Special Issue
Mahatma Gandhi   2 October, 1869 - 30 January, 1948
This month we salute the father of the nation - Bapu on his birthday.
   
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was the pre-eminent leader of India during the Indian independence movement. He was the pioneer of satyagraha-resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience, firmly founded upon ahimsa or total non-violence-which led India to independence and has inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Gandhi is commonly known around the world as Mahatma Gandhi a honorific first applied to him by Rabindranath Tagore),and in India also as Bapu. He is officially honoured in India as the Father of the Nation; his birthday, 2nd October, is commemorated there as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and worldwide as the International Day of Non-Violence.

Mahatma Gandhi was born in Porbandar, a coastal town in present-day Gujarat, India, on 2nd October 1869. His father, Karamchand Gandhi (1822-1885), who belonged to the Hindu Modh community, was the diwan (Prime Minister) of the eponymous Porbander state, a small princely state in the Kathiawar Agency of British India. His grandfather's name was Uttamchand Gandhi fondly called as Utta Gandhi. His mother, Putlibai, was from the Hindu Pranami Vaishnava community. Growing up with a devout mother and the Jain traditions of the region, the young Mohandas absorbed early the influences that would play an important role in his adult life; these included compassion to sentient beings, vegetarianism, fasting for self-purification, and mutual tolerance between individuals of different creeds.

The Indian classics, especially the stories of Shravana and Maharaja Harishchandra from the Indian epics, had had a great impact on Gandhi in his childhood. Gandhi's early self -identification with Truth and Love as the supreme value is traced back to his identification with these epic characters. In May 1883, the 13-year old Mohandas was married to 14-year old Kasturbai Makhanji (her first name was usually shortened to "Kasturba," and affectionately to "Ba") in an arranged child marriage, as was the custom in the region.

On 4th September 1888, Gandhi travelled to London, England, to study law at University College London and 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 the Jain monk Becharji, upon leaving India, to observe the Hindu precepts of abstinence from meat, alcohol, and promiscuity.

In April 1893, he accepted a year-long contract from Dada Abdulla & Co., an Indian firm, to a post in the Colony of Natal, South Africa, then part of the British Empire. In South Africa, Gandhi faced discrimination directed at Indians. He was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg after refusing to move from the first class to a third class coach while holding a valid first class ticket. It was through witnessing firsthand the racism, prejudice and injustice against Indians in South Africa that Gandhi started to question his people's status within the British Empire, and his own place in society.

Gandhi extended his original period of stay in South Africa to assist Indians in opposing a bill to deny them the right to vote. Though unable to halt the bill's passage, his campaign was successful in drawing attention to the grievances of Indians in South Africa. He helped found the Natal Indian Congress in 1894, and through this organization, he moulded the Indian community of South Africa into a homogeneous political force.

In 1915, Gandhi returned from South Africa to live in India. 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, a respected leader of the Congress Party at the time. Gandhi's first major achievements came in 1918 with the Champaran agitation and Kheda Satyagraha. It was during the Kheda agitation, that Gandhi was addressed by the people as Bapu (Father) and Mahatma (Great Soul). In Kheda, Sardar Patel represented the farmers in negotiations with the British, who suspended revenue collection and released all the prisoners. As a result, Gandhi's fame spread all over the nation.

Gandhi employed non-cooperation, non-violence and peaceful resistance as his "weapons" in the struggle against British. 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 to include women in the movement at a time when many thought that such activities were not respectable activities for women.

Gandhi launched a new satyagraha against the tax on salt in March 1930, highlighted by the famous Salt March to Dandi from 12th March to 6th April, marching 400 kilometres (248 miles) from Ahmedabad to Dandi, Gujarat to make salt himself. Thousands of Indians joined him on this march to the sea. This campaign was one of his most successful at upsetting British hold on India; Britain responded by imprisoning over 60,000 people. In 1942, he drafted the Quit India Resolution. This was the time of the I world war. Gandhi declared that India could not be party to a war ostensibly being fought for democratic freedom, while that freedom was denied to India itself. As the war progressed, Gandhi intensified his demand for independence, drafting a resolution calling for the British to Quit India.



The famous Dandi March
Gandhi's Principles
  1. 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 called his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth.

    Gandhi stated that the most important battle to fight was overcoming his own demons, fears, and insecurities. Gandhi summarized his beliefs first when he said "God is Truth". He would later change this statement to "Truth is God". Thus, Satya (Truth) in Gandhi's philosophy is "God".

  2. Although Mahatma Gandhi was not the originator of the principle of non-violence, he was the first to apply it in the political field on a huge scale. The concept of nonviolence (ahimsa) and nonresistance has a long history in Indian religious thought and has had many revivals in Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Jewish 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."


  3. 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. He called it "reducing himself to zero," which entailed giving up unnecessary expenditure, embracing a simple lifestyle and washing his own clothes. Gandhi spent one day of each week in silence. He believed that abstaining from speaking brought him inner peace. On such days he communicated with others by writing on paper.

    After reading John Ruskin's Unto This Last, he decided to change his lifestyle and create a commune called Phoenix Settlement.

  4. Gandhi believed that at the core of every religion was truth and love (compassion, non-violence and the Golden Rule). He also questioned what he saw as hypocrisy, malpractices, and dogma in all religions, including his own, and he was a tireless advocate for social reform in religion.
Followers and Influence
Gandhi influenced important leaders and political movements. Leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States, including Martin Luther King and James Lawson, drew from the writings of Gandhi in the development of their own theories about non-violence. Anti-apartheid activist and former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was inspired by Gandhi. Others include Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Steve Biko, Aung San Suu Kyi and Philippine opposition leader during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, Benigno Aquino, Jr.

Gandhi's life and teachings inspired many who specifically referred to Gandhi as their mentor or who dedicated their lives to spreading Gandhi's ideas. In Europe, Romain Rolland was the first to discuss Gandhi in his 1924 book Mahatma Gandhi, and Brazilian anarchist and feminist Maria Lacerda de Moura wrote about Gandhi in her work on pacifism. In 1931, notable European physicist Albert Einstein exchanged written letters with Gandhi, and called him "a role model for the generations to come" in a later writing about him. Lanza del Vasto went to India in 1936 intending to live with Gandhi; he later returned to Europe to spread Gandhi's philosophy and founded the Community of the Ark in 1948 (modelled after Gandhi's ashrams). Madeleine Slade (known as "Mirabehn") was the daughter of a British admiral who spent much of her adult life in India as a follower of Gandhi.

Finally, prior to becoming President of the United States, then-Senator Barack Obama noted that:

"Throughout my life, I have always looked to Mahatma Gandhi as an inspiration, because he embodies the kind of transformational change that can be made when ordinary people come together to do extraordinary things. That is why his portrait hangs in my Senate office: to remind me that real results will come not just from Washington - they will come from the people."
"Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."
--A Tribute to Gandhi by Albert Einstein



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