If Mohandas Gandhi was alive and active in the west today, he would probably be just as controversial as when he actually lived his life. This is because activists who espouse Gandhi’s beliefs by engaging in non-violence have long been lightning rods for strong blow-back.
Gandhi was the vanguard of non-violence and was not liked by leaders of the British Raj nor the powers that favored continued British colonization of India. No matter how much violence was pressed onto the anti-colonialists by British police and military, Gandhi and his followers remained true to non-violent opposition to oppression.
The world had never witnessed such a movement of non-cooperation without the aid of violence that received majority support of the public as did Gandhi’s independence movement. It was largely due to his activism and leadership that the Indian subcontinent was able to break free of British domination.
Gandhi’s example of non-violent disobedience has been a model of activism for such leaders as Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior, Cesar Chavez, Harvey Milk, Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi. All of these people and dozens of others who practiced non-violent opposition to the status quo have been highly controversial.
Non-violent protest has been a thorn-in-the-side to traditionalists for ages because Gandhi was not the first person to use non-violence to work towards their ideals. He was just the first noteworthy non-violent advocate of the 20th century.
“I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and Non-violence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could.”–Mahatma Gandhi
Before Gandhi, there was the suffragist Alice Paul, women’s rights leader Victoria Woodhull, and one of the delegates to the US Constitutional Convention who refused to sign the document, George Mason.
“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed.”–Colin Kaepernick
Non-violent activism continues to draw heated debate under the leadership of such people as Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, immigration activist Astrid Silva, LGBT leader Bamby Salcedo, and Black Lives Matter activist Wazi Maret Davis.
Gandhi showed that one person can start a movement that greatly changes history. Gandhi inspired people like King, Mandela, and Milk to stand up against the tide with courage and non-violence to foster much needed change in society. The controversy of non-violent disobedience lives on today.