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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, born October-second, eighteen-sixty-nine, in Porbandar India. What’s the best way to describe Gandhi? Perhaps, strong, loving selfless, genuine, courageous, self-sufficient, frugal and intelligent come to mind. All these words belong to and suitably depict a great hero, and certainly, Gandhi is a great hero whose special power is that of unmatched focus, determination and courage. Much of the struggles and suffering that Gandhi purposely produced at his own desire, were to initiate a social change, to create harmony, to achieve equality and to deter discrimination. He would recommend and actively demonstrate civil disobedience, as a moral method to achieve these goals, and would welcome and embrace suffering in the process. Gandhi and his faithful followers used civil disobedience as a tool for social reform and consequently with great fortitude, were subject to continuous imprisonment and instances of harsh beatings. They exhibited a vow of fearlessness. They strived to eliminate discrimination and inequity in South Africa and India and they welcomed personal suffering to do so. Civil disobedience, however, would not be effective without the moral power of, and commitment to, Satyagraha.
Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha was a way of living during a time of oppression, exploitation, and discrimination. It was a tactic used to appeal to people morally, rather than intimidate them violently. It literally means, “clinging to truth” (Gandhi, 1951) and in this case, “Truth symbolizes God and therefore the true Satyagrahi is, accordingly, a man of God” (Gandhi, 1951). If Truth is God, then to cling to Truth would be to cling to God, or to follow His example, to do as God would do, to act as God would act on. God loves all and does not discriminate according to the color of a person’s skin, and He did not create, nor would He impose castes, classes or slaves, therefore, as God would not do any of these things, the Satyagrahi did not also. The Satyagrahi appropriately, as everyone should, “lives his life in loving service to all,” (Gandhi, 1927) and therefore would never seek to injure, to exploit, or to hurt anyone. If the opponent used violent force, then the Satyagraha did not retaliate likewise, but with resistance hence embracing any suffering in the process. In addition, Gandhi specifically made it clear that the Satyagrahi was not to discriminate or consider himself superior to anyone. A long time ago, “Hindu society was divided into four castes by Manu, the ancient Hindu sage, philosopher and strategist. These were in order of hierarchy: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras” (Chada, 1998). The lowest group of people, castles and stigmatized were Untouchables. No Indian of a superior caste, would ever want to be associated with an Untouchable for it would be considered humiliating and defiling. Mohandas, however, once told his mother as a young child, that he did not consider ” Untouchables to be inferior to anyone, nor did he believe Untouchability to be sanctioned by religion,” (Chada, 1998) and when Gandhi founded the Satyagraha Ashram, a (religiously oriented community, centered around a holy man) on ” May twenty-fifth, nineteen-fifteen, in the village of Kochrab, (Chada, 1998) Gandhi did what many considered to be intolerable; he welcomed ” a teacher named Dudabhai, his wife Danibehn, and a baby daughter Lakshmi, belonging to the untouchable class of Dheds,” (Chada, 1998) into the community, setting an example for all the ashramites of the true meaning and duty of Satyagrahi. Gandhi embodied the true sprit of the Satyagrahi, which was to welcome, to love and to live in service of all.
To help the Satyagrahi remember his position in life, a number of vows requiring complete obedience were elaborated by Gandhi. The Satyagrahi adhered to ” Truth-telling, ahimsa (non-violence), celibacy, control of the palate, non-stealing, non-possession, use of handspun and hand-woven Khadi, refusal to use foreign cloth, acceptance of Untouchables, and fearlessness,” (Gandhi, 1927). Perhaps, the most important of the vows, during a time of oppression, exploitation, discrimination and cruelty, however, was the vow of fearlessness. For, ” Those who took the vow of fearlessness promised that they would never resort to force but would defend themselves always with soul-force – the weapon of a person who is trained to practice Satyagraha, which is the force of truth and love,” (Chada, 1998). It is this vow that best describes the behavior of thousands of Indians during India’s struggle for self-rule. It is this vow that makes Satyagraha morally superior to any type of violent force.
