Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
, (Gujarati: મોહનદાસ કરમચંદ ગાંધી
IPA: /moɦənd̪äs kərəmtʃənd̪ gä̃d̪ʱi/, 2 October 1869–30 January 1948), also
known as Mahatma Gandhi
, was a major political and spiritual leader of
India and the Indian independence movement. He was the pioneer of Satyagraha
philosophy that is largely concerned with truth and 'resistance to evil through
active, non-violent resistance'—which led India to independence and inspired
movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Gandhi is commonly
known in India and across the world as the Mahatma (Sanskrit: महात्मा
— "Great Soul" - an epithet given by Tagore) and as Bapu
—"Father"). In India, he is officially accorded the honour of
Father of the Nation
. 2 October, his birthday, is commemorated each year as
, a national holiday. On 15 June 2007, the United Nations
General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution declaring 2 October to be the
"International Day of Non-Violence."
Gandhi first employed peaceful civil disobedience in the Indian community's
struggle for civil rights in South Africa. Upon his return to India from Africa,
he organized poor farmers and labourers to protest against oppressive taxation
and widespread discrimination.
Assuming leadership of the Indian National
Congress, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for the alleviation of poverty, for
the liberation of women, for brotherhood amongst different religious and ethnic
groups, for an end to untouchability and caste discrimination, and for the
economic self-sufficiency of the nation, but above all for Swaraj—the
independence of India from foreign domination. Gandhi famously led his nation in
the disobedience of the British salt tax imposed in India with the 400 kilometre
(248 miles) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and in an open call for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years on numerous occasions
in both South Africa and India.
Gandhi practised and advocated non-violence and truth in all situations. He
lived simply, organizing an ashram that was self-sufficient in its needs. Making
his own clothes—the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl woven with a charkha—he
lived on a simple vegetarian and, later, fruitarian diet. He underwent long (at
times over a month) fasts, for both self-purification and protest.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was
born into the Hindu Modh family in Porbandar, on October 2, 1869. He was the son
of Karamchand Gandhi, the diwan (Prime Minister) of Porbandar, and
Putlibai, Karamchand's fourth wife, a Hindu of the Pranami Vaishnava order.
Karamchand's first two wives, who each bore him a daughter, died from unknown
reasons (rumored to be in childbirth). 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 (also spelled "Kasturbai" or known as "Ba").
They had five children, the first of whom died in infancy; Harilal Gandhi, born
in 1888; Manilal Gandhi, born in 1892; Ramdas Gandhi, born in 1897; and Devdas
Gandhi, born in 1900. 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 on 4 September 1888, 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 one of
London's few vegetarian restaurants. Rather than simply go along with his
mother's wishes, he read about, and intellectually embraced vegetarianism. He
joined the Vegetarian Society, was elected to its executive committee, and
founded a local chapter. He later credited this with giving him valuable
experience in organizing institutions. Some of the vegetarians he met were
members of the Theosophical Society, which had been founded in 1875 to further
universal brotherhood, and which was devoted to the study of Buddhist and Hindu
literature. They encouraged Gandhi to 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,
but was forced to close down that business as well when he ran afoul of a
British officer. In his autobiography, he describes this incident as a kind of
unsuccessful lobbying attempt on behalf of his older brother. It was in this
climate that (in 1893) he accepted a year-long contract from an Indian firm to a
post in Natal, South Africa, then part of the British Empire.
Gandhi returned to London in 1895, when he happened to meet Colonial
Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, the Radical-turned-ultra-Tory, whose son Neville
became Prime Minister in the 1930s and helped suppress Gandhi. Chamberlain Snr.
agreed that the treatment of Indians was barbaric but appeared unwilling to push
through any legislation about this however.
Civil rights movement in South Africa (1893–1914)
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.
Travelling 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.
Gandhi extended his original period of stay in South Africa to assist Indians
in opposing a bill to deny them the right to vote. Though unable to halt the
bill's passage, his campaign was successful in drawing attention to the
grievances of Indians in South Africa. He founded the Natal Indian Congress in
1894, and through this organization, he moulded the Indian community of South
Africa into a homogeneous political force. In January 1897, when Gandhi returned
from a brief trip to India, a white mob attacked and tried to lynch him. In an
early indication of the personal values that would shape his later campaigns, he
refused to press charges against any member of the mob, stating it was one of
his principles not to seek redress for a personal wrong in a court of law.
