The roots of civil disobedience exercised today stem from Gandhi’s teachings, philosophy and practices. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a.k.a. Mahatma Gandhi, Mahatma meaning great soul, was born in 1869 in India. Gandhi was a great humanist, a social reformer of fight imperialism morally and non-violently.
In the early twentieth century, India was a colony of the British Empire. Many people lived in poverty because the British took all the wealth. After school, Gandhi went to London and studied Law in a university. He became a lawyer. The idea of offering moral and non-violent resistance to injustice was born when a young man Gandhi, a fresh barrister from England, was thrown out of a train in 1893 while travelling from Durban to Pretoria in South Africa. He had a first-class ticket but was asked to leave the compartment and shift to a third-class coach. He was not a white man, therefore; he did not have a right to be travelling first class. He refused to leave voluntarily. He was pushed out and he had to spend the cold night in the Maritzburg railroad station.
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He started a project called ashram, where he had the idea of people from different religions, lived together in peace and freedom. It was here in South Africa that he perfected the techniques of ‘Ahimsa’ and ‘Satyagraha’, meaning non-violent mass action and civil disobedience. He led the struggle against racial discrimination and imperial domination for almost 20 years. To be one of the people in poverty, he travelled through the country by train and in a third-class wagon. He also attained a hobby of spinning.
He had an opinion that a lot of poverty in India was the result of all the clothes that were produced and imported from Great Britain to India. Gandhi encouraged the people not to buy any more British clothes but to produce and buy their own Indian clothes. After that, many people started to boycott British goods. People in the British factories got unemployed.
Another very important step to independence was that he asked the whole nation to strike for one day. And they did. Nothing worked on that day. There was virtually no traffic, mail was not delivered, factories were not working, the telegraph lines did not work and the British in India were cut off their mother country.
Gandhi returned to India a changed man, he thought that the rule over the salt industry was one of the British basics to rule India. He effectively used the instruments of passive resistance on a mass scale and launched the famous Dandi March against Salt Tax in 1930. He started a march over 140 miles to the ocean. When he started, Gandhi had only had a few hundred followers but when they reached the sea, they were a group of many thousands of people. Gandhi took a handful of salt. A symbolic action, he asked everybody to do the same. After the police cleared them from the beach they decided to walk into the salt factories and not let anyone in. the protesters walked and tried to walk in, only five at a time. And the soldiers hit them all until they could not walk any further. Women picked them up and took them away; no one on the side of the protesters used violence.
Gandhi went to jail very often in his life because Positive Law opposed him. He has arrested several times in South Africa as well as India. Thousands upon thousands joined his movement; they went to jail with him and observed fasts with him. After his release in 1945 from a British Indian jail, Gandhi received a reply for his correspondence from President Roosevelt, the President replied, “Our common interest in democracy and righteousness will enable your countrymen and mine to make a common cause against a common enemy.”
Gandhi practiced what he professed and actually stayed amidst the weaker sections of society. A man of strong conviction, he had unshakable faith in truth and non-violence. He often said, “I may be a despicable person; but when truth speaks through me, I am invincible.” Gandhi was a religious man and believed in the caste system that is part of his religion but he also believed that God did want who they called ‘Untouchables’ to have no rights. He went for long walks through India to collect money for the Untouchables and he fought for their rights his whole life.
He also fought for the peaceful understanding of different religions, abiding by the Natural Law. When fights broke out between Hindus and Muslims, he tried to talk to them and when that did not help, he started to fast. A tactic he used several times in his life. Once he nearly fasted to death when Hindus and Muslims fought against each other. Then the fights shortly stopped and the two religions started to live together in peace again. He also fasted when he heard of violence against the British or against soldiers or policemen.
During the Second World War Britain did not have much power to keep India as a colony anymore and they started to talk about independence. After the war, in 1947 India finally got independence. The results of this, though, were religious fights. The controversy between Hindus and Pakistan arisen. Gandhi made speeches for the people and finally, he fasted to stop the violence. India was divided into India and Pakistan. Pakistan was the part where most people were Muslims and India was the part where it was mainly Hindus. Gandhi did not want to divide the country but it could be helped.
There were many failed attempts on the life of Gandhi and on January 30, 1948, he was assassinated. Gandhi was shot three times. Two days prior to his death Gandhi said, “If I am to die by the bullet of a mad man, I must do so smiling. There must be no anger within me. God must be in my heart and on my lips.”
Gandhi lived his life abiding by Natural Law, he dedicated his life to improving the morality of the people, and he based his actions and speech upon his religious and personal beliefs. With his conviction and various civil disobedience he was still resisted by those who oppose him, the people who obeyed the positive law, these entail the police and the government who constantly tried to keep him in jail.
Gandhi’s example was the inspiration of future crusaders who fought for human rights, as he once said, “My life is my message.” Martin Luther King, Jr. was inspired by Gandhi, “Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.”
“Generations to come, it may be, we will scarcely believe that such a one as this, ever in flesh and blood, walked upon the earth,” Einstein.
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