The concept of Satyagraha, developed by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and practiced widely throughout India and many other countries, is morally superior to, and more effective than, any type of violent force. Violent force is a form of intimidation, an attempt to control, a display of power, and not in the best of interests to everyone. Satyagraha, on the other hand, is an undertaking of moral suffering and humility, an act of love, and beneficial to all. Whereas violent force is often used to gain power for a few, soul-force, the weapon of the Satyagrahi, disseminates power to all, in the form of freedom, equity, and love. The Satyagrahis motive is not to intimidate, oppress, injure or subdue his opponent but to ” Convert the opponent, and make him one’s willing ally and friend,” (Merton, 1964). ” It is based on the idea that the moral appeal to the heart and conscience is, in the case of human beings, more effective than an appeal based on threat of bodily pain or violence,” (Gandhi, 1951). Basically, Gandhi summarized the true spirit of the Satyagraha when he said The soul can remain unconquered and unconquerable even when the body is imprisoned, (Gandhi, 1951). During the early stages of Gandhi’s political career there was a time when many Europeans in South Africa despised and sought to harm him. This was the result of a great misunderstanding and exaggeration. In eighteen-ninety-six at the young age of twenty-six, Gandhi constructed a pamphlet entitled ” The Grievances of the British Indians in South Africa,” (Chada, 1998). Bound in green, it was consequently known as the Green Pamphlet. Appropriately and precisely, the Green Pamphlet ” Summarized several petitions, memorials, circulars, and leaflets, and detailed the sufferings of the Indians in Natal” (Chada, 1998). Its contents however, were exaggerated and summarized by a paper headquartered in London, England known as Reuters. The publisher stated that ” A pamphlet in India declares that the Indians in Natal are robbed and assaulted, and treated like beasts, and are unable to obtain redress,” (Chada, 1998). Many Europeans were consequently outraged with Gandhi and on his return to South Africa, Gandhi would have a taste of a more hostile atmosphere. Therefore, once he arrived back in South Africa, a great crowd of hostile Europeans gathered to angrily welcome Gandhi and all the other Indian passengers. During his attempt to reach safety a number of people recognized him and surrounded him. ” The crowd was cursing and shouting and Gandhi was in danger of his life. Stones, brickbats, mud and rotten fish were being hurled at him with a riddling whip. A burly fellow came up to the Mahatma-to-be, slapped him in the face, and then kicked him hard. He was gripping the railings of a house, nearly unconscious. ‘ I had almost given up the hope of reaching home alive’, he wrote. ‘ But I remember well that even then my heart did not arraign my assailants,’ ” (Chada, 1998). Gandhi did not blame the assailants for the attack. The blame rested on the community leaders and on the Natal government. ” ‘ The leaders and, if you permit me to say so, you are to blame,’ he told the Attorney-General, ‘ You could have guided the people properly, but you assumed that I must have indulged in exaggeration I am sure that when the truth becomes known, they will be sorry for their conduct,’” (Chada, 1998). Shortly after, the press changed their stance and cleared Gandhi of the worst quotations attributed to him. He encountered no further threat and in fact acquired the image of a man with noble and nonviolent intentions. People began to realize that Gandhi was a peaceful and moral man willing to stand up for his principles whenever the occasion permitted. He did not resort to violence and threat when attacked viciously by the crowd but instead appealed to them morally by not retaliating in court or during the lynching. In fact, whenever an occasion occurred when a person could demonstrate and stand up for his principles Gandhi recommended in doing so no matter what the consequences. Often the consequences produced severe beatings and imprisonment hence being a Satyagrahi required a strict commitment to non-violence and the undertaking of personal suffering. Under no circumstances could the Satyagrahi resort to violent means. If a Satyagrahi did resort to violence, then the moral appeal of Satyagraha would be lost and the Satyagrahi would not be able to separate himself from his opponent.
On the other hand, Gandhi and followers took advantage of any situation in which they could demonstrate the moral power of Satyagraha, and committed themselves to public acts of civil disobedience to create sympathy for their causes and to demonstrate the effectiveness of non-violence. During the time Gandhi was in South Africa there were many discriminating and unjust laws affecting Indians. For example, Indians were prohibited from owning property except in designated locations they were not allowed to vote and were required to pay a poll tax of three rupees as fee for entry into the Transvaal. They could not use footpaths and were prohibited from being on the street after nine p.m.” (Chada, 1998). It was these and similar laws that Gandhi and his followers sought to abolish. Essentially, the laws were a way for Europeans to exhibit their control over Asiatic settlers. Little did they expect Gandhi and his followers to show the fortitude they did resisting such laws. There are many examples which could be presented to try and portray the determination, courage, resistance, and commitment numerous Indians demonstrated, but perhaps none as large as the Salt Satyagraha in the latter part of Gandhi s life, and the fight against what was stigmatized as the Black Act.
