Few names are more famous than that of the man Mahatma Gandhi. Famous for his actions of nonviolence, his peacefulness and his desire to bring about change to India, he lived a complicated life of strife, pain and suffering. But he had a purpose with everything he did, for the man lived a principle life, one that would forever change the face of the world and change the way we looked at civil disobedience.
Born to a religious and esteemed family from the Merchant Caste in India, little Gandhi spent his days learning about faith from his mother. She had a very deep sense of conviction when it came to the Hindu faith and she was quick to pass it down to her son, who was quick to soak it all up. Even at an early age, Gandhi was seen to be a quiet and philosophical boy, often pondering the nature of life.
Even though he was ponderous and thoughtful, he wasn’t very good at his schoolwork. Gandhi’s grades in elementary school were relatively mediocre and he didn’t particularly have a knack for school. Still, he continued along, learning English through long hours of study. Interestingly enough, in 1883, at the age of 13, he married a young woman by the name of Kasturba, as part of an arranged marriage. This was customary at the time and while he certainly enjoyed the marital relationship, he regarded it to be a source of temptation in his life.
He had been through a short rebellion in his teen years, drinking alcohol and eating meat, something that his faith forbids, but over time he had ended up returning back to the roots of his faith, this time growing far more dedicated to his beliefs. This coincided with the death of his own father, Karamchand, who’s death had left a long lasting and painful impression upon Gandhi. He came to believe that his own lack of piety had contributed to his father’s death and purposed in his heart to carry on growing in his faith.
In 1888, Gandhi set sail for London, England, where he would go on to study law and ultimately become a lawyer. There had been hope that he would become a government official and one of the best roads to that profession was through law. So, Gandhi became a barrister in London, spending a period of three years learning all about law during his time there. He also became involved with a few groups, one of which was the Theosophical Society, a group that was vastly interested in religion. With their encouragement, Gandhi began to really come into his own faith and would grow more devoted over time, especially when he was dealing with so many different sources of temptation overseas.
Even though he was trying to become a lawyer, Gandhi was not particularly good at what he did. His first cross-examination during a court case caused him to freeze up entirely and he was incapable of handling the stress and performance anxieties that came with the court case. This fear caused him some trouble as he worked into coming to his own as a legal professional. He had briefly moved back to India, after his mother had died, and his attempts to build his own legal practice had been in shambles due to his inability to competently run a court case.
Opportunity came to the young man, however, when he was offered a year’s contract consulting with a law firm in South Africa. Gandhi took the job and was quick to head to South Africa. It would be in this country that his passion for justice, civil rights and freedom would be discovered.
As he traveled to the country, he discovered quickly that there was discrimination against people due to the color of their skin. He had purchased a first-class train ticket but was refused to be allowed to travel first class due to the color of his skin. He was actually kicked off the train due to this refusal to accept those rules, but later was allowed back on in first class.
He quickly discovered that British rule had a strong anti-Indian bias. There were many discriminations and absurd laws put into place, one such law was that Indians were not allowed to walk on public walkways. Upon learning of these rules, something within Gandhi began to boil. He felt that it was absolutely unjust and absurd that his fellow people were to be treated this way over something that they could not control.
He had arrived in South Africa in 1893, on a contract that was only supposed to last a single year. Yet upon discovering how terrible conditions were for the Indian people, he began to build a strong coalition of people who were willing to help fight against discrimination. Even though he had been planning to leave after his year contract was up, when he discovered that the government had been planning a vote that would strip Indians of their right to vote, he was convinced to stay behind and help rally against such legislation.
His legal skills grew as he worked to fight against injustice. Unable to keep the bill from passing, Gandhi was at least able to bring attention to the cause. As the government continued to increase their laws that would go on to bring even more discrimination against the Indian people, Gandhi encouraged for those rules to be defied. One such rule demanded that Indians and Chinese were to register themselves. He encouraged everyone to defy these rules and to nonviolently protest. There was a great deal of arrests, whipping and other harsh punishments for refusing to register, but under Gandhi’s leadership, the Indian people refused to buckle. This would go on to form the first serious basis of Gandhi’s beliefs in non-violent protest. In the end, a compromised was reached, primarily because the public did not like the way that those who were non-violent were being treated. This put pressure on the government to do some reformations of their own.
During his time in South Africa, the Second Boer War broke out, a war in which an anti-British coalition sought to fight against the British empire in order control an incredibly wealthy gold mine. As the British warred against the coalition, Gandhi saw an opportunity to further the Indian’s legitimacy. He formed an ambulance corps, a group of over 1,000 stretcher bearers who volunteered to serve under the British. The reasoning was that if the Indian people were going to be considered full citizens, then they must also serve as citizens would as well. Gandhi himself led a team and for two months, they worked alongside the British military in order to provide medical aid to the wounded. With an upfront and personal view of the British military, Gandhi came to the final conclusion that there would be no way military resistance would ever work against such a country. They would only be successful if they dedicated themselves towards non-violent resistance.
Gandhi’s work in South Africa had not gone unnoticed in the rest of the world, especially India, where he was hailed as a civil leader, spiritual authority and a hero. The leader of the Indian National Congress, Gopal Gokhale invited Gandhi to return to India where he could assist his homeland in their struggle for independence against British rule. Gandhi agreed and after twenty years of fighting for the South African people, he made the voyage back home.
