Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Known as ‘Mahatma’ (great soul), Gandhi was the leader of the Indian nationalist movement against British rule, and is widely considered the father of his country. His doctrine of non-violent protest to achieve political and social progress has been hugely influential.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 in Porbandar in Gujarat. After university, he went to London to train as a barrister. He returned to India in 1891 and in 1893 accepted a job at an Indian law firm in Durban, South Africa. Gandhi was appalled by the treatment of Indian immigrants there, and joined the struggle to obtain basic rights for them. During his 20 years in South Africa he was sent to prison many times. Influenced primarily by Hinduism, but also by elements of Jainism and Christianity as well as writers including Tolstoy and Thoreau, Gandhi developed the satyagraha (‘devotion to truth’), a new non-violent way to redress wrongs. In 1914, the South African government conceded to many of Gandhi’s demands.
Gandhi returned to India shortly afterwards. In 1919, British plans to intern people suspected of sedition – the Rowlatt Acts – prompted Gandhi to announce a new satyagraha which attracted millions of followers. A demonstration against the acts resulted in the Amritsar Massacre by British troops. By 1920, Gandhi was a dominant figure in Indian politics. He transformed the Indian National Congress, and his programme of peaceful non-cooperation with the British included boycotts of British goods and institutions, leading to arrests of thousands.
In 1922, Gandhi himself was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. He was released after two years and withdrew from politics, devoting himself to trying to improve Hindu-Muslim relations, which had worsened. In 1930, Gandhi proclaimed a new campaign of civil disobedience in protest at a tax on salt, leading thousands on a ‘March to the Sea’ to symbolically make their own salt from seawater.
In 1931, Gandhi attended the Round Table Conference in London, as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress, but resigned from the party in 1934 in protest at its use of non-violence as a political expedient. He was replaced as leader by Jawaharlal Nehru.
In 1945, the British government began negotiations which culminated in the Mountbatten Plan of June 1947, and the formation of the two new independent states of India and Pakistan, divided along religious lines. Massive inter-communal violence marred the months before and after independence. Gandhi was opposed to partition, and now fasted in an attempt to bring calm in Calcutta and Delhi. On 30 January 1948, he was assassinated in Delhi by a Hindu fanatic.
Of course I never had the opportunity to meet this wonderfully simple man, who seemed to prove that simplicity does work for those that choose it. He became known as ‘Mahatma’ (great soul/spirit) which pretty well sums up what I have seen of him from books and the film with Sir. Ben Kingsley about the life of Gandhi. What a sad thing to have been executed by an assassin, who was clearly afraid of the power that Gandhi’s love, kindness and peace, displayed. He inspired not only his own nation to defy the unjust treatment by colonial Britain, but many others, since his days were cut short. I for one wish that the example he set could be attempted in this day and age, as a way to resist the oppressive power of greed in commerce and corruption of governments. I know that many people have heard the phrase, ‘Be the change you wish to see.’ But do they really know what it could mean for us all? I believe that it is the best way to proceed, if we are to retain any hope of survival and progress into the future. The world cannot go on the way it is for much longer, I’m sure you would agree that things are coming to a head. If we are not careful we will explode like the time bomb that has been ticking for some decades now, since the invention of ‘planet destroying technology.’
If you haven’t seen the film Gandhi, I strongly recommend that you watch it sometime. Others have also had this viewpoint, and shared their thoughts with the world through whatever mediums were available to them. Sadly many of them were also lost to the world through misguided hatred and idealism, of spineless despots.
R.I.P. Mahatma Gandhi.