The United Nations observes today as the International Day of Non-Violence. It is the birthday of Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement and pioneer of the non-violence movement.

Gandhi led about 300 million Indians to freedom in 1947. What an amazing accomplishment! What can we learn from this uncommon man?

The British ruled India for more than 200 years. Indians were forced to pay unreasonable taxes and give away their property, and were humiliated in their own country. In a situation like this, human proclivity is to fight back using violent methods.

Amazingly, through a revolutionary concept of nonviolence, Gandhi led the Indians and obtained freedom.

Leaders adapt to new situations. In South Africa, Gandhi started experimenting with living a simple life. He adapted to the new life in the Ashram by farming, teaching young students and making his own clothes.

In India, when Hindus and Muslims fought, Gandhi fasted for many days to stop the fighting. Many other times, Gandhi fasted to show his protest of injustice.

Gandhi adapted himself to a new approach called Satyagraha. A Satyagrahi is prepared to die for a cause by fasting, cooperating and defying unjust law through non-violence. Although he was adaptable in general, he was adamant about not changing when his principles were at stake.

Leaders empathize with people. Gandhi was a very caring person. He traveled throughout India for one year to see the country and feel the suffering of Indians.

He was against untouchability, which meant that higher-caste people shouldn’t touch people from the lower castes or people such as lepers. Gandhi gave shelter and helped lepers in his own home.

Leaders work hard to reach their goals. When he moved back to India from South Africa, Gandhi took a clerk position in Congress even though he was a lawyer. Later, he became the president of Congress.

Gandhi was a very shy young man. He was an average student, yet he went to England to study law. He became the first lawyer of color despite many obstacles.

Leaders sacrifice and dedicate themselves for their mission. Gandhi’s mission was experimenting on truth. His goals were to free the Indians through nonviolence and to have Indians living in South Africa treated with human decency.

He dedicated his adult life to this public work, and was prepared to die to achieve this goal. In South Africa, he was pelted by stones. A train conductor beat him for traveling first class instead of third. In India, he was put in jail several times, sometimes for several years. Yet Gandhi didn’t give up.

Leaders look for positive things in every situation. Gandhi was optimistic about human decency throughout the world. Once he said, “All good action is bound to bear fruit in the end.”

Gandhi had to walk miles to get vegetarian food. He was happy to do it, as he took it as his daily exercise. Initially, when he was shy about speaking in meetings, he found it as an advantage because he could think before talking, and his words were measured.

Leaders are courageous. Young Gandhi was not self-confident. reading, writing and experimenting, he gained self-confidence. His confidence burgeoned during his public service.

Although Indians were not allowed to walk on the streets of South Africa after 9 p.m., he dared to walk. He led many marches in India despite warnings of arrest. People from his caste threatened to ostracize him when he wanted to go to England for his studies. He went anyway.

Gandhi was superb in organizing groups of people for a cause. He formed the Natal Indian Congress in South Africa to prevail against discrimination and insults.

When the British started taxing salt in India, he led thousands of people, walking 150 miles to the ocean to make their own salt. Hundreds of people were beaten and put in jail. Gandhi led millions of Indians to fast the whole day and not work as a protest.

Gandhi was creative. His creativity shows in nonviolent moments, the salt march and starting a newspaper. He said when you stand up to justify rights and protest non-violently, you are the one in control, not the aggressor. He once experimented in treating illness with water and earth instead of medicines.

Many leaders seem to be religious. Throughout his life, Gandhi worked hard for self-realization, or knowledge of self. Gandhi learned the importance of prayer from his devoted mother. Once Gandhi said, “We are all children of God. I am Hindu, Christian, Jew and Muslim.”

Thus, leading by example, he was able to inspire millions of Indians to follow the nonviolent movement.

Gandhi said, “There go people. I must follow them as I am their leader.” No wonder he was known as “Mahatma” or Great Soul.


Ashok Nalamalapu of Sadhana, a spiritual center serving people from all walks of life, can be reached at: [email protected]