4 Rare Letters Gandhi Wrote During India’s Freedom Struggle

4 Rare Letters Gandhi Wrote During India’s Freedom Struggle
Margaret Bourke-White

‘Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.’ - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Between unending lauds and accolades, the Father of our nation has been accused of everything from hyper-sexuality to misogyny. We may never know all there is to know about Mahatma Gandhi but perhaps that is where the beauty lies. While the possibility of truth in all the accusations may have precedence, there is one truth few historians or critics can take away from him and that is his position as the leader of India’s fight for freedom.

These letters, penned by Gandhi during one of the country’s most intense struggles for independent reign, provide the kind of insight into his mind that chronologically-compiled history books just cannot convey. This was a complex, far-thinking man, without whom India’s current situation might have been very different and the manner in which he expressed himself is telling of a gentleness with which belies the term ‘freedom fighter.’

I. M.K. Gandhi’s letter to Adolf Hitler

Subject: An unadulterated plea to convert Hitler into a non-violent protagonist, against his chosen targeted community, the Jews.

As at Wardha,

December 24, 1940

Dear friend,
That I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes. My business in life has been for the past 33 years to enlist the friendship of the whole of humanity by befriending mankind, irrespective of race, colour or creed.

I hope you will have the time and desire to know how a good portion of humanity living under the influence of that doctrine of universal friendship view your action. We have no doubt about your bravery or devotion to your fatherland, nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents. But your own writings and pronouncements and those of your friends and admirers leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity, especially in the estimation of men like me who believe in universal friendliness. Such are your humiliation of Czechoslovakia, the rape of Poland and the swallowing of Denmark. I am aware that your view of life regards such spoliations as virtuous acts. But we have been taught from childhood to regard them as acts degrading humanity. Hence, we cannot possibly wish success to your arms.

But ours is a unique position. We resist British Imperialism no less than Nazism. If there is a difference, it is in degree. One-fifth of the human race has been brought under the British heel by means that will not bear scrutiny. Our resistance to it does not mean harm to the British people. We seek to convert them, not to defeat them on the battle-field. Ours is an unarmed revolt against the British rule. But whether we convert them or not, we are determined to make their rule impossible by non-violent non-co-operation. It is a method in its nature indefensible. It is based on the knowledge that no spoliator can compass his end without a certain degree of co-operation, willing or compulsory, of the victim. Our rulers may have our land and bodies but not our souls. They can have the former only by complete destruction of every Indian—man, woman and child. That all may not rise to that degree of heroism and that a fair amount of frightfulness can bend the back of revolt is true, but the argument would be beside the point. For, if a fair number of men and women be found in India who would be prepared without any ill will against the spoliators to lay down their lives rather than bend the knee to them, they would have shown the way to freedom from the tyranny of violence. I ask you to believe me when I say that you will find an unexpected number of such men and women in India. They have been having that training for the past 20 years.

We have been trying for the past half a century to throw off the British rule. The movement of independence has been never so strong as it is now. The most powerful political organization, I mean the Indian National Congress, is trying to achieve this end. We have attained a very fair measure of success through non-violent effort. We were groping for the right means to combat the most organized violence in the world which the British power represents. You have challenged it. It remains to be seen which is the better organized, the German or the British. We know what the British heel means for us and the non-European races of the world. But we would never wish to end the British rule with German aid. We have found in non-violence a force which, if organized, can without doubt match itself against a combination of all the most violent forces in the world. In non-violent technique, as I have said, there is no such thing as defeat. It is all ‘do or die’ without killing or hurting. It can be used practically without money and obviously without the aid of science of destruction which you have brought to such perfection. It is a marvel to me that you do not see that it is nobody’s monopoly. If not the British, some other power will certainly improve upon your method and beat you with your own weapon. You are leaving no legacy to your people of which they would feel proud. They cannot take pride in a recital of cruel deed, however skilfully planned. I, therefore, appeal to you in the name of humanity to stop the war. You will lose nothing by referring all the matters of dispute between you and Great Britain to an international tribunal of your joint choice. If you attain success in the war, it will not prove that you were in the right. It will only prove that your power of destruction was greater. Whereas an award by an impartial tribunal will show as far as it is humanly possible which party was in the right.
You know that not long ago, I made an appeal to every Briton to accept my method of non-violent resistance. I did it because the British know me as a friend, though a rebel. I am a stranger to you and your people. I have not the courage to make you the appeal I made to every Briton. Not that it would not apply to you with the same force as to the British. But my present proposal is simpler, much more practical and familiar.

