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Mohandas Gandhi, called the Mahatma, was probably responsible for more good throughout the world than any man who lived in the 20th century. His influence was particularly beneficial to the people of India and the people of the United States.

Subject:     World History and Culture - India; Nonviolence

Ages:        12+

Length:     Snippet: 25 minutes; Lesson: Two 45 - 55 minute class periods depending on how deeply teachers want to go into nonviolent mass action.

Learner Outcomes/Objectives:     Students will learn about Mahatma Gandhi, the development of nonviolent mass action, and the Indian movement for independence. Students will retain strong mental images of Gandhi and the origins of nonviolent mass action.

Rationale:     Knowledge of nonviolent mass action and of the Indian independence movement is important for any student of modern world history.

Description of the Snippet:     This is the second segment of the documentary, "A Force More Powerful". The film describes six occasions in which nonviolent mass action changed governments or promoted social reform.

Possible Problems:        None.

How to Use This Guide:    
TWM suggests that teachers keep a pre-selected film in their classroom along with any handouts, readings, and other materials that a substitute will need. If required, get permission from school administrators to allow this snippet to be shown.
As you adapt this lesson to the needs and abilities of your classes, modify the Instructions to the Substitute to take account of any changes you make. Pay special attention to the following points:
  • If the handout is to be read aloud in class, revise Instruction #3 and specify the method of choosing students to read to the class.

  • If the comprehension test will not be given, delete the reference to the test in Instruction #1. If the test is to be given, review the test, gauge how long each class will need to fully respond and make any necessary changes to the Instructions.
If students are to read the Nonviolent Mass Action in the 20th Century Handout, leave copies for the substitute to distribute to the class. If the substitute is to be in the class for the second day and will give the comprehension test, leave copies for the substitute.

See Checklist for Teachers Setting up the Sub and Model Instructions to the Substitute.

Instructions to the Substitute:    

1.   Before the class, cue the movie to the beginning of the second segment entitled Defying the Crown -- India 1930.

2.  Tell students that the class will cover Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian independence movement. It will also cover nonviolent mass action and its affect on modern world history. Note that Dr. Martin Luther King and the U.S. Civil Rights Movement successfully adopted Gandhi's strategy in seeking equality for African Americans. Tell the class that in the next period they will be given a comprehension test on the contents of the film and the handout which will be passed out after the film has been shown.

3.  Play the second segment of the movie "A Force More Powerful" entitled "Defying the Crown -- India 1930". This will take about 25 minutes.

4.  After the snippet has been shown, pass out the Nonviolent Mass Action in the 20th Century Handout. Give students fifteen minutes to read it. Use any time that remains for class discussion. See Discussion Questions below. Start with the first discussion question. You will probably not have time for many of the questions. Leave a note about which questions were discussed.

5. Collect the handouts before the class leaves.

6.   If you are the substitute for a second day, continue the class discussion. Stop the discussion 40 minutes before the end of the period to allow time for the comprehension test.

7. Hand out the questionnaires for the comprehension test. Tell students to write the answers, along with their name, the date and the period, on a separate sheet of paper. They should not write on the questionnaire. Allow 40 minutes for the test.

8. At the end of the period, collect the tests.

Discussion Questions With Suggested Answers    
Points that will be covered in a thorough class discussion are set out in the Suggested Response section. The questions on the comprehension test are identical in most cases to the discussion questions. Not all discussion questions are included in the test. The Suggested Responses are examples of excellent answers to the appropriate test questions.
1.  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? Suggested Response: 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.

2.  There are two major purposes for economic boycotts or other financial pressures in a campaign of nonviolent mass action. What are they? Suggested Response: 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.

3.  If nonviolent protesters are attacked by the police or other opponents, what should they do? Suggested Response: They should not fight back. They should look their attackers in the eye whenever possible. 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 they cannot strike back.

4.  When many people are peacefully protesting against a government, refusing to cooperate, or engaging in nonviolent direct action, and the government restores its authority through mass arrests, beatings, and tear gas, what have the protesters accomplished? Suggested Response: The protesters have shown that the government rules by force and not by the consent of the people. 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."

5.  One goal of practitioners of nonviolent mass action is to persuade their opponents of the justness of their cause. How do nonviolent protesters work on the minds of their opponents? Suggested Response: Practitioners of nonviolent mass action expose the abuses of the existing power structure and subject the beliefs and actions of their opponents to scrutiny. When the nonviolent mass action campaign is well conceived, it exposes contradictions between their opponents' underlying values and their behavior. In a successful campaign, the opponents of the mass action campaign, often also responding to aroused public opinion and economic pressure, will change their 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.

6.  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. Suggested Response: To a very real extent Gandhi was correct. The British couldn't stop the protesters except with acts of repression which would show the British to be brutal occupiers who had lost the consent of the governed. In the same way, nonviolent mass action which has been properly conceived and planned will run its course and make its point, unless the authorities repress it with force and violence. However, the repression and violence will arouse public opinion in support of the demonstrators and undermine the position of the government.

7.  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 "passive resistance". Suggested Response: 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 difficult emotionally 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.

8.  What benefits have the people of the United States derived from the influence of Mahatma Gandhi? Answer as to each group: (1) whites, (2) blacks, and (3) other minorities. Suggested Response: 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. For whites, 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.

9.  Methods of nonviolent mass action can be separated into three categories: protest, noncooperation and direct intervention. Describe each category and give at least one example of each. Your examples do not need to be confined to the Indian independence movement. Suggested Response: 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).

10.  The three main ways in which nonviolent mass action forces political and social change are by: (1) changing hearts and minds; (2) applying economic pressure; and (3) preventing business as usual. Describe how each of these works to help protesters achieve their goals. Suggested Response: (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: Nonviolent action by masses of people 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.

11.   Gandhi said that the only devils in the world are those running around in our hearts. What did he mean by this? Suggested Response: If people didn't allow themselves to be possessed by hatred, greed, etc., there would be no evil in the world. Another interpretation is that if people didn't allow evil to possess their souls and govern their actions, there would be no evil in the world.

Last revised September 3, 2009.

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