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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

My God, It Would Terrify Them!

The law is due to take effect from April sixth. I want to call on the nation to make that a day of prayer and fasting.

 - Gandhi (1982)

Sure, let's kick it old school and revisit Pax Americana and the Methods.  Here's 118. Hartal (combination of strike/economic closure):

The hartal is an Indian method of nonviolent action in which the economic life of an area is temporarily suspended on a voluntary basis in order to demonstrate extreme dissatisfaction with some event, policy, or condition.  It is not used to wield economic influence, but to communicate sorrow, determination, revulsion, or moral or religious feelings about the matter in question.  Although the form of this method is largely economic, the effect is one of symbolic protest.

The hartal is usually limited to a duration of twenty-four hours; it may rarely be extended to forty-eight hours or even longer in an extremely serious case.  The hartalis usually city-wide or village-wide, although it may occur over a more extended area, including the whole nation.  Generally speaking, there is greater emphasis in thehartal than in the general strike on its voluntary nature, even to the point of laborers abstaining from work only after obtaining permission from their employers.  Also, shop owners and businessmen fully participate by closing their establishments and factories.

This is one of the forms of nonviolent action known to ancient India, where it was used against the prince or king to make him aware of the unpopularity of a certain edict or other government measure.  The hartal is also used at a time of national mourning.

Gandhi employed this ancient method in resistance movements he led.  He often used the hartal at the beginning of a struggle with the intent of purifying the participants in the struggle, of testing their feelings on the issue, and arousing the imagination of the people and the opponent.  It was used, for example, at the beginning of the nationwide satyagraha campaign in India against the Rowlatt Bills in 1919, and at the beginning of and during the 1930-31 satyagraha campaign for independence, especially to protest the arrest of important leaders.

Bapu wrote a letter to the press suggesting hartal to protest The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act on March 23, 1919:

Satyagraha...is a process of purification and penance. It seeks to secure reforms or redress of grievances by self-suffering. I therefore venture to suggest that [6th April] may be observed as a day of humiliation and prayer. As there must be an effective public demonstration in keeping with the character of the observance, I beg to advise as follows:

(i) A twenty-four hours’ fast counting from the last meal on the preceding night should be observed by all adults, unless prevented from so doing by consideration of religion or health. The fast is not to be regarded, in any shape or form, in the nature of a hunger-strike, or as designed to put any pressure upon the Government. It is to be regarded, for the satyagrahis, as the necessary discipline to fit them for civil disobedience, contemplated in their Pledge, and for all others, as some slight token of the intensity of their wounded feelings.

(ii) All work, except such as may be necessary in the public interest, should be suspended for the day. Markets and other business places should be closed. Employees who are required to work even on Sundays may only suspend work after obtaining previous leave.

I do not hesitate to recommend these two suggestions for adoption by public servants. For though it is unquestionably the right thing for them not to take part in political discussions and gatherings, in my opinion they have an undoubted right to express upon vital matters their feelings in the very limited manner herein suggested.

(iii) Public meetings should be held on that day in all parts of India, not excluding villages, at which resolution praying for the withdrawal of the two measures should be passed.

In some places, things got out of hand, and Gandhi wrote later:

[I]t suddenly dawned upon me that I had committed a grave error in calling upon the people in the Kheda district and elsewhere to launch upon civil disobedience prematurely, as it now seemed to me. I was addressing a public meeting. My confession brought down upon me no small amount of ridicule.

But I have never regretted having made that confession. For I have always held that it is only when one sees one's own mistakes with a convex lens, and does just the reverse in the case of others, that one is able to arrive at a just relative estimate of the two.

I further believe that a scrupulous and conscientious observance of this rule is necessary for one who wants to be a Satyagrahi. Let us now see what that Himalayan miscalculation was. Before one can be fit for the practice of civil disobedience one must have rendered a willing and respectful obedience to the state laws. For the most part we obey such laws out of fear of the penalty for their breach, and this holds good particularly in respect of such laws as do not involve a moral principle.

For instance, an honest, respectable man will not suddenly take to stealing, whether there is a law against stealing or not, but this very man will not feel any remorse for failure to observe the rule about carrying head-lights on bicycles after dark. Indeed it is doubtful whether he would even accept advice kindly about being more careful in this respect. But he would observe any obligatory rule of this kind, if only to escape the inconvenience of facing a prosecution for a breach of the rule.

Such compliance is not, however, the willing and spontaneous obedience that is required of a Satyagrahi. A Satyagrahi obeys the laws of society intelligently and of his own free will, because he considers it to be his sacred duty to do so. It is only when a person has thus obeyed the laws of society scrupulously that he is in a position to judge as to which particular rules are good and just and which injust and iniquitous. Only then does the right accrue to him of the civil disobedience of certain laws in well-defined circumstances.

My error lay in my failure to observe this necessary limitation. I had called on the people to launch upon civil disobedience before they had thus qualified themselves for it, and this mistake seemed to me of Himalayan magnitude.

There's a subtlety that's oft missed...


April 6, 2016 in Pax Americana | Permalink


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