Mohandas Gandhi, who is referred to as Mahatma Gandhi by most people is among the world’s most respected leaders. Gandhi’s reputation as India’s political and spiritual leader, who led a non-violent national struggle for political independence, is unmistakable. Gandhi had faith and great conviction that violence was not useful when fighting for rights and freedom.
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He denounced violence because he considered it as an ungainly and ineffective weapon that brought more harm than solutions. Gandhi’s teachings about non-violent resistance (Satyagraha), otherwise known as Gandhism have had great significance and influence in India and the whole world. Gandhi is considered as a role model by many successful, influential, and famous world leaders like Martin Luther King Junior and President Nelson Mandela.
Mahatma’s total commitment to non-violence led to many disagreements between him and many learned Indians including his closest colleagues who considered his ideology to be unrealistic. Gandhi tried to make things right by using his weapon of ‘nonviolence’ to resolve conflicts between races, opponent groups, and nations. Even before World War I, Gandhi was advocating for the idea that violence due to a combination of nationalism and industrialism must be avoided at all cost.
He recommended that the weaker states defend themselves by nonviolent resistance towards the invaders instead of trying to strengthen their armies or increasing their armament. This advice was considered unrealistic at that time but it makes sense today. This is why his philosophy of non-violence has also been adopted by many peace organizations in the world.1 He is seen as a good example of the great things that the world can achieve without resulting to violence.
The British withdrawal from India came 30 years after Gandhi launched the nonviolent struggle for national independence. This was a great achievement for him and this is what makes him a role model today. Gandhi’s nonviolent struggle was used by Martin Luther King and he was able to bring many positive changes to fellow black Americans in the 1960s.
Martin is remembered because his achievements were a lot more than what the bloody civil war and the successive one-hundred years of legal struggle achieved. The achievements made by the movements that adopted Gandhism including the ones led by Gandhi and Martin Luther changed people’s mindsets about imperialism and most people both in India and the whole world started to believe that non-violence alone leads men to doing the right things in all circumstances.
In India, Gandhi’s commitment was to get rid of the “untouchability” of the Dalits. He argued that all Hindus should atone for transgression of untouchability. Despite this ideology, most Dalits considered Gandhi to be their enemy. For instance, Gandhi is one of the most hated leaders among the Dalits because he chose to fast to death to convince the then administration to eradicate barriers for Dalits.
Furthermore, he objected the proposal by the then prime minister that there be reserved political representation for the “untouchables”. He fasted for three days so as to push for this ideology and the administration had no choice but to give in to his demands. He offered to represent the depressed communities and supported them by demonstrating nonviolently to advocate for their rights. This act had a lot of significance in India for both Hindus and the Dalits who support Gandhism and it made the latter to change their attitudes and realize that a Dalit could fight for his/her rights.2
Gandhi sought for unity among all Indians, empowerment of all residents irrespective of their race, and transformation of the entire Hindu community into a non-violent cohesive society. Gandhism is not associated with the belief of division of men into “good men” and ”bad men”, instead it is for the idea that every man has a substantial part of decency and that there only existed evil acts but not evil men. This belief was advocated for by mahatma and it helps in prevention of conflicts even between people who are believed to be enemies.
Although India was not mature enough to adopt this ideology at the time that mahatma was pushing for it, the people in India are slowly integrating and internalizing it leading to less animosity towards the Dalits. This development promotes unity and transformation. “Untouchability” was proscribed in India in 1950 a few years after the death of Gandhi and since then the country has reluctantly but gradually reduced the weight of racism and the segregation.
Decades ago, there was a strong opposition to diversity in India. However, transformation and interactions have shown that diversification of cultures, religions, and races are prompting healthy living between different communities. In the1930s, the Dalits who were the minority had an uneasy relationship with the majority Hindu community. The two were divided by faith and racial attitudes. Modernization and Gandhism are changing the social trend, and communities can now interact freely3.
Dalits can now interact with the Hindus and appreciate each other’s leaps of faith. Hindus could not even accept sharing temples with the Dalits or interact with them in spiritual matters. On the other hand, the Dalits felt that this segregation and Hindu supremacy posed a challenge to their sensibilities. This development had a very negative impact on the racism issue in India for a very long time.
Gandhi advocated that Dalits be allowed to attend temples like normal people, and they be permitted to eat and drink with other people normally. He fought hard to eradicate the spirit of hatred from the Hindu community and the Dalits. Although Gandhi did not wish to be reborn, he believed that if he had to be born once more he would have preferred being born as a Dalit so he could endeavor to fight and free himself from that miserable condition.
Although tensions are still there especially on the wary marriages of convenience, the Dalits are still skeptical about the drastic change in the Hindus’ attitudes after long years of social isolation and alienation. Gandhi was opposed to any doctrine that does not appeal to reasoning and he was in conflict with morality. He insisted on sharing of powers and privileges, both social and political. In an independent India he viewed the exploitation of the Dalits as a trigger of violence and hence insisted that the poor must be treated humanely and their needs be addressed.