During this season when the hearts of the peoples of Europe yearn for peace, we have suspended even our own peaceful struggle. Is it too much to ask you to make an effort for peace during a time which may mean nothing to you personally but which must mean much to the millions of Europeans whose dumb cry for peace I hear, for my ears are attended to hearing the dumb millions? I had intended to address a joint appeal to you and Signor Mussolini, whom I had the privilege of meeting when I was in Rome during my visit to England as a delegate to the Round Table Conference. I hope that he will take this as addressed to him also with the necessary changes.

I am,

Your sincere friend,


II. M.K. Gandhi to Winston Churchill

Subject: Gratitude for a back-handed compliment paid to him by Britain’s then Prime Minister.



17th July 1944

Dear Prime Minister,
You are reported to have the desire to crush the ‘naked fakir’, as you are said to have described me. I have been long trying to be a fakir and that, naked - a more difficult task. I therefore regard the expression as a compliment, though unintended. I approach you then as such and ask you to trust and use me for the sake of your people and mine and through them, those of the world.

Your sincere friend,


III. Gandhi to Lord Irwin, former Viceroy

Subject: Statement of intent to demand possession of the Salt Works.

Dear friend,

God willing, it is my intention.. to set out for Dharasana and reach there with my companions... and demand possession of the Salt Works. The public have been told that Dharasana is a private property. This is mere camouflage. It is as effectively under Government control as the Viceroy’s house. Not a pinch of salt can be removed without the previous sanction of the authorities.

It is possible for you to prevent this raid, as it has been playfully and mischievously called, in three ways:

By removing the Salt Tax;
By arresting me and my party, unless the country can, as I hope it will, replace every one taken away;
By sheer goondaism unless every head broken, is replaced, as I hope it will.

It is not without hesitation that the step has been decided upon. I had hoped that the Government would fight the civil resisters in a civilized manner. I could have had nothing to say if, in dealing with the civil resisters, the Government has satisfied itself with applying the ordinary processes of law. Instead, whilst the known leaders have been dealt with more or less according to the legal formality, the rank and file has been often savagely and in some cases even indecently assaulted. Had these been isolated cases, they might have been overlooked. But accounts have come to me from Bengal, Bihar, Utkal, U.P., Delhi and Bombay confirming the experiences of Gujarat of which I have ample evidence at my disposal. In Karachi, Peshawar and Madras, the firing would appear to have been unprovoked and unnecessary. Bones have been broken, private parts have been squeezed for the purpose of making volunteers give up - to the Government - valueless, to the volunteers - precious – salt...

Image Credit: Margaret Bourke-White

At Muthra, an Assistant Magistrate is said to have snatched the National Flag from a ten-year-old boy, the crowd demanding restoration of the Flag thus illegally seized is reported to have been mercilessly beaten back. That the Flag was subsequently restored betrayed a guilty conscience. In Bengal there seem to have been only a few prosecutions and assaults about salt, but unthinkable cruelties are said to have been practised in the act of snatching flags from volunteers. Paddy fields are reported to have been burnt, eatables forcibly taken. A vegetable market in Gujarat has been raided, because the dealers would not sell vegetables to officials. These acts have taken place in front of crowds who, for the sake of Congress mandate, have submitted without retaliation. I ask you to believe the accounts given by men pledged to truth. Repudiation even by high officials has, as in the Bardoli case, often proved false. The officials I regret to have to say, have not hesitated to publish falsehoods to the people even during the last five weeks. I take the following pleas from Government notices issued from Collectors’ offices in Gujarat:

l. Adults use five pounds of salt per year, therefore pay three annas per year as tax. If Government removed the monopoly, people will have to pay higher prices and in addition make good to the Government the loss sustained by the removal of the monopoly. The salt you take from the sea-shore is not eatable, therefore the Government destroys it.”

2. Mr. Gandhi says that Government has destroyed hand-spinning in this country, whereas everybody knows that this is not true, because throughout the country there is not a village where hand-spinning of cotton is not going on. Moreover in every province cotton spinners are shown superior methods and are provided with better instruments at less prices and are thus helped by Government.”

