ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Changing Hearts and Minds through Non-violent Protest?

Gandhian Non-violent Struggle and Untouchability in South India: The 1924-25 Vykom Satyagraha and the Mechanisms of Change by Mary Elizabeth King; New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015; pp xxi, 344, Rs 995.

Besides the well-known all-India campaigns led by M K Gandhi against the British, there were a range of local-level protests that were waged during 1917–47, inspired by Gandhi and his methods. Often, these were against other Indians. Being specific grievances, these, in many cases, gained their immediate objectives, in contrast to the national campaigns, none of which won Swaraj in the short term. There are a number of studies of these discrete movements, some of them excellent, such as Rajendra Vora’s (2009) on the Mulshi Satyagraha of 1920–24 against a dam being constructed by the Tatas in the hills near Mumbai. Mary King has now provided another such study of equal distinction, in this case of a satyagraha waged for the rights of Dalits to have access to the public space around the Vykom (Vaikom) temple in Kerala during 1924–25.

Mary King is a veteran non-violence activist. She was first radicalised in her early 20s through her participation, in the 1960s, as a staff member of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King (no relation) in the United States (US). She wrote a book on her experiences at the time: Freedom Song: A Personal Story of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement (1987). She became a leading thinker and writer in the US on the theory and practice of non-violent resistance. In 1999, she published a major book that examined the non-violent activism of Gandhi and Martin Luther King: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr: The Power of Non-violent Action (Cultures of Peace) (1999). While being a remarkable advocate of non-violent methods, one who has toured all over the world speaking on the issue, she is also concerned about elucidating the ways in which such a form of resistance works to the best effect in practice.

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