8-2: The Function of a Civil Resister


The Function of a Civil Resister is to provoke response…

Part 1 of 3: Read Gandhi’s “Call for a Hartal” and answer the questions that follow.

Call for a Hartal

“The idea came to me last night in a dream that we should call on the country to observe a general hartal…. (O)urs is a sacred fight, and it seems to me to be in the fitness of things that it should be commenced with an act of self-purification. Let all the people in India, therefore, suspend their business on that day and observe the day as one of fasting and prayer….”

 Note: A general “hartal” in India was traditionally a day of fasting and prayer when all business activity ceased. To call for a hartal was to call for a one day work stoppage and boycott. Although the economic impact of this first nonviolent campaign was limited to just one day, Gandhi served notice to the British that the people of India could be organized against them.


Questions for a CALL TO HARTAL

  1. What non-violent tactic is demonstrated in the document?
  2. Are economic actions like boycotts necessary for successful non-violent change? In other words, do you have to hit people in their wallets to get their attention? Why?
  3. Why do they think Gandhi wanted to combine fasting and prayer with a work stoppage?
  4. Could the effect on the British be more than economic?  (I.e. Moral, Political etc.) Why or why not?


Part 2 of 3: Read Gandhi’s letter to Lord Irwin regarding the Salt March and answer the questions that follow.


The Salt March

Gandhi’s letter to Lord Irwin, English governor in India, before marching to the sea and breaking the English Salt Tax Law


Dear Friend,

Before embarking on Civil Disobedience and taking the risk I have dreaded to take all these years, I would … approach you and find a way out. I cannot intentionally hurt anything that lives, much less human beings, even though they may do the greatest wrong to me and mine. Whilst therefore I hold the British rule to be a curse, I do not intend harm to a single Englishman or to any legitimate interest he may have in India…. And why do I regard the British rule a curse? …Even the salt [the peasant] must use to live is so taxed as to make the burden fall heaviest on him. … The tax shows itself still more burden­ some on the poor man when it is remembered that salt is one thing he must eat more than the rich man….

My ambition is no less than to convert the British people through nonviolence,  and thus make  them  see the wrong they have  done to India …. But if you  cannot  see your way  to deal with these evils and if my letter makes no appeal to your heart, on the eleventh day of this month I shall proceed with such co­ workers of the Ashram [Community] as I can take, to disregard the  provisions  of the  Salt Laws ….

 Note: Gandhi’s march to the sea is generally called “‘The Salt March.” Most historians consider it the turning point of the movement to free India from British control. The Salt Tax Law made it illegal for Indians to manufacture or collect their own salt.


Questions for THE SALT MARCH

  1. What non-violent tactic is being threatened by Gandhi to protest the salt tax?
  2. What is civil disobedience?
  3. Is civil disobedience a different analytical category from a boycott or strike?
  4. Why might Gandhi have written this letter to Lord Irwin, telling him in advance what Gandhi intended to do?
  5. What are the risks of civil disobedience to society? What is to prevent any person from disobeying any law simply because he doesn’t like it?



Examine the two visual sources below and the reading on the Dharasana Salt Works Raid. Then answer the questions that follow.

The Dharasana Salt Works, 150 Miles North of Bombay, India

May, 1930


Mme. Naidu called for prayer before the march started and the entire assemblage knelt. She exhorted them: “Gandhi’s body is in jail but his soul is  with you. India’s prestige is in your hands. You must not use any violence under any circumstances. You  will  be beaten  but you  must not resist; you must not even  raise a hand  to ward  off  blows.” Wild,  shrill cheers terminated  her speech….

In complete silence the Gandhi men drew up and halted  a hundred yards from the stockade [surrounding the Dharasana  Salt Works] …. Suddenly, at  a word of command, scores of native police rushed upon the advancing marchers and rained blows on their heads with their steel-shod [clubs]. Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows …. The survivors without breaking ranks silently and doggedly marched on until struck down …. The blankets used as stretchers  were sodden  with blood.

At times the spectacle of unresisting men being methodically bashed into a bloody pulp sickened me so much that I had to turn away. The western mind finds it difficult to grasp the idea of nonresistance.


Note: Mme. Naidu was a well-known Indian poetess who was to take Gandhi’s place should he be arrested. The author of this document. Webb Miller, was a foreign correspondent present at both the raid and the hospital where the wounded (320 injured and two dead) were taken afterwards. This is the report he filed.



protesters in dharasana

Protesters preparing to march in Dharasana.

  1. Why do you think discipline was essential at the Dharasana Salt Works?
  2. Do you believe you could have been able to maintain total discipline at Dharasana? What would that have entailed?
  3. Gandhi frequented fasted to ensure his followers adhered to his high standards for discipline. On many occasions, Gandhi nearly died as a result of his fasts. Was Gandhi going too far, or was he just being smart to be so insistent about discipline?
  4. In the photo you can see the marchers getting ready for the raid. In doing so the marchers did not even raise their hands to ward off the blows of the police. Is there anything you believe in enough to be willing to be so disciplined and accept the blows? If yes than what, if not then why not?


salting the lion's tail

Salting the Lion’s Tail

 This cartoon shows Gandhi salting the tail of the British lion.

  1. Perhaps the most important aspect of political cartooning is to recognize the humor or the absurdity or the pathos of a situation. What are some of the aspects of Gandhi’s campaign for Indian independence that could be cartooned?
  2. What are the main symbols in this cartoon?
  3. What is Gandhi’s relationship with the lion? Did Gandhi regard the British as “the enemy”?
  4. Gandhi viewed himself a failure as India was given independence but divided into two nations (India and Pakistan). Do you think he was a failure or a success? Why?
  5. Does it matter how the rest of the world saw Gandhi? Was it a necessary part of his non-violent movement to have the sympathies of the rest of the world?