, Research Paper
The Fight for Freedom in India
One of the most inspiring and influential men of the twentieth century, Mohandas Gandhi, is a prime example of Thoreau s theory of civil disobedience. Not only did Gandhi almost single-handedly free India and its five hundred million people from their long subjection to the British Empire, but also he did so without raising an army, without firing a gun or taking a hostage, and without ever holding a political office. How could one slight, soft-spoken man accomplish such a remarkable feat? Let us examine the answer, which lies in the overpowering force of his character and his ability to lead others in civil disobedience.
Gandhi knew that he could never defeat British colonial power in armed confrontation and at the same time he had no interest in waging a logistical war that would outlast British forces, wearing them down to the point of relinquishing power. It was not in Gandhi s nature to contemplate military resistance in any form. His interests and talents lay in the area of personal diplomacy and he instinctively sought to oppose the British on humane, moral, and even spiritual grounds. He believed that an entrenched political and economical system could only be revolutionized by spiritual ideas. Thus, he borrowed ideas on passive resistance from the Bible, Thoreau s Civil Disobedience , and Tolstoy s The Kingdom of God is Within You (Collins & Lapierre). Over a period of years Gandhi used those ideas to develop and implement his own style of civil disobedience, what he called satyagraha , a nobly principled, highly disciplined, courageously ethical strategy of non-violent passive resistance (Kirsey).
Gandhi demonstrated non-violent passive resistance to further India s cause in numerous ways. Clothing was mainly manufactured in Britain and then imported to India, destroying Indian industry and countless jobs. Gandhi encouraged Indians to spin cloth on their own time and on one symbolic day, he asked his followers to throw all of their British clothing on a big fire. He encouraged them not to buy British clothing but to produce and purchase their own Indian made clothing which led to the boycott of British products and the unemployment of numerous British workers, resulting in the reemployment of Indians.
An example of Gandhi s contribution to civil disobedience that we all experience from time to time is the strike. He made the strike as a way of fighting back very popular and it is still used quite frequently today. Gandhi asked the entire nation to go on strike for one day, and the people did. For one day nothing moved: no mail delivery or pick-up, no factory progression, telegraph lines were down, and the British in India were cut off from their mother country. With this display of civil disobedience, Great Britain realized that Gandhi meant business and the true extent of his power in India.
Gandhi became very influential among the Indians, quickly reforming the old Indian National Congress (INC) into a newer, more serious organization. He called a huge boycott of British goods and services, including schools. With a leader like Gandhi, the Indian people were no longer afraid of their foreign rulers and began protesting. When police arrived, the Indians would line up to be arrested, hoping to clog the political system and stop the British (Berlin). Thousands of Indians were arrested and their movement was mostly a success, but a few violent outbreaks caused the INC to call off the protest and label it a mistake. Gandhi himself was arrested shortly after and was released early due to medical complications. However, in his absence the INC had split into two parts and the strong bond that had been forged between Hindus and Muslims during protest had dissolved as well. Small struggles took place in villages, which led Gandhi to another one of his trademark protests, the fast. He fasted for three weeks, which effectively brought about peace.
With the beginning of World War II, the INC and Gandhi supported Britain on one condition: the complete withdraw of Britain from India. India became independent shortly after the end of the war but it split as it became independent, forming Pakistan. Gandhi was upset that Indian unity did not come along with Indian freedom, but nonetheless plunged himself into helping repair the riot ravaged areas and fasting for peace in those places where the fighting continued. Utilizing ethical disobedience in the form of fasting he stopped the riots of Calcutta in 1947 and caused a truce in Delhi in 1948. Gandhi was not destined to celebrate his freedom for very long: he was shot to death on his way to evening prayer in 1948. Yet, he died with freedom, peace, and love within his heart, as well as paving the road for others to fight non-violently for ethical reforms.
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Harcourt Brace Jovanich, 1991. 214-225.