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Mohandas .K. Gandhi well known as “Mahatma”(great souled) was the great founder of the Principle of Non-Violence as a political way of life. Gandhi was born on the 2nd October 1869 at Porbandar. He was born into both a political and religious family, in that his father at that time was the prime minister of the city and frequented the temple often when he was not at his political works. His mother on the other hand, was well informed about matters concerning the state and observed the fasts and religious teachings of the church.
In Gandhi’s early childhood, he was very shy and avoided talking to people so he ran home immediately school was adjourned. Books were his only companion and this was seen by the various prizes and scholarships he won in school. He hated sports and only participated in cricket when he was forced to by the sports teacher. He also took interest in sacred books through his sanskirt lessons, which were a form of pastrol class that the Asian would indulge in.
At an early age of 13 years Gandhi got married to Kasturba a young simple, independent and persevering lady. Here we see him taking his first responsibility as a husband. At 16years of age his father passed away due to long term illness; this saddened Gandhi because of his close relationship with his father.
Gandhi later decided to follow in his fathers Gadi(official work) going to England (London) to study his first degree in Law from the years 1887-1893.The caste elders and religious leaders were proud of Gandhi’s efforts but were not happy because they thought that his values would be compromised. Despite this Gandhi promised to keep away from meat, women and alcohol, which he did during his stay there. When he was in London he got responsibility as the chair of the Executive Committee of the Vegetarian Society, where they met and talked about the religious teachings and values. He also got acquitted with the Gita and learned some Christian teachings that he found very interesting (Beatitudes).
Gandhi is guided by values and ideas that remained throughout his life thus giving reason for his great admiration from the preceding leaders. The principle of Non-violence shows how one must eliminate anger and ill for self-analysis and self purification purpose therefore overcoming good from evil, right from wrong. He used Non-Violent /civil resistance to clarify and enlarge the understanding of freedom. He was governed by Satyagraha, which was a movement that excluded non-violence, whereby people would fight by using soul force/truth force instead of body force to bring change in the society. In his encounters he was arrested and beaten several times but despite this he continued with his efforts to bring change to the society. Gandhi’s ethical position came from actions as well as reflection. His basic approach was based on his tool-ahimsa and Satyagraha.
Ahimsa means non-violence, showing how an individual may not offend anybody regardless of their liking towards them. Here we see one may not harbor uncharitable thought, even in connection with those whom they consider as the enemy. If one expresses their love- Ahimsa-in such a manner that it impresses itself indelibly upon your so-called enemy, he must therefore return that love. Gandhi uses this as his tool to fight political warfare, seeing it as infinitely higher as compared to violence. On the other hand Satyagraha literally means “holding on to Truth.” It may also be described as love-force, soul-force, or more popularly but less accurately, passive resistance, which was changed to civil resistance.
In the presentation we shall discuss the principles, protests and effects of Gandhi as they have had on the oriental thought and the world. From the principles, we shall discuss him as a social thinker, activist, transforming leader and religious ascetics showing that which enabled him to make the principle of non-violence effective in the society.
A person operating from a non-violent conviction does not feel the humiliation of insulting behavior by violent adversaries, because self-respect neutralizes the effects of the insult; instead the aggressor is the one who looses dignity. Such an approach would help minimize the outbreaks of violence in any civil disobedience campaign.
This principle was particularly targeted towards empowering the powerless especially the poor in India. Gandhi realized that the poor who were often uneducated were easy targets for oppression and injustice.
Contrary to violent struggles, which are filled with a feeling of revenge, through his non-violent campaigns, Gandhi sought to suffer the consequences of disobeying his so called opponent. On numerous occasions Gandhi went to prison, fasted until his health weakened, got beaten but he never surrendered in his struggle for truth. Thus in order to achieve justice using non-violent means one must be ready to face and suffer the consequences of the struggle. Gandhi conceived intentional self-suffering to be a formal declaration against the grievance, policy, wrong, law or military occupation. He based his theory on the idea that by inviting suffering from the adversary (pain greater than the original grievance) the conscious inflicting of suffering on oneself becomes a source of power as it puzzles the foe.
