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Remembering Mahatma Gandhi on Martyr's Day

Today, on January 30th, we commemorate the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation and the leader of our freedom struggle. He was assassinated on this day in 1948 by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fanatic who opposed his vision of a secular and inclusive India. Gandhi's life and legacy are an inspiration for millions of people around the world who seek peace, justice, and harmony among all human beings.

Mahatma Gandhi

Early Life and Education

Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, a coastal town in Gujarat. His father, Karamchand Gandhi, was the chief minister of Porbandar state, and his mother, Putlibai, was a devout Hindu. Gandhi was the youngest of his father's four wives' children. He had a shy and timid personality as a child, but he also showed signs of courage and compassion. He was married at 13 to Kasturba, a girl of the same age, in an arranged marriage.

Gandhi received his primary education in Porbandar and Rajkot, where he learned the basics of arithmetic, history, geography, and languages. He was not a brilliant student, but he was curious and eager to learn. He developed a love for reading, especially the stories of Hindu epics, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. He also admired the characters of Harishchandra and Shravana, who exemplified truthfulness and filial piety, respectively.

At the age of 18, Gandhi went to London to study law at the Inner Temple. He faced many challenges and temptations in the unfamiliar culture, but he remained faithful to his vegetarian diet and his vow to abstain from alcohol and meat. He also experimented with different religions, such as Christianity, Buddhism, and Theosophy, but he ultimately returned to his Hindu roots. He was influenced by the writings of Leo Tolstoy, John Ruskin, and Henry David Thoreau, who advocated for simplicity, nonviolence, and social justice. He completed his law degree in 1891 and returned to India.

Career and Activism in South Africa

Gandhi struggled to establish a successful law practice in India, so he accepted an offer to work for an Indian firm in South Africa in 1893. He planned to stay there for only a year, but he ended up spending 21 years in the country. He witnessed and experienced the racial discrimination and oppression that the Indian immigrants faced under British colonial rule. He was appalled by the laws that restricted their civil rights, such as the right to vote, the right to travel, and the right to own property.

Gandhi decided to challenge the unjust system and fight for the rights of his fellow Indians. He founded the Natal Indian Congress, a political organization that aimed to unite the Indian community and voice their grievances. He also adopted the principle of satyagraha, or truth force, which was a method of nonviolent resistance against injustice. He led several campaigns of civil disobedience, such as the refusal to register, the burning of passes, the boycott of taxes, and the march across the Transvaal border. He was arrested and imprisoned several times, but he never resorted to violence or hatred. He also appealed to the moral conscience of the British authorities and the public, and he gained their respect and admiration.

Gandhi's efforts in South Africa not only improved the conditions of the Indian immigrants but also shaped his political and spiritual philosophy. He realized that he had a mission to serve humanity and to promote the values of truth, nonviolence, and love. He also developed a simple and austere lifestyle, renouncing worldly pleasures and possessions. He wore a short dhoti made of hand-spun yarn, ate a vegetarian diet, and practised celibacy. He also lived in a self-sufficient residential community, called Phoenix Settlement, where he and his followers practiced farming, weaving, and other crafts.

Return to India and Leadership of the Independence Movement

Gandhi returned to India in 1915, at the age of 45, and joined the Indian National Congress, the main political party that opposed British rule. He soon became the leader of the party and the national independence movement. He travelled across the country, mobilizing the masses and awakening their political consciousness. He also addressed the social and economic problems that plagued the country, such as poverty, illiteracy, untouchability, communal violence, and gender inequality. He advocated for the upliftment of the rural poor, the empowerment of women, the eradication of caste discrimination, and the promotion of communal harmony.

Mahatma Gandhi statue

Gandhi launched several nationwide campaigns against the British government, using the weapon of satyagraha. Some of the most notable ones were:

- The Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1922), which involved the boycott of British goods, institutions, and services, and the promotion of swadeshi, or indigenous, products and industries.

- The Civil Disobedience Movement (1930-1934), began with the famous Salt March, a 240-mile walk from Ahmedabad to Dandi, where Gandhi and his followers defied the salt tax by making their own salt from the seawater.

- The Quit India Movement (1942), which was a mass uprising that demanded the immediate withdrawal of the British from India, with the slogan "Do or Die".

Gandhi's campaigns were met with fierce repression from the British authorities, who arrested and jailed thousands of protesters, including Gandhi himself. They also resorted to violence and brutality, such as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919, where hundreds of unarmed civilians were killed by the British troops. Gandhi condemned the violence and urged his followers to remain peaceful and nonviolent. He also undertook several fasts, as a means of both self-purification and political pressure.

