LEARNING GUIDE TO:
SUBJECTS — Biography; World/India, South Africa, England & 1800s -Age: 10+; MPAA Rating -- PG; Biography; 1982; 188 minutes; Color. ; Available from Amazon.com.
Description: 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.
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 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.
Possible Problems: 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.
WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes; and
Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.
QUICK DISCUSSION TOPIC: Under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, the U.S. Civil Rights Movement adopted a strategy of nonviolent mass action based on Gandhi's teachings. Children in the United States are taught about the great achievements of Dr. King and the importance of nonviolent civil disobedience in the struggle for civil rights. To spark interest in this film, simply tell young viewers that, "This is where Martin Luther King got a lot of his ideas." This one comment will make the film relevant to students in the U.S. and will help students of all nationalities understand that the U.S. Civil Rights Movement was but one example of a new strategy by which the powerless could force political and social change without the use of violence.
Parenting Points: 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.
"We must not hate the British. They have not taken India from us. We have given it to them." Mohandas Gandhi
Selected Awards, Cast and Director:
Featured Actors: Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Martin Sheen.
Director: Richard Attenborough.
"You must not use violence under any circumstances. You will be beaten but you must not resist. You must not even raise a hand to ward off the blows." -- Final instructions to protesters before they attempted to take over the salt works at Dharasana.
The three types of nonviolent mass action are: protests (such as meetings, parades, and demonstrations), noncooperation (such as boycotts and resignations) and direct intervention (such as factory occupations, and blockades)
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." Albert Einstein Institution: A Journalist's Brief Glossary of the Nonviolent Struggle. 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.
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
Gandhi on the Salt March
For notes on Satyagraha, see Learning Guide to "A Force More Powerful".
BUILDING VOCABULARY: "nonviolent mass action, "Colony, "British Empire," caste, untouchable, Brahmin, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, homespun, passes, confined, bondage, repression, registration papers, mobilization, underdog, satyagraha, evolved, escalation, ordinance, censor, ban, shrewd, dozens, publicity, underrate, fizzle out, ridiculous, monopoly, satyagrahi, ferocity, wracking brains, advantage, boycott, picket, prevention, intimidation, foreign, political prisoners, not in vain, social movement, pretence legitimacy, refine, develop, shrewd, dominant, synonym, technique, overpower, embarrass, undermine, escalate, minimum, ordinances, prohibit, colonial empire, viceroy.
For more on nonviolent mass action, see Learning Guide to "A Force More Powerful".
"[British] control of India depends on Indian cooperation." -- Mahatma Gandhi
"Authority enjoys power only to the extent that obedience is rendered by the population." -- Mahatma Gandhi
Curriculum Standards Relating to Mahatma Gandhi or to the Use of Mass Nonviolence as a Force for Change:
Teachers and parents seeking the full range of curriculum standards which can be served by this film should carefully review the standards applicable to their state. The following is a base from which to start for the eleven most populous states. In most cases we have not included standards which apply to general concepts or to skills of analysis or performance.
California Content Standards: History-Social Science; Standards 10.4.1 - 4 & 10.9 ("Students analyze the international developments in the post-World War II world." The tactic of nonviolent mass action is not mentioned);
Texas Essential Knowledge Skills: Social Studies: World History: 113.33(c): (7)(A) & (B); (8) ("History. The student understands causes and effects of major political revolutions since the 17th century." The revolutionary new technique of nonviolent mass action); (10)(A) & (B); 17(A) & 17(B); and World Geography: 113.34 18(D);
New York Learning Standards: Social Studies: Standard 2, World History, Key Ideas 1 - 4, Intermediate and Commencement;
Florida Sunshine State Standards: Social Studies: Grades 6 - 8: SS.A.3.3.2, SS.A.3.3.4 & SS.A.5.3.2; and Grades 9 - 12: SS.A.3.4.9 & 10; SS.C.2.4.2, 3, 5 & 7;
Illinois Learning Standards: State Goal 14: Middle/Jr. High: 14.C.3 & 14.D.3; Early H.S.: 14.C.4 & 14.D.4;State Goal 16: Late Elemen.: 16.A.2c; Middle/Jr. High: 16.A.3a -c & 16.B.3d; Early H.S.: 16.A.4a & b; & 16.B.4b; and Late H.S.: 16.A.5a & 16.C.5.c(W);
Pennsylvania Academic Standards: History: Category 8.4, Through Grade 12: 8.4.12.A - D; Civics and Government: Category 5.2, Through Grade 9: 5.2.9.A -C & G; Through Grade 12: A-C, F & G; Category 5.3, Through Grade 9: 5.3.9 H & J; Through Grade 12: 5.3.12 H & J;
Ohio Academic Content Standards: Social Studies: Social Studies Benchmarks and Indicators by Grade Level Grade 6: Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities: 1 & 2; Grade 9: History 13; People in Societies 1.b; and Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities 1 - 3; Grade 10: History 14.b & c; People in Societies 1; and Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities: 1 - 4; Grade 11: Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities: 1 & 2; 6.a, c, d & g; Grade 12: History 1 & 3; Role of Government 2; and Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities: 6 - 8;
