What has been the impact of Gandhi's methods
of nonviolence and civil-disobedience on other national liberation or protest
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, leader of Indian
nationalism and known in his later life as Mahatma ("great soul"), was one
of the greatest national leaders of the twentieth century. His methods and philosophy
of nonviolent confrontation not only led his own country to independence
but affected people and events throughout the
Gandhi was born in Porbandar, India, on 2 October
1869. The family came from the traditional caste of grocers and moneylenders
(the name Gandhi means "grocer"). His mother was an adherent of a religion
in which ideas of nonviolence and vegetarianism were paramount. Gandhi stated
that he was most influenced by her, describing her life as "an endless chain
of fasts and vows." When, as a boy, he secretly smoked, ate meat, told lies,
or wore Western clothing, he suffered intense feelings of guilt. These feelings
caused him to make resolutions about his moral behavior that were to stay
with him for the rest of his life.
He was married by arrangement; both he and his
bride,Kasturba, being age 13. Later, he wrote, "I can see no moral argument
in support of such a preposterously early marriage." Gandhi went to London
to study law when he was 18. He was admitted to the bar in 1891 and for a
while practiced law in Bombay, but without success. In his first
cross-examination his mind went blank, and he could think of no question
to ask. Sitting down, he withdrew from the case and recommended another attorney.
His lack of success in India was a factor in his decision to accept a legal
assignment in South Africa.
His first trip in South Africa was by train.
Unprepared for the racial intolerance he would encounter, his initial response
to an incident on the train shaped his actions for years. He described entering
the train for the first time:
"But a passenger came next, and looked
me up and down. He saw that I was a ‘colored’ man. This disturbed
him. Out he went and came in again with one or two officials. They all kept
quiet, when another official came to me and said, ‘Come along, you must
go to the van compartment.'
Gandhi assumed leadership of protest campaigns
in South Africa and gradually developed his techniques and tenets of nonviolent
resistance known as satyagraha (literally, "steadfastness in truth"). While
he acknowledged being influenced by the writings of Leo Tolstoy and Henry
David Thoreau, he believed that satyagraha went further. His central contribution
to contemporary social problems was his new paradigm of conflict that fused
the warrior and pacifist motifs. Under his approach, individuals fought against
evil, but in a way that did not harm ones opponents. While Gandhi’s
actions and views had a direct effect on the treatment of Indians in South
Africa, they had longer-term effects throughout the world.
For example, Kwame Nkrumah came to visit Gandhi
in India during India's struggle for independence. Nkrumah returned to his
country of Ghana and fought for Ghana's independence using Gandhi's tactics
of non-violence and boycots against the British. After ten years of protests,
Ghana became the first African country to break free from British rule in
1957. It was not long after Ghana gained its independence that the rest of
the British colonies in Africa would tumble like dominos. The decolonization
of Africa was one of the most peaceful in history. Gandhi and his philosophies
were factors in this process
Roy Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality
(CORE) in the U.S. also studied Gandhi and was greatly influenced by him.
Farmer, in turn, influenced the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Gandhi’s
actions on the railway car on his first trip into South Africa were a prelude
to the actions of Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, actions that were considered
key catalysts of the Civil Rights movement in America.
Returning to India in 1915, Gandhi soon became
involved in labor organizing. A 1919 massacre in Amritsar, in which British troops fired on and
killed hundreds of nationalist demonstrators, turned him to direct political
protest. Within a year he was the dominant figure in the Indian National
Congress, which he launched on a policy of noncooperation with the British
in 1920-22. Although total noncooperation was abandoned, Gandhi continued
his tactic of civil disobedience, organizing protest marches against unpopular
British measures, such as the 1930 salt tax.
Gandhi was repeatedly imprisoned by the British
and resorted to hunger strikes as part of his civil disobedience. His final
imprisonment came in 1942-44, after he had demanded total withdrawal of the
British (the "Quit India" movement) during World War II. While some in India
viewed Gandhi as not protesting against violence directed against the British,
Gandhi spent much time in fasting, grieving over partition of the country,
and trying to quell violence.
As well as struggling for political independence,
Gandhi fought to improve the status of the lowest classes of society, the
casteless untouchables. He was a believer in manual labor and simple living;
he spun the thread and wove the cloth for his own garments and insisted that
his followers do so, too. He disagreed with those who wanted India to become
an industrial country.
Gandhi was also tireless in his attempts to
forge closer bonds between the Hindu majority and Muslims and other minorities.
His greatest failure, in fact, was his inability to dissuade India Muslims
from creating a separate state, Pakistan. When independence finally arrived
in 1947, after negotiations in which he was a principal participant, Gandhi
opposed the partition of the subcontinent with great intensity. Ironically,
he was assassinated in Delhi on 30 January 1948, by a Hindu fanatic who thought
his anti-partition sentiment was both pro-Muslim and pro-Pakistan.
'I tell you, I was permitted to travel in this compartment at Durban, and
I insist on going on in it.'
'No, you won’t,’ said the official. ‘You must leave this
compartment, or else I shall have to call a police constable to push you
'Yes, you may. I refuse to get out voluntarily.'
