Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) was a genious, spiritual leader and humanitarian who introduced a concept of nonviolent civil disobedience to the political world. He was to become the leader of one of the century’s major advances in his struggle for Indian rights and independence (Ahmedabad 97).
Gandhi was born into a powerful family which belonged to the Hindu merchant caste Vaisya (Gandhi The End of an Empire). For several generations members of his family had served as Prime Ministers of Indian states. Gandhi’s parents were devoutly religious, part of a sect of Hinduism that worshipped Vishnu (one of the Gods of Hinduism) and promoted non-violence (Brown 382).
In 1888, at the age of 19, Gandhi traveled to England to become a Barrister-at-Law (Ibid 34). While in England, Gandhi was exposed to the western material style of life which he chose not to follow. Four years later Gandhi was sent to work for an Indian firm in Durban South Africa, which served to be one of the major turning points in his life. (Ramana 607) While in Durban Gandhi found himself being treated as a member of an inferior race, thus drawing him into the struggle for Indian freedom. While studying philosophy he came across “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau and John Ruskin’s plea to give up capitalism for farm life and traditional handicrafts (Sharpe 1979 43). These opinions stimulated Gandhi’s ideas for non-violent resistance.
The main principle behind all of Gandhi’s teachings is the concept of Satyagraha (Sharp 1973 76), or non-violence, the lens through which he viewed the world. Satya (truth) refers to love, and agraha (firmness) refers to force. This concept of non-violence was designed to secure social reform and human liberation without the use of violence (Shridharani 59). Satyagraha is an active theory that causes the oppressor to act violently, thus causing them to cogitate on their actions and reflect on their own ethical erosion (Ibid). Gandhi denounced violence when he said:
“Things undreamt of are daily being seen, the impossible is ever becoming possible. We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence.” (Gandhi 237)
Non-violence was not something to be tried and if found insufficient or unsuccessful, given up. The force of non-violence springs from the Satyagraha’s stubborn willingness to suffer—non-violence, which in itself, blunts the power that rushes from the oppressor’s gun. Being the absolute truth to Gandhi, Satyagrah was the fundamental concept behind every one of his social and economic theories. (Ramana 606)
In Gandhi’s struggle for India’s Economic freedom , he began the Sawaraj movement, Sanskrit for self-ruling (Ibid). The exploitation of Indians by the British had resulted in the poverty and destruction of Indian home industries. Gandhi attacked the poverty with an unusual weapon, the spinning wheel. He used the wheel as a token of the simple life he taught, and of the renewal of Indian industries (Gandhi The End of an Empire). Another way in which he attacked the economy was the Salt March which took place in 1934. Thousands of Indians followed Gandhi to the Arabian Sea where he taught them how to collect their own salt by evaporating the sea water (Ibid).
Gandhi was against capitalism, believing in economic equality. He believed that each village should be totally self-reliant, and that any surplus goods produced should be given as charity to villages in need. Gandhi emphasized agricultural, labor intensive production, meaning little use of machinery or technology (Sharpe 1979 46). Not agreeing with the concept of private property, Gandhi believed that land belonged to God, and was a gift of nature that could not be owned. For the above to work, people’s wants would have to be limited to basic material needs, allowing them to focus on improving their spiritual selves.(46-47)
In Gandhi’s ideal society, the State is unnecessary and unfavorable to humanity’s progression. In order for there to be a non-violent society, Gandhi equated the importance of political decentralization with economic decentralization. He believed that society should be organized in a way that man would be given maximum freedom and the opportunity to develop both character and personality (Ahmedabad 37).
Gandhi also attacked parts of the caste