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||Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)|
Indian political and spiritual leader, called Mahatma ("Great Soul"). Gandhi helped India's struggle for independence from Britain through a campaign based on nonviolence and civil disobedience. His doctrine of nonviolent action had a profound influence on Martin Luther King Jr., the leader of the civil rights movement in the U.S, and Nelson Mandela, the most prominent figure of the black opposition to apartheid in South Africa. However, Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace Prize. Once, when he was asked what he thought about western civilization, he presumably replied that he thought it would be a good idea.
"Nonviolence and truth (Satya) are inseparable and presupposes one another. There is no god higher than truth." (from True Patriotism: Some Sayings of Mahatma Gandhi, 1939, ed. by S. Hobhouse)
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Poorbandar, Kathiawar, on the western coast of India. For several generations, the Gadhi's had been Prime Ministers in several Kathiawald States. Karamchand Gandhi, his father was the chief minister of Porbandar and a member of the Rajasthanik Court. He married four times. Putlibai, his last wife and Gandhi's mother, was a deeply religious Hindu. When Gandhi was sixteen, his father died - four years later he lost his mother. "The outstanding impression my mother has left on my memory is that of saintliness," Gandhi later wrote in his book of memoir, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth (1927-29).
Gandhi was married at the age of 13, as was not unusual by the custom. Officially he was betrothed three times, but his first two fiancees died. Gandhi's third bride, Kasturba Makanji, also 13, was the only daughter of rich merchants. Kasturba and Gandhi had four sons; their first child was born in 1885, but died after a few days. Kasturba could not read or write and Gandhi's attempts to teach her were fruitless. Although she often had to submit to her husband's decisions, she also had a will of her own. The marriage endured until her death in 1944.
In 1888 Gandhi went to London to study law, leaving his wife for three years. While learning the law, he set to the task of making himself an English gentleman. He was told it was necessary for him to take lessons in dancing, French and elocution. In the new surrounding Gandhi also began experiments with diet that continued throughout his lifetime. After he was called to the bar at Inner Temple, he returned home to practice as a barrister in Bombay. Unable to find a suitable post, Gandhi moved to South Africa in 1893. During his journey to Pretoria he had a firsthand experience with racist degradation, a most crucial experience in his formative years. Gandhi worked for Dada Abdullah & Co and the Indian community. Kasturba had again waited with the children in India, but in 1897 she joined her husband in Durban. Gandhi gained fame as a tenacious political campaigner, who courageously opposed the Transvaal government's discriminatory legislation against Indian settlers. His ideological basis was much derived from the liberal-humanist values he had absorbed in England, exemplified in the works of Ruskin, Thoreau, and Emerson.
Gandhi remained in South Africa for 20 years and developed a system of non-violent defiance. During the Boer War (1899-1902) he organized an Indian Ambulance Corps to assist the British, wrote freelance field reports, and also contributed to Dadabhai Naroroji's India. For his services he was awarded the War Medal. In the Transvaal, he established the Phoenix Farm settlement, an attempt at communal living along the lines of Leo Tolstoy's estate at Yasnaya Polyana. Indian Opinion, a weekly from Durban originally launched by two of Gandhi's friends in 1903, became a medium for his thoughts.
After the birth of their fourth son, Gandhi suggested to his
wife that they sleep in separate beds. Gandhi's one-sided decision and
sexual abstinence caused Kasturbai for a long time much stress. In
search for spiritual development Gandhi studied the Bible, the Koran,
and memorized the Bhagavad Gita. Also Leo
Tolstoy influenced him deeply. Gandhi saw that his methods were in
harmony with Hindu doctrines of ahimsa
and that "the strongest
physical force bends before moral force when it is used in the defense
of truth." The renowed Indian historian Ramachandra Guha has argued
that there are two opposite 9/11s in moral history: the
first took place in Johannesburg on September 11, 1906, when Gandhi and
his colleagues decided to launch a nonviolent civil-disobedience
campaign against South Africa's racial laws, and the better-known,
which was about using violence as a political tool.
In his middle thirties, Gandhi took the vow of bramahcharya, which means not only complete chastity but the elimination of sexual desire. To test his self-control Gandhi slept naked with young women. On his return trip from England to South Africa, he composed Hind swaraj, an updated glimpse of dharma, on the stationery of RMS Kildonian Castle. This product of feverish writing, which first appeared in two instalments in Indian Opinion, has remained a key to the understanding of Gandhi's political philosophy.
Written in a the form of a dialogue between an Editor and Reader, and addressing a mixed audience, Gandhi attempted to convince his readers, that to drive out the English from India by modern methods of violence was a suicidal policy and that "modern civilization" was a greater threat than colonialism. When the text was published in book form in 1910, under the title Indian Home Rule, by Gandhi's own International Printing Press in South Africa, it was banned for security reasons. The South African ban lasted almost thirty years. The first Indian edition was published by Ganesh and Co. in 1919, with a new foreword and a 'Note' by C. Rajagopalachari. An American edition came out under the title Sermon on the Sea in 1924.