Gandhi encouraged his supporters to hate the sin but not the sinner or to hate the suppression and not the suppressor. The ability to differentiate between the individuals who were involved and the system that they administered or represented was crucial for Gandhi because it allowed for conflict to be conducted on a de-personalized basis without the corrosive effects from animosity or hostility. Actions that resulted from animosity only increased and deepened the hatred.
Through the above principle, it is quite clear that one who supports non-violent action differentiates the act performed by the opponent from the opponent himself.
Non-violent action is therefore undertaken with the assumption that the opponent is ignorant about the real truth similar to a teacher and pupil relationship. A teacher enables the pupil to see wrong/error in a certain act thus helping the pupil realize his/her mistake. This therefore does not mean that the teacher has defeated the pupil or the pupil has lost. Similarly, a non-violent action is undertaken to teach one’s opponent what is right (higher-truth) than the defeat of the opponent. Therefore, the triumph of the person who supports non-violence does not mean the defeat of an adversary.
Gandhi first called his non-violent campaigns passive (resistance) however he was not happy with the implied meaning of this term, as this was not the real nature of his campaigns. Passive has the three elements of fear, guilt, and being submissive. Non-violent campaigns however were courageous and a willingness to suffer unto death.
People who supported Gandhi’s campaigns (Satyagrahis) had the ability to kill and to use physical force as such they were not weaklings. However through the above principle one is able to see that they were able to endure suffering since they knew that they were fighting for the truth.
Gandhi suggested that Satyagraha was not a technique that could be used when other means of achieving justice had failed. In fact, he felt that practicing non-violence (Ahimsa) should be ingrained in one’s daily life such that it becomes a culture. Therefore, in order to achieve justice-using ahimsa one needed to change inwardly or change one’s nature or attitude. Non-violent actions are pure and should therefore not contain any feelings of hate for the enemy even from the inside, as Gandhi advocated, a follower of non-violence ‘loves his so-called enemy just as he loves his friend’.
Gandhi, at this point, was a mild-mannered, politically indifferent person who was prone to stage fright. South Africa changed him considerably as he faced the humiliation and oppression that was commonly directed to Indians in that country. His journey to Pretoria served as a catalyst for his activism. First, he was thrown off a train because he refused to move from first class to third even though he had a first class ticket. Later when traveling stagecoach, a driver for refusing to travel on the footboard to make room for a European passenger beat him. This experience led him to more closely examine the hardships his people suffered in South Africa.
Gandhi returned briefly to India to bring his wife and children to live with him in South Africa. When he returned a white mob attacked and tried to lynch him. He refused to press charges stating that it was one of his principles not to seek redress for a personal wrong in a court of law.
At the beginning of the South African War, Gandhi argued that the Indians must support the war effort in order to legitimize their claims to full citizen rights, and he organized a volunteer ambulance unit composed of 300 free Indians and 800 indentured laborers. However, at the end of the war, the situation for the Indians continued to deteriorate. At a mass protest meeting held in Johannesburg in 1906, Gandhi adopted for the first time his platform of Satyagraha, calling on his fellow Indians to defy the new law and suffer the punishments for doing so rather than resisting through violent means. This plan was adopted and led to a seven-year struggle in which thousands of Indians were jailed (including Gandhi himself on many occasions), beaten, or even shot, for striking, refusing to register, and engaging in other forms of nonviolent resistance. While the government was successful in repressing the Indian protesters, the public outcry stemming from the harsh methods employed by the South African government in the face of peaceful Indian protesters finally forced South African general Jan Christian Smuts to negotiate a compromise with Gandhi.