In 1906, the Transvaal government promulgated a new Act compelling
registration of the colony's Indian population. At a mass protest meeting held
in Johannesburg on September 11 that year, Gandhi adopted his still evolving
methodology of satyagraha (devotion to the truth), or non-violent protest, for
the first time, calling on his fellow Indians to defy the new law and suffer the
punishments for doing so, rather than resist through violent means. This plan
was adopted, leading to a seven-year struggle in which thousands of Indians were
jailed (including Gandhi), flogged, or even shot, for striking, refusing to
register, burning their registration cards, or engaging in other forms of
non-violent resistance. While the government was successful in repressing the
Indian protesters, the public outcry stemming from the harsh methods employed by
the South African government in the face of peaceful Indian protesters finally
forced South African General Jan Christiaan Smuts to negotiate a compromise with
Gandhi. Gandhi's ideas took shape and the concept of Satyagraha matured during
Gandhi (2 Disc Special Edition)  [DVD]
movie is an epic and chronological journey of Gandhi's life which
includes the shocking trip to South Africa as a lawyer, family life,
to his continued imprisonment, endless diplomacy campaigning and his
tragic death. This man is truly an inspirational and a shining
example to fellow politicians. "
Role in Zulu War
In 1906, after the British introduced a new poll-tax, Zulus in South Africa
killed two British officers. The British declared a war against the Zulus, in
retaliation. Gandhi actively encouraged the British to recruit Indians. He
argued that Indians should support the war efforts in order to legitimize their
claims to full citizenship. The British, however, rejected to offer Indians
positions of rank in their military. They however accepted Gandhi's offer to let
a detachment of Indians to volunteer as a stretcher bearer corps to treat
wounded British soldiers. On July 21, 1906, Gandhi wrote in Indian Opinion
-"The corps had been formed at the instance of the Natal Government by way of
experiment, in connection with the operations against the Natives consists of
twenty three Indians". Gandhi urged
the Indian population in South Africa to join the war through his columns in Indian Opinion -“If the Government only realized what reserve force is being
wasted, they would make use of it and give Indians the opportunity of a thorough
training for actual warfare.”
In Gandhi's opinion, the Draft Ordinance of 1906 brought the status of
Indians below the level of Natives. He therefore urged Indians to resist the
Ordinance along the lines of Satyagraha, by taking the example of " Kaffirs". In
his words, "Even the half-castes and kaffirs, who are less advanced than we,
have resisted the government. The pass law applies to them as well, but they do
not take out passes".
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 British 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, as accounted above.
But his main impact came when he was arrested by police on the charge of
creating unrest and was ordered to leave the province. Hundreds of thousands of
people protested and rallied outside the jail, police stations and courts
demanding his release, which the court reluctantly granted. Gandhi led organized
protests and strikes against the landlords, who with the guidance of the British
government, signed an agreement granting the poor farmers of the region more
compensation and control over farming, and cancellation of revenue hikes and its
collection until the famine ended. It was during this agitation, that Gandhi was
addressed by the people as Bapu (Father) and Mahatma (Great Soul).
In Kheda, Sardar Patel represented the farmers in negotiations with the British,
who suspended revenue collection and released all the prisoners. As a result,
Gandhi's fame spread all over the nation.
Non-cooperation and peaceful resistance were Gandhi's "weapons" in the fight
against injustice. In Punjab, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of civilians by
British troops (also known as the Amritsar Massacre) caused deep trauma to the
nation, leading to increased public anger and acts of violence. 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.
In December 1921, Gandhi was invested with executive authority on behalf of
the Indian National Congress. Under his leadership, the Congress was reorganized
with a new constitution, with the goal of Swaraj. Membership in the party
was opened to anyone prepared to pay a token fee. A hierarchy of committees was
set up to improve discipline, transforming the party from an elite organization
to one of mass national appeal. Gandhi expanded his non-violence platform to
include the swadeshi policy — the boycott of foreign-made goods,
especially British goods. Linked to this was his advocacy that khadi
(homespun cloth) be worn by all Indians instead of British-made textiles. Gandhi
exhorted Indian men and women, rich or poor, to spend time each day spinning khadi in support of the independence movement.
This was a strategy to inculcate discipline and dedication to weed out the
unwilling and ambitious, and to include women in the movement at a time when
many thought that such activities were not respectable activities for women. In
addition to boycotting British products, Gandhi urged the people to boycott
British educational institutions and law courts, to resign from government
employment, and to forsake British titles and honours.
"Non-cooperation" enjoyed wide-spread appeal and success, increasing
excitement and participation from all strata of Indian society. Yet, just as the
movement reached its apex, it ended abruptly as a result of a violent clash in
the town of Chauri Chaura, Uttar Pradesh, in February 1922. Fearing that the
movement was about to take a turn towards violence, and convinced that this
would be the undoing of all his work, Gandhi called off the campaign of mass
civil disobedience. Gandhi was
arrested on March 10, 1922, tried for sedition, and sentenced to six years
imprisonment. Beginning on March 18, 1922, he only served about two years of the
sentence, being released in February 1924 after an operation for appendicitis.
Without Gandhi's uniting personality, the Indian National Congress began to
splinter during his years in prison, splitting into two factions, one led by
Chitta Ranjan Das and Motilal Nehru favouring party participation in the
legislatures, and the other led by Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and Sardar
Vallabhbhai Patel, opposing this move. Furthermore, cooperation among Hindus and
Muslims, which had been strong at the height of the non-violence campaign, was
breaking down. Gandhi attempted to bridge these differences through many means,
including a three-week fast in the autumn of 1924, but with limited success.
Swaraj and the Salt Satyagraha (Salt March)
Gandhi stayed out of the limelight for most of the 1920s, preferring to
resolve the wedge between the Swaraj Party and the Indian National Congress, and
expanding initiatives against untouchability, alcoholism, ignorance and poverty.
He 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 31 December 1929, the flag of India was unfurled in Lahore.
