‘Satyagraha’ literally translates into ‘the request for truth’. The meaning is in context to the peaceful form of protest as practiced and preached by Mahatma Gandhi, and can be interpreted as a call for truthful behaviour. The core of the Gandhian way of communication lies in maintaining personal integrity and nurturing an unshakable moral value within. The inner realization of real ideals actualised with controlled speech and measured actions are the requisites of a successful nonviolent movement. Although it is difficult to do justice to the magnitude of effect that Gandhi was able to inflict on the psyche of the Indian masses and subsequently on the British and international community relating the need for freedom, in a single article, we will try to outline the basic constructs of Gandhian communication as follows:
1. Non Violence, Symbolism and Rationality
Non-Violence as a concept was fine and a figure head was already established to stir the emotions of the peace loving and to some extent, meek masses of the country. A lot was heard and talked about Gandhi since the days he had worked in Africa where he had tested his methods. Yet for most of Gandhi’s contemporaries which even include Jawaharlal Nehru, Robindronath Tagore and Aurobindo Ghosh, many of his actions were surely not agreeable. The introduction of new causes and the symbols associated with it was probably hard to comprehend for many of his friends and critics. Even if the idea of non violence was widely prophesised, a true sense of empowerment was necessary to invoke the masses into taking organised actions, since the oppressor was not easily brought to a dialogue. Take for instance the introduction of the ‘Spinning Wheel’ and ‘Khadi’ that became an enduring symbol of independence and ingenuity. It was necessary to provide the masses a means of self reliance and consequently a reason to reject ‘Videshi’ textile. It was the first step towards the conversion of masses into ardent ‘Satyagrahis’. While many saw the ‘spinning wheel’ as waste of time or irrational, Gandhi was well aware of the fact that his doctrines about protesting yet ‘refusing to fight back’ would be only materialised if the participants are completely in line with the principles and are well organised. He just simplified the message with the use of a totem with a great utility. Dressing up minimally in hand woven ‘khadi’ as typical ‘rural Indian’ even when addressing world leaders, set such a remarkable image that has stayed on forever as a symbol of determination, will and struggle.
2. Social Transformation and persuasion by example
The tools of non-violent protest, be it through Gandhian methods or pragmatic means, like sit-ins, walk outs, rallies, public addressing, demonstrations, or strikes serve best when the efforts are consorted. For a culturally diverse country ruled by oppressors for two centuries which had seen many mutinies crushed and revolutionaries jailed and executed, there was a need to show people a middle path that ensured everyone’s participation. An all round social transformation was required to improve the morale of people and influence them to communicate within themselves. The political agendas needed to be clarified and the concept of a nation state was to be instilled. In a complex environment like this Gandhi’s communication was unique and driven by the concept of ‘leadership through example’. Gandhi spoke straight to people. ‘Simple living’ was a crucial message to engage the masses who were as it is living under oppression. Being a barrister and having had a practicing career in England and South Africa yet living with such a humble disposition, shook the elites who could now see the gravity of his efforts in turning the public’s opinion.
3. Mobilization of masses and building global opinion
Gandhi’s ultimate goal may have been the complete freedom of India from British rule but the journey from being thrown out of a train compartment in Africa to becoming the father of a nation had many smaller steps in between. To the point when people were empowered and engaged in the rational discourse about the notion of freedom Gandhi was setting model behaviour. His spiritual believes were tested multiple times as he was actively engaging with other spiritualists, intellectuals, artists, theosophists and religious leaders of different religions and cults and yet he came out clean through strict observance of ‘Satya’(truth) and ‘Ahimsa’(non-violence). Once he was accepted by people of all classes, casts, regions, and religions he could mobilise the masses towards the greater goal that he had in mind.
Although the mobilization of Indian masses was central to the whole struggle for independence but the communication of this non-violent movement probably left a deeper impact on the international community especially the British who were shocked and awed by the propensity of Gandhi’s unperturbed courage and the horrible treatment of Indian masses at the hands of the colonisers. It triggered a sympathetic sentiment amongst the citizens of England and even America who then started acting as third party influencers against the colonial government. The news reports of police atrocities on peaceful demonstrators during the Salt Satyagrah shook the western media. In many ways Gandhi’s way of communication was to simply challenge the oppressors into a power equalization where a rational conversation becomes a necessity.
4. Iconic persona and the everlasting influence
Gandhi’s ‘experiments’ with non-violence have become a topic of academic research. Many personalities have ever-since been influenced by the gigantic achievements of this iconic personality. ‘Satyagreh’ has been reinterpreted in numerous ways by leaders and applied by them to fight against oppression. Gandhian methods found its way into the American civil Rights Movement of 1950s and 60s mainly through the beliefs of activists like Martin Luther King Jr., James Lawson and Diane Nash. Satyagreh has been successfully replicated in many different sociological, political and human right related situations which include Nelson Mandela’s struggle against apartheid in South Africa which is widely related as an extension of Gandhi’s previous work in the region. Aung San Suu Kyi, the political reformist of Burma who was under house arrest for almost two decades continued her campaign again the oppressive Junta through Gandhian principles of non-violence. Most recently American President Barak Obama was quoted saying that Gandhi has been and still is one of the biggest influences on his political career. After multiple nominations for the Nobel peace prize the committee regretted to have omitted him based on nationalistic biases. The Nobel peace prize was not awarded in the year 1948 in honour of Gandhi who was assassinated that year. But the most memorable praise for Gandhi and his model life comes from Albert Einstein who puts it as the following:
”Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood…”
Written by Koustubh Bhattacharya for Image Management