Mahatma Gandhi and His Myths Common Disobedience, Nonviolence, and Satyagraha in the Real World

This is the content of the 1990 Annual Gandhi Lecture for the International Association of Gandhian Studies, conveyed at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville on October 2.

There are numerous myths about Gandhi. I'd get a kick out of the chance to call attention to a couple of them and ideally dispose of them for you.

Initial, a snappy one: Gandhi was not a skinny little man. Yes, his legs were gaunt—and bowed—however he had a barrel mid-section, and a profound, blasting voice to match it. In pictures, you simply don't see his mid-section, since he for the most part had a fabric hung around it.

That was a simple one. How about we attempt another.

A standout amongst the most widely recognized and most unsafe myths about Gandhi is that he was a holy person. The name—or rather, the title—Mahatma itself signifies "Incredible Soul." That's some place between a holy person and a Messiah. Gandhi attempted to keep away from the title, however the general population of India disregarded his challenges. Presently I see that even the Library of Congress has started to order him under "Gandhi, Mahatma," so I figure he's lost that fight.

I've heard it contended that Gandhi for sure was a holy person, since he was an ace of contemplation. Indeed, I should let you know that in every one of my readings of and about Gandhi, I've never run over anything to say that Gandhi was an ace of reflection, or that he ruminated by any means—beside watching a moment of hush toward the start of his petition gatherings, a practice he said he obtained from the Quakers.

Gandhi protested when individuals called him "a holy person attempting to be a legislator." He said he was rather "a lawmaker attempting to be a holy person." Personally, I oblige Gandhi's judgment on this.

Not that Gandhi's profound endeavors and accomplishments shouldn't be respected. They've surely enlivened me. Be that as it may, on the off chance that we name Gandhi a consummated being, we lose our opportunity to view his life and vocation basically and to gain from his mix-ups.

Furthermore, if individuals consider Gandhi to be a holy person, they'll believe he's "too useful for the world," and they won't consider his case important as a model for solid social change. I'm always irritated at discovering books on Gandhi in book shop areas checked "Religious," or even "Mysterious." If his books are buried that way, in what manner will the hard-bubbled political researchers ever keep running crosswise over him?


Another myth about Gandhi is the possibility that India's political pioneers, starting with Nehru, are the inheritors of his custom and have conveyed it on.

I wish they had. All things considered, India's pioneers have dismisses a great deal a greater amount of Gandhi than they've received.

They surrendered peaceful activity when they achieved control. India now brandishes the world's fourth biggest outfitted constrain, and the pioneers haven't appeared at all hesitant to utilize it to settle clashes, either inside or outside the nation. No thinking is given to conceivable Gandhi-style options.

Perhaps more regrettable, India's pioneers have done their best to impersonate Western nations by building an economy in light of vast scale industry and expansive scale agribusiness.

Gandhi battled this sort of improvement. He cautioned that it would financially demolish India's towns, where 80% of India's kin lived and still live. What's more, Gandhi has demonstrated right.

Yes, India is currently by and large a much wealthier nation—however it has more urgently needy individuals than any other time in recent memory. The same number of as half of its kin can't manage the cost of enough nourishment to maintain wellbeing. India prides itself now on sufficiently developing grain so it doesn't have to import any—however the surplus spoils away while individuals starve who can't stand to get it!

Gandhi advanced an alternate sort of improvement. He focused on endeavors based right in the towns, expanding on the villagers' own particular qualities and assets. Relatively few individuals here acknowledge it, yet Gandhi might be this current century's most prominent supporter of decentralism—basing financial and political power at the neighborhood level.

You may recall in the motion picture Gandhi seeing Gandhi turn cotton yarn on a minimized turning wheel. Gandhi and his partners were the ones who built up this haggle it into the towns. It's the primary instance of what's currently called "proper innovation" or "transitional innovation." obviously, E. F. Schumacher, the creator of Small is Beautiful, later presented the terms themselves. Schumacher was emphatically affected by Gandhi, calling him "the most critical monetary educator today."

Gandhi set up various associations to do town improvement. He sent numerous laborers to live in and among the towns.

Since his passing, thousands have carried on this work. Presently, however, the specialists regularly consolidate advancement with battles against nearby bad form. Most likely the nearest thing in the United States to what they are doing is the thing that we call "group sorting out."