26 January 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, Gandhi 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
The government, represented by Lord Edward Irwin, decided to negotiate with
Gandhi. The Gandhi–Irwin Pact was signed in March 1931. The British Government
agreed to set all political prisoners free in return for the suspension of the
civil disobedience movement. Furthermore, Gandhi was invited to attend the Round
Table Conference in London as the sole representative of the Indian National
Congress. The conference was a disappointment to Gandhi and the nationalists, as
it focused on the Indian princes and Indian minorities rather than the transfer
of power. Furthermore, Lord Irwin's successor, Lord Willingdon, embarked on a
new campaign of repression against the nationalists. Gandhi was again arrested,
and the government attempted to destroy his influence by completely isolating
him from his followers. This tactic was not successful. In 1932, through the
campaigning of the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar, the government granted
untouchables separate electorates under the new constitution. In protest, Gandhi
embarked on a six-day fast in September 1932, successfully forcing the
government to adopt a more equitable arrangement via negotiations mediated by
the Dalit cricketer turned political leader Palwankar Baloo. This was the start
of a new campaign by Gandhi to improve the lives of the untouchables, whom he
named Harijans, the children of God. On 8 May 1933 Gandhi began a 21-day fast of
self-purification to help the Harijan movement.
In the summer of 1934, three unsuccessful attempts were made on his life.
When the Congress Party chose to contest elections and accept power under the
Federation scheme, Gandhi decided to resign from party membership. He did not
disagree with the party's move, but felt that if he resigned, his popularity
with Indians would cease to stifle the party's membership, that actually varied
from communists, socialists, trade unionists, students, religious conservatives,
to those with pro-business convictions. Gandhi also did not want to prove a
target for Raj propaganda by leading a party that had temporarily accepted
political accommodation with the Raj.
Gandhi returned to the head in 1936, with the Nehru presidency and the
Lucknow session of the Congress. Although Gandhi desired a total focus on the
task of winning independence and not speculation about India's future, he did
not restrain the Congress from adopting socialism as its goal. Gandhi had a
clash with Subhas Bose, who had been elected to the presidency in 1938. Gandhi's
main points of contention with Bose were his lack of commitment to democracy,
and lack of faith in non-violence. Bose won his second term despite Gandhi's
criticism, but left the Congress when the All-India leaders resigned en masse in
protest against his abandonment of the principles introduced by Gandhi.
World War II and Quit India
World War II broke out in 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Initially,
Gandhi had favoured offering "non-violent moral support" to the British effort,
but other Congressional leaders were offended by the unilateral inclusion of
India into the war, without consultation of the people's representatives. All
Congressmen elected to resign from office en masse.
After lengthy deliberations, Gandhi declared that India could not be party to a
war ostensibly being fought for democratic freedom, while that freedom was
denied to India itself. As the war progressed, Gandhi intensified his demand for
independence, drafting a resolution calling for the British to Quit India.
This was Gandhi's and the Congress Party's most definitive revolt aimed at
securing the British exit from Indian shores.
Gandhi was criticized by some Congress party members and other Indian
political groups, both pro-British and anti-British. Some felt that opposing
Britain in its life or death struggle was immoral, and others felt that Gandhi
wasn't doing enough. Quit India became the most forceful movement in the
history of the struggle, with mass arrests and violence on an unprecedented
scale. Thousands of freedom
fighters were killed or injured by police gunfire, and hundreds of thousands
were arrested. Gandhi and his supporters made it clear they would not support
the war effort unless India were granted immediate independence. He even
clarified that this time the movement would not be stopped if individual acts of
violence were committed, saying that the "ordered anarchy" around him was
"worse than real anarchy." He called on all Congressmen and Indians to
maintain discipline via ahimsa, and Karo Ya Maro ("Do or Die") in the
cause of ultimate freedom.
Gandhi and the entire Congress Working Committee were arrested in Bombay by
the British on August 9, 1942. Gandhi was held for two years in the Aga Khan
Palace in Pune. It was here that Gandhi suffered two terrible blows in his
personal life. His 50-year old secretary Mahadev Desai died of a heart attack 6
days later and his wife Kasturba died after 18 months imprisonment in February
22, 1944; six weeks later Gandhi suffered a severe malaria attack. He was
released before the end of the war on 6 May 1944 because of his failing health
and necessary surgery; the Raj did not want him to die in prison and enrage the
nation. Although the Quit India movement had moderate success in its objective,
the ruthless suppression of the movement brought order to India by the end of
1943. At the end of the war, the British gave clear indications that power would
be transferred to Indian hands. At this point Gandhi called off the struggle,
and around 100,000 political prisoners were released, including the Congress's
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 when 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.
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 (or Samādhi) at Rāj
Ghāt, New Delhi, bears the epigraph "Hē Ram", (Devanagari:
हे ! राम or,
Rām), which 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.
Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the nation through radio:
comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness
everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it.
Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the father of the nation, is
no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that; nevertheless, we will not see
him again, as we have seen him for these many years, we will not run to
him for advice or seek solace from him, and that is a terrible blow, not
only for me, but for millions and millions in this country.
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
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
Gandhi dedicated his life to the wider purpose of discovering truth, or
Satya. He tried to achieve this by learning from his own mistakes and
conducting experiments on himself. He called his autobiography The Story of
My Experiments with Truth.
Gandhi stated that the most important battle to fight was overcoming his own
demons, fears, and insecurities. Gandhi summarized his beliefs first when he
said "God is Truth". He would later change this statement to "Truth is God".
