Satyagraha: Gandhi’s Movement Based on the Pursuit of Truth

Table of Contents

Sanskrit for satyagraha

Sanskrit for satyagraha 

Source: Satyagraha scroll

Satyagraha Definition

Coined and developed by Mahatma Gandhi, Satyagraha (Satya: “truth”, āgraha: “insistence” or “holding firmly to”) refers to a specific program of nonviolent resistance. The term roughly translates to “truth-force.”

Satyagraha, while often lumped in with general nonviolent resistance, is a unique method that goes beyond activism. 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 referred to it as a “way of life based on love and compassion.” Thus, although it shares much with other forms of nonviolent actions, satyagraha has its distinct roots and methods. 

Gandhi quickly discovered that Indians in South Africa were viewed as second class citizens. Once meek and retreating, he mustered up the confidence to champion the rights of the Indian community. But he refused to resort to violent resistance due to his studies of Hinduism and the Bhagavad Gita.

Gandhi and his methods have had a global reach, influencing major figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela in their own bids for justice and equality.

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The Principles & Rules of Satyagraha

Gandhi founded the Sabarmati Ashram, a religious retreat, to educate people about his philosophy. In his book Non-Violent Resistance, he outlines the principles of satyagraha 

🙜 Satyagraha 🙞

  1. Nonviolence (Ahimsa)
  2. Truth (honesty, but also devoting oneself to Truth)
  3. No stealing
  4. Non-possession (Aparigraha)
  5. Body-labor or bread-labour
  6. Rejecting vices/desires
  7. Fearlessness
  8. Equal respect for all religions
  9. Boycott foreign goods to achieve national economic independence (Swadeshi)

Gandhi elaborated on satyagraha when he put forth a set of rules for satyagrahis to abide by during a resistance campaign.

🙜 Rules 🙞

  1. Harbour no anger.
  2. Suffer the anger of the opponent.
  3. Never retaliate to assaults or punishment; but do not submit, out of fear of punishment or assault, to an order given in anger.
  4. Voluntarily submit to arrest or confiscation of your own property.
  5. If you are a trustee of property, defend that property (non-violently) from confiscation with your life.
  6. Do not curse or swear.
  7. Do not insult the opponent.
  8. Neither salute nor insult the flag of your opponent or your opponent’s leaders.
  9. If anyone attempts to insult or assault your opponent, defend your opponent (non-violently) with your life.
  10. As a prisoner, behave courteously and obey prison regulations (except any that are contrary to self-respect).
  11. As a prisoner, do not ask for special favourable treatment.
  12. As a prisoner, do not fast in an attempt to gain conveniences whose deprivation does not involve any injury to your self-respect.
  13. Joyfully obey the orders of the leaders of the civil disobedience action.

Origins of Satyagraha

The term actually came from a competition in the Indian Opinion, a South African newspaper started by Gandhi. Maganlal, the grandson of an uncle of Gandhi, came up with the word ‘Sadagraha.’ Mahatma took the combination of Sanskrit words and changed it to ‘Satyagraha,’ a simpler version of his relative’s suggestion.  

As mentioned in the introduction, Satya means “truth,” and āgraha “polite insistence.” Nothing but Truth exists in reality. But what does Truth mean exactly?  

  • Truth in speech, as opposed to falsehood
  • What is real, as opposed to nonexistent (asat) 
  • Good as opposed to evil

These three meanings of Truth under satyagraha serve as the foundation of Gandhi’s philosophy. He described it in the following terms: 

“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.”

Distinguishing Satyagraha from Passive Resistance

“Satyagraha is soul force pure and simple and that is the way they understood it. It was not a weapon of the weak.” 

From Gandhi’s Satyagraha in South Africa

Satyagraha’s religious foundations and dedication to the pursuit of Truth fundamentally differentiates it from passive resistance. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably (especially in the Western world), they really shouldn’t be confused. 

In a letter included in the Collected Works of Gandhi, distinguished between satyagraha and passive resistance in the following letter:

“I often used “passive resistance” and “satyagraha” as synonymous terms: but as the doctrine of satyagraha developed, the expression “passive resistance” ceases even to be synonymous, as passive resistance has admitted of violence as in the case of the suffragettes… Moreover, passive resistance does not necessarily involve complete adherence to truth under every circumstance. Therefore it is different from satyagraha in three essentials: Satyagraha is a weapon of the strong; it admits of no violence under any circumstance whatsoever, and it ever insists upon truth.” 

Gandhi’s assessment of the suffragettes was valid, although definitely not generalizable to the whole women’s suffrage movement as a whole. The likes of Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison led a militant group of suffragists who planted bombs, committed arson, smashed post office boxes, and resorted to sundry extreme measures. Many suffragists, however, distanced themselves from the ‘suffragettes’ (a derogatory term for these militant women’s rights activists), pushing for change through education, debates, pamphlets, and peaceful demonstrations

Satyagraha on a Large Scale

Gandhi’s various satyagraha received global coverage. One of his consistent efforts to resist the Raj was teaching people how to hand spin and weave a cloth he called khadi. Selling the cloth provided supplementary income to many families, allowing them and the citizenry as a whole to become much more independent.

