Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand (1869-1948), was one of the foremost political leaders of the 1900's. The Indian people called Gandhi the Mahatma (Great Soul). He helped to free India from British rule by a unique method of nonviolent resistance, and is honoured by Indians as the father of their nation. Gandhi was slight in build but had almost limitless physical and moral strength. He was assassinated by an Indian who resented Gandhi's programme of tolerance for all creeds and religions. The great scientist Albert Einstein said of Gandhi: "Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood."
Gandhi's life was guided by a search for truth. He called his autobiography The Story of My Experiment with Truth. Gandhi said that truth was God, and his aim in life was to achieve truthfulness in thought, word, and deed. Ahimsa (nonviolence) to him was the highest virtue. By nonviolence, Gandhi meant not merely the absence of violence, but also loving concern for all life. He believed that truth could be known only through tolerance and concern for others, and that finding a truthful way to solutions required constant testing. He taught that to be nonviolent required great courage. Gandhi overcame fear in himself and showed others how to overcome fear.
Gandhi developed a method of direct social action based upon principles of courage, nonviolence, and truth, which he called satyagraha (truth-force). Where the method was used against British rule, it gave rise to what was called civil disobedience. Gandhi and his supporters used satyagraha to fight for India's independence, and to bring about social change.
A successful campaign of satyagraha involves five basic stages. First, there must be some perception of injustice. Examples of such injustice include a landlord charging excessive rent, and the treatment of people belonging to the caste (social class) known as the untouchables. Other examples include discrimination against minorities, and British rule in India.
The second stage requires the necessity of a proper response. The victim of injustice usually accepts the situation out of fear or else resorts to violence. Gandhi claimed that both these responses were wrong. A satyagrahi (one who practises satyagraha) fights injustice nonviolently and with courage.
The third stage involves choosing the field of action. The victim must decide how to highlight the injustice. Often the victim chooses deliberate, nonviolent defiance of the unjust law and is prepared to suffer the consequences.
The fourth stage covers conduct in a campaign of satyagraha. The satyagrahi aims at winning over an opponent through love and self-sacrifice. The satyagrahi must never exploit an opponent's weakness. During World War II (1939-1945), in India, Gandhi suspended his civil disobedience campaign from Dec. 12, 1940, to Jan. 4, 1941, so that British officials could enjoy their Christmas holiday without being called out to make arrests.
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