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Satyagraha (Sanskrit: truth + path/way) is the philosophy of non-violent resistance most famously employed by Mohandas Gandhi in forcing an end to the British Raj. Translators have rendered the word satyagraha as "civil disobedience", "passive resistance", "truth force", or "the willingness to endure great personal suffering in order to do what's right". English-speakers may also use the term "non-violent protest".

Satyagraha demands:

  1. "Sat" - Truth; implying openness, honesty, and fairness.
  2. "Ahimsa" - refusal to inflict injury upon others.
  3. "Tapasya" - willingness for self-sacrifice.

Gandhi said:
In the application of Satyagraha, I discovered, in the earliest stages, that pursuit of Truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one's opponent, but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For, what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of Truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but one's own self.

Satyagraha and its off-shoots, non-co-operation and civil resistance, are nothing but new names for the law of suffering.

With satya combined with ahimsa, you can bring the world to your feet. Satyagraha in its essence is nothing but the introduction of truth and gentleness in the political, i.e., the national life.

Satyagraha is utter self-effacement, greatest humiliation, greatest patience and brightest faith. It is its own reward.

Satyagraha is a relentless search for truth and a determination to reach truth.

It is a force that works silently and apparently slowly. In reality, there is no force in the world that is so direct or so swift in working.

Satyagraha literally means insistence on truth. This insistence arms the votary with matchless power. This power or force is connoted by the word satyagraha. Satyagraha, to be genuine, may be offered against parents, against one's wife or one's children, against rulers, against fellow-citizens, even against the whole world.

Such a universal force necessarily makes no distinction between kinsmen and strangers, young and old, man and woman, friend and foe. The force to be so applied can never be physical. There is in it no room for violence. The only force of universal application can, therefore, be that of ahimsa or love. In other words, it is soul-force.

Love does not burn others, it burns itself. Therefore, a satyagrahi, i.e., a civil resister, will joyfully suffer even unto death.

It follows, therefore, that a civil resister, whilst he will strain every nerve to compass the end of the existing rule, will do no intentional injury in thought, word or deed to the person of a single Englishman. (emphasis added-- he then gave rules for civil resisters, which can be found in the civil disobedience article)

Gandhi repeatedly pointed out the differences between his ideas and the western ideas of passive resistance:

I have drawn the distinction between passive resistance as understood and practised in the West and satyagraha before I had evolved the doctrine of the latter to its full logical and spiritual extent. I often used 'passive resistance' and 'satyagraha' as synonymous terms: but as the doctrine of satyagraha developed, the expression 'passive resistance' ceases even to be synonymous, as passive resistance has admitted of violence as in the case of suffragettes and has been universally acknowledged to be a weapon of the weak. Moreover passive resistance does not necessarily involve complete adherence to truth under every circumstance. Therefore it is different from satyagraha in three essentials: Satyagraha is a weapon of the strong; it admits of no violence under any circumstance whatever; and it ever insists upon truth. I think I have now made the distinction perfectly clear. (emphasis added)


The movement of non-violent non-co-operation has nothing in common with the historical struggles for freedom in the West. It is not based on brute force or hatred. It does not aim at destroying the tyrant. It is a movement of self-purification. it therefore seeks to convert the tyrant. It may fail because India was not ready for mass non-violence. But it would be wrong to judge the movement by false standards. My own opinion is that the movement has in no ways failed. It has found an abiding place in India's struggle for freedom.

Although non-co-operation is one of the main weapons in the armoury of Satyagraha, it should not be forgotten that it is after all only a means to secure the co-operation of the opponent consistently with truth and justice. The essence of non-violent technique is that it seeks to liquidate antagonisms but not the antagonists themselves. In non-violent fight you have, to a certain measures, to conform to the tradition and conventions of the system you are pitted against. Avoidance of all relationship with the opposing power, therefore, can never be a Satyagrahi's object but transformation or purification of that relationship.

Civil disobedience is the inherent right of a citizen. He dare not give it up without ceasing to be a man. Civil disobedience is never followed by anarchy. Criminal disobedience can lead to it. Every state puts down criminal disobedience by force. It perishes if it does not.

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 laws are good and just and which unjust and iniquitous. Only then does the right accrue to him of civil disobedience of certain laws in well-defined circumstances.

Fasting is a potent weapon in the Satyagraha armoury. It cannot be taken by every one. Mere physical capacity to take it is no qualification for it. It is of no use without a living faith in God. It should never be a mechanical effort or a mere imitation. It must come from the depth of one's soul. It is, therefore, always rare.

I believe that every man and woman should learn the art of self-defence in this age. This is done through arms in the West. Every adult man is conscripted for army training for a definite period. The training for Satyagraha is meant for all, irrespective of age or sex. The more important part of the training here is mental, not physical. There can be no compulsion in mental training.