SUBJECTS — Biography; World/India, South Africa, England & the 1800s – Cold War Era; Religions; U.S./Diversity;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Rebellion; Peace/Peacemakers;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Respect; Responsibility; Fairness; Caring; Citizenship.
AGE: 10+; MPAA Rating — PG;
Biography; 1982; 188 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students’ minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.
This is a biography of Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian social reformer whose invention, nonviolent mass action, changed the face of the 20th century. The movie shows the tremendous power of nonviolent mass action, the struggle for Indian independence, Gandhi’s saintliness (and some of his unsaintly qualities), the difficulties caused by the Hindu/Muslim rivalry in India, the operation of the British Empire in India, the discrimination against Indians in South Africa, and Gandhi’s efforts to improve Indian civil rights in South Africa.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
1982 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Attenborough), Best Actor (Kingsley), Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Screenplay; 1982 British Academy Awards: Best Film, Best Director (Attenborough), Best Actor (Kingsley), Best Supporting Actress (Hattangady); 1983 Golden Globe Awards: Best Director (Attenborough), Best Actor-Drama (Kingsley), Best Foreign Film, Best Screenplay; 1982 National Board of Review: Best Actor (Kingsley).
Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Martin Sheen.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
Gandhi would neither countenance the subjugation of his people nor demean himself by hurting another human being. To reconcile these moral imperatives, he used nonviolent mass action, including civil disobedience, to force governments to change their policies and to achieve independence for India. Gandhi’s methods have been adapted and used by people seeking social change or revolution in many parts of the world, including the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and revolutions in the Philippines, Russia and several other countries. This film is an excellent way to put the struggle for civil rights in the U.S. into a historical context as an example of a new method by which the powerless can force political and social change: nonviolent mass action. The documentary A Force More Powerful, which gives six examples of nonviolent mass action and explores the scope of Gandhi’s influence, is an excellent companion film.
Gandhi also campaigned for Hindu/Muslim Brotherhood, against the oppression of the untouchables, and for reform in the treatment of women. He was personally responsible for saving hundreds of thousands of lives in India through fasting which stopped communal rioting. Gandhi treated animals with kindness and consideration. He was a vegetarian, refusing to kill animals for food. Gandhi’s leadership and example inspired people and many governments, in India and throughout the world, to a new and higher level of morality.
MODERATE. There are isolated scenes of men and women being hit, clubbed and shot by policemen, soldiers and rioters. The scenes are mildly graphic and disturbing but they are contrasted with the nonviolence of the Mahatma’s followers and their willingness to put their bodies in jeopardy rather than hurt someone else.
Raise the Quick Discussion Topic with your child. Tell your child that this movie has been criticized as an act of worship but that if there ever was a man of the 20th century to admire, it was Mahatma Gandhi. Tell your child that if he or she ever wanted to know how to act in a political situation or make a decision relating to how a government should behave, he or she could hardly do better than to think of what Gandhi would do.
A note about nomenclature. Civil disobedience has come to mean large numbers of people acting nonviolently to force political or social change. However, civil disobedience also means the “deliberate, open, and peaceful violation of particular laws, decrees, regulations, military or police orders, or other governmental directives. The command may be disobeyed because it is seen as itself illegitimate or immoral, or because it is a symbol of other policies which are opposed.” In this Learning Guide the term “civil disobedience” will be used in its narrower technical sense. The larger set of methods, pioneered by Gandhi and used in countries all over the world, including boycotts, sit-ins, demonstrations, marches, etc. will be referred to as “nonviolent mass action.”
Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a conspiracy of fundamentalist Hindus who were disturbed by his efforts to reform Indian society and to promote Hindu-Muslim brotherhood.
India and South Africa were British colonies. In the early 20th century the British Empire stretched across the globe. Until recently South Africa was one of the most segregated societies in the world. Indians had been brought to South Africa by the British as laborers and merchants. They were set apart as “coloreds” and given more privileges than blacks but fewer privileges than whites. For example, they could not ride in first-class compartments in trains and could not walk on certain sidewalks. Gandhi was educated in London and became a lawyer there. When he went to South Africa and saw how his people were oppressed, he helped to organize a number of successful protests. It was in South Africa that he first developed the tactics of nonviolent mass action. Later he returned to India and led a non-violent revolution against British colonial rule. India finally achieved independence from Britain in 1947.
