THOUGHTS FROM THE HEART Life Science MAHATMA GANDHI – The little brown saint & his international influence

MAHATMA GANDHI – The little brown saint & his international influence


Mahatma Gandhi’s tryst with non – violence dates back to his South African days when a young lawyer Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, all of 24 years of age faced racial discrimination. On 7 June 1893, M.K Gandhi, later known as “The Mahatma” or “Great Soul” was forcibly removed from a whites-only carriage on a train in Pietermaritzburg, for not obeying laws that segregated each carriage according to race. While travelling by train to Pretoria, Gandhiji experienced his first taste of racial discrimination. In spite of carrying first class ticket, he was indiscriminately thrown out of the train by the authorities on the instigation of a white man. Gandhiji’s reaction was that of `David confronting the Goliath of racial discrimination. This inculcated the seeds of ahimsa and ‘Satyagraha’ became a way of life which stood as a status symbol in all of Mahatma’s marquee events throughout his patriotic career.
Gandhiji was highly influenced by John Ruskin’s preaching of rustic life. The ideals depicted in the book ‘Unto This Last’ by John Ruskin was imbibed upon by Gandhiji which made him determined to change his life. It was under this influence that Gandhiji organized Phoenix Farm near Durban. Here he trained disciplined cadres on non-violent Satyagraha (peaceful self-restraint), involving peaceful violation of certain laws, mass courting of arrests, occasional hartal, (suspension of all economic activity for a particular time), spectacular marches and nurtured an indomitable spirit which would fight repression without fear. Gandhiji recounts the experience in his autobiography, in a chapter titled ‘The magic spell of a book’, and says this was the book “that brought about an instantaneous and practical transformation in my life”. This was because he “discovered some of my deepest convictions reflected in this great book”.
Mahatma Gandhi influences a number of important leaders and political movements across the world. Leaders of civil rights movements in the United States, including Martin Luther King Jr., James Lawson, and James Bevel, drew from the writings of Gandhiji in the development of their own theories about nonviolence. Martin Luther King even went on to say, “Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics,” and would even refer to Gandhiji as the “little brown saint.” Former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Steve Biko, and Aung San Suu Kyi all are believed to have been influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. In fact, in his early years, Mandela was a follower of Gandhiji’s philosophy of non-violent resistance. European author Romain Rolland too discussed Gandhiji in his 1924 book Mahatma Gandhi and Brazillian feminist Maria Lacerda de Moura too wrote about Mahatma Gandhi in her work on pacifism. The influence of Gandhiji was also seen in European physicist Albert Einstein, who called him a role model for future generations. Einstein even would go on to credit Gandhiji with having created a new and humane means for the liberation war of a country that was oppressed. Gandhi’s influence was even seen in the works of Lanza del Vasto who arrived in India in 1936 intending to live with Gandhiji and later returned to Europe to spread the Gandhian philosophy and start the Community of the Ark, modelled on Gandhiji’s ashrams. John Lennon too referred to Mahatma Gandhi when discussing his views on nonviolence and former US Vice-President and environmentalist Al Gore spoke of Gandhiji’s influence on
him. In fact, former US President Barack Obama too spoke about the Gandhian influence in 2009 when on reply to a question “Who was the one person, dead or alive, that you would choose to dine with?” he referred to Mahatma Gandhi. Notably, Gandhiji’s best influence as a world leader can be seen in the fact that the International Day of Non-Violence is observed on 2 October, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.
According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Nonviolence is an active force of the highest order. It is soul force or the power of Godhead within us. Imperfect man cannot grasp the whole of that essence – he would not be able to bear its full blaze, but even an infinitesimal fraction of it, when it becomes active within us, can work wonders.” Long before his concept of Ahimsa had led to the British quitting India, it was in the year 1908 when Gandhiji’s principle of non – violence came to the fore. It was in this year when Gandhiji had to stand trial for instigating the satyagraha. He was sentenced to two months in jail (the first time), however after a compromise with General Smuts he was released. Out of jail he was attacked for compromising with General Smuts. Unfortunately, Smuts broke the agreement and Gandhiji had to relaunch his satyagraha. However, it was Mahatma Gandhi who had the last laugh. Gandhiji’s Ahimsa had triumphed. Victory came to Gandhiji not when Smuts had no more strength to fight him but when he had no more heart to fight him. Much later General Smuts declared that men like Mahatma Gandhi redeem us from a sense of commonplace and futility and are an inspiration to us not to weary in well doing….’
Before turning senile in the last decade of his life, it was this ethical command that made him a ‘director of conscience’ for the rapidly industrializing Europe. No wonder Tolstoy counted him among “those rare men who think with their hearts, and so he thought and said not only what he himself had seen and felt, but what everyone will think and say in the future”. More than influencing his own life, Gandhiji dreamt of Ruskinian thoughts influencing soon-to-be- independent India. In July 1946, Vaikunthlal Mehta, finance and village industries minister of Bombay state, organized a conference of state industries ministers in Pune. Addressing them, Gandhiji once again fondly recalled the magical spell of the book that had led him to the path of Ahimsa and Satyagraha, and told the people who were going to chart the industrial future of a free India soon: “I saw clearly that if mankind was to progress and to realize the ideal of equality and brotherhood, it must adopt and act on the principle of Unto This Last; it must take along with it even the dumb and the lame… That is not my picture of independence in which there is no room for the weakest. That requires that we must utilize all available human labour before we entertain the idea of employing mechanical power.”

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