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Civil Resistance 101: India’s Quest for Independence


Civil resistance exists as a pivotal catalyst, effecting transformation within oppressive regimes and confronting unjust policies that impede civil liberties. Civil resistance’s impact has changed the course of cultural and historical identities throughout history. The study of civil resistance has shed light on the intricate power dynamics present in governance; moreover, it has illuminated a pathway of discourse that empowers nonviolent actions to pursue justice and equitable change. The narratives of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Nelson Mandela, among others, attest to the potential of civil resistance to dismantle the seemingly insurmountable walls of injustice. It is through these 101 series of civil resistance that the reader will unearth the subtle intricacies of power dynamics within governance structures. This series exposes how resolute people are. Civil resistance, in its essence, is a testament to the resilient human spirit, forging a pathway of discourse that transcends the realm of violence. This series focuses on the foundational principles of democracy, equity, and human rights. Moreover, civil resistance is a testament to the perseverance of humanity to shape its own destiny, fight oppression, and create a trajectory towards a more just and equitable world.

In the context of an international relations and history degree curriculum, this multifaceted study of civil resistance is vital for understanding philosophies, theories, and historical movements, enabling those to analyze, interpret, and actively pave the way for a humanistic, ethical, and peaceful future. This series of articles will embark on a journey through a comprehensive exploration of civil resistance. It will weave together threads of international relations theories, and conflict resolution approaches, and discuss historical movements to provide insightful and indispensable knowledge to the reader. The series aims to provide the reader with a thorough understanding of civil resistance’s impact on societies and how it has left an enduring mark on society today.

This series is divided into the following chapters:

3. Civil Resistance 101: India’s Quest for Independence

4. Civil Resistance 101: South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Struggle

5. Civil Resistance 101: Achieving Equality through the Civil Rights Movement

6. Civil Resistance 101: Unmasking the Berlin Wall’s Liberation

7. Civil Resistance 101: Unearthing the Power of Civil Resistance for the Future

Civil Resistance 101: India’s Quest for Independence

Background of British Colonial Presence

In the pivotal year of 1757, the British colonial empire extended its presence into the Indian Subcontinent (Belkacem, 2007, p. 31). Two centuries of imperial British reign cast its shadow over the vast regions, enveloping the territories known as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Burma (Laskshmi, 2010, p. 694). During the Battle of Plassey, the British East India Company fought against the army of Suraj-ud-Dowlah, nawab of Bengal (Belkacem, 2007, p. 31). As a result of the battle, the British Empire began to stake their first points of conquest; these points of conquest were port cities, located by the water, including Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta (Belkacem, 2007, p. 32). In the 18th century, within the Indian Subcontinent, there were a majority of Muslims and Hindus living on the land (Belkacem, 2007, p. 32). Under British governance, Indian Muslims and Hindus navigated their coexistence amidst the transformative influences and challenges imposed by colonial rule, shaping the complex dynamics of the subcontinent's diverse cultural landscape.

Map of India during British Colonial Rule from 1757-1947 (Geography, n.d.)
Figure 1: Map of India during British Colonial Rule, 1757-1947 (Geography, n.d.).

When the British took over the land, they began to have a positive impact on the Hindus (Belkacem, 2007, p. 32). The British brought their “western education and culture” as well as the “English language” to the Indian subcontinent (Belkacem, 2007, p. 32). They ushered in Western missionaries and Christian components of religion, which prompted varying responses from the Hindus and the Muslims (Belkacem, 2007, p. 38). Hindus in the Indian Subcontinent valued the lessons taught by the British, and they emerged as the “pioneers of Indian nationalism” in the 19th century (Belkacem, 2007, p. 33). On the other hand, the Muslims disliked the British on their territory. For them, it signified a defeat of all authority, standing, affluence, and honor (Belkacem, 2007, p. 33). Belkacem (2007), scholar in British and Commonwealth studies, describes how The British East India Company did not treat the Muslims as they did the Hindus; rather, the British “approached Hindus for co-operation,” whereas the Muslims were often perceived as resistant or less amenable to collaboration (p. 33). This distinction in their approach contributed to varying dynamics in the relationships with these two major religious communities during the colonial era in India (Belkacem, 2007, p. 34). The perception of Muslims by the British worsened by the middle of the 19th century as they increasingly resisted acquiring knowledge of Western ideals and Christian ideas introduced by the British (Belkacem, 2007, p. 38).

