Creating a culture of continuous learning and change
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, at Porbandar, a coastal town on the western coast of India, which was then one of the many tiny states in Kathiawar a small princely state under the Bombay Presidency, British India. He was born in middle class family of Vaishya caste. Mohandas's mother Putlibai was a saintly character, gentle and devout and left a deep impress on his mind. He was seven when his family moved to Rajkot, another state in Kathiawar, where his father, Karamchand Gandhi became Dewan (Prime Minister). There in Rajkot he attended a primary school and later joined a high school. Though conscientious he was a "mediocre student" and was excessively shy and timid. While he was still in high school, he was married, at the age of thirteen, to Kasturbai who was also of the same age.
When Gandhi left for Pretoria to meet his client in connection with a lawsuit a white passenger objected to the presence of a "coloured" man in the first class train compartment and Gandhi was ordered by a railway official to shift to a third class. When he refused to do so, a constable pushed him out and his luggage was taken away by the railway authorities. In his remaining journey from Charlestown to Johannesburg by stagecoach, Gandhi was made to sit with the coachman on the box outside so as to make way for the white conductor who sat inside with the white passengers. Gandhi however pocketed the insult for fear of missing the coach altogether.
In 1907, when the Transvaal government passed the Black Act, requiring all Indians, men and women, to register, Gandhi advised the Indian community to refuse and as a result he was arrested and sentenced to two month simple imprisonment. The Indians made a bonfire of their registration certificates and decided to defy the ban on immigration to the Transvaal. Jails began to be filled and Gandhi was arrested in 1908 and 1909 for second time and third time sentencing for two and three month’s imprisonment of hard labour. In 1911, a provisional settlement of the Asiatic question in the Transvaal brought about a suspension of the Satyagraha by the Indian community. Under Gandhi's leadership thousands striking Indian miners were arrested for defying an act which make it illegal for the Indians to cross the border from the Transvaal into Natal and vice versa, without a permit. After a brief imprisonment Gandhi was released and in January 1914, a provisional agreement was arrived at between him and General Smuts and the main Indian demands were conceded. Recalling the gift (twenty five years later) - a pair of sandal made by Gandhi while in jail, General Smut wrote: "I have worn these sandals for many a summer since then even though I may feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man."
Gandhi's work in South Africa was now over and he finally returned to India in January 1915, a Mahatma, with no possessions and with only one ambition - to serve his people. Though the intelligentsia had heard of his exploits in South Africa, he was not much known in India and Indians in general did not realize that "the Great Soul in beggar's garb", as the bard-poet Tagore called him later, had reached her shores. The first year in India Gandhi decided to tour the country studying, with "his ears open but his mouth shut". At the end of his year's wanderings, Gandhi settled down on the bank of the river Sabarmati, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, where he founded an ashram in May 1915. He called it the Satyagraha Ashram.
Gandhi's first public address in India was on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the Banaras Hindu University in February 1916, which was distinguished by the presence of many magnets and princes and of the Viceroy himself. Speaking in English he shocked them all by expressing his "deep humiliation and shame" at being compelled "to address my countrymen in a language that is foreign to me". He shocked them more when turning to the bejewelled princes he said: "There is no salvation for India unless you strip yourselves of this jewellery and hold it in trust for your countrymen in India." As a result many princes walked out.
His first satyagraha was in Champaran, in Bihar in 1917, where he went at the request of the exploited indigo planters of that district. Gandhi was ordered to leave district by the administration and when he refused the embarrass magistrate postponed the trial and released him without bail. The success of his first experiment in satyagraha in India greatly enhanced Gandhi's reputation in the country. Next Gandhi proceed to Ahmedabad by an urgent appeal from the textile workers of whose dispute with the mill-owners was taking a serious turn. Since it was the fear of starvation which drove the workers to desperation, Gandhi decided to starve himself. At the end of three days, both parties agreed on arbitration. Almost immediately came the agrarian trouble in the Kheda district of Gujarat. The peasants who were on the verge of starvation were being forced by the Government to pay the usual tax. Gandhi advised satyagraha and persuade all the peasants, not to pay any tax until those who could not pay were granted remission. The no-tax campaign lasted for about four months at the end of which the Government suspended the assessment for the poor peasants.
