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Gandhi the Film and How It Compares to Early 20th Century Indian History

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Gandhi the Film and How It Compares to Early 20th Century Indian History


While ‘Gandhi’, the movie, when combined with Metcalf and Frankel’s research , gives a comprehensive and multi-dimensional understanding of India towards the end of the British occupation, and helps us empathize in a way the readings alone cannot, I feel that the movie on its own, irresponsibly conveys a dangerously limited understanding of the early 20th century dilemma in the Asian sub-continent. By failing to capture the salient class tensions and problematic notions of caste, the film fails to convey a significant part of the India story, which is as, if not more exploitative and enduring as British colonization. This paper will be used as a space to unravel some of the most prominent issues that weave together this period in India and Mahatma Gandhi.

One of the most prominent aspects of Gandhi’s nationalist struggle for independence was his non-violent non-cooperation as a means of transforming society and riding India of the British. Questioning his insistence on this non-violence strategy is very telling. Frankel explores his social and economic support from the propertied class, who had much to loose from a violent upheaval of society, which some would argue may have brought about his ends more effectively and efficiently. Hinduism, which Gandhi was a devout believer in, is not adamantly pro non-violence, but it does encourage moral superiority of negotiation over force. He was also heavily influenced by Jainism whose principal tenant is non-violence. Gandhi was committed both to ending British colonialism and eradicating untouchability and extreme poverty in a move towards a form of ‘equality’ where everyone’s contribution was equally valued. He desperately sought to maintain class harmony and while what he was proposing was radical to traditional notions of Hindu caste hierarchy, it was far less threatening than many of the other political movements that were gaining strength at the time such as Marxism, socialism, communism and other similar ideologies lead by individuals like Ambedkar and Nehru. While he was simultaneously advocating these two causes, Gandhi’s principle goal until 1945 was to bring British occupation to an end and he felt that everyone else should also put all other causes aside till after independence was gained in order to avoid undermining the movement. Despite his insistence on non-violent means in the movie he says that ‘poverty is the worst form of violence’, which leads one to question how his philosophy would then justify ignoring the social problems that existed till after independence was achieved. While Gandhi’s movement, which mobilized millions of Indians in massive hartals or work stoppages and other forms of non-violent non-cooperation, is credited with largely bringing about independence, some have suggested that the real pivotal factors were actually the more violent moments of protest in India which reverberated loudly throughout the UK and also the external pressures from the international community who through the Atlantic Charter, following World War II, pressured Britain to give India its independence. His insistence on the separation of social and political issues, while seeming like a bazaar suggestion, was actually a very successful strategy that ensured that the Congress would remain on the side of the agitators and not ally with the industrialists, landlords or British.

One of the most seemingly conflicting aspects of his philosophy was, despite the fact that he was committed to ending untouchability, ending poverty and instilling equal valuation of

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