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Updated: September 27, 2010 16:38 IST

Understanding Gandhi

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Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi

October 2 is Gandhi Jayanthi. This year, let's take a look at his ideals and philosophy, and see what we can emulate.

We are celebrating the 141st birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi (October 2, 1869 - January 30, 1948) at a time when the nation continues to be perturbed by violence, corruption, communalism, exploitation and neo-colonial interventions. We thought we have done our part by printing his image on rupee notes, placing his statues in street corners and naming roads after him; but what we have done is to reduce Gandhi into symbols and comfortably allowed his words to fade into memory. Otherwise how could violence, inequality, corruption and all such evils grow root in the land where this man lived, fought and sacrificed his life?

Scientist Albert Einstein said, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood.” But, what has happened is that we have not fully succeeded in understanding this great visionary who said “My life is my message” and boldly laid bare his life before us to learn from his experiments, mistakes and findings. And when proudly calling him the ‘Father of the Nation', how far are we acquainted with the ideas of this thinker who continues to be a source of inspiration for people all around the world? In honour of his contributions for world peace Gandhi's birthday is celebrated worldwide as the International Day of Non-Violence. Many of us will be surprised to know that the Guinness world record for the biggest street party in the world is for the carnival organised by ‘Filhos de Gandhi ‘ or “Sons of Gandhi”, a group in the city of Salvador in north-eastern Brazil that drew inspiration from Gandhi's philosophy of equality and non-violence.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was the youngest child of Karamchand Gandhi, the Dewan of Porbander, Gujarat and Putlibai. At the age of 13 he was married to Kasturba; and he left to England when he was 19 to learn Law. He then went to Durban, South Africa, to defend the case of an Indian merchant; but the plight of Blacks including the Indians there and his own experiences of racial discrimination inspired Gandhi to fight for their rights. He played an important role in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa where he had first experimented with the tool of civil disobedience.

He returned to India and soon was at the forefront of the freedom struggle. He empowered Indians with the powerful weapons of non-violence and Satyagraha; and called for mass participation in the civil disobedience movement that forced the British empire to bend its knees before the nationalist struggle for independence. The Dandi March, where Gandhi along with his followers made salt from sea water protesting against the taxation by the British government, caught worldwide attention as it emphasised the impact of civil disobedience against armed oppression. Finally, when we won Independence, Gandhi was disappointed by the partition of the country. Deeply pained by the bloodshed due to religious riots, Gandhi tried hard to bring peace and unity among people belonging to different religious groups, until he was killed by a religious fanatic.

Being a man far ahead of his times Gandhi's visions on health, education, politics, governance and development were revolutionary. He believed that self-reliance and self-sufficiency would lead us towards Swaraj or ‘Self-governance'. He said that the real India lies in its villages and progress can be attained only through their development. Through his life he showed us that everyone should do his share of physical labour; and craft, art, health and education should be integrated into one scheme for the holistic development of the individual. He was an efficient barrister, writer, journalist, teacher, and a great leader, yet he also utilised his time to make sandals, cook healthy but simple dishes, nurse and cure sick people; grow cotton, spin yarn, weave, and sew clothes out of it and for other domestic chores. What we can see in all this is his great respect for manual labour, curiosity to learn new things and absorb good values from all sources that he came across. He drew inspiration from the stories of Shravana and Raja Harishchandra and from various religions ideologies; he was also influenced by the ideas of Socrates, Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau, John Ruskin, W.M.Salter, Edward Carpenter, Abraham Lincoln, Gokhale and many others.

On realising his mistakes, Gandhi confessed them and took a vow never to repeat them and stuck to his vows till the end. “Truth, then, is the source and foundation of all things that are good and great,” said Gandhi whose life was a pursuit of truth. Any failure to understand Gandhi's ideas will be a great loss for the future generations; we may not agree with him in all his views, but we shouldn't attempt to criticise before understanding him.

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