It was with the passing of Rowlatt bill denying civil liberties, finally brought Gandhi into active Indian politics. Gandhi exhorted the people to hartal or a national observance of mourning or protest by the closing of shops and places of business. The hartal was observed all over India. When Gandhi came to Ahmedabad and found that a police officer had been killed by the mob, he was horrified. He suspended the satyagraha movement and undertook a fast for three days. On the very day, April 13, 1919, when Gandhi announced his three-day fast in Ahmedabad, the British General Dyer ordered the massacre of unarmed and peaceful citizens attending a meeting in Jallianwala Bagh at Amritsar. The events of that day which has been called by Sir Valentine Chirol as "that black day in the annals of British India" mark a turning point in the history of the Indian struggle. Gandhi also shared with equal zeal the Indian Muslim's concern at the rate of the defeated Turkish Sultan who was also the Caliph or the religious head of Islam. In fact, it was at a Muslim Conference held in Delhi in November 1919 that he first advocated non-cooperation with the British Government.
For the next five years Gandhi seemingly retired from active agitational politics and devoted himself to the propagation of what he regarded as the basic national needs, namely, Hindu-Muslim unity, removal of untouchablility, equality of women, popularization of hand-spinning and the reconstruction of village economy in general. By 1929, the divided groups among the congress once more rallied under his leadership, to moved the Resolution in the Congress session declaring Purna Swaraj or complete Independence as the goal of Congress policy. On 31 December 1929, the flag of India was unfurled in Lahore and in 26 January 1930 was celebrated as India's Independence Day by the Indian National Congress meeting in Lahore.
Gandhi then launched a new satyagraha against the tax on salt in March 1930. This was highlighted by the famous Salt March to Dandi from 12 March to 6 April, where he marched 388 kilometres (241 miles) from Ahmedabad to Dandi, Gujarat to make salt himself. Thousands of Indians joined him on this march to the sea. This campaign was one of his most successful at upsetting British hold on India; Britain responded by imprisoning over 60,000 people. This simple act was immediately followed by a nation-wide defiance of the law.
When the First Round Table Conference met in November 1930, the Labour Government was faced with an embarrassing situation. The government, represented by Lord Edward Irwin, decided to negotiate with Gandhi. The Gandhi–Irwin Pact was signed in March 1931. The British Government agreed to free all political prisoners, in return for the suspension of the civil disobedience movement. Also as a result of the pact, Gandhi was invited to attend the Round Table Conference in London as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress. In London, he declined to go to a hotel and stayed at Kingsley Hall, a social service centre in the East End, where he soon won the hearts of the young and old. He went to Lancashire where his agitation against foreign cloth had caused unemployment. The workers cheered him and one of the unemployed said: "I am one of the unemployed, but if I was in India I would say the same thing that Mr. Gandhi is saying”. The Gandhi-Irwin talks began to the disgust of Winston Churchill, who was scandalized at "the nauseating and humiliating spectacle of this one-time Inner Temple Lawyer, now seditious fakir, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceroy's palace, there to negotiate a parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor." The conference was a disappointment to Gandhi and the nationalists, because it focused on the Indian princes and Indian minorities rather than on a transfer of power. Furthermore, Lord Irwin's successor, Lord Willingdon, began a new campaign of controlling and subduing the nationalist movement. But though he returned empty-handed, his visit was not without good results. He had by now become a legend. Gandhi was again arrested, when he landed on December 28, 1931, "I take it", said Gandhi "that these are Christmas gifts from Lord Willingdon, our Christian Viceroy."
