Satyagraha (Sanskrit: सत्याग्रह; satya: "truth", āgraha: "insistence" or "holding firmly to") or holding onto truth or truth force – is a particular form of nonviolent resistance or civil resistance. It is not the same as passive resistance, and advocates resisting non-violently over using violence, but at the same time advocates using violence over cowering in fear (while pretending to be a satyagrahi). Resisting non-violently, without feeling fear, is thus considered the summit of bravery. Someone who practices satyagraha is a satyagrahi.
The term satyagraha was coined and developed by Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948). He deployed satyagraha in the Indian independence movement and also during his earlier struggles in South Africa for Indian rights. Satyagraha theory influenced Martin Luther King Jr.'s and James Bevel's campaigns during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and many other social justice and similar movements.
Towards satyagraha, Gandhi said in 1939 as the Indian Independence struggle was peaking: "For I cannot in any case tolerate cowardice. Let no one say when I am gone that I taught the people to be cowards. I would far rather that you died bravely dealing a blow and receiving a blow than died in abject terror. Fleeing from battle is cowardice and unworthy of a warrior. Cowardice is worse than violence because cowards can never be non-violent."
Origin and meaning of name
The term originated in a competition in the news-sheet Indian Opinion in South Africa in 1906. Mr. Maganlal Gandhi, grandson of an uncle of Mahatma Gandhi, came up with the word "Sadagraha" and won the prize. Subsequently, to make it clearer, Gandhi changed it to Satyagraha. "Satyagraha" is a tatpuruṣa compound of the Sanskrit words satya (meaning "truth") and āgraha ("polite insistence", or "holding firmly to"). Satya is derived from the word “sat”, which means “being”. Nothing is or exists in reality except Truth. In the context of satyagraha, Truth therefore includes a) Truth in speech, as opposed to falsehood, b) what is real, as opposed to nonexistent (asat) and c) good as opposed to evil, or bad. This was critical to Gandhi’s understanding of and faith in nonviolence: "The world rests upon the bedrock of satya or truth. Asatya, meaning untruth, also means nonexistent, and satya or truth also means that which is. If untruth does not so much as exist, its victory is out of the question. And truth being that which is, can never be destroyed. This is the doctrine of satyagraha in a nutshell."  For Gandhi, satyagraha went far beyond mere "passive resistance" and became strength in practising non-violent methods. In his words:
In September 1935, a letter to P. K. Rao, Servants of India Society, Gandhi disputed the proposition that his idea of Civil Disobedience was adapted from the writings of Henry David Thoreau especially Civil Disobedience of 1849.
Gandhi described it as follows:
Contrast to "passive resistance"
Gandhi distinguished between satyagraha and passive resistance in the following letter:
Ahimsa and satyagraha
It is important to note the intrinsic connection between ahimsa and satyagraha. Satyagraha is sometimes used to refer to the whole principle of nonviolence, where it is essentially the same as ahimsa, and sometimes used in a “marked” meaning to refer specifically to direct action that is largely obstructive, for example in the form of civil disobedience.
Assessing the extent to which Gandhi's ideas of satyagraha were or were not successful in the Indian independence struggle is a complex task. Judith Brown has suggested that "this is a political strategy and technique which, for its outcomes, depends of historical specificities." The view taken by Gandhi differs from the idea that the goal in any conflict is necessarily 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, “The Satyagrahi’s object is to convert, not to coerce, the wrong-doer.” The opponent must be converted, at least as far as to stop obstructing the just end, for this cooperation to take place. There are cases, to be sure, when an opponent, e.g. a dictator, has to be unseated and one cannot wait to convert him. The satyagrahi would count this a partial success.
The theory of satyagraha sees means and ends as inseparable. The means used to obtain an end are wrapped up in and attached to that end. Therefore, it is contradictory to try to use unjust means to obtain justice or to try to use violence to obtain peace. As Gandhi wrote: “They say, 'means are, after all, means'. I would say, 'means are, after all, everything'. As the means so the end...”
Gandhi used an example to explain this:
Gandhi rejected the idea that injustice should, or even could, be fought against “by any means necessary” – if you use violent, coercive, unjust means, whatever ends you produce will necessarily embed that injustice. To those who preached violence and called nonviolent actionists cowards, he replied: “I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence....I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour....But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment.” However, in the same book Gandhi makes the opposite argument. He admits that even though his book argues that machinery is bad, it was produced by machinery, which he says can do nothing good. Thus, he says, "sometimes poison is used to kill poison" and for that reason as long as machinery is viewed as bad it can be used to undo itself.
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 (holding on to truth) with “duragraha” (holding on by force), as in protest meant more to harass than enlighten opponents. 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, the non-cooperation of satyagraha is in fact a means to secure the cooperation of the opponent that is consistent with truth and justice.
When using satyagraha in a large-scale political conflict involving civil disobedience, Gandhi believed that the satyagrahis must undergo training to ensure discipline. He wrote that it is “only when people have proved their active loyalty by obeying the many laws of the State that they acquire the right of Civil Disobedience.”
He therefore made part of the discipline that satyagrahis:
This obedience has to be not merely grudging, but extraordinary:
Gandhi envisioned satyagraha as not only a tactic to be used in acute political struggle, but as a universal solvent for injustice and harm.
On another occasion, he listed these rules as “essential for every Satyagrahi in India”:
Gandhi proposed a series of rules for satyagrahis to follow in a resistance campaign:
American Civil Rights Movement
Satyagraha theory also influenced many other movements of nonviolence and civil resistance. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his autobiography about Gandhi's influence on his developing ideas regarding the Civil Rights Movement in the United States:
Satyagraha in relation to genocide
In view of the Nazi persecution of the Jews in Germany, Gandhi offered satyagraha as a method of combating oppression and genocide, stating:
When Gandhi was criticized for these statements, he responded in another article entitled “Some Questions Answered”:
In a similar vein, anticipating a possible attack on India by Japan during World War II, Gandhi recommended satyagraha as a means of national defense (what is now sometimes called "Civilian Based Defense (CBD) or "social defence"):