The general population carrying on this work in India are among the genuine successors of Gandhi. Other cutting edge Gandhians are in projects like the Chipko—"Embrace the Trees"— Movement, which squares reckless signing in the Himalayas; or Shanti Sena, the "Peace Army," which mediates peacefully in urban uproars. My book Gandhi Today portrays some of the Gandhians' projects.

Coincidentally, here's a fast failure of another myth concerning Gandhi and India's pioneers: Indira Gandhi and her child Rajiv, the present executive, are no connection to the Mahatma. Indira Gandhi was the little girl of Nehru. The name "Gandhi" is regular in India, and went to her by marriage. The name signifies "food merchant."


I think, however, that the vast majority of the myths and misinterpretations encompassing Gandhi need to do with peacefulness. For example, it's shocking what number of individuals still have the possibility that peaceful activity is aloof.

It's imperative for us to be clear about this: There is nothing uninvolved about Gandhian peaceful activity.

I'm apprehensive Gandhi himself made this perplexity by alluding to his strategy at first as "uninvolved resistance," since it was in some ways like methods bearing that name. However, he soon altered his opinion and rejected the term.

Gandhi's peaceful activity was not a hesitant procedure nor a guarded one. Gandhi was dependably in all out attack mode. He put stock in defying his adversaries forcefully, in a manner that they couldn't abstain from managing him.

In any case, wasn't Gandhi's peaceful activity intended to evade savagery? Yes and no. Gandhi relentlessly kept away from brutality toward his adversaries. He didn't maintain a strategic distance from savagery toward himself or his devotees.

Gandhi said that the peaceful extremist, similar to any trooper, must be prepared to bite the dust for the cause. What's more, actually, amid India's battle for autonomy, many Indians were murdered by the British.

The distinction was that the peaceful extremist, while willing to bite the dust, was never ready to murder.

Gandhi called attention to three conceivable reactions to abuse and foul play. One he depicted as the weakling's way: to acknowledge the wrong or flee from it. The second choice was to stand and battle by drive of arms. Gandhi said this was superior to acknowledgment or fleeing.

Be that as it may, the third way, he said, was best of all and required the most boldness: to stand and battle exclusively by peaceful means.


One more of the greatest myths about peaceful activity is the possibility that Gandhi imagined it.

Gandhi is regularly called "the father of peacefulness." Well, he raised peaceful activity to a level at no other time accomplished. Still, it wasn't at all his development.

Quality Sharp of Harvard University, in his book Gandhi as a Political Strategist, demonstrates that Gandhi and his Indian partners in South Africa were very much aware of other peaceful battles before they embraced such strategies themselves. That was in 1906. In the couple of years before that, they'd been awed by mass peaceful activities in India, China, Russia, and among blacks in South Africa itself.

In another of his books, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Gene Sharp refers to more than 200 instances of mass peaceful battle all through history. What's more, he guarantees us that numerous more will be found if history specialists investigate.

Inquisitively, a portion of the best prior illustrations originate from right here in the United States, in the years paving the way to the American Revolution. To contradict British lead, the pioneers utilized numerous strategies amazingly like Gandhi's—and as indicated by Sharp, they utilized these procedures with more aptitude and advancement than any other individual before the season of Gandhi.

For example, to oppose the British Stamp Act, the homesteaders broadly declined to pay for the official stamp required to show up on productions and authoritative reports—an instance of common noncompliance and duty refusal, both utilized later by Gandhi. Blacklists of British imports were composed to challenge the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and the supposed Intolerable Acts. The battle against the last was composed by the First Continental Congress, which was truly a peaceful activity association.

Very nearly two centuries later, a blacklist of British imports assumed a vital part in Gandhi's own particular battle against pilgrim run the show.

The settlers utilized another technique later received by Gandhi—setting up parallel foundations to assume control elements of government—and had far more noteworthy accomplishment with it than Gandhi ever did. Indeed, as indicated by Sharp, frontier associations had to a great extent assumed control from the British in the vast majority of the provinces before a shot was discharged.


Why aren't we more mindful of such cases—incorporating those in our own particular history? I believe this is a result of something we could call "sifting."

Likely the vast majority of you who've worked with cameras think about the sort of channel I mean. The channel fits over the camera focal point and pieces out parts of the light—generally certain hues—and gives the rest of chance to go through to the focal point. As a result, the channel chooses the bit of light that the camera will "see."

Each of us too observes the world through our own "channel"— a channel made up of our suspicions, our motivat


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