Mahatma Gandhi

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Mahatma Gandhi Biography

The following biography is from Wikipedia.org “The Free Encyclopedia.”

 

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Devanagari: मोहनदास करमचन्द गांधी; Gujarati: મોહનદાસ કરમચંદ ગાંધી; October 2, 1869 – January 30, 1948) was a prominent political leader of India and its struggle for independence from the British Empire. He was the pioneer and perfector of Satyagraha - the resistance of tyranny through mass civil disobedience strongly founded upon ahimsa (total non-violence) - which led India to independence, and has inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Gandhi is commonly known and addressed in India and across the world as Mahatma Gandhi (from Sanskrit, Mahatma: Great Soul) and as Bapu (in many Indian languages, Father).

 

Beginning as an unobtrusive lawyer in South Africa, Gandhi organised the Indian community there in protests and demonstrations against oppressive laws and racial discrimination without any resort to violence. Successful in repealing the oppressive laws, Gandhi again employed the technique in organizing poor farmers in India to protest oppressive taxation and extensive discrimination, and carried it forward on the national stage to protest oppressive laws made by a foreign government. Becoming the leader of the Indian National Congress, Gandhi led a nationwide campaign for the alleviation of the poor, liberation of Indian women, for brotherhood amongst communities of differing religions and ethnicity, and for an end to untouchability and caste discrimination, but above all for Swaraj - the independence of India from foreign domination. Gandhi famously led Indians in the disobedience of the salt tax through the 400 kilometre (248 miles) Dandi Salt March in 1931, and in an open call for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years on numerous occasions in South Africa and India.

 

Throughout his life, Gandhi remained committed to non-violence and truth even in the most extreme situations. Gandhi was a student of Hindu philosophy and lived simply, organizing an ashram that was self-sufficient in its needs. He made his own clothes - the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven with a charkha and lived on a simple vegetarian diet. He used rigorous fasts - abstaining from food and water for long periods - for self-purification as well as a means for protest. Gandhi's life and teachings inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Biko and Aung San Suu Kyi and respectively the American civil rights movement and the freedom struggles in South Africa and Myanmar. In India, Gandhi was recognized as the Father of the Nation by Subhas Bose, and later by the whole nation. October 2nd, his birthday is each year commemorated as Gandhi Jayanti, and is a national holiday.

 

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Early Life

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born into a Hindu Modh family in Porbandar, Gujarat, India in 1869. He was the son of Karamchand Gandhi, the diwan (Chief Minister) of Porbandar, and Putlibai, Karamchand's fourth wife (his previous three wives had died in childbirth), a Hindu of the Vaishnava order. Growing up with a devout mother and surrounded by the Jain influences of Gujarat, Gandhi learned from an early age the tenets of non-injury to living beings, vegetarianism, fasting for self-purification, and mutual tolerance between members of various creeds and sects. He was born into the vaishya, or business, caste. In May 1883, at the age of 13, Gandhi was married through his parents' arrangement to Kasturbha Makhanji (also spelled "Kasturbhai" or known as "Ba"), who was the same age as he. They had four sons: Harilal Gandhi, born in 1888; Manilal Gandhi, born in 1892; Ramdas Gandhi, born in 1897; and Devdas Gandhi, born in 1900. Gandhi was a mediocre student in his youth at Porbandar and later Rajkot. He barely passed the matriculation exam for the University of Bombay in 1887, where he joined Samaldas College in Bhavnagar. His family wanting him to become a barrister, he was also unhappy at the college. He leapt at the opportunity to study in England, which he viewed as "a land of philosophers and poets, the very centre of civilization."

 

At the age of 19 on September 4 1889, Gandhi went to University College London to train as a barrister. His time in London, the Imperial capital, was influenced by a vow he had made to his mother in the presence of a Jain monk Becharji, upon leaving India to observe the Hindu precepts of abstinence from meat, alcohol, and promiscuity. Although Gandhi experimented with adopting "English" customs - taking dancing lessons for example - he could not stomach his landlady's mutton and cabbage. She pointed him towards one of London's few vegetarian restaurants. Rather than simply go along with his mother's wishes, he read about, and intellectually embraced vegetarianism. He joined the Vegetarian Society, was elected to its executive committee, and founded a local chapter. He later credited this with giving him valuable experience in organizing institutions. Some of the vegetarians he met were members of the Theosophical Society, which had been founded in 1875 to further universal brotherhood and devoted to the study of Buddhist and Hindu Brahmanistic literature. They encouraged Gandhi to read the Bhagavad Gita. Not having shown a particular interest in religion before, he read works of and about Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and other religions. He returned to India after being admitted to the British bar. He had limited success trying to establish a law practise in Bombay. He applied for a part-time job as a teacher at a Bombay high school but was turned down. He ended up returning to Rajkot to make a modest living drafting petitions for litigants but was forced to close down that business as well when he ran afoul of a British officer. In his autobiography, he describes this incident as a kind of unsuccessful lobbying attempt on behalf of his older brother. It was in this climate that (in 1893) he accepted a year-long contract from an Indian firm to a post in Natal, South Africa.

