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Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (October 2, 1869 - January 30, 1948), known popularly as Mahatma Gandhi (Mahatma - Sanskrit: "great soul"), was one of the founding fathers of the modern Indian state and an influential advocate of Satyagraha (non-violent protest) as a means of revolution. (See also: Mahatmas.)

He helped bring about India's independence from British rule, inspiring other colonial peoples to work for their own independence and ultimately dismantle the British Empire and replace it with the Commonwealth. Gandhi's principle of satyagraha, often roughly translated as "way of truth" or "pursuit of truth", has inspired generations of democratic and anti-racist activists including Martin Luther King, Jr and Nelson Mandela. He often stated his values were simple: truth (satya), and non-violence (ahimsa).

Early life

Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbander, Gujarat, India. He was the son of a local official and trained as a lawyer in London. He went to Durban , South Africa to practise law in 1893 and began his political career by lobbying against laws discriminating against Indians in South Africa. Gandhi was arrested on November 6, 1913 while leading a march of Indian miners in South Africa.

Gandhi drew inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita and the writings of Leo Tolstoy, who in the 1880s had undergone a profound conversion to a personal form of Christian anarchism. Gandhi translated Tolstoy's "Letter to a Hindu" which was written in 1908 in response to aggressive Indian nationalists, and the two corresponded until Tolstoy's death in 1910. The letter by Tolstoy uses Hindu philosophy taken from the Vedas and sayings of the Hindu God Lord Krishna to present his view of that state of growing Indian nationalism.

During World War I, Gandhi returned to India, where he campaigned for Indians to join the British Indian Army.

Gandhi and the movement for Indian independence

After the war, he became involved with the Indian National Congress and the movement for independence. He gained worldwide publicity through his policy of civil disobedience and the use of fasting as a form of protest, and was repeatedly imprisoned by the British authorities (for example on March 18, 1922 he was sentenced to six years in prison for civil disobedience but served only 2 years). One of his most striking actions was the salt march known as the Dandi March, that started on March 12, 1930 and ended on April 5, when he led thousands of people to the sea to collect their own salt rather than pay the salt tax. On May 8, 1933 Gandhi began a fast that would last 21 days to protest British oppression in India. In Bombay, on March 3, 1939 Gandhi fasted again in protest of the autocratic rule in India.

World War II

Gandhi became even more vocal in his demand for independence during World War II, drafting a resolution calling for the British to Quit India, which soon sparked the largest movement for Indian independence ever, with mass arrests and violence on an unprecedented scale. During this time, he even hinted an end for his otherwise unwavering support of non-violence, saying that the 'ordered anarchy' around him was 'worse than real anarchy'. He was then arrested in Bombay by British forces on August 9, 1942 and was held for two years.

Gandhi and the Partition of India

Gandhi had great influence among the Hindu and Muslim communities of India. It is said that he ended communal riots through his mere presence. Gandhi was vehemently opposed to any plan which partitioned India into two separate countries (the plan was eventually adopted, creating a Hindu-dominated India, and a Muslim-dominated Pakistan). On the day of the power transfer, Gandhi did not celebrate independence with the rest of India, but mourned partition alone in Calcutta instead. He was assassinated in New Delhi on January 30, 1948 by Naturam Godse, a Hindu radical who held him responsible for weakening the new government by insisting on a payment to Pakistan. Godse was later tried, convicted, and executed.

Gandhi's principles

Gandhi's philosophies and his ideas of satya and ahimsa have been influenced by the Bhagvad Gita and the Jain religion. However, satya and ahimsa were common terms of Hinduism long before, and concept of 'nonviolence' (ahimsa) was a standard one in the Hindu scriptures. Gandhi explains his philosphy and way of life in his autobiography The Story of my Experiments with Truth.

He was a strict vegetarian and had written books on the subject while he was studying for law in London. He experiemented with different diets and believed that a diet should be enough to satisfy the minimum requirements of the body. He also abstained from taking food for periods of time, and he used this practice of fasting also as a political weapon.

Gandhi spent a day of the week in silence. He would abstain from speaking and he believed it brought him inner peace. On such days he communicated with others by writing on paper.

After returning to India from a successful lawyer career in South Africa, he gave up his clothing that represented wealth and success. His idea was to adopt a kind of clothing whereby he can be accepted by even the poorest person in India. He advocated use of home-spun cloth. Gandhi and his followers followed the practice of weaving their own cloth using a spinning-wheel and wearing a dress made of that. The spinning wheel was later incorporated into the flag of the Indian National Congress.

Gandhi was against conventional education as taught in schools and believed that children learn best from parents and from the society. While in South Africa, Gandhi along with other elders formed a group of teachers and directly imparted education to the children.

Gandhi in art

The most famous artistic depiction of his life is the film Gandhi, directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Ben Kingsley in the title role. Another film that deals with Gandhi's 21 years of life in South Africa is The Making of the Mahatma directed by Shyam Benegal and starring Rajit Kapur.

There is a statue of Gandhi outside the Ferry Building in San Francisco

Gandhi and the Nobel Peace Prize

M.K.Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace Prize, though he was nominated five times for the same between 1937 and 1948. Decades later however, the omission was publicly regretted by the Nobel Committee. When the Dalai Lama was awarded the Peace Prize in 1989, the chairman of the committee said that this was "in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi".

The official Nobel e-museum has an article discussing the issue. [1]

Albert Einstein famously said of Gandhi, "Generations to come, it may be, will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."

External links

See also: Vinoba Bhave -- Subhas Chandra Bose -- Sarojini Naidu -- Mahadev Desai