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Gandhi (/ˈɡɑːndi, ˈɡæn-/;Hindustani: [ˈmoːɦənd̪aːs ˈkərəmtʃənd̪ ˈɡaːnd̪ʱi] ( listen); 2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) was the preeminent leader of Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. The honorific Mahatma (Sanskrit: "high-souled", "venerable")—applied to him first in 1914 in South Africa,—is now used worldwide. He is also called Bapu (Gujarati: endearment for "father","papa") in India. Born and raised in a Hindu merchant caste family in coastal Gujarat, western India, and trained in law at the Inner Temple, London, Gandhi first employed nonviolent civil disobedience as an expatriate lawyer in South Africa, in the resident Indian community's struggle for civil rights. After his return to India in 1915, he set about organising peasants, farmers, and urban labourers to protest against excessive land-tax and discrimination. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women's rights, building religious and ethnic amity, ending untouchability, but above all for achieving Swaraj or self-rule. Gandhi famously led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in calling for the British toQuit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, upon many occasions, in both South Africa and India. Gandhi attempted to practise nonviolence and truth in all situations, and advocated that others do the same. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community and wore the traditional Indian dhotiand shawl, woven with yarn hand spun on a charkha. He ate simple vegetarian food, and also undertook long fasts as the means to both self-purification and social protest. Gandhi's vision of a free India based on religious pluralism, however, was challenged in the early 1940s by a new Muslim nationalism which was demanding a separate Muslim homeland carved out of India. Eventually, in August 1947, Britain granted independence, but the British Indian Empire waspartitioned into two dominions, a Hindu-majority India and Muslim Pakistan. As many displaced Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs made their way to their new lands, religious violence broke out, especially in the Punjab and Bengal. Eschewing the official celebration of independence in Delhi, Gandhi visited the affected areas, attempting to provide solace. In the months following, he undertook several fasts unto death to promote religious harmony. The last of these, undertaken on 12 January 1948 at age 78, also had the indirect goal of pressuring India to pay out some cash assets owed to Pakistan. Some Indians thought Gandhi was too accommodating. Nathuram Godse, aHindu nationalist, assassinated Gandhi on 30 January 1948 by firing three bullets into his chest at point-blank range. Indians widely describe Gandhi as the father of the nation. His birthday, 2 October, is commemorated as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and world-wide as the International Day of Nonviolence. He was the mentor of Indira Gandhi.Gandhi focused his attention on Indians while in South Africa and opposed the idea that Indians should be treated at the same level as native Africans while in South Africa.He also stated that he believed "that the white race of South Africa should be the predominating race." After several treatments he received from Whites in South Africa, Gandhi began to change his thinking and apparently increased his interest in politics.White rule enforced strict segregation among all races and generated conflict between these communities. Bhana and Vahed argue that Gandhi, at first, shared racial notions prevalent of the times and that his experiences in jail sensitised him to the plight of South Africa's indigenous peoples. During the Boer war Gandhi volunteered in 1900 to form a group of ambulance drivers. He wanted to disprove the British idea that Hindus were not fit for "manly" activities involving danger and exertion. Gandhi raised eleven hundred Indian volunteers. They were trained and medically certified to serve on the front lines. At Spion Kop Gandhi and his bearers had to carry wounded soldiers for miles to a field hospital because the terrain was too rough for the ambulances. Gandhi was pleased when someone said that European ambulance corpsmen could not make the trip under the heat without food or water. General Redvers Buller mentioned the courage of the Indians in his dispatch. Gandhi and thirty-seven other Indians received the War Medal. In 1906, when the British declared war against the Zulu Kingdom in Natal, Gandhi encouraged the British to recruit Indians. He argued that Indians should support the war efforts to legitimise their claims to full citizenship. The British accepted Gandhi's offer to let a detachment of 20 Indians volunteer as a stretcher-bearer corps to treat wounded British soldiers. This corps was commanded by Gandhi and operated for less than two months. The experience taught him it was hopeless to directly challenge the overwhelming military power of the British army—he decided it could only be resisted in nonviolent fashion by the pure of heart. In 1910, Gandhi established an idealistic community called 'Tolstoy Farm' near Johannesburg, where he nurtured his policy of peaceful resistance. After blacks gained the right to vote in South