Hear Gandhi’s Famous Speech on the Existence of God (1931)

A per­fect sym­bol of the mech­a­nisms of British rule over India, the Salt Acts pro­hib­it­ed Indi­ans from access and trade of their own resources, forc­ing them to buy salt from British monop­o­lies, who taxed the min­er­al heav­i­ly. In 1930, in one of the defin­ing acts of his Satya­gra­ha move­ment, Mohan­das Gand­hi decid­ed to defy the Salt Act with a very grand gesture—a march, with thou­sands of his sup­port­ers, over a dis­tance of over 200 miles, to the Ara­bi­an Sea. Once there, fol­low­ing Gandhi’s lead, the crowd pro­ceed­ed to col­lect sea salt, prompt­ing British colo­nial police to arrest over 60,000 peo­ple, includ­ing Gand­hi him­self.

The 1930 action, the first orga­nized act of civ­il dis­obe­di­ence after the Indi­an Nation­al Con­gress’ dec­la­ra­tion of inde­pen­dence, got the atten­tion of the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, who had been direct­ing harsh repres­sive mea­sures against the grow­ing inde­pen­dence move­ment, and in Jan­u­ary of 1931, after his release, Gand­hi and Irwin signed a pact. Gand­hi agreed to end the move­ment; Irwin agreed to allow the Indi­ans to make their own salt, and the Indi­ans would have an equal role in nego­ti­at­ing India’s future. British offi­cials were out­raged and dis­gust­ed. Win­ston Churchill, for exam­ple, staunch­ly opposed to inde­pen­dence, called the meet­ing of the two lead­ers a “nau­se­at­ing and humil­i­at­ing spec­ta­cle,” say­ing “Gand­hi-ism and every­thing it stands for will have to be grap­pled with and crushed.” (Churchill favored let­ting Gand­hi die if he went on hunger strike.)

The terms of the pact, of course, did not hold, and the move­ment would con­tin­ue until even­tu­al inde­pen­dence in 1947. But Gand­hi had not only suc­ceed­ed in incur­ring the wrath of the British colo­nial­ists; he had also won many sup­port­ers in Eng­land. One of them, Muriel Lester, invit­ed the Indi­an leader to stay with her in Lon­don at a com­mu­ni­ty cen­ter she had found­ed called Kings­ley Hall. “He enjoyed his stay here,” says the cur­rent Kings­ley Hall man­ag­er David Bak­er, “and it was wise because if he had stayed in the West End the press would have lam­pooned him. He wouldn’t have had a life, but here he was left alone and walked around in the streets. He want­ed to stay with the peo­ple that he lived with in India, i.e. the poor.” How­ev­er, Gand­hi wasn’t total­ly ignored by the press. While at Kings­ley, he deliv­ered a short speech, which you can hear above, and the BBC was there to record it.

In the speech, Gand­hi says absolute­ly noth­ing about Indi­an inde­pen­dence, British oppres­sion, or the aims and tac­tics of the move­ment. He says noth­ing at all about pol­i­tics or any world­ly affairs what­so­ev­er. Instead, he lec­tures on the exis­tence of God, “an inde­fin­able mys­te­ri­ous pow­er that per­vades every­thing,” and which “defies all proof.” Gand­hi tes­ti­fies to “an unal­ter­able law gov­ern­ing every­thing and every being that exists or lives,” though he also con­fess­es “that I have no argu­ment to con­vince through rea­son.” Instead relies on analo­gies, on things he “dim­ly per­ceives,” on the “mar­velous research­es of [Indi­an engi­neer and sci­en­tist] Sir J.C. Bose,” and on “the expe­ri­ences of an unbro­ken line of prophets and sages in all coun­tries and climes.” It’s not a speech like­ly to per­suade any­one who isn’t already some sort of a believ­er, I think, but it’s of much inter­est to any­one inter­est­ed in the his­to­ry of Indi­an inde­pen­dence and in Gandhi’s life and mes­sage.

You can read the full text of the speech here, and see footage of Kings­ley Hall and a filmed inter­view with Muriel Lester, dis­cussing Gandhi’s stay, here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mahat­ma Gandhi’s List of the 7 Social Sins; or Tips on How to Avoid Liv­ing the Bad Life

Mahat­ma Gand­hi Talks (in First Record­ed Video)

Albert Ein­stein Express­es His Admi­ra­tion for Mahat­ma Gand­hi, in Let­ter and Audio

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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