Most of Gandhi's writing between Hind Swaraj and Satyagraha
in South Africa (1924-25) took the form of journalism. In 1914 he
returned permanently to India. His most prominent adversary, Gen. Jan
Smuts, wrote to a friend reliefed: "The saint has left our shores, I
hope, forever." Gandhi became a highly influential figure in the
National Congress, transforming it into an instrument of change.
Following the massacre at Amritsar in 1919, in which British soldiers
killed hundreds of Indians, Gandhi launched a policy of non-violent
non-co-operation to secure swaraj (independence) from Britain.
This process made Gandhi a gurulike figure. Resistance methods included
strikes, refusal to pay taxes, abandonment of western for Indian dress,
and refusal to respect colonial law. "One step enough for me," Gandhi
often said without planning his actions far ahead.
Gandhi himself adopted a simple, ascetic way of life, dressing only in a loincloth of handwoven cloth and sandals. He was jailed several times and went on hunger strikes to focus attention on his cause. The bulk of his autobiography, Satayana Prayogo Athava Atmakatha, he dictated in Gujarati while in Yeravada Jail in 1923-24. It was published serially in Navajivan and Young India and translated into English by Mahadev Desai, a lawyer and man of letters, who had joined Gandhi in 1917 and served as his secretary and diarist. Through the English translation, it has been the most widely read Gujarati book all over the world.
When communal riots started on India's northwest frontier in
1924, Gandhi undertook a 21-day purificatory fast. After he had walked
some 200 miles on foot to the sea to collect salt illegally, he was
arrested at Surat and charged for planning to seize the Government salt
depots. As a result of the international attention to the case, the
Viceroy began to relieve the punitive salt taxes and the government
Gandhi made his fifth and final visit to London in 1931. The
Salt March, civil disobedience campaign, and books about his ideas had
made him an international celebrity. True to his principles, Gandhi wore his usual loin-cloth,
shawl and sandals, symbols of his dedication to the cause of
the poor. "For God's sake, my dear Gandhi, wear a pair of trousers," an
Indian member of the British parliament had told him. Everywhere he
went he was followed by a crowd and photographers. During his stay,
Gandhi lived at Kingsley Hall, an East End settlement home, as the
guest of Muriel Lester.
Except Winston Churchill, who made
an hour and a half long speech against Gandhi on the floor of the House
of Commons, everybody wanted to see the man who challenged the British
Empire. "Not for a hundred years," Churchill said, "have the
relations between hindus and Moslems been so poisoned as they have been
since England was deemed to be losing its grip and was believed to be
ready to quit the scene if told to go." (Gandhi and Churchill: The Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age by Arthur Herman, 2010, pp. 372-373) After
meeting him, George Bernard Shaw said to the reporters, "You must
really give me some time to recover from the shock." Charles Chaplin,
of whom Gandhi had never heard before, was less impressed: "I have,"
Chaplin wrote in My Autobiography
(1964), "always respected and admired Gandhi for his political
astuteness and iron will. But I thought his visit to London was a
mistake. . . . In the cold dark climate of England, wearing his
traditional loin-cloth, which he gathered about him in disorderly
fashion, he seemed incongruous." (Mahatma Gandhi by Sankar Ghose, 1991, pp. 213-214)
On the way home Gandhi met Romain Rolland in Villaneuve, Switzerland. Rolland's biography on Gandhi had appeared in 1924. "He came to me with a dry laugh, his open mouth like a good dog panting," the author recalled. (Gandhi's Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi by Stanley Wolpert, 2001, p. 163) While in Rome he was received by Benito Mussolini; according to some sources, Pope Pius XI refused to meet him because he was improperly dressed. "His eyes are never still," Gandhi said of the personality of the Fascist dictator. He also visited the Sistine Chapel and was deeply moved by a crucifix on the altar: "I saw there at once that nations like individuals could only be made through the agony of the Cross and in no other way," he wrote later in an article. (Young India, 31 December, 1931)
"We may read the Gita or the Ramayana or Hind Swaraj", Gandhi said. "But what we have to learn from them is desire for the welfare of others." Gandhi also strove to raise the status of untouchables, the caste whom everybody avoided. He gave them the name harijan, or "children of God", and founded the weekly paper Harijan, which was published in English and Hindi. In an attempt to persuade the orthodox Hindus to wipe out the "blight of untouchability", Gandhi undertook fast in the summer of 1933 for three weeks. In order to promote village self-sufficiency, Gandhi popularized handspinning and made know khadi, hand-spun cloth, the "livery of freedom." However, Gandhi's rejection of the Industrial Revolution wasn't supported by some his most close fiends, among them Jawaharlal Nehru.
"I am not built for academic writings. Action is my domain."