Indian society was strictly segregated into castes for hundreds of years. The lowest caste, the untouchables, were relegated to menial jobs such as cleaning latrines and tanning hides. Upon coming into contact with an untouchable, higher caste Indians would wash and perform religious rites to cleanse themselves. If untouchables tried to improve themselves they were subject to brutal repression. Gandhi tried to persuade Indians to abandon their discrimination against the untouchables. Although his family was from a higher caste, he personally associated with untouchables and made it a point to perform tasks, such as cleaning chamber pots, that had been previously performed only by untouchables. While it is not dealt with extensively in the movie, Gandhi also sought to lift many of the traditional restrictions on women, although he maintained rigid control over his own wife.
For centuries, spinning cloth had been a cottage industry in India. Families spun cloth for their own garments at home and some made money selling their surplus. This ended with the invention of the power loom and with British Rule. The machine manufacture of cloth was concentrated in Great Britain and was a mechanism by which Britain drained wealth from India. Gandhi sought, unsuccessfully, to reinstate spinning as an economic activity in order to help purge India of British influence and control.
India has many religious groups. The largest are the Hindus and the Muslims. While there were tensions and some hostility between religious groups before colonial rule, the British fanned the flames of religious intolerance and hatred to keep the Indians from uniting against them. The policy was called “Divide and Rule.” Gandhi campaigned for religious tolerance. On several occasions he fasted almost to death to stop sectarian rioting.
The basic historical events in this movie are accurately reported. However, it has been criticized as a “work of worship” for reducing everything to black and white, for belittling other important leaders in India’s independence movement, and for portraying “virtually all the Britains” Gandhi encountered as “buffoons or bigots.” See: Past Imperfect, Carnes, ed. pp 254 et seq.
The movie leaves the impression that the British policy of “Divide and Rule” is responsible for Hindu/Muslim mutual antipathy. While it is true that the British made fanned the flames of this deadly religious hatred, it is also true that it existed before British rule and continues today, more than 60 years after British rule ended. The Muslims had justifiable fears about how they would be treated in a Hindu dominated India. (However, it is also true that on the whole, many millions of Muslims in India are treated fairly well.)
The movie also minimizes the role of the many other leaders of the movement for Indian independence. It wasn’t just all Gandhi. Mohammed Ali Jinnah is not accurately portrayed in the movie.
The unwise political decisions by Gandhi and the Congress Party not to support the British war effort as the Japanese Imperial Army approached India’s Eastern Frontier is not shown in the movie.
Most of Gandhi’s time and energy was spent trying to free himself from worldly desires. This, along with freedom and reform for a united India, were his passions. Gandhi was difficult to live with and, in the film, we are shown only hints of this side of the man.
Despite these imperfections, “Gandhi” is a powerful tool for educating children about one of the most remarkable men of the 20th century; a man whose strategy of forcing social and political change through nonviolent mass action saved India, the United States, and several other nations from unimaginable hardship; a man whose teachings continue to affect the lives of hundreds of millions for the better.
The term “Mahatma” means a man whose essence of being is great. Gandhi’s effort and his proposal for a solution to the predicament of modern man was simply to “turn the spotlight inward.” One can hardly imagine a man more fit for such a title.
Gandhi on the Salt March
The British Empire
The British Empire was one of the great empires of the world, lasting from the 1500s to the middle of the 20th century. It was the world’s largest colonial empire. At its height, after World War I, it contained possessions in every continent, covering more than 20 percent of the world’s land area and governing more than 400 million people.
England established a presence in India during the 17th century through the English East India Company. However, throughout most of the 17th and 18th centuries, Britain’s imperial ambitions were focused on the New World. After the 13 American colonies won their independence in 1781, Britain turned its attention to commerce in the east. Its focus was on finding spices for re-export and markets for the ever increasing goods manufactured by British industry.
By 1700 the English East India Company was a major player in Indian politics. By 1857, through a military campaign, it had prevailed over its biggest competitor, the French Compagnie des Indes. India came under direct rule by the British government in 1858 after the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 was put down. Queen Victoria was crowned Empress of India in 1877.
