By M. K. Gandhi
(M. K. Gandhi, called "Mahatma" or "great soul" by his countrymen, in counselling his millions of followers to carry out his plans of a "peaceful revolt" in India, warned them that they must be prepared to suffer imprisonment and even death without thought of retaliation. Such was his influence and the inspiration of his example, that tens of thousands endured imprisonment for the cause. In the following article, Gandhi explains his attitude toward jail-life.)
Mrs. Annie Besant writes the following appreciation of Gandhi: "Among us, as I write, is dwelling for brief space, one whose presence is a benediction, and whose feet sanctify every house into which he enters—Gandhi, our Martyr and Saint. He, too, by strange ways was led into circumstances in which alone could flower ...all that he brought with him of patient, unwearying courage that naught might daught; unselfishness that found its joy in sacrifice; endurance so sweetly gentle ....that its power was not readily understood. As I stood for a moment facing him, hand clasped in hand, I saw in him that deathless Spirit which redeems by suffering, and in death —wins life for others. One of those marked out for the high service ...of becoming Saviours and Helpers of humanity. I, who tread the path of the warrior, not that of the Saint ...who battle against enthroned injustice by assault, not by meekness ...I recognize in this man, so frail and yet so mighty, one of those whose names live in history. Among those of whom it is said, 'He saved others; himself he could not save.'"
Mrs. Sarojini Naidu writes of Mrs. Gandhi: "She sat by her husband's side ...simple, serene and dignified in the hour of triumph ...as she had proved herself simple, serene and dauntless in the hour of trial and tragedy. I have a vision, too, of her brave, frail, paint-worn hand ...which must have held aloft the lamp of her country's honor, undimmed in an alien land, working at rough garmnets for wounded soldiers in another.
"Gandhi, who, to quote Mr. Gokhale's apt phrase, 'had moulded heroes out of clay,' was reclining on the floor, eating his frugal meal of nuts and fruits (which I shared), and his wife was busy and content ...as though she were a mere modest housewife, absorbed in a hundred details of household service, and not the world-famed heroine of a hundred noble sufferings ...in a nation's cause.")
The one view is, why should one go to jail and there submit himself to all personal restraints. A place where he would have to dress himself in the coarse and ugly prison garb of a felon and to live upon non-nutritious and semi-starvation diet; where he is sometimes kicked about by jail officials, and made to do every kind of work whether he liked it or not; where he has to carry out the behests of a warder who is no better than his household servant; where he is not allowed to receive the visits of his friends and relatives and is prohibited from writing to them; where he is denied almost the bare necessities of life and is sometimes obliged to sleep in the same cell that is occupied by actual thieves and robbers. The question is, why should one undergo such trials and sufferings? "Better is death than life under such conditions. Far better to pay up the fine than to be thus incarcerated. May God spare his creatures from such sufferings in jail." Such thoughts make one really a coward ...and being in constant dread of a jail life, deter him from undertaking to perform services in the interests of his country ...which might otherwise prove very valuable.
The other view, is that it would be the height of one's good fortune to be in jail in the interests and good name of one's country and religion. There, there is very little of that misery which he has usually to undergo in daily life. There he has to carry out the orders of one warder only, whereas in daily life he is obliged to carry out the behests of a great many more. In the jail, he has no anxiety to earn his daily bread and to prepare his meals. The Government sees to all that. It also looks after his health, for which he has to pay nothing. He gets enough work to exercise his body. He is freed from all his vicious habits. His soul is thus free. He has plenty of time at his disposal to pray to God. His body is restrained, but not his soul. He learns to be more regular in his habits. Those who keep his body in restraint, look after it. Taking this view of jail life, he feels himself quite a free being. If any misfortune comes to him or any wicked warder happens to use any violence towards him, he learns to appreciate and exercise patience, and is pleased to have an opportunity of keeping control over himself. Those who think this way are sure to be convinced that even jail life can be attended with blessings. It solely rests with individuals and their mental attitude to make it one of blessing or otherwise.
Placed in a similar position for refusing his poll-tax, the American citizen, Thoreau, expressed similar thoughts in 1819. Seeing the walls of the cell in which he was confined, made of solid stone two or three feet thick, and the door of wood and iron a foot thick, he said to himself thus:
"I saw that, even if there was a wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was a still more difficult one to climb or break through before they could get to be as free as I was. I did not feel for a moment confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar. I felt as if I alone of all my townsmen had paid my tax. They plainly did not know how to treat me, but behaved like persons who are underbred. In every threat and in every compliment there was a blunder; for they thought that my chief desire was to stand the other side of the stone-wall. I could not but smile to see how industriously they locked the door on my meditations, which followed them out again without let or hindrance, and they were nearly all that was dangerous. As they could not reach me, they had resolved to punish my body; just as boys —if they cannot come to some person against whom they have a spite, will abuse his dog. I saw that the State was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and I lost all my remaining respect for it and pitied it."
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