Thus, Satya (Truth) in Gandhi's philosophy is "God".
Mahatama Gandhi was in no way the originator of the principle of
non-violence. But he was the first to apply it in political field on a huge
scale. The concept of nonviolence
(ahimsa) and non-resistance has a long history in Indian religious
thought and has had many revivals in Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Jewish and Christian
contexts. Gandhi explains his philosophy and way of life in his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth. He was quoted as saying:
"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and
love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time
they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall — think of it,
"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless,
whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or
the holy name of liberty and democracy?"
"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."
"There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I
am prepared to kill for."
In applying these principles, Gandhi did not balk from taking them to their
most logical extremes in envisioning a world where even government, police and
armies were nonviolent. The quotations below are from the book "For Pacifists."
The science of war leads one to dictatorship, pure and simple. The
science of non-violence alone can lead one to pure democracy…Power based on
love is thousand times more effective and permanent than power derived from
fear of punishment….It is a blasphemy to say non-violence can be practiced
only by individuals and never by nations which are composed of
individuals…The nearest approach to purest anarchy would be a democracy
based on non-violence…A society organized and run on the basis of complete
non-violence would be the purest anarchy
I have conceded that even in a non-violent state a police force may be
necessary…Police ranks will be composed of believers in non-violence. The
people will instinctively render them every help and through mutual
cooperation they will easily deal with the ever decreasing
disturbances…Violent quarrels between labor and capital and strikes will be
few and far between in a non-violent state because the influence of the
non-violent majority will be great as to respect the principle elements in
society. Similarly, there will be no room for communal disturbances….
A non-violent army acts unlike armed men, as well in times of peace as in
times of disturbances. Theirs will be the duty of bringing warring
communities together, carrying peace propaganda, engaging in activities that
would bring and keep them in touch with every single person in their parish
or division. Such an army should be ready to cope with any emergency, and in
order to still the frenzy of mobs should risk their lives in numbers
sufficient for that purpose. …Satyagraha (truth-force) brigades can be
organized in every village and every block of buildings in the cities. [If
the non-violent society is attacked from without] there are two ways open to
non-violence. To yield possession, but non-cooperate with the
aggressor…prefer death to submission. The second way would be non-violent
resistance by the people who have been trained in the non-violent way…The
unexpected spectacle of endless rows upon rows of men and women simply dying
rather than surrender to the will of an aggressor must ultimately melt him
and his soldiery…A nation or group which has made non-violence its final
policy cannot be subjected to slavery even by the atom bomb…. The level of
non-violence in that nation, if that even happily comes to pass, will
naturally have risen so high as to command universal respect.
In accordance with these views, in 1940, when invasion of the British Isles
by Nazi Germany looked imminent, Gandhi offered the following advice to the
British people (Non-Violence in Peace and War):
"I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for
saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to
take what they want of the countries you call your possessions…If these
gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not
give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child,
to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them."
In a post-war interview in 1946, he offered a view at an even further
"The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife. They
should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs."
However, Gandhi was aware that this level of nonviolence required incredible
faith and courage, which he realized not everyone possessed. He therefore
advised that everyone need not keep to nonviolence, especially if it were used
as a cover for cowardice:
"Gandhi guarded against attracting to his satyagraha movement
those who feared to take up arms or felt themselves incapable of resistance.
'I do believe,' he wrote, 'that where there is only a choice between
cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.'"
"At every meeting I repeated the warning that unless they felt that in
non-violence they had come into possession of a force infinitely superior to
the one they had and in the use of which they were adept, they should have
nothing to do with non-violence and resume the arms they possessed before.
It must never be said of the Khudai Khidmatgars that once so brave, they had
become or been made cowards under Badshah Khan's influence. Their bravery
consisted not in being good marksmen but in defying death and being ever
ready to bare their breasts to the bullets."
As a young child, Gandhi experimented with meat-eating. This was due
partially to his inherent curiosity as well as his rather persuasive peer and
friend Sheikh Mehtab. The idea of vegetarianism is deeply ingrained in Hindu and
Jain traditions in India, and, in his native land of Gujarat, most Hindus were
vegetarian and so are all Jains. The Gandhi family was no exception. Before
leaving for his studies in London, Gandhi made a promise to his mother, Putlibai
and his uncle, Becharji Swami that he would abstain from eating meat, taking
alcohol, and engaging in promiscuity. He held fast to his promise and gained
more than a diet: he gained a basis for his life-long philosophies. As Gandhi
grew into adulthood, he became a strict vegetarian. He wrote the book The
Moral Basis of Vegetarianism and several articles on the subject, some of
which were published in the London Vegetarian Society's publication, The
Vegetarian. Gandhi, himself,
became inspired by many great minds during this period and befriended the
chairman of the London Vegetarian Society, Dr. Josiah Oldfield.
Having also read and admired the work of Henry Stephens Salt, the young
Mohandas met and often corresponded with the vegetarian campaigner. Gandhi spent
much time advocating vegetarianism during and after his time in London. To
Gandhi, a vegetarian diet would not only satisfy the requirements of the body,
it would also serve an economic purpose as meat was, and still is, generally
more expensive than grains, vegetables, and fruits. Also, many Indians of the
time struggled with low income, thus vegetarianism was seen not only as a
spiritual practice but also a practical one. He abstained from eating for long
periods, using fasting as a form of political protest. He refused to eat until
his death or his demands were met. It was noted in his autobiography that
vegetarianism was the beginning of his deep commitment to Brahmacharya; without
total control of the palate, his success in Bramacharya would likely falter.