In 1936 Gandhi moved his headquarters from Sabarmati to Sevagram, a village near Wardha, which became a center to test his ideas. His eldest son Harilal turned into Islam in 1936 and changed his name to Abdullah Gandhi. During World War II Gandhi's struggle for India's independence and satyagraha (defence of and by truth) became a threat to the war effort of the Allies. Gandhi argued that India should remain passive and neutral in the world conflict. On May 10, 1942, Gandhi wrote in his newspaper: "The presence of the British in India is an invitation to Japan to invade India. Their withdrawal would remove the bait. Assume however that it does not, Free India would be better able to cope with invasion. Unadulterated non-co-operation would then have full sway." Gandhi was arrested with Nehru and other Congress leaders, and interned in Aga Khan’s Palace at Poona. At the age of 73, Gandhi began another fast. Winston Churchill, who had earlier called Gandhi a "seditious fakir", suspected that he was fed glucose whenever he drank water: "... and this, as well as his intense vitality and lifelong austerity, enabled this frail being to maintain his prolonged abstention from any visible form of food. Nearly all the Indian members of the Viceroy's Executive Council demanded his release, and resigned in protest at our refusal. In the end, being quite convinced of our obduracy, he abandoned his fast and his health, though he was very weak, was not seriously affected." (from The Second World War, vol. 4., by Winston Churchill, 1951). Gandhi was released from custody unconditionally in the spring of 1944.
Kasturba died at the palace of Aga Khan in 1944. Before her death, Harilal, the eldest son, had appreared drunk in the palace, and was chased away. Gandhi saw India gain independence in 1947. However, he had to witness deploring the formation of two new nations - and savage fighting. His illusion that India would gain indepencence by nonviolent means was shattered. "Who listens to me today?" Gandhi said, and did not remain in New Delhi to celebrate India's freedom on the Fifteenth of August.
Gandhi's last months were shadowed by communal strife between Hindu and Muslim. When he walked barefoot through the scorched villages in East Bengal, locals strewed shattered glass on his path. Gandhi pleaded for amicable settlement between India and Pakistan, but on January 30, 1948, he was assassinated in Delhi on his way to an evening prayer. A young Hindu Brahmin, named Nathuram Godse, viewed Gandhi's acceptance of partition as a betrayal of the Hindu population, and fired three shots point-blank. Gandhi had not allowed police to search people near him. Godse believed that the prayer and the purity of the mind were signs of superstitions and without the "father of the nation" India would free to follow the course founded on reason.
"Even Gandhi, with all his charisma, did not melt the hearts of his oppressors, as he had hoped. After softening, hearts harden again. Asoka too was wrong to think that he was changing the course of history, and that his righteousness woul last 'as long as the sun and the moon'." ( Theodore Zeldin in An Intimate History of Humanity, 1994)
Gandhi has been criticized for his nostalgia for ancient rural bliss and delaying the modernization and industrialization of his country. On the other hand, he has been regarded as the "true soul" of India. With other Hindu sages Gandhi shared a mistrust of worshipping followers, and he tried to avoid the title mahatma. In spite of this, his disciplines regarded him as a saint. Gandhi's denial of the pleasures of food, sex, family, and friendship, has made his way of life extremely demanding for ordinary people, who otherwise have found inspiration from his courage and teachings. This question troubled George Orwell in his essay 'Reflections on Gandhi' (1949). While admitting that Gandhi never made claims of sainthood, he did not hesitate to reject sainthood as an ideal: "The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals." Joseph Lelyveld, a formed editor of the New York Times, tells in Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India (2011), that Gandi left his wife for a long time to be with a German-Jewish architecht and weightlifter named Hermann Kallenbach, and he had a racist attitude towards Africans. Lelyveld's book was banned in part of India.
"Become the change you want to see in the world." (Vice President Al Gore's quotation from Gandhi)
For further reading: Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948 by Ramachandra Guha (2018); Gandhi: Anti-biography of a Great Soul by Michaël de Saint-Cheron (2016); Gandhi Before India by Ramachandra Guha (2013); Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India Joseph Lelyveld (2011); Gandhi and Churchill: The Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age by Arthur Herman (2010); Gandhi's Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi by Stanley Wolpert (2001); Gandhian satyagraha: an analytical and critical approach by Ajay Shanker Rai (2000); Gandhi's Body: Sex, Diet, and the Politics of Nationalism by Joseph S. Alter (2000); Colonialism, Tradition, and Reform by Bhikhu C. Parekh (1999); Gandhi in the twenty first century: an alternative approach to development, ed. by Vasant Kumar Bawa (1999); The Forgotten Woman: The Untold Story of Kastur Gandhi, Wife of Mahatma Gandhi by Arun Gandhi, et al. (1998); Gandhi: A Life by Yogesh Chadha (1998); Gandhi Great Soul by John B. Severance (1997); Gandhi: Struggling for Autonomy by Ronald J. Terchek (1998); Gandhi: The Power of Pacifism by Catherine Clemen (1996); The Gandhi Reader: A Sourcebook of His Life and Writings, ed. by Homer A. Jack (1995); Mahatma Gandhi by Sankar Ghose (1991); Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope by Judith Brown (1990); Mahatma Gandhi: A Biography by B.R. Nanda (1989); The Moral and Political Though of Mahatma Gandhi by R.N. Iyer (1973); Conquest of Violence by Joan V. Bondurant (1965); Mahatma by Dinanath G. Tendulkar (1960-63, 8 vols.); Mahatma Gandhi by Bal Ram Nanda (1958) - For further information: - Epigrams from Gandhiji - Man of the Millenium - Mahatma Gandhi and His Myths