Ultimately, anger, frustration, and bitterness began to arise in the Muslims against the British rule; in 1857, the Great Revolt occurred where Muslim rebels and a select few Hindus who disliked British rule rose up to try to replace the British conditions with that of their “past imperial glory” (Belkacem, 2007, p. 39). However, the Great Revolt failed to alter the course of British rule. It resulted in a replacement of government, whereas the British Crown became the ruling party of the Indian Subcontinent and the British East India Company stepped down (Laskshmi, 2010, p. 696). The British, in a troubling turn, singled out the Muslims implicated in the revolt, declaring their intent to exact retribution, as “they were going to make them pay for it" (Belkacem, 2007, p. 41). Anti-Muslim sentiment began to arise in the Indian Subcontinent. The British Government invited British soldiers to enact “ruthless vengeance” on the Muslims, including hangings, tortures, and “large scale confiscation of properties” (Belkacem, 2007, p. 41). Furthermore, any Hindus who were once involved in the Great Revolt also began to blame the Muslims and made their relationship with the British stronger than ever (Belkacem, 2007, p. 42). By the end of the 19th century, the British Government initiated a process of marginalizing Muslims across various facets of society, reducing them to the status of peasants, while concurrently allocating governmental positions to Hindus (Belkacem, 2007, p. 44).

Tracing Gandhi's Roots

Born on October 2, 1869 in the city of Gujarat, India, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born to devout Hindu parents (Nandy & Rinky, 2018, p. 2). Throughout his childhood, Gandhi was exposed to extensive Hindu influences (King, 1999, p. 26). He decided to take on the study of law and made the decision to study in London in 1888 (King, 1999, p. 26). During his time in London, he read and became influenced by the Bhagavad Gita, the New Testament, and Leo Tolstoy (King, 1999, p. 19). When he finished his law studies, he returned to India yet found no success in the court of law in Bombay and was even denied a teaching position at a high school in Bombay (King, 1999, p. 28). As a result, in 1893, Gandhi found his way to Natal, South Africa, as he was offered a position at a law firm there (King, 1999, p. 28). Gandhi dedicated two decades of his life to South Africa, championing a movement that advocated for the rights and dignity of Indians (Nandy & Rinky, 2018, p. 2). While in South Africa, Gandhi could not turn a blind eye to the rampant biases against the Indian community in Natal, a British colony (King, 1999, p. 28). Fueled by a sense of injustice, Gandhi rallied fellow Indians to raise their voices against inequalities before the British Government (King, 1999, p. 29). His efforts were directed against the exploitative rule and laws imposed by the British, marking a significant chapter in his lifelong commitment to social justice (Nandy & Rinky, 2018, p. 2). Initiating change in South Africa, he collected signatures for presentation to the legislative body (King, 1999, p. 29). In 1894, Gandhi went a step further, establishing the Natal Indian Congress to champion and safeguard the rights of Indians in South Africa (King, 1999, p. 29).

Black and white Portrait of a young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1906, wearing suit, striped tie, with slicked back hair and moustache, his arms are crossed
Figure 2: Portrait of a young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1906 (Gandhi, 2021).

In 1906, Gandhi began his first Satyagraha movement in South Africa (Nandy & Rinky, 2018, p. 7). Gandhi furthered his efforts to promote Indian rights in South Africa by orchestrating a gathering of 3,000 Indians in Johannesburg in opposition to the Asiatic Registration Ordinance (King, 1999, p. 31). This ordinance/law mandated that any Indian immigrant was forced to “register with the government and be fingerprinted” (King, 1999, p. 31). During the events surrounding the ordinance, Gandhi thought deeply about what steps to take. South African newspapers called the large gathering an act of "passive resistance" (Livingston, 2018, p. 515). Gandhi's journal in South Africa, Indian Opinion, responded to those newspapers (King, 1999, p.14). Ultimately, Gandhi didn't like the term "passive resistance" because it sounded like giving in without a fight (Livingston, 2018, p. 515). In response, Gandhi introduced a term that shifted the narrative from "passive resistance" to "insistence on truth": a concept he called satyagraha (Livingston, 2018, p. 515). This term, introduced in his public journal, marked a significant change in the way his peaceful protests began to be understood.

