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Civil Disobedience: Gandhi Non-Violent Campaigns Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 18th, 2021

Mahatma Gandhi was one of the key figures in India’s struggle for independence from the British rulers in the twentieth century. He preached and practiced Non-Violence and believed that it is the only way to achieve independence most harmoniously. Satyagraga is a philosophy and practice of non-violent resistance that was developed by Gandhi. This was the technique that Gandhi deployed while fighting for Indian independence as well as in the fights against indifference in South Africa.

Civil disobedience is defined as the boycott or refusal to obey certain laws formulated by the government or superior authorities. According to Gandhi, civil disobedience or passive resistance is a universal truth of achieving the goals through non-violent resistance. Gandhi led several satyagraga campaigns during the fight for independence. According to him non-violent campaigns is a scientific truth as the force of love is the same as the force of the soul or truth. Civil disobedience supports the idea that unfair or unjust laws must be broken to achieve justice (Walsh and Asch, p. 130-150).

Principles of Civil Disobedience

The first principle says that it is essential to maintain respect for the rule of law even while disobeying the specific law that is perceived as unjust. Non-violent activists do not seek to challenge the rule of law, but promotes people to revoke unjust laws. The second principle of civil disobedience says that it is important to plead guilty to any violation of the law. Gandhi explains this statement in his word “I am here to… submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a deliberate crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen.” The third principle of civil disobedience says that it is important to attempt to change one’s opponent by signifying the justice of the cause. Gandhi says that if these three principles of civil disobedience are followed, it creates a win-win situation rather than a win-lose situation. In this way, it will be possible to gain the friendship and understanding of the opponent (Gier).

Gandhi says that if people take the path of violence to achieve their goals in life, then the entire population would disappear within no time. He was a leader who practiced what he preached. When Gandhi was imprisoned in 1922, 1930, 1933, and 1942, he went on hunger strike, and when the British rulers found that Gandhi’s hunger strike was gaining popularity all over the world, and due to great embarrassment they had to release him from the prison. Therefore, Gandhi proved that the non-violence movements create more fear among the rulers and put more pressure on them when compared to the violent movements.

It is a well-known fact that most of the history books only mention the wars and the violent acts of kings and emperors. The non-violence movements do not take the place in history as they are not considered significant by historians. According to Gandhi, civil disobedience or passive resistance is the only method of securing rights by personal suffering which is the opposite of resistance by arms. Passive resistance is using the soul force and is superior to the force of the arm.

Gandhi says that a passive resister will say he will not obey a law that is against his conscience. A person with full confidence in himself and his acts can only be a passive resister. In other words, he says that a man who lacks courage and manhood cannot be a passive resister. Therefore, a person even with less physical strength can fight more powerfully using passive resistance when compared to a person with good physical strength. Therefore, passive resistance can be a weapon for women and even children. Gandhi says that passive resistance is like an all-sided sword that can be used in any way and will not hurt the person against whom he is fighting.

Gandhi also mentions the simple procedure that allows them to become a passive resister. Gandhi says that it takes experience to become a passive resistor. Additionally, those who want to become passive resisters for serving the country have to observe perfect chastity, adopt poverty, follow truth, and cultivate fearlessness. An unchaste person loses stamina and becomes emasculated and cowardly and cannot be a passive resistor.

Similarly, a rich person wants to become a true passive resistor, he should be willing to lose even the last penny rather than give up passive resistance or in other words, accept poverty without compromising on passive resistance. He should not take up violent steps all through his life and need to be a real leader. Gandhi was a person who preached and practiced non-violence. Any person who has a fearful nature cannot become a passive resistor. Therefore, it is said that when a man takes up a false path or abandons truth, he does so because of some kind of fear in his mind and he is not fit to be a passive resistor.

It can be said that passive resistance or civil disobedience is the most harmonious way to fight for one right and achieve the goals. It is a difficult task and is much more difficult when compared to the act of violence. A person who can be ideal chastity, accept poverty, follow truth, and cultivate fearlessness can only become a perfect passive resistor. It takes courage and experience to be a passive resistor. Though it is considered a difficult task, even women and children can be passive resistors. In other words, even people with no or less physical strengths can achieve their goals through passive resistance. People who take up violence cannot become passive resistors.

