By Raajik Shah
Sometimes it only takes one person to make a change. In 1948, this one person was Mahatma Gandhi. In one of the most epic movements in history, “The Great Soul,” Mahatma Gandhi led the Indian people in breaking free from British rule. What makes Gandhi’s movement for independence any different from other historically significant marches is that it set the precedent for a mass nonviolent revolution. In no circumstances were guns, nuclear weapons, or bombs used. In its place, intellect and character defined this war. Through the use of print journalism, oral speeches, and strikes, Gandhi was able to take a religiously and socially split country and unite the Indian population together in achieving one goal: freedom.
From 1858 to 1948 India had to suffer to the wrath of British rule. It was not until the early 1900’s that a man by the name of Mohandas Gandhi came along as the India’s savior in the waiting. From 1913-1948, Gandhi was the first to start a real mass movement of civil disobedience. From South Africa to India, he performed numerous strikes, speeches, and written works to help fight off unjust civil law (Lall 50).
Although an educated law student, Gandhi refused to get into the legal grounds to solve the unjust British laws. Instead he stressed fighting with the use of moral grounds. He conceived a new weapon called Satyagraha, which literally means “insistence on truth using non-violent and non-cooperation means” (53). The non-violent term came from the roots of Ahimsa. Satyagraha followed the basic concept that a civilian had the right to intentionally break an unjust law as long he or she quietly suffered the penalty for their breach. Gandhi further states, “And in order to register his protest against the action of the law givers, it is open to him to withdraw his co-operation from the State by disobeying such other laws whose breach does not constitute moral turpitude” (Dean 108). In a way Gandhi followed the pattern that if a law went against your moral conscience and followed unjust procedural means you should break it. However, if you break it you must be willing to accept the consequences no matter how dangerous they are in sacrifice for a better cause. He refused to acknowledge passive resistance as a label for his movement since passive sounded extremely weak. The civil disobedience resistance movement needed Satyagraha and Ahimsa as underlying foundations in order to unite the Indian public on a morale and religious consensus (Lall 57).
Gandhi’s character definitely played an integral role in shaping societal values. The methods he chose were both so lofty and archaic. They were lofty and very persistent in that Gandhi insisted that the end never justifies the means, stating, “that any form of freedom for India achieved by methods that were not morally impeccable would be worthless” (63). What brought his followers along was his archaic style and humble presence. Along these lines, Gandhi’s respect for ancient tradition grounded the religious concept of Ahimsa, or nonviolence, as the foundation for his theories. This concept supplants as religious because of its connection with the religion Hinduism. Hinduism confronts man with the task of achieving his own individual relationship with the Universal Self, thus, one path in this journey is to bear in mind that all forms of life, not just human life, are sacred and are to be treated with respect. A religious follower needs to get in contact with his “truth-force,” as guidance. This truth force as mentioned before is Satyagraha. Although many in an impoverished society would stray away from such ideals in order to survive, while the more affluent and enlightened ones can practice this concept with little to no consequences, Gandhi found a way to call attention to these practices while clearly exemplifying them (63-67). He brought these ideals “very close to the people by embodying them himself to a quite extraordinary degree” (67).
He could have been rich with all the luxuries in the world, however, he chose the spiritual path in connection with impoverished society, dressing in the simplest clothing, eating the simplest food, and following the simplest life. He ritually meditated, fasted, and spun his own yarn. In one speech, he started a movement against “untouchability,” the term attached to the lowest caste in Indian society. He renamed the untouchables Harijans, or the “children of god.” In gaining respect from this class of people, he secured them access to temples in Delhi and Calcutta as well as fair political opportunities within the Indian parliament. With the untouchables constituting a large portion of the Indian population, he soon overtook the high-class minority with support from the great Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was a high class Brahmin, well-educated politician, and son of the prime minister. His detached status from India and modernized western values brought him closer to the great soul in Gandhi. He at once saw that Gandhi embedded in those traditions and so had what he had lacked. The leadership skills Gandhi possessed were a shadow of what Nehru longingly desired. Many other followers made their name known, but not as much Jawaharlal Nehru did. He replaced his materialistic Brahmin status down to the spiritualistic simplest form of life in following Gandhi’s theories of connecting with the Universal Self. This opened the doors for higher caste Indians to connect with Gandhi. Moreover, Nehru’s mother made it a point to accept food from the untouchables in order to set the example that they, the Indian citizenry, are all equal. Many women followed her example (Fischer 145).