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Gandhi intensified his demand for independence, drafting a resolution calling for the British to Quit Indiaa nd prepared to organize satyagraha resulting in mass arrests and violence on an unprecedented scale. He even clarified that this time the movement would not be stopped if individual acts of violence were committed, saying that the "ordered anarchy" around him was "worse than real anarchy." He called on all Congressmen and Indians to maintain discipline via ahimsa, and Karo Ya Maro ("Do or Die") in the cause of ultimate freedom. This was Gandhi's and the Congress Party's most definitive revolt aimed at securing the British exit from India. Gandhi and the entire Congress Working Committee were arrested in Bombay by the British on 9 August 1942. Gandhi was held for two years in the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. It was here that Gandhi suffered two terrible blows in his personal life. His secretary Mahadev Desai died of a heart attack 6 days later and Gandhi’s wife Kasturba died after 18 months imprisonment in 1944; six weeks later Gandhi suffered a severe malaria attack. He was released before the end of the war on 1944 because of his failing health and necessary surgery. At the end of the war, the British gave clear indications that power would be transferred to Indian hands. While the Indian National Congress and Gandhi called for the British to quit India, the Muslim League passed a resolution for them to divide and quit, in 1943. All though his political career Gandhi had worked passionately for Hindu-Muslim accord. Even in 1919, he had made the Khilafat cause his own and had later fasted to bring about communal harmony. But the more he tried to placate the Muslims the more adamant and extravagant grew their demands until their leader Jinnah would be satisfied with nothing less than a separate state for the Muslims. In the meanwhile, elections were to be held and a Constituent Assembly convened to frame a constitution for a united India. A Cabinet Mission arrived from England to discuss with Indian leaders the future shape of a free and united India, but failed to bring the Congress and Muslims together. On August 12, 1946, the Viceroy invited Jawaharlal Nehru to form an interim government. As a result Jinnah called for Direct Action Day on 16 August 1946, in Bengal which resulted in an orgy of bloodshed spreading to other places in India. Gandhi was infuriated and visited the most riot prone areas to stop the massacres, personally. the Indian Independence Act was invoked on the 14th and 15th of August, 1947 following the blooshed and displacement of million people in the former British Indian Empire. On August 15, 1947, India was partitioned and became free. Gandhi declined to attend the celebrations in the capital and went to Calcutta where communal riots were still raging. On his birthday October 2, when messages and greetings poured in from all over the world, he asked: "Where do congratulations come in? Would it not be more appropriate to send condolences? There is nothing but anguish in my heart . . . I cannot live while hatred and killing mar the atmosphere."
On January 30, 1948, ten days after a bomb was thrown at him, Gandhi was shot while he was walking to a platform from which he was to address a prayer meeting in Birla House. Gandhi fell, his lips uttering the name He Ram, He Ram (Oh God, Oh God). The assassin, Nathuram Godse, was a Hindu nationalist with links to the extremist Hindu Mahasabha, who held Gandhi responsible for weakening India by insisting upon a payment to Pakistan. Godse and his co-conspirator Narayan Apte were later tried and convicted; they were executed on 15 November 1949.
Thus died the Mahatma, at the hands of one of his own people, to the eternal glory of what he had lived for and to the eternal shame of those who failed to understand that he was the best representative of the religion for which he suffered martyrdom. The nation's feeling was best expressed by Prime Minister Nehru when he gave the news to the people on the radio:
"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... The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years, and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented the living truth, and the eternal man was with us with his eternal truth reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom..."
From 1919 to his death in 1948, he occupied the centre of the Indian stage and was the hero of the great historical drama which culminated in the independence of his country. He changed the entire character of the political scene in India. He only grew. In the thick of the battle he remained a man of God. Such men cannot die, for they live in their achievements. His were many, each one of which judged by the greatness of its execution or in its results for human welfare, would have made his name immortal anywhere in the world. He brought freedom from foreign subjection to a fifth of the human race. The freedom he wrought for India naturally includes that of Pakistan. Of no less importance was what he did for those who were once known as the untouchables. He freed millions of human beings from the shackles of caste tyranny and social indignity. By his insistence that freedom was to be measured by the well-being of the millions who were living in the villages, he laid the foundation for a new way of life which may one day well provide an effective alternative to both a regiment and an acquisitive economy. His martyrdom shamed his people out of communal hysteria and helped to establish the secular and democratic character of the Indian State. The moral influence of his personality and of his gospel and technique of non-violence cannot be weighed in any material scale. Nor is its value limited to any particular country or generation. It is his imperishable gift to humanity.
