Gandhi Biography - Referat
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
“We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”
“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.“
· Honorific titles
- Childhood and youth
- Studies and job
- Gandhi’s fight in South Africa
- Gandhi’s fight in India
Back in India
- His death
Most of the people nowadays know him as Mahatma Gandhi, which isn’t his actual name. “Mahatma” is an honorific title, which means “Great Soul”. His birth name was Mohandas Karamchad Gandhi. Gandhi didn’t like it as people began to use the title without his permission, since he didn’t want any cult about his person. In his auto-biography he states that it has no meaning for him. Instead it even has caused him pain many times. After some time Gandhi accepted the title and tried his best to fulfil the expectations.
Also a well known honorific title, but one he actually liked to be called with, was “Bapu” (father). His wife and his friends used to call him by that because of his caring personality. Later the title “father of the nation” was added and officially respected be the Indian government.
Childhood and youth
Gandhi was born on 2nd October 1869 in Porbandar. His father and grand-father served as Diwans (Prime minister). His family was part of the Vaishyas, which were traditionally merchants. The Vaishyas are the third caste and therefore part of the social and political upper class.
His family was practicing Vaishnavism, also called Vishnuism. It’s a more monotheistic form of Hinduism. Their religion was known for being strict against violence towards any creature, which also means that all Vaishnavas are vegetarian. This avoidance of violence is called Ahimsa and is an important part of Indian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism.
In his youth Gandhi broke many rules as in eating goat meat, smoking, drinking alcohol and stealing his parents’ money. According to him he once visited a bordello and felt ashamed afterwards. Even if his friends had misled him to these things, Gandhi had a bad conscience and considered suicide. In the end he decided to confess to his father and asked for a proper punishment, which his father decided not to give.
At the age of seven Gandhi became engaged to Kasturba, who was seven years old as well. At the age of 13 they married. Even though his wife was at the bottom of the family hierarchy, she was well taken care of by them. At the age of 16 she gave birth to her first child, which died after a few days. Afterwards Kasturba gave birth to four children.
At the same time his father died because of an accident and the oldest son became the head of the family.
Studies and job
His father’s will was for Gandhi to become a lawyer. After he finished high school with some difficulties, Gandhi had in mind to study law in London, because England offered better education His mother was against him studying there, because it was a sin for Hindus to cross the ocean. She was also afraid of losing him to the western life style with the meat and alcohol consumption and the prostitution. That was the reason why Gandhi attended an Indian college one semester long, but without success.
After a family council they allowed him to study law overseas. Gandhi himself preferred the subject medicine, but because of religious causes, which prohibited the cutting of flesh, he wasn’t allowed to. His oldest brother lent him money for his studies. Gandhi had to promise to keep practicing Hinduism and to resist the western life style.
At the age of 19 Gandhi joined the vegetarian society while attending a university in London. Through this participation he refused to eat meat because of his own belief. Before that it was his religion and tradition that prevented him.
Gandhi occupied himself in London with some religions like Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. Even though he didn’t like the Old Testament, he was pleased by the “Bergpredigt” and Jesus. But he had some troubles accepting Jesus as the only son of god. Gandhi also deepened his own religious faith in Hinduism by reading the holy Hindu script Bhagavad-Gita. It would become the most important script in his life.
Besides that Gandhi tried hard to integrate himself into society by taking Dance and French lessons and wearing British fashion. He was impressed by the freedom of the press and the strike culture.
Two years later Gandhi succeeded the law exam and was allowed as a lawyer at the English upper court. Since then he could work as a lawyer everywhere, where the British law counted.
After Gandhi had returned home to India, he found out that his mother had already died a year ago. Without any parent he had to take over more responsibility for the whole family. Although Gandhi was skilled and had his own office, he wasn’t able to support his family, who had money troubles because of his studies. His shyness kept preventing him from gaining clients. That’s why he helped out by some more experienced colleagues, even though he couldn’t earn enough money that way.
Gandhi’s fight in South Africa
Gandhi travelled at the age of 23 to South Africa because of his job as a lawyer. During the journey he experienced that he couldn’t travel first class like he’s used to. Because of his skin tone the conductor told him to change to the luggage-wagon. His refusal made the police throw him out of the train at the next station. After experiencing more discrimination and witnessing some towards Indian citizens in South Africa, Gandhi began to question the place of Indians in the British society.
Because of his anger Gandhi overcame his shyness and began to fight for more rights for the Indian Minority in South Africa. He wanted them to be as equal-righted as the white population. So he founded the Natal Indian Congress in Natal, which helped to improve the bad relationship between Muslim and Hindu Indians. The foundation followed the example of the Indian National Congress, the main party in India.