Concentrate on Charkha and Swadeshi

“Concentrate on Charkha and Swadeshi,” bazaar art, 1930’s

Source: Columbia University

Interspersed between these continual acts of passive resistance were also major singular efforts to tackle a focused issue. For instance, the Salt March, or Dandi March, saw Gandhi leading thousands of his followers on a 240-mile odyssey to the coast of the Arabian sea. The Raj had instituted a ban on collecting and selling salt, so the British government could have a monopoly over the vital mineral. Gandhi’s trip culminated in him collecting salt, with news networks broadcasting the moment on televisions all around the world. This satyagraha inspired the Indian people to defy the exploitative salt ban and push back against the Raj in a peaceful, though active manner. 

The Influence of Satyagraha

As noted in the introduction, satyagraha has profoundly influenced leaders all around the world. Not only as a powerful form of resistance, but also as a life philosophy. 

Martin Luther King Jr. 

The revered reverend Martin Luther King Jr. cited Gandhi and satyagraha as major influences numerous times. He even visited India in the late 1950s, writing an article entitled “My Trip to the Land of Gandhi.” King, contemplating his visit to India, wrote, “True non-violent resistance is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflictor of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.”

The civil rights movement admittedly took many different forms. Nevertheless, the efforts led by King often involved peaceful resistance against racism in highly strategic ways. For instance, you have boycotts of segregated businesses forcing owners to change their policies if they wished to stay afloat. Hurting a person’s bottom line is perhaps one of the strongest motivators for change in existence. 

Gandhi’s influence on the civil rights movement extended to many famous marches. Specifically, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom helped galvanize the public and generated the final push for the Civil Rights Act to pass Congress. Hundreds of thousands of citizens showed up in support of the beloved Alabamian, who uttered the words etched into history: “I have a dream…

MLK worked to achieve economic justice for all Americans, combating a history of slavery, unjust redlining laws such as the National Housing Act, wage discrimination, and much more, the Black community has borne serious economic injustices. The U.S. economy was rigged against them, but we might have an even bigger economic problem on our hands… 


Nelson Mandela

Apartheid revolutionary and first President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela penned an article for TIME magazine in January, 2000. He discussed the influence of Gandhi’s nonviolent methods on the fight to end apartheid, writing:

“The Gandhian influence dominated freedom struggles on the African continent right up to the 1960s because of the power it generated and the unity it forged among the apparently powerless. Nonviolence was the official stance of all major African coalitions, and the South African A.N.C. remained implacably opposed to violence for most of its existence.”

Referring to Gandhi as the ‘sacred warrior,’ Mandela continued to champion satyagraha throughout his life. The last time Mandela publicly spoke on the matter was in 2007, when he said “[Gandhi] combined ethics and morality with a steely resolve that refused to compromise with the oppressor, the British Empire.”

Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton

Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton on stage at the 1993 Philadelphia Freedom Festival

Source: Clinton Presidential Library

Peacefully Combating the Rigged Economy

Although Gandhi’s satyagraha has deep roots in religion, the idea of finding justice in truth has proven especially influential in the Zero Theft Movement. The Raj exploited the Indian people in a number of ways, including economically. Economist Utsa Patnaik estimated how much the British Raj took from the Indian people. She claims: “Between 1765 and 1938, the drain amounted to 9.2 trillion pounds ($45 trillion), taking India’s export surplus earnings as the measure, and compounding it at a 5 per cent rate of interest.”

The U.S. economy has potentially been rigged by crony corporations and individuals who seek to make as much money as they can, often at the expense of the average American. But it’s up to us to identify exactly where the economy is rigged and how much is being ripped off. In other words, we seek to uncover the truth about the U.S. economy in order to achieve justice. 

We have created an independent voting platform where you and your fellow citizens work together to calculate the most accurate estimate for the monetary costs of corruption in the United States. 

The public investigates potential problem areas, and everyone votes on whether (1) theft is or isn’t occurring in a specific area of the economy, and (2) how much is being stolen or possibly saved. Through direct democracy, we can collectively decide where the problem areas exist and start working on addressing them systematically. 

Only through hard evidence can we prove where the rigged parts of the economy exist and force Congress to hold all the bad actors accountable.

Standard Disclaimer

The Zero Theft Movement does not have any interest in partisan politics/competition or attacking/defending one side. We seek to eradicate theft from the U.S economy. In other words, how the wealthy and powerful rig the system to steal money from us, the everyday citizen. We need to collectively fight against crony capitalism in order for us to all profit from an ethical economy.   

Terms like ‘steal,’ ‘theft,’ and ‘crime’ will frequently appear throughout the article. Zero Theft will NOT adhere strictly to the legal definitions of these terms (since congress sells out). We have broadly and openly defined terms like ‘steal’ and ‘theft’ to refer to the rigged economy and other debated unethical acts that can cause citizens to lose out on money they deserve to keep.  

The public has spoken! See how much the rigged economy is ripping off from you…

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Beyond the Plunge Protection Team…

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