From Gandhi, to Gandhiji, to ‘Mahatma’ and ‘Bapu’, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi has traveled the distance from being the national hero to a legend. Gandhi, in life, was much more. Gandhi was a thinker, a philosopher, and also a statesman. He believed he could lead only if he was a worthy leader. To be a worthy leader he had to be morally strong. As he used to say, “A liar could not teach his pupils to speak the truth, a coward can not train young men to be brave.
” So to be morally strong, he believed one has to be strong in spirit. To be strong in spirit, one must live in accordance with one’s beliefs, by a strict code of conduct. With such an all-encompassing vision of life, every area of human life was of interest to Gandhi. Very little escaped his attention. And a cursory glance would never do for Gandhi. He would mull over a subject, think about it during his periods of silence or incarceration, write about it, discuss it, experiment with it in his own life– whether it was the subject of fasting, giving up salt in his food, celibacy, abstinence or the use of non-violence as a political tool.
Mahatma Gandhi was born on Oct 2, 1869, in Porbandar, India. His parents belonged to the Vaisya (merchant) caste of Hindu’s. Gandhi was a shy and serious boy and grew up in an atmosphere of religious tolerance and acceptance of teachings of various Hindu sects. When he was 13 years old, he married Kasturibhai, a girl of the same age. The wedding was arranged according to custom by his parents. The Gandhi’s had four children. At the age of 19, Gandhi traveled to England to study law. In London he began develop his philosophy of life. He also studied the great Indian religious classic the Bhagavad-Gita and also turned to the New Testament of the Bible and to the teachings of the Buddha. In 1891 Gandhi returned to India to practice law but met with little success.
In 1893,Gandhi went to South Africa to do some legal work. South Africa was then under British rule. Almost immediately, he was abused because he was an Indian who claimed his rights as a British subject. He saw that all Indians suffered from discrimination. His law assignment was for one year, but he stayed on in South Africa for 21 years to work for Indian rights. Gandhi led many campaigns in South Africa and edited a newspaper, Indian Opinion. As a part of sahyagraha, he promoted civil disobedience campaigns and organized a strike among Indian Miners. Gandhi also worked for the British when he thought justice was on their side. They decorated him for medical work in the Anglo-Boer war. Gandhi fully developed his philosophy of life in South Africa. He was greatly influenced by writings of Leo Tolstoy’s and John Ruskin but his greatest influence on him was Bhagavad-Gita, which became an unfailing source of inspiration.
Gandhi believed that all life was a part of one ultimate spiritual reality. The supreme goal was self-realization; the realization that one’s true self was identical with ultimate reality. He believed that all religions contain some element of truth and this accounted for his own religious tolerance. Gandhi experimented with communal living at the Phoenix farm and the Tolstoy’s farm in South Africa, and later at the Sabramati ashram, in India. There he practiced voluntary simplicity, a way of life designed to offer an alternative to the increasingly competitive, stressful, and violent atmosphere of western civilization. Gandhi himself served as teacher, cook, nurse, and even scavenger. As a social reformer, he fought for the emancipation of women, the removal of the tradition of untouchability (low caste or caste status) and for Hindu Muslim unity. In 1914 the government of the Union of South Africa made important concessions to Gandhi’s demands, including recognition of Indian marriages and abolition of the poll tax for them. His work in South Africa complete, he returned to India.
In 1915, Gandhi returned to India. Within five years, he became the leader of the Indian nationalist movement. In 1919, the British introduced the Rowlatt bills to make it unlawful to organize opposition to the government. Gandhi led a peaceful protest campaign that succeeded in preventing one of the bills. The others were never enforced. Gandhi called off the campaign when riots broke out. He then fasted to make an impression on people and to convey the need to be nonviolent. His belief in the cruelty of imperial rule became more intense after the Amritsar Massacre of April 13,1919 where a British general opened fire on an unarmed crowd and 400 people were killed. This made Gandhi even more determined to develop non-violent protest and to win independence through non-violent resistance.
