Gandhi rarely spoke of rights, always opting in favor of duties from which our rights emerge. This, according to Sushila Nayyar, is due to the curious fact that Sanskrit has no word for “rights.” It is always a question of dharma, or duty. So when he did speak of rights, we have to listen carefully. He stood convinced that civil disobedience was “an inherent right of a citizen.” He contrasted civil disobedience with criminal disobedience where the former leads to greater humanization and truth, while the latter leads to more deception and dehumanization.
Gandhi said that if a State is unwilling to listen to the voice of public opinion, then civil disobedience is necessary; it is actually, in his words, “a sacred duty,” if the State is “lawless or corrupt.” He said to discern where to direct it with caution and wisdom, but never to question one’s right to offer it.
Such action, though it cannot harm individuals to whom it is offered because it is nonviolent (although those who offer it are given no such guarantees), will, nonetheless, be perceived as a threat to the status quo because the system will have to work not so much to silence people, but a growing conscience. It has to fight an emerging reality, a growing awareness, and that is a losing battle. If we have a conscience, personal or social, it must be for a purpose!
If you were to offer civil disobedience for a single issue today, what would it be and why? Take time to find out how to offer support to those who are already offering civil disobedience on your issue of choice.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org