Lesson Title: Fasting and Politics Grade Level

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Lesson Title:

Fasting and Politics

Grade Level:

Grade Ten

Unit of Study:

India’s Independence

History-Social Science Standard:

10.4 Students analyze patterns of global change in the era of New Imperialism in at least two of the following regions or countries: Africa, Southeast Asia, China, India, Latin America, and the Philippines.

10.4.3 3 Explain imperialism from the perspective of the colonizers and the colonized and the varied immediate and long-term responses by the people under colonial rule.

Setting the Context:

Fasting for religious purposes has been done for hundreds of years. Mohandas Gandhi commented that, “fasting is an institution as old as Adam. It has been resorted to for self-purification or for some ends, noble as well as ignoble.” Cleansing one’s self of impurities of the body many feel leads one to a greater relationship with themselves bringing them closer to nature, the universe and a higher power. Although both Mohandas Gandhi and César E. Chávez believed strongly in the spiritual and religious aspects of fasting they also used fasts to draw attention to political inequalities and injustices.

During World War I, Indian nationalists supported Great Britain. For their support, Great Britain promised, in 1917, to gradually move them to self-government. Many Britons feared losing power and opposed this measure. In an effort to quell dissidents, the government imposed new severe laws that permitted Indians to be arrested without cause.
Gandhi, who was a leader in the Indian National Congress, came to the forefront to battle these injustices following a massacre at Amristar. Gandhi’s tactics were rooted in the philosophy of Satyagraha. Satyagraha, which literally means “truth force” was the term used to describe the nonviolent methods that Gandhi implemented. Satyagraha was not passive resistance, but rather, an active way to battle injustices. This included protests, marches, sit-ins and fasting.
Gandhi did not intend to use the fast as a hunger strike but rather as a positive action to bring about social change. A 21-day fast in February 1943 for the unity and independence drew the attention of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. By the twelfth day of the fast Gandhi was in “grave condition” and nearly died. Britain finally granted India its independence in 1947 following World War II. Gandhi started another fast on January 13, 1948 to quell Hindu unrest. The fast ended with Gandhi’s death on January 30, 1948 from an assassin’s bullet.
Focus Questions:

What is a fast?

Why do people fast?
Why do you think people like Gandhi and Chávez would fast?
Expected Learning Outcomes:

Students will identify the term Satyagraha and explain how Gandhi used it.

Compare and contrast Gandhi’s reasons and use of fasting with Chávez’s.

Students will evaluate the effectiveness of using the fast to gain political awareness.


Students will write a short summary of the meaning of Satyagraha and how it affected Gandhi’s life.

Students will create a thematic compare and contrast chart comparing Gandhi’s philosophy of fasting with César E. Chávez’s.

Students will debate the effectiveness of fasting to gain political awareness.

Key Concepts:





Essential Vocabulary:



hunger strike


Primary Sources:

Gandhi quotes (See Appendix A)

César Chávez quotes/speeches on the CDE Web site. There are pictures of César and his fast breaking on the CDE Web site.

Use a voice, picture, documents, or streaming short clip of Rev. Jesse Jackson during the fast. Refer to the fast in the high school biography of César Chávez on the CDE Web site.


Pictures of Gandhi and the pictures and clips from the primary sources above.



Tell the students that they should either try to refrain from eating between meals before the next class or at least give up their favorite candy or soft drink for a day or two. This in a small way may give them a small inclination of fasting. Ask the students at the opening of class what they felt like, both physically and mentally, when they were giving their items up.

Making Connections:

Many people in the world still fast for religious purposes. This is especially true around certain church times of the year. It is thought of as a way to cleanse both the body and soul. This is different than a hunger strike. Hunger strikes do not carry the religious connection that both Gandhi and César had with their fasts.

Vocabulary Activities:

Take each of the vocabulary words and first define each. Then, in groups, take each word and find as many words that they can associate with each word and share with the class.

Guided Instruction:

  1. Do the Motivation from above, making sure to assign the giving up of items one or two days in advance.

  1. Ask the students the other two focus questions.

  1. Students should have read the appropriate material from their textbook on Gandhi and Indian independence and the teacher has provided additional information from the Setting the Context.

  1. Have the students read the quotes and study the pictures/clips.

  1. In small groups or as a class facilitate discussion amongst the students about what they see. After completing the discussion give the students a Venn diagram to complete.

  1. Use the students’ textbooks for background readings on the effect of Gandhi’s fasts. Use the CDE biography to relate César Chávez’s fasts and his use of nonviolent social activism to Gandhi’s teachings.

  1. Have the students write a point of view essay stating whether or not they believe Gandhi and Chávez were effective in conducting their fasts. If so why and what was the overall effect and if not why not and what was the overall effect?

Integrating Language:

  1. Pre-reading skills will activate prior knowledge through classroom discussion. Active discussion will be used in reviewing the primary source documents.

  1. Speaking and listening skills will also be used when students share their feelings about Gandhi’s and Chávez’s life and use of fasts.

  1. Writing skills will be worked on through a point of view essay that makes students take a position on the effectiveness of fasts.


  1. Students can gain more understanding of Gandhi by visiting the Gandhi Institute on Nonviolence at World Wide Web.

  1. Research how governments react throughout European history to fasts and hunger strikes.

Service Learning:

Identify the problem:

There are many community organizations that rely on donations to survive.

Develop a Plan:

Connect this lesson with the idea of contributing to these organizations by having a “Give It Up Day”. Have the students identify a food/drink item that they could perhaps give up for a day and donate the food or money that it would have cost to a particular organization in the community.

Initiate action:

Contact and arrange with the particular organization and advertise around the school a “Give It Up Day”. Collect the food.


Have students talk about their experience providing service to their community. How did it feel? What happened? Were other people’s lives affected? If so, how? Have them relate their experience to César’s value of “service to others.” What does it mean to serve others? What are other ways of providing service to the community?

Appendix A

Quotes from M.K. Gandhi

A complete fast is a complete and literal denial of self. It is the truest prayer.

My religion teaches me that whenever there is distress, which one cannot remove, one must fast and pray.
What should a nonviolent person do when he finds his friends, relations or countrymen refuse to give up an immoral way of life, and all arguments prove futile to evoke any response? An ahimsa-ite must not use a semblance of force to convert the wrong-doer. He even eschews the use of any harsh language. The first step is gentle and affectionate persuasion. When it fails to produce any salutary effect, voluntarily he invites suffering in his own body to open the eyes of the person who is determined to see no light.
Fasting is an institution as old as Adam. It has been resorted to for self-purification or for some ends, noble as well as ignoble.
A genuine fast cleanses the body, mind, and soul. It crucifies the flesh and to that extent sets the soul free.
What the eyes are for the outer world, fasts are for the inner.
Fear is not a disease of the body; fear kills the soul.
A fear-stricken person can never know God, and one who knows God will never fear a mortal man.
Where there is fear, there is not religion.
It is weakness which breeds fear, and fear breeds distrust.
There would be no one to frighten you if you refuse to be afraid.
For a nonviolent person, the whole world is one family. He will thus fear none, nor will others fear him.
The Golden Rule is to act fearlessly upon what one believes to be right.

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