Gandhi remained in South Africa for 20 years, suffering imprisonment many times. In 1896, after being attacked and beaten by white South Africans, Gandhi began to teach a policy of passive resistance towards the South African authorities. Part of the inspiration for this policy came from the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, whose influence on Gandhi was great. Gandhi also acknowledged his debt to the teachings of Christ and to the 19th-century American writer Henry David Thoreau, especially to Thoreau’s famous essay “Civil Disobedience.” Gandhi considered the terms passive resistance and civil disobedience as not quite right for his cause. Gandhi coined another term, Satyagraha (Sanskrit, “truth and firmness”).
One of Gandhi’s causes was for homespun cloth. India’s cotton was exported to England where it was made into clothing and sold back to India cheap, which meant no profit for the cotton growers. Gandhi boycotted English-made clothing and urged everyone to learn how to make his or her own. Gandhi was often seen spinning cloth on his wheel, and what he made was all he wore. Gandhi began a program of hand spinning and weaving in about 1920. He believed that the program helped fight for independence in three ways (1) it aided economic freedom by making India self sufficient in cloth; (2) it promoted social freedom through dignity of labor; (3) it advanced political freedom by challenging the British textile industry.
In 1930, Gandhi announced a new method of civil disobedience, refusing to pay taxes, especially taxes on salt. Gandhi is most famous for practicing non-violence, or passive resistance. He gave it the term Satyagraha, which translates into “holding onto truth.” Satyagraha was a way of life, a new way to bring about change without violence. Fighting injustice required one to love fellow beings and this love demanded non-violence. Gandhi believed it was necessary to first feel for the oppressed then fight for justice, thus making Satyagraha a “truth” and “justice” seeking force. Gandhi knew that fear and hatred would only fuel more of the same, so he fought his wars with nothing more than courage and peace, staying true to himself. This showed that he and his followers were more truthful and courageous than the biggest army; for an army to use weapons on an unarmed crowd, that shows its weakness.
Gandhi became a leader in the Indian campaign for home rule. Following World War I, in which he played an active part in recruiting campaigns, Gandhi, again advocating Satyagraha, launched his movement of passive resistance to Great Britain. When, in 1919, Parliament passed the Rowlatt Act, giving the Indian colonial authorities emergency powers to deal with so-called revolutionary activities, Satyagraha spread through India, gaining millions of followers. A demonstration against the Rowlatt Act resulted in a massacre of Indians at Amritsar by British soldiers in 1920. When the British government failed to make amends, Gandhi proclaimed an organized campaign of resistance. Indians in public office resigned, government agencies such as courts of law were boycotted, and Indian children were withdrawn from government schools. Through India, squatting Indians who refused to rise even when beaten by police blocked streets. Gandhi was arrested, but the British were soon forced to release him. Economic independence for India, involving the complete boycott of British goods, was made a corollary of Gandhi’s movement. The economic aspects of the movement were significant, for the exploitation of Indian villagers by British industrialists had resulted in extreme poverty in the country and the virtual destruction of Indian home industries. As a remedy for such poverty, Gandhi advocated revival of cottage industries; he began to use a spinning wheel as a token of the return to the simple village life he preached, and of the renewal of native Indian industries.
Gandhi became the international symbol of a free India. He lived a spiritual and ascetic life of prayer, fasting, and meditation. In 1944 the Indian struggle for independence was in its final stages, the British government having agreed to independence on condition that the two contending nationalist groups, the Muslim League and the Congress party, should resolve their differences. Gandhi stood steadfastly against the partition of India but ultimately had to agree, in the hope that internal peace would be achieved after the Muslim demand for separation had been satisfied. India was then split into Muslim Pakistan, and Hindu India.
One famous protest and march was the Salt March of 1930. The British government had made it illegal for Indians to make their own salt, and to many this symbolized Indians depending on the British, just as they depend on salt, for life. Gandhi planned to march with 78 of his followers to a town on the coast where salt lay at the beaches. The march attracted many interested onlookers. Gandhi and his followers endured 240 miles and 24 days of marching, 78 marchers had become thousands. For weeks after, thousands were arrested, beaten and killed, but no one fought back. Finally Gandhi was arrested too, he had a smile on his face the whole time.
