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Mahatma Gandhi

2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948

​Mahatma Gandhi​’s full name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi​. He was India’s political and spiritual leader in the first half of the 20th century, leading the Indian independence movement against British colonial rule.​

Gandhi has developed and implemented the Satyagraha philosophy. It calls for nonviolent protest out of devotion to the truth and resistance to evil actively, but nonviolently. His outstanding struggle has ended up in India’s independence and made him a symbol and an inspiration for various human rights movements and into one of the most revered world leaders of his time.

Due to the success of his struggle, he is considered the father of the Indian nation. Mahatma is an honorific title meaning “high-souled” in Sanskrit. It was given to him by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. Many Indians also call him Bapu, which means father in Gujarati, one of India’s many official languages.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi was born and raised in a Hindu family in Western India. His father was the chief minister of their princely state, and his mother was his 4th wife, a very pious woman. His family belonged to the merchant caste. He was taught from birth in the beliefs of not harming other creatures, vegetarianism, fasting for spiritual cleansing, and mutual tolerance between castes and faiths.

At 13, his parents arranged his marriage to Kasturbai Makhanji Kapadia, and they had 5 sons over their life. The firstborn died after only a few days.

Gandhi was a mediocre student and barely passed his college exams. But his mother encouraged him to study, and at 18 he went to England to study law. There he found it rather difficult to uphold his traditions and religion, especially vegetarianism. This prompted his will to learn more about the religion, traditions and way of life to uphold them out of choice and not out of habit. He started reading and learning, and was influenced by a book by  Henry Salt, A Plea for Vegetarianism. He later said it has clarified the rationale of vegetarianism for him and its moral duty.

Upon graduation and return to India, Gandi failed in law practice, because he was incapable of cross-examining a witness. In 1893 he was sent by a merchant company to serve as their lawyer in South Africa. There he met with severe and even violent discrimination against Indians: such as limitation in choice of transportation, no matter what class the ticket; on entrance to hotels; a demand to take off his turban and other Apartheid limitations. 

This treatment has aroused in Gandhi an acute awareness of the discrimination his people suffered in the British Empire, racism and human and civil rights. In 1894, he helped found the Natal Indian Congress and through this organisation, he moulded the Indian community of South Africa into a unified political force. When Gandhi was attacked by a mob of white settlers who wanted to lynch him, he refused to press charges against any member of the mob. One of his principles was not to seek court solution for a personal injustice.

Mahatma Gandhi spinning

During his stay in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi has founded two cooperative farming communities,  to serve as a spiritual center for the Satyagraha fighters. He focused on the struggle of the Indian people to be accepted as part of the white race, differentiated from the Africans (his inclusion of Africans in the struggle for human rights has come much later).

In 1906 a law was passed demanding that all Indians register finger prints. Gandhi has, for the first time, implemented his philosophy, the Satyagraha. He called for nonviolent resistance to the law and refuse to register, despite the punishments for disobedience. For 7 years Indians (including Gandhi) were imprisoned, beaten and even shot for their participation in strikes, protests, disobedience, burning the registration cards etc. In the end, the public outcry and opinion has brought a compromise agreement.

All being said, Mahatma Gandhi did not fight the British government itself, and even assisted it in various ways. Such as volunteering and founding an ambulance and a stretcher unit for medical assistance during the wars. For this contribution he was awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind gold medal in 1915 by The Lord Hardinge of Penshurst.

Mahatma Gandhi has left South Africa in 1914 to return to India. For the next 30 years he led the struggle for Indian independence from the British.

At first, Gandhi did not fight the British, but focused on helping the weak populations in society. He led the struggle for the poor peasants in famine-stricken regions against heavy taxation and neglect by the landowners and the government. He organized strikes and protests against the landowners, until the government signed an agreement, promising the poor peasants better payment for their crops until famine passes. This made him famous throughout India.

He involved himself against unfair taxes, illogical crops which were not helpful to the peasants, and the treatment of textile industry workers. It is where he first used the hunger strike. Later, he expanded his philosophy to include the boycott of foreign-made goods, especially British. He exhorted all Indian men and women to devote time to daily spinning and weaving, and did so himself. He called to boycott all British institutions, including education, justice, government jobs, titles and honors. Instead, he encouraged private local initiatives.