In 1915, Gandhi returned to India, where he was invited to join Congress and quickly became their leader. His policies were markedly different from the other leaders, who all had sought to work with the British rule. Gandhi desired to expel the British influence from India and allow for the people to become independent of British Rule. This would be no small task, however, as the British had their hooks in quite tightly.
Tensions increased between the nations of India and Britain. Early on Gandhi had built what was known as the non-cooperation movement. He believed that the only way the British were in charge was due to the fact that the Indian people had cooperated with the British government. Therefore, if they ceased cooperation with the British, they would be able to take their country back for good. Nonviolent protest was pushed as Gandhi led the people to forsake British products, titles and honors.
Gandhi pushed these people hard, but the fear of violence began to emerge as he took notice of the fact that many of the people had little to no discipline. He called the movement off after violence occurred at Chauri Chaura, a city where the protestors had come under fire from the British police. There had been violent retaliation and Gandhi was quick to pull the plug on the non-cooperation movement for fear that it would quickly turn violence. Violence was the enemy to Gandhi, primarily because they were outgunned by the British. If things went violent, he knew that India was not going to be the winner.
It was in this time of working alongside the Indian people that Gandhi adopted a style of dress that went counter to his previous lifestyle. No longer did he wear the clothes of a wealthy barrister, but rather wore the clothes of a beggar, preferring to adopt a style of dress that would put him more in touch with the average person in India. He fought hard not only against British rule, but also against various Indian practices that he believed to be harmful, such as restricting women’s rights and forcing a certain caste to live entirely separate from the rest of the Indian people.
As World War Two loomed over the world, India was conscripted into the war by the British, despite the fact that the Indian Congress had not been consulted in the affair. This was the last straw for Gandhi, who had been working diligently to expel British influence from India. He launched a campaign known as Quit India, a campaign that called for the immediate removal of all British influence over the government. He vehemently opposed India getting involved in the war, primarily due to the fact that the war was being fought for freedom, a freedom that he and his people were not allowed to have.
In 1942, Gandhi gave a major speech, declaring that it was time for the British to leave and that India’s people were destined to stand up against the British rule. He called for a nationwide protest against the British rule if their demands for immediate independence was not met. He requested that everyone have the highest level of discipline as to not act violently, but should violence occur, they were not going to stop. In essence, this was Gandhi’s one major shot at achieving independence against the British. They had tried many times before, but with a war going on and the fact that the British government had gotten them involved against their own will, this was the most opportune time.
The British government immediately responded to Gandhi’s speech demanding freedom by arresting both him and all of Congress as well. This caused massive protests all over India to happen, some violent and some peaceful. All in all, in a two-year period, there was absolute chaos as the British government worked to get their opponents to settle down. Eventually the movement returned to normalcy and it appeared as if the Quit India movement had failed.
Gandhi’s health wasn’t so great while he was in prison and he was released after two years, mainly because the government didn’t want him to die in prison as a martyr to his cause. With his wife having died during his time in prison, he had been dealing with strong feelings of discouragement. Yet he tried to press on.
Unfortunately for Gandhi, he had more than just the British government to worry about when it came to opposition. The Muslims that he had recruited to assist him in his cause had made the decision that they didn’t want a strong, unified India but instead would have been happy with a partition of it instead. His major allies chose to walk down a different path, wanting Pakistan to be partitioned from India and granted to the Muslim people, taking away a major part of Gandhi’s forces.
Another major issue was that the non-violence message was no longer the case when it came to fighting for India’s freedom. Gandhi had tried to teach discipline and strength to his people, but it became apparent that as the fight for freedom continued, violence was beginning to rise. His political opponents were growing tired of Gandhi’s own solutions and began to propose their own.
After all of the chaos, imprisonments, violence and threats, in 1947, India finally achieved its stated goal. It was granted independence from Britain and was partitioned into two states, India and Pakistan. This had no quite met Gandhi’s goals, but had at least afforded the Indian people freedom from British Rule.
Yet for Gandhi, he would never have a chance to lead his people in this brave new world of freedom and independent. For as Gandhi walked alongside his family on a way to a prayer meeting, a radical Hindu stepped from the shadows, placed a gun point blank at Gandhi’s chest and shot the man dead. The motives for the killing were political, for the assassin had believed that Gandhi had been too soft on the Pakistan issue and deeply despised the fact that Gandhi hadn’t been extreme enough. He saw the man’s leadership of nonviolence to be feeble and soft, that more would have been achieved if Gandhi had been brave and violent.
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Indeed, the life of the peaceful leader was snuffed out in a single moment of violence, but his legacy had made a massive impact in India. Even today, as we look at the way the civilized world has been shaped, many look back at the ideas and beliefs of Gandhi with a longing in their hearts, a longing for a man who stood up for what he believed in and choose to take the path of non-violence, the most noble of all paths.
The Famous People: http://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/mahatma-gandhi-55.php
Gandhi’s Life and Works: http://www.mkgandhi.org/students/gandhi_f.htm