Mahatma Gandhi’s Nonviolence Speech - Essay Prowess

Mahatma Gandhi’s Nonviolence Speech


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Mahatma Gandhi’s Nonviolence Speech


“There are two ways of countering injustice. One way is to smash the head of the man who perpetrates injustice and get your own head smashed in the process…but through the other method of combating injustice, we alone suffer the consequences of our mistakes, and the other side is wholly spared” (Gosh, 2012). This excerpt from On Nonviolent Resistance, a speech made by Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the leader of the independence movement in India during the reign of the Britons, reflects Gandhi’s strong conviction of the significance of nonviolence in solving political and social issues. Gandhi made this speech in 1916 while addressing his supporters during a prayer meeting to urge them to stick to his teachings of opposing the Indian authorities through nonviolent and civil disobedience (Gosh, 2012). His main tactic was capitalizing on emotions and logic to persuade his audience that violence does not generate any real victory. This speech is particularly important because it compelled masses of people to disregard the oppressive laws enacted by Britain in India. Gandhi’s careful choice of words portrays his proficiency in public speaking and political mobilization. More importantly, the ensuing success that followed this speech makes it uniquely suited for analysis. The aim of this essay is to evaluate the intrinsic factors that contributed to Gandhi’s success by identifying the ideograph present in the speech. The speaker’s reliance on the word <injustice> positively polarized people and mobilized them to defy the ruling class by creating awareness concerning the unfairness that was rampant in India during this period.

Background of Text

On Civil Disobedience is a speech made by Mahatma Gandhi during one of his many addresses to his supporters and followers during his fight for India’s independence. In his endeavor to liberate India from British imperialism, Gandhi preached nonviolence or Ahimsa and truth, which he called Satyagraha, as a way of attaining lasting peace. His primary notion was the distinction between an individual and his deeds. Those that oppressed others were only adversaries that had not yet gotten wind of the truth. He aimed at convincing people to resist and attack the system but not the perpetrators of the evil tenets. Moreover, Gandhi believed that nonviolence could supersede all use of violence or force. He was the first to politically apply the principle of nonviolence on a large scale (Dambergs, Parker, & Honey, 2015).

Gandhi’s speech on nonviolence adheres to his conviction of the ultimate need for selflessness. Indeed, he expressly states that people should fight injustices by suffering the corollaries of their mistakes and resisting all atrocious laws in a constant fight against violence and arrogance. Rather than retreating at the sight of violence, Gandhi urged his followers to remain committed to changing the wicked ways of the perpetrators of brutality through self-torture in the aim of establishing the truth (Rynne, 2015). The speech came amidst his realization that the Indian people and most of the leaders of the Congress had not acknowledged passivity as a doctrine.

In his speech, Gandhi was trying to demonstrate the adverse effects of violence and the power of nonviolence. As such, he argued that the use of force in the face of injustice makes things worse for any nation, including the deaths of millions of people, and only achieves temporary peace. Nonviolence, on the other hand, requires people to submit, accept, and suffer for their mistakes. Gandhi urged people only to obey the laws that do not suppress them wrongfully, arguing that the government can only be sovereign for as long as the people consider themselves its subjects and that they should welcome whatever punishment is imposed on them delightfully. This text is particularly interesting because of the unique perspective through which Gandhi views injustice and nonviolence as the ultimate solution. The fact that people should be willing to be persecuted and killed rather than obey arbitrary and oppressive laws shows the level of dedication required for passivity to work.

The ideograph used in the text is <injustice>. Gandhi used this term to provide a basis for his assertions in the hope that the people would understand his position. The use of the ideograph in the speech justifies the speaker’s opinion concerning nonviolence. Being such a strong term, it provokes the audience’s emotions and rationalizes the forms of nonviolent resistance that Gandhi proposes. Individuals are naturally averse to injustices of any sort. Accordingly, the audience starts to make sense of the message of nonviolence as the only way to defeat the forces of aggression, intimidation, prejudice, and oppression. Ordinarily, injustice refers to any act that deprives people of their rights and freedoms. While it conveys this same message in the speech, the term carries additional weight by signifying any action undertaken by those in positions of authority that does not adhere to the tenets of democracy, free will, and autonomy.

Background of Method

By definition, an ideograph refers to any word that is repeatedly used in political contexts to generate or increase public support for a particular political stance. Ordinarily, such terms hardly have precise definitions but are employed in such a way as to insinuate clear connotation (van Langenhove, 2017). Moreover, ideographs occur as building blocks, either in single terms or short slogans that are used to summarize the attitude or orientation of a particular ideology. Some of the most common examples of ideographs include <democracy>, <liberty>, <rights>, and <freedom>. According to Taylor and Kent (2014), ideographs embody the collective and normative binders of the public. Normally, ideographs materialize during public addresses to provide the requisite validation or stimulus for all acts carried out for the sake of the public. The term was developed by a critic and rhetorical scholar, Michael Clavin McGee, in 1980 to depict the utilization of particular phrases or words as a part of political discourse in a manner that creates, captures, or buttresses certain ideological tenets.  Ideographs facilitate the analysis of the relationship between the material occasions of political conversations and the conceptual notions of political ideology (Kung, 2012).