He focused his engagement mainly on his people, not taking much care of the African population, which was because of his bad experiences with Africans in prison.
The first five years Gandhi spent in South Africa weren’t as successful as he hoped them to be. He’d called out a meeting for all the Indian citizens there and encouraged them to fight for their rights. The attempts weren’t successfully first but they kept on trying by doing petitions and campaigns.
During the second Boer War Gandhi persuaded over thousands of Indians to support the British soldiers in their fight against the African population. He wanted to show the British how loyal the Indian citizens are and hoped that the situation of them would improve afterwards. Because of religious causes they could only serve as paramedics. Even though their service was appreciated, the situation didn’t change.
Gandhi also supported the British soldiers at the Zulu revolt seven years later, but this time with only 25 Indian citizens. These experiences taught him that it was hopeless to challenge the overwhelming military power of the British army. He came to the conclusion that non-violent methods were the only solution.
At the age of 34 Gandhi settled down in Johannesburg to work there as a lawyer. Because of his good reputation he had many clients. With the money Gandhi brought his family to South Africa, because he realized that he had to stay there for a while.
Experimenting with a new lifestyle, Gandhi founded a farm, where he tried to live with his friends and relatives as modest as possible by producing everything needed by themselves and by living without any desires for material things. Later in his life Gandhi often built up settlements like this called ashrams to continue this modest lifestyle and requested others to do the same and build their own ashrams.
After Gandhi took the vow of celibacy, he informed his wife Kasturba without offering her a divorce. He wanted to fully concentrate on his political activities without any distractions. Kasturba accepted it and even supported him with his actions.
An important word in his philosophy, next to Ahmisa, was Satyagraha (devotion to the truth). He invented the word himself. The concept of Satyagraha was like the concept of civil disobedience: Doing strikes, ignoring unfair laws and so on. Satyagraha was for him closely connected with Ahmisa. He once stated:
„Truth excludes the use of violence because man is not capable of knowing the absolute truth and, therefore, not competent to punish.“
After the Indian register law was passed, Gandhi persuaded thousands of Indians to ignore the law. And with that the Satyagraha-movement started. The consequence of this was the arrest and death of many Indian citizens. The government successfully oppressed the protesters, but the public was shocked by the harsh treatment of the peaceful Indians and forced the government to negotiate a compromise with Gandhi. Gandhi’s ideas took shape and the concept of Satyagraha began to develop.
After the new law, in which only Christian marriages were legal, was passed, the Indians came out on strike. The British reacted with violence and arrested many of them. To provoke a mass arrest Gandhi and his Satyagrahis marched to the borders of Transvaal. During this campaign Gandhi got arrested and released several times.
At the same time the train workers came out on strike. It wasn’t because of the Indian citizens, but it still made the British unable to handle the situation. The consequence of this was the Indian Relief Act, which improved the situation of the Indian citizens a lot.
The goals of the Satyagrahis were therefore mostly achieved and Gandhi returned after being over 20 years in South Africa back to India.
Gandhi’s fight in India
Back in India
Being back in India Gandhi brought an international reputation as a leading Indian nationalist and joined the Indian National Congress. The Congress would become the most important movement in India’s independence fight.
In the meantime Gandhi always fought for the equality between the sexes, for the reconciliation between the Muslims and Hindus and for more rights for the untouchables.
The untouchables were at the bottom of the caste system and were oppressed by the others.
To practice what he preach, Gandhi started to dress as easy as possible by wearing waistcloth and soon he started to look like an untouchable. He used the spinning wheel to make the clothes himself. Gandhi requested others to boycott foreign-made products, especially British ones, by spinning their own clothes. The spinning wheel became therefore the symbol of India’s independence and is today part of India’s flag.
During the last part of World War I Gandhi agreed to recruit Indians for the war. But this time he attempted to recruit volunteers also as soldiers, not only as paramedics. He stated it with the reason that „we should have the ability to defend ourselves“. But Gandhi also made clear, that he will personally “not kill or injure anybody, friend or enemy.”
Over one million Indian citizens volunteered themselves, because they strongly believed that it would help India to receive independence.
Gandhi was the first leading role in India with both Hindu and Muslim citizens as supporters. Because of this he became a great leader in the Indian National Congress and had a strong influence on everything. Wherever Gandhi appeared, Indian workers would come out on strike.
Meanwhile the Muslim Indians had founded the Muslim League, because of the increasing influence of the Hindu Indians in the Congress. The problems between the Hindu and Muslim Indians kept on growing against Gandhi’s will.
To force the British to leave India, Gandhi came up with the non-cooperation campaign, in which all Indian citizens should non-violently refuse to cooperate. Gandhi believed that 1.000 British people wouldn’t be able to control India, if 300 Mio Indians would deny cooperation.
