Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi: The Power of Non-Violence

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The Power of Nonviolence
Demonstrators lined the coast as the blistering sun incinerated the crowd. Everyone’s eyes were on a short, Indian man wrapped in cloth, an unimpressive looking man named Mohandas “Mahatma” Karamchand Gandhi. A shudder of nervous anticipation shook him as he lowered his hand into the sloshing sea. Digging his hands into the ground, his hand hit something lumpy. Hands trembling, Gandhi lifted a lump of salty mud from the depths of the sea. The crowd gasped silently. Gandhi then forced himself to lower the lump into the water. The mud slipped away from the grains of white, causing the water to grow murkier. A few minutes later, the mud cleared, and Gandhi held up his hand. Grasping onto the grainy substance, Gandhi cried, “I have shaken the foundation of the British Empire, for I have broken the salt law!” Gandhi went on to instruct his followers to lead a massive movement to break the salt law, which prohibited the creation of homemade salt. “Whenever you need it, do not hesitate to make the salt that you need!” declared Gandhi as an uproar caught the crowd. Cheering, the crowd lined the seashore and began producing illegal salt (Browne, 159-163).

One of his biggest demonstrations, the Salt March marked a precedent for all of Gandhi’s Satyagraha (“holding to the truth”) (Browne 160) demonstrations. Gandhi, though unsuccessful in preventing the India-Pakistan schism, was ultimately a successful revolutionary leader who ended the rule of Britain over India. Gandhi also successfully ended the laws allowing for untouchability, but he was not successful at ending the discrimination against former untouchables.

In India, people of the untouchable caste were badly mistreated, because of their low status on the caste system. The caste system was formed by the Aryans, invaders who conquered native Indians living there 2,000 years ago. They divided the population into castes, based on social class, with Brahmans, the priests on top, then the warriors, then the commoners, then the laborers, and on the bottom, the untouchables. Many natives were made into untouchables, who did dirty tasks like carrying off dead bodies, and therefore were considered to be at the same level as animals. Members of higher castes did not even go near them for fear of being polluted. This meant that untouchables were isolated from the rest of the society, and led to their discrimination. Untouchables were considered so low-level that the Rig Veda, an important Hindu document where castes were described, did not even mention them (Oldenburg). Because untouchability had already lasted for 2,000 years, it was unlikely that they would ever be given more rights.

Gandhi fought against the injustices against untouchables through his ideals of Satyagraha and Ahimsa (nonviolence). It was his firm belief that untouchability was sinful to Hinduism. In fact, he even believed that the existence of the untouchable caste brought about the British Raj. Gandhi, as a lawyer in South Africa, protested the existence of the untouchables by disemboweling his toilets, which showed that he believed that it was dignifying to do dirty tasks. Gandhi went as far as adopting an untouchable girl and telling his Brahman supporters that they should do their own unwanted tasks, such as cleaning, throwing away trash, and disembowelment. He risked losing many supporters through his bold actions, but decided that it was his duty to help abolish untouchability. He called them the children of God, and refused to enter churches that did not allow entry for lower castes. Gandhi even suspended the movement for British independence because he believed that untouchability should be ended first. Through fasting and praying, he gained many Hindu supporters, and in 1949, the Indian Constitution illegalized untouchability (Oldenburg).

Another dominant problem that India faced was the cruel and oppressive rule of Britain in an empire known as the British Raj....
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