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Journey to Independence: India, Gandhi and Non-Violence

Updated on November 9, 2020

Young India and Gandhi

Gandhi is one of the most influential and admired personalities around the world. His revolutionary method of non-violence and 'Satyagraha' has inspired many humanitarians (Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. are only two of many), and yet he has been one of the most criticized personalities in India. Although we India takes pride in our ability to criticise (From our point of view, even god’s are not perfect), unfortunately in Gandhi's case, the majority of criticism come either from misunderstanding or propaganda. Propaganda aside, understandably, the majority of youth fails to understand the importance of non-violence in the fight against the oppressor. For us, it is hard to digest that non-violent protest is the best way for the oppressed masses to achieve victory. But as Mandela beautifully explains in his autobiography, non-violence is the best goto option for protestor against injustices.

In the fight against the oppressor, one should rely on non-violence as long as it's effective in the fight against the oppressor one should rely on non-violence as long as it's effective because the very 1st use of violence by protester grants oppressor a licence to suppress agitation with its might. And when it is about might, more often than not oppressor wins

— Nelson Mandela

However, for Gandhi, non-violence was the principle and not a mere tactic. For him, it was about patience, love, forgiveness, this played an important role in our rise as the nation. The impact of Gandhi on the modern India can be understood by comparing two iconic movements in India’s freedom struggle: ‘the Chauri Chaura Kand’ and ‘the Darasana Satyagraha’.

The Chauri Chaura Kand

The Chauri Chaura incident (aka Chauri Chaura Kand) happened in 1922 during non-cooperation movement. The movement was at its pick, when protesting mob angered by the brutality of the British, burned 23 police alive. Following this, against the majority sentiment, Gandhi withdrew the moment and went on, ‘the atonement fast’ (Uposhan), forcing the movement to stop. Allegedly, this incident is considered as the reason for Bhagat Singh to separate from Gandhi and pick up armed struggle. When I read this history first time in the high school, just like anyone else, it angered me. For me, there was nothing wrong in killing oppressor. I believed that they got what they deserved. And by withdrawing the movement, Gandhi only delayed India's freedom, with extended Indian agony.

The Satyagraha of Dharasana

The second incident is the 'Satyagraha of Dharasana': the decade after ‘Chauri Chura’, Gandhi started a (non-violent) protest against the salt tax. A protest march was conducted in Dharasana (a small town in Gujarat) and just like Chauri Chaura, the British used force to crush the movement. But this time the protesters were totally non-violent. As the American journalist, Webb Miller reported in his famous report,

Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins

— Webb Miller (American Journalist)

Police used excessive force leading to the death of 2 protesters and many injured. But the non-violent principle was thoroughly followed. This was one of those moments when you hate oppressor, but you hate the oppressed even more for not retaliating or not rising in self-defence.

Chauri Chaura vs Dharasana

In both of these incidents (‘the Chauri Chaura Kand’ and ‘the Darasana Satyagraha’), oppressed Indian were fighting against the British rule and in both cases, as expected from the oppressor, the British used its might to crush the movement. This led to the death of protesters. In both cases, British actions were outrageous, not just to Indians but to any human. Miller (American journalist) explains this feeling in his article as follow,

At times the spectacle of unresisting men being methodically bashed into a bloody pulp sickened me so much I had to turn away...

I felt an indefinable sense of helpless rage and loathing, almost as much against the men who were submitting unresistingly to being beaten as against the police wielding the clubs...

— Miller (Americal Journalist)

If these were the words of American, it is not difficult to imagine the rage than Indian must have felt in those situations. But what makes 'Darasana Satyagraha' different from Chauri Chaura is the Indian reacting. Compare to the India that lost its patience and took 23 lives in Chauri Chaura, we completely rejected violence as a form of protest. We started believing that 'Satyagraha' will yield results. India changed from a society that wanted to end its opposition to the society that wants to change the mind of its oppressor through their action. India started to separate opposite idea and opposite human. They started fighting ideology rather than the enemy. This was a significant change which played a crucial role in the building of the new India. An India, where mutually contradicting idea evolves together without destroying each other.

Gandhi and India

Although we don’t notice, these teachings are deeply embedded in our society. Examples of them can be seen in the history after independence. Partition is the prime example of that: where India did not fight against Islam or Muslims, but we fought against the idea of two nation theory. India accepted Muslim as part of the nation, but we rejected the idea of Islam as bases of the nation. Also, the majority of Indian Muslim shown their love for the idea of India and chose to be part of secular India in spite of the call for Pakistan on religious bases. And in spite of the exodus of Hindus in Pakistan, India believed in secularism and acceptance of people of all faiths. Even today this is the greatest pride that Indian have. In fact, It won't be an exaggeration if I say that the only difference between India and Pakistan was the Gandhi teachings. It was Gandhi's principle that stopped us from becoming Hindu Pakistan and taught groups of people who might disagree on ideas, culture, beliefs and still love the human on the other side. It helped people from the different region, religion and culture; to bond together in Indian spirit, while forgetting and forgiving dark sides. Ultimately, 'Satyagraha' (to change other’s minds through our good deeds.) is prevailing and we are making each other better and better by making ourself better.

Gandhi’s ways of non-violence and 'Satyagraha' are not fancy or exciting, neither they bring out the adrenaline rush that comes from a fight. They are slow, bring a lot of pain and sometimes feel disgusting because they make us look weak, feeble. But as we saw above, they played an important role in the building of this nation. These are the principles that make us better and bring out the humanity in our opponent. They are the soul of India and we should never forget them.


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