Thousands of Indians were arrested in an instant. But like many campaigns did this one also led to violence. The massacre of Amritsar happened, where British soldiers killed Indian citizens during a peaceful demonstration. As a respond to that mad citizens killed some police men and burnt down some public buildings.
Gandhi criticized both sides and told the Indian citizens to control themselves.
Afterwards the non-cooperation campaign achieved great success and everyone in India participated. After a violent conflict Gandhi called off the campaign, fearing that it would led to violence everywhere again.
Gandhi was arrested, but released again because of his health issues. Overall Gandhi had to spend 8 years of his life in prison and got most of the time released again because of his health problems.
During Gandhi’s time in prison the Indian National Congress began to fall apart because of different opinions. Also the cooperation between Hindu and Muslim citizens, which had been strong during the non-cooperation campaign, was destroyed. Gandhi attempted to overcome these differences by a three-week fast, but with limited success. He’d always tried to solve political problems and conscience issues by undergoing long fasts. Sometimes he succeeded with this method.
Regarding the injustice of the British salt monopole, Gandhi wrote a letter to the government, which they didn’t respond to. After that Gandhi made up a campaign of civil disobedience and called everyone out to do the salt march. The salt march, which was almost 390 km long, is the most known campaign of Gandhi. With Indian citizens he protested with this march from the 12th march to the 6th April against the salt taxes. The Indian citizens weren’t allowed to produce nor to sell salt. As everyone began to produce salt without paying the taxes, many people were arrested including Gandhi.
This campaign caught the attention of the world public. In the next year the British gave up and negotiated with Gandhi, until they came to the conclusion to let the Indian citizens produce salt for their own needs and to release these political prisoners.
As the World War II began, Gandhi refused to offer the British support with the reason that India wouldn’t fight for the freedom of other people, when freedom is denied for India.
So he requested instant Independence and called out the new campaign “Quit India” with the motto: Do or die! “Quit India” became the most forceful movement with mass arrests and strong violence. Thousands of protesters were killed or injured and hundreds of thousands were arrested. Gandhi stated that this time the movement would not be stopped, even if violent acts were committed by individuals. Almost the whole leadership of the Congress was arrested in an instant without court procedure. Most of them were kept there until India’s independence. Gandhi was arrested as well, but because of health issues released again.
During Gandhi’s time in prison the Muslim League cooperated with the British and demanded, against Gandhi’s will, a separate Muslim state of Pakistan.
After his release Gandhi tried to convince the League to recall the demand, but without success.
At the end of the World War II the British made their intentions of giving India independence clear. At this point Gandhi called off the “Quit India” -campaign and all the political prisoners were released.
On 3rd June 1947 the British government announced the independence and separation of India in two states: The mainly Hindu India and the mainly Muslim Pakistan. First there were East Pakistan and West Pakistan, both part of one nation. But after a war East Pakistan became the independent nation of Bangladesh.
Gandhi was always against the separation, because he wanted all the religions to get along living next to each other. After he realized that it wouldn’t happen, Gandhi wanted a fair separation of the treasury.
About half million people were killed, because everyone tried to move to the country with their religion and murdered in each case people from other religions on the way. Gandhi, horrified about the violent conflicts, announced that he would fast until death if these killings wouldn’t stop. Hindus and Muslims, afraid of him dying, confined the killing and decided to have peace temporarily.
On the 30th January 1948 the 78 year-old Gandhi was shot in public by the Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse. He planed the assassination ten days before. Godse was angry at Gandhi for weakening India by giving Pakistan a part of the treasury and for taking the side of the Muslims.
Gandhi’s ashes were spread in Ganges and his cenotaph Raj Ghat is placed in New-Delhi.
Being already in his lifetime worldwide famous, Gandhi was a role model for many people He was nominated for the noble peace prize several times. In the year of his death the prize wasn’t given out to honour him.
Gandhi inspired many famous personalities like Martin Luther King, who also reached his goals with non-violent actions. A quote Martin once stated was: “Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics.” Nelson Mandela was inspired by Gandhi as well. His methods were first non-violent like Gandhi’s, but only later did he change to weapons.
Even nowadays Gandhi gets prayed as the national hero. His birthday, the 2nd October, is a well-known Indian national holiday. And the day of his death is a day for the Indian citizens to remember him.
The Indian government awards the International Gandhi-Peace prize since 1995 for persons or organisations, whose engagement is completely non-violent.
His life was portrayed in a movie under the name “Gandhi” in the year 1982 by Richard Attenborough with Ben Kingsley as the leading role. It won 8 Oscars, including the Oscar for “best movie” and “best actor”.
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