In 1919, Parliament passed the Rowalatt Bills, empowering the government to imprison those accused of sedition without a trial. Gandhi called for a Satyagraha that led to a violent outbreak across the country, most notably a massacre of 400 Indians by the British army in the town of Amristar. In 1920, Gandhi expanded his non-violence platform to include the swadeshi policy- the boycott of foreign-made goods, especially British goods. Linked to this was his advocacy that khadi (homespun cloth) – spun by Indian women- be worn by all Indians instead of British-made textiles. In addition to boycotting British products, Gandhi urged the people to boycott educational institutions and law courts, to resign from government employment, and to refuse to pay taxes. This new program really empowered the Indian people, but just as the movement reached its peak, it ended suddenly, due to the violent clash in the town of Chauri Chaura. In 1922, fearing that the movement was about to take a turn towards violence; Gandhi called of the campaign of mass civil disobedience. Gandhi was then arrested and sentenced to six years for sedition, but was released early after an operation on appendicitis.
In 1930, Gandhi proclaimed a new campaign of civil disobedience, calling on the Indian population to refuse to pay taxes, particularly the tax on salt. The campaign was a march to the sea, in which thousands of Indians followed Gandhi from Ahmedabad to Dandi, where they made salt by evaporating sea water. He halted the campaign in 1931 after the British accepted his demands. In 1932, while in jail, Gandhi undertook a ‘fast unto death’ to improve the status of the Hindu untouchables, whom he named Harijans, the children of God. The British, by permitting the Untouchables to be considered as a separate part of the Indian electorate, were, according to Gandhi, tolerating an injustice.
In 1934, after resigning from politics, Gandhi traveled through India, teaching ahimsa and demanding eradication of ‘untouchability’. By1944 the Indian struggle for independence was in its final stages. Though Gandhi stood against the partition of India, India and Pakistan became separate states when the British granted India its independence. On January 13th, 1948, he undertook another successful fast in New Delhi to bring about peace. But on January 30th, he was assassinated by a Hindu radical who held him responsible for weakening the government, as he walked through a crowded garden in New Delhi to take evening prayers.
Mohandas Gandhi was one of the most significant persons in the 20th century. He was the one who proved that it is possible to fight very successfully without violence. He fought his whole life with humanity, tolerance, and ideas without violence. He showed the way to a better world.
Still today there are many people who love him and who apply his philosophy to effect change in the world. A very important example is the ‘peace movements’ fight against wars. Usually people who fight against a war try to fight without violence by marching through cities and trying to convince people not to go to the war.
One example of peaceful protests, which all of us see and experience from time to time is the method of conducting a strike in the workplace. Gandhi made ‘the strike’ as a way of demonstrating, popular. This method is still used today. At the start of the 20th century the British Empire was the biggest empire in the world. India was it’s biggest colony and was very important to Britain. Gandhi assisted to achieve India’s independence from the British. The biggest Empire in the world lost a war of independence against a country like India, which didn’t use any form of violence or weapons. That was a sign for the world, and especially for the other countries ruled by the British. Observing this many of those countries saw their chance for independence and it was Gandhi that showed them the way. In the 1960’s most colonies in Africa and also Indochina became independent.
Gandhi fought for the rights of minorities and people who were pushed down, his whole life. He encouraged every one to stand up for their rights and to fight against cruelty. He showed the whole world how easy it is to demonstrate for rights and how successful it can be if there are many people fighting for the same cause together. Many people were motivated by Gandhi to demonstrate for their rights when they realized how successful he was. Good examples are the fights of the blacks in North America, especially Martin Luther King who fought under the influence of Gandhi. Also the fights in South America under Ché Guevara and the fights of Aborigines in Australia are other examples.
Demonstrations for rights still happen all over the world again and again because there are always people who push others down. Gandhi played a big part in the fight for humanity and the rights of minority groups. Gandhi represented the epitome of humanitarianism. He changed and opened millions of people’s minds and views toward class distinction, oppression, independence, racism and violence as a negative form of demonstration.
Still today when people see the movie ‘Gandhi,’ or read about his life they reflect about this incredible man and how successful non-violent demonstration can be, and the importance to save human life and not destroy it.
“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”
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