As most of the laws aimed at Asiatic settlers in South Africa were an attempt by Europeans to exhibit their power and control over the Indians; the Black Act was no exception. At the time The Transvaal government considered that the existing laws did not provide adequately for preventing the surreptitious infiltration of Indians into the Transvaal and for deporting unauthorized residents,” (Chada, 1998). Therefore on August twenty-second, nineteen-o-six, a draft entitled Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance was composed and published in the Government Gazette. It specifically expressed that All Indian men, women, and children over eight years of age must submit to being fingerprinted, and should also receive a certificate of registration which they must carry with them at all times and produce on demand. Every Indian who failed to register would forfeit his right of residence in the Transvaal and render himself to fine, imprisonment, or deportation and failure or refusal to produce a certificate on demand by a police officer was also made a punishable offense, (Chada, 1998). Defiance of this law would test each Indians commitment to Satyagraha and in the process the Satyagrahi could lose his job, his land, and his right to live in South Africa. Gandhi addressed the bill and felt that it was Designed to strike at the very root of our existence in South Africa It is not the last step but the first step with a view to hounding us out of the country , (Gandhi, 1927). Under Gandhi s strict leadership followers vowed They would rather suffer the penalties than submit to the Black Ordinance, (Chada, 1998). Gandhi s first step, as it was in every situation, was to exhaust all legal and constitutional methods imaginable to prevent the Act from becoming law. Clearly, the Black Act was discriminatory and an attempt by the British people to suppress the Indians. Unfortunately, Gandhi s legal attempts were unsuccessful and the law was passed on March twenty-second, nineteen-o-seven, and all Indians were required to register under it by July thirty-first. The second step of Gandhi s strategy was to hence initiate the Passive Resistance Association, which latter was renamed the Satyagraha Association. A member of the Satyagraha association vowed never to use any form of violent force, and excepted all suffering as a means to end discrimination, exploitation, and oppression. Volunteers picketed the permit offices and were To obey the police and if arrested, go to the police station quietly and peacefully, (Chada, 1998). If an occasion arose where they were subjected to police brutality, they would Suffer in silence, (Merton, 1964). As the struggle advanced Gandhi found the name Passive Resistance inadequate to express its real meaning. Moreover, he wanted an Indian name for this basically Indian movement. Hence Gandhi adopted the word Satyagraha. When it came time to register under the act, only five percent of the Indian community took out The bond of slavery, (Gandhi, 1927) though the limit for registration was extended again and again. Consequently, many Indians were imprisoned for their disobedience of the law, and Gandhi in the spirit of Satyagraha, asked for the heaviest penalty provided by the law, which was six months hard labor and a fine of five hundred rupees. The magistrate, however, decided that an appropriate punishment would be two months imprisonment without hard labor. All the suffering and struggles endured by the Indians nonetheless proved enough to administer a compromise, or so it seemed. A draft presented to Gandhi proposed that The Indians should register voluntarily, and not under any law, and that the details to be entered in the certificates should be settled by the government with the Indian community, (Chada, 1998). It was also proposed that if the majority of Indians underwent voluntary registration, the government would repel the Black Act and take steps to legalize the voluntary registration. Gandhi and his associates agreed after some clarification of the draft and hence the community celebrated joyously. The celebration, however, would end abruptly when another bill was afterwards introduced into legislation, validating the voluntary certificates but not repealing the Black Act itself. Gandhi and his associates had been deceived. What resulted was The first of a series of public symbolic acts which Gandhi used throughout his life to further his causes, (Chada, 1998). On August sixteenth, nineteen-0-nine, three thousand Indians under the influence of Gandhi gathered outside the Hamida Mosque in Johannesburg to burn the their voluntary certificates of registration, once again demonstrating that they would stand up for their freedom and principles and suffer the consequences in the process with courage. Perhaps the most famous display of public disobedience, and commitment to Satyagraha is the Salt Satyagraha.
In nineteen-thirty, Gandhi launched civil disobedience to rectify some of the evils of British rule, and symbolically singled out the Salt laws for violation. He regarded these laws as iniquitous because they exploited the poorest of the country and only benefited the government. As was always the case, Gandhi s first step was to inform the government of his intentions, to outline the purpose of civil disobedience, and to provide a solution before any action was taken. At the time, Gandhi considered many British laws to be exploitacious and evil. He considered the British rule over India evil because They impoverished the dumb millions by a system of progressive exploitation and by a ruinous expensive military and civil administration which the country could never afford, (Gandhi, 1951). Therefore, at the beginning of March he made up his mind to direct his efforts towards the Salt laws that had been a British monopoly for some time already. Each year Eight-hundred-million pounds were collected by the British from India, (Chada, 1998) and Gandhi considered these revenues to be obtained literally from The sweat of the poorest and from a commodity abundantly available along the thousands of miles of Indian coastline, (Gandhi, 1951). Nonetheless, British laws made it a punishable crime to possess salt not obtained from government sources.
