Feb 11, 2008

Gandhi 'The peace icon'

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born into the Hindu Modh family in Porbandar, on October 2, 1869 .Living with a devout mother and surrounded by the Jain influences of Gujarat, Gandhi learned from an early age the tenets of non-injury to living beings, vegetarianism, fasting for self-purification, and mutual tolerance between members of various creeds and sects. He was born into the vaishya, or business, caste.

In May 1883, at the age of 13, Gandhi was married through his parents' arrangements to Kasturba Makhanji .They had five children, the first of whom died in infancy. Gandhi was a mediocre student in his youth at Porbandar and later Rajkot. He barely passed the matriculation exam for Samaldas College at Bhavnagar, Gujarat. He was also unhappy at the college, because his family wanted him to become a barrister.

At the age of 18 Gandhi went to University College London to study law and train as a barrister. His time in London, the Imperial capital, was influenced by a vow he had made to his mother in the presence of the Jain monk Becharji, upon leaving India, to observe the Hindu precepts of abstinence from meat, alcohol, and promiscuity. Although Gandhi experimented with adopting "English" customs-taking dancing lessons for example-he could not stomach his landlady's mutton and cabbage. She pointed him towards on
e of London's few vegetarian restaurants.
He joined the Vegetarian Society, was elected to its executive committee, and founded a local chapter.

Gandhi read the Bhagavad Gita. Not having shown a particular interest in religion before, he read works of and about Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and other religions. He returned to India after being called to the bar of England and Wales by Inner Temple, but had limited success establishing a law practice in Bombay. Later, after applying and being turned down for a part-time job as a high school teacher, he ended up returning to Rajkot to make a modest living drafting petitions for litigants, b
ut was forced to close down that business as well when he ran afoul of a British officer.

Civil rights movement in South Africa

In South Africa, Gandhi faced discrimination directed at Indians. Initially, he was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg, after refusing to move from the first class to a third class coach while holding a valid first class ticket. Traveling further on by stagecoach, he was beaten by a driver for refusing to travel on the foot board to make room for a European passenger. He suffered other hardships on the journey as well, including being barred from many hotels.

In another of many similar events, the magistrate of a Durban court ordered him to remove his turban, which Gandhi refused. These incidents have been acknowledged as a turning point in his life, serving as an awakening to contemporary social injustice and helping to explain his subsequent social activism. It was through witnessing firsthand the racism, prejudice and injustice against Indians in South Africa that Gandhi started to question his people's status within the British Empire, and his own place in
society.

Struggle for Indian Independence (1916-1945)

In 1915, Gandhi returned from South Africa to live in India. He spoke at the conventions of the Indian National Congress, but was primarily introduced to Indian issues, politics and the Indian people by Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a respected leader of the Congress Party at the time.

Champaran and Kheda

Gandhi's first major achievements came in 1918 with the Champaran agitation and Kheda Satyagraha, although in the latter it was indigo and other cash crops instead of the food crops necessary for their survival. Suppressed by the militias of the landlords (mostly British), they were given measly compensation, leaving them mired in extreme poverty. The villages were kept extremely dirty and unhygienic; and alcoholism, untouchability and purdah were rampant. Now in the throes of a devastating famine, the Bri
tish levied an oppressive tax which they insisted on increasing. The situation was desperate. In Kheda in Gujarat, the problem was the same.

Gandhi established an ashram there, organizing scores of his veteran supporters and fresh volunteers from the region. He organized a detailed study and survey of the villages, accounting for the atrocities and terrible episodes of suffering, including the general state of degenerate living. Building on the confidence of villagers, he began leading the clean-up of villages, building of schools and hospitals and encouraging the village leadership to undo and condemn many social evils.

Non-cooperation

Non-cooperation and peaceful resistance were Gandhi's "weapons" in the fight against injustice. Gandhi criticized both the actions of the British Raj and the retaliatory violence of Indians. He authored the resolution offering condolences to British civilian victims and condemning the riots, which after initial opposition in the party, was accepted following Gandhi's emotional speech advocating his principle that all violence was evil and could not be justified. But it was after the massacre and subsequent
violence that Gandhi's mind focused upon obtaining complete self-government and control of all Indian government institutions, maturing soon into Swaraj or complete individual, spiritual, political independence.

Swaraj and the Salt Satyagraha (Salt March)

Gandhi returned to the fore in 1928. The year before, the British government had appointed a new constitutional reform commission under Sir John Simon, with not a single Indian in its ranks. The result was a boycott of the commission by Indian political parties. Gandhi pushed through a resolution at the Calcutta Congress in December 1928 calling on the British government to grant India dominion status or face a new campaign of non-violence with complete independence for the country as its goal. Gandhi had
not only moderated the views of younger men like Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru, who sought a demand for immediate independence, but also modified his own call to a one year wait, instead of two.