 

 

Civil rights movement in South Africa (1893–1914)

At this point in his life, Gandhi was a mild-mannered, diffident and politically indifferent individual. He had read his first newspaper at the age of 18, and was prone to stage fright while speaking in court. South Africa changed him dramatically, as he faced the discrimination that was commonly directed at blacks and Indians in that country. One day in court in the city of Durban, the magistrate asked him to remove his turban. Gandhi refused to do so, and stormed out of the courtroom. In another incident, he was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg, after refusing to move from the first class coach to a third class compartment, normally used by coloured peoples, while holding a valid first class ticket. Later, travelling further on by stagecoach, he was beaten by a driver for refusing to travel on the footboard to make room for an European passenger. He suffered other hardships on the journey as well, including being barred from many hotels on account of his race. This incident has been acknowledged by several biographers as a turning point in his life that would serve as the catalyst for his activism later in life. It was through witnessing first-hand the racism, prejudice and injustice against Indians in South Africa that Gandhi started to question his people's status, and his own place in society.

 

At the end of his contract, Gandhi prepared to return to India. However, at a farewell party in his honour in Durban, he happened to glance at a newspaper and learned that a bill was being considered by the Natal Legislative Assembly to deny the right to vote to Indians. When he brought this up with his hosts, they lamented that they did not have the expertise necessary to oppose the bill, and implored Gandhi to stay and help them. He circulated several petitions to both the Natal Legislature and the British Government in opposition to the bill. Though unable to halt the bill's passage, his campaign was successful in drawing attention to the grievances of Indians in South Africa. Supporters convinced him to remain in Durban to continue fighting against the injustices levied against Indians in South Africa. He founded the Natal Indian Congress in 1894, with himself as the Secretary. Through this organization, he moulded the Indian community of South Africa into a heterogeneous political force, publishing documents detailing Indian grievances and evidence of British discrimination in South Africa. Gandhi returned briefly to India in 1896 to bring his wife and children to live with him in South Africa. When he returned in January 1897, a white mob attacked and tried to lynch him. In an early indication of the personal values that would shape his later campaigns, he refused to press charges on any member of the mob, stating it was one of his principles not to seek redress for a personal wrong in a court of law.

 

At the onset of the South African War, Gandhi argued that Indians must support the war effort in order to legitimize their claims to full citizenship, organising a volunteer ambulance corps of 300 free Indians and 800 indentured labourers called the Indian Ambulance Corps, one of the few medical units to serve wounded black South Africans. He himself was a stretcher-bearer at the Battle of Spion Kop, and was decorated. At the conclusion of the war, however, the situation for the Indians did not improve, but continued to deteriorate. In 1906, the Transvaal government promulgated a new Act compelling registration of the colony's Indian population. At a mass protest meeting held in Johannesburg that September, Gandhi adopted his methodology of satyagraha (devotion to the truth), or non-violent protest, for the first time, calling on his fellow Indians to defy the new law and suffer the punishments for doing so, rather than resist through violent means. This plan was adopted, leading to a seven-year struggle in which thousands of Indians were jailed (including Gandhi himself on many occasions), flogged, or even shot, for striking, refusing to register, burning their registration cards, or engaging in other forms of non-violent resistance. While the government was successful in repressing the Indian protesters, the public outcry stemming from the harsh methods employed by the South African government in the face of peaceful Indian protesters finally forced South African General Jan Christian Smuts to negotiate a compromise with Gandhi. In May 1915, Gandhi founded an ashram on the outskirts of Ahmedabad and called it Satyagrah Ashram. There lodged twenty five men and women who tooks vows of truth, celibacy, ahimsa, nonpossession, control of the palate, and service of the Indian people.

 

Fighting for Indian independence (1916–1945)

As he had done in the South African War, Gandhi urged support of the British in World War I and was active in encouraging Indians to join the army. His rationale, opposed by many others, was that if he desired the full citizenship, freedoms and rights in the Empire, it would be wrong not to help in its defence. He spoke at the conventions of the Indian National Congress, but was primarily introduced to Indian issues, politics and the Indian people by Gopal Krishna Gokhale, at the time the one of most respected leaders of the Congress Party.