Bapu had been a frutarian, but started taking goat's milk on the advice
of his doctor. He never took the dairy products (of cow) largely because of his
philosophical views, partially because of disgust for phooka, and,
specifically, because of a vow to his late mother.
When Gandhi was 16 his father became very ill. Being very devoted to his
parents, he attended to his father at all times during his illness. However, one
night, Gandhi's uncle came to relieve Gandhi for a while. He retired to his
bedroom where carnal desires overcame him and he made love to his wife. Shortly
afterward a servant came to report that Gandhi's father had just died. Gandhi
felt tremendous guilt and never could forgive himself. He came to refer to this
event as "double shame." The incident had significant influence in Gandhi
becoming celibate at the age of 36, while still married.
This decision was deeply influenced by the philosophy of Brahmacharya—spiritual
and practical purity—largely associated with celibacy and asceticism. Gandhi saw
brahmacharya as a means of becoming close with God and as a primary foundation
for self realization. In his autobiography he tells of his battle against
lustful urges and fits of jealousy with his childhood bride, Kasturba. He felt
it his personal obligation to remain celibate so that he could learn to love,
rather than lust. For Gandhi, brahmacharya meant "control of the senses in
thought, word and deed."
Gandhi earnestly believed that a person involved in social service should
lead a simple life which he thought could lead to Brahmacharya. His simplicity
began by renouncing the western lifestyle he was leading in South Africa. He
called it "reducing himself to zero," which entailed giving up unnecessary
expenditure, embracing a simple lifestyle and washing his own clothes.
On one occasion he returned the gifts bestowed to him from the natals for his
diligent service to the community.
Gandhi spent one day of each week in silence. He believed that abstaining
from speaking brought him inner peace. This influence was drawn from the Hindu
principles of mauna (Sanskrit:मौनं —
silence) and shanti (Sanskrit:शांति
— peace). On such days he communicated with others by writing on paper. For
three and a half years, from the age of 37, Gandhi refused to read newspapers,
claiming that the tumultuous state of world affairs caused him more confusion
than his own inner unrest.
After reading John Ruskin's Unto This Last, he decided to change his
lifestyle and create a commune called Phoenix Settlement.
Upon returning to India from South Africa, where he had enjoyed a successful
legal practice, he gave up wearing Western-style clothing, which he associated
with wealth and success. He dressed to be accepted by the poorest person in
India, advocating the use of homespun cloth (khadi). Gandhi and his
followers adopted the practice of weaving their own clothes from thread they
themselves spun, and encouraged others to do so. While Indian workers were often
idle due to unemployment, they had often bought their clothing from industrial
manufacturers owned by British interests. It was Gandhi's view that if Indians
made their own clothes, it would deal an economic blow to the British
establishment in India. Consequently, the spinning wheel was later incorporated
into the flag of the Indian National Congress. He subsequently wore a dhoti for
the rest of his life to express the simplicity of his life.
Gandhi was born a Hindu and practised Hinduism all his life, deriving most of
his principles from Hinduism. As a common Hindu, he believed all religions to be
equal, and rejected all efforts to convert him to a different faith. He was an
avid theologian and read extensively about all major religions. He had the
following to say about Hinduism:
- "Hinduism as I know it entirely satisfies my soul, fills my whole
being…When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and
when I see not one ray of light on the horizon, I turn to the Bhagavad
Gita, and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile
in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. My life has been full of tragedies and
if they have not left any visible and indelible effect on me, I owe it to
the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita."
Gandhi wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita in Gujarati. The
Gujarati manuscript was translated into English by Mahadev Desai, who provided
an additional introduction and commentary. It was published with a Foreword by
Gandhi in 1946.
Gandhi believed that at the core of every religion was truth and love
(compassion, nonviolence and the Golden Rule). He also questioned hypocrisy,
malpractices and dogma in all religions and was a tireless social reformer. Some
of his comments on various religions are:
- "Thus if I could not accept Christianity either as a perfect, or the
greatest religion, neither was I then convinced of Hinduism being such.
Hindu defects were pressingly visible to me. If untouchability could be a
part of Hinduism, it could but be a rotten part or an excrescence. I could
not understand the raison d'etre of a multitude of sects and castes.
What was the meaning of saying that the Vedas were the inspired Word of God?
If they were inspired, why not also the Bible and the Koran? As Christian
friends were endeavouring to convert me, so were Muslim friends. Abdullah
Sheth had kept on inducing me to study Islam, and of course he had always
something to say regarding its beauty." (source: his autobiography)
- "As soon as we lose the moral basis, we cease to be religious. There is
no such thing as religion over-riding morality. Man, for instance, cannot be
untruthful, cruel or incontinent and claim to have God on his side."
- "The sayings of Muhammad are a treasure of wisdom, not only for Muslims
but for all of mankind."
Later in his life when he was asked whether he was a Hindu, he replied:
- "Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew."
