Nuno could not make it to class this week, but he wrote a great essay for me on the topic of Gandhi’s fast. Since this was a topic that came up a lot on both Thursday and Friday, I thought I would share it with you.
I have edited it slightly for readability. I like it that I learned something new from this essay. For example, I did not know that Gandhi was raised in a Jain tradition. That explains quite a lot to me, because I know the Jains really value life, and peace. This is the perfect example of how we all can teach each other. ~WMB
Fasting is both a method of self-purification and a tool of social unrest.
Self-purification lays in the methods of Jainism, an Indian doctrine and practice postulating non-violence and compassion for sentient beings. Gandhi was raised among Jain traditions. This scholarship profoundly influenced Gandhi’s spirituality, later professed against the British occupier. Philosophically, Jainism practices were explained as a path of individualism towards liberation and self-consciousness.
One particular aspect of fasting in Jainism is taking a vow before starting the fast. Breaking the vow is considered unacceptable.
Much like in the western libertarian experience, taken to extremes, fasting in Jain is the equivalent of freedom (of choice) until death.
There are several types of fasting in Jain, varying from the types of acceptable digestible, from boiled water to all but favorite foods, depending on the length of the fasting.
This was Gandhi’s commitment to the cause, considering that colonialism lies on material profit, the message had to be set at a higher stage of spiritual deliverance. His first eight fasting protests were both personal claims to legitimacy, as the “chosen one” under Hindu’s ancient and honorable principles, but also political expressions of self-sacrifice (slow immolation style) and disdain for any bodily humiliation and oppression, in the name of his followers.
Credibility could be established and mesmerized through fastening. Proof that mankind condition is Gods will, not society’s coercion or violence.
Gandhi learned in the Soweto in South Africa that the Boers expressed their panic through excessive violence. It was clear that the ruler could not withstand the pressure for much longer, so the way to build resistance was by inspiring, talking to the soul, in a language only the natives understood. But at the same time, keeping the occupier in check by stating the obvious: you can kill, but you cannot bend. The more you kill, the more will come.
Gandhi understood the power of community organizing and how weak and decadent were the Europeans that used strategy to pursue short-term economic gains through the deployment of systematic violence, instead of tolerance for the sharing of scarce resources amidst communal diversity.
His fasting events were carefully chosen, mostly when he was jailed, as a means to increase anxiety among followers against the British, but also to explore the divide between Whitehall and the Indian Government, to his advantage. Other situations included clashes or riots between religious groups to capitalize on the fact that in India all minorities reconciled sooner than later in the communal lifestyle cycle.
The possible exceptions to the rule, were his fasting in 1933 to claim for political rights on behalf of the untouchables, but looking at general elections for the legislative assembly and his sixth when protesting against Subhas Bose presidency in Congress.
After the War started, and particularly his last fasting reflected a change of approach marked by Gandhi’s effort to work outside of jail, to direct the fight from the party.
Upon his arrest in the Aga Khan Palace, his fasting did not galvanize supporters and Britain was able to disclose some personal correspondence, showing that Gandhi blamed the Congress for subsequent acts of unrest and successfully put Gandhi before the “fait accompli”. The New York Times wrote this could have been Gandhi’s false step into eternity. Eventually this was at a time when Gandhi was lingering on international solidarity and had declared sympathy towards a Japanese invasion, while blackmailing the British government. Finally, Gandhi was released out of a merciful act of compassion by the Viscount Wavell, who collected credit for that gesture. Gandhi would not recover from that faux pas until when he came back to struggle against partition.