Satyāgraha (Sanskrit: सत्याग्रह; satya: "truth", āgraha: "insistence" or "holding firmly to"), or "holding firmly to truth", or "truth force", is a particular form of nonviolent resistance or civil resistance. Someone who practises satyagraha is a satyagrahi.
The term satyagraha was coined and developed by Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948), who practised satyagraha in the Indian independence movement and also during his earlier struggles in South Africa for Indian rights. Satyagraha theory influenced Martin Luther King Jr.'s and James Bevel's campaigns during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, as well as Nelson Mandela's struggle against apartheid in South Africa and many other social justice and similar movements.
Gandhi envisioned satyagraha as not only a tactic to be used in acute political struggle but as a universal solvent for injustice and harm.
He founded the Sabarmati Ashram to teach satyagraha. He asked satyagrahis to follow the following principles (Yamas described in Yoga Sutra):
Truth – this includes honesty, but goes beyond it to mean living fully in accord with and in devotion to that which is true
Non-possession (not the same as poverty)
Body-labour or bread-labour
Control of desires (gluttony)
Equal respect for all religions
Economic strategy such as boycotts of imported goods (swadeshi)
On another occasion, he listed these rules as "essential for every Satyagrahi in India":
Must have a living faith in God
Must be leading a chaste life and be willing to die or lose all his possessions
Must be a habitual khadi weaver and spinner
Must abstain from alcohol and other intoxicants
Rules for satyagraha campaigns
Gandhi proposed a series of rules for satyagrahis to follow in a resistance campaign:
Harbour no anger.
Suffer the anger of the opponent.
Never retaliate to assaults or punishment, but do not submit, out of fear of punishment or assault, to an order given in anger.
Voluntarily submit to arrest or confiscation of your own property.
If you are a trustee of property, defend that property (non-violently) from confiscation with your life.
Do not curse or swear.
Do not insult the opponent.
Neither salute nor insult the flag of your opponent or your opponent's leaders.
If anyone attempts to insult or assault your opponent, defend your opponent (non-violently) with your life.
As a prisoner, behave courteously and obey prison regulations (except any that are contrary to self-respect).
As a prisoner, do not ask for special favourable treatment.
As a prisoner, do not fast in an attempt to gain conveniences whose deprivation does not involve any injury to your self-respect.
Joyfully obey the orders of the leaders of the civil disobedience action.
Origin and meaning of name
The terms originated in a competition in the news-sheet Indian Opinion in South Africa in 1906. Mr. Maganlal Gandhi, grandson of an uncle of Mahatma Gandhi, came up with the word "Sadagraha" and won the prize. Subsequently, to make it clearer, Gandhi changed it to Satyagraha. "Satyagraha" is a tatpuruṣa compound of the Sanskrit words satya (meaning "truth") and āgraha ("polite insistence", or "holding firmly to"). Satya is derived from the word "sat", which means "being". Nothing is or exists in reality except Truth. In the context of satyagraha, Truth, therefore, includes a) Truth in speech, as opposed to falsehood, b) knowledge of what is real, as opposed to nonexistent (asat), and c) good as opposed to evil or bad. This was critical to Gandhi's understanding of and faith in nonviolence: "The world rests upon the bedrock of satya or truth. Asatya, meaning untruth, also means nonexistent, and satya or truth, also means that which is. If untruth does not so much as exist, its victory is out of the question. And truth being that which is, can never be destroyed. This is the doctrine of satyagraha in a nutshell." For Gandhi, satyagraha went far beyond mere "passive resistance" and became strength in practising non-violent methods. In his words:
Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement Satyagraha, that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase "passive resistance", in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word "satyagraha" itself or some other equivalent English phrase.
In September 1935, in a letter to P. Kodanda Rao, Servants of India Society, Gandhi disputed the proposition that his idea of civil disobedience was adapted from the writings of Henry David Thoreau, especially the essay Civil Disobedience published in 1849.
The statement that I had derived my idea of civil disobedience from the writings of Thoreau is wrong. The resistance to authority in South Africa was well advanced before I got the essay of Thoreau on civil disobedience. But the movement was then known as passive resistance. As it was incomplete, I had coined the word satyagraha for the Gujarati readers. When I saw the title of Thoreau’s great essay, I began the use of his phrase to explain our struggle to the English readers. But I found that even civil disobedience failed to convey the full meaning of the struggle. I therefore adopted the phrase civil resistance. Non-violence was always an integral part of our struggle."
Gandhi described it as follows:
Its root meaning is holding on to truth, hence truth-force. I have also called it love-force or soul-force. 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 compassion. 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 on oneself.