Vikram S Desai
Paper # 4
Gandhi and Dr. King on Non-Violence
Gandhi in the chapter, 'Critique of modern civilization' and Martin in 'A letter from
According to me, any action that is supported by confidence, strong determination and truth is powerful. These are the main factors on which the success of the action in terms of its acceptance lies and its effectiveness can be gauged. The different aspects surrounding such actions differ depending upon the causes and the ultimate goal to be achieved. For example, groups of people choose to demonstrate peacefully in front of certain institutions to show their opinions. Their whole aim is to demonstrate their unity and declare that they firmly believe in their actions. Any person would agree that such actions go a long way in sending across their message. Some people may also choose to make their point by resorting to destruction of life and property. However such actions would be looked upon with utter disgust and their message would not be received appropriately. We see such examples in our daily lives of how non-violent actions make a lot of difference.
Gandhi called this term ‘soul-force’. While explaining this idea, he clearly talks about two forces that can be backed by petition. The first is the force of arms, which according to him has far reaching evil results. He states the second kind of force as the one in which the people choose that they don’t want to be governed. In other words it is the force which is shown by actions that show the oppressor about the grit and determination that the oppressed possess. According to him the force implied in this may be described as love-force, soul-force, or, passive resistance. Gandhi claims that the force of arms is powerless when matched against the force of love or the soul. Such advocacy of non-violence can be found in Dr. King’s writings too. In ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’, Dr.King writes about his beliefs about non-violence. He believes that any non-violent struggle can have a deeper impact on society and on the oppressor. He states that the whole purpose of ‘direct action’ is to foster negotiations. His lines, “Non-violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” clearly show that he strongly believes in the strong potential of any non-violent struggle and its positive consequences.
It is thus evident that both Gandhi and Dr. King believe in the sheer power of non-violence and the results that it can help achieve. Gandhi in the chapter, ‘Critique of Modern Civilization’ gives a detailed description of his thoughts on passive resistance. He actually does a wonderful job of replying to questions that would be asked by a normal person. In this process he ends up educating a reader about not only the basic concept of passive resistance but also about its various complex aspects and the traits that an ideal passive resister must possess. He defines passive resistance as ‘method of securing rights by personal suffering’. While defining passive resistance he makes it clear that the aim of a passive resister is not to break laws but to suffer and not submit to the laws. He explains that a person uses soul-force when he or she decides not to obey an unjust law and accepts the penalty for its breach. He clarifies that the power of passive resistance is immense even though not many accounts of its success can be found in books of history. In the lines, “History, as we know it is a record of the wars of the world” he tries to point out that accounts of violence between kings and nations are recorded accurately. He further says that although this is the case, history cannot be entirely about wars, because that would have definitely killed ever human being on the earth and the fact that the world still lives is the most unimpeachable evidence of the success of soul-force. Gandhi’s thoughts like these make one think deeply about non-violence and its strengths. He also wants to make the reader aware that passive resistance shouldn’t be only considered as the force of the weak. He says, “Those alone can follow the path of passive resistance who are free from fear, whether as to their possessions, false honour, their relatives, the government bodily injuries or death”, thus clarifying that it should not be considered to be just a force of the weak, and that it can be used as an important tool of ‘fight against injustice’ by any section of the society. Gandhi’s inspiring words and the underlying urge in his words to embrace non-violent passive resistance makes one realize the true potential of soul-force.
While Gandhi in ‘Critique of Modern Civilization’ introduces the concept of soul-force and goes a long way in explaining all the various aspects about soul-force and non-violence, Dr. King in ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’, uses his thoughts and belief in non-violence to explain his stand on various issues concerning the freedom and fight for equal rights for African Americans in America. This letter is Dr. Kings reaction. He urges his fellow men to realize the fact that the non-violent demonstrations are a direct result of the city’s white power structure and should not be misunderstood. His lines, “ In any non-violent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of all the facts to determine whether injustice exists; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action”, shows that Dr. King aims to project his non-violent struggle as meaningful and organized, one whose sole aim is to establish justice. He uses the term direct-action to mention the final stage in a non-violent struggle. Thus Dr. King, like Gandhi tries to reiterate that such an action can indeed reap far-reaching results. Gandhi and Dr. King can actually be well compared after reading their thoughts on non-violence. In fact, the following passage from Dr. King’s letter on non-violence, in which he is trying to explain the distinction in the two kinds of protests, is strikingly similar to Gandhi’s words when he was defining passive resistance. He says, “In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law…..One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law”. Thus agreeing with Gandhi’s thought that passive resistance is securing rights by personal suffering. Dr. King too, like Gandhi, chooses to classify laws as ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ laws and presses that while an unjust law is no law at all, a law can be called just only if it is a ‘man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.’
Thus a deep reading of ideas from both these great leaders gives us a clear picture of the power that soul-force or passive resistance possesses. Both definitely think that ‘soul force’ or passive resistance is powerful and it tends to weaken the more conventional power structure it challenges. Gandhi gives various examples, demonstrating how passive resistance can weaken even the strongest kings. His example in which he talks about the villagers who were offended by their prince’s commands is very interesting. The villagers then decided to vacate the village and soon the prince had to withdraw its orders. This simple instance itself makes one’s mind ponder over the various ways in which soul-force can be used as a powerful weapon. Gandhi in fact believed that violence should not be used at any stage of protest, once a passive resister embraces the path of non-violence. A very important event in the history of
Such strong belief in non-violence and the idea of dedication of one’s life to suffering and pain, to make the right kind of impact on the oppressor, highlight the lives of Gandhi and Dr. King. Both urged their followers to accept the path of non-violence and committed their lives to make the world realize about its true strengths.