Reflecting on Tolstoy's spiritual idea of "Christian non-resistance," Gandhi found connections between his efforts in South Africa and Tolstoy's writings (Livingston, 2018, p. 515). Gandhi also found inspiration in the writings of Henry David Thoreau, a prominent figure in the transcendentalist movement in the USA. According to Gandhi, Thoreau's philosophy of civil disobedience closely resonated with his own belief in satyagraha (King, 1999, p. 23). Thoreau, in his view, argued that resistance originated from one's moral conscience (King, 1999, p. 23). Expressing these shared convictions in his journal, Indian Opinion, Gandhi emphasized the fundamental principles of seeking truth through resistance as early as 1903 (King, 1999, p. 15). In his writings in Indian Opinion, Gandhi highlighted how Thoreau's ideas not only bolstered his commitment to nonviolent resistance but also deepened his dedication to the pursuit of truth (King, 1999, p. 23). Ultimately, Thoreau's influence played a crucial role in shaping Gandhi's foundations of civil resistance, both during his activism in South Africa and later in India (King, 1999, p. 23).

Figure 3: Issue of "Indian Opinion," Gandhi's newspaper in South Africa (Wikipedia, 2023).

This mass gathering of nonviolent resistance regarding the opposition to the Asiatic Registration Ordinance became the origin of what would be Gandhi’s strategy for obtaining independence in the Indian subcontinent (King, 1999, p. 31). This event laid the foundation for the powerful philosophy of satyagraha and set the stage for a profound shift in the approach to resistance against oppression (King, 1999, p. 31). Furthermore, Gandhi's commitment to nonviolence, as demonstrated in his early protest against the Asiatic Registration Ordinance, served as a cornerstone in his subsequent efforts to challenge injustice and colonial rule in India. This unwavering commitment led to his imprisonment for two months in 1908 (King, 1999, p. 32). In the following year, 1909, Gandhi took a significant step by publishing his own booklet in South Africa titled Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule) (King, 1999, p. 33). Within its pages, Gandhi delved into the concept of Indian independence from British imperial rule, emphasizing the significant role of nonviolent means in securing a peaceful civilization (King, 1999, p. 33).

Gandhi's booklet, seen as embodying "his life’s vision," faced censorship by the British authorities; ultimately, this censorship exemplified the resistance to his ideas (King, 1999, p. 33). Toward the conclusion of his tenure in South Africa, Gandhi successfully engaged in negotiations with the South African government, fostering a discourse on Indian rights in the region (King, 1999, p. 32). This period in South Africa marked a transformative chapter in Gandhi's journey, shaping his philosophy of nonviolence and laying the groundwork for his future endeavors in India.

Onset of India's 20th Century Quest for Independence

Gandhi came back to India in 1913 and joined the Indian National Congress (Nandy & Rinky, 2018, p. 2). This marked the beginning of his efforts to help India gain freedom from British rule (Nandy & Rinky, 2018, p. 2). During this period, the Indian Subcontinent was still under British rule. Gandhi observed from afar how little change was taking place. Gandhi thought that using violent methods to achieve independence would only lead to more violence. According to him, if someone tried to resist the government, especially the British, using "unethical and immoral methods," it would ultimately lead to a bad outcome (Panda, 2008, p. 129). From 1917-1918, Gandhi became heavily involved in three local issues in India: Champaran district in Bihar, the Ahmedabad district in Gujarat, and Kheda in the district of Gujarat (Chandra, 1988, p. 160).