The British did not respond. On December 31, 1929, the flag of India was unfurled in Lahore. January 26, 1930 was celebrated by the Indian National Congress, meeting in Lahore, as India's Independence Day. This day was commemorated by almost every other Indian organization. Making good on his word, he launched a new satyagraha against the tax on salt in March 1930, highlighted by the famous Salt March to Dandi from March 12 to April 6, marching 400 kilometres (248 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 rule; Britain responded by imprisoning over 60,000 people.

Freedom and partition of India

Gandhi advised the Congress to reject the proposals the British Cabinet Mission offered in 1946, as he was deeply suspicious of the grouping proposed for Muslim-majority states-Gandhi viewed this as a precursor to partition. However, this became one of the few times the Congress broke from Gandhi's advice (though not his leadership), as Nehru and Patel knew that if the Congress did not approve the plan, the control of government would pass to the Muslim League.

Between 1946 and 1948, over 5,000 people were killed in violence. Gandhi was vehemently opposed to any plan that partitioned India into two separate countries. An overwhelming majority of Muslims living in India, side by side with Hindus and Sikhs, were in favour of Partition. Additionally Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, commanded widespread support in West Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and East Bengal. The partition plan was approved by the Congress leadership as the only way to prevent a wide
-scale Hindu-Muslim civil war.

Congress leaders knew that Gandhi would viscerally oppose partition, and it was impossible for the Congress to go ahead without his agreement, for Gandhi's support in the party and throughout India was strong. Gandhi's closest colleagues had accepted partition as the best way out, and Sardar Patel endeavoured to convince Gandhi that it was the only way to avoid civil war. A devastated Gandhi gave his assent.

He conducted extensive dialogue with Muslim and Hindu community leaders, working to cool passions in northern India, as well as in Bengal. Despite the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, he was troubled when the Government decided to deny Pakistan the Rs. 55 crores due as per agreements made by the Partition Council. Leaders like Sardar Patel feared that Pakistan would use the money to bankroll the war against India. Gandhi was also devastated when demands resurged for all Muslims to be deported to Pakistan, and w
hen Muslim and Hindu leaders expressed frustration and an inability to come to terms with one another. He launched his last fast-unto-death in Delhi, asking that all communal violence be ended once and for all, and that the payment of Rs. 55 crores be made to Pakistan.

Gandhi feared that instability and insecurity in Pakistan would increase their anger against India, and violence would spread across the borders. He further feared that Hindus and Muslims would renew their enmity and precipitate into an open civil war. After emotional debates with his life-long colleagues, Gandhi refused to budge, and the Government rescinded its policy and made the payment to Pakistan. Hindu, Muslim and Sikh community leaders, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Mahasabha
assured him that they would renounce violence and call for peace. Gandhi thus broke his fast by sipping orange juice.

Assassination

On January 30, 1948, Gandhi was shot and killed while having his nightly public walk on the grounds of the Birla Bhavan (Birla House) in New Delhi. The assassin, Nathuram Godse, was a Hindu radical 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. Gandhi's memorial at R?j Gh?t, New Delhi, bears the epigraph, wh
ich may be translated as "Oh God". These are widely believed to be Gandhi's last words after he was shot, though the veracity of this statement has been disputed. Gandhi's ashes were poured into urns which were sent across India for memorial services. Most were immersed at the Sangam at Allahabad on 12 February 1948 but some were secreted away.

In 1997, Tushar Gandhi immersed the contents of one urn, found in a bank vault and reclaimed through the courts, at the Sangam at Allahabad. On 30 January 2008 the contents of another urn were immersed at Girgaum Chowpatty by the family after a Dubai-based businessman had sent it to a Mumbai museum. Another urn has ended up in a palace of the Aga Khan in Pune (where he had been imprisoned from 1942 to 1944) and another in the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Los Angeles. The family is aware that
these enshrined ashes could be misused for political purposes but does not want to have them removed because it would entail breaking the shrines.

Gandhi's principles
Truth
Nonviolence
Vegetarianism
Brahmacharya
Simplicity
Faith
Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew.

Followers and influence

Gandhi influenced important leaders and political movements. One of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States, Martin Luther King, drew from the writings of Gandhi in the development of his own theories about non-violence. Anti-apartheid activist and former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was inspired by Gandhi. Others include, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Steve Biko, and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Jews, Palestine and the Holocaust

Gandhi also expressed his dislike for partition during the late 1930s in response to the topic of the partition of Palestine to create Israel. He stated in Harijan on 26 October 1938: Several letters have been received by me asking me to declare my views about the Arab-Jew question in Palestine and persecution of the Jews in Germany. It is not without hesitation that I venture to offer my views on this very difficult question. My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Afric
a. Some of them became life-long companions. Through these friends I came to learn much of their age-long persecution.

They have been the untouchables of Christianity [...] But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood? Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that
England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct.


 


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