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 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.
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.
- Rebecca Travis