The initial issue in Champaran revolved around farmers and indigo cultivation. The British planters were unlawfully extracting money from the peasants (Chandra, 1988, p. 162). Furthermore, the British government coerced the peasants in Champaran to grow indigo, leading to a broader issue centered on the exploitation of the peasants by British indigo planters (Chandra, 1988, p. 160).

Gandhi was summoned to visit the district and address the matter, employing satyagraha (Chandra, 1988, p. 161). Despite local officials demanding his departure, Gandhi steadfastly defied their wishes and expressed a willingness to face imprisonment if necessary (Chandra, 1988). This act of civil disobedience played a decisive role. Gandhi proceeded to conduct interviews with individual peasants, collecting evidence from 8,000 forms submitted by them (Chandra, 1988, p. 161). Through skillful negotiation, he compelled the planters to return 25% of any unlawfully taken money to the peasants (Chandra, 1988, p. 162).

Figure 4: Gandhi leading the first satyagraha movement in Champaran, 1917 (Wikipedia, 2023).

In Ahmedabad, challenges in Indian labor persisted. Within the textile mills, workers sought an extension of the "cost-of-living bonus" granted to them in August 1917 by British mill owners, initially aimed at retaining laborers during a bubonic plague epidemic (King, 1999, p. 38). However, the following year, the mill owners collectively decided to eliminate the bonus (King, 1999, p. 39). Gandhi intervened, proposing a 35% increase in wages to the workers and employing the method of satyagraha to achieve this goal (King, 1999, p. 39). Distributing leaflets among the workers, Gandhi outlined the principles of nonviolent resistance and the prospect of going on strike (King, 1999, pp. 39-40). Simultaneously, he worked closely with the mill owners, employing a form of emotional coercion by fasting, aiming to sway the owners to concede to the workers' demands (King, 1999, p. 40). He fasted for three days, whereas the strike lasted 21 days (King, 1999, p. 40). In the end, he succeeded in securing a 35% wage increase and resolving the strike (Chandra, 1988, p. 163).

The Kheda episode marked the final local strategy for Indian independence before Gandhi shifted his focus to national issues (Chandra, 1988, p. 163). In 1918, the Kheda district grappled with crop failures due to floods and famine. Despite these hardships, the British crown persisted in demanding taxes from the already distressed farmers (Chandra, 1988, p. 163). Gandhi vehemently opposed this unjust taxation, urging the peasants to stand firm against the British government's encroachments. The farmers, following Gandhi's lead, refused to pay the taxes whereas the British government resorted to drastic measures like "seizing cattle and household goods and the attachment of standing crops" (Chandra, 1988, p. 163).

In response to this nonviolent resistance against paying the taxes, the British government discreetly altered its policies (Chandra, 1988, p. 164). It was revealed to Gandhi covertly that they had issued secret instructions to recover taxes only from those with the means to pay (Chandra, 1988, p. 164). Upon learning of this policy change, Gandhi decided to conclude the movement, considering it a success. The Kheda episode showcased the effectiveness of nonviolent protest in influencing government policies and further strengthened Gandhi's role in the struggle for Indian independence.

Figure 5: Newspaper detailing the Indian Responses to infamous Rowlatt Bills (Black Bills), 1919 (Lobo, 2021).

In 1919, there was a significant shift in India's relationship with British colonial rule. The British Empire introduced the Rowlatt Bills, allowing authorities to detain people suspected of suspicion without any trial, a move that denied basic legal rights (King, 1999, p. 42). To make matters worse, the Government of India Act No. XI of 1919 took it a step further, enabling swift trials for anarchical offenses without the right to appeal (King, 1999, p. 42). These oppressive bills marked a turning point for Gandhi's mission. Gandhi, addressing a diverse audience of Indians, Hindus, and Muslims, orchestrated a day of "mass noncooperation" known as a hartal, essentially an extended demonstration or work stoppage (King, 1999, p. 42). His aim was to show the British government the consequences of ignoring Indian wishes. This marked his first nationwide Satyagraha campaign, establishing him as a prominent nationalist figure representing the aspirations of the Indian people. Gandhi strategically focused on major cities like Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta, forming the center of his movement (King, 1999, p. 42).

