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Gandhi the Liberator

Gandhi not only was the leader of gaining civil rights for Indians living in South Africa but also was the architect of peaceful liberation of India from British rule. He influenced other civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, who learned from him about non-violent protest through demonstrations and economic boycotts. Gandhi called his autobiography “The Story of My Experiments with Truth.”  “My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than Truth. He realized the basis of the search for truth is ahimsa, non-violence. He wrote, “It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself,” for we are all children of the same Creator. “To slight a single human being is to slight those divine powers, and thus to harm not only that being but with him the whole world.” To find Truth, one has to love the Creation as oneself, which requires self-purification. “God can never be realized by one who is not pure of heart.” And purification being highly infectious, purification of oneself necessarily leads to the purification of one’s surroundings.  To obtain purity, one has to become free of passion. I must reduce myself to zero. Those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.  From my point of view, Gandhi applied principles taught by Jesus, including turn the other cheek. Gandhi believed that “god could be realized only through service,” in his case to Indian liberation in South Africa and latter from the British in India. He realized “the infinite possibilities of universal love.”

Gandhi was born to a family of government leaders. He was so shy that he ran home as soon as school was over, but he became very attracted to and possessive of his young wife: “Separation was unbearable,” he wrote. His parents arranged his marriage when he was only age 13, without consulting him. The wedding ceremony is still expensive and takes time-consuming preparation making clothes, decorations and food. His middle brother and a cousin were married at the same time to save money. His wife, Kasturbai, was his same age but illiterate. He later felt badly about keeping her up late at night talking and having sex. He struggled as an adult to overcome his lust and became celibate in 1906 after they had three sons. He remarked about their relationship, “We have had numerous bickerings, but the end has always been peace between us. The wife, with her matchless powers of endurance, has always been the victor.”

During his teen years, he tried smoking—stealing money from the servants to buy cigarettes and meat eating which his family did not do. Because he valued honesty and truth so highly, he confessed to his father what he had done. His father forgave him, teaching him a lesson in Ahimsa.

He passed the college entrance examination in 1887 and went to college, where he was so homesick he returned home at the end of the first term. A family advisor suggested that he shorten his years in college by going to England to study law. His mother was reluctant to let him journey to a foreign land but he vowed not to touch, wine, women, or meat and she and his uncle (his father had died) gave him permission to go. Law students studied text books on their own were required to attend social gatherings with the barristers, and took the bar exam, but were not taught how to practice law. He got interested in vegetarianism and dietetics, an interest he continued throughout his life. After he returned to India, he went to Bombay to study Indian law and to try to get some clients. He childhood shyness persisted; he was so nervous at his first case that he couldn’t speak and told his client to hire someone else. His brother found him a job with a company in South Africa. He left his wife and two sons in India.

“Colored” people were not allowed on South African first class train compartments, he discovered. Other rights were removed by an Orange Free State law in 1888 and in the Transvaal in 1885. They couldn’t own land, vote, or be outside after 9:00 PM.  Gandhi became a leader in protest against a proposed bill to prevent Asians from voting in Natal, forming the Natal Indian Congress and writing columns for the newspaper Indian Opinion that made the struggle possible. Gandhi wrote a petition to the legislature; volunteers gathered 10,000 signatures. He sent copies to all the newspapers and publicists he knew, including to journals in Britain and India. He said the struggles required “unflinching faith, great patience, and incessant effort.”

Back in India for a visit, he distributed a pamphlet on the condition of Indians in South Africa. This was the first time he used children as volunteers to get the pamphlets ready to post. He also organized meetings with influential leaders.

Around the time he took a vow of celibacy (brahmacharya), non-possession (aparigraha) and simple food. Celibacy resulted in them being” tried friends, the one no longer regarding the other as the object of lust.” He explained, “Passion in man is generally co-existent with a hankering after the pleasures of the palate. And so it was with me. I have encountered many difficulties in trying to control passion as well as taste, and I cannot claim even now to have brought them under complete subjection. ”They ate as their staple foods  raw nuts, bananas, dates, lemons, and olive oil.  He also developed a passion for “self-help and simplicity” as in doing their own washing and cooking and hair cutting, avoiding adornment like jewelry, and medicine. He said most illnesses can be cured by a well-regulated diet and household remedies. He believed someone who relies on drugs “by becoming the slave of his body instead of remaining its mater, loses self-control, and ceases to be a man.” He believed self-purification was a prerequisite to Satyagraha, passive resistance to unjust system. The struggle ended in 1914 when he and some of the Phoenix group returned to India.

One of his helpers was a European young woman, Miss Schlesin, who was 17-years-old when she started worked for him as a secretary.  When most of the leaders were in jail, including Gandhi, “she led the movement single-handed.”

Influenced by Ruskin’s book Unto This Last, he added to his belief in public service a new respect for manual work on the land. In 1904, he formed a community on farm, called the Phoenix, which would produce Indian Opinion newspaper there. The children learned shoe making and carpentry, and cooking. On Tolstoy Farm the children always had a teacher working with them, as the rule was youngsters were not asked to do what teachers did not do. The students also learned various Indian languages as well as English, and basic history, geography and arithmetic. He believed that spiritual training came most powerfully through the example of the teachers, more so than books. He was of course opposed to corporal punishment, although he did one time hit an out of line boy with a ruler on his arm. “But I still repent that violence.” So he never did it again, but instead fasted to do penance for misdeeds of students.

The Phoenix community transferred to the Satyagraha Ashram in 1915 in Ahmedabad. Soon after it’s founded they added an untouchable family to the Ashram. Monetary help was stopped until one man donated money. He also opened primary schools in six villages. Concerned about the unsanitary conditions, he brought in a doctor to educate the teachers.

His first social struggle for Satyagraha was to abolish the indentured servant system in India. The British Viceroy opposed immediate abolition, so in 1917 Gandhi decided to “tour the country for an all-India agitation.” On third class trains. First, he discussed the matter with the Viceroy. The first case of civil disobedience in India was He also took on the cause of tenant farmers of indigo planters in Tirhut who took him to court for disobeying the order to leave Champaran due to “obedience to the higher law of our being, the voice of conscience.” Gandhi made a point of talking with the planters, to learn about their side of the case and “to win them over by gentleness.”  He met with leaders individually and with their Association. And being polite to the police officers. “They thus saw that I didn’t not want to offend them personally, but that I wanted to offer civil resistance to their orders. In this way they were put at ease, and instead of harassing me they gladly availed themselves of my and my co-workers’ co-operation in regulating the crowds.” The planters spread falsehoods about him and his co-workers that appeared in the newspapers. “But my extreme cautiousness and my insistence on truth, even to the minutest detail, turned the edge of their sword.” Then he got involved in a strike by mill workers in Ahmedabad. He taught them a successful strike requires: no violence, no alms, and “to remain firm, no matter how long the strike continued, and to earn bread, during the strike, by any other honest labor.” After several weeks the strikers started to fall from these principle [les, becoming hostile to the strike breakers, so he decided to fast. “The net result of it was that an atmosphere of good-will was created all round. The hearts of the mill-owners were touched, and they set about discovering some means for a settlement. “ After three days, an arbitrator was brought in and the strike ended after 21 days.

In a dream, he got the idea for a whole country hartal. Satyagraha s a process of self-purification… fasting and prayer, 1919. They decided to apply civil disobedience to the unpopular salt tax. He suggested that people prepare salt form seawater in their homes. Volunteers were trained in the conditions of Satyagraha, as with leaflets. Then he started hand spinning with a spinning wheel, developing a movement to make cloth called khadi.

He got involved in Congress politics helping write a resolution for Non-co-operation movement.

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