Satyagraha Of The Mind – by Bulu Imam

What is Intellectual Satyagraha?

The Satyagraha of the Mind is where the war for truth is sought to be settled in the mind of the aggrieved even before a chance for confrontation arises. Confrontation is where violence, including non-physical violence such as verbal abuse and threats, begins at some point owing to the power of the injustice that must be challenged. Intellectual Satyagraha is a principle of introspection that attempts to pre-empt the confrontational stage altogether with a powerful enough argument to cause realization of error in the offending party. If, however, the offending party refuses to accept its mistake then the argument has to be taken to another arbiter. Thus this type of Satyagraha is totally devoid of violence in any form.

What are the advantages of Intellectual Satyagraha for the present time?

In an age of advanced information and communication, Intellectual Satyagraha may be practiced by millions for any important cause by gathering information and writing to the authorities, and by publishing and disseminating information. The advantage of Intellectual Satyagraha is that it does not provoke the enemy as Physical Satyagraha does. It obviates the need for a violent response such as we saw with the British. Whenever Gandhi performed Satyagraha it meant tremendous tension for the British as well as the Satyagrahis.

What are the roots of Satyagraha in India?

India’s modern society is based  on the western industrial model, and our history and culture taught in schoolrooms is of an industrialized modern nation, with its great achievements in science and philosophy seen from a western stand-point. It is divergent from the historical facts of rural and tribal India, the histories of the untold masses who have toiled and developed themselves in the face of outside attacks, those who have over millennia saved India’s real sovereignty, her cultural identity, her national pride. This India is quite forgotten by the history books (except for epics such as the Ramayana).

The superiority of the western model in which we have indulged is notional and is based on industrial economics and consumerism, the market and its fads and fancies. It does not know of India’s greatest achievements, its various forms of yoga and self realization, its holistic dynamics as a spiritual nation. This side of India we are eager to veil and to destroy lest it upset the market. Gandhi stood for non-violence, which is an expression of this essential spiritual state of India, the nation we have called Mother. He understood this pulse in the people despite their sudden spurts of violence against injustice such as the tribal revolts of the nineteenth century. Gandhi understood the Indian genius for non-violence and it was this which won India’s freedom from British dominance over us for nearly three centuries. He turned physical violence into spiritual physical resistance through Satyagraha.

The violence we see today against law enforcement in India is precisely because the law is unjust and violence rises against injustice. It needs to be channeled into a form of peaceful resistance, and physical resistance even though non-violent is questionable as a technique today against injustice and torture. This is why what is required is the Satyagraha of the Mind. The human spirit ever rebels against injustice and this is a sign of a healthy society. It has to find the correct manner of resistance. It needs a new Gandhian channel, one that will expose the immorality of the corporate take-over of the lands from the nation’s poorest, most defenceless people with the assistance of the government.

What happens if Intellectual Satyagraha does not immediately succeed?

At some point, if the offender does not relent, an outside force must be appealed to but the flame of the campaign for justice must be kept alive from within and for this numerous Satyagrahis may be required. A single person may lead but a single person may not be physically able to fight on all fronts and that is why the greater the number of Satyagrahis the better.

Are there recent examples of Intellectual Satyagraha in India?

Intellectual Satyagraha targets decision-makers behind the scenes, even in far-off countries. One recent example is the campaign by the Adivasis of the Dongria Kondh against Vedanta over the mining of the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa, which brought pressure to bear on the company’s offices in England. I have also myself practiced Intellectual Satyagraha for 23 years against the opencast coal mining of the Upper Damodar Valley in Jharkhand State, and have seen significant successes including mandatory recognition and protection both of wildlife corridors for protected animals such as tiger and elephant, and also of archaeological sites, being required before permission for mining is given. Other successes include the cancellation of a large World Bank loan to Coal India in 2000, and the recent Ministry of Environment decision not to issue coal mining leases in heavily forested areas.

Bulu Imam is the Convener of the Hazaribagh, Jharkhand Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). He can be reached at:




Categories: Adivasi Campaign, South Asia


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