Oct.2nd 2008: Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi
World famous leader, Mahatma Gandhi, fought assiduously for human rights in South Africa and in his own country, India, and stood firm on secular beliefs. He laid down his life for the cause of maintaining harmony between religions. On October2nd, we commemorate the birthday of this great soul, who devoted his lifetime to helping the poor and downtrodden. He fought against apartheid in South Africa, the high handedness and racial superiority of the British in India and tried to eradicate the caste discrimination against the Harijans in his country, who were often humiliated and remained outcasts within the social fabric.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, (1869-1948) popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi was born in Porbandar, presently in the Sate of Gujarat in India on October 2nd, 1869. He belonged to a very conservative family that was affiliated with the ruling Kathiawad family. He studied law at the University College, London. After being admitted to the British bar, he came to India and set up law practice in Mumbai but did not succeed in his venture. He joined a legal Indian firm in Durban, South Africa as a legal adviser. On his arrival in Durban he was made to feel that he belonged to an inferior race. He was shocked to see Indian immigrants in South Africa being denied political and civil liberties. He began his battle to fight for the basic rights of these immigrants. He spent 20 years of his life in South Africa, and was imprisoned several times.
The white majority in South Africa subjected Gandhi to a lot of discrimination and humiliation. As a response to this ill treatment, Gandhi decided to initiate passive resistance and non cooperation towards the authorities. He was much influenced by Leo Tolstoy, a famous Russian writer, and was much indebted to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the American writer of the 19th century, Henry David Thoreau. He was much inspired by Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”. He believed in Satyagraha (literally meaning “truth force”). After the Boer War, Gandhi continued his campaign for the rights of Indians. He set up the Tolstoy Farm, close to Durban in 1910, which is a cooperative colony for the Indians. The Government in South Africa conceded to some demands of Gandhi such as abolition of poll tax and recognition of Indian marriages. Once his tasks in South Africa were completed, he returned to India to continue his fight for human rights and secular beliefs.
In India, Gandhi fought for Home Rule and wanted the British hegemony to come to an end. The Satyagraha movement attracted many. British goods were boycotted, and a campaign of non-cooperation was unleashed with Indians resigning from public offices and staying from the courts. Gandhi was arrested several times along with other leaders.
Gandhi believed in Swaraj, “self-rule” for India. He condemned the exploitation of Indian villagers by British industrialists. He favored the revival of cottage industries. He also advocated the path of Ahimsa (non-violence) and supported secular harmony within the country.
Eventually, Gandhi wanted India to be an independent country and made out an all-out effort to end the British rule, who finally gave in to the pressure. In 1947, India attained independence, but unfortunately a year later, Gandhi fell to the bullets of a Hindu fanatic, who was against Gandhi’s belief in Hindu-Muslim unity.
October 2nd is the day when Indians, as well as other admirers abroad, recall the long cherished contributions made by this renowned world leader, Mahatma Gandhi, who similar to the renowned South African leader Nelson Mandel, fought relentlessly to ensure that every citizen led a decent life and did not have to compromise on human rights. Mahatma Gandhi was relevant then and he is still relevant today.