and His Immense Contribution to Mankind
One hundred and forty-eight years ago, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 at Porbandar in the present day Indian state of Gujarat. Gandhi was often referred to and better known as Mahatma, meaning ‘ Great Soul ‘ in Sanskrit.
This term of endearment and high respect was first applied to him by that equally famous Nobel Prize winner and the first Asian to be awarded that prize in Literature, Rabindranath Tagore.
Gandhi was destined for success in the conventional sense. But his tryst with destiny delivered a huge success of another kind. Gandhi is not only an iconic figure in India, he is also highly respected all over the world. His father was chief minister of Porbandar and other states in Western India. At age 19, Gandhi was sent to London to read law. He was subsequently called to the English Bar in June 1891 at the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple.
Sent To South Africa
He returned to India to set up a law practice in Bombay but met with little success. That led him to accept a position with an Indian firm that sent him to its office in South Africa. He was to stay in South Africa for nearly 20 years.
Gandhi used to dress well and carried out his work and struggles with dignity and decorum. He was, however, appalled by the discrimination he experienced as an Indian immigrant in South Africa. In one instance, although he had a valid ticket for a journey in a train in South Africa, he was rudely and unceremoniously thrown out of the train.
Unjust Measures and Policies
After witnessing racism, prejudice and injustice to Indians and other coloured people, Gandhi was determined to fight apartheid through passive resistance. When he returned to India, he was highly critical of the unjust measures and policies of the colonial authorities. His passive resistance involved non – violent protests, civil disobedience and symbolic acts to register the displeasure of Indians.
His bold and unusual actions against the British galvanised the Indian masses and he attained a revered status. He deliberately discarded his western attire i.e. suits and took to wearing khadi –homespun and home-woven cotton clothing all the time. The image of Gandhi clothed simply in a loincloth and plying a spinning wheel is all too familiar around the world. Even on a visit to London, that was his choice of clothing!
Churchill and Gandhi
Winston Churchill, a former British prime minister well known for his war-time role in marshalling the citizens against their enemies, however, did not like Gandhi and made that crystal clear.
This is one of his infamous quotes: ‘ It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple (he got that wrong) lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organising and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor’.
For Gandhi, simplicity was a way of life! Symbolism also mattered.
Passive Resistance and Civil Disobedience
Gandhi was involved in protesting Britain’s Salt Acts. Gandhi planned a new campaign that entailed a 240 mile march to the Arabian Sea where he could collect salt in symbolic defiance of the government monopoly. This march sparked similar protests and mass civil disobedience all over India. Over 60,000 Indians including Gandhi were jailed.
In 1942, Gandhi launched the ‘ Quit India ‘ movement that called for the immediate British withdrawal from the country. India gained its independence five years later in 1947.
Inspired Movements for Civil Rights and Freedom
Gandhi’s selfless actions and steadfastness in following through on the struggle was truly inspiring. In that manner, he was to inspire movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.
The great Nelson Mandela was a true admirer of Mahatma Gandhi. He was particularly impressed by Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha and non –violent civil disobedience. Satyagraha actually means ‘ insistence on truth ‘ or if you like ‘ loyalty to truth ‘ as part and parcel of his effective passive resistance movement.
As president of the newly emerging rainbow nation, Mandela chose to forgive the past misdeeds of the oppressors. Mandela also chose to actively seek reconciliation in moving forward as a united nation. Such was this iconic figure’s magnanimity!
Another notable figure from history who strictly adhered to Gandhi’s philosophy of non – violence is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1955, he began his struggle to persuade the US government to declare the policy of racial discrimination in the southern states unlawful. The racists responded with violence to the black people’s non-violent initiatives. The police in these states wielded batons ruthlessly and even used fierce dogs to frighten the protestors. Some in his group wanted to retaliate but Rev. Dr. King stood firm. The bus boycott, for instance, lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956 the Supreme Court of the United States declared, as unconstitutional, the laws requiring segregation on buses.
A third influential figure is Diasaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai International. Daisaku Ikeda is a peace builder, a Buddhist philosopher, educator, author and poet. He is the third president of Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist organisation in Japan and founder of several institutions promoting peace, culture and education. He has dedicated himself to bolstering the foundations of a lasting culture of peace. He is a strong proponent of dialogue as the foundation of peace. A core focus of Ikeda’s peace activities has been the goal of nuclear disarmament.
Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Daisaku Ikeda are four men from different cultures and continents who have followed a common path. They chose the path of profound dedication and achievement in improving the lives of all people.
Some Profound Quotes
Here are some telling quotes that reveal the thinking and philosophy of these great men. Do take a moment to ponder and reflect on these quotes because they reveal the humanity that guided them even during a troubled and difficult period.
‘ In the moment of our trial and our triumph, let me declare my faith. I believe in loving my enemies ‘ – Mahatma Gandhi
‘ On the one hand I must attempt to change the soul of individuals so that societies may be changed. On the other, I must attempt to change the societies so that the individual soul will have a chance ‘ – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
‘ A great human revolution in just a single individual will help to achieve a change in the destiny of a society, and further, will enable a change in the destiny of humankind ‘ – Daisaku Ikeda
‘ When I walked out of prison, that was my mission – to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both ‘ – Nelson Mandela
Gandhi Identifies with Uncanny Accuracy 7 Deadly Social Sins
In concluding, let me share with you the great Mahatma’s uncanny ability to identify 7 deadly sins plaguing our societies today. These are worth pondering over and deserve deep reflection and then, action on our part.
The havoc and mayhem caused by these deadly sins are taking a heavy toll in countries all over the world. Let me be clear: not just in the developing countries but also in the developed countries.
Wealth without Work
Pleasure without Conscience
Knowledge without Character
Commerce without Morality
Science without Humanity
Worship without Sacrifice
Politics without Principle
I acknowledge with gratitude that some of this information was obtained from the souvenir programme provided by the Gandhi Memorial Trust Malaysia on 2 October, 2017 at the Royal Lake Club in Kuala Lumpur.