Friday, October 2, 2009


It is customary on birth and death anniversaries of great men, to remember them. Here is an attempt to remember what inspired the greatness in that man. For a man is but his beliefs, ideals, principles, faiths and convictions.

Mahatma Gandhi, whose relevance to the world today keep increasing by the day (contrary to what most believe of this man and his thought and revel in painting him either as a hero to be worshipped or a villain to be whipped without ever getting to know what he said or did), did not become what he became overnight. He was inspired by the life and works of many great men before him. The most important were the literature of Leo Tolstoy (his later works as a seer), Ralph Waldo Emerson and most specifically, Henry David Thoreau.

It was one simple essay written by H D Thoreau that inspired Gandhi to launch a silent attack on an empire, rather a system of subjugation, whose result, this so called freedom, we so conveniently enjoy for our pleasurable pursuits. This essay was called, 'Civil Disobedience'.

H D Thoreau was a seer, for the simple reason that his writings, especially this essay, has not lost its power. Indeed, it has gained more power and relevance in a world where individual freedom is blindly being sacrificed for a weird notion of collective security. And while for Gandhi, and India then, the 'enemy' was visible to the naked eye, he had white skin, and was British (prejudiced, yes, for many whites did do greater things for India then, then most Indians do even today) and his sole purpose was capitalistic interest, it is not so today. Though the notion of capitalistic interest remain. We are being plunged into a slavery a subjugation of the mind right before our eyes by giant corporations ruled by men whose only interest is them and their kin, and politicians who tow their lines for the same reason, and us - whom they have brought over to their side by materialistic toys, most of which we can easily live without, as so easily demonstrated by Mahatma Gandhi, and of course, Thoreau (read 'Walden', another of Gandhi's favourite).

Today governments across the world, especially those that are more materialistic and capitalistic than ours e.g. North America and Europe, are run by men and women with no interest or even patience to really work for the good of their people, but who borrow clichés common with the masses and use it for their own selfish interests. Some of those clichés are industry, education, luxury, security, terrorism, religion, capital increase, employment generation etc.

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, read this essay and try to see what is happening around you. Go beyond the clichés in your own head and you'll probably see that the fight for true independence the world over has only just begun. Mahatma Gandhi was one of the rare breed of men in this world, who fought not just for freedom, but true independence of the human mind and spirit, where - like Tagore said - 'The mind is without fear, and the head is held high...'

This essay, though many would consider it impractical today, is still the first touch that drives men and women across the world, to become activists, lovers of justice and simply someone who merely wants to better the world they have inherited.

You can read the essay by simply typing 'Thoreau Civil Disobedience' on Google. I will however, present a few excerpts. Or you can click here.


I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe--"That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it.

I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.

A wise man will only be useful as a man, and will not submit to be "clay," and "stop a hole to keep the wind away," but leave that office to his dust at least:

"I am too high born to be propertied,
                To be a second at control,
                Or useful serving-man and instrument
                To any sovereign state throughout the world."

The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it. (Think NAZI Germany)

Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was. It not only divided States and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine.  

Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. (Think Dr. Binayak Sen)

"If a state is governed by the principles of reason, poverty and misery are subjects of shame

Thus the state never intentionally confronts a man's sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I.

I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man a musket to shoot one with--the dollar is innocent--but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I will still make use and get what advantages of her I can, as is usual in such cases.

No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America. They are rare in the history of the world. There are orators, politicians, and eloquent men, by the thousand; but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence for its own sake, and not for any truth which it may utter, or any heroism it may inspire.

I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.


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