The constable came. He took me by the hand and pushed me out. My luggage
was also taken out. I refused to go to the other compartment, and the train
I began to think of my duty. Should I fight for my rights or go back to India,
or should I go on to Pretoria without minding the insults, and return to
India after finishing the case? It would be cowardice to run back to India
without fulfilling my obligation….I should try, if possible, to root
out the disease and suffer hardships in the process. Redress for wrongs I
should seek only to the extent that would be necessary for the removal of
the color prejudice."
2 October 1869, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi born
into a family of merchants.
1883, Married Kasturba at age 13 through an
1888-1890, Studied Law in England.
1891, Passed English Bar. Returned to
1893, Sailed for South Africa, employed by
a Muslim firm for legal work.
1896, Returned to India and started agitation
on behalf of South African Indians.
1905, Opposed Bengal Partition; supported boycott
of British goods.
1906, Supported "Home Rule" for India "in the
name of justice and for good of humanity."
1906, Took vow of Brahmacharya (celibacy and
poverty) for life.
1907, Organized "Satyagraha" (non-violent
resistance) in Transvaal.
1909, Corresponded with Tolstoy. Founded Tolstoy
1912, Gave up European dress and restricted
himself to diet of fresh and dried fruit.
1911, "Great March". Arrested at Palmford and
sentenced to 3 months in jail.
1911, Inaugurated All-lndia Satyagraha
1911, Gave up wearing shirt and resolved to
wear only a loin-cloth to propagate Khadi (home-spun cloth).
1912, Arrested for sedition at Sabarmati and
sentenced to six years' imprisonment.
1923, Wrote Satyagraha in South Africa
and part of his Autobiography while in prison.
1930, Broke Salt Law by picking up a handful
of salt at seashore and was arrested.
1934, Announced retirement from
politics. Appealed to British Government to quit India.
1944, Kasturba died in detention at Aga Khan
Palace at age 74.
1944, After decline in health, released
unconditionally from detention. This was his last imprisonment; Gandhi had
spent 2,338 days in jail during his lifetime.
1944, August: Viceroy announced invitation
to Congress to form Provisional Government.
1944, 16-18 August: The "Great Calcutta
1944, 4 September: Interim Government
1947, July: Independence of India Bill passed.
1947, 16 August: Hailed "Miracle of
1947, 25 December: Pleaded for amicable settlement
between India and Pakistan.
1948, 15 January: Entered "danger zone." Hailed
Indian Cabinet's decision to release Pakistan dues of Rs. 550 million.
Fast continued for establishment of communal peace.
1948, 18 January: Peace Committee signed and
presented "Peace Pledge" to Gandhi, who broke fast.
1948, 30 January: Drafted Constitution of the
Congress transformed into Lok Sevak Sangh.
1948, 30 January: Assassinated on way to evening
prayer, at Birla House, in Delhi.
The thousands of web sites referring to
are testament to the continuing reach of his philosophy. Here are
of the more notable ones:
Sarvodaya Mandal (Charitable Trust & Book Center) (India) is an
ever-evolving site with contributions from various supporters of Gandhi
spread his views on various topics.
Gandhi Foundation (India) is devoted to Mohandas and Kasturba
and contains references to books, cartoons, pictures and quotes, &
Center (Germany) is for research and education on non-violence. The
has organised educational activities with publications about the Life
Achievement of Mahatma Gandhi.
The mission of the M. K.
Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence
(Christian Brothers University, TN) is to promote and apply the
of nonviolence locally, nationally and globally, to prevent violence
to resolve personal and public conflicts through research, education
There is a valuable site containing
information about Mohandas
is. The organization
The Papers of the Congress of Racial Equality: Addendum, 1944-1968 can
found, and there is a site with information about
activitives in South Africa.
Gandhi has been named the one of TIME
Leaders & Revolutionaries and
one of LIFE magazine's
Who Made the
There is a site
Luther King and his links to Gandhi.
of Gandhi can be found on the www.
can also be found
All of Gandhi's books are highy recommended,
including his autobiography (The Story of My Experiments with Truth)
and Gandhi on Non-Violence. An excellent source of Gandhi's
writings is The Gandhi Reader: A Source Book of His Life and
Writings, edited by Homer Jack.
The Meanings of Gandhi, edited by Paul
Power, has an excellent series of essays, especially "Gandhian Values and
the American Civil Rights Movement" by William Stuart Nelson. Joan
V. Bondurant's "Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict"
provides a thorough analysis of Satyagraha. Raising Up a Prophet:
The African American Encounter with Gandhi explores the impact
of Gandhi on African Americans. Gandhi's wife has her own fascinating
story, which is explored in Arun Gandhi's The Forgotten Woman: The Untold
Story of Kastur Gandhi, Wife of Mahatma Gandhi.
For those curious about the spark of genius
Gandhi displayed, and its commonality with other geniuses of the world, Howard
Gardner's Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives
of Greud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham and Gandhi is
highly recommended. Finally, Gandhi: A Pictorial Biography provides
over 150 photographs of Gandhi from his childhood to his final days.
No listing of notable sources would be complete
without mention of the movie Gandhi, starring Ben Kingsley, which
is an excellent complement to the books listed above.