Critiquing Civil Disobedience : Daily Current Affair Article

Why in news?

  • Recently, Sudanese security forces fired tear gas at an anti-coup rally by teachers at the start of a two-day civil disobedience call against last month’s military takeover.
  • There was a nationwide anti-coup protests — including by tens of thousands on October 30 — have occurred since the October 25 coup but have been met by a deadly crackdown.

Introduction to the Topic-

  • Civil disobedience is both a political tactic and the basis of movements that advocate social change.
  • It was basically a nonviolent action engaged in by an individual who refuses to obey a law for moral or philosophical reasons.
  • Civil disobedience differs from other illegal acts because it is engaged in by people who perform the action knowing and accepting the penalties and consequences of breaking the law.
  • It is said that breaking the law is a means toward changing the law, the justice system, government policy, or the culture.
  • It is important to note that civil disobedience campaigns are based on a philosophy of nonviolence.
  • Nonviolent action is not simply the absence of physical violence but it also includes the absence of verbal violence, intimidation, and property damage.
  • Civil disobedience has been a major tactic and philosophy of nationalist movements in Africa and India and in the American civil rights movement.
  • The main purpose is to force concessions from the government or occupying power.

Background to the Civil Disobedience in India-

  • As there was no response to the eleven point ultimatum, the movement of civil disobedience was launched based on the issue of salt.
  • Salt was an item of basic need for all and any taxation on it would affect the poorest of the poor, thus salt became the symbol of the deprivation and oppression of the Indian .
  • On the 12th of March 1930, Gandhi accompanied by 72 of his followers at the Sabarmati ashram began a march upto the sea at Dandi.
  • Crowds of people greeted and followed the marchers all along the way. Villagers spun yarn on charkhas, as Gandhi went past, to show their solidarity to him.
  • On 6th April, Gandhi reached the sea at Dandi and picked up a handful of salt at the sea side launching a country-wide civil disobedience movement by breaking the salt law. All over India people began the illegal manufacture of salt.
  • By the use of careful planning and large scale recruitment of volunteers the movement spread from one part of the country to another, from Madras to Maharashtra and from Bengal and Assam to Karachi.

Two phases of civil disobedience-

  • In the middle of government suppression and the intensification of the movement , the Simon Commission report was published and there was no suggestion that India might be given dominion status.
  • So , the Viceroy then offered the invitation for a Round Table Conference and reiterated the intention of discussing the award of Dominion Status.
  • Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru were taken to Gandhiji to discuss the offer.
  • The First Round Table Conference was held in London in November 1930 between the Indian leaders and the British but the Congress was not present.
  • The second Round Table Conference was scheduled to be held in the next year in September 1931.
  • The Congress was asked to deliberate on the Viceroy’s offer to participate in the next Round Table Conference.

Gandhi Irwin pact-

  • Finally on 5thMarch 1931 the Gandhi-lrwin Pact was signed. It included following points-
  1. all people arrested for non-violent protest were to be released immediately
  2. fines that had not been collected were to be remitted
  3. confiscated land that had not been sold off yet was to be returned to peasants
  4. government employees who had resigned were to be treated leniently
  5. villages along the coast were to be given the right to make salt for consumption
  6. the right to peaceful and non–aggressive picketing was granted
  • So, Congress agreed to withdraw the civil disobedience movement and also agreed to participate in the next Round Table Conference.
  • The Congress in the Karachi session in March 1931 while reiterating the goal of Purna Swaraj, also in the same breath endorsed the Delhi Pact between Gandhi and Irwin.
  • Gandhi set off to attend the second Round Table Conference in August 1931.
  • Then, Irwin was replaced by Willingdon and the favourable attitude of the Home Government had also changed. As a result not only did Gandhi gain nothing from the discussions at the Round Table but on his return in December 1931 he found that new Viceroy did not wish to meet him.
  • Under these circumstances the Congress decided to resume the civil disobedience movement on the eve of which Gandhi had requested to meet the Viceroy to negotiate peace and the Viceroy refused.
  • The colonial Government thereafter launched a severe offensive statement, the first step of which was to arrest Gandhi in early January and a total curtailment of the civil liberties of the people.
  • Thus mass demonstrations, Picketing of liquor shops and those selling foreign goods, ‘unlawful’ gatherings etc. occurred in a large scale which was followed by severe repression by a Government that was in no mood to come to an understanding with the nationalists. Jails were filled, the Congress was banned, Gandhian ashrams were occupied by the police.
  • Finally in April Gandhi withdrew the movement.

