Michaela Wang ’21 was selected as a top contestant in the 2020 Mahatma Gandhi Art and Writing Contest, sponsored by the Association of Indians in America. The annual contest strives to “raise awareness on the importance of Gandhi’s message on non-violence, racial harmony and peace.” The top 12 contestants will be recognized in a ceremony over Zoom on Sunday, October 11, at which time prizes ranging from $50 to $250 will be awarded. You can read Michaela’s award-winning essay here:
In times of political turmoil and injustice, Mahatma Gandhi weaponized the one tool that killed none but brought peace: empathy. Throughout his lifetime, Gandhi displayed his passion for the Indian people in the conciliatory measures he undertook to combat the subversive Great Britain. What often accompanies political advocacy is meticulous and thoughtful writing. Before the Salt March that triggered a wave of civil disobedience, Gandhi wrote a letter to Viceroy Lord Irwin, a representative of the British crown, to end the salt laws before the protest took place. Through a tone of humility and antithesis, Gandhi presents that the best way to argue against powerful forces is not to fight, but to understand the opponent.
Gandhi’s conciliation provides this letter a sense of sophistication and genuine understanding. Almost every paragraph of this speech begins with the word “I”, yet if one reads further, the nature of Gandhi’s verbs leans away from dynamism and towards humility. His verbs usually follow the “I” with “know”, “shall”, or “want”. The absence of these active verbs encapsulates his character and method: he does not want to stir a physical war, but one that empathizes with the opponent and indelibly transforms India’s social fabric. What’s most intriguing is that despite British colonial rule and subsequent mistreatment, Gandhi lends redemption for British people so long as they bring equality to India. He repeats the concept of “family,” purposefully leaving the identification of “family members” ambiguous. To Gandhi, his family is not just the band of Indians waiting to protest and attack Great Britain; it is the British and Indian together, who have to develop solutions instead of harshly opposing each other. Gandhi ultimately portrays how above weapons and war, love can change how people act. Physical threats only exacerbate the fissure between the two countries. He personifies the suffering of his nations as “enough to melt the stoniest heart”; in this way, he empowers love to transform even the most staunch mindsets.
Gandhi also introduces antithesis in the speech to juxtapose the efficiencies of violence and nonviolence. Antithesis is a rhetorical device in which opposing words and imagery are placed near each other. Nonviolent protest itself is somewhat like antithesis, a weaponry that never cuts or hurts, yet hits farther than any other tool. Gandhi humanizes weapons; the word weapon itself connotes the bloodshed of upheaval, which juxtaposes sophisticated protest. To overthrow corrupt rulers, people must use the right “weapon”––the heart––and fight because they have something to say instead of someone to hurt. Gandhi himself viewed this letter not as a “threat”, but a “simple and sacred duty”. The antithesis between these two concepts, “threat” having a negative connotation of violence and doom while the second phrase having softer and calmer diction, illustrates his motive: he only wants to better the lives of both the British and Indian people. Overall, Gandhi’s language intensified his gravity towards peaceful protest. Knives hurt less than Gandhi’s conciliatory reflections of Britain’s own wrongdoings.