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Gandhi, MK-1

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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi-1
[Oct 2, 1869 - Jan 30, 1948 AD]

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a man of millennium who imparts the lesson of truth, non- violence and peace. The philosophy and ideology is relevant still today. The philosophy of Gandhi was based on truth, sacrifice, non-violence, selfless service and cooperation. In modern times, nonviolent methods of action have been a powerful tool for social protest. According to Gandhi one should be brave and not a coward. He should present his views, suggestions and thoughts without being violent. One should fight a war with the weapons of truth and non violence. Gandhi said - "There is no God higher than truth". According to Gandhi's thoughts non-violence is ultimate solution of every kind of problem in the world. Gandhi was single person who fought against the British with the weapons of truth and non-violence by persuading countrymen to walk on the path of non-violence.

Once a journalist asked Gandhi when he was on a visit to Europe - "What do you think of Western civilization?" He replied, "It would be very nice, wouldn't it?" The answer illustrated only one facet of his complex character. A westernized, English educated lawyer, who had lived outside India from his youth to middle age, he preached his traditional doctrines to which he had grown to respect in his childhood, notably Ahinsaa (non-violence). From 1921, he gave up his western style of dress and adopted the hand-spun Dhotee. Churchill said that he was a naked Faqeer (holy man). Yet if he was a thorn in British flesh, he was also fiercely critical of many aspects of Hindu society - caste system, Often despised by the British in India, he succeeded in gaining the reluctant respect and ultimately outright admiration of many. His death at the hands of a Hindu chauvinist on 30th January 1948 was a final testimony to the ambiguity of his achievements - successful in contributing so much to achieving India's independence, yet failing to resolve some of the bitter communal legacies which he gave his life to overcome.

Biography and Character
He was born in a Hindu Vaishya Modh family at Porbandar in Gujaraat State on October 2, 1869. His father's name was Karamchand Gandhi, the Deevaan (Prime Minister) of Porbandar (died when Mohandaas was only 16), and of Putalee Baaee, Karamchand's fourth wife. Karamchand's first two wives who each bore him a daughter, died for unknown reasons (believed to be in childbirth). Living amidst Jain community he learnt non-violence, vegetarianism, fasting for self-purification, and mutual tolerance amongst members of various creeds and sects from his childhood. In 1883, at the age of 13, he was married to Kastoorbaa Makhaanjee (later popularly known as Baa). They had four sons - Harilal born in 1888, Manilal in 1892, Ramdas in 1897, and Devdas in 1900. At the age of 36, from 1905, he started observing celibacy.

He was mediocre student in his youth at Porbandar and later Raajkot. He barely passed the Matriculate exam from Bhaavnagar, Gujaraat. He was unhappy because his family wanted him to be a lawyer. At the age of 18, on September 4, 1888, Gandhi went to University College of London to study Law and train as a Barrister. His living in London was influenced by a vow taken for his mother in front of a Jain priest Becharjee, that he would abstain from meat, alcohol and promiscuity. There he learned some Western customs of dance etc still he followed his principles. He joined Vegetarian Society and was elected to it Executive Committee. Here he was encouraged to read Geetaa. Although he had no interest in religion, he read works of and about Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and Islaam. He returned to India as a Barrister but had little success in practicing it in Bombay. He was rejected even for a High School teacher's job, so he came back to Raajkot and started drafting petitions for litigants; but was forced to close down this business as he ran afoul of a British officer. In 1893, just after 5 years of his admission in the Law School, he went to Natal, South Africa, posted with an Indian Company with an year-long contract. When back in London in 1895, he met Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain whose son became Prime Minister in 1930s and suppressed Gandhi. He came back to India in 1915.

Political Career
He joined Indian National Congress (INC) in December 1921 and was invested executive authority on behalf of it. He is famous for his (1) Swadeshee Movement in which he pleaded public to use Khaadee (hand-woven cloth) and burn all foreign clothes, to boycott British educational institutions in 1922; (2) Dandee Salt March in the disobedience of the Salt Tax on the 248 miles (400 kms) in 1930; (3) for the British to "Quit India" movement in an open call in 1942. He was the pioneer of Satyaagrah firmly founded upon Ahinsaa (non-violence) which led India to independence. He led nationwide campaigns to end poverty, caste system and for the economic self-sufficiency in India.  He was imprisoned for many years both in South Africa and India.

He practiced non-violence and truth even in the most extreme situations. His principles were - Non-violence, Truth, Brahmcharya, vegetarianism, simplicity and faith. As a student of Hindoo philosophy, he lived simply, organizing an Aashram that was self-sufficient in its needs. He made his own clothes using Charakhaa, lived on simple vegetarian diet, practiced rigorous fasts for long period both for protests and self-purification.

He had always been a vegan of frutarian and pure vegetarian, never took dairy products from cow; but included goat milk on the advice of his doctor. He had a she-goat in his Aashram,for milk, her name was Nirmalaa. He used to eat Neem Chatanee daily seeing the benefits of Neem.

Satya and Ahinsaa According to Gandhi
There was an organic unity between the means and ends in Gandhi's philosophy. Satya (Truth) for Gandhi was not just purely transcendental principle and unrelated to life. On the contrary, he looked upon life as a continuous experiment with truth, which was experimental, and not just for mystics, but for all humanity. In this sense, truth was not esoteric, but was something with mass appeal. He even subtitled his autobiography as "The Story Of My Experiments With Truth".

And this experimentation was not confined only to his personal life, but was also extended to all his public actions, including his Satyaagraha (literally, truth-force; in substance, non-violent resistance to injustice) movements in South Africa and India. The inherent strength of truth lies latent until it is embodied in the actions as well as thoughts of a human being (Iyer 2000:152). Truth finds its expression in action.