Michigan Curriculum Framework: Content Standards and Working Draft Benchmarks: Social Studies: II. Historical Perspective: Middle School: 2.2-4; 3.1 & 2; 4.2-4; High School: 1.2, 2.1-3; 3.1 & 2; 4.1-4; VII. Citizen Involvement: Middle School 1.1 & 1.2; High School 1.2;
New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards: Social Studies: World History, Standard 6.3: Through Grade 12: G.2, H.1 & H.3;
Georgia Performance Standards Social Studies, World History, Grades 9-12 pg. 30, Standard 19. SSWH19 a;
North Carolina Standard Course of Study: Social Studies: Seventh Grade, Africa, Asia and Australia: 7.01, 7.02 8.01, 8.03; 10.01 - 10.04; 12.01 - 12.03 & 13.01; Ninth Grade, World History: 1.01, 4.05, 6.01, 6.02, 8.03 & 8.04; and Tenth Grade, Civics and Economics: 4.04 - 4.06, 4.09 & 6.06.
There are three main ways in which nonviolent mass action forces political and social change. It (1) changes hearts and minds; (2) hurts the pocketbook of the business community; and (3) prevents business as usual. For a full discussion of these concepts, see Learning Guide to "A Force More Powerful".
Curriculum Related Discussion Questions:
1. Briefly describe the British Empire as it existed after World War I.
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.
3. What benefits have the people of the United States, black, white and others, derived from the influence of Mahatma Gandhi?
4. Methods of nonviolent mass action can be separated into three categories. Name the categories and give at least two examples of each.
5. 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.
6. Would the tactics of nonviolent mass action have worked against Hitler, Stalin or Saddam Hussein?
7. How does nonviolent mass action work on the mind of the oppressor?
8. Was Gandhi correct when he said at the start of the march to the sea that the British were not in control, but the protesters were? Explain your answer and discuss how it applies to any nonviolent mass action against a government or its policies.
9. What was meant by the term "divide and rule" and how did this apply to India? 10. Did Gandhi think of himself as a saint?
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?
12. If nonviolent protesters are attacked by the police or other opponents, what should they do?
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?
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?
15. What is the role of the press, foreign and domestic, in a campaign of nonviolent mass action?
16. What is the role of economic boycotts or other financial pressures in nonviolent mass actions?
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?
18. Gandhi said that the only devils in the world are those running around in our hearts. What did he mean by this?
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?
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?
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?
22. What parts of Gandhi's character would you like others to emulate and what, if any, do you find fault with?
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?
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. Since that time 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 for independence based on nonviolent mass action. Until 2005 the Israelis responded with sometimes brutal force which they justified as necessary to counter the violence of the Palestinians. Had the Palestinians renounced violence and based their campaign to end the Israeli occupation on nonviolent mass action, how long would it have taken for them to get their independence? Defend your position.
Select questions that are appropriate for your students.
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These Discussion Questions have been set out in a separate document suitable to be printed and handed out to a class. See, Comprehension Test/Homework Assignment. For an answer key to the test/homework assignment, see Answers to Discussion Questions for "Gandhi"
Questions 3, 16 & 17 have been taken or adapted from questions 2, 4 & 7 respectively from the Discussion Questions section in the now retired PBS website for this movie. The answers have been supplied by TWM. Most of the questions below duplicate questions in the Learning Guide to A Force More Powerful.
For suggested answers: click here.
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Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions and the Six Pillars of Character 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 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.
2. Describe how the principles of nonviolent mass action described by Gandhi exemplifies each of the The Six Pillars of Character.
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 Six Pillars of Character are set out below:
(Be honest; Don't deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable -- do what you say you'll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal -- stand by your family, friends and country)
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don't take advantage of others; Don't blame others carelessly)
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)
Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.
Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.
For suggested answers: click here.
Gandhi said that, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."
MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: A Force More Powerful, Kundun and Michael Collins. See also the films in the Civil Rights section of the U.S. History and Culture Subject list.
Assignments, Projects and Activities: Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction