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Choosing Non-violence over Violence: A Struggle For Independence

Updated on August 29, 2012

Non-violence over Violence

Throughout history violence has been the major deciding factor when dealing against oppression, corruption, and injustice. Many of these issues that could have been solved by the ink at the tip of a quill were often sought by the edge of a bloody sword. Nations and peoples denied of their civil rights and personal freedoms under unjust government institutions often resorted to violent revolutions and civil wars. The American colonists sought independence from Britain due to irreconcilable grievances by King George III through a bloody revolution that lasted 8 years. The French Revolution is notorious for its massive executions under the guillotine during its “Reign of Terror” in which at least 16,000 people, in a single year, were executed accused of counter revolutionary activities. But not all civil movements and revolutions have to be won through bloodshed and war. Violence may be the answer for a prompt solution, but anything gained through violence is often temporary. The seeds of violence drenched by the blood of tyrants will give birth to new conflicts and struggles. Only non-violent acts give way to more enduring solutions. Passive resistance can be more effective than violence itself. Peace, not violence is the answer.

Mohandas Gandhi, the prominent leader of India during the Indian independence movement against the British Empire, did not resort to violence as a means to fight tyranny as our forefather did, but choose passive resistance as his policy for reform. Satyagraha is the philosophy and practice of non-violence developed by Mohandas Gandhi. In Gandhi’s own words,” Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement Satyagraha, that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence…” Satyagraha is different from violence in that violence seeks to destroy its opposition completely in order to achieve ones objectives while Satyagraha seeks to find a reasonable solution to differences through cooperation, diplomacy, and negotiation. But Satyagraha can also take the form of non-violence civil disobedience.

During the Salt Satyagraha, Gandhi refused to pay the salt tax in India. Instead he formed a march in protest to the tax from Sabarhamti Ashram to the village of Dandi sparking a nationwide protest against the tax. As a result 80,000 people were arrested including Gandhi, but it changed British opinions in favor towards Indian independence and caused worldwide attention towards Mohandas Gandhi’s policy of Satyagraha as a non -violent alternative towards gaining independence. Eventually, the Indian National Congress chose Gandhi and his ideal of Satyagraha as their main method for wining Indian independence from Britain. Though Mohandas Gandhi would be assassinated for his methods of truth, love, and non-violence, his ideals would lead India to gain its independence from Britain legally in 1947.

Inspired by Gandhi’s Satyagraha, Martin Luther King Jr. would take those ideals of non-violence and apply them in the African American Civil Rights movement of the 1850s to end racial discrimination and segregation in America. His ideals of non-violence included boycotts, peaceful marches, and sit-ins to gain public support and awareness. King organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1855 as a response to Rosa Parks being arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white individual. The peaceful but intense boycott of buses in Montgomery, Alabama lasted 385 days prompting the U.S. District Court in the case in Browder v. Gale to rule against racial segregation in all Montgomery buses. King would then set his sights on removing the Jim Crow laws of the south that segregated blacks from using the same facilities as white did including bathrooms, restaurants, public transportation, public schools, and even water fountains. In 1963, King organized sit-ins and boycotts of stores and public facilities that endorsed Jim Crow laws in Birmingham, Alabama. The overwhelming amount of arrested protesters in jails and aggressive acts of the Birmingham police use of police dogs and highly pressurized water hoses resulted in Birmingham Jim Crow signs to be removed and public places to be more open to blacks. Kings’ “March on Washington” in 1963 would prove to be monumental in bringing about the passage of civil rights legislation.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which took place on August 28, 1963, brought in over a quarter of a million people of all nationalities and ethnicities all calling for racial equality and to the end of racial discrimination. There, King gave his famous “I have a Dream” speech. He stresses racial equality punctuating his points by “I have a dream”. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” The march helped with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination based on “race, color, religion, or national origin” in employment practices and public accommodations, and the Voting Act of 1965, that restored and protected voting rights.

In both cases involving India’s independence and the civil rights movements in America, violence was never the answer. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. both espoused non-violence and used passive aggressive civil disobedience to achieve their social and political goals. Their weapons against injustice was their body and mind fueled by peace, love, and truth, not bullets and guns enraged by hate, violence, and lies. King once said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”


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      Arjun 3 years ago

      This is a pretty bad understanding of Indian history. Gandhi's ideals of satyagraha, while extremely effective at starting a mass movement, was clearly insufficient to drive the British out of India. Non-violence as a viable tactic was over by the 1940s; the Quit India movement of 1942-44 was widespread insurrection, guerrilla attacks on British colonial infrastructure, the destruction of hundreds of government buildings, the establishment of parallel nationalist governments, and the killing of dozens of colonizers and colonial collaborators.

      And at the same time as this, the Indian National Army, lead by Subhas Chandra Bose, was fighting a military battle across South-East Asia toward the British Raj.

      And then, the final nail in the British Empire's coffin came when 20,000 sailors of the Royal Indian Navy mutinied against the British and their superior officers, raising nationalist and communist flags while torching the Union Jack. And while they were engaged in naval battles with loyalist forces, dozens of cities across India saw a resurgence of rioting, insurrection, and general violence against the British.

      Come on, Westerners: do away with the myth that non-violence was the main reason for Indian Independence! Non-violence was the exception, not the rule, of the Indian freedom struggle.