I suspect that most of the myths and misconceptions surrounding Gandhi have to do with nonviolence. For instance, it’s surprising how many people still have the idea that nonviolent action is passive.
It’s important for us to be clear about this: There is nothing passive about Gandhian nonviolent action.
I’m afraid Gandhi himself helped create this confusion by referring to his method at first as “passive resistance,” because it was in some ways like techniques bearing that label. But he soon changed his mind and rejected the term.
Gandhi’s nonviolent action was not an evasive strategy nor a defensive one. Gandhi was always on the offensive. He believed in confronting his opponents aggressively, in such a way that they could not avoid dealing with him.
But wasn’t Gandhi’s nonviolent action designed to avoid violence? Yes and no. Gandhi steadfastly avoided violence toward his opponents. He did not avoid violence toward himself or his followers.
Gandhi said that the nonviolent activist, like any soldier, had to be ready to die for the cause. And in fact, during India’s struggle for independence, hundreds of Indians were killed by the British.
The difference was that the nonviolent activist, while willing to die, was never willing to kill.
Gandhi pointed out three possible responses to oppression and injustice. One he described as the coward’s way: to accept the wrong or run away from it. The second option was to stand and fight by force of arms. Gandhi said this was better than acceptance or running away.
But the third way, he said, was best of all and required the most courage: to stand and fight solely by nonviolent means.