Gandhi was a prolific writer. For decades he edited several newspapers including Harijan, Indian Opinion while in South Africa and, Young India, in English, and Navajivan, a Gujarati monthly, on his return to India. In addition, he wrote letters almost every day to individuals and newspapers.Gandhi also wrote several books including his autobiography, An Autobiography of My Experiments with Truth, Satyagraha in South Africa about his struggle there, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, a political pamphlet, and a paraphrase in Gujarati of John Ruskin's Unto This Last. He also wrote extensively on vegetarianism, diet and health, religion, social reforms, etc. Gandhi usually wrote in Gujarati, though he also revised the Hindi and English translations of his books. Gandhi's complete works were published by the Indian government under the name The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi in the 1960s. The writings comprise about 50,000 pages published in about a hundred volumes.
Gandhi influenced important leaders and political movements. Leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States, including Martin Luther King Jr. who stated that "Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics” and James Lawson, drew from the writings of Gandhi in the development of their own theories about non-violence. Anti-apartheid activist and former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was inspired by Gandhi. As Bhana and Vahed commented on these events as "Gandhi inspired succeeding generations of South African activists seeking to end White rule. This legacy connects him to Nelson Mandela...in a sense Mandela completed what Gandhi started." Others include Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Steve Biko, Aung San Suu Kyi and Benigno Aquino Jr. In addition, the British musician John Lennon referred to Gandhi when discussing his views on non-violence. At the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in 2007, former U.S. Vice-President and environmentalist Al Gore spoke of Gandhi's influence on him. Finally, prior to becoming President of the United States, then-Senator Barack Obama noted that: “Throughout my life, I have always looked to Mahatma Gandhi as an inspiration, because he embodies the kind of transformational change that can be made when ordinary people come together to do extraordinary things……” .The Mahatma Gandhi District in Houston, Texas, United States, an ethnic Indian enclave, is named after Gandhi.
Gandhi's birthday, 2 October, is a national holiday in India, Gandhi Jayanti. On 15 June 2007, it was announced that the "United Nations General Assembly" has "unanimously adopted" a resolution declaring 2 October as "the International Day of Non-Violence." India observes 30 January the day of his assassination, as Martyr's Day, to commemorate those who gave up their lives in service of the Indian nation. Time magazine named Gandhi the Man of the Year in 1930. Gandhi was also the runner-up to Albert Einstein as "Person of the Century" at the end of 1999. Time Magazine named The 14th Dalai Lama, Lech Wałęsa, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Aung San Suu Kyi, Benigno Aquino, Jr., Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela as Children of Gandhi and his spiritual heirs to non-violence.
The Government of India awards the annual Mahatma Gandhi Peace Prize to distinguished social workers, world leaders and citizens. Nelson Mandela, the leader of South Africa's struggle to eradicate racial discrimination and segregation, is a prominent non-Indian recipient. Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace Prize, although he was nominated five times between 1937 and 1948. When the 14th Dalai Lama was awarded the Prize in 1989, the chairman of the committee said that this was "in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi."
Mahatma Gandhi has been portrayed in film, literature and in the theatre. Ben Kingsley portrayed Gandhi in the 1982 film Gandhi, which was awarded the Academy Award for Best Picture. Gandhi is also a central theme in the 2006 Bollywood film Lage Raho Munna Bhai. The 2007 film, Gandhi, My Father explores the relationship between Gandhi and his son Harilal. The 1996 film, The Making of the Mahatma, documents Gandhi's 21 years in South Africa. Several biographers have undertaken the task of describing Gandhi's life. Among them are: D. G. Tendulkar with his Mahatma. Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in eight volumes, and Pyarelal and Sushila Nayar with their Mahatma Gandhi in 10 volumes.
Even the famous European physicist Albert Einstein give a befitting tribute to the Great Mahatma that