Essentially, ideographs are terms used in ordinary language but which provide the core building blocks for philosophies. They encompass the explanatory terms for human conditions and serve the roles of warrants, excuses, guides, and reasons for particular beliefs or behaviors. For instance, Gandhi uses <injustice> to warrant his belief in nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as way of improving the welfare of his people. As such, ideographs help in transforming concerns that may otherwise be considered to be antisocial or unconventional into modules that are familiar to the society as laudable or acceptable. They represent intangible issues that cannot be captured. More importantly, ideographs can only function if the presence of a shared public rhetoric (Kung, 2012). The study of ideographs takes on a programmatic approach that reveals the underlying rhetoric and ideology by considering the changes that have occurred in the terms over time and the various meanings attached to them at a certain point in time.

The rhetor in this text is Mahatma Gandhi. The use of the ideograph, <injustice>, in his speech, On Nonviolent Resistance, helps to reinforce and substantiate the need for peacefulness and passivity during the British imperialism in India. Gandhi’s declarations would be ineffective and unfounded without sufficient reasons for engaging in the activities he outlines. Further, the ideograph is particularly important to draw people’s attention to the situation on the ground and the need for grounded retaliatory actions. Specifically, the Britons had curtailed and infringed on virtually all rights and freedoms due to the Indians. There were high salt and land taxes, police officers were authorized to frog people at will, and discrimination was rampant in the country (Dambergs, Parker, & Honey, 2015). These issues, among others, were some of the regime’s principles, laws, and regulations against which Gandhi was opposed. He summed them up in a single word, <injustice>, to highlight the plight of his countrymen. Without the ideograph in his opening statements, Gandhi’s speech on nonviolence would be meaningless because it would have no basis. It helps the audience to understand that the proposed actions are meant to combat the forces of oppression, exploitation, and discrimination by the British authorities.

According to van Langenhove (2017), ideographs are essential to rhetorical critics because they provide ways of scrutinizing political philosophies using explicit examples of language use by considering specific ways in which particular keywords and phrases are used in political discussions, thereby revealing the underlying philosophical assertions and facilitating the understanding of highly abstract dogma. In addition, the rhetorical analysis of an ideograph differs from the ordinary historical, etymological, and legal evaluation of a term. Accordingly, ideographs allow readers to assess the forces inherent in the creation of precise meaning as opposed to focusing on the changes that have occurred to the term over time. In Gandhi’s speech on nonviolence, readers would be more interested in the meaning being conveyed, which is that the people of India have endured wrongful acts from their rulers for long enough and they need to stand up for themselves to end their suffering. Gandhi’s message is that injustice can be combated in two distinct ways, one of which involves violence and grave repercussions, and the other that involves peace and civil disobedience. <Injustice>, as per the text, does not imply an isolated act but rather all actions that undermine people’s freedoms and wellbeing. Finally, rhetorical critics should study ideographs, not merely in the regular use of the term in formal discourse, but also by considering the term’s use in plays, songs, movies, and educational texts for children (Taylor & Kent, 2014). As such, the term injustice as used by Gandhi has repeatedly been used in various contexts to depict the oppression of the ruling elite towards the common man through a variety of inhumane acts, just as Gandhi employs it in his speech.

Later scholars have made significant changes to the description and scope of an ideograph as initially outlined by McGee. Ideographs have been split into two lines of thought, including their ordinary use in various contexts and the analyses that push the traditional ideographs past the typical written or spoken language. Initially, scholars concentrated on the use of ideographs in political settings such as presidential elections, terrorism, social movements, and equality. Nevertheless, academicians have broadened the scope of analyzing ideographs by adopting more extensive time frames for the objects being studied. Presently, ideographs cover matters such as the interaction between <life> and <decisions>, parliamentary rhetoric, childcare, immigration, and religion. For instance, studies have been conducted to investigate <aliens> in the modern debates on immigration in the Western world as well as the relationship between <national security> and <privacy> in the war against terrorism. There is an emerging trend in the field of academics in which professionals attempt to drive ideographic usage to new texts and contexts, such as landscape and representational ideographs.

