Auckland, September 28, 2019
October 2 marks the 150th Birth Anniversary of Gandhi, the father of Independent India, whose nonviolent resistance led the successful campaign for India’s freedom.
Gandhi’s work is not contained to India but inspired civil rights and freedom movements in many other parts of the world.
Mahatma Gandhi, (the Mahatma is a honorific added in 1914, meaning high-souled or venerable) was born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to an elite family in the State of Porbandar in the North-West of India on October 2, 1869.
His father worked as the Chief Minister of Porbandar and his mother was a deeply religious woman of the Hindu faith who instilled a strong Hindu ethic in her son.
Family virtues and values
Gandhi was brought up in a strong religious environment that believed in a simple lifestyle, vegetarianism, religious tolerance and non-violence.
The family moved to the city of Rajkot for his education and he learnt English here. When he was 13, he married Kasturba, a local young girl, who was 14 years old.
Gandhi started studying law at Bhavnagar College in Bombay but was offered a chance to study in London. He defied his caste, which did not encourage people to leave the shores of India and went to the British Capital.
He started wearing western clothes but being involved with the vegetarian movement and the Theosophical Society helped him return to the traditional Hindu principals of his childhood such as vegetarianism, no alcohol and sexual abstinence.
This led to him forming his own ideology about the unity of all people and religions.
In 1893, the newly graduated Gandhi returned to India to practice as a lawyer but soon moved to South Africa.
After he was ejected from a first class railway carriage because of his skin colour, he was appalled by the treatment of Indians and formed the Indian Congress in Natal.
This movement fought segregation and did non-violent civic protests called Satyagraha. At this time, Gandhi took a vow of celibacy and started wearing traditional while Indian dhoti replacing his western attire.
In 1914, Gandhi led working-class Indians to organise a strike against a £3 tax on people of Indian descent. He led a march of over 2000 people from Natal to Transvaal and was arrested for public disobedience and imprisoned. The strike spread wider and the British were forced to release Gandhi and drop the tax.
News of Gandhi’s victory spread to England and he started getting international recognition.
Gandhi and his wife returned to India in 1915.
He travelled throughout India and was shocked at the overcrowding and poverty and vowed to work for the marginalised.
A protest that he led against the Rowlatt Act, an act which enabled the British to imprison anyone suspected of terrorism, caused massive bloodshed in Amritsar, killing over 400 people and wounding thousands.
This massacre convinced Gandhi to start the campaign against the British for independence of India.
Indian National Congress
Gandhi became the voice of the Indian National Congress, which was converted from an elite group into one that accepted religious tolerance.
His boycott of British goods and non-cooperation with the British rule led to his being arrested and imprisoned for two years.
The British were unable to ignore Gandhi anymore as he led one campaign after another to support his cause and he was the only INC representative in a Round Table Conference in London in 1931 but the British were still not ready to grant independence to India.
Muslim, Sikh and other Indian delegates did not support him as they did not believe that he spoke for all Indians.
Quit India Movement
After his failure at the Conference, he stepped down from the INC and he started the ‘Quit India Campaign.’
Gandhi was imprisoned along with his wife and she died in prison a few months before he was released in 1944.
Britain was unable to stop the ever increasing calls for freedom and finally began negotiating for independence of India.
However, the outcome was very different to what Gandhi had campaigned for his motherland. The ‘Mountbatten Plan’ recommended creation of two new independent states of India and Pakistan which were divided along religious lines.
Whilst the Independence celebrations were happening in Delhi, the Indian capital, Gandhi’s vision of a United India was shattered as the Partition caused mass killings and chaotic migration of 10 million people, separation of families and chaos.
In 1948, Gandhi was in Calcutta undertaking a fast to bring peace, returned to Delhi to help protect Muslims.
On his way to a prayer meeting at Birla House, he was shot dead by a Hindu extremist.
The Nation and the whole world mourned the death of a global giant, a humble man dressed in a white cotton ‘loincloth,’ a man who wanted peace who never saw his dream of a United India becoming a reality.
Gandhi’s legacy is still alive. The United Nations General Assembly has declared Gandhi’s Birthday as the ‘International Day of Nonviolence’ as a tribute.
India has declared January 30, the day he was killed as ‘Martyrs’ Day.’ October 2, his Birthday is observed as ‘Gandhi Jayanthi,’ a national holiday.
For many of us, he remains an inspirational figure, whose teachings on social justice, non-sectarianism, and peaceful change are as relevant today as they were during his lifetime.
Michael Wood is elected Member of Parliament from Mt Roskill in Auckland and Chief Government Whip.