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Gandhi is one of the most celebrated and respected figures in recent history, noted for his strong religious beliefs and spirituality, his accomplishments in social theory, as well as his achievement in gaining India's independence from Britain during the Twentieth Century. In addition, Gandhi strived for peace and nonviolent means to end conflict, and many movements of the past century, including the Civil Rights Movement and the antiapartheid campaign of South Africa, were inspired by Gandhi (Prabhu 2). As a result of his efforts, the world has been forever changed by his acts of kindness in an attempt to achieve peace.
Matatma Gandhi was born into a respected Hindu family on October 2, 1869 in Porbandar, India (Frost 33). His parents Karamehand and Putlibai were convinced that their son was a gifted child and would become a heroic figure within the course of his lifetime (Frost 33). Although he was small and timid, he was confident and determined, but it would take some time for Gandhi to come out of his shell in order to develop into the leader he later became. As a result of Indian tradition, Gandhi married at age thirteen, and he considered sex to be a dirty act; therefore, he engaged in a life of chastity, although he and his wife did bear several children (Frost 33). During his teenage years, Gandhi was determined to make a name for himself in the world. His parents shipped him to London to study law at age eighteen, and at first, he desired to become an elite member of the Victorian empire (Frost 33). However, as time passed, Gandhi became discouraged by Victorian rule and began to focus his efforts on God, becoming acquainted with three key players in his quest for truth: author John Ruskin, novelist Leo Tolstoy, and Raychandbhai, a religious instructor of the Jain religion (Frost 33). Eventually, Gandhi developed a new form of religion named Gandhism, which renounced Westernization, industrialization, and materialism (Frost 33). In addition, he developed the principle of satyagraha, which is defined as the nonviolent expression of conflict through such mean as boycotts, marches, and fasting, utilized in later years by such leaders as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Frost 34).
In 1893, Gandhi moved to South Africa to champion human rights as a barrister for expatriate Indians (Frost 34). It was during this tenure that he decided to focus his work on the political scene through petitions and speeches. By 1915, Gandhi returned to India to crusade for his home country (Frost 35). Gandhi had four sons, and although he sought a life filled with peace and tranquility, his family life was always very difficult to bear, since those closest to him did not comprehend the meaning behind his actions. After an incident in 1919 in which British forces opened fire on an Indian protest crowd and killed close to four hundred people, Gandhi took matters into his own hands and won over many followers by establishing himself as the leader of an Indian nationalist movement (Frost 36). During the 1920s to the 1940s, Gandhi participated in a number of causes, including the Salt March of 1930, which protested the government taxing of salt (Frost 37). In 1947, Gandhi's dream was realized on August 15, when India was divided into two nations, India and Pakistan, and both nations were given their freedom (Frost 37). As a result of the division, violence erupted all over the area and many people were killed and others were scarred for life (Frost 37). In the midst of the turmoil, a Hindu fanatic assassinated Gandhi on January 30, 1948, when he was 78 (Frost 37). The tremendous loss shook the world, but his life's work and ambition will never be forgotten.
Gandhi was a man with many faces, as is demonstrated in a quote by Joseph Prabhu (3): "No doubt a protean and complex figure such as Gandhi evokes many different portrayals. He was certainly an effective political leader, a social reformer, and a deeply spiritual person. What is revealed in both his speeches and his writings is that he was also an unconventional social and economic thinker...Peace for Gandhi was not simply a narrowly conceived moral and spiritual matter; it encompassed a holistic way of life that included economic and social concerns, too." Gandhi rejected the path of the Western world because it "Was a fundamentally unstable and alienating one. It was materialistic, exploitative of nature and human beings, unrestrained, and lacking a sense of direction or moral purpose...Instead of seeing humans as essentially moral and spiritual beings, modernity regarded them fundamentally as consumers driven by greed and self-indulgence. Thus, the goal of the modern economic system was to endlessly produce goods in response to the ever-increasing demand of consumers, continually driven and inflamed by modern advertising" (Prabhu 3).
However, Gandhi believed in one aspect of modernity, its tendency towards scientific investigation and experimentation, and he never stated that he was completely opposed to all aspects of Western civilization (Prabhu 3). In contrast to modernity, Gandhi portrayed human beings as "moral, spiritual, and culturally creative," and he possessed the traditional values of "simplicity, harmony, wholeness, and face-to-face rationality...Because human beings are not the masters or owners but are instead the caretakers and trustees of creation, they should organize their affairs in such a way that they respect nature's integrity, diversity, and rhythm and adjust their demands accordingly. Second, because human beings are independent, a sound social system should discourage all forms of exploitation, domination, and inequality and instead promote the values of love, truthfulness, cooperation, and solidarity. Third, because human beings are spiritual and creative in nature, a good society should encourage them to develop their spiritual and creative capacities and, in particular, their capacity for swaraj (moral self-rule) " (Prabhu 3-4).
Gandhi's political views were far from those traditionally assumed by those living in the world today, where much of society is divided along political party lines, each possessing their own agendas that may not be for the benefit of the population as a whole. In contrast, Gandhi believed that "politics was a public arena in which he could best promote social welfare and the common good...Democratic participation when hand in hand with the idea of the responsibility of each citizen for maintaining a well-ordered and just society" (Prabhu 4). Gandhi desired to engage in political endeavors that were concentrated on common matters of concern to all peoples (Prabhu 4), and it is at this point that the concept of satyagraha is incorporated into his beliefs. According to Prabhu (5), "Satyagraha begins with reasoning with one's opponent or adversary in an attempt to arrive at a just solution, recognizing that no party has a monopoly on the truth, or is wholly in the right. The purpose, therefore, is to work out a rational compromise that will be agreeable to both sides. It is only when such processes of reasoning, persuasion, and compromise have been tried and have proved unsuccessful that one adopts the direct action techniques of satyagraha." Gandhi spent much of his life dedicated to these principles in addition to the progress of a civil society, which would regulate social development and regulation (Prabhu 5). Gandhi's political views and religious beliefs were closely related, where politics was the foreground for the expression of wisdom and passion (Prabhu 6). As a result "Because one is meant to live out one's religious beliefs in all areas of life including the political, 'those who say that religion has nothing to do with the political do not know what religion means'" (Prabhu 6).
Gandhi's religious views were founded on the basis of morality, not theology. Gandhi believed that "Morality was grounded in and came from the universal Spirit...there was a cosmic Spirit that soared above historical traditions and animated them all. Each particular tradition attempted to grasp what it could of the universal Spirit within the limits that were posed by history, geography, and culture. The best that each could, therefore, hope for was relative, not absolute, truth" (Prabhu 6). Beyond the limits of Hinduism, Gandhi believed in the concept of sanatana dharma, a universal religion, which explains his roots in Hinduism but also his desire to maintain an open mind and learn from others (Prabhu 7).
In regards to Gandhi's work in the nationalist movement, Manfred B. Seger states the following (259): "Gandhi's political methods of satyagraha made his nationalist project a less violent one - especially as compared to the theories of nationalism espoused by Tilak, Savarkar, and other early twentieth century proponents of Indian self-rule. The reduction of nationalist violence represents no small achievement, given the explosive potential for suffering and destruction present in such difficult circumstances of colonial oppression. Moreover, Gandhi skillfully linked his discourse of affirmative orientalism with a moral program of self-creation - a message that acquired a politically effective, emotional charge and helped mobilize the Indian masses along easily comprehensible national symbols...There should be no doubt that Gandhi's principles of…[continue]
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