Modern South Asian Studies Seminar: MT19: Week 5: Gandhi @150: Rethinking India’s Non-Violent Revolutionary

Conveners: Imre Bangha, Nayanika Mathur, Matthew McCartney, Polly O’Hanlon, Kate Sullivan de Estrada, and David Washbrook

Speaker: Talat Ahmed (Edinburgh)

2019 marks the 150th birth anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi. To many he remains an inspirational figure - the apostle of peace who almost single-handedly led the struggle to free India from the yoke of empire. Contemporary activists involved in climate change, peace and anti-imperialist movements point to Gandhi as the iconic exemplar of non-violent resistance. But in the era of decolonising education, it has been agreed to remove a statue of Gandhi in Ghana over accusations of racism, and the #MeToo campaign, has ignited controversy over his attitude towards women. Inspiration and controversy also apply to his non-violent approach - both its efficacy and effectiveness. Gandhi's mass movements in many respects lay at the intersection of the disparate interests of varied social constituents: corporate magnets, landlords, rich peasants, and workers, poor and landless peasants, untouchables and forest dwellers. This paper will locate Gandhi’s life, ideas and work within a larger process and examine the contradictions of how he stimulated mass movements for social change, but then strove to limit their impact within certain bounds. As such, Gandhi was arguably a contradictory revolutionary. This paper will interrogate Gandhi's non-violence as a political strategy and argue that only by making a distinction between his intentions and outcomes can we unravel this enigmatic 'non-violent revolutionary'. In this way the relative successes, limitations and weaknesses of his peculiar approach can be addressed.  


Dr Talat Ahmed is Lecturer in South Asian History in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology. She is co-director of the Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society. Her research interests broadly concern the intellectual, cultural and political history of modern South Asia, specifically, the relationship between culture and society with reference to the role of intellectuals as public figures is helping to shape civic discourse on matters of state and society. She is the author of Literature and Politics in the Age of Nationalism: The Progressive Episode in South Asia, 1932-56, New Delhi: Routledge, 2009; . Mohandas Gandhi: Experiments in Civil Disobedience, is Talat’s second book published this year by Pluto Press.

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