I was probably about 7 years old the first time I watched the movie Gandhi. It still holds pride of place in my film collection, nestled in between The Sound of Music and The Godfather I, II and III sits my worn copy of Gandhi. Close friends have been forced to sit through 3 hours of film as I study every single piece of dialogue and nuance. The film has layers deep as the crevices on the mountain range behind my grandparents house in Okebukun.
I cannot tell you how many times since the first time, that I have watched the movie, but the story definitely touched me, and stayed with me, this child of the 80s. The movie was probably one of my first introductions to the question of resistance. Now I am quite aware that Gandhi has been criticised, and rightly so, for his expressed thoughts about Black people. Desai and Vahed explore these themes in their book The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire. His anti-apartheid activities in South Africa as depicted in the movie show that he did not organise with Black people. This picture of Gandhi’s anti-Blackness has led to calls for statues of him across Africa to be removed. I have written elsewhere about my ambivalence about statues. In summary, statues do not historicise, but unduly valorify individuals and their values in a way that is not matched by the shifting sands of time. Therefore, I still think the movie bears a viewing. The movie is not a statue.
The message of the film of Gandhi is persistence and growth in the pursuit of human freedom. Nothing I have seen in the many, many years since has convinced me that there is a better path to tread than love in the quest for a better world. The movie demonstrates the need for the endurance of the long distance runner in social justice movements.
One of my favourite scenes in the film is the burning of the passes. The first time I watched the movie, I was probably a bit bored up till this point. But the burning of the passes drew me in. The Pass Laws in apartheid mandated non-white people to carry identification with them at all times. What we see in the scene below is that a quest for peace requires accepting discomfort or even harm. It also means never giving up, ever. If we want to see change, we must keep on pushing till we see it, or die trying. An humiliating peace is no peace at all.
You can imagine watching the following scene and going on to study law…
‘There are unjust laws – as there are unjust men…. If you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth…’
I believe very strongly in a pedagogy and philosophy of love. How can you keep going on if love does not drive you?
‘In this cause, I too am prepared to die… but there is no cause in which I am prepared to kill…They cannot take our self-respect if we do not give it to them…They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me, then they will have my dead body. NOT MY OBEDIENCE!’
In the clip below, I am very much minded of Fanon’s words in The Wretched when he talks about supposed anti-colonial revolutionaries who fail to decolonise their states at independence. They don’t change the system but step into the shoes of the departed colonisers. Or in the words of Spivak Can the Subaltern Speak? if we have not positioned ourselves to listen.
‘But the people of India are untouched. Their politics are confined to bread and salt. Illiterate they may be, but they’re not blind. They see no reason to give their loyalty to rich and powerful men who simply want to take over the role of the British in the name of “freedom.”
This Congress tells the world it represents India. My brothers, India is 700,000 villages, not a few hundred lawyers in Delhi and Bombay.
Until we stand in the fields with the millions that toil each day under the hot sun, we will not represent India — nor will we ever be able to challenge the British as one nation.‘
True resistance is persistent. The endurance of the long distance runner and not the quick brief burst of speed on the sprinter. It is strategic.
‘In the end, you will walk out. Because 100,000 Englishmen simply cannot control 350 million Indians, if those Indians refuse to cooperate.’
Great resistance need great leaders. But not dictators. Not people whose physical presence is always required for action. The protest at Dharasana salt works only succeeded because of great leadership, sacrificial leadership. Such that when the leader was arrested, his guidance continued. We all deserve a better world, but someone has to stand up for it. We have more in common than the things that divide us. I believe in together.
Love Always: The film ends with these lines spoken by the character of Gandhi, ‘When I despair, I remember that the way of truth and love has always won. There may be tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it: always.’
Resistance is love, passion, togetherness, persistence, truth, and the endurance of the long distance runner.