The rhetoric of non-violence | Michigan Daily
When people think of India’s struggle for independence, they usually think of Mahatma Gandhi. His name is one that most people can recognize, and his beliefs have influenced leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and other revolutionaries. Gandhi is famous around the world and has become a symbol of peace, non-violence and civil rights – his statues can be seen not only in India, but also in England and the United States.
Gandhi has become a revered figure as the father of “satyagrahWhich is a movement of non-violent civil disobedience and the search for the truth. To most Indians, he practically looks like a saint, with the nickname “father of the nation”. His face appears frequently on currency and political leaders all Gandhian tenants for popular recognition.
But Gandhi’s exalted status in India and abroad is detrimental to our understanding of history – and it has dire implications for movements today.
In the summer of 1893, Gandhi was driving in the first class section of a train in South Africa. The first-class car, however, was reserved exclusively for white passengers and, after Gandhi refused to be pushed to the back, he was kicked from the train. This famous story marks a turning point in Gandhi’s life, as he finally decided to organize his people and oppose sectarianism against Indians. This would inspire his lifelong struggle for passive resistance. What many glosses, however, are other reasons why Gandhi may have refused to leave the first class section of the train.
Gandhi (along with many British imperialists) believed in Indo-Aryan theory, which postulated that Europeans and upper-caste Indians shared a common ancestral group: the Aryans, who had colonized India after leaving Europe. This theory was a British tool to justify the sophistication of ancient Indian civilization and culture as well as a means of promoting their own imperial goals. Although the Aryans were do not an invading group of Europe, the British imperialists still believed they would bring a savage India back into its Aryan golden age. For Gandhi, belief in the Indo-Aryan myth as it existed at the time created a racial hierarchy, with the Indians of the upper castes being closer to whiteness than to blackness, the former located at the top of the racial hierarchy and the second at the bottom.
In 1908 Gandhi wrote his account of his experience after being taken to a prison and what it meant for the original South Africans, writing“We could understand not being classified with the whites, but being placed at the same level as the natives seemed too much to bear.
Gandhi’s belief in this hierarchy is important in understanding why he may have been offended by the train incident. Was the real insult to be seen as the equal of blacks?
Gandhi’s racism has made him a controversial figure for oppressed communities, but his problematic beliefs are still brushed under the rug by the mainstream Western media. In 2018, students and Faculty at the University of Ghana protested against the installation of a Gandhi statue until it is taken down. While Gandhi may have fought for the liberation of the Indian people, in South Africa and India, he marched on marginalized groups to do so.
Another major source of criticism is Gandhi’s treatment of Dalits. Although Gandhi is often proclaimed anti-caste, he used them to score political points and defend the values of the upper castes. Gandhi renamed the Dalits – formerly called “untouchables” – to Harijans, or children of God. In American textbooks, the popularization of the word by Gandhi Harijan is applauded as a progressive movement against casteism. In reality, this name change did nothing to grant rights to Dalits and opposed the wishes of many Dalit activists, who wanted to name their own community. It was a paternalistic way of forcing them to embrace the Hindu caste system and fostering the perpetuation of the caste system. In his alleged course to end casteism, Gandhi constantly spoke about Dalit activists and even continued hunger strike to prevent the reservation of Dalit seats in parliament, thus undermining their political power to the benefit of upper-caste Hindus.
Despite his racism and casteism, Gandhi became sanctified in the West. Although it was instrumental in ending British imperialism in India, the satyagrah was not the only movement that brought the British out of India. Politics Violence was also used by Indian militant groups against the British Raj, but the Western narrative tends to give all the credit for India’s independence to nonviolent movements.
The West’s fixation on nonviolent resistance in the Indian independence movement is an effort to oversimplify, to tarnish history down to the parts that are easiest for us to swallow today. . Gandhi’s image of “Mahatma” works the same way: it is difficult for Indians to recognize his racism and casteism, so sanctifying him is much easier than accepting reality. India’s struggle for liberation, which was a complicated and bloody event, is becoming stripped of all nuance in the eyes of the West. This version of the story plays into Orientalist stereotypes of the passive existence and struggles of Asian peoples. Gandhi’s racism is painted in this way, creating a beautiful orientalized figurehead that centrists can co-opt.
The violence inherent in political and social change is often overshadowed by images of peace after these movements have passed. It’s similar to what we’ve seen in the American civil rights movement, with schools and culture placing more emphasis on nonviolent leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. than on more radical thinkers who have also played a role. major role in such movements, such as Malcom X. Western fixation on Gandhi overlooks other influential freedom fighters like Bhagat singh who orchestrated failed assassination attempts who added momentum of movement.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi are now both regarded as respected leaders who can be hailed as figureheads and mentors for mainstream political movements. Yet these same political movements simultaneously undermine the legacy of these men. Martin Luther King Jr. was kissed by most Americans, who ignore the fact that King was a radical hated by many during his time. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi (a staunch Hindu nationalist) praises Gandhi and his tenants, despite the fact that it was a Hindu nationalist who murdered Gandhi. These two men’s emphasis on non-violence makes laundering their history easy and comfortable for people who don’t realize that change is often brought about by violent revolutions.
Over the past summer, protests calling for an end to police brutality have turned violent at times, and the reaction condemn looting was swift on the part of most mainstream politicians. The lack of recognition of radical leaders of the past has repercussions for today, leading us to believe that change was brought about only by non-violence. The looting convictions not only distracted attention from the real issues of police violence, but also demonstrated how much the state depends on non-violence to maintain the status quo. To do this, they co-opt figures from the past.
The misinterpretations of modern change movements stem from deliberately distorted understandings of history by those in power. The sanctification of rulers like Gandhi serves to whitewash images of the past and promotes blind devotion to rulers without understanding the complexities behind real change.
MiC columnist Safura Syed can be contacted at [email protected]