 

Champaran and Kheda

Main article: Champaran and Kheda Satyagraha

Gandhi's first major achievements came in 1918 with the Champaran agitation and Kheda Satyagraha, although in the latter he was involved at par with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who acted as his right-hand and leader of the rebels. In Champaran, a district in the state of Bihar, he organized civil resistance on the part of tens of thousands of landless farmers and serfs, and poor farmers with small lands, who were forced to grow indigo and other cash crops instead of the food crops necessary for their survival. Suppressed by the militias of the landlords (mostly British), they were given measly compensation, leaving them mired in extreme poverty. The villages were kept extremely dirty and unhygienic, and alcoholism, untouchability and purdah were rampant. Now in the throes of a devastating famine, the British levied an oppressive tax which they insisted on increasing in rate. The situation was desperate. In Kheda in Gujarat, the problem was the same. Gandhi established an ashram there, organizing scores of his veteran supporters and fresh volunteers from the region. He organized a detailed study and survey of the villages, accounting the atrocities and terrible episodes of suffering, including the general state of degenerate living. Building on the confidence of villagers, he began leading the clean-up of villages, building of schools and hospitals and encouraging the village leadership to undo and condemn many social evils, as accounted above.

 

But his main assault came as he was arrested by police on the charge of creating unrest and was ordered to leave the province. Hundreds of thousands of people protested and rallied outside the jail, police stations and courts demanding his release, which the court unwillingly did. Gandhi led organized protests and strikes against the landlords, who with the guidance of the British government, signed an agreement granting more compensation and control over farming for the poor farmers of the region, and cancellation of revenue hikes and collection until the famine ended. It was during this agitation, that Gandhi was addressed by the people as Bapu (Father) and Mahatma (Great Soul). In Kheda, Patel represented the farmers in negotiations with the British, who suspended revenue collection and granted relief. All prisoners were released. Gandhi's resulting fame spread all over the nation.

 

Non-Cooperation

The Rowlatt Act of 1919, which empowered the government to imprison those accused of sedition without trial, was passed. In Punjab, the Amritsar massacre of 379 civilians by British troops caused deep trauma to the nation, and increased public anger and acts of violence. Gandhi criticized both the actions of the British, and the retaliatory violence of Indians. He authored the resolution offering condolences to British civilian victims and condemning the riots, which after initial opposition in the party, was accepted after Gandhi made an emotional speech pushing forth his principle that all violence was evil and could not be justified. But it was after the massacre and violence that Gandhi's mind focused upon obtaining complete self-government and control of all Indian government institutions, maturing soon into Swaraj or complete individual, spiritual, political independence. Gandhi was invested with executive authority on behalf of the Indian National Congress in December 1921. Under Gandhi's leadership, the Congress was reorganized with a new constitution, with the goal of Swaraj. Membership in the party was opened to anyone prepared to pay a token fee. A hierarchy of committees was set up to improve discipline, transforming the party from an elite organization to one of mass national appeal. Gandhi expanded his non-violence platform to include the swadeshi policy – the boycott of foreign-made goods, especially British goods. Linked to this was his advocacy that khadi (homespun cloth) be worn by all Indians instead of British-made textiles. Gandhi exhorted Indian men and women, rich or poor, to spend time each day spinning khadi in support of the independence movement. This was a strategy to inculcate discipline and dedication to weed out the unwilling and ambitious, and include women in the movement at a time when many thought that such activities were not 'respectable' for women. In addition to boycotting British products, Gandhi urged the people to boycott British educational institutions and law courts, to resign from government employment, and to forsake British titles and honours.

 

"Non-cooperation" enjoyed wide-spread appeal and success, increasing excitement and participation from all strata of Indian society, yet just as the movement reached its apex, it ended abruptly as a result of a violent clash in the town of Chauri Chaura, Uttar Pradesh, in February 1922. Fearing that the movement was about to take a turn towards violence, and convinced that this would be the undoing of all his work, Gandhi called off the campaign of mass civil disobedience. Gandhi was arrested on March 10, 1922, tried for sedition, and sentenced to six years. Beginning on March 18, 1922, he only served about two years of the sentence, being released in February 1924 after an operation for appendicitis. Without Gandhi's uniting personality, the Indian National Congress began to splinter during his years in prison, splitting into two factions, one led by Chitta Ranjan Das and Motilal Nehru favouring party participation in the legislatures, and the other led by Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, opposing this move. Furthermore, cooperation among Hindus and Muslims, which had been strong at the height of the nonviolence campaign, was breaking down. Gandhi attempted to bridge these differences through many means, including a three-week fast in the autumn of 1924, but with limited success.