The one-day demonstration drew in thousands of people across cities, featuring a spectrum of activities such as "public fasting, mass meetings, processions, closing of shops, and work stoppages" all over the country (King, 1999, p. 43). In orchestrating this significant event, Gandhi formulated a civil disobedience pledge, a commitment by the people to refrain from violence and engage in a 24-hour fast. He passionately urged the populace to comprehend Satyagraha as a "weapon of the truthful" (King, 1999, p. 43). However, despite the nonviolent nature of the demonstration, it sadly resulted in violence perpetrated by the British government, notably under General Reginald E. Dyer (King, 1999, p. 43). This event underscored the challenging path toward Indian independence, marked by the clash between nonviolent resistance and the oppressive measures of the British authorities. In a tragic turn of events, General Reginald E. Dyer, under British command, ordered the firing on peaceful crowds of over 20,000 individuals, leading to the horrifying massacre known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre (King, 1999, p. 44). The 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre intensified anti-British sentiments, as people held them accountable for the tragic event (Panda, 2008, p. 137). The indiscriminate firing resulted in the deaths of over 350 people, casting a dark shadow on the history of Indian resistance against British colonial rule (King, 1999, p. 44). Fueled by anger over the cruelty, the public looked to Gandhi for justice (Panda, 2008, p. 137). Amidst these circumstances, Mahatma Gandhi admirably assumed leadership, addressing intricate challenges and offering commendable solutions in his dedicated struggle (Panda, 2008, p. 137).

Figure 6: Jallianwala Bagh massacre, 1919 (Misra, 2022).

During the years 1920-1922, Gandhi directed his efforts toward fostering close relationships between Hindus and Muslims (King, 1999, pp. 47-49). To attain success, Mahatma Gandhi strategically initiated this movement to be aimed at dismantling the oppressive structures within society. (Panda, 2008, p. 137). Witnessing the mistreatment of Muslims by the British government, he recognized the imperative need for religious unity to achieve independence. By 1922, Gandhi had amassed a substantial following, leading to an invitation to work on constitutional reform for the Indian National Congress (King, 1999, pp. 47-49). On March 10, 1922, Gandhi was imprisoned for six years due to charges of inciting or applauding "disaffection" or sedition against the government (King, 1999, pp. 47-49). He regained his freedom on February 5, 1924. Upon his release, Gandhi shifted his focus to developing a national strategy for Indian independence (King, 1999, pp. 47-49). He began to focus on satyagraha in the context of focusing on “fundamental human rights” (King, 1999, p. 50).

Over a 16-month stretch from 1924 to 1925, Gandhi delved into the Vykom movement, a nationwide campaign fixated on tackling India's internal social disparities, particularly honing in on the push for equality within the rigid caste system (King, 1999, p. 51-54). Leading the charge, Gandhi sought to amplify the cause by generating widespread awareness and backing. Guided by the principles of satyagraha, the movement pursued a path of peaceful and nonviolent resistance, aimed at removing the barriers between the higher castes and the untouchables, the lowest part of society among the traditional Hindu caste hierarchy (King, 1999, p. 51-54). Despite its localized roots in Vykom, the movement carried weighty implications on a national scale. Gandhi astutely directed his efforts towards challenging the classes that epitomized the government's policy of subjugation. In Gandhi's perception, these classes symbolized the very foundation of the establishment, and thus, they became the primary focus of his endeavors to reshape the designs of power (Panda, 2008, p. 137). Gandhi orchestrated a strategic influx of thousands of protestors to Vykom's temple roads, rendering any attempts at arrests futile given the overwhelming numbers (King, 1999, p. 51-54). Through noncooperation and defiance, with thousands wholeheartedly demonstrating their commitment, the movement garnered "immense support" (King, 1999, p. 51-54).

Figure 7: Gandhi working with the untouchables during the Vykom movement, 1924 (Gandhi, 2019).