One of the most essential advancement is the inclusion of photographs and other common objects in mass media (Kung, 2012). As such, meanings do not have to be conveyed exclusively through words but also through visual elements. The underlying notion is that the visual representations that are strategically and commonly used in the public domain are a reflection of the attitudes, values, and beliefs of their originators as well as those of the general community. For instance, a picture of a king could have numerous connotations depending on the context, such as a ruler or tyrant, a winner, power, wisdom, and so forth. In particular, the 1945 photograph by Joe Rosenthal of six American soldiers lifting the American flag in the Battle of Iwo Jima during the Second World War has largely been considered as an ideograph because of its visual ideography and representative form. The picture has been parodied in various comics, with all the four aspects of an ideograph being present. Moreover, the picture surpasses its immediate connotation to a more abstract gist in the cartoons (Edwards & Winkler, 1997). Images of Salt River have also been used in various cartoons to depict diverse political views. The cigarette, for example, serves as a visual ideograph for interest groups for and against smoking. Representational ideographs have the capacity to reinforce, index, and trigger other verbal ideographs as seen in the relationship between images of Afghan women and the <clash of civilizations> (van Langenhove, 2017).

The word <injustice> has been used by various individuals in differing contexts, and has been translated differently by scholars. In general, most of them assert some kind of oppression by the ruling elite on the subordinates, who are powerless at changing their situation. It denotes the tendency of those in positions of authority to misuse their power to exploit the public for selfish gains, usually with detrimental effects on economic and social welfare. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, used <injustice> to portray the undesirable racial segregation that occurred in the United States. Past scholarship has placed differing connotation on <injustice> depending on the text under consideration and the specific circumstances being addressed. Specifically, the term has often been associated with any decree, law, regulation, or policy that compels people to give up their rights, albeit involuntarily, to the control of a few people who enjoy exclusive liberty and power to do as they wish. <Injustice> may also imply any situations, events, or the overall status quo that culminates in underserved outcomes on other individuals (Rabe-Hemp, Mulvey, & Foster, 2017).

Tyler and Kent (2014) connote that ideographs are an extremely persuasive tool for political speakers because they encapsulate widely shared values within a society, even though such principles are highly nonfigurative and are often defined in differing ways by the community members. Ideographs have been used to study political speeches for a long time. During the Watershed Scandal, for instance, Richard Nixon decision not to cooperate with the Congress by refusing to surrender certain documents. In his defense, Nixon invoked the principle of confidentiality and pitted it against the rule of law. The abstractness of the phrase <principle of confidentiality> allowed Nixon to expand its meaning and use it to his benefit by demonstrating the significance of the right to confidentiality (Kung, 2012). Former president George W. Bush also used ideographs, especially after the 9/11 attacks. In his speeches, Bush declared a <war on terror> against all terrorist groups. Despite the lack of a specific or clear definition, when used in the context of a country recovering from the aftermath of an attack of such magnitude, the phrase was particularly weighty and meaningful to all Americans. The phrase has been used since then to justify all conflicts in which the United States was engaged by arguing that the preservation of national security and the protection of democratic values and the rule of law required a profound war against terror. The ideograph has since united Americans by developing a sense of identity and defining the country’s principles (Rabe-Hemp, Mulvey, & Foster, 2017).


The term injustice has been used in various political contexts over the years, with varying connotations in virtually all instances. The meaning assigned to the term in each of these contexts depends on the situation being addressed, the speaker’s intention, and the content of the text or speech. By and large, injustice may be either political or social. Political injustice denotes all kinds of actions that infringe of individual freedoms, such as unequal representation, political discrimination, and unfair election administration, among others, and often results in political instability, alienation, national disintegration, apathy, foreign intervention, or revolution. Social injustice, on the other hand, includes all activities that may impede equitable wealth distribution, growth and development, improvements in living standards, the elimination of inequalities, and the creation of opportunities (Rabe-Hemp, Mulvey, & Foster, 2017).

The rate of incidence of both social and political injustice is rather high across the globe and has compelled various reputable politicians and activists to address the issue. In the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. was particularly vocal against various aspects of the society that he considered to be unjust, including racism and poverty. He led numerous marches across the country, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott that aimed at ending racial segregation in public buses, as well as the demonstrations in Birmingham. In the Letter from Birmingham Jail, King wrote that “injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere” (Jackson, 2013). King’s primary message was that all people were equal and deserved to be treated equally irrespective of their races. In a way, his struggle for freedom is analogous to Gandhi’s because he was also against oppression of the African Americans, imperialism, and colonialism. He borrowed a lot from Gandhi, including the use of nonviolent resistance to oppose the oppressive regime. King’s use of the word injustice seems to imply both the social and political elements.

