140 years later, Gandhi’s legacy remains
On Oct. 2, India celebrated its 140th birthday of the “Father of the Nation”, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
In most parts of the world, Gandhi is known for his non-violent method of fight against the British during India’s fight for freedom and for starting Satyaghrah, a philosophy and practice of nonviolent resistance. Most of the West knows about his involvement in India’s freedom movement, but what people don’t usually know about him is that Gandhi spent almost 20 years living in South Africa as an expatriate lawyer.
South Africa at the time was a British colony just like India was. Living in South Africa, Gandhi fought for the rights of Indians living there. To control their colony, British stripped the blacks of South Africa of their rights to own land in their own country, so much so that merely seven percent of the land was owned by them.
Gandhi’s stay in South Africa had a huge impact on his life later because of what he saw in the suffering of Native Africans and Indians living there. Gandhi once supported the British in South Africa and believed if Indians living in South Africa supported the British, they would get a favor back from them and might be granted the citizenship and right to vote.
He supported the British at the start of South African War, and volunteered for the Indian Ambulance Corps, which looked after wounded British soldiers during the war. But after the war, the situation for Indians did not change, and discrimination against blacks and Indians continued like before.
Two major incidents in South Africa changed Gandhi forever. Travelling in a first class coach of a train with a valid ticket, Gandhi was asked to the leave the coach and move to the third class to make room for European passengers. Fighting for his self-pride and, in a way, the pride of the whole Indian population living under British Empire, Gandhi refused and was thrown off the train at Pietermaritzburg. He suffered many other hardships like most native and Indians living there at the time did as well. In another incident, Gandhi was asked to remove his turban in a court in the city of Durban and then asked to leave the court because of his color.
After seeing and suffering through the inequality in society, Gandhi had a moment of realization. There was nothing that was going to stop the British from doing things their way. The racism and prejudice were parts of the society. The British felt like they had the right to dictate, in another country, what a person should have or should not have. Along with other major developments, like the formulation of law by Transvaal government which would require the colony’s Indian population to register themselves, led Gandhi to organize a mass protest on Sept. 11, 1906 where he adopted the philosophy of non-violence and started preaching Satyagrah.
Satyagrah comes from two Sanskrit words: Satya meaning the Truth and Agrah meaning firmness. Gandhi’s aim was to take non-violent, passive resistance to a new level where it would be truly effective.
Gandhi, explaining his ideology, said, “Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement Satyagraha, that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase ‘passive resistance,’ in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and instead used the word ‘Satyagraha.’”
Gandhi’s followers fought the British through Satyagrah. They defied British law and suffered the consequences for doing so instead of replying through violent means. After seven years of struggle in South Africa, the British South African General at the time gave into Indian demands and Gandhi’s first successful mission was complete. After returning to India, Gandhi started preaching Satyagrah and helped organize the Indian National Congress to fight British for India’s freedom and was a significant factor in forcing the British out of India in 1947.
Gandhi influenced many leaders around the world, but none more than Martin Luther King, who implemented Gandhi’s ideology in his work during the Civil Rights Movement, fighting the segregation and inequality suffered by African-Americans for centuries.
But the time we live in now, so fragile, nothing is guaranteed about the safety of our life. There are two major wars occurring in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with many other disputes in which people kill one another. Other than the major wars there is the suffering of people of Palestine from Israel’s occupation, the problem faced by those in Kashmir where the Indian army is constantly engaged with militants and hardship felt by the people of Swat Valley in Pakistan where Taliban and Pakistani armies have been engaged in fierce battle for control of land.
What has happened to the world that life is worth nothing for these poor people? Gandhi’s principle, which once was a factor in helping India gain freedom from the British and African Americans succeed in the civil right movement has lost its meaning. On his birthday, Gandhi’s name and legacy lives on but his ideology has found very little room even in India.
Syed Akhtar is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.