3. Out of every five rupees of the debt that the Government has incurred, rupees four have been beneficially spent.”

I have taken these three sets of statements from three different leaflets. I venture to suggest that every one of these statements is demonstrably false. The daily consumption of salt by an adult is three times the amount stated and therefore the poll tax and the salt tax undoubtedly is at least 9 as. per head per year. And this tax is levied from man, woman, child and domestic cattle irrespective of age and health. It is a wicked falsehood to say that every village has a spinning wheel and that the spinning movement is in any shape or form encouraged or supported by the Government. Financiers can better dispose of the falsehood that four out of every five rupees of the public debt is used for benefit of the public. But those falsehoods are mere samples of what people know about what is going on in every day contact with the Government. Only the other day a Gujarati poet, a brave man, was convicted on prejudged official evidence in spite of his emphatic statement that at the time mentioned he was sleeping soundly in another place.
Now for instances of official inactivities... Liquor dealers have assaulted pickets admitted by officials to have been peaceful and sold liquor in contravention of regulations. The officials have taken no notice either of the assaults or the illegal sales of liquor. As to the assaults, though they are known to everybody, they may take shelter under the plea that they have received no complaints.

And now you have sprung upon the country a Press Ordinance surpassing any hitherto known in India. You have found a short cut through the law’s delay in the matter of the trial of Bhagat Singh and others by doing away with the ordinary procedure. Is it any wonder if I call all these official activities and inactivities veiled form of Martial Law? Yet this is only the fifth week of the struggle.

Before then the reign of terrorism that has just begun overwhelms India, I feel that I must take a bolder step and if possible divert your wrath in a cleaner if mere drastic channel. You may not know the things that I have described. You may not even now believe in them. I can but invite your serious attention to them.

Anyway I feel that it would be cowardly on my part not to invite you to disclose to the full the leonine paws of authority, so that the people who are suffering tortures and destruction of their property may not feel that I, who had perhaps been the chief party inspiring them to action that has brought to right light the Government in its true colours, had left any stone unturned to work out the Satyagraha programme as fully as it was possible under given circumstances.

According to the science of Satyagraha, the greater the repression and lawlessness on the part of authority, the greater should be the suffering courted by the victims. Success is the certain result of suffering of the extremist character voluntarily undergone.

I know the dangers attendant upon the methods adopted by me. But the country is not likely to mistake my meaning. I say what I mean and think. And I have been saying for the last fifteen years in India, and outside for twenty years more, and repeat now that the only way to conquer violence is through non-violence pure and undefiled. I have said also that every violent act, word and even thought interferes with the progress of non-violent action. If in spite of such repeated warnings, people will resort to violence, I must down responsibility save such as inevitably attaches to every human being for the acts of every other human being. But the question of responsibility apart, I dare not postpone action on any cause whatsoever if non-violence is the force the seers of the world have claimed it to be and if I am not to belie my own extensive experience of its working.

But I would fain avoid the further steps. I would therefore ask you to remove the tax which many of your illustrious countrymen have condemned in unmeasured terms and which, as you could not have failed to observe, has evoked universal protest sad resentment expressed in civil disobedience. You may condemn civil disobedience as much as you like. Will you prefer violent revolt to civil disobedience? If you say, as you have said, that the civil disobedience must end in violence, history will pronounce the verdict that the British Government not bearing because not understanding non-violence, goaded human nature to violence, which it could understand and deal with. But in spite of the goading, I shall hope that God will give the people of India wisdom and strength to withstand every temptation and provocation to violence.

If, therefore, you cannot see your way to remove the Salt Tax and remove the prohibitions on private salt-making, I must reluctantly commence the march adumbrated in the opening paragraph of my letter.

I am,

Your sincere friend,

M. K. Gandhi

IV. M.K. Gandhi’s letter to every Englishman in the country.

Subject: A dignified plea to every Englishman in the country to consider Indians to be their true equals, and give in to their desire for freedom, and make common cause with its people.

Dear Friend,

I wish that every Englishman will see this appeal and give thoughtful attention to it.
Let me introduce myself to you. In my humble opinion, no Indian has co-operated with the British government more than I have, for an unbroken period of twenty nine years of public life in the face of circumstances that might well have turned any other man into a rebel. I ask you to believe me when I tell you that my co-operation was not based on the fear of punishments provided by your laws or any selfish motives. It was a free and voluntary co-operation, based on the belief that the sum total of the activity of the British Government was for the benefit of India. 

