The term Satyagraha was coined by Gandhiji to express the nature of non-violent direct action of the Indians in South Africa against the racial policy of the Government there. He was especially anxious to distinguish Satyagraha from Passive Resistance.
The literal meaning of Satyagraha is “holding on to truth.” Thus Satyagraha is the relentless pursuit of truthful ends through non-violent means. It is nothing but tapasya for truth. It is the vindication of truth, not by inflicting suffering on the opponent but on one’s own self.
Satyagraha as distinguished from passive resistance:
Both Satyagraha and Passive Resistance are methods for meeting aggression and settling conflicts. The difference between the two is that Passive Resistance as practiced by non Conformists in England and the Germans in Ruhr against the French, was a political weapon of expediency whereas Satyagraha is an oral weapon based on the superiority of soul- force or love-force over physical force. Passive Resistance is the weapon of the weak while Satyagraha can be practised only by the bravest who have the courage to die without killing.
While in Passive Resistance, the aim is to embarrass the opponent into submission; the aim of Satyagraha is to wean the opponent from error by love and patient suffering. While in Passive Resistance, there is no place for love for the opponent; in Satyagraha, there is no room for ill-will and hatred and the like. Thus Passive Resistance is static; Satyagraha is dynamic. While Passive Resistance is a negative approach; Satyagraha is positive in content.
Passive Resistance does not exclude the possibility of violent methods; Satyagraha on the other hand does not permit violence in any form or shape. While Passive Resistance is offered in a spirit of weakness, Satyagraha is offered in a spirit of strength. There is nothing passive about Satyagraha, on the other hand it is active, pure and simple. While Satyagraha emphasizes internal strength of character; Passive Resistance does not lay emphasis on the moral stature of the resisters.
Passive resistance and non-resistance:
Passive Resistance and non-resistance must be distinguished. Whereas the former is more active and even aggressive, non-resistance is essentially one of submission and of passive suffering.
Universal application of Satyagraha:
All through the ages, nonviolent Satyagraha has been used for settling family disputes, Gandhiji applied these rules of domestic life to various spheres of group life. By his life-long experimentation, he applied this technique for solving major conflicts and as moral equivalent of war.
According to Gandhiji “It is a force which can be used by individuals in their domestic affairs, in relation to children, parents, friends and even criminals. It can be used for the solution of social and political problems of national or international nature”.
He said, “For me the law of Satyagraha, the law of love, is an eternal principle. I cooperate with all that is good. I desire to non- cooperate with all that is evil whether it is associated with my wife, son or myself.” He wanted to practise the spirit of non-violence in thought, word and deed in all walks of life.
“The alphabet of non-violence or Ahimsa is best learnt in the domestic school and I can say from experience that i f we secure success there, we are sure to do so everywhere. For a nonviolent person, the whole world is one family.” Gandhiji asserts that public Satyagraha, is only an extension of private or domestic Satyagraha. To a Satyagrahi, every one is a friend or brother.
A Satyagrahi only acts against the evil and not against the evil-doer since evil doer is only a person. There is thus no hatred for that person but aversion only to his wrong action.
A new orientation of an old philosophy:
The concept of Satyagraha is as old as hills. The Upanishads declare that the entire world rests on the bed rock of Satya or truth. Budha gave to the mankind the message of Ahimsa and declared that hatred could be overcome not by hatred but by love. Mahavira declared Ahimsa Parmo Dharma as the highest form of religion. Jesus Christ extolled the importance of Ahimsa.
He said, “Resist no evil; whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Mythological stories of Bhagat Prahlad and Raja Harishchandra in India and philosophy of Socrates were based on perfect Satyagraha. Thus we find that Satyagraha has a long history and background.
Gandhiji only gave this concept a new shape and philosophy. He said in the Harijan of 28th March, 1936. “I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine, I have simply tried in my own way to apply this eternal principle to our daily life and problems. Truth and non-violence are as old as hills. All I have done is to try experiments on as vast a scale as I could.”