Gandhi's efforts and sacrifices paid off, as the British government gradually conceded to his demands and agreed to grant India its independence. However, the independence came with a heavy price: the partition of India into two separate states, India and Pakistan, based on religious lines. Gandhi was deeply saddened and pained by the partition, which resulted in widespread violence and bloodshed between the Hindus and the Muslims. He tried to stop the riots and reconcile the two communities, but he faced opposition and hostility from both sides.

Assassination and Legacy

On January 30, 1948, Gandhi was shot and killed by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu extremist who blamed him for the partition and for being too soft on the Muslims. Gandhi's last words were "Hey Ram", meaning "Oh God". His death shocked and grieved the nation and the world. He was cremated according to Hindu rites, and his ashes were scattered in various rivers and seas.

Gandhi's life and legacy have left an indelible mark on history and humanity. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential figures of the 20th century. He is revered as the father of the nation and the apostle of peace and nonviolence. He is also honoured with the title of Mahatma, meaning "Great Soul". His birthday, October 2, is celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti in India and as the International Day of Non-Violence by the United Nations. His teachings and principles have inspired and guided many movements and leaders across the world, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama, and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Excerpts and Morals from His Book "My Experiments with Truth"

Gandhi's autobiography, titled "The Story of My Experiments with Truth", is a candid and humble account of his personal and public life, from his childhood to his involvement in the Indian independence movement. It is not a chronological or comprehensive narration, but rather a reflection of his quest for truth and the principles that shaped his actions. He wrote the book in weekly instalments in his journal Navjivan from 1925 to 1929, and it was translated into English by his secretary Mahadev Desai.

The book reveals Gandhi's struggles and successes, doubts and convictions, failures and achievements, and joys and sorrows. It also shows his honesty and integrity, his courage and compassion, his humility and simplicity, and his faith and devotion. It is a source of inspiration and guidance for anyone who seeks to live a moral and meaningful life.

Here are some excerpts and morals from his book:

"Truth is the sovereign principle, which includes numerous other principles. This truth is not only truthfulness in word, but truthfulness in thought also, and not only the relative truth of our conception but the Absolute Truth, the Eternal Principle, that is God. There are innumerable definitions of God because His manifestations are innumerable. They overwhelm me with wonder and awe and for a moment stun me. But I worship God as Truth only. I have not yet found Him, but I am seeking after Him. I am prepared to sacrifice the things dearest to me in pursuit of this quest. Even if the sacrifice demanded to be my very life, I hope I may be prepared to give it. But as long as I have not realized this Absolute Truth, so long must I hold by the relative truth as I have conceived it. That relative truth must, meanwhile, be my beacon, my shield and buckler. Though this path is straight and narrow and sharp as the razor's edge, for me the seeker after Truth. It is a difficult path, I can assure you and the seeker needs an adamantine will, a most determined faith. For the path is strewn with thorns, and at each step one has to wrestle with Satan." (Chapter 1, Introduction)

Moral: This excerpt shows Gandhi's dedication and commitment to the pursuit of truth, which he equates with God. He acknowledges the challenges and obstacles that he faces, but he also expresses his determination and faith. He sets a high standard for himself and his followers, and he does not compromise on his principles.

"I saw that bad handwriting should be regarded as a sign of an imperfect education. I tried to improve mine, but it was too late. I could never repair the neglect of my youth. Let every young man and woman be warned by my example, and understand that good handwriting is a necessary part of education. I am now of the opinion that children should first be taught the art of drawing before learning how to write. Let the child learn his letters by observation as he does different objects, such as flowers, birds, etc., and let him learn handwriting only after he has learnt to draw objects. He will then write a beautifully formed hand." (Chapter 2, Childhood)

Moral: This excerpt shows Gandhi's regret and advice regarding handwriting, which he considers as a reflection of one's education and personality. He suggests a better way of teaching children how to write, by first developing their observation and drawing skills. He also emphasizes the importance of learning from one's mistakes and improving oneself.

"I have seen since that I had calculated wrongly. A man who would be a lover of truth, of goodness, and of beauty, could not afford to be lazy. Laziness is an attribute of the dead. It is a sign of lifelessness. A living man cannot be lazy. He may be a gentle worker or a hard worker, but he must be a worker. He cannot afford to be idle. To be idle is to be wicked, to be a sinner. It is the devil who finds work for idle hands to do. I have learnt the lesson since, and would like to impart it to the reader." (Chapter 3, Playing the Husband)

Moral: This excerpt shows Gandhi's realization and conviction regarding the value of work, which he regards as a sign of life and virtue. He denounces laziness and idleness, which he associates with evil and sin. He advocates for a diligent and active lifestyle, which he believes is conducive to the development of truth, goodness, and beauty. He also shares his lesson with the reader, hoping to inspire them to follow his example.


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