 

 

Swaraj and the Salt Satyagraha

Gandhi stayed out of the limelight for most of the 1920s, preferring to resolve the wedge between the Swaraj Party and the Indian National Congress, and expanding initiatives against untouchability, alcoholism, ignorance and poverty. He returned to the fore in 1928. The year before, the British government appointed a new constitutional reform commission under Sir John Simon numbering not a single Indian in its ranks. The result was a boycott of the commission by Indian political parties. Gandhi pushed through a resolution at the Calcutta Congress in December 1928 calling on the British government to grant India dominion status or face a new campaign of non-violence with complete independence for the country as its goal. Gandhi had moderated the views of younger men like Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru, who sought a demand for immediate independence, but also modified his own call to a one year wait, instead of two. The British did not respond. On December 31, 1929, the flag of India was unfurled in Lahore. January 26, 1930 was celebrated by the Indian National Congress, meeting in Lahore as India's Independence Day. This day was commemorated by almost every other Indian organization. Making good on his word in March 1930, he launched a new satyagraha against the tax on salt, highlighted by the famous Salt March to Dandi from March 21 to April 6 1930, marching 400 kilometres (248 miles) from Ahmedabad to Dandi, Gujarat to make his own salt. Thousands of Indians joined him on this march to the sea. This campaign was one of his most successful, resulting in the imprisonment of over 60,000 people.

 

The government, represented by Lord Irwin, decided to negotiate with Gandhi. The Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed in March 1931. In it, the British Government agreed to set all political prisoners free in return for the suspension of the civil disobedience movement. Furthermore, Gandhi was invited to attend the Round Table Conference in London as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress. The conference was a disappointment to Gandhi and the nationalists as it focused on the Indian princes and Indian minorities rather than the transfer of power. Furthermore, Lord Irwin's successor, Lord Willingdon, embarked on a new campaign of repression against the nationalists. Gandhi was again arrested, and the government attempted to destroy his influence by completely isolating him from his followers. This tactic was not successful. In 1932, through the campaigning of the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar, the government granted untouchables separate electorates under the new constitution. In protest, Gandhi embarked on a six-day fast in September 1932, successfully forcing the government to adopt a more equitable arrangement via negotiations mediated by the Dalit cricketer turned political leader Palwankar Baloo. This began a new campaign by Gandhi to improve the lives of the untouchables, whom he named Harijans, the children of God. On May 8, 1933 Gandhi began a 21-day fast of self-purification to help the Harijan movement. In the summer of 1934, three unsuccessful attempts were made on his life.

 

When the Congress Party chose to contest elections and accept power under the Federation scheme, Gandhi decided to resign from party membership. He did not at all disagree with the party's move, but felt that if he resigned, his popularity with Indians would cease to stifle the party's membership, that actually varied from communists, socialists, trade unionists, students, religious conservatives, pro-business convictions. Gandhi also did not want to prove a target for Raj propaganda by leading a party that had temporarily accepted political accommodation with the Raj. Gandhi returned to the head in 1936, with the Nehru presidency and the Lucknow session of the Congress. Although Gandhi desired a total focus on the task of winning independence and not speculation about India's future, he did not restrain the Congress from adopting socialism as its goal. Gandhi had a clash with Subhas Bose, who had been elected to the presidency in 1938. Gandhi's main issues with Bose were his lack of commitment to democracy, and lack of faith in non-violence. Bose won his second term despite Gandhi's criticism, but left the Congress when the All-India leaders resigned en masse in protest of his abandonment of principles introduced by Gandhi.

 

 

World War II and Quit India

World War II broke out in 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Initially, Gandhi had favored offering "non-violent moral support" to the British effort, but other Congress leaders were offended by the unilateral inclusion of India into the war, without consultation of the people's representatives. All Congressmen elected to office resigned en masse. After lengthy deliberations, Gandhi declared that India could not be party to a war ostensibly being fought for democratic freedom, while that freedom was denied in India herself. As the war progressed, Gandhi increased his demands for independence, drafting a resolution calling for the British to Quit India. This was Gandhi's and the Congress Party's most definitive revolt aimed at securing the British exit from Indian shores.

 

Gandhi was criticized by some Congressmen and other Indian political groups, both pro-British and anti-British. Some felt that opposing Britain in its life-death struggle was immoral, and others felt that Gandhi wasn't doing enough. Quit India became the most forceful movement in the history of the struggle, with mass arrests and violence on an unprecedented scale. Thousands of freedom fighters were killed or injured in police firing, and hundreds of thousands were arrested. Gandhi and his supporters made it clear they would not support the war effort unless India were granted immediate independence. He even clarified that this time the movement would not be stopped if individual acts of violence were committed, saying that the "ordered anarchy" around him was "worse than real anarchy". He called on all Congressmen and Indians to maintain discipline in ahimsa, and Karo Ya Maro (Do or Die) in the cause of ultimate freedom. Gandhi and the entire Congress Working Committee were arrested in Mumbai by the British on August 9, 1942. Gandhi was held for two years in the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. It was here that Gandhi suffered two terrible blows in his personal life - his wife Kasturba passed away, just a few months after Mahadev Desai, his 42-year old secretary died of a heart attack. He was released before the end of the war because of his failing health and necessary surgery; the Raj did not want him to die in prison and enrage the entire nation beyond control. Although the ruthless suppression of the movement by British forces brought relative order to India by the end of 1943, Quit India succeeded in its objective. At the end of the war, the British gave clear indications that power would be transferred to Indian hands, and Gandhi called off the struggle, and the Congress leadership and around 100,000 political prisoners were released. In February 1944 Kasturbai Gandhi died in prison and six weeks later Gandhi suffered a severe malaria attack. During this time Gandhi's health continually detoriated to the point that the government on May 6 1944 decided to release him.

