Sunday, June 12, 2005

An Ethical Dilemma-XI

Excerpt from a letter to H.S.L Polak, Dec 7, 1928.

"The calf incident has provided me with much instruction and an equal amount of amusement. It has thrown on me a tremendous amount of work in that I have to go through dozens of letters or rather essays on ahimsa. The majority of which were not in ahimsa but himsa tone. I do not know that I ever held a different view from the one I have now expressed though I had not as clear a perception of it as I seem to have now. You may not remember that when West brought to me a cat whose head was full of maggots and was living in tortures, I endorsed his suggestion that the poor animal’s life should be ended by drowning and it was done immediately. And at the Ashram too I allowed Maganlal to destroy rabid dogs."


I found this next funny:


December 14, 1928


I thank you for your letter. The calf incident was an isolated case with which I was called upon to deal personally. The rats question is too big a question for me to handle. You will therefore excuse me for not dealing with it in the pages of Young India.

Yours sincerely



I do not touch upon the matter of the calf in Navajivan; none should therefore conclude that I have forgotten about it. Two types of people have criticized my action: one, those who are full of anger against me, two, those who are thoughtful. I know that my action which appears to me to be innocent has shocked the second type of people, and chiefly the Jains among them. I have been scrutinizing Jain literature. I believed there ought to be a great deal of support for my action in the Jain books. An expert professing the Jain religion had sent me his opinion and an article in which I found such support.

Hence I carried on correspondence with known Jain friends. As a result I have received the following article [footnote: not included here. {unfortunately}]. I publish it for the benefit of those who can think objectively.

[From Gujarati]
Navajivan, 13-1-1929


Excerpt from letter to Chaganlal Gandhi, February 11, 1929

"You would have already known about the death of Rasik. [footnote: Son of Harilal Gandhi; he passed away at Delhi on February 8, 1929 after prolonged illness. ] I have been constantly comparing the circumstances of his death to the calf’s. We were happy in the death of the calf. We rejoiced in having poisoned him. Rasik passed away on his own. Why should we then be unhappy? If we are, it is because of our selfishness. Moreover, for the last two months, he had immersed himself in prayers and so he has risen high. The saying in the villages that the candles return to their original form of wax after they are burnt up, is beautiful and is worth pondering over. You must have seen that in Young India and Navajivan.


Excerpt from a letter, August 29, 1929

"Have not persons with the noblest feelings got confused intellectually? It happened to Arjuna. I have no doubt at all about my sincerity of motive in killing the calf. But many have ascribed confusion of intellect to me. How can I say that they are wrong? In the same way I have attributed intellectual confusion to Surendra. That should be no reason for him to feel unhappy. I have written him a consoling letter yesterday."


A letter, September 14, 1929

"I cannot give a satisfactory reply to your letter from this distance. I must know many more details. But some points can be clarified. A wrong should never be concealed. If there has been a lapse, it should be immediately made public. This applies particularly to a trustee. It is quite easy thus to lay down a principle. But so long as the erring person who is expected to confess is not able to see his error, the difficulties of such a problem multiply no end. Nobody can be forced to repent his error. Nobody will, or should, till he sincerely sees his error. Take, for instance, my attitude in the case of the calf. People could have lovingly tried to show me my error. But what was the use of attacking me? If it failed to make me see my error, may not the same be true in this case? But I must be fully acquainted with all the facts to know whether it is so. However, where do I have the time for that? And how can it be done through correspondence? I therefore wish to show another and easier way. The duty of ahimsa arose from the imperfections of man. Ahimsa means forgiveness, which in turn means generosity. We should try to be generous to the guilty. This is very necessary in the management of institutions. Where there is generosity there will be patience."


Finally, this last from an essay on another subject:

"The Shastras have taught us both our ideal dharma and our practical dharma....

"However, we do not seek solutions to such problems by regarding them as matters of absolute dharma. Relative dharma does not proceed on a straight path like a railway track. It has, on the contrary, to make its way through a dense forest where there is not even a sense of direction. Hence in this case, even one step is sufficient. Many circumstances have to be considered before the second step is taken and, if the first step is towards the north, the second may have to be taken towards the east. In this manner, although the path may appear crooked, since it is the only one which is correct, it can also be regarded as the straight one. Nature does not imitate geometry. Although natural forms are very beautiful, they do not fit in with geometrical patterns."