In spite of their deep reverence to each other, Gandhi and Rabindranath
Tagore engaged in protracted debates more than once. These debates exemplify the
philosophical differences between the two most famous Indians at the time. On 15
January 1934, an earthquake hit Bihar and caused extensive damage and loss of
life. Gandhi maintained this was because of the sin committed by upper caste
Hindus by not letting untouchables in their temples (Gandhi was committed to the
cause of improving the fate of untouchables, referring to them as Harijans,
people of Krishna). Tagore vehemently opposed Gandhi's stance, maintaining that
an earthquake can only be caused by natural forces, not moral reasons, however
repugnant the practice of untouchability may be.
Gandhi was a prolific writer. For decades he edited several newspapers
including Harijan in Gujarati, Hindi and English; Indian Opinion
while in South Africa and, Young India, in English, and Navajivan, a
Gujarati monthly, on his return to India. Later Navajivan was also published in
Hindi. In addition, he wrote
letters almost every day to individuals and newspapers.
Gandhi also wrote a few books including his autobiography,
Autobiography or My Experiments with Truth, Satyagraha in South Africa
about his struggle there, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, a political
pamphlet, and a paraphrase in Gujarati of John Ruskin's Unto This Last.
This last essay can be considered his program on economics. He also wrote
extensively on vegetarianism, diet and health, religion, social reforms, etc.
Gandhi usually wrote in Gujarati, though he also revised the Hindi and English
translations of his books.
Gandhi's complete works were published by the Indian government under the
name The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi in the 1960s. The writings
comprise about 50,000 pages published in about a hundred volumes. In 2000, a
revised edition of the complete works sparked a controversy, as Gandhian
followers accused the government of incorporating changes for political purpose.
Books on Gandhi
Several biographers have undertaken the task of describing Gandhi's life.
Among them, two works stand out: D. G. Tendulkar with his Mahatma. Life of
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in eight volumes, and Pyarelal and Sushila Nayar
with their Mahatma Gandhi in 10 volumes. Colonel G. B. Singh from US Army
is said of have spent 20 years
collecting Gandhi's original speeches and writings for his factual research book
Gandhi: Behind the Mask of Divinity.
Followers and influence
Gandhi influenced important leaders and political movements. Leaders of the
civil rights movement in the United States, including Martin Luther King and
James Lawson, drew from the writings of Gandhi in the development of their 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.
Gandhi's life and teachings inspired many who specifically referred to Gandhi
as their mentor or who dedicated their lives to spreading Gandhi's ideas. In
Europe, Romain Rolland was the first to discuss Gandhi in his 1924 book Mahatma Gandhi, and Brazilian anarchist and feminist Maria Lacerda de Moura
wrote about Gandhi in her work on pacifism. In 1931, notable European physicist
Albert Einstein exchanged written letters with Gandhi, and called him "a role
model for the generations to come" in a later writing about him.
Lanza del Vasto went to India in 1936 in the aim to live with Gandhi. He later
returned to Europe to spread Gandhi's philosophy and founded the Community of
the Ark in 1948 (modeled after Gandhi's ashrams). Madeleine Slade (known as "Mirabehn")
was the daughter of a British admiral who spent much of her adult life in India
as a devotee of Gandhi.
In addition, the British musician, John Lennon, referred to Gandhi when
discussing his views on non-violence.
At the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in 2007, former U.S.
Vice-President and environmentalist, Al Gore, spoke of Gandhi's influence on
Gandhi's birthday, 2 October, is a national holiday in India, Gandhi Jayanti.
On 15 June 2007, it was announced that the "United Nations General Assembly" has
"unanimously adopted" a resolution declaring 2 October as "the International Day
The word Mahatma, while often mistaken for Gandhi's given name in the
West, is taken from the Sanskrit words maha meaning Great and atma meaning
Most sources, such as Dutta and Robinson's Rabindranath Tagore: An
Anthology, state that Rabindranath Tagore first accorded the title of Mahatma to Gandhi. Other
sources state that Nautamlal Bhagavanji Mehta accorded him this title on 21
January 1915. In his
autobiography, Gandhi nevertheless explains that he never felt worthy of the
honour. According to the manpatra, the name
Mahatma was given in response to Gandhi's
admirable sacrifice in manifesting justice and truth.
Time Magazine named Gandhi the Man of the Year in 1930. Gandhi was
also the runner-up to "Person of the Century" at the end of 1999. Time Magazine
named The Dalai Lama, Lech Wałęsa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez,
Aung San Suu Kyi, Benigno Aquino, Jr., Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela as Children of Gandhi and his spiritual heirs to non-violence.
The Government of India awards the annual Mahatma Gandhi Peace Prize to
distinguished social workers, world leaders and citizens. Nelson Mandela, the
leader of South Africa's struggle to eradicate racial discrimination and
segregation, is a prominent non-Indian recipient.
In 1996, the Government of India introduced the Mahatma Gandhi series of
currency notes in rupees 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 denomination. Today,
all the currency notes in circulation in India contain a portrait of Mahatma
Gandhi. In 1969, the United Kingdom issued a series of stamps commemorating the
centenary of Mahatma Gandhi.
In the United Kingdom, there are several prominent statues of Gandhi, most
notably in Tavistock Square, London near University College London where he
studied law. January 30 is commemorated in the United Kingdom as the "National
Gandhi Remembrance Day." In the United States, there are statues of Gandhi
outside the Union Square Park in New York City, and the Martin Luther King, Jr.
