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Meet Mahatma Gandhi
By Charles Margerison
Viewpoint Resources LtdCopyright © 2017 Charles Margerison
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Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi
1869 – 1948
At the age of 13, I was married
My wife was 14 years old
It was an arranged marriage and we had no choice
That was part of our Jain culture in Porbandar, Gujarat
Our first child was born when I was only 15 years old
Tragically, our child died after only a few days
Medical facilities were poor and many children died young
Over the next 15 years, we had four more children
Therefore, I had many responsibilities
Despite this, I wanted to study law
When I was 18, I set forth to London
I had heard so much about the city from teachers
India, at that time, was under the rule of the British Raj
Many white men from the British Isles were sent to our country
They imposed their law, but could not change our customs and beliefs
Now, I was en route to be a university student in
the sahib's country
It was a culture shock to arrive in such a big city
From the heat of India, to the cold and damp of England
From the dusty roads, to the busy streets
From being one of many, to being one of the few
I had gained a place at London University College
Being a long way from home, each day was a challenge
Many lonely days were spent studying law books
My interests were in the principles as much as the practice
Law to me was more a matter of morals than just facts
My early life in Porbandar, influenced me
Most people lived in poverty and hardship
However, we were rich in our faith
My mother guided me in the key principles of the Jain religion
Non-violence was a central principle
The resolution of differences should be through respect
Tolerance and mutual understanding were the keys to progress
By living the spiritual life, one could progress to divine consciousness
These principles, I took to London where I studied logic and reason
Jainist principles, guided me in my studies and social life
Conquering one's own inner enemies is a continual battle
Personal wisdom and self control, are important
Responsibility for one's action, is essential
Those beliefs, guided poor and rich alike where I came from
However, in London I found many different views
Capitalism and communism were more debated than Jainism
Democracy or theocracy?
Debate or dogma?
I held strongly to my beliefs
It meant abstaining from alcohol, sex and vices found in the city
Yet, I absorbed many new ideas and linked them to mine
In 1891, I graduated and was called to the Bar
It sounded a peculiar expression
As if one was about to be served drinks
In reality, it meant that I became qualified as a barrister
Two days later, on June 12th 1891, I set sail for India
On arriving, I was told my mother had died
Days of sadness followed
Trying to care for my family, I set up a law practice in Mumbai
The lack of clients meant that it was soon closed
Next, I was rejected when I applied for a job as a school teacher
Life was hard and would get even harder
In 1893, I accepted a one year contract in South Africa
It was in the British Colony of Natal
Another outpost of Queen Victoria's Empire
At last I had some paid work
Immediately, I faced discrimination
At Pietermarizburg, I was removed from a train
I had a first class ticket, but the guard told me to sit in the third class
Several hotels barred me from renting a room
A judge told me to take off my turban, but I refused
My Jainist beliefs told me that action against prejudice was required
The law was not sufficient to protect one's rights
Therefore, I extended my stay, to campaign for civil rights
The Natal Indian Congress was formed, in 1894
Through that organization, the Indian community gained a voice
Returning to India, I persuaded my family to join me in South Africa
Life there, however, was not easy for us
White settlers attacked me in Durban, during 1897
I refused to press charges against those responsible
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world"
That was my philosophy
It emerged from seeing poverty, injustice and suffering
My aim was to bring about peace and prosperity
It was a life-long quest on various continents
However, in South Africa it seemed a long way away
A publication called Indian Opinion was started
It was a centre point for airing our grievances
In 1906, at the Empire Theatre, Johannesburg, I spoke out
Indian marriages had been declared as not legal
It was one of many speeches and protests
Year after year, they continued
In 1908, I was arrested for leading resistance to inequalities
Two months in prison strengthened my resolve
It was important to stand up for one's beliefs
That included supporting the British in the war against the Zulus
Yet, on the streets, prejudice against Indians remained
In 1913, I led 2500 Indians in defiance of the law
Once again, I was arrested and put in prison
On being released, I travelled to London
There was gloom in the air and on the ground
The First World War was starting
More violence and destruction on a scale not seen before
Could such a conflict occur in India?
What was my role in developing our nation in a peaceful way?
We had children born in South Africa
They did not know their own country
What future did they have in a divided nation?