Indians gradually came to resent British rule, partially because of British contempt for Indian cultures and traditions. As a result of the Sepoy rebellion of 1857, the British focused on governing efficiently while working together with traditional elements of Indian society. Beginning with the Indian Councils Act of 1892, Britain slowly and haltingly allowed Indians to take limited responsibility for their own government. However, progress was incomplete and the British continued to hold all real power. Elected Indian officials became the opposition to colonial government, seeking full independence.
World War I accelerated support for nationalist movements in the colonies. Britain was exhausted by the war and its empire was overextended. During the 1920s and 1930s Britain searched for policies that would reduce both the cost of the empire and the risk of disintegration. Egypt was granted independence in 1922. In the same year the Irish Free State was established which extended home rule to Ireland. Iraq was granted independence in 1932. The Statute of Westminster, passed in 1931, acceded to the demands of the Dominions for full constitutional autonomy within the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1937 Ireland attained its independence. However, India, Palestine and much of Africa remained colonies of the Empire. Against this backdrop Indians, led by Mahatma Gandhi, demanded full independence.
World War Two was the death knell for the British Empire. In order to mobilize the Dominions to aid in the Second World War, Britain had to make promises which ultimately hastened the end of the empire. In India an agreement was reached between the British government and the Indian independence movement that in exchange for India’s co-operation in the war, India would be granted independence once victory was achieved. While there was a revolt in 1942 and Gandhi and much of the leadership of the Congress Party were jailed for seeking independence, overall India contributed extensively to the war effort. In 1941 Britain joined the United States in issuing the Atlantic Charter which endorsed the right of self-determination for all countries. There was no longer any justification for Britain’s continued occupation of India. India achieved independence in 1947. Sources: “British Empire,” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2005; Wikipedia Article on the British Empire.
1. Briefly describe the British Empire as it existed after World War I.
The British Empire was one of the great empires of the world, lasting from the 1500s to the middle of the 20th century. It was the world’s largest colonial empire. At its height, after World War I, it contained possessions in every continent, covering more than 20 percent of the world’s land area and governing more than 400 million people.
2. Early in his career Gandhi described campaigns of nonviolent mass action as “passive resistance.” Later he had second thoughts about this description. Does the term “passive resistance” accurately describe a campaign of nonviolent mass action? Explain your answer focusing on each of the two words of the phrase.
Nonviolent mass action is very active. However, it is not violent and that is how the term “passive resistance” came into use. Passive resistance has its most poignant and impressive example when nonviolent activists do not fight back when assaulted by police or thugs determined to maintain the status quo.
3. Early in his career Gandhi described campaigns of nonviolent mass action as “passive resistance.” Later he had second thoughts about this description. Does the term “passive resistance” accurately describe a campaign of nonviolent mass action? Explain your answer focusing on each of the two words of the phrase.
There is no one correct answer. A good answer will show an understanding of the nature of nonviolent mass action. What follows is a sample response that covers all the bases. A good response would include half of these concepts: Yes and no. The word “passive” is accurate in that nonviolent resisters don’t physically strike their opponents. However, “passive” is not accurate in the political, emotional, or moral sense. Persons involved in nonviolent mass action are seeking to change political or social reality, usually in a very aggressive way. They are making things very emotionally difficult for their opponents. Nonviolent mass action seeks to make people look at their actions or their beliefs with a new ethical perspective. It challenges long held beliefs and established customs of behavior. In this sense, the word “passive” is incorrect. The word “resistance” is also both appropriate and inappropriate. A nonviolent protester “resists” the normal operation of the status quo in an effort to make it grind to a halt or in an effort to change it. At the same time, this “resistance” is very dynamic because it seeks to create change, often dramatic change. Thus Gandhi, in South Africa, “resisted” enforcement of the pass laws for the purpose of fundamentally changing society to improve treatment of people of Indian descent.
4. What benefits have the people of the United States, black, white and others, derived from the influence of Mahatma Gandhi?
Gandhi provided tactics and a theory by which the black community in the U.S. could challenge the unethical practice of segregation and make the whites realize that it was wrong. It provided a means to force social change without violence. The Civil Rights Movement has enriched the ethics of the United States and made it less hypocritical. All Americans are its beneficiaries, for while black people obtained freedom from the restrictions of segregation, whites and other Americans (to the extent they learned from the Civil Rights Movement) freed themselves of the unethical conduct called segregation and brought their society more in line with the principles of the Declaration of Independence. The benefits were immense for both. As for other minorities, the prohibitions on racial segregation have also outlawed discrimination against them and they have benefitted from the understanding of the evils of racism that grew out of the Civil Rights Movement.
