Girish Kumar Juneja | Gandhi: from Mohandas to Mahatma - A journey that changed the history of the world
In world history, we seldom come across incidents that, although appearing trivial at that time, spark major revolutions that change the course of the history of nations. One such incident happened on June 7, 1893, and transformed Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a young and modest Indian immigrant lawyer in South Africa, into Mahatma (saintly) Gandhi and prepared him to launch a relentless non-violent struggle against two-centuries-old oppressive British rule. So great was his impact that he is still remembered as ‘Bapu’, or the Father of the Indian Nation, and is the most recognisable figure of the 20th century.
Mahatma Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar in the western Indian state of Gujarat. After his schooling, he went to England in 1888 to study law and later to South Africa to start a legal practice.
His life changed on June 7, 1893. Gandhi was forcibly pushed out of a ‘whites-only’ train carriage at Pietermaritzburg station in the colonial South Africa on account of being ‘non-white’. He did not digest this racial discrimination and started a struggle against the oppressive and discriminatory colonial rule and pioneered the concept of Satyagraha (insistence on truth), to which he devoted the rest of his life. In the words of the great Nelson Mandela, “Mahatma Gandhi had exerted an incalculable influence in the history of the people of South Africa.”
In 1915, Mahatma Gandhi moved to India and joined the Indian National Congress and embarked upon a relentless struggle through protests, marches, and boycotts against the British within the ambit of his philosophy of Satyagraha and Ahimsa (non-violence) to free Indians from the yoke of foreign rule.
His major protests included the Champaran Movement, the Non-Cooperation Movement, the Civil Disobedience Movement, and the Quit India Movement. His most famous protest was the one following the massacre of about 400 unarmed people in Jallianwala Bagh, where a large crowd of men, women, and children had gathered for a peaceful demonstration. This incident acted as the catalyst for Gandhi’s uncompromising resolve for India’s independence and his unflinching commitment for the cause of Indian nationalism. Non-violence, civil disobedience, the boycott of British products, and long marches throughout the length and breadth of the country were integral parts of his protests. His historic Dandi march to break the salt law was an act of staunch defiance of the draconian law through which the most essential items of daily life, like salt, were heavily taxed by the British.
Gandhi intensively campaigned for the adoption of Swadeshi, i.e., the use of local products to support small farmers, artisans, and the cottage industry, which was the lifeline of rural India. Simultaneously, he struggled to champion the cause of all those who had been left at the bottom of the barrel in the social hierarchy, the empowerment of women, and hygiene and sanitisation, etc. Compassion and forgiveness remain the integral parts of Gandhian philosophy.
The unique features of Gandhiji’s dream of Swaraj (self-governance) were Satyagraha (holding on to truth) and Ahimsa since he believed, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” Despite being imprisoned on many occasions for many years and subjected to severe provocations, he never deviated from his belief, which was well-founded in the ancient Indian philosophy of Satyamev Jayate (the truth always triumphs). He dressed in handspun loincloth and a shawl to express solidarity with the underprivileged who could not even afford a proper dress to cover them up.
INSPIRING CIVIL-RIGHTS MOVEMENTS
The Indian freedom struggle led by Gandhiji finds resonance far and wide. His life and ideals inspired many other civil-rights movements in the world. Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela were among the followers of Mahatma Gandhi. Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of his time, said, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”
Mahatma Gandhi is a household name in Jamaica, a country that has its own chequered history of struggle to achieve independence. Jamaican National Hero Marcus Garvey was also influenced by Gandhian philosophy.
Gandhi is one of the most famous Indians, and his image is visible across the world. Kingston has the distinction of having two statues of Mahatma Gandhi – one at the National Library of Jamaica and the other at The University of the West Indies, Mona campus. A third bronze statue has been gifted by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations to the May Pen town, which has a sizeable population of persons of Indian descent. Prime Minister Andrew Holness was among the world leaders invited to the event Mahatma @150 at the UN Headquarters in New York in September 2019. In his address at the event, Holness observed, “Mahatma Gandhi was a great soul and was an inspiration and a constant source of motivation for us.” He said that Gandhi’s vision for a more equitable world was a source of personal inspiration to his own leadership. His views were echoed by other world leaders.
STRIVE FOR PEACE
As the direct inheritor of Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy, India continues to strive for peace in the world and to ensure that benefits of development and prosperity reach the most underprivileged. Successive governments in India have framed policies and programmes in keeping with the Gandhian principle that says you should “recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him”. As a result, the country has been able to pull 300 million people out of poverty since independence. Constitutional provisions have been made for the reservation of jobs for the weaker sections of the society. In line with the Gandhian principle of peaceful co-existence, India is today a secular state with citizens belonging to different faiths – Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, and others – contributing to nation-building activities to fulfil the idea of Ram Rajya (a state where there is peace, harmony, justice, and equality for all).
On the global landscape, India continues to play its role assiduously in the efforts to maintain peace in the world. India is today the largest contributor of troops for UN peacekeeping missions. It incessantly endeavours to be the voice of developing countries at the UN and other multilateral fora. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, India reached out to a large number of countries with timely medical aid. Shipments containing medicines and other pharmaceutical supplies have also arrived in Jamaica and will soon be available to support the Jamaican public healthcare system in combating the pandemic. India is also on the forefront for development of an effective vaccine for COVID-19 and has committed to sharing its benefits with the most vulnerable, as well as with fellow developing countries, as a priority.
The world celebrates Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on October 2 every year as the International Day of Non-Violence. In the face of increasing violence, terrorism, racial discrimination, economic disparities, and the COVID-19 pandemic, let the Gandhian philosophy be our torch-bearer to ensure that we hand to our future generations a better place to live and achieve full human potential.
- Girish Kumar Juneja, is charge d’ affaires a.i., High Commission of India in Jamaica. Send feedback to email@example.com