By Suzanne Hathaway
April 30, 2003
Mohandas Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869 to Hindu parents in Western India. In India, the people are divided into five castes: Brahmin (priests), Kshatriya (warriors), Vaisya (merchants), Sudra (artisans), and the Untouchables. Mohandas’s family belonged to the caste of Merchants. His father was the town’s diwan. His father’s employment was similar to a town judge that would settle problems between the citizens. Mohanda’s spiritual education actually began at home observing his mother praying before each meal, visiting the temple every day, and fasting during holy times. His marriage to Kasturbai Makanji was arranged when they were both 13 years of age. Mohandas often tried to command Kasturbai, but she resisted him. He learned how effective this quiet resisting was and used it later against the British.
At the age of 18, Mohandas decided to leave his family to study law in London. The government officials in Bombay informed him that if he traveled abroad, he would ruin his standing as a Hindu. Mohandas knew that he would become an outcast for leaving, but he was determined to go. Before leaving, he promised his mother that he would stay away from meat, alcohol, and women. He kept his promise.
After passing the bar, he changed his lifestyle and began to live a very modest way of life. He saved money by cooking his own food and walking where ever he needed to go. This simple existence brought harmony to his inward and outward life.
In 1893, Gandhi was sent to South Africa to try a case. While there, he grew to understand the oppression of the Indian people living in South Africa. The government wanted to enforce “The Black Act” which would require all Indians to be registered and fingerprinted like criminals. Mohandas gathered the people and persuaded them to disobey the law even if it meant going to jail. Many people described this as “passive resistance.” As a Hindu, Gandhi was deeply committed to the doctrine of Ahimsa, or nonviolence. The name Satyagraha was used to explain this new concept. This word means “firmness with truth and love.” Gandhi spent the rest of his live refining the meaning of Satyagraha. In 1908, Gandhi was arrested and imprisoned for not registering. This was not his last trip to what he called “His Majesty’s Hotels.”
In 1911, Gandhi returned to India. The British still ruled the country. They were interested in India’s great wealth of spices, cloth, and other material. They took these products from India and forced the people to buy them back at higher prices. The great mission of Gandhi’s life was to help the people of India free themselves from British rule. He believed that people should free themselves from domination without using violence. Gandhi encouraged the people to become self-sufficient by weaving their own cloth and growing their own food instead of buying high priced British goods. Gandhi was developing a way of life that would eventually earn him the name Mahatma. In Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, the word means “Great Soul.” Gandhi was not comfortable being viewed as a saint.
Independence from Britain came in 1947. Gandhi, with his walking staff, his round glasses, and his spinning wheel, had become the symbol of free India. When war broke out between the Hindu and Muslim factions, Gandhi fasted for 21 days until the fighting ceased. Gandhi wished for all people of India to be equal and live in peace. Sadly, the country of India was partitioned into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. Millions of people were forced to give up their homes and businesses and move. Gandhi never recovered from the collapse of India. He felt that he had not worked hard enough to prevent it.
Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948 on his way to a prayer meeting. His compassionate nature allowed him to forgive his killer before his died. He will always be remembered as the father of the Indian nation.
Gandhi wrote speeches, sermons, and letters to deliver his message of peace to the people. His speeches contained political and economic platforms but the underlying message was about preserving humanity. Gandhi was concerned not only about the people of India but people all over the world. While India was governed by Britain, the culture of his people had been diluted. Freedom for India would not only be good for the country but good for all humanity. He felt that human life is whole and cannot be divided into different compartments, social, economic, political and international. He held nations to the same rules of morality that guide individuals in everyday life.
Two important social principles for Gandhi were central to his thinking: Sarvodaya (the welfare of all) and Antodaya (the welfare of the least). Gandhi once said the world has enough resources to meet the needs of everyone, though not to satisfy everyone’s greed. Many famous activists followed the Gandhian method of non-violence (ahimsa). Martin Luther King was strongly influenced by Gandhi. At that time, blacks weren’t allowed to eat in certain restaurants or ride in the front of the bus. Dr. King taught his people to fight discrimination in America the same way Gandhi had in India. Dr. King taught black Americans to fight back peacefully, openly, and cheerfully. Gandhi and Dr. King both hoped to live in a community that was at peace with itself. Gandhi although deserving, never won a Nobel Peace Prize.
Gandhi felt that education should develop the body, mind, and soul. Religion served a very important part of the educational process. He believed that religion should mold our social, economic, educational, and political lives. The role of the teacher should be more as a guide to the student so that they may develop a skill useful to society. A person that feels beneficial to society will not easily be lead astray. Gandhi claimed that what is really needed to make democracy function is not knowledge of facts, but the right education. Craft, art, health and education should all be integrated into one balanced system. Memorizing countless facts would not help a child function in the world. He believed that children needed experiences and character education to truly receive a holistic education. He also believed that by learning the English language, the students in India had become mere imitators of the western world. When thoughts were transposed into English, they lost their power. He hoped to see his heritage uncorrupted by commercialism and politics. Learning English also divided the castes in India. The well-educated upper castes spoke English unlike the untouchables who could not. This was another example of the political and economic separation happening in India.
I was very excited to research Gandhi. Before beginning my exploration, I knew very little about his life’s work. Along this educational journey, I learned that he was a gentle man who cared for the whole human race, especially the sick and homeless. Everywhere he went, he impressed people with his willingness to sacrifice himself for the good of others. He had strong religious and political viewpoints concerning the people of India. Most of all, I learned that he used the idea of passive resistance to effect change. Of course, this process did not yield immediate results. Gandhi and his followers had to remain loyal to the cause. I found his Gandhian philosophy to be inspirational. Wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place if people solved their problems peacefully?
I also feel that education should be more holistic. Our schools focus on training the mind. The body and the spirit are to be nurtured at home. Our current education system is producing tomorrow’s leaders. If we want them to be well-rounded individuals that can problem-solve in any situation, then students need to be part of a variety of educational experiences.
Gandhi’s humble and non-violent ways changed the course of India and the rest of the world. His greatest work is probably the legacy that he left behind for future generations to follow.
Attenborough, Richard. The Words of Gandhi. New York: Newmarket Press, 1982.
Ozmon, Howard and Craver, Samuel. Philosophical Foundations of Education. Columbus, OH: Merrill Prentice Hall, 2003.
Wolpert, Stanley. Gandhi’s Passion-The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001
Severance, John B. Gandhi- Great Soul. New York: Clarion Books, 1997
A Brief History of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Available at: www.engagedpage.com/gan1.html Accessed on April 21, 2003
Mahatma Gandhi. Available at: www.mkgandhi.org/index.htm. Accessed on April 15, 2003