At TEDxSPSU – Part One

TEDxSPSU was held on March 12, 2011 at Sir Padampat Singhania University, Udaipur, India, with the theme Order from Chaos. This series of posts are what my TEDx presentation was based on. There are six parts that shall be published sequentially across the next few days. This is Part One.

Art Credit: C S Prasad

I would like to begin with a personal anecdote.

My daughter, Pari, is eleven and like other grade V children, she studies something called History. She is learning about the Indian Freedom struggle and the role Mohandas Gandhi and others played in it. Her book has some interesting facts, biographical and historical, about what Gandhi did and that his philosophy of non-violence is so important. We came to learn about the great Dandi March.

Gandhiji decided to walk from his Ashram in Sabarmati, near Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat to the shores of the Arabian Sea to a place called Dandi. He went there to produce salt from the sea. In doing so, he violated the law through which the colonial powers, who had the monopoly on salt, imposed taxes on the purchase of salt. The book tells us it was over 300 kilometers away.

While reading this, I was struck by a question I had never asked before. And perhaps many of you have not either. I wondered how old Gandhiji was at the time of this march. Well, the book tells us he was born in 1869, so that should make him over 60 at that time.

Why would a 60-year old frail man WALK all the way to Dandi, 300 kilometers away when there were easier modes of transport available?

The book talks factually about the march. The book states that he followed a philosophy of non-violence. But the book does not answer my question.

Here is the answer.

Gandhiji undertook to walk because, on his way he wanted to spread the messages of the freedom movement, enlist followers for the breaking of the Salt Law and put pressure on the British government. It took him about 25 days to reach Dandi and he personally addressed over 50,000 people across 40 towns and villages in that time. Gandhiji’s method sparked off a nationwide movement which extended to nearly 5 million people at over 5000 sites.

The Dandi March of 1930 was an act of defiance against the colonial powers. The Salt Tax contributed to over 8% of tax revenue. Gandhiji cleverly chose Salt because he realized how common and necessary it really was. Faced with Gandhiji’s announcement to produced salt from the sea, the Viceroy then, Lord Irwin, said “At present the prospect of a salt campaign does not keep me awake at night”.

As I researched it further, I found it was not an ad-hoc choice. It was a choice carefully deliberated from among competing options. A full strategy and the combined might of all the leaders was employed to galvanize the nation. Massive preparations were undertaken prior to the actual start of the March, designed for maximum impact. Nor was it the end of the road. There were carefully thought out actions at the end of the march – a lot of if-then scenario based planning.

But hold on. The textbook mentioned nothing of this passion, strategy, ingenuity and determination of Gandhi. It tells us nothing really to substantiate why Gandhiji was famous for his non-violent principles.

The questions at the end of the book don’t reflect this either. Instead, the curriculum designers faced the creative challenge of framing questions around these. For example:

Technique: Fill-in-the-blanks

Question: M K Gandhi was born in the year ______

Technique: Multiple Choice

Question: M K Gandhi was born in the year:

  1. 1876
  2. 1885
  3. 1869
  4. 1901

Technique: Match the Following

M K Gandhi                        1875

Nehru                                   1897

Subhash Bose                    1889

Sardar Patel                        1869

Technique: True or False

M K Gandhi was born in 1875? True or False

Technique: Inversion

Which famous architect of the Indian Freedom Struggle was born in 1869?

Why is it that our children are trained to lose every shred of empathy, curiosity, interest and creativity?

>> Part Two

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