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Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand (1869 - 1948)

Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand (1869-1948), Indian thinker, statesman, and nationalist leader who led India out of the British Empire. Gandhi, also known as Mahatma Gandhi, was born in Porbandar, in the modern state of Gujarat, on October 2, 1869, into a political Hindu family, both his father and grandfather having been prime ministers to the rulers of two adjacent and tiny princely states. After a mediocre career at school, he went to London in 1888 to train as a lawyer, leaving behind his young and illiterate wife, whom he had married when she was barely in her teens. Gandhi qualified as a barrister three years later and returned to India.

Mohandas Gandhi was educated in Great Britain and received a law degree from University College, London. After he was admitted to the British bar, he practised law in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, and later in Durban, South Africa. While in South Africa, he was treated as a member of an inferior race, which spurred him into his lifelong quest to achieve civil rights for all races.

II EARLY CAREER

Young Mohandas Gandhi Mohandas Gandhi was educated in Great Britain and received a law degree from University College, London. After he was admitted to the British bar, he practised law in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, and later in Durban, South Africa. While in South Africa, he was treated as a member of an inferior race, which spurred him into his lifelong quest to achieve civil rights for all races.Hulton Deutsch

After an undistinguished performance in a legal practice in India, Gandhi left for South Africa in 1893 to serve as legal adviser to an Indian firm. The 21 years that he spent there marked a turning point in his life. The racial indignities to which he and his countrymen were subjected there turned the hitherto shy and diffident lawyer into a courageous political activist. Realizing that violence was evil and rational persuasion often unavailing, he developed a new method of non-violent resistance, which he called satyagraha and which he used with some success to secure racial justice for his people. Gandhi also reflected deeply on his own religion, interacted with Jewish and Christian friends, and evolved a distinct view of life based on what he found valuable in his own and other religions. He commanded a Red Cross unit in the South African Wars, and organized a commune near Durban based on the ideas of Leo Tolstoy.

Gandhi finally returned to India in 1915, after the government of the Union of South Africa had made important concessions to his demands, including recognition of Indian marriages and abolition of the poll tax for them. After travelling all over India to familiarize himself with the country of which he had only a limited understanding, he plunged into politics, and soon became the unquestioned leader of the Indian nationalist movement. Almost single-handedly he transformed the middle- and upper-class Indian National Congress into a powerful national organization, bringing in large sections of such hitherto excluded groups as women, traders, merchants, the upper and middle peasantry, and youth, and giving it a truly national basis. Following the Amritsar Massacre in 1919, Gandhi led a nationwide campaign of passive non-cooperation with the government of British India, including the boycott of British goods. He was first imprisoned by the British in 1922 for two years.

III DEVELOPMENT OF GANDHIS THOUGHT AND PRACTICE

Mahatma Gandhi Mahatma Gandhis campaign of nonviolent civil resistance to British rule of India led to Indias independence in 1947. A member of the merchant caste, Mohandas K. Gandhi, later called Mahatma (Sanskrit for œgreat soul), studied law in London. As a lawyer, and later as a political activist, he effectively fought discrimination with his principles of truth, nonviolence, and courage.

Convinced that independence had no meaning without a radical moral and social transformation, Gandhi launched a comprehensive programme of national regeneration. This involved fighting prejudices against manual labour, overcoming the urban-rural divide, developing love of indigenous languages, and eradicating the caste-based discriminatory practice of Untouchability. Gandhi also fostered among his countrymen national self-respect and confidence in their ability to overthrow British rule. He gave Hinduism an activist and social orientation, generously borrowed from other religious and cultural traditions, and became an inspiring example of a genuine inter-faith and inter-civilizationa l dialogue. He perfected the method of satyagraha that he had discovered in South Africa, added new forms of action to its repertoire, and developed what he called the œnew science of non-violence involving moral conversion of the opponent by a delicate œsurgery of the soul. His actions inspired the great poet Rabindranath Tagore to call him Mahatma (Sanskrit, œgreat soul).

While fighting simultaneously on the social, economic, religious, and political fronts, Gandhi carried on an even fiercer battle at the personal level.. Determined to become as perfect as any human being could be, he set about mastering all his senses and desires. From 1901 onward he embarked on daring experiments in sexual self-control. Rejecting the œcowardly celibacy of traditional religions, he lived among and later slept naked with some of his women associates, both to probe the outermost limits of sexuality and to show that it was possible to attain œabsolute and child-like innocence. His moral courage, candour, and experimental vitality have few if any parallels in history.

Gandhis moral and political thought was based on a relatively simple metaphysic.

Gandhis moral and political thought was based on a relatively simple metaphysic. For him the universe was regulated by a Supreme Intelligence or Principle, which he preferred to call satya (Truth) and, as a concession to convention, God. It was embodied in all living things, above all in human beings, in the form of self-conscious soul or spirit. Since all human beings partook of the divine essence, they were œultimately one. They were not merely equal but œidentical. As such, love was the only proper form of relation between them; it was œthe law of our being, of œour species. Positively, love implied care and concern for others and total dedication to the cause of œwiping away every tear from every eye. Negatively, it implied ahimsa, or œnon-violence. Gandhis entire social and political thought, including his theory of satyagraha, was an attempt to work out the implications of the principle of love in all areas of life.

For Gandhi, the state œrepresented violence in a concentrated form. It spoke in the language of compulsion and uniformity, sapped its subjects spirit of initiative and self-help, and œunmanned them. Since human beings were not fully developed and capable of acting in a socially responsible manner, the state was necessary. However, if it was not to hinder their growth, it had to be so organized that it used as little coercion as possible and left as large an area of human life as possible to voluntary efforts.