Growing up Hindu, Gandhi had always had the Bhagavad-Gita close at hand. However it wasn’t until he was living in England that he started to grasp its real meaning. It was then that the book began speaking to him and guiding him in all he would do in the rest of his life. It is what guided him to simplify his life and give up worldly possessions; in the Bhagavad-Gita, this is a way to achieve Moksha (set your soul free). One of these possessions Gandhi gave up was sex, for he realized that sex is much more than just physical, it is acting out energy and love. He did not want so much of his energy “locked” in his sexual drive, so he simply made a choice that he would not let his sexual drive control him anymore.
The Indian term for caste is jati, which generally designates a group varying in size from a handful to many thousands. There are thousands of such jatis, and each has its distinctive rules, customs, and modes of government. The term varna (literally meaning “color”) refers to the ancient and somewhat ideal fourfold division of Hindu society: (1) the Brahmans, the priestly and learned class; (2) the Kshatriyas, the warriors and rulers; (3) the Vaisyas, farmers and merchants; and (4) the Sudras, peasants and laborers. These divisions may have corresponded to what were formerly large, broad, undifferentiated social classes. Below the category of Sudras were the untouchables, or Panchamas (literally “fifth division”), who performed the most menial tasks. One of Gandhi’s main causes was for the liberation of the lower castes. He was always collecting money and asking women to give up their jewels to be sold for money for the poor. They were another reason he had detached himself from possessions and started working the fields. He felt he needed to unite with them. He was embarrassed by the thought of another human serving him; instead, he would serve whomever he was capable of serving at any time. In 1932, Gandhi began new civil-disobedience campaigns against the British. Arrested twice, Gandhi fasted for long periods of time. These extended fasts were effective measures against the British, because revolution might well have broken out in India if he had died. In September 1932, while in jail, Gandhi undertook a “fast unto death” to improve the status of the Hindu Untouchables. The British, by permitting the Untouchables to be considered as a separate part of the Indian electorate were committing a great injustice, in the eyes of Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi was a member of the Vaisya (merchant) caste. Gandhi was the great leader of the movement in India dedicated to eradicating the unjust social and economic aspects of the caste system.
The last few months of Gandhi’s life were to be spent mainly in the capital city of Delhi. There he divided his time between the Bhangi colony, where the sweepers and the lowest of the low stayed, and Birla House, the residence of one of the wealthiest men in India and one of the benefactors of Gandhi’s ashrams. Hindu and Sikh refugees had come into the capital of India from what had become Pakistan. There was much resentment between the Hindus and the Muslims. This easily translated into violence against Muslims. It was partly in an attempt to put an end to the killings in Delhi, and more generally to the bloodshed of the native people.
Gandhi was to commence the last fast unto death of his life in an attempt to bring peace to India again. The fast was terminated when representatives of all the communities signed a statement that they were prepared to live in “perfect amity”, and that the lives, property, and faith of the Muslims would be safeguarded. A few days later, a bomb exploded in Birla House where Gandhi was holding his evening prayers, but it caused no injuries. However, his assassin, a Marathi Chitpavan Brahmin by the name of Nathuram Godse, was not so easily deterred. Gandhi, quite characteristically, refused additional security, and no one could defy his wish to be allowed to move around unhindered. As he was about to mount the steps of the podium, Gandhi folded his hands and greeted his audience with a prayer. Just at that moment, a young man came up to him and roughly pushed aside Gandhi’s one protector. Nathuram Godse bent down in the gesture of respect, took a revolver out of his pocket, and shot Gandhi three times in his chest. The crowd then converged on Gandhi’s body. The assassin was found and beaten to death by the crowd.
Gandhi’s death was regarded as an international catastrophe. His place in humanity was measured not in terms of the 20th century but in terms of history. A period of mourning was set aside in the United Nations General Assembly, and all countries expressed condolences to India. Religious violence soon waned in India and Pakistan, and the teachings of Gandhi came to inspire nonviolent movements elsewhere, notably in the U.S. under the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr King took the lessons taught by Gandhi to the oppressed of India, and applied them to the oppression of the blacks in America. Gandhi was a great leader, a loyal countryman, and the foremost proponent for non-violent protest.
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Mahatma Gandhi: History of Life. (2018, Jun 20). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/gandhi/