Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi: a Real Activist

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Updated: Feb 05, 2019
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“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” -Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi is an activist, who led the people of India out from the tyranny of the British rule. He believed in nonviolent activism which was very influential to his followers. He was referred to as Mahatma, meaning “the great-souled one” by some of his followers because of his belief in nonviolence. Mohandas Gandhi was a very influential hero and leader of the early 1900s whose work can be summarized in his early life, activism, and impact.

On October 2nd, 1869, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in the old port town of Porbandar, India. (Reynolds 13). Porbandar was the capital of a small principality in Western India that was still under British rule when Gandhi was born. Gandhi was the youngest child of his father’s 4th wife. Gandhi’s father, Karamchand was the chief minister of Porbandar. His mother, Putlibai was completely absorbed in religion and didn’t want or care about material items. Gandhi’s home was full of Vaishnavism (Nanda 1). Vaishnavism is the worship of the Hindu god Vishnu who is said to preserve and protect the universe. Hinduism is an Indian religion that believes in the doctrines of samsara and karma. Samsara is the continuous cycle of life, death, and reincarnation while karma is the universal law of cause and effect. Many Hindus, like Gandhi’s family, are henotheistic, meaning they worship one deity, such as Vishnu, and only recognize the others (“Hinduism”).

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At age 19, Gandhi left home to go to the Inner Temple, one of the law schools in London. He returned to India in mid-1891 and began a law practice in Bombay. His law practice was met with very little success (“Mahatma Gandhi” 1). Gandhi soon accepted a job with an Indian shipping and trading company that moved him to South Africa. There, he acted as their legal consultant (Mohandas Gandhi). Gandhi, his wife, Kasturbai, and his children stayed in South Africa for almost 20 years.

Gandi is revered worldwide for his nonviolent stand on opposition to authority (“Mahatma Gandhi” 1). He is famous for fighting against Britain’s Constitutional Monarchy, which is a country that is ruled by a king or queen who is limited by a constitution (“Constitutional Monarchy” 1). He was internationally esteemed for his doctrine of satyagraha. The adoration of huge crowds that followed him on his journey often made it hard for him to work or sleep (Nanda 1). He protested against the oppression of India’s lowest classes or, “untouchables” among many other things. He was known to his followers as Mahatma or, “the great-souled one” in Sanskrit. Gandhi began his activism in the early 1900s in South Africa as an Indian immigrant. He was angry about the backlash he received from being an immigrant in South Africa (“Mahatma Gandhi” 1). South Africa consisted of 2 British colonies, Cape and Natal, and two Dutch colonies, Transvaal and Orange Free State. In many parts of South Africa, especially the Dutch colonies, Indian immigrants were faced with so much racism and discrimination. In some parts, Indian immigrants could not own land, vote or be out past curfew.

Gandhi worked with other Indian activist groups in South Africa to create the Indian Natal Congress that achieved the goal of giving Indians in South Africa a vote. In 1899, right in the middle of the Boer War, Gandhi organized the Indian Ambulance Corps to show the British that Indians were capable and responsible (“Mohandas Gandhi 2).

On a train trip to Pretoria, South Africa, Gandhi was thrown out of the train and beaten by a white stagecoach drive because Gandhi wouldn’t give up his seat to a European man. This train ride served as a turning point in Gandhi’s career as an activist. Soon after that ride, Gandhi began developing and later teaching his doctrine of satyagraha, the concept of truth and firmness. Gandhi used this concept as a tool in his non-cooperation efforts toward authorities (“Mahatma Gandhi 2). In 1906 Gandhi organized the first satyagraha (concept of truth and firmness) campaign to protest the Transvaal Asiatic Amendments Act. The act required all Indians living in Transvaal to be fingerprinted and registered (“Mohandas Gandhi” 2). The movement lasted 8 years. In the movement’s final phase hundreds of Indians were jailed and thousands of Indian miners were jailed, flogged, and even shot. After the movement, the South African government recognized Indian marriages and abolished existing poll taxes for Indians, all negotiated by Gandhi (“Mahatma Gandhi” 2). Gandhi continued to protest the Act until it was repealed in 1911.

In 1914 Gandhi left South Africa and in 1915 he finally returned to his home of Bombay, India, and was welcomed as a hero. Gandhi spent the next year traveling around India by train. While he was in South Africa, Gandhi created the South Africa Phoenix Settlement for his followers and friends to experiment living in a community together. When he returned to India, he created the Satyagraha Ashram in the Gujarat Province of India. The Satyagraha Ashram was very similar to the Phoenix Settlement. Gandhi also invited a group of “untouchables” to come and live at the Ashram which shocked many people on the farm. In 1917 the Satyagraha Ashram relocated to the Sabarmati River and was renamed the Sabarmati Ashram (“Mohandas Gandhi” 2).

In 1919, Gandhi launched a protest against Parliament because of the Rowlatt Acts. These Acts gave British authorities the right to break up any and all “secret” Indian meetings. As he always did, Gandhi temporarily backed out after violence broke out because that went against what he stood for (“Mahatma Gandhi” 2). In the same year, more than 350 unarmed Indians were killed by heavily armed British troops. They were at a Sikh religious celebration that apparently counted as a “secret meeting” that the Rowlatt Acts were supposed to stop. Gandhi responded to the heinous massacre with a very public three day fast (“Mohandas Gandhi” 3).

