Mohandas GandhiBorn into a merchant family in 1869, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi wasunder the influence of powerful people. Members of his family had served asprime ministers of an Indian state for several generations. His parentswere strong in their religion, being devout and earnest Hindus.
They were apart of a Hindu sect that worshipped Vishnu and promoted non-violence. Apparently, he was most influenced by his mother, a gentle andintelligent person. According to Hindu custom, he married at an early ageand grew to love his wife greatly. Together, they had four children andadopted a fourth. Later, in 1888, he travelled to England to become a barrister-at-law. There were several important influences that he encountered here: theWestern material style of life, which he decided not to follow, and in thesimple Russian way of living he found: the New Testament, and theBhagavadgita, the bible of the Hare Krishna movement.
It was here that hedeveloped 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 hequickly denounced it, feeling that it was immoral and could not satisfyone’s conscience. Despite this, he used his schooling to help plead forIndian settlers in South Africa that were being oppressed by the whitepopulation. His personal experiences, including being ejected from a trainin Maritzburg, of not being allowed the same rights as others lead him tobegin a movement to help his people. While in South Africa, Gandhi made himself poor so that he couldidentify with his the peasants.
He then proceeded to start a colony thatconsisted of abused labourers. The colony became very large and many citieswere crippled by the lack of labourers. The government reacted to this byjailing Gandhi several times along with many other of his followers. Thewar he fought was one without weapons, already Gandhi was on his way tostarting his career of non-violent campaigns.
The main idea behind Gandhi’s teachings was non-violence. The words ofthe Sanskrit language: ahinsa and sayagraha clearly express Gandhi’sbeliefs. The former means non-killing, non-destructive and the latter meansthe force of universal truth. He believed that the killing of man or beastis an unforgivable sin. Many who promoted these teachings of Gandhi simplybelieved that it was their only option for resisting imperialism ratherthan having a moral conviction towards his teachings.
He taught that theweapon that could be used was the conscience of the aggressor. This ahimsais, to some degree, in the tradition of Hinduism. Hinduism teaches to stay away from temptation through variousexercises that test one’s ability to perform a difficult task, thisdevitalizes a person and causes him to act on a non-violent level. In addition, he taught that one should act rather be held undersubservience.
Gandhi himself once stated, “Mere knowledge of right andwrong will not make one fit for salvation. . . the Gita says: ‘No one hasattained his goal without action.
. . ‘ From this quotation, we learn that histeachings are influenced by the Bhagavadgita and that he believes that onemust act to reach a goal. But, he believed that one should denounce therewards and simply devote one’s life to acting on the behalf of others andthat life should be lived near the soil, away from the influence ofmachines. Also, Gandhi strongly believed in upholding the caste system,believing that a person of one caste should stay a part of that caste.
Healso upheld the old Hindu tradition of segregation of castes, indicatingthat, “Interdining and intermarraige have never been a bar to disunion,quarrels or worse. ” According to Hinduism, the caste system lies in respectfor one another’s individuality. Gandhi is well known for his efforts in fighting imperliasm in Indiaand South Africa. His methods were, unique in that they did not involve theuse of weapons. During the South African War of 1899-1902 and during the Zulurebellion in 1906, Gandhi organised an ambulance corps consisting ofIndians to help the British fight.
He believed that duty dictated that theIndian population had a responsibity to help the British when they were ina time of need. Perhaps he was trying to show them that the Indians put aneffort into helping the British forces just like everyone else and deservedthe same rights as everyone else. It is interesting to note that Gandhi did not promote fighting, but hehelped those who were in need of assistance. After the law was passed that all Indians were required to carry anidentity card with them at all times, Gandhi organised a group thatresisted the government. In 1914, Gandhi and his followers recieved theirfirst victory, the South African Government took away many of the laws thathad no real purpose except to humiliate the Indian people.
When Gandhi returned to India in 1914, the Indian population had heardof his accomplishments and he was given the name Mahatma, which means ‘aman of great soul’. For the next little while, he examined the situationhere and, while doing so, attained a few victories in his fight againstoppression. Several times in 1917, he unhardened the spirits of peasantsand motivated them to rebel without the use of violence. In 1919, Gandhi called upon all Indians to engage in non-violentdisobedience against the British Government by withdrawing from Governmentjobs and from schools and colleges.
The magnitude of this act showed whenmany cities were held at a standstill as the governmental system was unableto act. Such was the power of non-violent protest. When, in 1920, Gandhi became the leader of the Congress, more Indiansgave up their governmental jobs to join the movement. After many of hisfollower’s were put into prison and cruelly dealt with, some people engagedin violence. Gandhi’s distaste for this reaction showed, yet he blamedhimself calling it a ‘Himalayan miscalculation’ to have failed to teach thepeople how to react non-violently before asking them to protest.
As aresult of his ‘mistake’, he called off the entire movement, thinking it hadbeen a failure. On the contrary, the movement had been a great success, nolonger did the Indians fear the British jails or the British guns. It wasevident now, that the British Government in India was inevitably going tofall. After many failures to reach an agreement with the British Governmentand after a short ‘Individual Civil Disobedience’ movement where many wereimprisoned, the British finally gave the power to the Indians in 1946.
But,the question remained as to whether or not the area should be separatedinto two on a communal basis. As a result, many riots broke out between thedifferent interests of the people. Gandhi himself was opposed to separation and to the violence that hadbroken out. He went from village to village trying to get the people tounderstand the benefits of unity, but it wasn’t working. He was forced toagree with his comrades in the Congress who promoted partition into twoareas: India and Pakistan, which came about in 1947. In 1948, Gandhi was fatally shot by a Hindu fanatic.
All over theglobe, there was a certain sadness as many realized that the man whom theyhad looked up to and followed was now dead. As Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, thePrime Minister of India, put it, “The light has gone out of our lives andthere is darkness everywhere and I do not quite know what to tell you andhow to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu, as we call him the father of ournation, is no more. Gandhi’s influence certainly spreads the globe. He has been the rolemodel for many famous, influential people.
One of these persons is MartinLuther King, Jr (1929-1968) who was famous for leading a non-violentmovement for racial equality in the U. S. A. .
Another person is Joan Baez(1941- ) who became famous as a folk-singer, a composer, and a guitarist. She lead many antiwar and civil rights movements in the U. S. . A thirdperson could be Nehru, the first Indian Prime Minister of India. He wasdeeply saddened by Gandhi’s death and could not have become Prime Ministerwithout Gandhi’s efforts.
Indeed, Gandhi was a influential man who helped father the nation ofIndia as we know it today. Without him, the Indians might still be heldunder British rule. Without him, many might not have been inspired to fightracism or imperialism non-violently.