In a concerted effort to escalate the national strategy of civil disobedience, Gandhi initiated the Bardoli satyagraha in response to the British government imposing a staggering 60% increase in taxes, leaving farmers financially strained (King, 1999, p. 56). Employing civil disobedience tactics against the British authorities, this six-month-long national campaign garnered momentum through strategic avenues such as writing, publicity, and engagement with news media (King, 1999, p. 56). Gandhi's call to action resonated widely, drawing support from a diverse coalition of "200 Hindus, Muslims, Parses, and Indians" (King, 1999, p. 56). The outreach efforts extended to the grassroots level, with the distribution of 14,000 circulars across villages in the district, coupled with impactful mass meetings, ballads, and traveling choirs to disseminate the message effectively (King, 1999, p. 56). Remarkably, Gandhi succeeded in mobilizing an impressive 87,000 people to join the cause. At the heart of this movement was Gandhi's overarching goal: to establish that the land tax was not just a local concern but a national issue affecting all peasants across India (King, 1999, p. 56).

In response, the government started to seize the territories of the peasants, as well as imprisoning them and fining them (King, 1999, pp. 60-61). As a result, Gandhi urged the peasants to leave Bardoli and venture to another state that was not under British rule (King, 1999, pp. 60-61). Ultimately, the government had no one left in the region to govern; by August 1928, the British government succumbed to the farmer's demands and “granted virtually every one of the peasant farmers’ demands” (King, 1999, pp. 60-61).

The Civil Disobedience Movement

In December 1928, Gandhi discussed full independence for India at the Indian National Congress party (King, 1999, p. 61). He set up a plan for 1 year of independence that would be based on a campaign of civil disobedience; he tried to reach out to the British, but the British did not agree. At this time, Gandhi supported Jawaharlal Nehru for the president of the Indian Congress Party (King, 1999, p. 61).

Gandhi drafted an independence declaration on January 10, 1930 which argued for “Complete and total independence” from the British (King, 1999, pp. 61-62). The Indian National Congress handed Gandhi the reins with full authority to advance his goals through the transformative force of satyagraha (King, 1999, p. 62). Taking charge, Gandhi masterminded a civil disobedience movement that found its roots in the unjust Salt Laws imposed by the British government. These laws specifically targeted the impoverished Indian population by deeming it illegal to extract salt from seawater, a move strategically designed to evade British taxation (King, 1999, p. 62). The oppressive nature of these salt laws served as a catalyst, propelling the civil disobedience movement that ultimately laid the foundation for the broader quest for independence (King, 1999, p. 62). Throughout this campaign, Gandhi held complete sway, steering the movement with the principles of satyagraha as he challenged oppressive policies and championed the rights of the Indian people.

Figure 8: Gandhi leading The Salt March, 1930 (, n.d.).

On March 12, 1930, a pivotal moment unfolded as Gandhi embarked on a 241-mile journey from Ahmedabad to Dandi by the sea, accompanied by a dedicated group of 79 individuals committed to the principles of satyagraha (King, 1999, pp. 63-64). As the march progressed, the initial group of 79 swelled to include thousands who joined in solidarity with the cause. On April 6, 1930, the culmination of this movement occurred when Gandhi and his followers initiated the process of obtaining salt crystals by "evaporating sea-water" at Dandi Beach (King, 1999, pp. 63-64). Gandhi extended an open invitation to anyone willing to join the civil disobedience movement in India, fostering a collective spirit of defiance against the government (King, 1999, pp. 63-64). This call resonated across villages and towns throughout the nation, sparking a widespread movement that defied the established norms and laid the groundwork for a united stand against oppression (King, 1999, pp. 63-64).

