“Nonviolence implies voluntary submission to the penalty for non-cooperation with evil. I am here, therefore, to invite and 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”. Mohandas K. Gandhi, “Gandhi on Nonviolent Protest” (1922)
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Why has Gandhi deliberately broken the law?
Gandhi deliberately breaks the law for the right reasons. He has a strong case for breaking the law. Gandhi believes that his cause is just and the act of disobedience is morally acceptable. However, he must provide reasons for supporting such acts and reasons for choosing nonviolence to show disobedience to the authority.
First, if Gandhi advocates a legitimate cause for citizens, then he must have good reasons for choosing nonviolence to advocate for equal rights among citizens. Gandhi had a desire of achieving equal treatments for all citizens i.e., equality of rights ought to serve all citizens regardless of their races. Second, in some cases, people may have their reasons for a given cause, but their actions may not support the cause. Therefore, if one wants to defend a legitimate cause, he must formulate an appropriate strategy for the cause.
People have a duty to obey and follow the law, especially when such laws are fair. Therefore, people also have the obligation to follow appropriate channels to solve their grievances before resorting to illegal activities. Based on this observation, we can argue that Gandhi used nonviolence as a last resort to advocate for equality in society. In most cases, people in power often oppose causes by minority groups.
Therefore, any legal approach to defending such causes may not be effective. In addition, it is not obvious when one can claim that the cause only needs civil disobedience a last resort approach. In order to eliminate challenges from apathetic and immovable majorities, then civil disobedience may be the last resort in situations where legal means have failed. According to Rawls, one can only gain confidence through civil disobedience when handling such matters (Rawls 374).
Rawls also argues that the use of any form of civil disobedience requires coordination with other minority groups. Gandhi deliberately decides to break the law through an act of nonviolence against the British. People who engage in such forms of protests believe that the authority should arrest them. In some cases, protesters normally consider training in order to avoid any form of resistance and cooperate with the authority.
It is fundamental for such protesters to coordinate and plan for arrest in order to have good consequences for the minority. Gandhi acts on nonviolence protests can only be effective if there are chances of achieving positive change for the minority. This is an appropriate justification for exposing one’s self to risks of harm from the authority.
Civil disobedience has the potential of attracting the attention of the public. Consequently, people can use civil disobedience as a means of achieving whatever they think is just in society. However, this approach of dealing with societal issues can lead to general disobedience of the law and authority. This happens in cases where the law may be moderate forgiven acts of civil disobedience.
Gandhi submitted for the arrest and cooperated with the authority. However, in some cases, some protesters opt to resist arrest in cases where such acts may stop the authority from the effective discharge of their duties. Authorities may apply similar laws used in criminal cases to civil disobedience. Gandhi could have used the opportunity as a way of continuing with the protest by accepting whatever punishment appropriate for him.
Why does he consider this action a citizen’s duty?
Citizens have a consecrated duty to engage in civil disobedience when the state has turned lawless or completely corrupt. Moreover, a citizen who supports such corrupt or lawless state also becomes a part of its unjust status. In this regard, every citizen must be responsible for acts of the ruler. This is why Gandhi considers breaking the law as his sacred duty.
Moreover, Gandhi willingly accepts the consequences that come with the act of engaging in nonviolence. This distinguishes civil disobedience from other common crimes. Gandhi does not express fidelity to the law by accepting the subsequent punishment because he does not like such a law.
At the same time, Gandhi asserts that his crime is different from other common crimes. It is also a strategic move by Gandhi to welcome such punishments. For instance, from the nonviolence acts of Martin Luther King Jr, Washington notes:
“If you confront a man who has been cruelly misusing you, and says “punish me, if you will; I do not deserve it, but I will accept it, so that the world will know I am right and you are wrong,” then you wield a powerful and just weapon” (Washington 348).
The act to accept punishment is like nonviolence act because it may have positive outcomes for Gandhi’s struggle. It makes people in authority consider acts or rights they disregard about their subjects are significant to such subjects (Singer 84). This act shows the selflessness of Gandhi and his desire for a just society. Civil disobedience has the ability to mobilize support for a just cause in society.
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The authority may use punishment to deter any future attempts of engaging in nonviolence. We have to note that there is a difference between accepting punishment and fidelity to the law. Gandhi surrendered to the law and was willing to go to jail. However, he had no fidelity of the British legal system in India.
Rawls claims that people must meet three conditions in order to justify their civil disobedience. First, they must respond to an act of injustice that is paramount and clear, second, the response must be a last resort, and finally, there should be coordination with other groups. However, some critics have argued that this approach does not separate civil disobedience, which is a right of citizens and other forms disobedience.
People have a right to civil disobedience, which they must take part in against their unjust government. Moreover, it is also an individual’s political right. Gandhi’s right to nonviolence is a significant right he has against the unjust government. This right is under freedom of expression.
Moreover, it is necessary for a citizen to protect his dignity, show his or her concern for respect and significant matters, and hope for positive value in the outcome. Therefore, it is Gandhi’s right to disobey the law because the law unjustly treats him.
Therefore, the moral duty to break the law is not a different right like other rights against an unjust government. Therefore, authorities must also note that citizens have rights against them, which such authorities must honor.
Rawls, John. The Law of Peoples. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999. Print.
Singer, Peter. Democracy and Disobedience. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979. Print.
Washington, James (ed). Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991. Print.