“Be the change you want to see in the world.” These famous words uttered by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi while leading India to independence serve as a peephole into the magnanimity that his life and work were. Raised in a Jain family, where non-violence and vegetarianism form the root of their philosophy, Gandhi was inspired since a young age in the ways of truth and benevolence.
His faith was put to an early test when he first came face to face with the situation of Apartheid in South Africa where Indians living in the British colonies were denied basic rights and were subjected to inhumane practices. His ideologies now got a chance to be put in practice though, and for the first time, the world saw movements of non-violent resistance. In a way to promote the Indian human resource with the South African government, Gandhi mobilised the Indians to help the government in the war against natives, while consecutively coercing the army to take Indians into their force. He would call his efforts ‘experiments’ in way of harmony, but was forced to reconsider their effectiveness when he got to know the cause of the natives better during his time spent in South African jails. But the methods of rebellion that the natives took to in occasions such as the Zulu war, which Gandhi called ‘man-hunt, not war’, made him realise the inhumanity that comes to existence in the name of war and rebellion (Bhana and Vahed 44). Wasting no time, he returned to India, with his now firmly formed methodologies of non-violent protests and satyagraha (truth as a force against tyranny) and dived head on into the on-going independence movement.
Gandhi believed that if one person can be strong enough to speak the truth, to suffer adversity with the dignity and practice non-violence as a way of life, an entire nation can do the same as nations are, after all, made of people. His inherent faith in the human soul made him speak out on many occasions saying that if one has the courage to stand bare-chested and face the bullets coming his way, the adversary is bound to realise his own weakness in hiding behind arms and force. However, these views of Gandhi have reached extremities on occasions when he spoke out during the period of Holocaust, saying that the Jews shouldn’t have hidden and escaped from Hitler’s forces, but instead should have faced them with non-violent courage. “The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs… It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany… As it is they succumbed anyway in their millions,” he said. While no parallel can be drawn between the British treatment of colonised India and the Nazi treatment of Jews, Gandhi’s message was of renunciation of the violence that resides in the hearts of both the oppressor and the oppressed (Fischer 348).
Gandhi’s legacy of truth and non-violence continued long after his assassination in 1948, through great leaders like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela and in popular writings including those of Romain Rolland and Albert Einstein. Obama owed his success as the first black president of America to Gandhi as well, “I am mindful that I might not be standing before you today, as President of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared with America and the world,” he said, addressing a joint session in the parliament of India.
Gandhi’s message to an individual, any individual was simple, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
Bhana, Surendra and Vahed, Goolam, The Making of a Political Reformer: Gandhi in South Africa, 1893–1914. New Delhi: Manohar 2005. Print.
Fischer, Louis. The life of Mahatma Gandhi. Harper 1950. Print.