A wave of resistance swept through India as folks from all walks of life collectively boycotted British goods, cutting across religious and cultural lines. Both parties, Hindus and Muslims were actively in on the movement (King, 1999, pp. 65-66). Leaflets were flying around, shops were shut tight, and people even rallied with pickets outside British establishments. The British responded with a heavy hand, leading to a surge in arrests, even nabbing prominent figures like Nehru. Despite the mounting tension, Gandhi persistently pushed for the removal of the salt tax, but the government remained unresponsive (King, 1999, pp. 65-66). On May 5, 1930, Gandhi himself was slapped with an arrest. Surprisingly, this act of civil disobedience triggered a massive show of unity and determination among Indians. A whopping 60,000 individuals willingly opted for imprisonment as a symbolic stance, shouting loud and clear that the people stood united and resolute for change (King, 1999, pp. 65-66). This crucial moment marked a turning point in the British government's stance, hinting at a shift in their approach to the demands of the Indian people.

At the close of 1930, Gandhi and his fellow companions were released from prison (King, 1999, pp. 66-67). Shortly after, an unexpected turn of events unfolded as Gandhi received an invitation from the British government to visit Britain as their guest for a three-month period (King, 1999, pp. 66-67). Acting as the representative of the Indian National Congress during his stay, Gandhi engaged in negotiations with British officials. The discussions led to a truce, culminating in the signing of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact on March 4, 1931 (King, 1999, pp. 66-67). Despite this agreement, the British government failed to comply on their end upon Gandhi's return to India. Undeterred, in 1932, Gandhi initiated civil disobedience campaigns, a move that saw him frequently in and out of jail as he continued to advocate for justice and change (King, 1999, pp. 66-67).

Figure 9: Newspaper article about Gandhi-Irwin Pact regarding salt taxes, 1931 (Abidi, 2023).

Initiating prolonged fasts in his pursuit of constitutional reforms addressing untouchability, Gandhi committed to a resolute stance on the matter. Opting to stay out of jail during this period, he aimed to avoid causing any disruptions while actively working to uplift the untouchables (King, 1999, pp. 68-69). In 1934, Gandhi took a significant step by retiring from the Indian National Congress, marking a transition in his approach to social and political issues (King, 1999, pp. 68-69). By 1936, his focus shifted towards the empowerment of the poorest villages, dedicating his efforts to enhancing the quality of life in these marginalized communities (King, 1999, pp. 68-69). Gandhi began to focus on improving the lives of the most vulnerable in Indian society.

In 1939, Gandhi initiated a call for a "war without violence," aligning with the onset of World War II (King, 1999, pp. 70-71). As the war unfolded, concerns deepened about India's role, intensifying the anxieties of Gandhi and the Indian National Congress (King, 1999, pp. 70-71). Fearing the British might be unable to safeguard India in the face of a potential Japanese invasion, Gandhi passionately advocated for a "Quit India" campaign (King, 1999, pp. 70-71). This movement sought complete separation from British rule and represented a proactive response to the wartime fears (King, 1999, pp. 70-71). Furthermore, in the early 1940s, Gandhi's vision of an independent India grounded in religious pluralism confronted a challenge from a rising Muslim nationalism, which aimed for a separate Muslim homeland within India (Nandy & Rinky, 2018, p. 3). The evolving dynamics of this period reflected not only the global context of World War II but also internal shifts in the vision for India's future.

In August 1942, the All India Congress Committee and Gandhi jointly pursued India's complete freedom (King, 1999, p. 72). British officials responded with violence, including "gunfire, charges, and mass arrests," leading to Gandhi's incarceration until 1944. In 1944, Gandhi initiated talks with Muslim leaders interested in a separate two-nation country (King, 1999, p. 72). These discussions set the stage for three-way talks in 1946 involving Muslims, India, and the British government (King, 1999, p. 72). Gandhi's efforts during the Salt March bore fruit in October 1946 with the abolition of the salt tax, officially implemented on April 1, 1947 (Taylor, 2023, p. 804). However, escalating religious differences between Hindus and Muslims led to widespread violence, overshadowing the political talks that Gandhi valued and wished to achieve with unity.

Figure 10: August 15, 1947, day of Indian Independence (DK, 2023).

In the capital of Bengal, Calcutta, those living there witnessed extreme violence from August 1946 to September 1947 (King, 1999, pp. 72-74). There became antagonism between Muslim and Hindu communities into what was similar to a civil war. The infamous "Great Calcutta Killing" began, resulting in 4,000 lives lost and 11,000 individuals with injuries (King, 1999, pp. 72-74). The violence extended into the regions of eastern Bengal, Bihar, and Punjab. Whereas the British government was in power, nobody in charge wanted to step up and take the blame.