 

 

Freedom and partition of India

Gandhi advised the Congress to reject the proposals the British Cabinet Mission offered in 1946, as he was deeply suspicious of the grouping proposed for Muslim-majority states - Gandhi viewed this as a precursor to partition. However, this became one of the few times the Congress broke from Gandhi's advice (not his leadership though), as Nehru and Patel knew that if the Congress did not approve the plan, the control of government would pass to the Muslim League. Between 1946 and 1947, over 5,000 people were killed in violence. Gandhi was vehemently opposed to any plan that partitioned India into two separate countries. Many Muslims in India lived side by side with Hindus and Sikhs, and were in favour of a united India. But Jinnah commanded widespread support in West Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and East Bengal. The partition plan was approved by the Congress leadership as the only way to prevent a wide-scale Hindu-Muslim civil war. Congress leaders knew that Gandhi would viscerally oppose partition, and it was impossible for the Congress to go ahead without his agreement, for Gandhi's support in the party and throughout India was strong. Gandhi's closest colleagues had accepted partition as the best way out, and Sardar Patel endeavoured to convince Gandhi that it was the only way to avoid civil war. A devastated Gandhi gave his assent.

 

On the day of the transfer of power, Gandhi did not celebrate independence with the rest of India, but was alone in Calcutta, mourning the partition and working to end the violence. After India's independence, Gandhi focused on Hindu-Muslim peace and unity. He conducted extensive dialogue with Muslim and Hindu community leaders, working to cool passions in northern India, as well as in Bengal. Despite the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, he was troubled when the Government decided to deny Pakistan the Rs. 55 crores due as per agreements made by the Partition Council. Leaders like Sardar Patel feared that Pakistan would use the money to bankroll the war against India. Gandhi was also devastated when demands resurged for all Muslims to be deported to Pakistan, and when Muslim and Hindu leaders expressed frustration and an inability to come to terms with one another. He launched his last fast-unto-death in Delhi, asking that all communal violence be ended once and for all, and that the payment of Rs. 55 crores be made to Pakistan. Gandhi feared that instability and insecurity in Pakistan would increase their anger against India, and violence would spread across the borders. He further feared that Hindus and Muslims would renew their enmity and precipitate into an open civil war. After emotional debates with his life-long colleagues, Gandhi refused to budge, and the Government rescinded its policy and made the payment to Pakistan. Hindu, Muslim and Sikh community leaders, including the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha assured him that they would renounce violence and call for peace. Gandhi thus broke his fast by sipping orange juice.

 

 

Assassination

On January 30, 1948, on his way to a prayer meeting, Gandhi was shot dead in Birla House, New Delhi, by Nathuram Godse. Godse was a Hindu radical with links to the extremist Hindu Mahasabha, who held Gandhi responsible for weakening India by insisting upon a payment to Pakistan. Godse and his co-conspirator Narayan Apte were later tried and convicted, and on 15 November 1949, were executed. A prominent revolutionary and Hindu extremist, the president of the Mahasabha, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was accused of being the architect of the plot, but was acquitted due to lack of evidence. Gandhi's memorial (or Samādhi) at Rāj Ghāt, New Delhi, bears the epigraph, (Devanagiri: हे ! राम or, Hé Rām), which may be translated as "Oh God". These are widely believed to be Gandhi's last words after he was shot at, though the veracity of this statement has been disputed by many. Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the nation through radio:

 

"Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the father of the nation, is no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that; nevertheless, we will not see him again, as we have seen him for these many years, we will not run to him for advice or seek solace from him, and that is a terrible blow, not for me only, but for millions and millions in this country."

 

Gandhi's principles

Truth

Gandhi dedicated his life to the wider purpose of discovering truth, or Satya. He tried to achieve this by learning from his own mistakes and conducting experiments on himself. He named his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Gandhi found that uncovering the truth was not always popular as many people were resistant to change, preferring instead to maintain the existing status quo because of either inertia, self-interest or misguided beliefs. However he also discovered that once the truth was on the march nothing could stop it. All it took was time to achieve traction and gain momentum. As Gandhi said:

 

"The Truth is far more powerful than any weapon of mass destruction".