As Gandhi imagined it, a truly non-violent society was federally constituted and composed of small, self-governing, and relatively self-sufficient village communities relying largely on moral and social pressure. The police were basically social workers, enjoying the confidence and support of the local community and relying on moral persuasion and public opinion to enforce the law. Crime was treated as a disease, requiring not punishment but understanding and help. The standing army was not necessary either, for a determined people could be relied upon to mount non-violent resistance against an invader.

Since the majority rule violated the moral integrity of the minority and œsavoured of violence, and since unanimity was often impossible, all decisions in a non-violent society were based on consensus, arrived at by rational discussion in which each strove to look at the subject in question from the standpoint of others. For Gandhi, rational discussion was not just an exchange of arguments but a process of deepening and expanding the consciousness of the participants. When it was conducted in a proper spirit, those involved reconstituted each others being and were reborn as a result of the encounter. In extreme cases, when no consensus was possible, the majority decided the matter, not because it was more likely to be right but for administrative and pragmatic reasons. If a citizen felt morally troubled by a majority decision, that person was entitled to claim exemption from and even to disobey it. Civil disobedience was a œmoral right. To surrender it was to forfeit ones œself-respect and integrity.

In Gandhis view it was a œsin against humanity to possess superfluous wealth.

A non-violent society was committed to sarvodaya, the growth or uplift of all its citizens. Private property denied the œidentity or œoneness of all men, and was immoral. In Gandhis view it was a œsin against humanity to possess superfluous wealth when others could not even meet their basic needs. Since the institution of private property already existed, and men were attached to it, he suggested that the rich should take only what they needed and hold the rest in trust for the community. Increasingly he came to appreciate that the idea of trusteeship was too important to be left to the precarious goodwill of the rich, and suggested that it could be enforced by organized social pressure and even by law. Gandhi advocated heavy taxes, limited rights of inheritance, state ownership of land and heavy industry, and nationalization without compensation as a way of creating a just and equal society.

IV LEADERSHIP TO INDEPENDENCE

Nehru Announces Gandhi's Death After Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, his friend and one-time protégé Jawaharlal Nehru (by then Prime Minister of India) announced his death on the radio. His voice breaking with emotion, he payed tribute to his mentor of the previous 30 years, whose moral authority had given him a unique place in the struggle for Indian independence. Courtesy of Gordon Skene Sound Collection. All rights reserved.
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In 1930 he proclaimed a new campaign of civil disobedience, calling upon the Indian population to refuse to pay taxes, particularly the tax on salt. The campaign involved a march to the sea, in which thousands of Indians followed Gandhi from Ahmadabad to the Arabian Sea, where they made salt by evaporating sea water. This highly symbolic and defiant gesture proved very effective. Once more the Indian leader was arrested, but he was released in 1931, halting the campaign after the British made concessions to his demands. In the same year Gandhi represented the Indian National Congress at a conference in London.

In 1932, Gandhi began new civil disobedience campaigns against the British. Two years later he formally resigned from politics, being replaced as leader of the Congress Party by Jawaharlal Nehru, and travelled through India, teaching and promoting social reform.

A few years later, in 1939, Gandhi again returned to active political life, attacking colonial policy over the federation of Indian principalities with the rest of India. When World War II broke out, the Congress Party and Gandhi decided not to support Britain unless India was granted complete and immediate independence. Even when Japan entered the war, Gandhi refused to agree to Indian participation. He was interned in 1942, but was released two years later because of failing health.

Despite Gandhis resistance to the principle of partition, India and Pakistan became separate states

By 1944 the British government had agreed to independence, on condition that the Congress Party and the Muslim League resolve their differences. Despite Gandhis resistance to the principle of partition, India and Pakistan became separate states when the British granted India its independence in 1947. Bloody sectarian violence ensued.

Though Gandhi was born a bania, there was a powerful and endearing streak of the gambler and the outlaw in him. When Hindus and Muslims were engaged in fierce intercommunal strife in 1946 and 1947, he moved among them alone and unprotected, dared them to do their worst, and by sheer force of personality consoled the inconsolable, dissolved hatred, and restored a climate of humanity. When a bomb was dropped at one of his prayer meetings a few weeks later, he chided his frightened audience for being scared of a œmere bomb. Through fasts, he quelled violence in Calcutta and New Delhi. When the government of independent India decided, with popular support, to renege on its promise to transfer to Pakistan its share of assets, he took on the entire country, and successfully fasted to awaken its sense of honour and moral obligation. This deeply angered a section of Hindu nationalists, one of whom, after respectfully bowing to him, shot him dead at a prayer meeting on January 30, 1948.

Nehru Announces Gandhi's Death: After Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, his friend and one-time protégé Jawaharlal Nehru (by then Prime Minister of India) announced his death on the radio. His voice breaking with emotion, he payed tribute to his mentor of the previous 30 years, whose moral authority had given him a unique place in the struggle for Indian independence.

POSTHUMOUS LEGACY

Gandhis intellectual influence on his countrymen was considerable. Some were attracted by his emphasis on political and economic decentralization; others by his insistence on individual freedom, moral integrity, the unity of means and ends, and social service; still others by his satyagraha and political activism. For some students of India, Gandhis influence is responsible for its failure to throw up any genuinely radical political movement. For others it cultivated a spirit of non-violence, encouraged the habits of collective self-help, and helped lay the foundations of a stable, morally committed, and democratic government. Gandhi ideas have also had a profound influence outside India, where they inspired non-violent activism and movements in favour of small-scale, self-sufficient communities living closer to nature and with greater sensitivity to their environment.

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