A MAN WITH A GREAT SOUL: MAHATMA GANDHI [1869-1948]

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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in western India in 1869. He was not given the title “Mahatma”, meaning “great soul”, until later in life, in honor of his many achievements in the Indian movement for independence. 

At nineteen Gandhi traveled to England to study law, then in 1893 accepted a job with the firm of Dada Abdullah and Company, a group of wealthy Muslim merchants in South Africa. The racially hostile climate of this country transformed him into a champion of civil rights for the Indian community. He introduced a policy of non-cooperation with the civil authorities. Satyagraha, his principle of non-violent action, combines the two Indian word sat, meaning truth, and agraha, meaning firmness, to signify that a man must declare the truth and be willing to die for it without violence to anyone. This policy of non-violence formed the basis of Gandhi’s philosophy. While he also absorbed teachings from other religions, it was the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, that became his bible. He would be considered the equivalent of a saint by his followers. 

Gandhi’s struggle for Indian civil rights was successful, prompting South African officials to reform their anti-Indian legislation. Impressed by Gandhi’s ability to effect great social change without employing violence, the Indian Parliament invited him to return to India and present plans for their own self-government. In his home country, Gandhi’s satyagraha campaign aroused interest, and many considered him a future political leader. He became an active member of the National Indian Congress. In turn, the leaders of the Congress expressed their confidence in Gandhi, asking him to revise their Constitution and legitimize the Congress as a countrywide political organization. Their plan succeeded with Gandhi’s guidance, and the Congress remained the only political party in the country for years after independence. Under British rule, Gandhi carried on as a political agitator, dedicating himself to service to humanity and advocating conciliation among racial groups. 

Gandhi’s attempts to promote friendship between Hindus and Muslims incurred the wrath of Hindu fanatics, who considered the Muslims their enemies. When, due largely to Gandhi’s pacifist efforts, independence finally became a reality, his political influence gradually declined. He was assassinated in 1948 by a Hindu fanatic who wanted to halt any reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims. 

Gandhi’s teachings profoundly influenced such reformers as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jrl, Cesar Chavez, and Nelson Mandela, who, in June 1993, led a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi in the Natal province capital city (where Gandhi, after experiencing racial segregation on a train, developed the concept of satyagraha). 

In shaping the policies of today’s world leaders, Gandhi’s philosophy has had a major impact on politically troubled countries and will continue to affect the future of international politics. Compared by many to Christ for his teachings, his practice of non-violence, and his tragic assassination, Gandhi remains a legendary figure of world history. 

According to Gandhi, “Non-violence is a power which can be wielded equally by all – children, young men and women, or grown-up people – provided they have a living faith in the God of Love and have therefore equal love for all mankind. When non-violence is accepted as the law of life, it must pervade the whole being and not be applied to isolated acts.” 

SOURCE: Trudy S. Settel (Compiler), The Wisdom of Gandhi, New York, N.Y.: CITADEL PRESS – Kensington Publishing Corp., 1995. 

Jakarta, 4 February 2014 

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