Guest Blog Post by Student Ambassador
Julia De Jong (8th Grade):
Everyone knows about Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, John Lennon, Steve Jobs, and Albert Einstein. Countless people, even today, look up to them as examples. But who did they look up to? They all looked up to one person, his name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He was a civil rights leader who believed in peace. Most people would now turn away or exit out of this page thinking, another boring civil rights leader. If you do… your loss!
Gandhi is considered one of the founding fathers of India, almost like George Washington is a founding father to us.
His birthplace was part of the British Empire. Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, India. His father was a chief minister in many states, including the one they lived in. His mother was deeply religious. Gandhi, following his mother’s footsteps, grew up worshipping the Hindu God Vishnu and followed the Jainism faith. Jainism is a rigorous religion that requires non-violence, fasting, meditation, and vegetarianism. I believe that is was because of this particular faith that made him stand out from all of the other civil rights leaders, how exactly … that I will keep a secret.
He wed a merchant’s daughter in an arranged marriage. Guess how old he was… 13! Imagine marrying at 13 years old! Anyway… just like any teenager would, he rebelled against this, just in a different way than we do today. Instead of sneaking out of the house, which would be what most teenagers do, Gandhi ate meat, stole change from the servants, and smoked (you have to remember, this goes against his religion).
Eventually, he got over it and his family then steered him towards a career in law. He was originally planning to be a doctor, but he gave in and sailed to London. If he became a doctor instead, the world may be a different place. When in London, he struggled for a while to adjust to the western culture that was completely alien to him. Image going to college in China and trying to learn their customs. (I am sure he knew the language, though.) When he was there he committed himself to a meatless diet and started studying world religions, along with his regular law classes.
When returning to India, he found that his mother had died. One top of that, he was struggling to find work as a lawyer. As you can picture, it was a very difficult time for Gandhi. Eventually, he found work in South Africa, he set sail for Durban in 1893.
Spiritual and Political Leader
When Gandhi arrived in South Africa he was shocked by the discrimination against Indian immigrants. On his first day on the job, Gandhi was asked to remove his turban. A turban is a scarf or piece of clothing that is wrapped in a certain way around the head. On June 7, 1893, Gandhi was on a train heading to Pretoria when a white man complained about him being in the first-class railway. Even though he had a ticket for the first class compartment, he was forcibly removed and thrown off the train at the next station. This is very similar to what Rosa Parks did, which started the bus boycott.
Gandhi vowed that night that he would try to root out the disease and suffer hardships in the process. What he meant by this was that he would devote himself to fighting the “deep disease of color prejudice.” That he did do.
He was planning to return to his home country when he learned of a bill that would deprive Indian immigrants the right to vote. Gandhi and his colleagues fought to prevent the bill from passing. While the bill did go into effect, Gandhi’s protests drew national attention to the injustice. Gandhi returned to India in 1914.
Gandhi remained inactive from politics until the 1930’s. In the 1920’s he spent time with his family, and focusing on his religious self. He heard, in 1930, that Great Britain had imposed a Salt Act on the Indian people, which prohibited the people of India from producing or selling salt. This was serious because the imported salt was very expensive. It is like having to pay $50-$70 dollars for a cheese pizza. Maybe that is not the right comparison, but you get my point, right? Anyway, in response to this act, Gandhi organized a satyagraha (a protest). Gandhi would march across India to the sea to make salt. He went off with a homespun white shawl, sandals on his feet, and a walking stick. He walked for almost a month. At first, he had but a few dozen followers, at the end of the journey, the numbers had swelled. He then broke the law by evaporating sea water to make salt. Gandhi was arrested along with 60,000 others.
This only fueled the protests, Gandhi was elevated into a transcending figure around the world. He was released in 1931 and made an agreement with Lord Irwin to end the Salt protests and in turn, thousands of political prisoners were released. The Salt Acts remained intact, but it allowed people living on the coast to produce salt. In the end, I believe Gandhi negotiated a pretty good deal, under the circumstances.
Assassination and Legacy
Violence between the Hindus and the Muslims flared even before India’s independence in 1947. In the late afternoon of January 30, 1948, 78-year-old Gandhi, still weakened by repeated hunger strikes was led from his quarters by his grand-nieces to a prayer meeting. Hindu extremist Natrum Godse was upset with Gandhi’s tolerance of Muslims. He knelt down before Gandhi before pulling out a pistol and shooting the great Mahatma (Gandhi’s nickname) three times in the chest. Godse was hung along with fellow conspirators. It is so ironic to me that Gandhi, who spent his whole life encouraging peace was killed in a brutal act of violence and hatred.
To this day, Gandhi’s philosophical ideas have been the hope for oppressed people throughout the world. You also now know the reason why people like John Lennon and Martin Luther Kind Jr. looked up Gandhi. Hopefully, you will look up to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi too and see how great of a person he was. I certainly do.