Gandhi said that the most important battle to fight was in overcoming his own demons, fears and insecurities. He thought it was all too easy to blame people, governing powers or enemies for his personal actions and well-being. He noted the solution to problems could normally be found just by looking in the mirror. One of the greatest contributions of Mahatma Gandhi was in the realm of ontology and its association with truth. For Gandhi, "to be" did not mean to exist within the realm of time, as it has in the past with the Greek philosophers. But rather, "to exist" meant to exist within the realm of truth, or to use the term Gandhi did, satya. Gandhi summarized his beliefs first when he said "God is Truth," but as typical of Gandhi, he evolved, later to correct himself and state that "Truth is God." The first statement seemed insufficient to Gandhi, as the mistake could be made that Gandhi was using Truth as a description of God, rather than the summative definition of the entire essence of God. Satya (Truth) in Gandhi's philosophy IS God. It shares all the characteristics of the Hindu concept of God, or Brahman. It lives within us, that little voice that tells us what to do, but also guides the universe.

 

 

Nonviolence

The concept of nonviolence (ahimsa) and nonresistance has a long history in Indian religious thought and has had many revivals in Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Christian contexts. Gandhi explains his philosophy and way of life in his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth. He was quoted as saying:

 

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall -- think of it, ALWAYS."

"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?"

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind".

"There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for".

In applying these principles, Gandhi did not balk from taking them to their most logical extremes. In 1940, when invasion of the British Isles by Nazi Germany looked imminent, Gandhi offered the following advice to the British people (Non-Violence in Peace and War):

 

"I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions.... If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them".

However, Gandhi was aware that this level of nonviolence required incredible faith and courage, which he realized everyone did not possess. He therefore advised that everyone need not keep to nonviolence, especially if it was used as a cover for cowardice:

 

"Gandhi guarded against attracting to his satyagraha movement those who feared to take up arms or felt themselves incapable of resistance. 'I do believe,' he wrote, 'that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.' " (Bondurant 28)

"At every meeting I repeated the warning that unless they felt that in non-violence they had come into possession of a force infinitely superior to the one they had and in the use of which they were adept, they should have nothing to do with non-violence and resume the arms they possessed before. It must never be said of the Khudai Khidmatgars that once so brave, they had become or been made cowards under Badshah Khan's influence. Their bravery consisted not in being good marksmen but in defying death and being ever ready to bear their breasts to the bullets." (Bondurant 139)

 

Vegetarianism

Although he experimented with eating meat in India when he was very young, he later became a strict vegetarian. He wrote books on the subject while in London, having met vegetarian campaigner Henry Stephens Salt at gatherings of the Vegetarian Society. The idea of vegetarianism is deeply ingrained in Hindu and Jain traditions in India, and, in his native land of Gujarat, most Hindus were vegetarian. He experimented with various diets and concluded that a vegetarian diet would satisfy the requirements of the body. However he was flexible for his time and had little reservations on eating table eggs as seen in his 1948 article Key to Health. He abstained from eating for long periods, using fasting as a political weapon. He refused to eat until his death or his demands were met.

 

Brahmacharya

Gandhi gave up sexual intercourse at the age of 36, becoming totally celibate while still married. This decision was deeply influenced by the philosophy of brahmacharya—spiritual and practical purity—largely associated with celibacy and asceticism. Gandhi saw brahmacharya as a means of going close to God and as a primary foundation for self realisation. In his autobiography he tells of his battle against lustful urges and fits of jealousy with his childhood bride, Kasturba. He felt it his personal obligation to remain celibate so that he could learn to love, rather than lust. For Gandhi brahmacharya meant control of the senses in thought, word and deed.

 

Simplicity

Gandhi earnestly believed that a person involved in social service should lead a simple life. His simplicity began by renouncing the western lifestyle he was leading in South Africa. Gandhi reduced his expenditure by embracing a simple living lifestyle, which included washing his own clothes. On one occasion he returned the gifts bestowed to him from the natals for his diligent service to the community.

 

Gandhi spent one day of each week in silence. He believed that abstaining from speaking brought him inner peace. This influence was drawn from the Hindu principles of mouna (silence) and shanti (peace). On such days he communicated with others by writing on paper. For three and a half years, from the age of 37, Gandhi refused to read newspapers, claiming that the tumultuous state of world affairs caused him more confusion than his own inner unrest. Returning to India from South Africa, where he had enjoyed a successful legal practice, he gave up wearing Western-style clothing, which he associated with wealth and success. He dressed to be accepted by the poorest person in India, advocating the use of homespun cloth (khadi). Gandhi and his followers adopted the practice of weaving their own clothes from thread they themselves spun, and encouraged others to do so. While Indian workers were often idle due to unemployment, they had often bought their clothing from industrial manufacturers owned by British interests. It was Gandhi's view that if Indians made their own clothes, it would deal an economic blow to the British establishment in India. Consequently, the spinning wheel was later incorporated into the flag of the Indian National Congress.