Role of important personalities in the Civil Disobedience movement-

  • In the farthest north there was a massive demonstration at Peshawar, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and his followers the Khudai Khidmatgars or the Red Shirts had been active here doing constructive work for some years and the response was tremendous.
  • The Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi presented a definite challenge to the British Government. The Congress also authorized Gandhiji to start a Civil Disobedience Movement which can lead India in the direction of complete independence.
  • Sardar Patel played a very crucial role in mobilizing people for the Dandi march. It is believed Patel decided the place Dandi, and planned the route for Gandhiji . Later, he was sentenced to three months imprisonment and lodged at Sabarmati jail in Ahmedabad.
  • Sarojini Naidu played an important role during the Civil Disobedience movement in India’s freedom struggle. She was the first women who got arrested during the Salt March. She encouraged many other women to participate in the Salt March. She also took part in the dharasana satyagraha.
  • C Rajagopalachari led a similar march on the southeast coast from Trichy to Vedaranyam in Tamil Nadu. He was arrested for salt-making, too
  • K Kelappan led a march from Calicut to Payyanur in the Malabar region.

Reaction of British to the movement-

  • Worried by the developments during the movement, the colonial government began arresting the Congress leaders one by one. This led to violent clashes in many places.
  • Abdul Gaffar Khan, a devout disciple of Gandhiji was arrested in April 1930. Many were killed who protested it. Mahatma Gandhi was arrested and many industrial workers of Sholapur attacked police posts, municipal buildings, law courts, railway stations.
  • The government started to issue ordinances curbing the civil liberties of the people and civil disobedience organizations began to be banned in the provinces.
  • The Congress Working Committee was banned in June and the Congress President Motilal Nehru was arrested. Local Congress Committees were also banned by August.
  • The Government put all the prominent leaders of the Congress behind bars.

Outcome of the movement at the end of 1933-

  • The most important aspect of the civil disobedience movement was the widespread participation of youth, particularly students and also women. Women Picketed liquor shops and shops that sold foreign goods.
  • The revolution shook the British government. It’s non-violent method made it impossible for them to suppress it aggressively.
  • It brought many people directly in contact with the liberation movement, including women and the depressed classes.
  • It depicted the power of the non-violent Satyagraha.
  • The Government suppressed the movement with force, failed to suppress peoples spirit of revolt and their nationalism and patriotism.

It’s lessons for the forthcoming movement in the freedom struggles-

  • Civil disobedience movement taught the sense of unity and non violent methods to raise the voice of common people.
  • It perfectly set an example of passive resistance and boycott methods to be adopted in future struggles.
  • The huge participation of women opened the door for them to further take part in the freedom struggle and fight for their Swaraj rights.
  • It provided a platform for participation of all members of society whether depressed classes or young people.
  • The breaking of salt law provided an alert for further struggles to revolt against the British made laws and regulations peacefully.


The civil disobedience movement exemplified the moral strength of the common people of India and the stronghold of Gandhi as a national leader. Even at this stage the leaders and the people alike, in spite of difference in opinion, obeyed his decisions regarding the continuance of a movement. It exposed the true nature of the British rule in India. It succeeded in creating political awakening among the people. It strengthened the political roots of the freedom struggle in India.

Sources - The Indian express, The Hindu, NIOS, britannica, science direct

General Studies Paper 1
  • History