Historical events have greatly contributed to the varying definitions of the term injustice. A considerable number of national leaders across the globe instituted policies, laws, and regulations that oppressed the common man or minority groups. As a result, activist and politicians took it upon themselves to right the wrongs and mobile people against enduring the repression. The differing circumstances in each region where such movements materialized determined the meaning to be attached to the term injustice. In South Africa, for instance, apartheid created rifts between white and black people and compelled Nelson Mandela to lead the struggle for independence. In this case, the injustice was procedural and institutional in nature since it was a direct result of the regime’s legislation. On the other hand, the kind of injustice fought by Dietrich Bonhoeffer was against the Nazi regime and Hitler’s persecution of Jews and the euthanasia program. The most recent case of injustice can be seen in Malala Yousafzai’s quest to ensure that all girls have a right to education despite threats from the Taliban (Moore, 2016). In a nutshell, the fight against injustice in the world takes many forms depending on the situation, such as civil rights violations, humanitarian concerns, women rights, and so forth.

In general, the term injustice points to the lack of freedom, representation, or voice in public matters. In virtually all cases where injustice has been mentioned, it depicts the oppression of ordinary citizens by an elite class of politicians or other person in authority. Moreover, it is often used in cases where a particular group of people is being discriminated against. Injustice leads to six types of adverse effects, such as harm to both the perpetrator and victim, ignorance, and human rights violations. Gandhi makes limited use of the ideograph in his speech but he is careful to include it in areas where it will undoubtedly have the biggest impact. Using it in the first paragraph of the speech helped him to establish a basis for the speech, justify his teachings, and capture the attention of the people. Gandhi mentions the ideograph only twice in the text, perhaps to prevent passing the wrong message or polarizing the masses. Instead, he recognized that injustice was rampant and needed to be stopped through personal sacrifice and civil disobedience, which was his message and point of emphasis in the speech.


<Injustice> is an undesirable phenomenon is all spheres of human life. Gandhi was vocal against the injustices imposed by the British colonialists in India because he had witnessed how his fellow countrymen were treated inhumanly. They had no rights and their voices had been suppressed by an imperialist regime. There is shard divide between normal life and politics. While the common man struggles to makes ends meet, provide for his family, and create a better life for his children on a daily basis, the political world is filled with elected officials whose role is to represent the electorate and make legislation that produces varying effects on the lives of the citizens. At face value, it seems as though citizens and politicians are complete opposites but they are ultimately bound by injustices (Rabe-Hemp, Mulvey, & Foster, 2017).

Historically, politicians have campaigned for different elective posts by purporting to fix the broken issues in the community if they are elected. Nevertheless, countless political players have miserably failed to cater to the needs of electorate. Instead, they use tax payers’ hard earned money to fund programs and enact regulations that primarily favor the rich and disadvantage the ordinary citizens (Moore, 2016). Some of the programs funded by the government pay little attention to the essential issues affecting the people if such matters are in competition for resources with other supposedly more crucial agendas such as foreign relations. In developing nations, for instance, members of parliament usually take home huge untaxed salaries and allowances, almost five times the average wage, while the infrastructural facilities are in dire states and sizeable portions of the population live in poverty. Resources are usually spent on nonessential concerns in the name of public good or future investments rather than implement policies that will enhance the lives of the people.

It is situations like this that many activists and scholars have struggled to amend. Just as Gandhi argues, the solution to injustice is not violence, which leads to deaths and national disintegration (Rynne, 2015). The true solution to injustice is trying to uproot its causes, which are responsible for issues such as economic pressures, underdevelopment, social problems, and global conflicts. Detrimental aspects like discrimination, repression, and other forms of injustice are usually the result of complicated and deep-rooted social, political, and economic problems that need to be understood and ameliorated to strengthen and unify societies as well as protect human rights and dignity. One way of dealing with political injustices is by establishing impartial institutions and holding people accountable for their actions, which may achieved through constitutional amendments or comprehensive institutional reforms (Moore, 2016). Gandhi argues that the second and most appropriate way of dealing with injustice is to “suffer the consequences of our mistakes” (Ghosh, 2012). Moreover, the state should be responsible for promoting inclusivity and public participation in political concerns and empowering the people. Only then can public decision-making address the electorate’s concerns since people will be involved in the preparation, implementation, and monitoring of public policies. Political injustices that bestow more economic, social, and political power on some groups as opposed to other can be mitigated by continuous democratization efforts and strengthening the civil society and the economy. The system economic injustices witnessed in numerous countries across the globe can be solved by conducting economic reforms and resource redistribution to increase access to employment opportunities, education, and healthcare.


Mahatma Gandhi was a vocal activist against British imperialism in India and the massive injustices on the people. His primary assertion was that violence cannot defeat nonviolence in any war and urged people to disobey all unfair laws. In his speech, Gandhi stressed the need for peaceful resistance as a way of fighting <injustice>. The use of this ideograph in the speech helps the speaker to rationalize his attitude towards the actions of the British colonialists and his belief in civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance. While this traditional use of ideograph still persists today, scholars have made significant efforts at including them in different contexts, such as the use of representational ideographs in the media.


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