known as a champion for people’s rights. Initially he believed the British were a force for good. However, as vague promises for self-government given during World War I were not kept, and Indian people were oppressed by emergency war restrictions on liberties, he began to start training people in civil disobedience tactics.
He organised resistance against unpopular British measures such as the Salt Tax in 1930 and led a boycott of British goods. He was repeatedly imprisoned by the British but continued to protest, demanding the total withdrawal of the British in the Quit India Movement during World War II. He also worked hard to improve the status of the harijans (untouchables) and tried to create closer bonds between Muslims and Hindus.
When independence was finally achieved in 1947, following negotiations in which he took a major part, Gandhi was downcast by the outbreak of violence between Hindus and Muslims and prepared to fast until death in protest. His action worked and fighting stopped. However, at a prayer meeting in January 1948 Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu extremist.
Gandhi spent 2,338 days in jail and fasted on many occasions. He left a legacy of non-violent teachings that influenced political activists around the world, including Martin Luther King Jr.
‘ … It is a matter of deep humiliation and shame for us that I am compelled this evening under the shadow of this great college, in this sacred city, to address my countrymen in a language that is foreign to me .
… I was present at the sessions of the great Congress in the month of December.
There was a much vaster audience, and will you believe me when I tell you that the only speeches that touched the huge audience in Bombay were the speeches that were delivered in Hindustani? In Bombay, mind you, not in Benaras where everybody speaks Hindi. But between the vernaculars of the Bombay Presidency on the one hand and Hindi on the other, no such great dividing line exists as there does between English and the sister language of India; and the Congress audience was better able to follow the speakers in Hindi. I am hoping that this University will see to it that the youths who come to it will receive their instruction through the medium of their vernaculars. Our languages [are] the reflection of ourselves, and if you tell me that our languages are too poor to express the best thought, they say that the sooner we are wiped out of existence the better for us. Is there a man who dreams that English can ever become the national language of India? Why this handicap on the nation? Just consider for one moment what an equal race our lads have to run with every English lad.
‘Our languages [are] the reflection of ourselves,’
… The charge against us is that we have no initiative. How can we have any, if we are to devote the precious years of our life to the mastery of a foreign tongue!
… The only education we receive is English education. Surely we must show something for it. But suppose that we had been receiving during the past fifty years education through our vernaculars, what should we have today? We should have today a free India, we should have our educated men, not as if they were foreigners in their own land but speaking to the heart of the nation; they would be working amongst the poorest of the poor, and whatever they would have gained during these fifty years would be a heritage for the nation. Today even our wives are not the sharers in our best thought …
‘I am laying my heart bare.’
… I have turned the searchlight all over, and as you have given me the privilege of speaking to you, I am laying my heart bare. Surely we must set these things right in our progress towards self-government. I now introduce you to another scene. His Highness the Maharaja who presided yesterday over our deliberations spoke about the poverty of India. Other speakers laid great stress upon it. But what did we witness in the great pandal in which the foundation ceremony was performed by the Viceroy? Certainly a most gorgeous show, an exhibition of jewellery, which made a splendid feast for the eyes of the greatest jeweller who chose to come from Paris. I compare with the richly bedecked noble men the millions of the poor. And I feel like saying to these noble men, ‘There is no salvation for India unless you strip yourselves of this jewellery and hold it in trust for your countrymen in India’. I am sure it is not the desire of the King- Emperor or Lord Hardinge that in order to show the truest loyalty to our King- Emperor, it is necessary for us to ransack our jewellery boxes and to appear bedecked from top to toe. I would undertake, at the peril of my life, to bring to you a message from King George himself that he expects nothing of the kind.
Sir, whenever I hear of a great palace rising in any great city of India, be it in British India or be it in India which is ruled by our great chiefs, I become jealous at once, and say, ‘Oh, it is the money that has come from the agriculturists’.
Over seventy-five per cent of the population are agriculturists and Mr Higginbotham told us last night in his own felicitous language, that they are the
men who grow two blades of grass in the place of one. But there cannot be much spirit of self-government about us, if we take away or allow others to take away from them almost the whole of the results of their labour. Our salvation can only come through the farmer. Neither the lawyers, nor the doctors, nor the rich landlords are going to secure it.