Celebrate Gandhi Jayanti!

Celebrate Gandhi Jayanti!

October 2nd marks the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, the diminutive ascetic who led India to independence from British rule. Indians pay homage to Gandhi as the ‘Father of the Nation’ and he is universally referred to by the honorific Mahatma which means ‘great soul’. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi has come to be known as Bapu or ‘father’ in Hindi, and is an iconic figure around the globe. His ideals and philosophy of non-violent resistance to oppression have inspired many other great leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela.  The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2007 declaring October 2 the International Day of Non-Violence.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, an iconic figure around the globe.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on Oct 2, 1869 in the state of Gujarat in western India.  His traditional Hindu family raised him to value compassion for all sentient beings, vegetarianism, fasting for self-purification, and mutual acceptance by people of different creeds.  These values formed the basis for his lifelong commitment to non-violence, tolerance and a simple lifestyle.

After studying Law in England, Gandhi accepted a position with an Indian law firm in Natal, South Africa.  There he quickly experienced prejudice first hand in a system rigidly stratified by race where apartheid was the law of the land.   Over the next few years Gandhi committed himself to mobilizing the Indian community against the legal and political system that decreed their second class status.  This they did peacefully through acts of civil disobedience in the face of increasing violence from the white authorities, including imprisonment and flogging.  It was during these early years that Gandhi came to realize the inevitable violence inherent in the oppression of one race by another.  This led him to question the legitimacy of British rule in his home country.

Mohandas Gandhi with fellow activist, Manibehn Patel
In 1915 Gandhi returned to India to take a leadership role in the growing nationalist movement against British rule.  Over the next three decades, he worked tirelessly for the cause of swarajor ‘self-rule’ through non-violent means including organizing marches and hunger strikes, boycotts of British goods and negotiation with the British government. He traveled to England to take his message of freedom to the British parliament and public. People around the world responded to and rallied around his fundamental message of non-violence and his firm belief in satyagrahaor ‘devotion to the truth’ which provided the moral imperative for the freedom movement. In all of his speeches and writings, and in his dealings both public and private, Gandhi promoted and followed a message of inclusion: of untouchables with other castes, of Hindus and Muslims, of women’s voices in the nationalist movement.
It would take many decades of struggle, including violent repression of peaceful protestors and repeated imprisonments of their leaders, before the goal of freedom for the Indian people finally became a reality. India became an independent nation in August 1947. Despite Gandhi’s best efforts at mediating between Hindu and Muslim leaders, this could not be accomplished without the creation of the separate Muslim nation of Pakistan.  Gandhi always regretted that India, though free, was forever divided.

Mahatma Gandhi visits Muslim refugees at Purana Qila in New Delhi, as they prepare to depart to Pakistan.

The long process of nation building had barely begun when India’s greatest freedom-fighter was assassinated on Jan 30, 1948.  On his way to address a prayer meeting, Gandhi, the staunch proponent of non-violence, was shot to death by a Hindu nationalist who opposed his goal of peaceful co-existence for Hindus and Muslims.

October 2 is now a national holiday throughout India.  On this day all public institutions and private businesses remain closed and people gather to celebrate their great leader.  In prayer services and public gatherings they celebrate Gandhian principles of life and freedom as they pass on his message of non-violence and peaceful co-existence to younger generations.

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