Eric Korpi History 302 Gandhi
In the opening scene of Gandhi, the filmmakers attempt to explain the complex life story of the movie’s main character by stating: “No man's life can be encompassed in one telling... least of all Gandhi's, whose passage through life was so entwined with his nation's struggle for freedom. There is no way to give each event its allotted weight, to recount the deeds and sacrifices of all the great men and women to whom he and India owe such immense debts. What can be done is to be faithful in spirit to the record of his journey, and to try to find one's way to the heart of the man...” While the rest of the movie attempts to dive into this great leader’s story, it is often the side that is not shown that may shed the most light on why he made the decisions that he did. The film begins and ends with his Gandhi’s assassination on 30 January 1948, where he was shot and killed by Nathuram Godse. The rest of the movie is a flashback starting with an event in South Africa. At the time, he was a young, English educated lawyer traveling to a new job. While on his way, he is kicked off a train for refusing to move out of first class. Afterwards, he decides to lead a non-violent movement for the rights of Indians in the country. Following arrests and beatings, the small lawyer eventually gains acceptance for his cause by the British government because of the public support garnered through the media.
This early victory has always been viewed as a decisive moment in his start as a human rights leader. While the movie depicts this as such a turning point in his life, I partially disagree because while he helped to gain rights for Indian’s in South Africa, he eventually neglected those of native black South Africans. The local natives would be subjugated to oppression and segregation by the British colonizers for decades to come until the Apartheid ended in 1994 under the leadership of one of their own. Another questionable example of Gandhi ignoring the most peaceful solution to a conflict was his appeal for Indians to enlist in the British Army during World War I. While he had previously promoted Indian’s to join the Ambulance Corps during the Zulu Wars and at the very beginning of World War I, he was now asking them to sign up as combat troops. In justifying his logic, Gandhi wrote “To bring about such a state of things we should have the ability to defend ourselves, that is, the ability to bear arms and to use them...If we want to learn the use of arms with the greatest possible despatch, it is our duty to enlist ourselves in the army." He later wrote to the Viceroy that he "personally will not kill or injure anybody, friend or foe." These opinions may have had huge implications on his decisions later in life, as he played a larger role as a leader in India’s struggle for independence.
Perhaps these early examples of not acting without violence and the neglecting of certain groups of people played a not so talked about role during Gandhi’s involvement with issues portrayed in the film. For example, after World War II when Britain is too weak to impose its will on India, the country is finally granted its independence. Indians celebrate this victory, but their troubles are far from over. Religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims
erupt into nation-wide violence. Gandhi declares a hunger strike, saying he will not eat until the fighting stops. The fighting does stop eventually, but the country is divided by religion. It’s eventually decided that the country will be divided into separate nations. The hope is that by encouraging the Muslims to live in a separate country, violence will abate. Gandhi is opposed to the idea, and is even willing to allow Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a Muslim leader, to become the first prime minister of India, but the Partition of India is carried out nevertheless. Perhaps trying to avoid another partial victory, like the one he’d won in South Africa, Gandhi continues to try to bring about a peace between the divided. In doing so, he produces enemies from both sides. One of these enemies was a former admirer of his. This Hindu turned radical, rejected Gandhi, as he felt that Gandhi was sacrificing Hindu security in an effort to appease Muslim interests. This was the same man who shot and killed Gandhi, Nathuram Godse. Maybe a bit more about this gunman, a former supporter of Gandhi, ought to have been shown. Like I said before, it is often the side that is not shown that may shed the most light.