 

Faith

Gandhi was born a Hindu and was a practicing Hindu all his life, deriving most of his principles from Hinduism. As a common Hindu, he believed all religions to be equal, and rejected all efforts to convert him to a different faith. He was an excellent theologist and read extensively about all major religions. He had the following to say about Hinduism.

 

"Hinduism as I know it entirely satisfies my soul, fills my whole being ... When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and when I see not one ray of light on the horizon, I turn to the Bhagavad Gita, and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. My life has been full of tragedies and if they have not left any visible and indelible effect on me, I owe it to the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita".

Gandhi believed that at the core of every religion was Truth and Love (compassion, nonviolence and the Golden Rule). He also questioned hypocrisy, malpractices and dogma in all religions and was a tireless social reformer. Some of his comments on various religions are:

 

"Thus if I could not accept Christianity either as a perfect, or the greatest religion, neither was I then convinced of Hinduism being such. Hindu defects were pressingly visible to me. If untouchability could be a part of Hinduism, it could but be a rotten part or an excrescence. I could not understand the raison d'etre of a multitude of sects and castes. What was the meaning of saying that the Vedas were the inspired Word of God? If they were inspired, why not also the Bible and the Koran? As Christian friends were endeavouring to convert me, so were Muslim friends. Abdullah Sheth had kept on inducing me to study Islam, and of course he had always something to say regarding its beauty". (source: his autobiography)

"As soon as we lose the moral basis, we cease to be religious. There is no such thing as religion over-riding morality. Man, for instance, cannot be untruthful, cruel or incontinent and claim to have God on his side".

"The sayings of Muhammad are a treasure of wisdom, not only for Muslims but for all of mankind". The concept of Islamic jihad can also be taken to mean a nonviolent struggle or satyagraha, in the way Gandhi practiced it.

Later in his life when he was asked whether he was a Hindu, he replied:

 

"Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew".

In spite of their deep reverence to each other, Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore got involved in protracted debates more than once. These debates exemplify the philosophical differences between the two most famous Indians at the time. On January 15, 1934, an earthquake hit Bihar and caused extensive damage and loss of life. Gandhi maintained this was because of the sin committed by upper caste Hindus by not letting untouchables in their temples (Gandhi was committed to the cause of improving the fate of untouchables, referring to them as Harijans, people of Krishna). Tagore vehemently opposed Gandhi's stance, maintaining that an earthquake can only be caused by natural forces, not moral reasons, however repugnant the practice of untouchability may be.

 

 

Criticism

Throughout his life and after his death, Gandhi has evoked serious criticism. B. R. Ambedkar, the Dalit political leader condemned Gandhi's terming the untouchable community as Harijans, which he found condescending. Ambedkar and his allies also felt Gandhi was undermining Dalit political rights. Muhammad Ali Jinnah and contemporary Pakistanis often condemn Gandhi for undermining Muslim political rights. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar condemned Gandhi for appeasing Muslims politically - Savarkar and his allies blamed Gandhi for thus facilitating the creation of Pakistan and increasing the influence of the Muslim community in politics beyond proportion. Savarkar himself was implicated in the trial following Gandhi's murder, as he was the mentor of the assassin Nathuram Godse and an important Hindu Mahasabha leader. In contemporary times, historians like Ayesha Jalal blame Gandhi and the Congress for being unwilling to share power with Muslims and thus hastening partition. Hindu political extremists like Pravin Togadia and Narendra Modi have been known to criticize Gandhi's leadership and actions.

 

Gandhi believed that the mind of an oppressor or a bigot could be changed by love and non-violent rejection of wrong actions, while accepting full responsibility for the consequences of the actions. However, Penn and Teller, in an episode of their Showtime program Bullshit! ("Holier than Thou"), attacked Gandhi for, amongst other things, hypocrisy for perceived inconsistent stands on nonviolence, alleged inappropriate behaviour with women and apparent racist statements against Africans. The last allegation is based on an incident in Bombay in 1896. On addressing a public meeting in Bombay on September 26, 1896 (cf. Collected Works Volume II, page 74) following his return from South Africa, Gandhi said:

 

Ours is one continued struggle against degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the European, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw kaffir, whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness.

Gandhi has also been criticized by various historians and commentators for his attitudes regarding Hitler and Nazism. Gandhi apparently believed that Hitler's hatred could be transformed by the application of non-violent resistance. Gandhi has come under fire in particular for statements to the effect that the Jews would win God's love if they willingly went to their deaths as martyrs.