National Historic Site in Atlanta, and on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.
C., near the Indian Embassy. The city of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa—where
Gandhi was ejected from a first-class train in 1893—now hosts a commemorative
statue. There are wax statues of Gandhi at the Madame Tussaud's wax museums in
London, New York, and other cities around the world.
Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace Prize, although he was nominated five
times between 1937 and 1948, including the first-ever nomination by the American
Friends Service Committee. Decades
later, the Nobel Committee publicly declared its regret for the omission, and
admitted to deeply divided nationalistic opinion denying the award. Mahatma
Gandhi was to receive the Prize in 1948, but his assassination prevented the
award. The war breaking out between the newly created states of India and
Pakistan could have been an additional complicating factor that year.
The Prize was not awarded in 1948, the year of Gandhi's death, on the grounds
that "there was no suitable living candidate" that year, and when the Dalai Lama
was awarded the Prize in 1989, the chairman of the committee said that this was
"in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi."
In New Delhi, the Birla Bhavan (or Birla House), where Gandhi was
assassinated on January 30, 1948, was acquired by the Government of India in
1971 and opened to the public in 1973 as the Gandhi Smriti or Gandhi
Remembrance. It preserves the room where Mahatma Gandhi lived the last four
months of his life and the grounds where he was shot while holding his nightly
A Martyr's Column now marks the place where Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated.
On January 30 every year, on the anniversary of the death of Mahatma Gandhi,
in schools of many countries is observed the School Day of Non-violence and
Peace (DENIP), founded in Spain in 1964. In countries with a Southern Hemisphere
school calendar, it can be observed on March 30 or thereabouts.
Ideals and criticisms
Gandhi's rigid ahimsa implies pacifism, and is thus a source of criticism
from across the political spectrum.
Concept of partition
As a rule, Gandhi was opposed to the concept of partition as it contradicted
his vision of religious unity. Of
the partition of India to create Pakistan, he wrote in Harijan on 6
[The demand for Pakistan] as put forth by the Moslem League is un-Islamic
and I have not hesitated to call it sinful. Islam stands for unity and the
brotherhood of mankind, not for disrupting the oneness of the human family.
Therefore, those who want to divide India into possibly warring groups are
enemies alike of India and Islam. They may cut me into pieces but they
cannot make me subscribe to something which I consider to be wrong […] we
must not cease to aspire, in spite of [the] wild talk, to befriend all
Moslems and hold them fast as prisoners of our love.
However, as Homer Jack notes of Gandhi's long correspondence with Jinnah on
the topic of Pakistan: "Although Gandhi was personally opposed to the partition
of India, he proposed an agreement…which provided that the Congress and the
Moslem League would cooperate to attain independence under a provisional
government, after which the question of partition would be decided by a
plebiscite in the districts having a Moslem majority."
These dual positions on the topic of the partition of India opened Gandhi up
to criticism from both Hindus and Muslims. Muhammad Ali Jinnah and contemporary
Pakistanis condemned Gandhi for undermining Muslim political rights. Vinayak
Damodar Savarkar and his allies condemned Gandhi, accusing him of politically
appeasing Muslims while turning a blind eye to their atrocities against Hindus,
and for allowing the creation of Pakistan (despite having publicly declared that
"before partitioning India, my body will have to be cut into two pieces").
This continues to be politically contentious: some, like Pakistani-American
historian Ayesha Jalal argue that Gandhi and the Congress' unwillingness to
share power with the Muslim League hastened partition; others, like Hindu
nationalist policician Pravin Togadia have also criticized Gandhi's leadership
and actions on this topic, but indicating that excessive weakeness on his part
led to the division of India.
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 Africa. 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.
Rejection of violent resistance
Gandhi also came under some political fire for his criticism of those who
attempted to achieve independence through more violent means. His refusal to
protest against the hanging of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Udham Singh and Rajguru
were sources of condemnation among some parties.
Of this criticism, Gandhi stated, "There was a time when people listened to
me because I showed them how to give fight to the British without arms when they
had no arms…but today I am told that my non-violence can be of no avail against
the [Hindu–Moslem riots] and, therefore, people should arm themselves for
He continued this argument in a number of articles reprinted in Homer Jack's
The Gandhi Reader: A Sourcebook of His Life and Writings. In the first,
"Zionism and Anti-Semitism," written in 1938, Gandhi commented upon the 1930s
persecution of the Jews in Germany within the context of Satyagraha. He offered
non-violence as a method of combating the difficulties Jews faced in Germany,
If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there,
I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest Gentile German might,
and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to
be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this I
should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance, but
would have confidence that in the end the rest were bound to follow my
example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here
offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily
undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy…the calculated violence
of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his
first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind
could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined
could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought
deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the
God-fearing, death has no terror.
Gandhi was highly criticized for these statements and responded in the
article "Questions on the Jews" with "Friends have sent me two newspaper
cuttings criticizing my appeal to the Jews. The two critics suggest that in
presenting non-violence to the Jews as a remedy against the wrong done to them,
I have suggested nothing new…what I have pleaded for is renunciation of violence
of the heart and consequent active exercise of the force generated by the great
responded to the criticisms in "Reply to Jewish Friends"
and "Jews and Palestine."
by arguing that "What I have pleaded for is renunciation of violence of the
heart and consequent active exercise of the force generated by the great
Gandhi's statements regarding Jews facing the impending Holocaust have
attracted criticism from a number of commentators.
