Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi

This article is written by Daniel Buttry and guest writer Steve Elturk

Steve Elturk is from Detroit, one of our interfaith peacemakers with whom I’ve shared a long journey. When his mosque was being built in Warren (where I used to live) it was a target of bigotry and resistance. But Steve and many others joined together to not only allow the mosque to be built but to transform Warren through a process of passing a resolution on “American core values” of freedom, equality, and justice that has opened up more respect for the diversity of neighbors in that city.
Daniel Buttry

Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi (1869-1948)

Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

There are four things that describe the success of Gandhi as a social reformer.
1: believing in his “Free India” mission
2: being faithful and sincere to his cause
3: the level of sacrifice throughout his struggle
4: endurance and perseverance

Mohandas K. Gandhi led the movement in India for independence from British colonial rule. His approach to nonviolence was called satyagraha, with literally means “truth—hold on” and has been popularized as “truth force.” He initially developed his nonviolent philosophy and practice during the twenty years he lived in South Africa. Trained as a lawyer, he led Indians in South Africa in protests against the racist policies of the white government, culminating in 1914 with some concessions, granting new rights for the Indian immigrant community.

Returning to India, Gandhi, eventually given the honorific title “Mahatma,” threw himself into the struggle against British colonialism. He organized campaigns of non-cooperation with British political and economic power, highlighted by his “Salt March” across India to the sea where he made salt in defiance of the British monopoly on this vital commodity. Eventually, through a long, complex struggle India achieved independence in 1947.

Gandhi also struggled for justice within Hindu society, especially calling for raising the status of the “untouchables.” Though he was from an upper caste, he advocated an end to the social and economic injustices in the caste system. His conviction on this matter was so intense that he launched a “fast to the death” from prison in one campaign that successfully eased a particular restriction.

The fundamental moral principle known as the golden rule, “treat others as you would be treated,” was one of Gandhi’s most substantial traits. His philosophy—all of us are brothers and sisters—earned him respect from among all the classes of his nation.

Gandhi was a devout Hindu, but he drew much of his inspiration from the teaching of Jesus and the Russian Christian pacifist Leo Tolstoy. Many Christian friends lived in his ashram and joined him in his actions. Gandhi often quoted the Christian scriptures and said to his Christian friends, “to be a good Hindu also meant that I would be a good Christian. There was no need for me to join your creed to be a believer in the beauty of the teachings of Jesus or try to follow His example.” The three books he carried with him everywhere were the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible and the Quran.

He was once asked: Are you a Hindu?

“Yes I am,” Gandhi replied. “I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, and a Jew.” Gandhi understood the importance of working with all people of different religions and cultures for the common good of the people and nation. His simple life style and love for the poor earned him great respect from among the less fortunate of his nation. His witty remarks earned him trust from the elite of his society. He was accepted by people from all walks of life.

Gandhi also bridged the two largest religious groups in India: Hindus and Muslims. He worked closely with Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a Muslim friend and nonviolent activist for independence. They each took the principles of their own faiths and applied them to the same nonviolent practices in the same struggle for freedom.

When violent riots erupted in India between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi pleaded for peace. To underscore his message, he began long fasts directed to his own Hindu community, calling upon them to halt the violence. Following the successful end of inter-communal violence in Calcutta in response to his fast, Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a Hindu extremist.

Gandhi’s non-violence, non-cooperation, and peaceful resistance were the only weapons in the face of oppression and injustice. His philosophy of non-violence has influenced many non-violent movements since. Dr. Martin Luther King in the American civil rights movement established his own strategies on the basis of Gandhi’s non-violence method. Others such as the anti-apartheid activist and former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, also were inspired by Gandhi.

Gandhi wanted freedom for his nation and he got it. On June 15, 2007, it was announced that the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution declaring October 2 “The International Day of Non-violence.”

Gandhi during the Salt March, March 1930. Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Gandhi during the Salt March, March 1930. Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Care to learn more?

Learn more about Daniel Buttry’s series of books on global peacemakers.

Gandhi also appears in Daniels’s book, Interfaith Heroes.

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