Africa, Gandhi was proclaimed a national hero with numerous monuments.In 1915, Gandhi returned to India permanently. He brought an international reputation as a leading Indian nationalist, theorist and organiser. He joined the Indian National Congress and was introduced to Indian issues, politics and the Indian people primarily by Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Gokhale was a key leader of the Congress Party best known for his restraint and moderation, and his insistence on working inside the system. Gandhi took Gokhale's liberal approach based on British Whiggish traditions and transformed it to make it look wholly Indian. Gandhi took leadership of Congress in 1920 and began a steady escalation of demands (with intermittent compromises or pauses) until on 26 January 1930 the Indian National Congress declared the independence of India. The British did not recognise the declaration, and more negotiations ensued, with Congress taking a role in provincial government in the late 1930s. Gandhi and Congress withdrew their support of the Raj when the Viceroy declared war on Germany in September 1939 without consulting anyone. Tensions escalated until Gandhi demanded immediate independence in 1942 and the British responded by imprisoning him and tens of thousands of Congress leaders for the duration. Meanwhile the Muslim League did cooperate with Britain and moved, against Gandhi's strong opposition, to demands for a totally separate Muslim state of Pakistan. In August 1947 the British partitioned the land, with India and Pakistan each achieving independence on terms that Gandhi disapproved.Gandhi stayed out of active politics and, as such, the limelight for most of the 1920s. He focused instead on resolving the wedge between the Swaraj Party and the Indian National Congress, and expanding initiatives against untouchability, alcoholism, ignorance and poverty. He returned to the fore in 1928. In the preceding year, the British government had appointed a new constitutional reform commission under Sir John Simon, which did not include any Indian as its member. The result was a boycott of the commission by Indian political parties. Gandhi pushed through a resolution at the Calcutta Congress in December 1928 calling on the British government to grant India dominion status or face a new campaign of noncooperation with complete independence for the country as its goal. Gandhi had not only moderated the views of younger men like Subhas Chandra Bose andJawaharlal Nehru, who sought a demand for immediate independence, but also reduced his own call to a one year wait, instead of two. The British did not respond. On 31 December 1929, the flag of India was unfurled in Lahore. 26 January 1930 was celebrated as India's Independence Day by the Indian National Congress meeting in Lahore. This day was commemorated by almost every other Indian organisation. Gandhi then launched a new Satyagraha against the tax on salt in March 1930. This was highlighted by the famous Salt March to Dandi from 12 March to 6 April, where he marched 388 kilometres (241 mi) from Ahmedabad to Dandi, Gujarat to make salt himself. Thousands of Indians joined him on this march to the sea. This campaign was one of his most successful at upsetting British hold on India; Britain responded by imprisoning over 60,000 people.Women Gandhi strongly favoured the emancipation of women, and he went so far as to say that "the women have come to look upon me as one of themselves." He opposed purdah, child marriage, untouchability, and the extreme oppression of Hindu widows, up to and including sati. He especially recruited women to participate in the salt tax campaigns and the boycott of foreign products. Sarma concludes that Gandhi's success in enlisting women in his campaigns, including the salt tax campaign, anti-untouchability campaign and the peasant movement, gave many women a new self-confidence and dignity in the mainstream of Indian public life. Gandhi as folk hero Congress in the 1920s appealed to peasants by portraying Gandhi as a sort of messiah, a strategy that succeeded in incorporating radical forces within the peasantry into the nonviolent resistance movement. In thousands of villages plays were performed that presented Gandhi as the reincarnation of earlier Indian nationalist leaders, or even as a demigod. The plays built support among illiterate peasants steeped in traditional Hindu culture. Similar messianic imagery appeared in popular songs and poems, and in Congress-sponsored religious pageants and celebrations. The result was that Gandhi became not only a folk hero but the Congress was widely seen in the villages as his sacred instrument.Gandhism designates the ideas and principles Gandhi promoted. Of central importance is nonviolent resistance. A Gandhiancan mean either an individual who follows, or a specific philosophy which is attributed to, Gandhism. M. M. Sankhdher argues that Gandhism is not a systematic position in metaphysics or in political philosophy. Rather, it is a political creed, an economic doctrine, a religious outlook, a moral precept, and especially, a humanitarian world view. It is an effort not to systematise wisdom but to transform society and is based on an undying faith in the goodness of human nature.However Gandhi himself did not approve of the notion of "Gandhism", as he explained in 1936: There is no such thing as "Gandhism", and I do not want to leave any sect after me. I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems...The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not final. I may change them tomorrow. I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills.Gandhi dedicated his life to the wider purpose of discovering truth, or Satya. He tried to achieve this by learning from his own mistakes and conducting experiments on himself. He called his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Bruce Watson argues that Gandhi based Satyagraha on the Vedantic ideal of self-realization, and notes it also contains Jain and Buddhist notions of nonviolence, vegetarianism, the avoidance of killing, and 'agape' (universal love). Gandhi also borrowed Christian-Islamic ideas of equality, the brotherhood of man, and the concept of turning the other cheek. Gandhi stated that the most important battle to fight was overcoming his own demons, fears, and insecurities. Gandhi summarised his beliefs first when he said "God is Truth". He would later change this statement to "Truth is God". Thus, satya(truth) in Gandhi's philosophy is "God". The essence of Satyagraha (a name Gandhi invented meaning "adherence to truth") is that it seeks to eliminate antagonisms without harming the antagonists themselves and seeks to transform or "purify" it to a higher level. A euphemism sometimes used for Satyagraha is that it is a "silent force" or a "soul force" (a term also used by Martin Luther King Jr. during his famous "I Have a Dream" speech). It arms the individual with moral power rather than physical power. Satyagraha is also termed a "universal force", as it essentially "makes no distinction between kinsmen and strangers, young and old, man and woman, friend and foe." Gandhi wrote: "There must be no impatience, no barbarity, no insolence, no undue pressure. If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one's cause." Civil disobedience and noncooperation as practised under Satyagraha are based on the "law of suffering", a doctrine that the endurance of suffering is a means to an end. This end usually implies a moral upliftment or progress of an individual or society. Therefore, noncooperation in Satyagraha is in fact a means to secure the cooperation of the opponent consistently with truth and justice.Gandhi used fasting as a political device, often threatening suicide unless demands were met. Congress publicised the fasts as a political action that generated widespread sympathy. In response the government tried to manipulate news coverage to minimise his challenge to the Raj. He fasted in 1932 to protest the voting scheme for separate political representation for Dalits; Gandhi did not want them segregated. The government stopped the London press from showing photographs of his emaciated body, because it would elicit sympathy. Gandhi's 1943 hunger strike took place during a two-year prison term for the anticolonial Quit India movement. The government called on nutritional experts to demystify his action, and again no photos were allowed. However, his final fast in 1948, after India was independent, was lauded by the British press and this time did include full-length photos. Alter argues that Gandhi's fixation on diet and celibacy were much deeper than exercises in self-discipline. Rather, his beliefs regarding health offered a critique of both the traditional Hindu system of ayurvedic medicine and Western concepts. This challenge was integral to his deeper challenge to tradition and modernity, as health and nonviolence became part of the same ethics.Vegetarianism and food Stephen Hay argues that Gandhi in London looked into numerous religious and intellectual currents. He especially appreciated how the theosophical movement encouraged a religious eclecticism and an antipathy to atheism. Hay says the vegetarian movement had the greatest impact for it was Gandhi's point of entry into other reformist agendas of the time.The idea of vegetarianism is deeply ingrained in Hindu and Jain traditions in India, especially in his native Gujarat.Gandhi was close to the chairman of the London Vegetarian Society, Dr. Josiah Oldfield, and corresponded with Henry Stephens Salt, a vegetarian campaigner. Gandhi became a strict vegetarian. He wrote the book The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism and wrote for the London Vegetarian Society's publication. Gandhi was somewhat of a food faddist taking his own goat to travels so he could always have fresh milk. Gandhi noted in The Story of My Experiments with Truth, that vegetarianism was the beginning of his deep commitment toBrahmacharya; without total control of the palate, his success in following Brahmacharya would likely falter. "You wish to know what the marks of a man are who wants to realise Truth which is God", he wrote. "He must reduce himself to zero and have perfect control over all his senses-beginning with the palate or tongue." Gandhi also stated that he followed afruitarian diet for five years but discontinued it due to pleurisy and pressure from his doctor. He thereafter resumed a vegetarian diet.
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- Published 01.19.22
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