Martin Buber, himself an opponent of Zionism, wrote a sharply critical open
letter to Gandhi on February 24, 1939. Buber asserted that the comparison
between British treatment of Indian subjects and Nazi treatment of Jews was
inapposite; moreover, he noted that when Indians were the victims of
persecution, Gandhi had, on occasion, supported the use of force.
Gandhi commented upon the 1930s persecution of the Jews in Germany within the
context of Satyagraha. In the November 1938 article on the Nazi persecution of
the Jews quoted above, he offered non-violence as a solution:
The German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history.
The tyrants of old never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone. And he is
doing it with religious zeal. For he is propounding a new religion of
exclusive and militant nationalism in the name of which any inhumanity
becomes an act of humanity to be rewarded here and hereafter. The crime of
an obviously mad but intrepid youth is being visited upon his whole race
with unbelievable ferocity. If there ever could be a justifiable war in the
name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton
persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not
believe in any war. A discussion of the pros and cons of such a war is
therefore outside my horizon or province. But if there can be no war against
Germany, even for such a crime as is being committed against the Jews,
surely there can be no alliance with Germany. How can there be alliance
between a nation which claims to stand for justice and democracy and one
which is the declared enemy of both?"
Glenn C. Altschuler questions the morality of Gandhi's advice to the British
to allow themselves to be conquered by Nazi Germany. Gandhi told the British
that, if they "choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not
give you free passage out, you will allow yourself, man, woman, and child, to be
slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them."
Early South African articles
Some of Gandhi's early South African articles are controversial. As reprinted
in "The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi," (Vol. 8, p.120), Gandhi wrote in the
"Indian Opinion" in 1908 of his time in a South African prison: "Many of the
native prisoners are only one degree removed from the animal and often created
rows and fought among themselves." Also as reprinted in The Collected Works
of Mahatma Gandhi, (Vol. 2, p.74), Gandhi gave a speech on 26 September 1896
in which he referred to the "raw kaffir, whose occupation is hunting and whose
sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and
then pass his life in indolence and nakedness". The term Kaffir is
considered a derogatory term today (it is worth noting, however, that during
Gandhi's time, the term Kaffir had a different connotation than its
present-day usage). Remarks such as these have led some to accuse Gandhi of
Two professors of history who specialize in South Africa, Surendra Bhana and
Goolam Vahed, examined this controversy in their text, The Making of a
Political Reformer: Gandhi in South Africa, 1893–1914. (New Delhi: Manohar,
2005). They focus in Chapter 1,
"Gandhi, Africans and Indians in Colonial Natal" on the relationship between the
African and Indian communities under "White rule" and policies which enforced
segregation (and, they argue, inevitable conflict between these communities). Of
this relationship they state that, "the young Gandhi was influenced by
segregationist notions prevalent in the 1890s." At the same time, they state, "Gandhi's experiences in jail seemed to make him
more sensitive to their plight…the later Gandhi mellowed; he seemed much less
categorical in his expression of prejudice against Africans, and much more open
to seeing points of common cause. His negative views in the Johannesburg jail
were reserved for hardened African prisoners rather than Africans generally."
Former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela is a follower of Gandhi,
despite efforts in 2003 on the part of Gandhi's critics to prevent the unveiling
of a statue of Gandhi in Johannesburg.
Bhana and Vahed commented on the events surrounding the unveiling in the
conclusion to The Making of a Political Reformer: Gandhi in South Africa,
1893–1914. In the section "Gandhi's Legacy to South Africa," they note that
"Gandhi inspired succeeding generations of South African activists seeking to
end White rule. This legacy connects him to Nelson Mandela…in a sense Mandela
completed what Gandhi started."
They continue by referring to the controversies which arose during the unveiling
of the statue of Gandhi. In
response to these two perspectives of Gandhi, Bhana and Vahed argue: "Those who
seek to appropriate Gandhi for political ends in post-apartheid South Africa do
not help their cause much by ignoring certain facts about him; and those who
simply call him a racist are equally guilty of distortion."
Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar condemned Gandhi's use of the term
to refer to the Dalit community. This term meant "Children of God";
it was interpreted by some as saying that Dalits were socially immature, and
that privileged caste Indians played a paternalistic role. Ambedkar and his
allies also felt Gandhi was undermining Dalit political rights. Gandhi, although
born into the Vaishya caste, insisted that he was able to speak on behalf of
Dalits, despite the availability of Dalit activists such as Ambedkar.
Indologist Koenraad Elst also critiqued Gandhi. He questioned the
effectiveness of Gandhi's theory of non-violence and argued that it achieved
only a few token concessions from the British. Elst also argued that it was
British fear of violence (along with depletion due to the after effects of World
War II) rather than non-violence, that led to Indian Independence. According to
Elst, this was exemplified by Indian public support for Subhash Chandra Bose's
Indian National Army. As praise,
"Gandhi's major claim to fame was that he, almost alone among the freedom
leaders in the entire colonized world, had sought and developed policies and
strategies rooted in native culture rather than borrowed from Western models
(nationalism, socialism etc.)—"