Non-violent Resistance Themes

This Study Guide consists of approximately 21 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Non-violent Resistance.
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Satyagraha literally means "holding firmly to the truth" in Sanskrit. It is the philosophy and practice of nonviolent resistance that Gandhi developed throughout his social activism. Satyagraha was used by Gandhi in fights against the injustices perpetrated on the Indian people by the British government and to fight for Indian independence from Britain.

For Gandhi, Satyagraha is the force of the truth; it is a form of active resistance that seeks not to get what one wants for oneself but to convert the opponent into another being of love. Gandhi does not think that the idea of Civil Disobedience fully expresses the idea of Satyagraha. It is the pursuit of truth that lies at the heart of Satyagraha and it also prevents inflicting violence. Satyagraha requires convincing the other of the truth through non-coercive means and self-suffering. One inflicts the suffering of falsehood on oneself to show the truth.

Gandhi's understanding of Satyagraha required various spiritual disciplines in order to purify the heart. All followers of Satyagraha, the Satyagrahis, must always obey the laws of the State, unless they are deeply unjust, even when they are inconvenient. Satyagrahis must always be willing to pay the penalty for breaking the law and be willing to suffer, lose property and endure allowing family and friends to struggle. Obedience must be done out of love, not out of grudging hatred.

Further, Satyagrahis must be totally non-violent, be honest, never steal, be chaste, possess very little, engage in bodily labor, control one's desire for food, be fearless, respect all religions equally, use boycotts and eliminate untouchability. Satyagrahis must also have a genuine faith in God and must wear the traditional khadi. They must abstain from all alcohol and drugs and must obey the rules of prison when they are imprisoned.


Ahimsa, in Sanskrit, means "to avoid violence." It is a concept often found in the religions originating in ancient India. Ahimsa condemns the killing or injuring of all living beings and is tied to the idea that using violence produces bad karma. Many practitioners of ahimsa differ as to how far it should be carried. Sometimes it applies to only humans, sometimes to animals and sometimes to all beings.

Gandhi applies ahimsa to political and spiritual action. Gandhi saw injustice all around him throughout most of his adult life. He understood that many people have different responses to injustice and wondered what his must be. Gandhi chose to practice Satyagraha by means of ahimsa. If Satyagraha is holding firmly to the truth and practicing total love for the other and unselfishness, then ahimsa is an interpretation of Satyagraha. It argues that the implication of holding firmly to truth and practicing total love for the other absolutely requires non-violence against any and all human beings.

Ahimsa deeply informs Gandhi's practices of civil disobedience. Ahimsa is the method of expressing Satyagraha and as a result, all civil disobedience must be done with the spirit of ahimsa and Satyagraha. Civil disobedience cannot be enacted for personal gain or out of anger, hatred or jealousy. Instead, it must be enacted to convert the opponent and to show him the way of love. Ahimsa demonstrates love because it refuses to use violence even in defense of one's own person.

Social Justice

Satyagraha and ahimsa are philosophies and practices for a whole life. However, they came to be known most clearly when Gandhi employed them in fights for social justice. The term "social justice" has varied meanings, but we can understand it as fighting for fair treatment of social groups. For instance, Hindu society notoriously orders persons according to caste.

The lowest caste, the untouchables or Dalits, are not distinguished by genes or phenotype yet they have been historically treated horrifically in Indian society. Gandhi fought to ensure that the Dalits would be treated equally by all and revolted against the caste system generally. This is a prime example of fighting for social justice. In other cases, Gandhi fought against excessive taxes, particularly on products used by the poor, such as salt. Thus, the Salt Satyagraha aimed to secure relief from taxation for the poor in their use of salt but was intended to symbolize a broader struggle for just treatment of the poor generally.

For Gandhi, the fight for social justice most clearly brings out the goodness in the practice of Satyagraha and ahimsa. This is because the fight for social justice is not only noble but brings great suffering on behalf of others. It is thereby an opportunity to show one's love and care for others and an opportunity to purify the soul through self-sacrifice. Thus, social justice is not only something fought for in the book but an opportunity to demonstrate the philosophy that the book was written to explain.

This section contains 796 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
Non-violent Resistance from BookRags. (c)2017 BookRags, Inc. All rights reserved.
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