5. Methods of nonviolent mass action can be separated into three categories. Name the categories and give at least two examples of each.
They are: (1) protests (such as petitions, meetings, parades, vigils, and demonstrations), (2) noncooperation (such as boycotts, resignations and work slowdowns) and (3) direct intervention (such as sit-ins, factory occupations, seizures of property, and blockades).
6. What are the three main ways in which nonviolent mass action forces political and social change? These can be thought of as the sources of its power. Describe how each of the three works.
Nonviolent mass action: (1) changes hearts and minds; (2) hurts the pocketbook of those whose behavior it seeks to change; and (3) prevents those whose behavior it seeks to change from going about business as usual. They work in the following manner: (1) Changing Hearts and Minds: nonviolent mass action works on the ethical perspective of the majority and the powerful by challenging the morality of their conduct. It points out contradictions among the values of the powerful or of the majority. It highlights differences between their actions and the society’s values. When the hearts and minds of the majority are changed, modification of policies and actions will naturally follow. Even if the entrenched powers are not convinced, it is difficult for governments or ruling elites to enforce policies rejected by the general public. (2) Applying Economic Pressure: mass nonviolence puts economic pressure on the ruling powers through boycotts or other economic sanctions that hurt some of the ruling elite economically. This pressures and divides the ruling powers. (3) Preventing Business As Usual: Finally, by making the administration of the government or the functioning of society more difficult, nonviolent mass action pressures target groups to make concessions.
7. Would the tactics of nonviolent mass action have worked against Hitler, Stalin or Saddam Hussein?
There is no one correct answer to this question. A good answer will show an understanding of the mechanics of nonviolence and the difficulty that it has in operating against abject evil. Certainly, if nonviolent mass action is to work against a vicious dictatorship, it would have to be substantially modified. For example, the Danes, who used nonviolent mass resistance to fight the Nazi occupation of their country during WWII, modified Gandhi’s principles by using secrecy in spiriting their Jewish countrymen to Sweden, in their work slowdowns, and in their general strike. In addition, because of the nature of their oppressor and because the world was at war, the pressure of public opinion in other countries was not a weapon that would help them. However, the fact that the Nazis needed the goods produced in Denmark’s factories for the German war effort meant that they would be somewhat circumspect in their efforts against masses of Danish workers.
8. How does nonviolent mass action work on the mind of the oppressor?
The mechanisms of nonviolent mass action expose the abuses of the oppressor and subjects the beliefs and actions of the oppressor to scrutiny. If the nonviolent mass action campaign is well conceived it exposes contradictions between the oppressor’s underlying values and the values served by the oppressive actions. In a successful campaign, the oppressor, often also responding to aroused public opinion and economic pressure, will change its policies. Thus, in the U.S. the black minority made the white majority face the contradictions between the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the practices and beliefs of racism. Faced with this contradiction, propelled by an aroused national public opinion, and harassed by economic pressures caused by boycotts, sit-ins and other economic tactics, enough segregationists changed their position so that both government policies and social practices were modified.
9. What was meant by the term “divide and rule” and how did this apply to India?
This was a tactic used by the British to govern large populations with few forces. They did not allow the populations to unite and combine against British occupation. In India one of the divisions used by the British was the division between Muslim and Hindu. It was effective for the British for a while but the effects on India and Indians were disastrous.
10. Did Gandhi think of himself as a saint?
No. Gandhi described himself as a politician trying to be a saint, that is, he was a politician first. While he preached internal discipline and morality, Gandhi was primarily focused on political and social goals. He was an activist and politician who tried to act in a saintly manner, thereby raising the level of ethical conduct of everyone concerned, to achieve independence for India without bloodshed and war.
11. Gandhi said “We must not hate the British. They have not taken India from us. We have given it to them.” What did he mean by this and how does it apply to any revolution through mass nonviolent action?
