For gandhi, the concept of civil disobedience was extremely important. What are its drawbacks, that is, in what types of situations is it not appropriate?

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gsenviro | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Civil Disobedience is a form of protest where people refuse to cooperate with the authorities for any civic responsibility and it leads to the complete shutdown of essential services like transport, mail delivery, markets, medical care, etc. Some of the drawbacks of civil disobedience are:

  • Non-participation of all the concerned people: Not all the people may agree with the philosophy of Civil Disobedience and total disobedience can only be achieved if everyone is part of it. In Gandhi's Civil Disobedience movement, two important communities/classes who did not participate were the Dalits (the untouchable class as per social stratification in Hinduism) and Muslims; the former were ignored by Congress and the latter demanded their own separate state/nation or assured representation. This lead to the weakening of the movement as different communities had different ideas regarding the purpose of the movement and a general atmosphere of distrust was present.
  • Civil Disobedience is most effective, as per Gandhi, if it remains non-violent. However, this is an idealist's perspective and does not include the fact that not all people may remain non-violent when force is used against them. This is exactly what happened; people at a place called Chaura-Chauri became violent and burnt the policemen after locking them inside a police station.
  • Another assumption is that the government or governing body will not be extremely violent and will arrest people (and may use mild force). This is what happened during Gandhi's movement: thousands of people were arrested and later released. However, in a dictatorial arrangement (say a Hitler or Stalin), extreme force would be used to crush anyone opposing their actions and they would not allow civil disobedience to affect their operations. 

So, civil disobedience will not work unless all the people cooperate, stay non-violent and are fighting against a rational governing body.

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