Attempting to deliberately disobey the law Gandhi hence sought ways to, and encouraged all to make their own salt. Gandhi also made it clear to the government that the purpose of the campaign was not to necessarily Overthrow or hurt the British but to convert the British people through non-violence and thus make them see the wrong they have done to India, (Gandhi, 1951). On the morning of March twelve, nineteen-thirty, Gandhi set out from his ashram accompanied by seventy-eight chosen followers, to march the two-hundred and forty-miles to the see at Dandi. The march commenced every morning at six-thirty and the Spectacle of this sixty-year old man, staff in hand, striding vigorously along the dusty roads of India with his Kadi-clad followers, to challenge peacefully the mighty British empire aroused the interest and sympathy of millions all over the world, (Chada, 1998). He proclaimed, ‘I shall return with what I want or my dead body will float in the ocean, ‘ (Chada, 1998).
On April fifth, after a march of twenty-four days, it reached the seacoast at Dandi, and the original group of seventy-nine had swelled to thousands. When asked what he hoped to achieve by breaking the Salt laws, Gandhi answered, ‘I want world sympathy in this battle of Right against Might, ‘ (Chada, 1998). To Gandhi s delight the Salt Satyagraha was going according to plan and With the spread of the salt movement, teachers, professors, and students made salt at the sea and inland, and were marched to jail in batches, (Chada, 1998). Soon, Gandhi would proceed to the final stage of the plan to expose the evils of British rule and to demonstrate the commitment and courage of the Satyagrahis; which in turn would effectively create sympathy for the Indian s struggle. He declared that if the Viceroy could not see his way clear to removing the Salt tax, he and his companions were to march to the government-owned Dharasana Saltworks and take possession of it in the name of the people. Gandhi, however, was denied the opportunity to courageously lead his followers to the Saltworks because he was arrested on May fourth while sleeping peacefully among his compatriots. Leadership duties fell to Sarojini Naidu, the poetess, who led approximately two thousand, five hundred members to Daharasana Saltworks. With Manilal Gandhi, the Mahatma s second son, in the forefront, the Satyagrahis approached the salt pans which were surrounded by ditches and guarded by four hundred Indian policeman commanded by six British officers, (Chada, 1998). Webb Miller, a well-known United Press correspondent who had managed to be on the scene, perhaps best describes the event.
Suddenly, at a word of command, scores of native policeman rushed upon the advancing marchers and rained blows on their heads with their steel-shod lathis. Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins. From where I stood I heard the sickening whack of the clubs on unprotected skulls. The waiting crowd of marchers groaned and sucked in their breath in sympathetic pain at every blow. Those struck down fell sprawling, unconscious or writhing with fractured skulls or broken shoulders. Group after group walked forward, sat down, and submitted to being beaten into insensibility without raising an arm to fend off the blows. Finally the policeman became enraged by the non-resistance They commenced savagely kicking the seated men in the abdomen and testicles. The injured men writhed and squealed in agony, which seemed to inflame the fury of the police, and the crowd again almost broke away from their leaders. The police then began dragging the sitting men by their arms or feet, sometimes for a hundred yards and the throwing them into ditches. One was dragged into the ditch where I stood; the splash of his body doused me with muddy water. Another policeman dragged a Gandhi man to the ditch, threw him in, and belabored him over the head with his lathi. Hour after hour stretcher-bearers carried back a stream of inert, bleeding bodies (Chada, 1998).
For days these events were repeated and eventually they were reported to the Viceroy who consequently never visited the scene to witness for himself the cruelty and horror of the Bitishs actions. United Press circulated Webb Miller s dispatch to over a thousand papers throughout the world. The Satyagrahis during the entire campaign were able to withstand the vicious blows and not resort to violence, remembering the strict commitment they had made when they accepted the life and principles of a Satyagraha. Their great fortitude and control would deliver Indian from British rule and all Indians would successfully attain swaraj or self-rule.
Hence, Civil disobedience, and the struggles endured by the Indians would not of been effective without the moral power of, and commitment to Satyagraha. Satyagraha provided for the Indians a way of living during a time of discrimination, exploitation, and oppression and generated great sympathy for the Indians during their campaigns. Moreover, the moral appeal of the Satyagrahi helped to convert the opponent and make him see the evil of his ways. On the other hand, the concept of Satyagraha would have been a failure if not for the strict commitment and fortitude demonstrated by all Satyagrahis. If the Satyagrahis had resorted to violence they would not of been able to separate themselves from the evil of their opponents. Fortunately, however, each Satyagrahi proved during such events as the Black Act Satyagraha, and Salt Satyagraha that the soul can remain unconquered and unconquerable even when the body is imprisoned. Satyagraha is the reason why Indians today enjoy swaraj, or self-rule.
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