South Africa was a boiling cauldron of black and white conflict
The native-born against the British and the Dutch settlers
Indians were an Asian minority and always seen as immigrant aliens
They were caught in the middle of a larger political battle
Perhaps I should be using my talents, in my own country
We had the same issues of prejudice demanding protest
Indians were subservient to the British invaders
We were a divided nation under the Raj
We were also divided between Hindus, Muslims and other religions
After 21 years in South Africa, it was time to return to India
Aged 45, I took my family back to India, in 1914
My own people needed support
There, I established a farm, Sabarmati Ashram
A place for my family and supporters
I spoke at the Indian National Congress
It was the start of my political campaign for independence
Indians should rule India, not the British
My visit to Champaran was a turning point
The British issued an order for me to leave
My mission was to help the poor farm workers
In the main, they worked for British landlords
I refused to leave and told the workers to hold non-violent protests
Of course, I was arrested
That led to mass protests
Hundreds of thousands of people marched
Eventually, the white officials changed the law
The farm workers were given more control over their operations
The 'satyagraha' non-violent approach had worked
It was to characterize my political actions
Word of the success spread through the cities, towns and villages
However, that did not stop the prejudice and brutality
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, in Amritsar, was horrific
British troops murdered 379 people and wounded over 1000 others
It made me realize that self-government for India was essential
By 1920, I was the president of the All India Home Rule League
Independence from the British Empire was our cry
Instead of buying British cloth, I asked people to spin their own
In 1921, I was given executive authority by the Indian National Congress
Membership was opened up and the 'Swadeshi policy' introduced
Foreign goods, particularly from Britain, were boycotted
Other protests were organized to raise political awareness
It was a long, slow and difficult process
Those in power were reluctant to concede
Month after month, I travelled across India
In each village, town and city, I urged people forward
Of course, I was arrested and put in prison for sedition
From March 1922 to January 1924, I was incarcerated
No prison is pleasant but the conditions were appalling
Despite this, they could not break my spirit
On my release, I returned as President of the Indian National Congress
My election had much to do with my British jailors
By 1930, support for our cause was growing
On January 30th, I published the Declaration of Independence of India
Of course, we were aware of what happened when the Americans did that
Therefore, action of a non-violent kind was my plan
On March 12th, I led a 165 mile march to the Gujarat coast
There, I produced salt from sea water
An act of defiance against the British monopoly, on the production of salt
Of course, I was arrested and non-violent protest broke out across India
Two years later, another major protest began against British rule
This time it was on behalf of India's disadvantaged lowest caste
The Dalits, called the 'untouchables', lived in poverty
I called them Harijans - 'God's Children'
To gain attention, I refused to eat until our demands were met
For protesting, I was again thrown into prison
Yet, I had not stolen, or injured anyone
Although I was very angry, I kept to my principle of non-violence
After six days of fasting, concessions were made to improve things
The process of non-violent civil disobedience was having an effect
Yet, the people of Britain needed to know about our cause
Therefore, I returned and went to Lancashire
Many mill workers had lost their jobs due to our own production
But, they appreciated that we needed to develop our own people
That year, 1930, a conference on the future of India was held in London
No representatives from the Indian National Congress were invited
Incredible that the millions who lived in the country, had no say
Another protest was made and it had some effect
The next year, Hindus, Muslims and Christians were invited
Landowners were also invited, but not the untouchables or peasants
There was much to protest about, and protest we did
On my return to India, I spoke at many gatherings
The British officials objected to my views
Despite being an official representative, they arrested me again
They had learnt nothing from the loss of their American colonies
How could such well-educated men act in such stupid ways?
More long days were wasted in prison
Yet, I had not stolen, or injured anyone
As a lawyer, I knew the law but what good did it do me?
On my release, I was 63 years old
It was time to travel and over four years, I toured rural communities
The poverty was depressing, but the spirits of the people uplifting
They gave me new energy
However, far away, more conflict was starting
The Germans, once again, initiated another world war
Again, India would be involved
Many of our finest men went into battle, and war came to our shores
My principles of non-violence were tested to the full
Could one be a pacifist when mass murder was being conducted?
If it had been Jains instead of Jews being gassed, could I have stood by?
In truth, the Germans would have done the same to any non-Aryans
It made me think about pacifism, in the face of death camp Nazism
Was it time to support Britain in principle and practice?
