The best measure of your belief in any cause is not how much you are willing to kill for it, but how much you are willing to die for it. Those who kill indiscriminately for a cause, are not as impressive as those who seek to reason with their oppressors. For this very reason, one of my greatest heroes, and perhaps the greatest revolutionary in modern history is Mahatma Gandhi.
At the time I was in school, several movies were released within a few months of each other dealing with Bhagat Singh. What distressed me about these movies was that they portrayed Gandhi as a schemer and seemed to make it appear that he had a superficial role in securing India’s independence. Some of my friends became very anti-Gandhi at the time and I could not completely understand the reason.
Gandhi’s path of non-violence may come across as meek to many people but it was far more effective than violent acts. Consider an oppressive regime like the British government at the time. They employed brutal force, harsh punishments and imposed an iron rule across India. What retaliatory violence served to do was harden British hearts against the cries of a nation longing for freedom. This was observed in the revolution of 1857 where even the most sympathetic of British observers would have been inclined to acts of violence when stories of rape and pillaging by Indian soldiers on British citizens reached them.
But Gandhi revolutionized the approach to struggle for rights and freedom. Responding to violence with violence leaves no difference between the oppressor and the oppressed. It brings them both down to the level of beasts who cannot reason. If there was a way to make the British realize what brutalities were being visited on the Indian masses, it might turn public opinion in favour of independence. The approach relied on the assumption that the average human being had enough empathy to relate to the victim’s cause. An armed struggle on the other hand would have been far more harmful to the Indian freedom struggle, as is seen with so many other revolutions. The recently concluded war in Libya has left the nation in tatters and a stable government looks unlikely to be formed there any time soon.
What Gandhi’s struggle left was a legacy of nonviolence and tolerance. It gave millions of people hope that their cause was just and the best way to prove it was to respond with kindness and mercy where none existed. This non-violent struggle did not end with India’s independence. Much of the civil rights movement in the USA drew it’s inspiration from the Civil Disobedience and non co-operation movements successfully started by Gandhi. And they have had resounding successes.
Perhaps the enduring legacy of this method was demonstrated by the Prime Minister of Norway when the perpetrator of the Norway Massacres of 2011, Christian terrorist Anders Breivik, was apprehended. When calls were made to reinstate the death penalty, the Prime Minister said, “We will respond to attacks on our democracy with even more democracy.” This statement encapsulates all that is great about what Gandhi championed. When you sink to the level of your foe, then your struggle is meaningless. An eye for an eye, indeed makes the whole world blind.