Satyagraha Stratagem


Satyagraha Stratagem

Thoughts on satyāgraha as a stratagem for peace 


Mandela invoked Gandhi’s nonviolent campaigns as a reference for mass action — up to a point. He noted:

“I called for nonviolent protest for as long as it was effective.”

— Roger Cohen, The New York Times, December 12, 2013

Frugalis in Latin means “frugal” and satyāgraha in Sanskrit means “insistence on truth” (Satyā means “truth” and Agraha means “insistence”), often as it related to civil disobedience or non-violent resistance.For Gandhi, the ultimate symbol of frugalis was the khādī, the Indian homespun cotton cloth which was a satyāgraha, a non-violent protest against the exploitative British Empire’s Lancashire cotton mills from which Indians were coerced into purchasing high-priced manufactured cotton.


Arriving here just as Nelson Mandela died, almost a century after Gandhi ended his 21-year sojourn in South Africa and left for India, it was inevitable that the anti-colonialist giants of the 20th century would entwine themselves in my mind.

Gandhi branded with the racist insult of “coolie lawyer” in South Africa; Mandela thrown into the same Johannesburg prison as Gandhi before him; both arriving by different roads at an idea put this way by Gandhi in his autobiography: “When we come to think of it, the distinction between heterogeneous and homogeneous is discovered to be merely imaginary. We are all one family.”

Such was the crucible that forged Gandhi and Mandela, captains of their souls who ceased to play the ruled and so captured the imagination of worlds they changed. Their nations, not for nothing, are two of the most hopeful on earth.

— Roger Cohen, The New York Times, December 12, 2013


Thoreau was one of the greatest and most moral men America has produced.

— Mohandas K. Gandhi

The Transmission of Ideas

Consider the transmission of ideas in context of Thoreau:

Henry David Thoreau’s “transmission of ideas” found their way to the minds and activities of Mohandas Ghandi in India, Martin Luther King Jr. in America, Lech Walesa in the Gdansk shipyards in Poland, Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

It appears from Thoreau’s example, that when the transmission of ideas are in excellent working order, there is fluid mobility in civilizations. If civilizations are the vehicles, then transmitted ideas are transmissions. Just like with our own cars, when the transmission breaks down we need a repair job – or a new car.

In countries where there is no longer a fully functioning transmission of ideas, the country breaks down. It splutters to a screeching halt. It can then either sit by the road, get sent to the scrap heap, or, get fixed   – get a new government, a new country.

Without a transmission there is no (socio-economic) mobility.

Transmission: an assembly of parts including the speed-changing gears and the propeller shaft by which the power is transmitted from an engine to a live axle. — Mirriam-Webster Dictionary


Loom and Weaver by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

For Gandhi, the frugalis spinning wheel symbolized the satyagraha

– a stratagem for the transmission that would mobilize all of India


Gandhi relevant to entire world: Walesa

New Delhi, Jan 29: Nobel Laureate Lech Walesa today said the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi was not confined to India or South Africa alone, but the apostle of peace was relevant to the entire world.

“Do not limit Mahatma Gandhi to India and South Africa, because he is relevant throughout the world,” he observed while speaking on the first day of the two-day international conference on the Satyagraha Movement, organised by the Congress here.

Calling himself a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, Mr Walesa said, “I consider myself as the follower of the Mahatma.” The Nobel Laureate felt that the Gandhian philosophy and his legacy could be used to end the divisions prevailing in the world for a lasting peace and to make the globalisation a success.

Stating that the world faced many new challenges, he said the solutions of them could be found in the adoption of Gandhian values and principles.


Frugality is not poverty

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was careful to differentiate between frugality and poverty.

He was also careful to differentiate between education that can be obtained in the classroom and the wisdom that can be gained from the living of life. I asked Lisa Trivedi if she could help clarify these differentiations that Gandhi made, in the context of her Fullbright Scholarship sponsored research on women textile workers during the time that Gandhi was alive.

Below is Lisa’s bio and her response to me.

About Lisa Trivedi

Lisa Trivedi is Associate Professor and Director of Asian Studies at Hamilton College, New York, where she teaches the histories of South Asia, comparative colonialism and women.

Clothing Gandhi’s Nation: Homespun and Modern India   (Indiana University Press, 2007) is Trivedi’s first book. She has also authored several articles in journals and edited collections. Trivedi is now working on a book titled, Bound By Cloth: women industrial textile workers in Bombay and Lancashire, 1860-1940, which was awarded grants from the Fulbright Foundation and the American Institute of Indian Studies.

Most recently, she has begun studying a remarkable collection of photographs of women working in Ahmedabad, India, in 1937 taken by Pranlal Patel. Her work with this collection will lead to an exhibition and book. In addition to her work at Hamilton, Trivedi has contributed to her field in several leadership capacities. She currently serves as Co-Editor of ASIANetwork Exchange: a Journal for Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts. She has served on the Board of ASIANetwork,  a consortium of 165 liberal arts colleges with Asian Studies programs.

Lisa’s Response to Karim

Gandhi wearing homespun and visiting the UK cotton mills during his satyagraha (non-violent protest)

In my ongoing research on women textile workers between 1860-1940, I am discovering more and more how savvy mill women were.  Although government officials and social reformers understood them as impoverished and, therefore, without access to healthful food, women workers deployed their meager income strategically in the marketplace to secure a range of foods than we might have thought possible.

They may not have had the same choices to make as their middle class counter-parts, but they may have made good choices with their limited resources nonetheless.


Women workers may have been frugal, but they were not impoverished in terms of their ability to navigate the limited choices in their best interests. This is prompting me to recognize anew two related ideas:

  • an ordinary Indian today, though she is likely illiterate, has far more wisdom then we give her credit
  • our education does not necessarily mean we make decisions that are ultimately in our best interest

I am reminded about Gandhi’s simple but startling observation that frugality is not the same as poverty, and that the rich should live simply so that the poor can simply live.


— Professor Lisa Trivedi

Once we break down our presumptions about frugality and education, we are in a much better position to address issues such as economic development and the real challenges that working women face today.

by Karim