Two young men hurt many innocent people and created unrest at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Their actions cost them. Violence stems from fear and weakness and not from love and strength. We need to learn using weapons of mass-construction and not weapons of mass-destruction.
Let us observe some of the principles that Gandhi used and how he fought for human rights.
In a poll by Time magazine, people around the world chose Gandhi as the second most influential person of the 20th century. When Gandhi was assassinated, Einstein said that future generations would wonder whether such a man actually lived, which shows the depth of his character.
In India, he is called Mahatma (Great Soul) and Bapu (father of the Nation). He helped 300 million Indians gain freedom.
Gandhi barely owned any assets. His grandson Arun Gandhi told me that Gandhi’s only possessions were his glasses, his sandals, a pen and a sacred scripture called the Bhagavat Gita.
In South Africa, Indians were ill treated because of their skin color. Indians were not allowed to walk on the foot-path. They could not vote. They needed to get permission to go into town after 9 p.m. They were called “coolies.”
In India, the British ruled for more than 200 years. Indians were unduly taxed, their properties were taken and they were forced to grow indigo to export to England. They were beaten, jailed and robbed.
To fight against this injustice, Gandhi used three weapons: ahimsa (non-violence), satyagraha (see below) and non-cooperation.
There are several examples where Gandhi practiced non-violence.
Gandhi studied law in England. At that time, while walking on a street, youngsters played pranks and slapped him. He did not choose to hit them back.
When he went to South Africa for a job, he was traveling by train in a first class compartment with a first class ticket. When he arrived in South Africa, a passenger asked him to move to the third class compartment, as people of color were not allowed to travel in first class. When Gandhi refused, the conductor kicked him off the train and threw his bags on the platform.
Gandhi had to stay outside on that platform without a jacket on a winter night. That was a turning point in his life. That was when he decided to fight against prejudice.
Once, an indentured laborer, Bala Sundaram, was beaten badly by his landlord. Bala lost his teeth and he went to Gandhi bleeding. Gandhi took the doctor’s certificate. He then went to the landlord and requested him to release Bala Sundaram. After his release, Gandhi did not want to punish the landlord.
Another time, Gandhi traveled on a ship back to South Africa with his family. South Africans did not want him to come back to their country. They wanted the ship to go back to India. They made the ship wait for more than 10 days in the harbor. Finally, they agreed to let Gandhi step on their land. As soon as he arrived, the public pelted him with stones and rotten eggs.
Luckily, the wife of the police superintendent was there, and she came in between them. Thus he survived and was taken into a home bleeding. When the police superintendent wanted to arrest the aggressors, Gandhi refused to file a case against them.
Gandhi was jailed many times in India and South Africa during the protests. He never physically resisted the police.
“Sat” means truth. “agraha” means firmness. Thus, satyagraha means standing firm for truth and justice.
Gandhi’s life is an experiment for the truth. He said, “People have many definitions for God. I see God as truth only.”
During Hindu-Muslim fights, and when Indians were violent, he fasted for many days to show his dissatisfaction. When South Africa refused to give voting power to Indians, he protested and won. When the British forced Indians to grow indigo and export it to England, he stood up and made the British change their approach.
Thus Gandhi protested non-violently.
Gandhi stood up for justified rights and protested peacefully. He said by doing this, we will have control, not the aggressor. Once, in a public speech to protest against South African injustice, he said, “They may break my bones or even kill me, but they cannot win my will.”
When the British had taxed salt — essential for Indian cooking — he led a 150-mile march with thousands of people to the ocean and boycotted paying taxes. Indians were beaten and put in jail for doing so.
When the British were reluctant to leave India, he encouraged Indians to spin the wheel and make their own clothes, instead of buying clothes from the British.
Thus Gandhi, by using the power of non-violence, standing firm for the truth and justice, and professing non-cooperation with unjust laws, gained freedom and worked for human dignity. He said, “We are children of God. I am a Hindu, I am a Christian, I am a Jew, and I am a Muslim.”
We want to remember that violence begets violence and love enhances love.