Unfortunately, “the call of the Big Mountain never came,” as the villagers learn that Gandhi has been arrested and decide to begin marching the next week. Everyone gathers around the temple, and Seenu rings the bell to announce the Mahatma’s arrest. The town spends all afternoon on edge, and “bicycle after bicycle” comes delivering orders for Moorthy from the city.
Gandhi’s arrest, like Moorthy’s, spurs the villagers to action. Seenu announces it from the temple, the center of power in Kanthapura. Although Achakka is not privy to the orders delivered by bicycle, the sheer volume of documents and information demonstrates to her that the Congress has reached a critical moment for action.
The Village Congress assembles, feeling as though “they were of one caste, one breath.” Moorthy arrives and tells them it is time to start the “Don’t-touch-the-Government campaign.” They will not pay taxes; they will protest toddy booths, which “are there to exploit the poor and the unhappy;” and they will “establish a parallel Government” with Rangè Gowda back in charge as Patel.
Moorthy’s campaign aims to grind the colonial government to a halt by simply refusing to recognize its legitimacy and starting an Indian government to which the people actually consent. Yet this parallel government must naturally fulfill the same roles that the colonial one already does.
Moorthy continues: they will refuse to engage the government but “never be harsh to them nor wicked” and remember that they are all responsible for one another, and that if any of them commits any act of violence they must stop the movement for six months to pray for redemption. They do not fight “the white man” himself, Moorthy emphasizes, but rather “the demoniac corruption that has entered their hearts.” They must be ready to “obey your chief and love your enemy” by following “the path of the spirit,” whose greatest values are truth, non-violence, and love.
The Gandhians’ worst possible approach would be to respond to the colonial government in kind, with physical violence. Beyond eroding their moral purity, this would compromise the Gandhians’ public image by allowing the British to paint the protestors as violent revolutionaries. Loving their enemies means viewing the colonial police as the unwitting agents of an even greater evil.
Rangamma begins to “unknowingly” strike the gong, and everyone “felt there was something in the air.” They all proclaim their allegiance to the movement and opposition to violence, plan a start date, and weep together to music.
Although the congress has received numerous documents with instructions from the city, the ultimate decision about planning their protests lies in group deliberation.
Two days later, 139 villagers begin marching to Boranna’s toddy grove, led by Moorthy, Rangamma, Rangè Gowda, and Pariah Rachanna in a cart. They announce their intentions in song and stop for prayers along the way. “Hardly at the Main Road Corner,” they encounter the Police Inspector and the four leaders get out of their cart and begin to walking. As they approach the toddy grove, they see more and more policemen holding lathis.
The Gandhians picket the toddy grove because the Sahib convinces the coolies at the Skeffington Estate to drink away all their wages there once they have finished work; this prevents them from making enough money to leave the Estate. But the policemen are willing to defend the grove with force because it economically benefits the British.
The Police Inspector approaches them on a bridge and warns them that they may not go to the toddy grove. Moorthy thanks the Inspector and continues, claiming that “he would follow [the Congress’s instructions] unto death if need be.” Moorthy and Rangè Gowda try to open the toddy grove’s gate as Pariah Rachanna leads the other marchers in cries of “Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!”
True to his campaign, Moorthy rejects the Inspector’s orders as illegitimate. But his claim that he would die for the Congress reveals that he nevertheless realizes that he is a pawn for the national Gandhian movement.
As the policemen try to push back the marchers, Rachanna runs and jumps the fence, climbing a toddy tree. The policemen rush to attack him and quickly drag him down as the rest sing and march forward. The Inspector orders them to attack and they beat the Gandhians with their lathis as the villagers yell “Mataram Vandè!” louder and louder. Lingayya crosses the fence and Moorthy yells “Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!” as the policemen surround and beat him. Finally, the women charge, led by Rangamma, reminding themselves as they are beaten that “after all it is not so bad.”
Rachanna, consistently the most enthusiastic of the protestors, tries to tear down the tree, which symbolizes the Skeffington Estate’s exploitative treatment of its workers. The police intervene as soon as he crosses into the toddy grove, for the protestors are not breaking the law until they enter private property, and the police’s primary role in India is to protect British property rights.
The women break down the gate to the toddy grove and begin to tear branches and leaves from the trees. Atop a tree, one protestor cuts “branch after branch” and the crowd cheers, laughing as the man spits on the policemen who tear him down.
Rangamma’s female Volunteers drive the action, breaking down the gate that keeps the protestors from destroying the trees. The Gandhians enjoy a brief moment of triumph while the police cannot reach them up in the trees.
The policemen take the women outside the grove, and Achakka and her sisters feel their fresh wounds but also a sense of accomplishment and purpose. The police arrest pariah Rachanna and the potters Lingayya and Siddayya, separating the other men, young women, and old women into trucks that head away in different directions and drop each group on the side of a different road.
The women see their wounds as marks of pride, evidence that they have threatened the colonial regime enough to warrant a violent response. The Britisih punish the protestors by displacing them, dropping them in unfamiliar territory far from their own land.
As they reunite with the other groups on the highway and march deep into the jungle, Rangamma tells the other old women to form a line and start singing. The longer and louder they sing, the more the women forget their injuries and fears. They meet a cart-man, who offers them food, and more carts come and offer to take them back to Kanthapura. They try to negotiate a price, but the cart men fear the Mahatma’s ire and agree to take the women back to Kanthapura for free.
When they feel unsafe in unfamiliar territory, chants and protest songs give the villagers a newfound sense of shared purpose and reconsolidates their opposition to the government through an oral tradition in which everyone can participate. The cart-men offer the villagers free passage because they see the Mahatma as a god figure and therefore the villagers as pilgrims fighting a worthy battle.
The villagers get off the carts in the village of Santhapura, near Kanthapura, where Rangamma’s cousin lives and his wife offers them food and milk. The Gandhians tell the Santhapura villagers about the Mahatma and their campaign, and the people in Santhapura follow them to Kanthapura shortly thereafter.
In fact, the villagers’ displacement has helped them grow their movement by recruiting people in Santhapura. Again, the government’s use of force undermines its own position by inadvertently strengthening the Gandhian movement.
Upon returning, the villagers felt “as though the whole air was filled with some pouring presence,” perhaps that of the gods watching out for them. At the temple the morning after, they line up their “trophies”: five twigs from the toddy trees and a toddy-pot.
Although the police broke them up, the villagers consider their protest a resounding success. The violence has broken neither their beliefs nor their resilience.