I thought the best way to commemorate this occasion would be to share an excerpt from my favourite speech by the Father of the Nation
. It was delivered on 18 March 1922 at Ahmedabad Sessions Court
where Gandhi pleaded guilty to the charge of “bringing or attempting to excite disaffection towards His Majesty’s Government", an offence punishable under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code
. The offence arose from three articles written by Gandhi in his weekly journal Young India
. The speech formed part of Gandhi's oral and written statement to the court on the question of sentence. Gandhi represented himself but it mattered little as he did not seek to defend himself against the charges. For those of you who have seen Richard Attenborough's
Oscar winning movie, Gandhi
, starring Ben Kingsley
as the Mahatma
, you may recall a truncated though moving court scene in which the presiding judge (an Englishman) imposes the maximum penalty of six years for sedition, with the caveat that if at some future date His Majesty's Government saw fit to reduce the term, "no one would be better pleased than I". Gandhi's greatness lay in the fact that he submitted to the full force of English law while pursuing his fight for independence by preaching nothing but non-violence and non-cooperation. As Albert Einstein once said, "Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth."
"Section 124 A, under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite to violence. But the section under which mere promotion of disaffection is a crime. I have studied some of the cases tried under it; I know that some of the most loved of India’s patriots have been convicted under it. I consider it a privilege, therefore, to be charged under that section. I have endeavored to give in their briefest outline the reasons for my disaffection. I have no personal ill-will against any single administrator, much less can I have any disaffection towards the King’s person. But I hold it to be a virtue to be disaffected towards a Government which in its totality has done more harm to India than any previous system. India is less manly under the British rule than she ever was before. Holding such a belief, I consider it to be a sin to have affection for the system. And it has been a precious privilege for me to be able to write what I have in the various articles tendered in evidence against me.
In fact, I believe that I have rendered a service to India and England by showing in non-co-operation the way out of the unnatural state in which both are living. In my opinion, non-co-operation with evil is as much a duty as is co-operation with good. But in the past, non-co-operation has been deliberately expressed in violence to the evil-doer. I am endeavoring to show to my countrymen that violent non-co-operation only multiples evil, and that as evil can only be sustained by violence, withdrawal of support of evil requires complete abstention from violence. Non-violence implies voluntary submission to the penalty for non-co-operation with evil. I am here, therefore, to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is deliberate crime, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen. The only course open to you, the Judge and the assessors, is either to resign your posts and thus dissociate yourselves from evil, if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is an evil, and that in reality I am innocent, or to inflict on me the severest penalty, if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of this country, and that my activity is, therefore, injurious to the common weal." (Source)
I think one can draw parallels between Gandhi and America's Founding Fathers, both of whom held a deep reverence for English common law, yet felt successive English governments had abused the principles upon which the English constitution was based, to a point beyond repair both in America and in India. Indeed until the Amritsar Massacre
of 1919, Gandhi accepted British rule in India. But the sequence of events leading up to the massacre convinced him, like similar events in America in the 18th century, that India would be better-off without the British. Independence arrived nearly thirty years later. Less than six months later Bapu
died. I leave you with the words of American journalist, Edward R Murrow
, "Mahatma Gandhi was not a commander of great armies nor ruler of vast lands. He could boast no scientific achievements or artistic gift. [He] died as he had always lived - a private man without wealth, without property, without official title or office."