The Idea of India: Civil Disobedience Was Never Terrorism

New York Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Mahatma Gandhi leading his followers on the famous salt march to break the English Salt Laws. 

Welcome to the year-end instalment of The Idea of India, HuffPost India’s monthly conversation about how we see ourselves as a people and as a nation.

‌As we near the end of the year and look back at 2020, a common strand linking India and the United States was the world’s largest and oldest democracies punishing their citizens for resisting injustice. In America, it was the execution of Black Americans that made people take to the streets. In India, it was the Citizenship Amendment Act, a law that made religion the basis of granting Indian citizenship, and left Indian Muslims feeling otherized.

As the votes for US President Donald Trump’s re-election bid trickle in, and India continues to target anti-CAA protestors with crimes like terrorism, murder and conspiracy, we spoke with two experts on the legacy of civil disobedience once popularised by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King.‌

Mary Elizabeth King, a professor and author of five books on civil resistance, spoke of how the US Civil Rights Movement drew from Gandhi’s civil disobedience and why young people everywhere were the ones to take a stand against injustice. Meera Chandhoke, a former political science professor at Delhi University, said that people should not buy into the Modi government’s efforts linking the anti-CAA movement to the Delhi riots, and this was first time the civil disobedience was being punished as terrorism.

‘Gandhi Would Be Grieved By India’s Treatment Of Civil Disobedience Today’

Mary Elizabeth King, who went to work for the civil rights movement in the sixties, said that there was a steady stream of Black Americans who traveled to India from the 1920s to 1950 to learn about Gandhi’s civil disobedience, and eventually deployed it in the mid-Atlantic states fighting racism. King said that Republicans have been weakening the hard-fought Voting Rights Act, which addressed barriers against Black Americans and political participation.

Social media, and the capacity to disseminate false information far and wide with a click of a button, was responsible for making the world more polarised than it was even during the civil rights movement in the 60s in the United States.

“You are always fighting regression,” she said. “Young people were important in the civil rights movement and they are vitally improving now, here and in India, because they see injustice and they are outraged by it and ready to respond to it.”

‘Civil Disobedience Never Been Called Terrorism’ 

Neera Chandhoke, a former political science professor at Delhi University, said that the Modi government’s crackdown on the anti-CAA movement was criminalising dissent, but the real problem was the erosion of the intermediary layers like the media and the judiciary that protected the individual from the state.

“The Constitution is higher than any notion of a nation envisioned by a political party,” she said. “Everyone will become very vulnerable if these mediatory layers between the state and individual — the media, the judiciary — are demolished as they are being demolished. 

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The Idea of India: Civil Disobedience Was Never Terrorism