Mahatma Gandhi – The eternal symbol of peace

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Early Years

Mahatma Gandhi was the leader of India’s peaceful movement of independence against British occupation. He was born in Porbandar India on 2 October 1869 and he was assassinated on 30 January 1948 in New Delhi. He studied law and his actions included boycotts against British state in peaceful forms of civil disobedience.

Mahatma Gandhi’s father, Karamchand Gandhi, served as a chief minister in Porbandar and other states in western India. His mother, Putlibai, was a deeply religious and reverential woman .Gandhi was married to Kasturba Makanji a trader’s daughter when he was thirteen years old in an arranged marriage. She gave birth to four sons of which the eldest was born in 1888 and the youngest in 1900.

As a boy Gandhi

Was a shy and moderate student who was so timid that he slept with the lights on even as a teenager.

In the following years, the teenager rebelled by smoking, eating meat and stealing change from housekeeping servants.

Although Gandhi was interested in becoming a doctor, his father had dreams that he would also become a government minister, so his family directed him to enter the legal profession. In 1888, 18-year-old Gandhi sailed for London, England, to study law. The young Indian contended with the devolution to Western culture. He returned to India in 1891 trying to get a job as a lawyer. After two years of struggling he finally signed a contract to perform legal services in South Africa for one year. So In April of 1893, he sailed for Durban in the South African state of Natal.

 

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Religion and Beliefs

Gandhi grew up worshiping the Hindu god Vishnu and following Jainism, a morally stringent and ancient Indian religion that osculated non-violence, fasting, meditation and vegetarianism. During Gandhi’s first stay in London, from 1888 to 1891, he became more committed to a meatless diet, joining the executive committee of the London Vegetarian Society, and started to read a variety of holy texts to learn more about world religions. Living in South Africa, Gandhi continued to study world religions. “The religious spirit within me became a living force,” he wrote of his time there. He plunged himself in sacred Hindu spiritual texts and adopted a way of living completely non materialistic including simplicity, austerity, fasting and singleness.

In 1915 Gandhi founded an ashram in Ahmedabad, India, that was open to all castes. Wearing a simple loincloth and slobber, Gandhi lived a rigorous life devoted to prayer and meditation.

He became known as “Mahatma,” which means “great soul.”

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Gandhi’s action in South Africa

When Gandhi arrived in South Africa, he was quickly intimidated by the discrimination and racial separation faced by Indian immigrants at the hands of white British and Boer authorities. Upon his first appearance in a Durban courtroom, Gandhi was asked to remove his turban. He refused and left the court instead. The Natal Advertiser duped him in print as “an unwelcome visitor.”

At the end of his year-long contract, Gandhi prepared to return to India until he learned, at his valediction party, of a draught before the Natal Legislative Assembly that would deprive Indians of the right to vote. Fellow immigrants convinced Gandhi to stay and lead the fight against the legislation. Although Gandhi could not prevent the law’s passage, he drew worldwide attention to the injustice.

If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

After a brief trip to India, Gandhi returned to South Africa with his wife and children. Gandhi ran a prosperous legal practice, and at the burst of the Boer War, he reared an all-Indian ambulance corps of 1,100 volunteers to support the British cause, arguing that if Indians expected to have full rights of citizenship in the British Empire, they also needed to take over their responsibilities as well.

Heather Heininge

Satyagraha and the Salt March protest

In 1906, Gandhi organized his first massive campaign of civil disobedience, which he called “Satyagraha” (“truth and stability”), in reaction to the South African Transvaal government’s new restrictions on the rights of Indians, including the refusal to recognize Hindu marriages. In 1919, with India still under the firm control of the British, Gandhi had a political reawakening when the newly enacted Rowlatt Act authorized British authorities to imprison people suspected of rebellion without trial.

In response, Gandhi called for a Satyagraha campaign of peaceful protests and strikes. Violence broke out instead, which culminated on April 13, 1919, in the Massacre of Amritsar, when troops led by British Brigadier General Reginald Dyer fired machine guns into a crowd of weaponless demonstrators and killed nearly 400 people. Being unable to pledge submission to the British government, Gandhi returned the medals he earned for his military service in South Africa and opposed Britain’s imperative military recruit of Indians to serve in World War I.

Mahatma Gandhi marching walking during the salt agitation satyagrah Dandi march walk protest protesting India Asia March 1930. Image by – alamy

 

In 1930, Gandhi returned to operative politics to protest Britain’s Salt Acts, which not only banned Indians from collecting or selling salt, but also inflicted a heavy tax that hit the country’s poorest particularly hard. Gandhi planned a new Satyagraha campaign that required a 390-kilometer march to the Arabian Sea, where he would collect salt in a symbolic contempt of the government monopoly. Wearing a homespun white shawl and sandals and carrying a walking stick, Gandhi started from his religious retreat in Sabarmati on March 12, 1930, with a few dozen followers. By the time he arrived 24 days later in the coastal town of Dandi, the ranks of the marchers bumped, and Gandhi broke the law by making salt from evaporated seawater. The Salt March glittered similar protests, and mass civil disobedience spread out in India. About 60,000 Indians were imprisoned for breaking the Salt Acts, including Gandhi, who was jailed in May 1930. He was released from prison in January 1931, and two months later he made an agreement with Lord Irwin to end the Salt Satyagraha in exchange for allowances that included the release of thousands of political prisoners.

 

India’s Independence from Great Britain

Gandhi returned to India to find himself imprisoned once again in January 1932 during a crackdown by India’s new regent, Lord Willingdon. After his final release, Gandhi left the Indian National Congress in 1934, and leadership passed to his protégé Jawaharlal Nehru. He again stepped away from politics to concentrate on education, poverty and other problems affected India’s rural areas. After the defeat of Churchill’s Conservatives by the Labour Party in the British general election of 1945, negotiations began for Indian independence with the Indian National Congress and Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League. Gandhi played an effective role in the negotiations, but his thoughts for a unified Indian nation couldn’t be fulfilled. The terminal plan required the partition of the subcontinent along religious lines into two independent states mainly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan.

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Gandhi’s Assassination and Legacy

In the late afternoon of January 30, 1948, the 78-year-old Gandhi, weakened from successive hunger strikes, clung to his two grandnieces as they led him from his living quarters in New Delhi’s Birla House to a prayer meeting. Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse, upset at Gandhi’s tolerance of Muslims, knelt before the Mahatma and shot him three times with a semiautomatic pistol. This atrocious act took the life of a pacifist who gave his whole life for preaching peace and nonviolence. Godse and his crime partner were executed by hanging in November 1949.

Even after his murder, Gandhi’s commitment to nonviolence and his belief in a simple and peaceful way of living has been a torch of hope for marginalized people throughout the world. Gandhi’s actions infused a lot of future human rights movements globally, including those of civil rights leader Martin Luther King in the United States and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

 

Feature Image – Francesco Carpentieri

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