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Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (pronounced: [ˈmoːɦənd̪aːs ˈkərəmtʃənd̪ ˈɡaːnd̪ʱi]; 2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948), commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi, was the preeminent leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India. Employing non-violent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for non-violence, civil rights and freedom across the world.

Son of a senior government official, Gandhi was born and raised in a Hindu Bania community in coastal Gujarat, and trained in law in London. Gandhi became famous by fighting for the civil rights of Muslim and Hindu Indians in South Africa, using the new techniques of non-violent civil disobedience that he developed. Returning to India in 1915, he set about organising peasants to protest excessive land-taxes. A lifelong opponent of “communalism” (i.e. basing politics on religion) he reached out widely to all religious groups. He became a leader of Muslims protesting the declining status of the Caliphate. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women’s rights, building religious and ethnic amity, ending untouchability, increasing economic self-reliance, and above all for achieving Swaraj—the independence of India from British domination.

Gandhi led Indians in protesting the national salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in demanding the British to immediately Quit India in 1942, during World War II. He was imprisoned for that and for numerous other political offenses over the years. Gandhi sought to practice non-violence and truth in all situations, and advocated that others do the same. He saw the villages as the core of the true India and promoted self sufficiency; he did not support the industrialization programs of his disciple Jawaharlal Nehru. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community and wore the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven with yarn he had hand spun on a charkha. His political enemy Winston Churchill ridiculed him as a “half-naked fakir.” He was a dedicated vegetarian, and undertook long fasts as means of both self-purification and political mobilization.

In his last year, unhappy at the partition of India, Gandhi worked to stop the carnage between Muslims on the one hand and Hindus and Sikhs that raged in the border area between India and Pakistan. He was assassinated on 30 January 1948 by a Hindu nationalist who thought Gandhi was too sympathetic to India’s Muslims. 30 January is observed as Martyrs’ Day in India. The honourific Mahatma (Sanskrit: mahāt̪mā or “Great Soul”, was applied to him by 1914. In India he was also called Bapu (Gujarati: bāpuː or “Father”). He is known in India as the Father of the Nation; his birthday, 2 October, is commemorated there as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and world-wide as the International Day of Non-Violence. Gandhi’s philosophy was not theoretical but one of pragmatism, that is, practicing his principles in real time. Asked to give a message to the people, he would respond, “My life is my message.”

Civil Rights Movement In South Africa

Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa, where he developed his political views, ethics and political leadership skills. Indians in South Africa were led by wealthy Muslims, who employed Gandhi as a lawyer, and by impoverished Hindu indentured laborers with very limited rights. Gandhi considered them all to be Indians, taking a lifetime view that “Indianness” transcended religion and caste. He believed he could bridge historic differences, especially regarding religion, and he took that belief back to India where he tried to implement it. The South African experience exposed handicaps to Gandhi that he had not known about. He realised he was out of contact with the enormous complexities of religious and cultural life in India, and believed he understood India by getting to know and leading Indians in South Africa.

In South Africa, Gandhi faced the discrimination directed at all coloured people. He was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg after refusing to move from the first-class. He protested and was allowed on first class the next day.Travelling farther on by stagecoach, he was beaten by a driver for refusing to move to make room for a European passenger.He suffered other hardships on the journey as well, including being barred from several hotels. In another incident, the magistrate of a Durban court ordered Gandhi to remove his turban, which he refused to do.

These events were a turning point in Gandhi’s life and shaped his social activism and awakened him to social injustice. After witnessing racism, prejudice and injustice against Indians in South Africa, Gandhi began to question his place in society and his people’s standing in the British Empire.

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 organisation, he moulded the Indian community of South Africa into a unified political force. In January 1897, when Gandhi landed in Durban, a mob of white settlers attacked him and he escaped only through the efforts of the wife of the police superintendent. He, however, refused to press charges against 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.

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 on 11 September that year, Gandhi adopted his still evolving methodology of Satyagraha (devotion to the truth), or non-violent protest, for the first time. He urged Indians to defy the new law and to suffer the punishments for doing so. The community adopted this plan, and during the ensuing seven-year struggle, thousands of Indians were jailed, flogged, or shot for striking, refusing to register, for burning their registration cards or engaging in other forms of non-violent resistance. The government successfully repressed the Indian protesters, but the public outcry over the harsh treatment of peaceful Indian protesters by the South African government forced South African leader Jan Christiaan Smuts, himself a philosopher, to negotiate a compromise with Gandhi. Gandhi’s ideas took shape, and the concept of Satyagraha matured during this struggle.