What is truth? Gandhi said, "Truth is the sovereign principle, which includes numerous other principles (Gandhi 1927: xi). Substance of truth is morality. He found the Sanskrit equivalent of truth, Satya, as being more expressive and evocative. Satya word is derived from the verb "sat" (to exist). Therefore, Satya alone exists and falsehood cannot survive. Truth can find acceptance by all and is universal. That is how pursuit of truth leads to knowledge. Gandhi's conception of truth, however, transcended ontological truth while being inclusive of it. Gandhi distinguished between absolute truth (or God) and relative truths. He said, "If we had attained the full vision of truth, we would no longer be mere seekers, but would become one with God, for Truth is God."

Absolute And Relative and Truth
The distinction between absolute truth and relative truths was not meant to defend expediency or convenience, but to emphasize our proneness to commit mistakes and go wrong, even while being honest of purpose and unselfish. This distinction served him to point to the need for humility both in thought and action, and that for dialogue and understanding. Respect for differences, in opinions and faiths, were a basic principal for Gandhi because no human being could lay claim to monopoly of truth. Truth emerges out of dialogue, discussion and accommodation of others points of view. This is important both in the pursuit of knowledge and conflict resolution. A problem had to be seen in all its aspects and dimensions, taking into view different standpoints. Gandhi was clear that truth was not necessarily the same as what the majority of people believed in, or what the law of the land provided. He could see that both criteria, while not irrelevant, do not necessarily point to either ontological or moral truth. He insisted on certain openness of our mind, in the sense of being receptive to new ideas and perceptions, to be subjected to reasoning and scrutiny, but not in the sense of being forever non-committal.

Pursuit of truth was individual in the sense that one had to be receptive to the inner voice and to unprejudiced and unselfish reasoning. And when one finds that truth so arrived at differs from the truth as believed in by a majority, or as provided by law, it is the duty of such an individual to disseminate his own perception of truth, to be prepared for debate and even action to correct the law through non-violent methods. Satya led him to Ahinsaa as its practical or applied principle, not just because truth led to action and action to be non-violent, but also because truth meant Ahinsaa.

Ahinsaa As Virtue
Ahinsaa, for him, was not a mere negative concept of just avoiding violence, but a positive virtue of kindness, compassion, and care. Feminists regard abstract ethical virtues of truth, while kindness, care and the like are feminine virtues. Gandhi reconciled both "male" and "female" virtues into a composite and harmonious unity in his principle of Satya and Ahinsaa. Since, he was an action-oriented person, Ahinsaa in practice could be said to have been more important, as guided by truth. His insistence on Ahinsaa was derived from his basic principle that the end is determined by the nature of the means used, and that the end cannot justify the means. There was an organic unity between the means and ends in his philosophy, and he believed that only ahimsa can bring about peace and justice, and not violence.

Honors and Awards - Local and International
He is commonly known as "Mahaatmaa Gandhi" (holy soul Gandhi) and as Baapoo. Some say that Rabeendra Naath Tagore first accorded the title of "Mahaatmaa" to him, others say that Nautamlaal Bhagavaanjee Mehtaa accorded him this title on January 21, 1915.

He was officially accorded the honor of the "Father of the Nation" and October 2 is officially commemorated as Gandhi Jayantee (birthday of Gandhi).

In 1971, Government acquired Birlaa Bhavan, where Gandhi was assassinated, and opened for public in 1973 as "Gandhi Smriti". A martyr's column commemorates the spot where he was assassinated.

Every year, on January 30, on the anniversary of Gandhi's death, in most schools of India a 2-minute silence is observed to remember him.

In 1996, Government of India introduced Mahaatmaa Gandhi series of currency notes in Rupees 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 denominations. Today all the currency notes in circulation in India contain a portrait of Mahaatmaa Gandhi.
Even the United Nations General Assembly has unanimously adopted a resolution declaring October 2 to be the "International Day of Non-violence".

Time Magazine awarded him "Man of the Year" (1930); and the Runner-up of Sir Albert Einstein as "Person of the Century" at the end of 1999; and named Dalaaee Laamaa, Lech Walesaa, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Cesar Chavez, Aung San Suu Kyi, Banigno Aquino Jr, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela as the "Children of Gandhi".

In the USA, there are statues of Gandhi outside the Union Square Park in New York and on Massachussettes Avenue, in Washington DC, near the Indian Embassy.

There is a statue of Gandhi in the city of Pietermaritzburg, in South Africa.

In 1969, UK issued a series of stamps commemorating the centenary of Gandhi. There are several statues of Gandhi in UK, most notably at Tavistock Square, London. January 30 is commemorated there as "National Gandhi Remembrance day".

There are wax statues of Gandhi in Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London, UK; and in New York, USA.

Gandhi never received Noble Peace prize though he was nominated for it five times between 1937 and 1948. Decades later the Committee expressed its regret for it. He was to receive this award in 1948, but his assassination prevented this. But when it was presented to Dalaaee Laamaa, the Committee said that it was in part a tribute to the memory of Gandhi.

Every year, on January 30, on the anniversary of Gandhi's death, in schools of many countries is observed the "School Day of Non-violence and Peace (DENIP)" founded in Spain in 1964.

He was assassinated by Nathu Ram Godsey assisted by his co-conspirator Narayan Aaptey, on January 30, 1948 at Birlaa Bhavan in New Dehlee when he was coming out of it. Both the assassinators were executed on November 15, 1949.



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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/06
Updated on 10/01/12