I put my life in peril four times for the sake of the Empire,- at the time of the Boer War when I was in charge of the Ambulance corps whose work was mentioned in the General Buller’s dispatches, at the time of the Zulu revolt in Natal when I was in charge of a similar corps, at the time of the commencement of the late War, when I raised an Ambulance corps, and as a result of strenuous training had a severe attack of pleurisy, and lastly, in fulfilment of my promise to Lord Chelmsford at the war conference in Delhi, I threw myself in such an active recruiting campaign in Kaira district involving long and trying marches, that I had an attack of dysentery, which proved almost fatal. I did all this in the full belief that acts such as mine must gain for my country an equal status in the Empire. 

So late as last December, I pleaded hard for a trustful co-operation. I fully believed that Lloyd George would redeem his promise to the Mussalmans and that the revelations of the official atrocities in the Punjab would secure full reparation for the Punjabis. But the treachery of Mr. Lloyd George and its appreciation by you, and the condoning of the Punjab atrocities have completely shattered my faith in the good intentions of the Government and the nation which is supporting it.

But though my faith in your good intentions is gone, I recognize your bravery, and I know that what you will not yield to justice and reason, you will gladly yield to bravery.
See what this Empire means to India:

Exploitation of India’s resources for the benefits of Great Britain, an ever increasing military expenditure, and a civil service the most expensive in the world, extravagant working of every department in utter disregard of India’s poverty, disarmament and consequent emasculation of a whole nation lest an armed nation might imperil the lives of a handful of you in our midst, traffic in intoxicating liquors and drugs for the purpose of sustaining a top heavy administration, repressive legislation in order to suppress an ever-growing agitation seeking to give expression to a nation’s agony, degrading treatment of Indians residing in your dominions and you have shown total disregard of our feelings by glorifying the Punjab administration and flouting the Mussulman sentiment.

I know you would not mind if we could fight and wrest scepter from your hands. You know that we are powerless to do that, for you have ensured our incapacity to fight in open and honourable battle. Bravery on the battle field is impossible for us. Bravery of the soul still remains open to us. I know you will respond to that also. I am engaged in evoking that bravery. Non-co-operation means nothing less than training in self- sacrifice. Why should we co-operate with you when we know that by your administration of this great country we are being daily enslaved in an increasing degree? This response of the people to my appeal is not due to my personality. I would like you to dismiss me, and for the matter the Ali brothers too, from your consideration. My personality will fail to evoke any response to anti-Muslim cry if I were foolish enough to raise it, as the magic name of the Ali brothers would fail to inspire the Mussalmans with enthusiasm if they were madly to raise an anti- Hindu cry. People flock in their thousands to listen to us because we today represent the voice of a nation groaning under your iron heels. The Ali brothers were your friends as I was, and still am. My religion forbids me to bear any ill towards you. I would not raise my hand against you even if I had the power. I expect to conquer you only by my suffering. The Ali brothers will certainly draw swords, if they could in defence of their religion and their country. But they and I have made common cause with the people of India in their attempt to voice their feelings and to find a remedy for their distress.

Snippet from Gandhi's letter to Lord Irwin.

You are in search of a remedy to suppress this rising ebullition of national feeling. I venture to suggest to you that the only way to suppress it, is to remove the causes. You have yet the power. You can repent the wrongs done to Indians. You can compel the viceroy to retire favour of a better one, you can revise your ideas about Sir Michel O’ Dwyer and General Dyer. You can compel the government to summon a conference of the recognized leaders of the people, duly elected by them and representing all shades of opinion so as to revise means for granting Swaraj, in accordance with the wishes of the people of India.

But this you cannot do unless you consider every Indian to be in reality your equal and brother. I ask for no patronage, I merely point out to you, as a friend, an honourable solution, namely repression, is open to you. I prophesy that it will fail. It has begun already. The government has already imprisoned two brave men of Panipat for holding and expressing their opinions freely. Another is on his trial in Lahore for having expressed similar opinions. One in the Oudh District is already imprisoned. Another awaits judgment. You should know what is going on in your midst. Our propaganda is being carried on in anticipation of repression. I invite you respectfully to choose the better way and make common cause with the people of India, whose salt you are eating. To seek to thwart their aspirations is disloyalty to the country.

I am,

Your faithful friend,


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