In order to spread his theories concerning this resistance method to more than just Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi utilized the “written word” as his central means of political communication. According to Webb Miller, a Western reporter, using two weekly newspapers that he started in 1919, Gandhi undertook the huge task of educating the 300 million Indians to grow their own food, to weave their own clothes, to run their own schools, colleges, hospitals, courts, railways, police system etc. On political matters, he preached to his people to become less dependent on foreign materials and back off from foreign help with using no violence of any kind. Whenever violence did occur and there was some loss of life and property, Gandhi would fast to rid his spiritual soul of these predicaments while also claiming the hearts of not only his people but also many throughout the world (Martin and Varney)
In Gandhi’s papers, there was no propaganda or advertisements involved in his columns and he did not try to make money. He simply took donations to keep the paper going. Gandhi’s influence on the public was simply remarkable. He later wrote his articles in Hindi, and published papers such as Harijan, Harijan Sevak, and Harijan Bandu for the weaker sections of the country (Narayanan). One large section was devoted to the economic and social problems created by the British rule.
As a mass communication figure, Gandhi began to hit stride as a journalist when he introduced fighting for Indian rights in South Africa. What made his paper called Indian Opinion so compelling to read was that his words came in the form of total objectiveness while also possessing powerful messages. He once wrote, in reference to South African law,
You would not allow the Indian or the native the precious privilege (of voting) under any circumstances, because they have a dark skin. You would look the exterior only. So long as the skin is white it would not matter to you whether it conceals beneath it poison or nectar (1)
In this statement he only states the truth of the situation. He firmly holds his ground in defiance of law and only suggests the negative with the positive that can apply to white skin. His use of antitheses is another example found in this excerpt and can be located in many more. He contrasts words such as “white” and “dark,” “poison” and “nectar,” and even the phrases “not allow” and “precious privileges” falls under granting and denying. He would make the white racists look ridiculous, but not in a harmful way, as he once stated in the paper Young India, “The white barber refused to cut my black hair.” This extended prejudice to not only Christian skin but non-Christian hair as well. The words “white” and “black” protrude in this example (2).
One of Gandhi’s most significant successes came in 1930 when he personally defied the British Government and its Salt Tax. This was the first law to be broken after the Indian National Congress proclaimed India’s independence from Britain and announced a program of peaceful struggles to induce the British to yield and eventually recognize Indian independence. The first law to be attacked was to end the British Salt monopoly, which made it illegal to take salt from the ocean from any other source than this monopoly. Gandhi warned the British viceroy and planned for negotiations to prevent bloody matters. In his letter, Gandhi repeatedly expressed his consistency for nonviolent means. In one part he stated, “My ambition is no less than to convert the British people through non-violence, and thus make them see the wrong they have done to India. I do not seek to harm, your people. I want to serve them even as I want to serve my own…” (Fischer 260). Once again he makes his point clear; however, there are no evident signs of hostility or utter frustration.
In the end the British government refused to adhere to Gandhi’s demands. Thus, in one of the most historical events ever, Gandhi led a wave of thousands of Indians on a 241-mile march on foot from the outskirts of Ahmedabad to the Dandi coast within 24 days. As his party approached its destination, groups of people all over the country were making their own preparations to manufacture salt. As reported by Webb Miller,
At 6:30 on Sunday morning, April 6, about 4,000
followers watched breathlessly as Gandhi, after a brief swim, according to the London Times, ‘stooped down, scooped up a handful of sand and salt water, and returned to his bungalow with a broad smile on his face’ (261)
In response to these actions, British enforcers and natives assaulted and arrested vulnerable Indians. Hundreds were immediately arrested and to Gandhi that was a sign of victory. With this victory in hand, Gandhi continued his salt strike by announcing more radical acts of civil disobedience: salt would be taken from the government’s salt depots. Without hesitation British police jailed Gandhi. However, this did not stop the movement. Gandhi’s son Manilal and the poet Mes Sarojini Naidu attacked the Dharasana Salt works in the province state Gujerat. “Wave after wave of peaceful attackers was clubbed down as they approached the depot by four hundred Indian policemen commanded by six British officers,” (261-262) reported Miller.
These events ignited such attention from the general public and drew worldwide attention. Miller covered the Salt Works protest, stating that native policemen used steel-shod lathis to pounce upon the nonviolent marchers, who not even one raised an arm to fend off the blows. He later mentioned, “They went down like nine-pins…The waiting crowd of marchers groaned and sucked in their breath in sympathetic pain at every blow. Those struck down fell sprawling, unconscious or writhing with fractured skulls or broken shoulders” (263). This brutal depiction of what occurred sparked more worldwide attention that in England, Rabindranth Tagore of the Manchester Guardian wrote on May 17, 1930
Those who live in England far away form the East; have got to realize that Europe has completely lost her former moral prestige in Asia. She is no longer regarded as the champion throughout the world of fair dealing, and the exponent of high principle, but as the upholder of Western race supremacy and the exploiter of those outside her own borders. Even though Asia is still physically weak and unable to protect herself from aggression where her vital interests are menaced, nevertheless she can now afford to look down on Europe where before she looked up (264)
With these publicized articles emphasizing the impact of the Salt marches, Gandhi made his way to Viceroy in England to negotiate. This was after he was released from jail. Soon enough the Irwin-Gandhi pact was signed, a Second Round Table Conference was held, and a day after the Columbia Broadcasting System introduced a mass media tool that Gandhi had never seen before, the radio. In a message delivered to the CBS studios in New York, Gandhi refused to deliver a script, and in one excerpt stated, “… We in India feel that the law that governs brute creation is not the law that should guide the human race. That law is inconsistent with human dignity” (265). He supported his theories on nonviolence to a large extent, trying to prove to the world that India is trying to start a revolution, a nonviolent one without the “death of blood-spilling,” and pleas for help. He does not blame the world for liberty problems, or the English, but India’s own religious turmoil between the Hindus and Muslims. However, he justifies this turmoil by stating, “There are no small weaknesses in a nation struggling to be free.” He ends his speech by asking if there is any help for millions of half-starved Indians out there (264-267).