 

Sometimes his prescription of extreme non-violence was severely at odds with the prevailing view of a situation. In 1940, he wrote an open letter to the British people in which he offered them the following plan of action for the second world war:

 

"I want you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession of your beautiful island with your many beautiful buildings... If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself, man, woman and child to be slaughtered... I am telling His Excellency the Viceroy that my services are at the disposal of His Majesty's government, should they consider them of any practical use in enhancing my appeal." (From Stanley Wolpert's "Jinnah of Pakistan.")

 

 

Recognition

Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace Prize, though he was nominated for it five times between 1937 and 1948. Decades later however, the Nobel Committee publicly declared its regret for the omission, and admitted to deeply divided nationalistic opinion denying the award to Gandhi. The Prize was not awarded in 1948, the year of Gandhi's death, on the grounds that "there was no suitable living candidate" that year, and when the Dalai Lama was awarded the Prize in 1989, the chairman of the committee said that this was "in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi". After Gandhi's death, Albert Einstein said of Gandhi: "Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood."

 

Time Magazine named Gandhi as the runner-up to Albert Einstein as "Person of the Century" at the end of 1999, and named The Dalai Lama, Lech Wałęsa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, Aung San Suu Kyi, Benigno Aquino Jr., Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela as Children of Gandhi and his spiritual heirs to the tradition of non-violence. The Government of India awards the annual Mahatma Gandhi Peace Prize to distinguished social workers, world leaders and citizens. Nelson Mandela, the leader of South Africa's struggle to eradicate racial discrimination and segregation, is a prominent non-Indian recipient of this honour. In 1996, the Government of India introduced the Mahatma Gandhi series of currency notes in Rupees 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 denomination.

 

Mahatma

The word Mahatma, while often mistaken for Gandhi's given name in the West, is taken from the Sanskrit words maha meaning Great and atma meaning Soul. The title "Mahatma" was first accorded to Gandhi on January 21, 1915 by his pioneer supporter Nautamlal Bhagavanji Mehta at the Kamribai School in Jetpur, Gujarat, India (in the erstwhile princely state of Kathiawad). In his autobiography, Gandhi nevertheless explains that he never felt worthy of the honor. According to the manpatra, the name Mahatma was given in response to Gandhi's admirable sacrifice in manifesting justice and truth. The wide acceptance of this title outside India may in part reflect the complexities of the relationship between India and Britain during Gandhi's lifetime. Such acceptance is consistent with the widespread perception of his deeply held religious beliefs and commitment to non-violence. 

Artistic depictions

The best-known artistic depiction of his life is the film Gandhi (1982), directed by Richard Attenborough, and starring Ben Kingsley (himself of Gujarati parentage from his father's side) in the title role. However, the film has since been criticised by some post-colonial scholars, who argue that it depicts Gandhi as single-handedly bringing India to independence, and ignores other prominent figures (both elite and subaltern) in the anti-colonial struggle. The Making of the Mahatma, directed by Shyam Benegal, and starring Rajat Kapur, is a film about Gandhi's 21 years of life in South Africa. Gandhi's character, played by veteran actor Anu Kapoor, is also prominently depicted in the film Sardar (1993) about the life of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

 

The 1998 film Hey Ram, made by Kamal Hasan portrays a would-be assassin of Gandhi and the dilemma faced by the would be assassins in the turmoil of post-partition India. Gandhi's character is played by veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah. There are several works explorative of different aspects of Gandhi's life and his controversial actions: the play Mahatma vs. Gandhi explores his troubled relationship with his eldest son Harilal Gandhi, and Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy (Marathi: I am Nathuram Godsé speaking) explores the rationale and circumstances in which Gandhi's murder was plotted and carried out. The opera Satyāgraha , composed by Philip Glass (in 1980), with a libretto by himself and Constance De Jong is based on the life of Gandhi. 

Across the world

In the United Kingdom, there are several prominent statues of Gandhi, most notably in Tavistock Square, London (near University College London), where he studied law. January 30 is commemorated in the United Kingdom as National Gandhi Remembrance Day. In the United States, there are statues of Gandhi outside the Ferry Building in San Francisco, Union Square Park in New York City, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta and near the Indian Embassy in the Dupont Circle neighbourhood of Washington, DC. The city of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, where Gandhi was ejected in 1893 from a first-class train, now hosts a commemorative statue. The Government of India donated a statue to the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, to signify their support for the future Canadian Museum for Human Rights. There are wax statues of Gandhi at the Madame Tussaud's wax museums in New York and London, and other cities around the world, including Moscow, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Lisbon, Canberra, Santiago de Chile and San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago.

 

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