Satyagraha is a philosophy and practice of nonviolent resistance developed by Mahatma Gandhi. He deployed satyagraha in campaigns for Indian independence and also during his earlier struggles in South Africa. Satyagraha theory also influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. during the campaigns he led during the civil rights movement in the United States.
In traditional violent and nonviolent conflict, the goal is to defeat the opponent or frustrate the opponent’s objectives, or to meet one’s own objectives despite the efforts of the opponent to obstruct these. In satyagraha, by contrast, these are not the goals. The Satyagrahi’s object is to convert, not to coerce, the wrong-doer. Success is defined as cooperating with the opponent to meet a just end that the opponent is unwittingly obstructing. The opponent must be converted, at least as far as to stop obstructing the just end, for this cooperation to take place.
The essence of Satyagraha is that it seeks to eliminate antagonisms without harming the antagonists themselves, as opposed to violent resistance, which is meant to cause harm to the antagonist. A Satyagrahi therefore does not seek to end or destroy the relationship with the antagonist, but instead seeks to transform or purify it to a higher level. A euphemism sometimes used for Satyagraha is that it is a silent force or a soul force, a term also used by Martin Luther King Jr. during his famous I Have a Dream speech. It arms the individual with moral power rather than physical power. Satyagraha is also termed a universal force, as it essentially makes no distinction between kinsmen and strangers, young and old, man and woman, friend and foe.
Gandhi contrasted satyagraha, or holding on by truth, with duragraha, or holding on by force. He wrote: “There must be no impatience, no barbarity, no insolence, no undue pressure. If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one’s cause.
Civil disobedience and non cooperation as practised under Satyagraha are based on the law of suffering, a doctrine that the endurance of suffering is a means to an end. This end usually implies a moral upliftment or progress of an individual or society. Therefore, non cooperation in Satyagraha is in fact a means to secure the cooperation of the opponent consistently with truth and justice.