The result of the nonviolence displayed by Gandhi and his followers caused an outrage of headlines that dispersed throughout Britain and the United States. Thus, it can be concluded that these specific salt events in the civil disobedience movement did not have the biggest impact on those necessarily involved but those indirectly observing through the lens of a third party. Miller states that “communication was central to Gandhi's successes, but that it was not primarily through what Gandhi thought was the central means, conversion, but rather through mobilization of third party opinion” (Martin and Varney). This was true, because Britain was very self-conscience of its reputation and if the world were to hear of such a terror in India happening it would put Britain’s overall character at stake.
By walking on foot during the Salt Strike, Gandhi simply exercised what he believed in; everyone is equal to one another no matter who you are. Miller states this march was so incredulous and crucial for the public conscience because “For the first time in their life they saw that anyone, whether male or female, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, Hindu or Muslim, young or old, weak or strong” (Fischer 261) could possess the capability to walk 10 miles in a day and break an unjust law. Since about half of the population of India lived within 240 miles of the coast, this single event served as a catalyst for future civil disobedient acts to come. Soon enough, this domino affect of acts resulted in the British government granting India its independence in 1948.
Throughout the civil disobedience movement, Gandhi received overwhelming support from the Hindus. However, he did not get the same treatment from the Muslims. It appears that Gandhi was extremely devout within the Hindu tradition; however, he would always make it a point to read from other religious texts including the Koran and Bible and not only from the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita. This point of eclecticism and tolerance smelled too strongly of Hinduism to many middle India minorities stuck between Hinduism and Muslim. The more sophisticated Muslims found Gandhi as perhaps too pompous to accept both religions equally and more devoted to his Hindu roots. In 1920, Gandhi’s good friend and boxing champion Muhammad Ali once stated, “However pure Gandhi’s character may be, he must appear to me from the point of view of religion inferior to any Mussalman [Muslim], even though he [the Muslim] be without character” (Dean 56-58). Violent leaders, such as Subhas Chandra Bose, never believed in Gandhi’s nonviolent tactics, as did many other Muslims.
These problems appeared large in task as a blockade in Gandhi’s efforts to achieve India’s independence. However, at this time Gandhi’s influence rose so much that the Indian National Congress completely backed him up. It endorsed his campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience against obnoxious laws. Thus, the only stiff competition Gandhi encountered was that from the Muslim faith. Muslim faith did not want to be trapped under Hindu rule, as it presumed Gandhi followed, however it fully understood the state of desperation India was in to be freed from British rule. Either Muslims or some rebellious Hindus could make this a religious warfare now and prove to the British government that civil unrest makes India completely dependent on them or they can follow their only one true leader. In one speech at a hostile Muslim camp, where Muslims and Hindus were killing one another, Gandhi stated, “For me, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs, are brothers and the same sons of the same God” (Fischer 275). In response from Muslims came loud cries and boos of “Utter falsehood, all lies.” In response Gandhi said, “I have come to tell you that I will bring peace to Delhi or else I will perish in the process.” In other words, Gandhi was saying he would fast unto death unless peace would find its way at this Muslim camp. In response, the Muslims shrieked, “Long lives Gandhi! Long live Gandhi! Long live Gandhi!” (277).
In one of the greatest feats known to mankind, Mahatma Gandhi led his people to independence under shocking odds. He took a disgruntled country and gave them a sense of freedom that they had never felt before. He took a segregated outcast social group and raised their standard of living. He took a stand in something he believed in. Did he achieve all of his goals? He achieved his objective of breaking away from British rule through nonviolent means. However, it appears he was unhappy with how life resulted in post-free India. Muslims and Hindus began to fight again and riots broke out, creating the country Pakistan. Once again, Gandhi would fast, and in large part major cities would go silent from terror and violence. However, it was not enough to prevent the religious frictions from occurring. No matter what though Gandhi achieved glorious heights beyond measures of everyday heroics. As Albert Einstein once declared, “Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth” (Fischer 301).