He meant that if the Indians withdrew their cooperation from the British Empire, it could not function in India and the British would be forced to leave. No government, whether it is a dictatorship or a democracy, can last if the people withdraw their consent to be governed and stop obeying government orders. As Gandhi said: “Authority enjoys power only to the extent that obedience is rendered by the population.”
12. If nonviolent protesters are attacked by the police or other opponents, what should they do?
They should not fight back. Some strategies of nonviolent mass protest provide that the protesters should not even try to protect themselves from the blows, others permit them to move their bodies to protect vital organs but not to strike back.
13. James Lawson, a leader of the Nashville sit-ins which applied Gandhi’s principles of Satyagraha, said that the first step in Gandhian nonviolence was “to research and examine and focus on an issue: choose a target [and then] choose an issue.” This movie shows Gandhi doing this with respect to protests in India. What did he do?
He retired to his ashram to meditate and came up with the idea of the salt march. Other possible correct answers include references to Gandhi’s decision to spin cloth to break the Indians of their dependence on cloth made in factories in Britain and his focus on the treatment of the untouchables.
14. When the British were resisting independence for India, they wanted Gandhi’s supporters to get angry and become violent. Why would that have hurt Gandhi’s campaign?
It would have denied Gandhi and his followers the advantage of the moral high ground and it would have given the British an excuse for their violent repression of the protests.
15. What is the role of the press, foreign and domestic, in a campaign of nonviolent mass action?
The press spreads the message of the protesters and distributes the news of the repressive and violent actions of those in power. This will hopefully mobilize public opinion for the goals of the protesters and against those in power. It is difficult for any government to resist an aroused public opinion. Thus, even if those in power do not become convinced by the arguments of the protesters, they will at the least be influenced and perhaps compelled to change their position. Foreign press is especially important when the domestic press is controlled by the government or when the government is not responsive to the people. India and South Africa are particularly good examples of the powerful role of the foreign press.
16. What is the role of economic boycotts or other financial pressures in nonviolent mass actions?
There are two purposes. The first is to compel the oppressive forces to give in, even if they are not convinced by the arguments of the protesters. The second is to divide the opponents. Usually, boycotts and economic measures hurt one segment of the power structure more than they hurt others. This divides and weakens the opponents. As the British taught the world, “divide and conquer” is an amazingly effective tactic. Nonviolent protesters use it, too.
17. How have changes in communication technology affected the kinds of power that nonviolent movements and the regimes they oppose can exercise? What new tactics, for instance, might a present-day Gandhi employ in the era of the internet, cell phones, and email?
There is no single correct answer to this question. A good answer will mention the various changes in communications technology, computers, and the increased power of government to spy on its citizens (“big brother”). A good answer will point out how improved communications and computer technology will make it easier to mobilize masses of people and communicate with the press or, using the Internet, directly with the audience. A good answer will demonstrate some knowledge of the mechanics of nonviolent mass action when evaluating the new technologies.
18. Gandhi said that the only devils in the world are those running around in our hearts. What did he mean by this?
If people didn’t allow themselves to be possessed by hatred, greed etc., there would be no evil in the world. For those who believe in the devil, another interpretation is that if people didn’t allow the devil to possess their souls and govern their actions, there would be no evil in the world.
19. During the Hindu/Muslim riots shown in the film, one man came to Gandhi and asked for help. The man said that he had killed children of the other religion and that he knew he would be condemned to hell for that. What advice did Gandhi give him?
Gandhi advised him to adopt an orphan of that other religion and to raise the child as his own, but to make sure that the child practiced the religion he or she was born into. That selfless act could help the questioner at least partially redeem himself.
20. (a) Who were the untouchables? (b) What did Gandhi want to do for them? (c) Why did Gandhi think that this was especially important for Indians?
(a) Indian society was (and to an extent still is) very stratified. The untouchables are at the bottom of the caste system. They had the most degrading jobs, such as cleaning latrines, picking up corpses of animals and people and then working in tanning factories. Hindus of higher classes would have to go through a ritual cleansing if they touched an untouchable. (b) Gandhi wanted to end discrimination against the untouchables. (c) Gandhi felt that the majority of Indians had to get their own house in order, i.e., to stop oppressing other people.
21. Gandhi believed that the effort to improve the social status and condition of the untouchables had some similarities to the Indian movement for independence. There were at least two. What were they?
