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Few men have ever had as much of an effect on our world as Mohandas Gandhi, though he used the message of peace and love, rather than war and destruction. One time a prominent lawyer in South Africa, Gandhi gave up practicing law and returned to India in order to help ease the suffering of the repressed people of his homeland. Gandhi’s love for people and his religious passion made him a revolutionary in many of his ideas and actions.
On October 2, 1869 in Porbandar, India, a region of Queen Victoria, Mohandas Gandhi was born to Kaba Gandhi and his wife. Although his father, Kaba, was the chief Minister for the Maharaja of Porbandar, he and his family lived in a small house and belonged to a Hindu caste of merchants called “banjas” (Iyer, 34) As he grew, Mohandas became a small, shy and skinny boy, afraid of others’ opinions. At the age of thirteen, he was married to Kastaurbai, a pretty yet strong willed girl of the same caste. Kaba Gandhi died when Mohandas was sixteen.
At eighteen he traveled to England to study law and secretly to see for himself what made the English so powerful. In 1888, he traveled to England to become a barrister-at-law. There were several important influences that he encountered here: the Western material style of life, which he decided not to follow, and in the simple Russian way of living he found: the New Testament, and the Bhagavad-Gita, the bible of the Hare Krishna movement (Fischer, 54). It was here that he developed a sense of the presence of God in his life and the lives of men. Gandhi then returned to India and studied law in Bombay but quickly denounced it, feeling that it was immoral and could not satisfy one’s conscience (Shirer, 69).
His personal experiences, including being ejected from a train in Maritzburg, of not being allowed the same rights as others lead him to begin a movement to help his people. While in South Africa, Gandhi made himself poor so that he could identify with the peasants. He then proceeded to start a colony that consisted of abused laborers. The colony became very large and many cities were crippled by the lack of laborers. The government reacted to this by jailing Gandhi several times along with many others of his followers.
He desired to see India freed from British rule in a bloodless revolution. He fought for the rights of the Indians. His love for the people of India was boundless; he wanted nothing more than to serve and help them. He proclaimed the power of love, peace and freedom. He also upheld the old Hindu tradition of segregation of castes, indicating that, and ?Intertwining and intermarriage have never been a bar to separation, quarrels or worse.” (Reynolds, 86). Gandhi also wanted to see the Muslims and Hindus at peace.
Knowing that violence only befuddles violence, he began the practicing of passive resistance, or as he called it, “Satyagraha” which means “holding onto truth” (Shirer 103). He believed that the killing of a man is an unforgivable sin. He taught that the weapon that could be used was the conscience of the aggressor. Hinduism teaches to stay away from temptation through various exercises that test one’s ability to perform a difficult task; this weakens a person and causes him to act on a non-violent level (Shirer 105). In addition, he taught that one should act rather be held under subservience. The war he fought was one without weapons, already Gandhi was on his way to starting his career of non-violent campaigns. His marches and fasts fired the imagination of oppressed people everywhere.
During the South African War of 1899-1902 and during the Zulu rebellion in 1906, Gandhi organized an ambulance corps consisting of Indians to help the British fight (Judd, 239). He believed that duty dictated that the Indian population had a responsibility to help the British when they were in a time of need. Perhaps he was trying to show them that the Indians put an effort into helping the British forces just like everyone else and deserved the same rights as everyone else. It is interesting to note that Gandhi did not promote fighting, but he helped those who were in need of assistance.
After the law was passed that all Indians were required to carry an identity card with them at all times, Gandhi organized a group that resisted the government. In 1914, Gandhi and his followers received their first victory, the South African Government took away many of the laws that had no real purpose except to humiliate the Indian people. When Gandhi returned to India in 1914, the Indian population had heard of his accomplishments and he was given the name Mahatma, which means ‘a man of great soul’ (Reynolds, 143). For the next little while, he examined the situation here and attained a few victories in his fight against oppression. Several times in 1917, he unhinged the spirits of peasants and motivated them to rebel without the use of violence.
In 1919, Gandhi called upon all Indians to engage in non-violent disobedience against the British Government by withdrawing from Government jobs and from schools and colleges. The magnitude of this act showed when many cities were held at a standstill, as the governmental system was unable to act (Iyer, 139). Such was the power of non-violent protest. When, in 1920, Gandhi became the leader of the Congress, more Indians gave up their governmental jobs to join the movement (Fischer, 213). After many of his follower’s were put into prison and cruelly dealt with, some people engaged in violence.
In his famous Salt March of 1930, Gandhi and thousands of others marched to a coast where salt lay on the beaches to protest the British Governments’ prohibition against the Indians making their own salt. Though many were beaten, arrested and killed, no one fought back. This greatly humiliated the British because this event was being broadcasted throughout the world and showed how cruel the British treated the Indians (Judd, 156).
It was evident now that the British Government in India was inevitably going to fall. After many failures to reach an agreement with the British Government and after a short ‘Individual Civil Disobedience’ movement where many were imprisoned, the British finally gave the power to the Indians in 1946 (Shirer, 231). But, the question remained as to whether or not the area should be separated into two on a joint basis. As a result, many riots broke out between the different interests of the people. Gandhi himself was opposed to separation and to the violence that had broken out.
A massive onslaught by both races started by one person running up to the Muslims (going towards Pakistan) and starting and argument (Reynolds, 227). Violence swept the country as Hindus and Muslims killed one another in terrible numbers, or fled across the newly created borders, seeking safety in India or Pakistan, depending upon their religion. The numbers of dead will never be known exactly–thousands died, certainly, and perhaps even millions, while nearly fifteen million people were forced from their homes (Iyer, 179). It was torment for Gandhi, who felt that no one had listened to him, that India had learned nothing from all the years he had spent teaching nonviolence and brotherhood.
Gandhi used Calcutta as his point of departure for what would be his last walk through rural villages, preaching compassion and brotherhood to a largely Muslim population. People came by the thousands to hear him speak–but even as he made this pilgrimage, political events were outpacing him (Fischer, 289).
His influence was still great. His Independence-Day pledge to fast until violence in Calcutta ceased and brought an end to the riots in three days. But he could not sway an entire nation gone mad with violence. He began another fast “unto death,” or until there was peace in Delhi (Palmer, 121). This fast lasted five days, until Muslim and Hindu leaders promised to make peace, and afterward Gandhi spent his time recuperating.
Later in a prayer meeting, one of the Hindu Nationalists, which was angry because he split the country in two halves respectfully, bowed to him then shot him dead on the 30th January 1948(Iyer, 201).
Gandhi?s death led to peace, as Hindus and Muslims alike joined in mourning for the slain Mahatma. Indeed, the entire world mourned flags were lowered to half-mast. Kings, popes, and presidents sent condolences to India (Palmer, 176).
To the Indian people, Gandhi gave a nation. He showed that political change could be affected by renouncing violence; that unjust laws could be defied peacefully and with a readiness to accept punishment; that “soul-force,” as much as armed force, could bring down an empire (Fischer, 137).
Indeed, Gandhi was an influential man who helped father the nation of India, as we know it today. Without him, the Indians might still be held under British rule. If not for Gandhi many such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, might not have been inspired to fight racism or imperialism non-violently. Gandhi was gone, a martyr, as he would have wished, to the cause of peace. In some sense, Gandhi’s greatest achievement lay in his legacy. His ideas, and the example he provided in living them out, inspired and continue to inspire people of all nations to take up the peaceful struggle for freedom from oppression.
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