The word “Mahatma” means “Great Soul. ” A name which had been given to Gandhi by the Indian people when they discovered that they had a Mahatma in their struggle under the leadership of Britain. Gandhi was born when British rule had been established in India. He had been witnessed to the daily difficulties of his countrymen as a British colony. Furthermore, racial persecution had been prevalent in South Africa where he experienced its first bitter taste. Hence, the beginning of his quest for resistance to injustice in his own country.
He introduced the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satyagraha (hold fast to the Truth) which had helped him to develop an indomitable will and unyielding opposition against the British Rule in which he had been revered as India’s “Great Soul. ” The principles were said to have its strengths and weaknesses which through careful study of the life of Gandhi had been revealed, and which many claimed to be not applicable in the society.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on the 2nd of October 1869, in Porbandar, a small state in Western India.
His father, Karamchand Gandhi, was Prime Minister of the Princely Indian State of Porbandar in Gujrat. Mohandas was the youngest of three sisters and two brothers. The Gandhi family was known for its wealth, frugality and shrewdness in business. Young Mohandas was the darling of his mother and a pampered child. Gandhi was seven when he got enrolled in Rajkot’s Alfred High School. At thirteen, he was married to Kasturbai. Child marriages, as arranged by the parents, were then common in India. Every student dreamed of Indian independence.
A Moslem friend convinced Gandhi that India was being ruled by the British because they ate meat and the Hindus did not. Meat symbolizes strength and strength means freedom. A family friend advised him to go to England where he could earn a law degree and equip himself to be a successor of his father as a prime minister. Although he would have preferred to study medicine, the idea of going to England excited young Gandhi. He studied law at University College, London. After having been admitted to the British bar in 1891, he returned to India and attempted to establish law profession in Bombay, to his dismay, without much success.
After two years, an Indian firm retained him as legal adviser in Durban. There, he experienced being treated as a member of the inferior race. He experienced humiliation and racial discrimination. On finding that Gandhi was travelling on a first class ticket, he was thrown out of the train by the white train constable. This had been a crucial ground for Gandhi’s quest for equality. He remained in South Africa for twenty years in which many times he experienced imprisonment. He was also overwhelmed at the widespread denial of civil liberties and political rights to Indian immigrants.
In 1896, he began to teach Satyagraha or the policy of passive resistance to, and non-cooperation with, the South African authorities. His first crusade began before he was set to leave South Africa upon reading a newspaper item about a bill which would deprive Natal Indians the right to vote for members of the legislative assembly. However, despite all efforts, the bill was passed. A monster petition was drawn up and even the leading newspapers of India and England backed up his cause. He continued to direct the fight for Indian rights by forming an organization called the Natal Indian Congress.
In 1894, the Natal government decided to discourage them from becoming free men by putting exorbitant annual tax on any serf. Gandhi began the campaign to have the tax repealed. However, in 1896, victory was nowhere in sight. In 1919, Rowlatt Acts had been passed which gave the Indian colonial authorities emergency powers to deal with so-called revolutionary activities, Satyagraha spread throughout India, gaining millions of followers. Indians demonstrated against the Rowlatt Acts which resulted in a massacre of Indians at Amritsar.
The British government failed to make amends with the Indians which led to the proclamation of Gandhi of an organized campaign of non-cooperation. Indians working in public office resigned, government agencies were boycotted and Indian children were removed from government schools. The economic independence for India became a part of Gandhi’s Swaraj or “self-governing” movement. Such aspects were significant as the exploitation of Indian villagers resulted in extreme poverty in the country. As a remedy, Gandhi started the revival of cottage industries.
He even introduced the use of a spinning wheel for the renewal of native Indian industries and as a symbol of a simple village life. Gandhi became the international symbol of a free India. His is a life of spirituality, fasting and meditation. He refused earthly possessions, and wore the loincloth and shawl of the lowliest Indian. Indians treated him as a saint. Hence, the beginning of being called “Mahatma. ” Gandhi’s advocacy of nonviolence, better known as “Ahimsa”, was the expression of a way of life implicit in the Hindu religion.
Through the principle of nonviolence, Gandhi believed that Great Britain would eventually consider violence useless and would leave India. Mahatma Gandhi’s political and spiritual hold on India was so great that even the British authorities did not dare to interfere with him. In 1921, he was given complete executive authority. However, it has been a struggle with the Indian population to fully comprehend Ahimsa. Thus, a series of armed revolts against Great Britain broke out. By such events, Gandhi admitted the failure of the civil disobedience campaign, and decided to end it.
In 1932, he began a new civil disobedience campaign against the British authorities. Having been arrested twice, he fasted for long periods of time which had been an effective measure for revolution might broke out had he been killed by the authorities instead. He traveled through India, teaching Ahims and demanding the eradication of “untouchability. ” Fasting caused public unrest which made the colonial government to intervene and to give in to the demands. Again, Mahatma Gandhi became the most important political figure in India.
In 1944, the struggle for Indian independence was in its final stages. The British government agreed to the independence upon the condition that the two contending nationalist groups, the Muslim League and the Congress party, should resolve their differences. Gandhi was against the condition of the partition of India. However, he agreed later in the hope that internal peace would be achieved later. Disturbances occurred and were only pacified when Gandhi committed fasting. On January 1948, he was assassinated by a fanatic Hindu.
It is of great importance to elaborate on how Gandhi treated the issue on caste and religious minorities. South Africa had been a ground for Gandhi to start the quest to end racial persecution. After his realization that the Europeans in South Africa did not want Indians to be in a high status position, Gandhi tried to oppose them. He did this by burning his “pass” that was issued only to the non-Europeans. Other Indians immediately followed him even though it was against the law. This event was the first of many times that Gandhi used passive resistance to illustrate a point.