The first was that the relatively powerful (the majority of Indians) were oppressing the relatively powerless (the untouchables). The second similarity was that this needed to be changed.
22. What parts of Gandhi’s character would you like others to emulate and what, if any, do you find fault with?
Gandhi’s most striking character traits were (1) his refusal to hurt other beings, both human and animal; and (2) his activism in politics. He apparently could have been a better father and there were problems with the way he treated his wife.
23. Which comes first in a democratic society, attempts to work through the democratic process or nonviolent mass action? As a campaign on nonviolent mass action moves forward, what, if anything, is the role of the democratic process?
First and continually one should work through the democratic process. It is only if the democratic process is not responsive that resort to nonviolent mass action should be taken. While nonviolent mass action progresses, the democratic process should be pursued at the same time. The relationship between them is that the democratic process is the normal way to proceed and only when that is not working should nonviolent mass action be added to exert additional pressure for as long as necessary.
24. In 1967 Israel inflicted a humiliating defeat on Arab armies in the Six Day War. Citing the need to defend itself from invasion, Israel occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza strip. The Palestinians have sought a separate country and have demanded that the Israelis end their occupation. They have concentrated their efforts to force the Israelis to withdraw on a combination of terrorism, violent demonstrations, international political pressure, and a media campaign seeking to change public opinion. They have not mounted a campaign relying upon nonviolent mass action. The Israelis have responded with sometimes brutal force which they justify as necessary to counter the violence of the Palestinians.
Most recently, in May of 2021, Hamas fired more than 4000 rockets into Israel indiscriminately targeting civilians. Only Israel’s great technological superiority through its “Iron Dome” defense system prevented massive damage and large civilian casualties on the Israeli side. Again, the Israeli’s responded with massive force, destroying large parts of Gaza and killing more than 200 people, including civilian adults and children. The death toll would have been many times higher except that before bombing a building, the Israeli Defense Force would call the inhabitants and warn them of the impending attack, telling them to leave.
Here is the question. Would it be more effective for the Palestinians to renounce violence and engage in the type of nonviolent direct action pioneered by Mahatma Gandhi?
TWM expects that people on all sides of this question will take strong exception to even the way we have asked the question, let alone the suggested answer. However, before you condemn us, put yourself in the position of a person on the opposite side from you and think about how they would object to this question.
Here is our suggested response. No one knows for sure but based upon the experience of the South African resistance to Apartheid, the American Civil Rights Movement, and other social/political campaigns that have rejected violence and gone on to prevail, a strong argument can be made that the most effective way for the Palestinians to improve their situation and reach at least some of their political goals would be to engage in nonviolent mass action. Israel is a Western-style democracy. Even though it has been faced with terrorism from the Palestinians, it has had a strong peace movement. (Several Israeli prime ministers for example, Rabin, Barak, and Sharon, have made peace with the Palestinians and a return of the conquered territories a hallmark of their foreign policy.) Had the Palestinians renounced violence and convinced the Israelis of their peaceful intentions, the Israelis would have been much less reluctant to grant accommodations to the Palestinians. In addition, Israel depends upon the U.S. for support in the international community, for billions in foreign aid, and for many of its weapons. Had the Palestinians not been shooting missiles and sending suicide bombers into Israel, there would have been tremendous pressure on the Israelis to make an accommodation with the Palestinians.
Many people condemn the force of the Israeli response. However, they need to answer this question. What would happen if Canadians were lobbing rockets indiscriminately into Juneau, Alaska or Detriot, Michigan, killing civilians and destroying buildings? There is only one answer, the response of the U.S. armed forces would be massive and brutal.
The world has seen many examples of nonviolent mass action resolving entrenched conflicts: here are just a few: Apartheid in South Africa, the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, the Indian independence movement, the campaign for women’s suffrage in the United States (see the Learning Guide to Iron Jawed Angels), the ouster of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, and many more. See generally, Wikipedia Article on Nonviolent Resistance https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_resistance and the TWM Guide on A Force More Powerful.
Of course, there are many unique qualities of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and many difficulties in seeking a resolution. The Palestinians will have to compromise many of their cherished goals. They will need to accept the existence of Israel and they will need to modify their demand for the “right of return.” The Israe,lis, for their part, will have to pull back settlements, deal with the extremists in their own society, and change the way they treat Palestinians.
