By Dr. Sulakshi Thelikorala
India’s Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi’s 141st birthday was commemorated on the 2 October 2010 all over the world as the International day of Non-Violence and Peace. He was an eminent political figure in India’s independence movement who pioneered towards a peaceful end to centuries of British rule in India. Being one of the world’s most famous pacifists, Gandhi has become the strongest symbol of non violence in the 20th century. Emulating a few great political leaders of all time, he has inspired many across the globe with their freedom movements and protection of civil rights.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born to a devout Hindu family of merchants on the 2 October 1869 in Porbandar, a coastal city of present day Gujarat in Western India. His father, Karamchand Gandhi was a chief of the state of Porbandar from whom the latter part of his name was inherited. His mother, Putlibai Gandhi was a profound devotee of Hinduism whose guidance on the religion and culture later influenced Gandhi indelibly with his Ahimsa movement. His renowned first name “Mahatma”, resembling “Great Soul” in Sanskrit was bestowed upon him by Rabindranath Tagore as an honorary name during his struggle for independence.
The young Mohandas attended the middle school in his home town Porbandar and high school in Rajkoth. The youth was an average student in his academic work on whom great Indian epics left an ingrained impression than to any other child of the same age. At the age of 13, Mohandas married Kasthurbai Makhanj from an arranged child marriage keeping in with the regional customs and traditions, from which Mohandas and Kasthurbai had four sons.
The legend’s patriotic feelings came into light when the youth travelled to Britain to study law, a month shy from his 19th Birthday. Breaking the family traditions, he joined the University College of London to train himself as a barrister. During his stay in the Imperial capital, he becomes interested in religion like never before, yet adopting himself to English customs such as taking on dancing lessons. It is during this short stay of 2 years when he is motivated to read on civil disobedience, inspiring him on the principles of non violence.
Two days of becoming a barrister, the 21 year old returns to India to find out that his mother has passed away while he was studying in London which his family has kept away from him. Upon 2 years after returning, Gandhi fails to establish a decent practice of law when he is forced to leave India to Natal in South Africa on a one year job contract.
A chain of frustrating events in South Africa initiated the transformation of a young expatriate lawyer into a national hero. The most famous incident is when Gandhi was thrown off a train after refusing to move from the first class to a third-class coach while holding a valid first-class ticket. From his first hand experience, Gandhi realises the discrimination faced by his fellow Indians in South Africa, which was another colony of the British Emperor.
The racial discrimination starts to disturb the young barrister who determines to fight against the injustice and grievances faced by the Indians working in South Africa which lays the foundation to his politics of peace protests. As a result, Mohandas leads his civil disobedience campaigns where he is arrested several times like many other great political leaders of all time. The peaceful rebellion established the Natal Indian Congress and adopts his still evolving methodology “sathyagraha” for the very first time in South Africa.
Despite the struggle, Gandhi becomes the first coloured lawyer to get admitted to the South African Bar. He extends his intended one year duration of stay to 20 long painstaking years solely to continue the fight for the Indians in South Africa.
Mahatma Gandhi returns to India in 1914, after 20 years of peaceful battle in South Africa against racial discrimination. Since then he is determined to strive for the long awaited independence of his motherland while and reconciliating of all races and classes in the multi ethnic Indian Subcontinent.
Upon his return, the legend leads the newly found Indian National Congress Party towards achieving independence. The well known campaign led by Gandhi was the Salt March, the mass protest in 1930 against the British Salt Monopoly where thousands of Indians marched 200 miles to the Indian Ocean to make salt by themselves. In 1947, India achieves their long awaited independence, bringing an end to centuries of British rule.
Even after gaining independence from the Imperial rule, Gandhi continued his way forward with peaceful resistance to violence against the racial discrimination and reconciliation of Hindus and Muslims which ultimately leads to his tragic death.
On the 30 January 1948, the 79 year old India’s Father of the Nation was assassinated while he was walking to a platform from which he was to address a prayer meeting. The assassin was identified to be Nathuram Godse, a fellow Hindu linked to an extremist Hindu movement who held Gandhi responsible for weakening India by insisting upon a payment to Pakistan. Gandhi’s martyrdom made him a greater symbol of peace. Today, his death is commemorated in India as the Martyr Day to remember and appreciate those who have given up their lives for the country.
In retrospect, it is indeed a mystery how this great Indian National Leader has been missed in the Nobel Laureate list. Nevertheless, he has been nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize five times since 1937 to 1948, which was two days after his assassination. In 1948, the year of his demise, neither a posthumous award was awarded to Gandhi nor was anybody else given the award by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, who later publicly declared its regret for such an omission of a great leader whom they failed to appreciate.
The legend had been a celebrated figure in literature, film and theater. The 1982 movie “Gandhi” portrayed by Ben Kinsley, which won the Academy Award for the best picture has been a most popular production based on the legend’s life.
Mahatma Gandhi has influenced many leaders across the world such a Martin Luther King and James Lawson, who have drawn writings of Gandhi in the development of their own theories about non violence. Nelson Mandela, the great anti apartheid freedom fighter of South Africa, was also influenced by Gandhi in his long walk to freedom who was a follower of non violence resistance philosophy of Gandhi.
Mahatma Gandhi is a distinguished political leader due to his principal “Ahimsa” which pioneered India’s independence movement. Although Gandhi was not the originator of the non violence principle, he was the first to apply it in a political struggle. Thus, his birthday on the 2 October is commemorated in India as the Gandhi Jayanthi and worldwide as the International day of Non Violence and Peace. “ You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind”—Mohandas Gandhi