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Old racial classifications and naive beliefs were the root cause of misinterpretations of cultural and ethnic realities in India. These classifications have been in form of skin color, origin, language among others and they should be abandoned in the pursuit for unity. Gandhi believed that all human races were equal. He represented minor communities in India and this narrowed the gap between these minorities and the Hindus. This positive change can be attributed to the rise of the Gandhism movement. Intermarriages between races are becoming rampant thereby creating a race mixture that leads to multiculturalism and eradication of “untouchability”.4 Different communities have abandoned racial classifications and they are now appreciating diversity.
After India was partitioned in 1947 leading to the emergence of Pakistan, both countries went through many struggles while dealing with the aftermath of the division. The flow of people from one side of Punjab to the other was something that had not been foreseen and so was the violence and bloodshed that was experienced. The Indians had to adopt Gandhi’s idea of nonviolence to stabilize their nation. Although there were occasional acts of communal violence and wars on the borders, the situation stabilized with time.
In October 1946, Gandhi resolved to advocate for the rights of the women who were recovered from kidnapping. The women were considered to be impure and the Hindus were not willing to accept them back into their community. Gandhi criticized this belief and saw it as a big shame for his country. Consequently, Gandhi advocated for the women to be shown compassion and respect just as young maidens. The public appeals that were made by Gandhi clearly showed that the rejection of the women who were ‘defiled’ was very significant.5
Due to the influence of Mahatma, the relief and rehabilitation ministry was pushed to print pamphlets and distribute them to educate people on the subject. Similarly, public meetings were organized in different parts of the country to appeal to women who had been abducted to come back to their country. The support of the influential Gandhi had a lot of significance to the women and they felt encouraged, hence most of them accepted the call and they were not segregated as they had anticipated. They also regained their sense of self worth, confidence and respect.
Gandhi’s political concept of democracy was that decentralization is a very suitable way to create equality and peaceful coexistence. This ideology is still relevant in modern India and it has proven to be the best mode of governance to date. In this mode of governance, unity is promoted since every person in democratic India regardless of his/her race is given the opportunity to participate in the process of decision-making.
The political ideal that is based on spiritual and ethical values has no place for immoral actions, variations, and any kind of injustices based on sex, religion, or race. People remain nonviolent and coexist peacefully and equality is their bond. Gandhi believed that injustice and political nonparticipation is violence. This noble ideology is shared by many politicians to date and this has led to a stable India.
Gandhi also came up with a method called non-cooperation and believed that no system of injustice would succeed unless the victim allowed it to. The system of capitalism would not exist unless the workers allow it in their place of work. He believed that the British ruling in India would not have lasted for long if the Indian citizens had not been incorporated into the system. The local people supplied the government with police, hired British lawyers, and accepted their law as ‘the only law’. This ideology and belief is shared by many Indians today and they do not allow themselves to be manipulated. The Gandhism ideology also helps stakeholders when they are dealing with the issue of racism.
When asked if nonviolence would be of use even after independence, Gandhi said that it would be necessary to overcome exploitation of the locals by the indigenous British and the Indians who would think of perpetuating an exploitative system. He believed that nonviolence would be the best way to avoid exploitation. Gandhi knew that the domination of the white minorities over the Indians would continue and the segregation of the Dalits would be a hard thing to overcome. However, he believed that the ordinary people in the society could make a difference if they considered each soul as equal. This idealistic belief has been adopted and nonviolent coexistence has been achieved.
Over the years, India has remained firmly attached to ideals of democracy and the country has realized a lot of economic and population growth in spite of the diversities of its citizens. The ideal advocated for by Mahatma Gandhi has brought about more good even though there is still some tension between India and her immediate neighbors. Even with the many failures and disappointments that the country has had to face, India’s development has remained instructive over the years. Due to the success of Gandhism, Mahatma has remained a respected leader and his ideals have been adopted and applied all over the world enhancing peaceful coexistence and nonviolence.6
Allen, Douglas. Mahatma Gandhi. London: Reaktion Books, 2011.
Gandhi, Mahatma. All men are brothers; life and thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi. Paris: UNESCO, 1958.
Heinrichs, Ann. Mahatma Gandhi. Milwaukee, Wl: World Almanac Library, 2001.
Metcalf, Thomas and Barbara Metcalf. A Concise History of India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Nehru, Jawarhalal. The Discovery of India. New York: Penguin, 2012.
- Douglas Allen, Mahatma Gandhi (London: Reaktion Books, 2011), 78.
- Mahatma Gandhi, All men are brothers; life and thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi (Paris: UNESCO, 1958), 50.
- Ann Heinrichs, Mahatma Gandhi (Milwaukee, Wl: World Almanac Library, 2001), 8.
- Thomas Metcalf and Barbara Metcalf, A Concise History of India, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 45.
- Jawarhalal Nehru, The Discovery of India (New York: Penguin, 2012), 69.