However, after all these decades isn’t it clear that violence is a dead end for everyone – literally. Are the problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians any more intractable than all the problems that have been solved by nonviolent mass action? It is said that one definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Isn’t it time, after seventy years of the failure of violent confrontation to try another way?
And more importantly, nonviolence is an ethically superior way to deal with conflicts. Violence is evil, however, it is excused in certain limited situations, such as self-defense, defense of country etc. But that is an excuse used to justify something that is inherently evil. The morally superior position is that of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King – to be nonviolent in the first place.
For the discussion questions in the form of a comprehension test, suitable to be printed and distributed to a class, see Comprehension Test/Homework Assignment for “Gandhi”. Note that the test assumes that the concepts underlying the questions have been discussed in class.
PEACEMAKERS – REBELLION
All of the Discussion Questions presented in this Guide speak to these topics.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
Mahatma Gandhi was the most important moral leader of the 20th century. His method for challenging unjust laws and conducting a revolution, nonviolent mass action, is ethically pure and also effective. It complies with each of the The Six Pillars of Character. Gandhi, in his public life tried to exemplify each of the Six Pillars of Character. Most of the time he succeeded.
1. Describe how Gandhi, in his public life, exemplified each of the The Six Pillars of Character.
There is no one right answer to this question. What follows is a base on which to build. Trustworthiness: Gandhi always told the truth. He would broadcast his intentions and did nothing surreptitious. Respect: Gandhi respected other people and himself too much to engage in killing or hurting them. Responsibility: Gandhi took responsibility for his actions. When he did something that got him into trouble with the law he took his punishment and did not try to evade his responsibility. Fairness: Gandhi’s entire message related to treating any sentient being (animals as well as people) fairly. Caring: Gandhi cared for everyone regardless of caste, race, creed, or nationality. He even cared for those whose policies he sought to change. Citizenship: Gandhi was constantly doing things for the benefit of his country.
2. Describe how the principles of nonviolent mass action described by Gandhi exemplifies each of the The Six Pillars of Character.
Trustworthiness: Nonviolent civil resisters usually broadcast their intentions before hand, stating that they will march, will boycott, etc. They tell the truth and do not dissemble. Respect: Nonviolent protesters have too much respect for other people and for themselves to engage in killing or hurting others. Responsibility: Nonviolent protesters take responsibility for their actions. When they do something to get themselves in trouble with the law they take their punishment and do not try to evade responsibility. Fairness: Mass nonviolence is the political/social tool of the underdogs. Usually, they are seeking fair treatment. This was true in each of the situations described in the film. Caring: Nonviolent mass actors care for the people whose minds or policies they are trying to change too much to physically injure them. Citizenship: Nonviolent mass action is used to change society. This is an act of citizenship.
3. Compare and contrast (1) the situations faced by Indians seeking independence from Great Britain and by blacks in the U.S. seeking equal rights and (2) their responses.
The Indians faced an empire with a long history of dividing and conquering populations much larger than its own. The British were foreigners in India, using its wealth to enrich Britain. Blacks in the U.S. were trying to change the practices of people who were their fellow countrymen. Americans, black and white, were tied together by bonds of a common culture developed through living in the same country for centuries. In addition, although white segregationists may have wanted to deny it, most “black” Americans had some white ancestors and some “white Americans” had black ancestors. The Indians produced a leader, Mahatma Gandhi who developed Satyagraha, a theory and set of tactics to change society. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Americans seeking an end to segregation and racism, adopted Gandhi’s strategy and embraced his teachings. Another way to conceptualize the response is that the Indians sought to exclude the British, who, after all, were foreigners. The blacks in the U.S. sought to join their countrymen on the basis of equality. They both sought to accomplish their goals through nonviolent mass action.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
BRIDGES TO READING
Books recommended for middle school and junior high readers include Mohandas Gandhi: Power of the Spirit by Victoria Sherrow.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- The Religions of Man, by Huston Smith and
- Past Imperfect, Mark C. Carnes, Ed., Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1995.
This Learning Guide was last updated on September 23, 2012. Question #24 and suggested response were updated on June 1, 2021.