One of the most spectacular campaigns that Gandhi led was his 200 mile march to extract salt from the sea. This was in protest against the British tax on salt which was very high for the poor Indians (Kent). The Salt Satyagraha or the Salt March to Dandi began on March 12, 1930, and when Gandhi broke the salt laws imposed by the British rulers, on April 6, 1930, it resulted in the spread of this act of civil disobedience against the British Rulers by millions of Indians (Mass civil disobedience….).

Later on 5 May 1930, Gandhi was arrested for this act which resulted in gaining attention worldwide. World opinion brought pressure on the government to release Gandhi from jail. After several rounds of discussion with the rulers for almost a year, Gandhi was released from prison, and negotiation on this tax law was agreed upon (Mass civil disobedience….). A series of meetings between him and the British Viceroy led to a treaty that required compromises on both sides. The British government realized that no amount of force was going to wipe out completely the acts of civil disobedience.

All Indian political prisoners were realized, and Indians were permitted to manufacture salt and in return, Gandhi agreed to suspend civil disobedience. This treaty was an important first step in the direction of the final goal of complete independence for India (ccsf.edu). In addition to the Salt Satyagraha, Gandhi took up several such movements in the fight for independence. Gandhi brought in satyagraha as not only a method to be used in the sensitive political struggle but as a universal solvent for injustice and violence. He felt that satyagraha was in the same way appropriate for large-scale political struggle and to one-on-one interpersonal clashes. He also understood the need to propagate this movement among the common man as they are most of the time struggling to achieve their goals (Gandhi).

Gandhi was a real leader who in the 30s developed the ancient Hindu philosophy of ahimsa, into a strong social and political means mainly to gain independence and also to increase the self-image of the poor Indians. This is a constructive program and the principal of satyagraha holds good for every social, religious, political, and economic justice system. There were also several other instances when Gandhi took up civil disobedience. For instance, Gandhi undertook a fast for 21 days in the year 1924 to prevent conflicts between the Hindus and Muslims in India. This protest was also successful in achieving peace and the result was good. Gandhi took up social issues such as untouchability in Kerala during 1925-28 (mkgandhi.org).

Through these initiatives, Gandhi was successful in helping India gain independence. Additionally, the lessons of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience gave confidence to the entire world that could be used to fight political battles. The lessons of leadership taught by Gandhi are something that will continue to remain in the literature and also in practice as it is one of the most successful techniques. The programs and policies adopted in the movements initiated by Gandhi reflected the most cherished modes of ahimsa and satyagraha. Even though the non-co-operation movement was in line with nonviolent, it was the civil disobedience movement that was challenging the British laws. Through his leadership, Gandhi proved that it is possible for even a common man to crucially participate in these National Movements and influence strong political issues (mapsofindia.com).

One of the responsibilities of a leader is to motivate the team to all work together towards the common goal. Gandhi had excellent leadership qualities to lead the entire country and influence the people of India to fight for independence through non-violent resistance and civil disobedience. Though this was a daunting challenge, Gandhi was able to do this because of his leadership quality. Even though the Indian community is a community of diversity, Gandhi was able to lead the entire country. Even today the principals of non-violence hold good. However, there are not many leaders like Gandhi who can lead the people in the right direction.

Work Cited

  1. ccsf.edu Mahatma Gandhi and Nonviolent Resistance [2008]
  2. Gandhi, M.K. The Theory and Practice of Satyagraha Indian Opinion. (1914)
  3. Gier, N. Three Principles Of Civil Disobedience: Thoreau, Gandhi, And King (2006)
  4. Kent, E. [2008] Web.
  5. Mass civil disobedience throughout India followed as millions broke the salt laws, from Dalton’s introduction to Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience. Gandhi & Dalton, (1996), p. 72.
  6. mkgandhi.org Thoughts [2008]
  7. mapsofindia.com Civil Disobedience Movement [2008]
  8. Walsh, S K and Asch, E.D. Civil Disobedience. A Wadsworth Casebook in Argument. 1st ed, Boston, (2005) MA: Thomson Wadsworth,.
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