In 1922, Gandhi was arrested and sentenced to 6 years of prison for for sedition. He has served only 2 years because of health issues. He spent several years outside of public struggle, working to improve internal strife between the castes and conditions for weak populations. In 1930, a salt tax was declared, denying competition on British salt production. In response, Gandhi went on a new Satyagraha, whose peak was the famous Salt March in spring 1930. Gandhi has walked 385 km to make salt himself, and thousands of Indians joined him. This was one of his most successful campaigns, with mass law-breaking by the Indians. In response, the British arrested 10,000 Indians. The struggle became Internationally famous, and Gandhi was even made Man of the Year 1930 by the Time magazine.

In 1931 the British government has signed the Gandhi–Irwin Pact, agreeing to free all political prisoners, in return for the suspension of the civil disobedience movement. Then, in waves of oppression, Gandhi was arrested again, freed, achieved concessions for the caste of untouchables, and 3 attempts at his life were made.

When WWII began, Gandhi campaigned against any Indian participation in the war effort with the British, while democratic freedom the war was fought for  was denied to India itself. His campaign was a failure. He founded the “Quit India” movement, which became the most definitive revolt aimed at securing the British exit from India. However, Gandhi categorically opposed all violent action and called “to suffer and die” in nonviolent ways.

In 1942 he was, again, incarcerated for 2 years, and during that time his wife died. He caught malaria, and was freed in May 1944 for health issues. 

The struggle has achieved its aim, and Britain sent word that government would be turned to the Indians. All political prisoners were freed. Gandhi called to cease the struggle.

On August 15th 1947 India has become independent. Gandhi’s dream was realized. However, the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India demanded a partition. It was decided by religious majority in each region. Thus, most of the area of former British India, where Hinduism was the ruling religion, has become India. And areas where Muslims were the majority, has become Pakistan. In the following months, population exchange was made, when about 6 million people from each side moved to the other. Neither government were prepared to deal with the migration, violent riots ensued and hundreds of thousands were killed. The British made India pay Pakistan for their greater expenses. Nationalist Indians refused to pay, so as not to weaken India. Gandhi said India must pay. This was considered a betrayal.

Mahatma Gandhi - salt march

On January 30th 1948, as he was walking on the grass lawn in front of the house which he used during his stays in Delhi, he was shot dead from a hand gun. The shooter was connected to an extremist Hindu organization, which opposed the Partition. He was apprehended and later executed. 

Gandhi was cremated in accordance with Hindu tradition. Gandhi’s ashes were were scattered in the some of the greatest world rivers, including the Nile, Volga and Thames. The rest was sent to Los Angeles, where a Pacific Palisades park was created in his memory. 

To commemorate Mahatma Gandhi, the UN declared his birthday, October 2nd, to become International Day of Nonviolence.

Selected quotes

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.

Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory.

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.

Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.

Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err.

We may stumble and fall but shall rise again; it should be enough if we did not run away from the battle.

Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.

Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed.

The human voice can never reach the distance that is covered by the still small voice of conscience.

As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.

Morality is the basis of things and truth is the substance of all morality.

The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

Man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow men.

An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.

It is the quality of our work, which will please God and not the quantity.

Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.

It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings.

Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.

Nobody can hurt me without my permission.

Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.

The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.

Intolerance betrays want of faith in one’s cause.

We should meet abuse by forbearance. Human nature is so constituted that if we take absolutely no notice of anger or abuse, the person indulging in it will soon weary of it and stop.

Faith… must be enforced by reason… when faith becomes blind it dies.

In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place.

Faith is not something to grasp, it is a state to grow into.

An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.

Fear has its use but cowardice has none.

A man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes.

Infinite striving to be the best is man’s duty; it is its own reward. Everything else is in God’s hands.

A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.

Truth never damages a cause that is just.

Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.

Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good.

Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it.

An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so.

Rights that do not flow from duty well performed are not worth having.

A policy is a temporary creed liable to be changed, but while it holds good it has got to be pursued with apostolic zeal.

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