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Mohandas Gandhi


Born into a merchant family in 1869, Mohandas Karamchand
Gandhi was under the influence of powerful people. Members
of his family had served as prime ministers of an Indian
state for several generations. His parents were strong in
their religion, being devout and earnest Hindus. They were
a part of a Hindu sect that worshipped Vishnu and promoted
Apparently, he was most influenced by his mother, a gentle
and intelligent person. According to Hindu custom, he
married at an early age and grew to love his wife greatly.
Together, they had four children and adopted a fourth.
Later, in 1888, he travelled to England to become a
barrister-at-law. There were several important influences
that he encountered here: the Western material style of
life, which he decided not to follow, and in the simple
Russian way of living he found: the New Testament, and the
Bhagavadgita, the bible of the Hare Krishna movement. It
was here that he developed a sense of the presence of God
in his life and the lives of men.
Gandhi then returned to India and studied law in Bombay,
but he quickly denounced it, feeling that it was immoral
and could not satisfy one's conscience. Despite this, he
used his schooling to help plead for Indian settlers in
South Africa that were being oppressed by the white
population. His personal experiences, including being
ejected from a train in Maritzburg, of not being allowed
the same rights as others lead him to begin a movement to
help his people.
While in South Africa, Gandhi made himself poor so that he
could identify with his the peasants. He then proceeded to
start a colony that consisted of abused labourers. The
colony became very large and many cities were crippled by
the lack of labourers. The government reacted to this by
jailing Gandhi several times along with many other of his
followers. The war he fought was one without weapons,
already Gandhi was on his way to starting his career of
non-violent campaigns.
The main idea behind Gandhi's teachings was non-violence.
The words of the Sanskrit language: ahinsa and sayagraha
clearly express Gandhi's beliefs. The former means
non-killing, non-destructive and the latter means the force
of universal truth. He believed that the killing of man or
beast is an unforgivable sin. Many who promoted these
teachings of Gandhi simply believed that it was their only
option for resisting imperialism rather than having a moral
conviction towards his teachings. He taught that the weapon
that could be used was the conscience of the aggressor.
This ahimsa is, to some degree, in the tradition of
Hinduism teaches to stay away from temptation through
various exercises that test one's ability to perform a
difficult task, this devitalizes a person and causes him to
act on a non-violent level.
In addition, he taught that one should act rather be held
under subservience. Gandhi himself once stated, "Mere
knowledge of right and wrong will not make one fit for
salvation...the Gita says: 'No one has attained his goal
without action...' From this quotation, we learn that his
teachings are influenced by the Bhagavadgita and that he
believes that one must act to reach a goal. But, he
believed that one should denounce the rewards and simply
devote one's life to acting on the behalf of others and
that life should be lived near the soil, away from the
influence of machines.
Also, Gandhi strongly believed in upholding the caste
system, believing that a person of one caste should stay a
part of that caste. He also upheld the old Hindu tradition
of segregation of castes, indicating that, "Interdining and
intermarraige have never been a bar to disunion, quarrels
or worse." According to Hinduism, the caste system lies in
respect for one another's individuality.
Gandhi is well known for his efforts in fighting imperliasm
in India and South Africa. His methods were, unique in that
they did not involve the use of weapons.
During the South African War of 1899-1902 and during the
Zulu rebellion in 1906, Gandhi organised an ambulance corps
consisting of Indians to help the British fight. He
believed that duty dictated that the Indian population had
a responsibity to help the British when they were in a time
of need. Perhaps he was trying to show them that the
Indians put an effort into helping the British forces just
like everyone else and deserved the same rights as everyone
It is interesting to note that Gandhi did not promote
fighting, but he helped those who were in need of
After the law was passed that all Indians were required to
carry an identity card with them at all times, Gandhi
organised a group that resisted the government. In 1914,
Gandhi and his followers recieved their first victory, the
South African Government took away many of the laws that
had no real purpose except to humiliate the Indian people.
When Gandhi returned to India in 1914, the Indian
population had heard of his accomplishments and he was
given the name Mahatma, which means 'a man of great soul'.
For the next little while, he examined the situation here
and, while doing so, attained a few victories in his fight
against oppression. Several times in 1917, he unhardened
the spirits of peasants and motivated them to rebel without
the use of violence.
In 1919, Gandhi called upon all Indians to engage in
non-violent disobedience against the British Government by
withdrawing from Government jobs and from schools and
colleges. The magnitude of this act showed when many cities
were held at a standstill as the governmental system was
unable to act. Such was the power of non-violent protest.
When, in 1920, Gandhi became the leader of the Congress,
more Indians gave up their governmental jobs to join the
movement. After many of his follower's were put into prison
and cruelly dealt with, some people engaged in violence.
Gandhi's distaste for this reaction showed, yet he blamed
himself calling it a 'Himalayan miscalculation' to have
failed to teach the people how to react non-violently
before asking them to protest. As a result of his
'mistake', he called off the entire movement, thinking it
had been a failure. On the contrary, the movement had been
a great success, no longer did the Indians fear the British
jails or the British guns. It was evident now, that the
British Government in India was inevitably going to fall.
After many failures to reach an agreement with the British
Government and after a short 'Individual Civil
Disobedience' movement where many were imprisoned, the
British finally gave the power to the Indians in 1946. But,
the question remained as to whether or not the area should
be separated into two on a communal basis. As a result,
many riots broke out between the different interests of the
Gandhi himself was opposed to separation and to the
violence that had broken out. He went from village to
village trying to get the people to understand the benefits
of unity, but it wasn't working. He was forced to agree
with his comrades in the Congress who promoted partition
into two areas: India and Pakistan, which came about in
In 1948, Gandhi was fatally shot by a Hindu fanatic. All
over the globe, there was a certain sadness as many
realized that the man whom they had looked up to and
followed was now dead. As Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the
Prime Minister of India, put it, "The light has gone out of
our lives and there is darkness everywhere and I do not
quite know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved
leader, Bapu, as we call him the father of our nation, is
no more.
Gandhi's influence certainly spreads the globe. He has been
the role model for many famous, influential people. One of
these persons is Martin Luther King, Jr (1929-1968) who was
famous for leading a non-violent movement for racial
equality in the U.S.A.. Another person is Joan Baez (1941-
) who became famous as a folk-singer, a composer, and a
guitarist. She lead many antiwar and civil rights movements
in the U.S.. A third person could be Nehru, the first
Indian Prime Minister of India. He was deeply saddened by
Gandhi's death and could not have become Prime Minister
without Gandhi's efforts.
Indeed, Gandhi was a influential man who helped father the
nation of India as we know it today. Without him, the
Indians might still be held under British rule. Without
him, many might not have been inspired to fight racism or
imperialism non-violently. 


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