At least they kept to a legal code
The war years were a dreadful time
Yet, we still had to press further for Indian independence
Therefore, that became a bargaining chip for our war support
Amongst all of this, my wife died in 1944
No doubt, she had not realized what marriage to me meant
In truth, I was more married to the causes I pursued
But, her support kept me going
After the war, the independence of India was agreed
But, not without great argument
The Muslims wanted their own country
Despite my efforts, the country was divided
Pakistan came into existence
In my view, that was the basis for more conflict
Indeed, in 1948, waves of violence occurred
Hindus and Muslims killed each other and there was chaos
Non-violence had gained our independence
However, it had not secured the peace
Indeed, there was more violence to come
It was not the first time someone had tried to assassinate me
But, I was surprised that the assailant chose a prayer meeting
At a Birla Bhaven prayer meeting, I was gunned down
Ironically, it was not the British or the Pakistanis
The gun was fired by a Hindu nationalist
Once again, violence had been used to silence a voice for peace.
1869 – 1948
Mahatma (which means 'great soul') was born in 1869, in Porbandar, India. His father was the Prime Minister of the Porbandar state, and both of his parents were devout followers of the Jain traditions. Jainism is an ancient religion that promotes non-violence towards all living beings. Growing up in that environment, enabled Mahatma to have compassion and respect for those around him, which would have a major influence on his future career.
Following the customs of the region, Mahatma was married at the age of 13, in an arranged marriage. The first child of Mahatma and his wife only survived a few days. However, throughout the duration of their marriage, they had four more children.
In 1888, Mahatma travelled to London to study law and trained as a barrister. During his stay in London, he vowed to remain a vegetarian and joined the London Vegetarian Society. After completing his studies, he returned to India and opened a law practice, which proved unsuccessful.
In 1893, he accepted a one year contract from an Indian firm, to a post in South Africa. After enduring racial prejudice there, he endeavoured to change the racist laws and became a non-violent, political activist, and leader of the Indian community in South Africa. After spending 21 years in South Africa, fighting discrimination, Mahatma returned to India a national hero. For the next year, while the First World War was being fought, he travelled throughout India, in his simple attire of loincloth and sandals to reacquaint himself with the people. He established a communal settlement called the Sabarmati Ashram, where he and his family lived for 16 years.
When the First World War ceased, Mahatma's focus was on the fight for Indian self rule. In 1930, he led the Salt March, a campaign to boycott the salt tax, which enraged the British. This act was a step towards independence for Mahatma and his people. Meanwhile, disputes between the Muslims and Hindus erupted. Mahatma endured many fasts and was jailed several times, in his attempts to free India from British rule. He made it his life-long ambition to free the people and obtain equal rights.
Mahatma Gandhi has been, and still is, an inspiration to many, including other important leaders and movements who have supported his non-violent methods. He is fondly remembered as the Father of the Indian Independence Movement.
The International Gandhi Peace Prize is named after Mahatma, and is awarded annually by the Government of India. The award is presented to persons and institutions using a non-violent approach in their contribution to social, economic and political areas.
Mahatma's birthday on October 2nd is a national holiday in India; it is also known as the International Day of Non-Violence. January 30th marks the anniversary of his death, and many schools across the world observe this day as the School Day of Non-Violence and Peace.
In 1930, Mahatma was voted 'Man of the Year' by TimeMagazine and was nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize. He was nominated in 1948 which was, unfortunately, the year of his assassination, therefore the award was not given out that year. He has also been portrayed numerous times in film and literature. There are several monuments, statues and institutions dedicated to the great Mahatma Gandhi, whose life and dedication to peace was a symbol of hope for future generations.
After surviving five previous assassination attempts, on January 30th 1948, the 78 year old Mahatma was killed, by a Hindu activist.
1869 – 1948
1869 Named as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and born in Porbandar, Gujarat, in British India. Later in life, he was referred to as Mahatma, meaning 'great soul'.
1876 His family took him to Rajkot where they established a new home.
1883 Aged 13, he married Kasturba Makhanji, who was about the same age, in an arranged marriage.
1885 Their first child was born, but died a few days later. They had four more children.
1888 Mahatma left India and travelled to England, to study law at University College London. He joined the Vegetarian Society and developed an interest in religious thought.
1891 He passed the bar examination for lawyers in London. He then returned to India to discover his mother had died. He opened a law practice, which was unsuccessful.
Excerpted from Meet Mahatma Gandhi by Charles Margerison. Copyright © 2017 Charles Margerison. Excerpted by permission of Viewpoint Resources Ltd.
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