New Humanist

M. K. Gandhi

“Non violence is the greatest power available to humanity.”

Gandhi was born in India in 1869 He moved to London in 1888 to get his law degree. His interests brought him to study religious texts. He discovered Tolstoy’s thought and was especially struck by The Reign of God Is Within You, which he defined as one of the few works capable of immediately transforming someone.

In 1893 he went to the South African Union for work. In South Africa power lay in the hands of a minority of whites, and there was a regime of absolute apartheid which discriminated not only against the natives, but also a small community of Indians. This is where Gandhi, faced with racial segregation and suffering from various offences, started his social work. The Indian community (about 5000 Indians) was forced to face all kinds of injustice: persecutions, disproportionate taxes, restrictions of personal freedom. Gandhi became the leader of this community and in the beginning his battles were based on petitions, reprimands, publications and letters. However, with the worsening of events, he matured and deepened his ideas and fighting methods. In 1906 a new law forced Asians to wear ID, have their fingerprints taken, and submit to a series of humiliations. Gandhi launched a campaign of civil disobedience and Indians refused to register. The prisons became full, and Gandhi himself had his first experience in what he called “Her Majesty’s hotels”. In 1913 most of the discriminatory laws were repealed and Gandhi won his first great victory, showing the efficacy of non-violence.

In 1914 he returned to India, where he had in the meantime become famous. India was a very important British colony. It was militarily, politically and economically subjected. The British exploited India’s natural resources, making great profits, but the country remained poor. Discontent was widespread throughout the country and the Indian Congress had no political power of any kind. Thanks to Gandhi’s leadership, the Congress acquired a different role in what became the process of Indian independence: the Muslim component became a part of it, and most importantly, it changed from an elitist movement to a mass movement. Non violent campaigns launched by Gandhi (which he called Satyagraha that is the force of truth) were supported in the whole country: disobedience to unjust laws, demonstrations, and especially non-collaboration with the English government. Government schools were emptied, conflicts were solved outside the courts, whoever had administrative jobs left them, English products underwent a boycott. Old Indian looms were dusted off to produce clothing, and thus, by not buying from the English, the colonizers were hit where it was most important to them: the economy.

According to Gandhi, non violence: does not mean docile submission to the will of the evil, but it means the use of all of the soul’s powers against the will of the tyrant. Non violence is not an excuse for the coward, but is the supreme virtue of the brave. The practice of non-violence needs much more courage than the practice of arms. …Vengeance is a symbol of weakness as well… A dog barks and bites when it is scared. A man who is afraid of no one in the world deems it useless to even get angry with those who try, in vain, to offend him. I consider myself a soldier, but a soldier of peace. I’m aware of the value of discipline and truth. The battle ensured with the boycott of salt imported from England: Gandhi taught his people how to extract it from the sea. However, the path was not straight. There was great violence by the English who in a sadly famous episode shot on the pacific and defenseless crowds; and there was violence by the marchers, which made Gandhi stop the Satyagraha and later restart the fight. In general the English responded with a succession of concessions and repression. According to Gandhi, non violence was much more than a form of battle, or a means to reach political ends. Non violence is battle against injustice, affirmation of love for others, search for the Truth.”A long experience has convinced me that there is no other God than Truth…The small and flighty sparks of Truth which I was able to gather could hardly give the idea of Truth’s splendor, a million times more intense than that of the sun we see every day with our own eyes. In reality, what I have gathered is simply the lightest ray in that powerful blaze. However, based on all of my experience I can say with conviction that a perfect vision of the truth can only derive from a complete realization of ahimsa, of non violence”.

This difficult path brought India, at the end of the Second World War, to independence. It was not the independence which Gandhi dreamed of: the country divided itself into the Indian Union, with a Hindu majority, and Pakistan, with a Muslim majority. In precisely this atmosphere of religious violence, Gandhi was killed by a Hindu extremist in 1948. However, he had already shown the world the great power of Ahimsa, the great power of non violent struggle.

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