al leader and humanitarian who introduced a concept of nonviolent civil disobedience to the political world. He was to become the leader of one of the centurys major advances in his struggle for Indian rights and independence (Ahmedabad 97). Gandhi was born into a powerful family which belonged to the Hindu merchant caste Vaisya (Gandhi The End of an Empire). For several generations members of his family had served as Prime Ministers of Indian states. Gandhis parents were devoutly religious, part of a sect of Hinduism that worshipped Vishnu (one of the Gods of Hinduism) and promoted non-violence (Brown 382).
In 1888, at the age of 19, Gandhi traveled to England to become a Barrister-at-Law (Ibid 34). While in England, Gandhi was exposed to the western material style of life which he chose not to follow. Four years later Gandhi was sent to work for an Indian firm in Durban South Africa, which served to be one of the major turning points in his life. (Ramana 607) While in Durban Gandhi found himself being treated as a member of an inferior race, thus drawing him into the struggle for Indian freedom. While studying philosophy he came across Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau and John Ruskins plea to give up capitalism for farm life and traditional handicrafts (Sharpe 1979 43). These opinions stimulated Gandhis ideas for non-violent resistance.
The main principle behind all of Gandhis teachings is the concept of Satyagraha (Sharp 1973 76), or non-violence, the lens through which he viewed the world. Satya (truth) refers to love, and agraha (firmness) refers to force. This concept of non-violence was designed to secure social reform and human liberation without the use of violence (Shridharani 59). Satyagraha is an active theory that causes the oppressor to act violently, thus causing them to cogitate on their actions and reflect on their own ethical erosion (Ibid). Gandhi denounced violence when he said:
Things undreamt of are daily being seen, the impossible is ever becoming possible. We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence. (Gandhi 237)
Non-violence was not something to be tried and if found insufficient or unsuccessful, given up. The force of non-violence springs from the Satyagrahas stubborn willingness to suffernon-violence, which in itself, blunts the power that rushes from the oppressors gun. Being the absolute truth to Gandhi, Satyagrah was the fundamental concept behind every one of his social and economic theories. (Ramana 606)
In Gandhis struggle for Indias Economic freedom , he began the Sawaraj movement, Sanskrit for self-ruling (Ibid). The exploitation of Indians by the British had resulted in the poverty and destruction of Indian home industries. Gandhi attacked the poverty with an unusual weapon, the spinning wheel. He used the wheel as a token of the simple life he taught, and of the renewal of Indian industries (Gandhi The End of an Empire). Another way in which he attacked the economy was the Salt March which took place in 1934. Thousands of Indians followed Gandhi to the Arabian Sea where he taught them how to collect their own salt by evaporating the sea water (Ibid).
Gandhi was against capitalism, believing in economic equality. He believed that each village should be totally self-reliant, and that any surplus goods produced should be given as charity to villages in need. Gandhi emphasized agricultural, labor intensive production, meaning little use of machinery or technology (Sharpe 1979 46). Not agreeing with the concept of private property, Gandhi believed that land belonged to God, and was a gift of nature that could not be owned. For the above to work, peoples wants would have to be limited to basic material needs, allowing them to focus on improving their spiritual selves.(46-47)
In Gandhis ideal society, the State is unnecessary and unfavorable to humanitys progression.In order for there to be a non-violent society, Gandhi equated the importance of political decentralization with economic decentralization. He believed that society should be organized in a way that man would be given maximum freedom and the opportunity to develop both character and personality (Ahmedabad 37).
Gandhi also attacked parts of the caste system. Supporting both the economical and social rights of the lower castes, he was looked upon as a champion of the untouchables,(Ibid 124) the lowest class in the caste system of India.
Overall, Gandhi supported the caste system. The untouchables had formerly been excluded, and Gandhi worked to have them included in the caste system and to improve their living conditions (Ibid 126). He said that although he preferred not to be reborn, “I should be born an untouchable so that I may endeavor to free myself and them from that miserable condition.” (http://www.aracnet.com/~atheism/india/lavgand1.htm#R1)
By 1944 India was in its final stages of attaining independence. The British government had given their power to the Indians in 1946, but the question remained as to whether or not the area should be separated on a communal basis. Gandhi was firmly against the partition of Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India, a separation that led to a massacre in which 500,000 were killed in their attempts to cross the border into India or Pakistan (Raman 154). Gandhi began to fast, aspiring to stop the bloodsheda strategy he used on numerous occasions to end violence. Five days later the disputing leaders made a pledge to end the fighting, and Gandhi broke his fast. (Ibid)
On January 13, 1948, 12 days after the end of his last fast on his way to his evening prayer meeting, Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic who was against his teachings of tolerance (Gandhi The End of An Empire). At first shot, the foot that was in motion, when he was hit, came down. He still stood on his legs when the second shot rang out, and then collapsed. The last words he uttered were “Rama, Rama.” (http://www.aracnet.com/~atheism/india/lavgand1.htm#R1)
Mahatma Gandhi very much wanted to inculcate a sense of self-respect, self-confidence and self-reliance to promote the power of decision-making among the people (www2.lucidcafe.com/lucidcafe/library/95oct/mkgandhi.html). He saw exploitation as the essence of violence and so he insisted on the sharing not only of political power and social respect, but also of economic opportunity.
Whether a success or failure, Gandhi’s religious and political movements ignited an emotional spirit among his followers. His devotion to brotherhood reflected his dream of uniting diverse peoples in his country as well as internationally. His teachings of non-violent resistance were very successful, for many protesters never lifted an arm to their oppressors (Zielonka 68). In a nation engulfed by religious divisions and political persecution, Gandhi welcomed all into his heart.
Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood. (www2.lucidcafe.com/lucidcafe/library/95oct/mkgandhi.html)
Brown, Judith M. Gandhi Prisoner of Hope. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
Gandhi, Mohandas. Gandhi an Autobiography. Boston: Beacon Press, 1957.
Gandhi The End of An Empire. Dir., Gilles Delannoy. Vision 7 ECPA, 1993.
Sharpe, Gene. The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973.
, Gandhi as a Political Strategist. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1979
Shridharani, Krishnalal. War Without Violence: A Study of Gandhis Method and its
Accomplishments. London: Voctor Gollancz, 1939.
Zeilonka, Janet. Strengths and Weaknesses of Nonviolent Action. Orbis, 1986.