At Goucher, where I attended for my B.A., I took this class on Gandhi which was also supposed to be an ethics class. It attracts a lot of students because Gandhi is a trendy sort of hero and Goucher College is a place where kids must know about this sort of hero. So we have tons of range in the class.
Most of the time you are surrounded by people within your major so when you get political science majors and religion majors and history majors and some people who just have to know who Gandhi is, all in one class of course, ethics is going to be a hot topic.
The question of Gandhi’s political background vs his ethical background has already taken center stage. Was Gandhi truly an ethical being, as is believed to be his view of himself, or is he really a politician with a particular gift for appealing to the masses?
The significance is that if he’s a politician he gets a write off. ‘Oh, he made this racial statement… well he was simply being a politician and catering to those who are bankrolling him’. Or ‘well, what does he have to gain by supporting the Native Africans in their battle against the injustice of passes in South Africa, after all he’s only concerned about the Indians rights’.
But if Gandhi were an ethical man and truly practiced those things that he wrote about he would fight for the equality of all people. Right? And if that was not in his power, he would certainly not call for another group to remain oppressed so that his group should have power.
To me, whether Gandhi was ethical or political has little relevance, I am only concerned with what he did, not if it could be excused. But the opinions of those in my class were vastly different than mine. For example, we were discussing Chauri Chaura, which is a place where a nationalist mob that Gandhi had spurned assembled to protest at a liquor store. Things got out of hand when the cops came, they warned the crowd with a shot in the air but they refused to disperse. The angry crowd then began throwing rocks at the policemen. The policemen responded by killing three of the protestors. The mob then got out of control and began attacking the men from all sides. They retreated into a police station which the protestors burned to the ground killing twenty two men.
After this horrific event, Gandhi cancelled the movement. He believed in extreme ahisma- non-violence- and would not support the movement anymore. We discussed whether or not Gandhi went overboard with this reaction. Most of my classmates thought that he should have expected and thus tolerated violence from those in his movement, only three girls thought that it was the right course of action (cancellation of the movement). If Gandhi started the movement he, as a moral man, would consider all of the results of the movement his responsibility, and he refused to tolerate violence.
What came next absolutely shocked me. The teacher told us that Gandhi told those men who took part in the burning and murder of those policemen to confess. And what did my classmates think about that? I thought well duh! But one girl immediately raised her hand and said something to the effect that Gandhi was being extremely selfish and self- righteous to ask that. She even went on to that those people probably had children and Gandhi didn’t even consider how scared they were. I thought oh my word girl is seriously off her rocker who could possibly see it that way… and then I look around and see about 8 heads nodding in agreement. I swear I snapped. At least the teacher will remember me when he thinks back on the participation grades…
Well, that experience forced me to look at those people, mostly political science majors hoping to break into politics the second they leave school, and fear for the future of country where someday a murderer may be set free because he has child when he should have thought about that before he killed.
And is that really any different than what we see every day with our own political movements? The war between the left and right has been ripe with hateful speech and violence encouraging politicians. Do we excuse them because they are running for office? What if our children repeated some of the statements publicized in the media to another child at school? Would they be suspended? How much will we write off and excuse from our own leaders?