By 1920, Gandhi was the face of India’s fight for independence (“Mahatma Gandhi” 2). In that year he also boycotted many British-made materials and goods to protest the western materialism and Britain’s economic hold on India. Instead, Gandhi promoted India made goods and materials (“Mohandas Gandhi” 3). He even led boycotts on manufacturers, institutions, and all other British influences. In these movements and boycotts, Gandhi was backed by the authority of the Indian National Congress or INC. When violence broke out once again, Gandhi announced the end of the movement.

In March of 1922, Gandhi was arrested and tried for seditious acts. He was sentenced to 6 years in prison but got out in two because of a case of appendicitis. Shortly after, Gandhi announced he was opting out of politics and stuck with that for 6 years (“Mahatma Gandhi” 2). In 1928, Gandhi organized a massive tax strike in Bardoli, Gujarat Province. Gandhi was protesting the creation of a constitutional reform committee that didn’t include a single Indian (“Mohandas Gandhi” 3). In 1930, Gandhi was back in politics and launches a civil disobedience campaign against the government’s tax on salt (“Mahatma Gandhi” 2). The Salt Act forbade all Indians from making their own salt (“Mohandas Gandhi” 3). In April- May of 1930, thousands of Indians followed Gandhi from Ahmedabad, India to the Arabian Sea. This 200-mile long trip is now known as the Salt March. The Salt March resulted in the arrest of nearly 60,000 people, including Gandhi himself (“Mahatma Gandhi” 1). When Gandhi finished his journey, he picked up a single grain of salt from the sea, which was breaking British law. Gandhi was imprisoned at the end of this journey but the British released him to negotiate the end of the protest (“Mohandas Gandhi” 3). In 1931, Britain negotiated some and Gandhi called off the movement in order to have representation in Britain. Gandhi was invited to represent the INC at the Round Table Conference in London (“Mahatma Gandhi” 3).

In 1932, Gandhi was imprisoned again and began his “fast until death” in protest of the British proposal to create a different voting class for “untouchables.” The fast ended when Indian and British leaders negotiated a settlement that all Indians are apart of the same voting class, no matter their place in Hindu society. After that fast was over, Gandhi undertook a “purification fast” and authorities worried that Gandhi wouldn’t survive another fast so they released him (“Mohandas Gandhi” 3).

In 1934, Gandhi announced his retirement from politics so that he could focus on the rural villages in need of help. But yet again, Gandhi was drawn back into politics at the beginning of World War II. Gandhi took control of the INC once again. Gandhi demanded trade independence from Britain for help from India in the war. Britain didn’t agree with him and imprisoned all INC leaders. In 1947, the Labor Party took power in Britain and negotiations for independence ensued. Later that year, on August 14th, India gained independence from Britain but was split into 2 countries; India and Pakistan. Gandhi opposed the Partition but agreed to it in hopes of peace between Hindus and Muslims. Riots followed the Partition and Gandhi encouraged peace between Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi partook in a hunger strike until the riots were over.

In January of 1948, Gandhi undertook another fast to bring peace to Delhi, India. On January 30th, on his way to an evening prayer meeting in Delhi, Gandhi was shot 3 times by Nathuram Godse. Godse was a Hindu fanatic who was enraged that Gandhi was negotiating with Muslims. He died aged 78. On January 31st, roughly one million people followed the procession of Gandhi’s body through the streets of Delhi. He was carried to the holy Jumna River Bank where he was cremated (“Mahatma Gandhi” 3).

Gandhi was considered the father of his country. He was a lawyer, politician, social activist, writer and devout Hindu (Nanda 1). He was known for dressing in only a loincloth and shawl. He was imprisoned several times during his pursuit of resistance and also undertook a number of fasts and other protests for peace among Hindus and Muslims (“Mahatma Gandhi” 1)

Through everything the Gandhi learned and taught, he taught others that violence isn’t the only way to gain major power and make a change. Gandhi believed that patience was the way to success. He taught 5 great lessons that everyone should follow. First, the power of love is greater than the power of our own brute force. Second, war inflicts pain and anguish onto everyone involved. World peace comes from the power of nonviolence. Third, we live for our values and passions but our existence is rooted in the desire to live peacefully. Strength of courage is in self-sacrifice for the benefit of the whole. Fourth, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” -Mahatma Gandhi. We should show a willingness to understand other people and their issues. Lastly, “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” -Gandhi. We must be the change and understand each other as one (“Impact of the World” 2).

His fame was known worldwide and has only increased since he has died. Gandhi was the initiator of not one but 3 major world revolutions of the 20th century. Gandhi can be credited for the movements against colonialism, racism, and violence (Nanda 12). Gandhi inspired the movements made by Martin Luther King Jr. He led movements and protests for basic human rights of Indians, to ease poverty, the expansion of women’s rights and to build racial and religious harmony in India (“Impact on the World” 1). In Pune, Maharashtra, India, Gandhi has been memorialized with a stone with his name on it (Nanda 12).

In conclusion, Gandhi was an activist that changed this world for the better. He brought peace to many people of the world during his time and now. Someday soon the people of this country and world should take into consideration the ideas and doctrines of Gandhi. More than 70 years after his death, the doctrine of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is still observed and revered worldwide.

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