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Citizenship Biography

An ounce of practice is
worth more than tons of
~Mahatma Gandhi~
By: Moises Castano
Citizenship is one of those terms that is left to interpretation as people feel different

towards it, however the dictionary definition is the state of being vested with the rights,

privileges, and duties of a citizen, (Websters) - as in an individual being a member of the

society they reside in. My take on citizenship is different from the dictionary, because I am a

citizen of many places, despite the fact I have not resided there. This is due to my experiences

and relationships built within the space.

The person who embodies my interpretation of citizenship, in combination with the

standard definition, is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He lived by the ideal that an ounce of

practice is worth more than tons of preaching. I believe citizens should be doers, Hannah Arendt

would agree because people need to show, not tell, and step into the public sphere and assume

responsibility for their rights. Thus, Citizenship is responsibility. For Gandhi, responsibility is

correlated with the notion of duties. Therefore, aside from being the Father of India, Gandhi

can also be considered the ideal citizen of his generation. For example, Gandhi's practice of

citizenship made him an iconic figure in the fight for Indian Independence from British Rule,

that occurred a year before his assassination on August 15th, 1947 (Gandhi & Merton, 1965).

The methods Gandhi used that made him a great role model for citizenship were known

as the Gandhian strategy; a combination of beliefs, philosophies, values, and experiences he

gathered and applied throughout his life. The most important and relevant, in terms of

citizenship, was Satyagraha, the weapon of truth which was seen and used widely in his

campaigns, one in particular was the Salt March. Gandhi's leadership in The Salt March is an

excellent representation of citizenship. The march was an important component of the Indian

Independence movement and ultimately led to their freedom. Arendt will consider this an act of
true citizenship as Gandhi achieved the desired outcome for his country, the people, and himself

through a call to action for the betterment of India and its inhabitants as the tax on salt was

abolished. He took what he learned within the private sphere and brought it into the public

sphere to enact change. As result the actions taken met the means - freedom for all the people of


In Gandhis early life he learned about the value of truth and respect for the law when he

was working as a lawyer in South Africa. Gandhis respect for the law explains the development

of Satyagraha as its composed of self-discipline, self-control, and self-purification. It is a

holistic approach towards life, based on the ideals of truth and moral courage (Gandhi, 1993). To

Gandhi, Satyagraha and civil disobedience were more than a political tool of resistance, they

were a citizens right. It instilled in the Indian people a sense of dignity for hard labor and mutual

respect, values I propose a good citizen should have. This is because Gandhi believed truth to be

the most powerful weapon and it was his most effective. Truth was the foundation of all his

teachings and the backbone to all his strategies. He said: The Truth is far more powerful than

any weapon of mass destruction (Gandhi,1993). In my eyes one of the greatest qualities a

citizen can possess is honesty, a quality that embodies Gandhi's character.

Furthermore, Gandhis greatest life teachings align with Aristotle's view on citizenship.

They both recognize the true essence of education and the value it holds to the citizen. Gandhi

believed education is the understanding of citizenship, is a short term affair if we are all honest

and earnest (Gandhi,1993). In Gandhi's writings and teachings, he talks endlessly about how

education begins with the children and in one teaching he states if we are to teach real peace in

this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the

children (Gandhi & Merton, 1965). Thus, in both Gandhi's and Aristotle's eyes, education is a
right, a right that begins the moment you enter the world. With this is mind, to Gandhi education

was a means towards becoming a good citizen because it allows growth that later results in

positive action.

However, Plato would argue otherwise as he views education as a privilege, that not

everyone can learn because its something that you're born with. The citizen aspect for Plato

would be for the people to trust in the leaders who have the right of knowledge and to follow

their guidance. With this said Gandhi might not have considered this to be true, but he did agree

with the conception of the citizen as a bearer of rights and privileges. Thus, Gandhi believed that

rights flow from duties, but understood the worry of the practice of duties fell on those that

occupied the most privileged roles in society because the marginal groups might be compelled to

perform duties, but have no rights. Therefore, in the tiniest of ways it aligns also with Platos

view because the privilege individuals were the ones responsible to carry out the duties needed

to run a society as we learned from the class reading.

Moreover, some scholars would argue that one of Gandhi's shortcomings came after the

rise of Indian Nationalism because the stronger his movements grew, so did the number of

arrests. About 30,000 people became prisoners of the cause by the end of 1921. All of this was

fine until the law was disobeyed as some of his followers set fire to a police station killing 22

people and Gandhi paid the price as he was sentenced to 6 years in prison in the Yeravda jail near

Pune (Brown, 1991). The man who preached nonviolence was sentenced to jail because of

violence, but Gandhis courage to take the blame shows responsibility, the attribute of

citizenship. This is a great example that defends my claim of Gandhi being an ideal citizen.

Overall, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is a great representation of citizenship as he

incorporates the teachings and theories from the various philosophers learned in class. The only
critique is that most of his teachings and philosophies are hard to implement or follow in todays

society as times have changed. I dont think these strategies can be completely applicable today,

but the notion of truth does remain to be the most powerful throughout history. I think that these

teachings must adapt to the time period and environment as in change the style, but keep the

essence of it. In regards to the citizen I do think that a citizen must abide by the law, but the

citizen must also take a course of action when the law does not comply with his rights.

Therefore, I now understand the combination between rights and duties because in order to have

duties we must first have rights, and these right can differ, they dont necessarily have to be from

a space you reside in, but more so a place a person connects with.

Brown, J. M. (1991). Gandhi: Prisoner of hope. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gandhi, & Bok, S. (1993). An autobiography: The story of my experiments with truth.

Boston: Beacon Press.

Gandhi, & Dear, J. (2002). Mohandas Gandhi: Essential writings. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis


Gandhi., & Merton, T. (1965). Gandhi on non-violence. New York: New Directions Pub.