In March 1947, a surge of violent riots became commonplace in the Indian subcontinent (King, 1999, pp. 72-74). The climax of this turbulent period arrived on August 15, 1947, with the passage of The Mountbatten Plan (King, 1999, pp. 72-74). This plan marked a pivotal moment as the British gave up their colonial ruling and transferred power to India and Pakistan, a significant event known as the Partition of India; this split the country of the Indian Subcontinent into India and Pakistan (King, 1999, pp. 72-74). However, the aftermath of this partition left India divided, lacking the unity that Gandhi found deeply troubling, particularly the perceived lack of Hindu-Muslim harmony he worked so hard to achieve (King, 1999, pp. 72-74).

The unrest persisted, especially in Calcutta after the passage of The Mountbatten Plan, where riots continued to unfold (King, 1999, pp. 72-74). Gandhi, deeply concerned about the ongoing violence and the discord between Hindus and Muslims, decided to intervene. He said that everyone involved should share the blame, aiming to diffuse tensions and foster accountability (King, 1999, pp. 72-74). As the violence continued, Gandhi made his way to the slums of Muslim Calcutta, responding to an appeal from the Bengal chief minister, who sought his assistance in ending the Hindu-Muslim strife (King, 1999, pp. 72-74). Gandhi unwaveringly upheld the principles of non-violence and equality, and over time, the subcontinent came to acknowledge the moral legitimacy of his campaign in addressing the injustices inflicted by the British (Nandy & Rinky, 2018, p. 3). Their collaborative efforts implored the people to cease hostilities, and on August 15, 1947, a collective sense of relief washed over the Indian Subcontinent as they celebrated their independence from British rule (King, 1999, pp. 72-74).


Gandhi's steadfast commitment to non-violence and satyagraha triggered a profound shift in British perspectives. This compelled colonial rulers to view these endeavors not merely as protests but as legitimate political entities representing the masses (Shaikh et al., 2018, p. 282). This transformative change was further accentuated by Gandhi's influential leadership in the Indian National Congress during the civil disobedience movement, fundamentally reshaping the discourse on achieving Indian independence (Shaikh et al., 2018, p. 281). In his unwavering conviction, Gandhi asserted that individuals are duty-bound to seek the truth. He believed that if necessary, they possess the right to disobey if the government remains unresponsive to their concerns (Klitgaard, 1971, p. 151). Despite his vision of Hindu-Muslim harmony, the post-partition violence deeply troubled Gandhi. Nevertheless, his enduring legacy symbolizes the global impact of civil disobedience and an unwavering commitment to truth.

Bibliographical References

Belkacem, B. (2007). The impact of British Rule on the Indian Muslim Community in the nineteenth Century. ES, 28, 27-46.

Chandra, B., Mukherjee, M., Mukherjee A., Mahajan, S. & Panikkar K. N. (2016). India's struggle for independence (Revised and updated). Penguin Books.

King, M. (1999). Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr: The power of nonviolent action. UNESCO Publishing.

Klitgaard, R. E. (1971). Gandhi’s Non-Violence as a Tactic. Journal of Peace Research, 8(2), 143–153.

Livingston, A. (2018). Fidelity to Truth: Gandhi and the Genealogy of Civil Disobedience. Political Theory, 46(4), 511–536.


Panda, A. N. (2008). THE GANDHIAN METHOD OF CONFRONTATION. Indian Journal of Political Science, 69(1), 127–140..

Shaikh, I.A., Khan, S.A., & Jatoi, B.A. (2018). Congress, Gandhi, and Civil Disobedience Movement. Journal of the Punjab University Historical Society, 31(2), 277-282.

Taylor, M. (2023). The Ungrudging Indian: The Political Economy of Salt in India, c. 1878–1947, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 46(4), 791-805,

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Alexandra Gimpel

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