Struggle For Indian Independence

In 1915, Gandhi returned to India permanently. He brought an international reputation as a leading Indian nationalist, theorist and organizer. He joined the Indian National Congress and was introduced to Indian issues, politics and the Indian people primarily by Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Gokhale was a key leader of the Congress Party best known for his restraint and moderation, and his insistence on working inside the system. Gandhi took Gokhale’s liberal approach based on British Whiggish traditions and transformed it to make it look wholly Indian.

Gandhi took leadership of Congress in 1920 and began a steady escalation of demands (with Intermittent compromises or pauses) until on 26 January 1930 the Indian National Congress declared the independence of India. The British did not recognize that and more negotiations ensued, with Congress taking a role in provincial government in the late 1930s. Gandhi and Congress withdrew their support of the Raj when the Viceroy declared war on Germany in September 1939 without consulting anyone. Tensions escalated until Gandhi demanded immediate independence in 1942 and the British responded by imprisoning him and tens of thousands of Congress leaders for the duration. Meanwhile the Muslim League did cooperate with Britain and moved, against Gandhi’s strong opposition, to demands for a totally separate Muslim state of Pakistan. In August 1947 the British partitioned the land, with India and Pakistan each achieving independence on terms Gandhi disapproved.

Khilafat Movement

In 1919 Gandhi, with his weak position in Congress, decided to broaden his base by an appeal to Muslims. The opportunity came from the Khilafat movement, a worldwide protest by Muslims against the collapsing status of the Caliph, the leader of their religion. The Ottoman Empire had lost the World War and was dismembered, as Muslims feared for the safety of the holy places and the prestige of their religion. Although Gandhi did not originate the All-India Muslim Conference, which directed the movement in India, he soon became its most prominent spokesman and attracted a strong base of Muslim support with local chapters in all Muslim centers in India. His success made him India’s first national leader with a multicultural base and facilitated his rise to power within Congress, which had previously been unable to reach many Muslims. In 1920 Gandhi became a major leader in Congress. By the end of 1922 the Khilafat movement had collapsed. Muslim support for Gandhi and Congress generally fell off, with the proportion of Muslims among delegates to Congress plunging from 11% in 1921 to under 4% in 1923.

Gandhi As A Folk Hero

Congress in the 1920s appealed to peasants by portraying Gandhi as a sort of messiah (the long-awaited savior of an entire people), a strategy that succeeded in incorporating radical forces within the peasantry into the nonviolent resistance movement. In thousands of villages plays were performed that presented Gandhi as the reincarnation of earlier Indian nationalist leaders, or even as a demigod. The plays built support among illiterate peasants steeped in traditional Hindu culture. Similar messianic imagery appeared in popular songs and poems, and in Congress-sponsored religious pageants and celebrations. The result was that Gandhi became not only a folk hero but the Congress was widely seen in the villages as his sacred instrument.

Gandhi’s Ashes

By Hindu tradition the ashes were to be spread on a river. Gandhi’s ashes were poured into urns which were sent across India for memorial services. Most were immersed at the Sangam at Allahabad on 12 February 1948, but some were secretly taken away. In 1997, Tushar Gandhi immersed the contents of one urn, found in a bank vault and reclaimed through the courts, at the Sangam at Allahabad. Some of Gandhi’s ashes were scattered at the source of the Nile River near Jinja, Uganda, and a memorial plaque marks the event. On 30 January 2008, the contents of another urn were immersed at Girgaum Chowpatty. Another urn is at the palace of the Aga Khan in Pune (where he had been imprisoned from 1942 to 1944) and another in the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Los Angeles.


Principles And Beliefs

Gandhism designates the ideas and principles Gandhi promoted. Of central importance is nonviolent resistance. A Gandhian can mean either an individual who follows, or a specific philosophy which is attributed to, Gandhism.M.M.Sankhdher argues that Gandhism is not a systematic position in metaphysics or in political philosophy. Rather, it is a political creed, an economic doctrine, a religious outlook, a moral precept, and especially, a humanitarian world view. It is an effort not to systematize wisdom but to transform society and is based on an undying faith in the goodness of human nature. However Gandhi himself did not approve of the notion of “Gandhism”. He explained in 1936.

There is no such thing as “Gandhism,” and I do not want to leave any sect after me. I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems…The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not final. I may change them tomorrow. I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.