Lesson of the Day: ‘In India, Protesters and Modi Tussle Over Who Can Claim Gandhi’

Lesson of the Day: ‘In India, Protesters and Modi Tussle Over Who Can Claim Gandhi’

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Featured Article: “In India, Protesters and Modi Tussle Over Who Can Claim Gandhi

In this lesson, you will learn about the protests that began in India last year over a law regarding citizenship and religion. Both the government and the protesters refer to Mohandas K. Gandhi’s ideals and challenge which side has the right to use his name and image. After reading the article, you will think about other historical figures whose words and ideas have been used on different sides of contemporary debates.

If you do not know anything about the protests in India, read this article, “Why People Are Protesting in India,” and answer the following questions:

  • What does the Citizenship Amendment Act require and who would be most affected by the law?

  • What could happen to those who are not able to pass the citizenship test?

  • Why are Indian Muslims particularly concerned about the law? What are some of the concerns of non-Muslims about the law?

Now, watch this one-minute Times video that documents some of the protests and protesters. Then take notes on one or two things you noticed while watching, as well as what questions the video raised for you.

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. Why has Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India used Mohandas K. Gandhi’s image and referred to his beliefs? What do protesters think about those actions?

2. What are some of the changes Mr. Modi has enacted since his re-election? How have his supporters reacted to his decisions? What kinds of things have his critics said?

3. Why did Ramachandra Guha, a historian who wrote a biography of Gandhi, say, “You can’t have Einstein without relativity”? What point was he trying to make?

4. How have the protests changed over time? How have the responses and reports from officials differed from firsthand accounts and images?

5. According to Mr. Modi and his supporters, how have his actions and decisions as prime minister been connected to the legacy of Gandhi? What part of Gandhi’s story has Mr. Modi left out, and why is that significant?

6. How does Tushar Gandhi, a great-grandson of Gandhi, view the protests and Mr. Modi’s use of his great-grandfather’s image and story?

7. What are some of the concerns about pamphlets and social media posts being created and circulated by the Bharatiya Janata Party?

8. How have protesters tried to model Gandhi’s ideologies in their actions? How did the protester Saima Khan talk about the movement?

The article focused on how Gandhi’s words and image have been used after his death by two groups with very different beliefs and perspectives. Here is one example of how Gandhi’s words were used, and taken out of context, to make a point:

A pamphlet recently distributed by the party, addressing what it calls “misinformation” about the citizenship law, features Gandhi’s image along with a quote from him appearing to suggest that he would have supported the law.

But the quote — about India welcoming Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan — is taken out of context, and critics contend that it is actually itself misinformation. Originally, Gandhi was excoriating Hindus who questioned Muslims’ loyalty to India.

Have you ever seen people on social media or in the news refer to famous historical figures and make contemporary points or connections? Can you think of times when this was done accurately and effectively? Are there other instances where you believe framing or lack of context changed the meaning of a quotation?