He set up meetings for Indians to gather and protest non-violently. “Sammy”, “coon” and “coolie” were the derogatory Indian names which had been called to Gandhi. He set an example not by fighting or trying to get back to those who called him but by refusing to give his fingerprints. By this, other Indians followed him to protect their rights as citizens even if it caused them to be locked in jail. The Indian mine workers boycotted their jobs in order to free the people in jail, and sure enough, Gandhi and all the other prisoners were set free.
The oppressive laws got changed and Gandhi became satisfied with the improvements in South Africa. He radically changed the Indians lives and most of the discrimination that used to exist in South Africa even though it presented to him many problems. Furthermore, Gandhi tried to include the poverty-stricken people in classifying India. He realized their needs and made efforts to help them financially. Gandhi reached out to the inferior castes and began his fight to end discrimination and British control of India.
Passive resistance had been Gandhi’s ticket to gaining freedom from the British authorities. However, discrimination continued to get in the way. Gandhi had been put to prison many times because of his quest for equality and non-judgment in the differences in religion and skin color. Muslim-Hindu hostility was ended shortly when he tried to unite the two religious groups by fasting until violence had been stopped amongst them and the British. Also, it is important to note that the approaches used by Gandhi in his quest for Indian independence is not supreme in its very essence.
It has its strengths as well as its weaknesses. His experiences both in South Africa and India convinced him that not to intervene was to share in the responsibility for the injustices perpetrated by the system, and injustice is a form of violence. The question had been how to intervene with politics without further violence. Gandhi believed in the power of reasoned argument which drew a distinction between aggressive disputes and persuasion. The latter was believed to be the only nonviolent way of dealing with arguments.
Another strength would be through Satyagraha and the power of self-sacrifice in which it is possible to defeat prejudice and speak directly to the soul of another. Suffering love, as Gandhi argued, was profoundly redemptive. It redeems both parties as an appeal to humanity will let the other person to understand that one’s claim is similar to the other’s. Weaknesses were also present in Gandhi’s approach to achieve Indian independence. One of which occurred when he realized that he could not change the thinking of the White population after staying for three years in South Africa.
Furthermore, Gandhi added other nonviolent weapons when he realized that things were not so simple. One was the boycott of foreign cloth in order to put pressure to the British government. It has been said that such additional nonviolent weapon is not nonviolence but an admission of the limitation on the principle of nonviolence. Bikhu Parekh argued that although Gandhi believed that justice would be achieved by nonviolence, if this proved not to be the case, he was prepared to concede the necessity to use violence in certain instances.
So while he was a pacifist in the sense that peace was on of the highest value and of attaching so much importance to nonviolence, he was not a pacifist in the sense of believing that if nonviolence did not achieve what he was expecting, it would be better to stay quiet and not fight for it. In the end, violence would still be used to be successful. In addition, Gandhi realized that no kind of persuasion or Satyagraha is possible if there is no shared basis of understanding. Although this principle was successful in South Africa, he knew it didn’t really achieve very much, and that the system of White domination continued.
Where people were dogmatically convinced that something was right, nothing would shift them – even if you gave up your life in the effort to persuade them. The principle of nonviolence worked in India because the British authorities, although there have been brutalities towards Indians, maintained a relatively open society. There were slow brutality, and diffuse brutality, examples of racism – but not systematic repression. If India had been occupied not by the British but by the Nazis, things would have been quite different. You needed the pressure of an open society for nonviolent resistance to work.
If Gandhi had appeared in Hitler’s Germany, even before he had built up his leadership, he would have been killed. Additionally, Nehru pointed out that there were also dangers in Gandhi’s concept. India might become a land of masochists who considered suffering as a fetish. This kind of concept could brutalize an individual just like what violence can do. There was, too, an element of moral and spiritual elitism in this approach for moral superiority would be asserted, and there was a certain air of arrogance in trying to be someone else’s redeemer. The fundamental weakness was his belief that there was something called the soul.
Hatred and prejudices that surrounded prevented us from getting to it. Once we did, we could touch the pure soul. Bikhu did not believe in that kind of relationship between the soul and external prejudices because prejudices penetrated your core and there was not that pure soul lying there which one could activate. Finally, Gandhi had such a noble goal to make every one equal and equally free, and to unite not only Indian people but also everyone in the world. His personal goal is to succeed in making oppression go away for every man and woman. Gandhi did not succeed according to his particular goals.
However, there is not a possible way to succeed with standards set so high. Gandhi really pushed himself to be the best person he could be. Gandhi was successful in many ways, but not in the way he was hoping for. He did not want Pakistan to become its own state and was hoping the Hindus and Muslims would get along. The violence in India only got worse after he died and Indian society is discriminatory once again. Gandhi had a wonderful effect on people during most of his lifetime, but after he was gone, there was little done to preserve the culture that he molded so finely together.
Gandhi was unsuccessful according to his own standards, and his hopes of changing world culture. WORKS CITED Nanda, B. R. “Mahatma. ” < http://www. mkgandhi. org/biographyicon/bioindex. htm>. Parekh, Bikhu. “Strengths and Weaknesses of Gandhi’s Concept of Nonviolence. ” Bradford University. 12 Feb. 1999. < http://www. civilresistance. info/challenge/bhikhu>. Wolpert, Stanley. “Gandhi’s Passion: Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. ” < http://www. issi. org. pk/journal/2002_files/no_2/review/2r. htm>.
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