Gandhi (3)

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” — Mahatma Gandhi


Wikipedia.  Public domain.

LIKE all great people, Mahatma Gandhi is someone whose life makes you think. And so, we will stop often as we read this story to think. It does not matter if you already know this story well. You can always learn something new, even from an old story. It does not matter if you agree with Gandhi or do not agree with him. It is important to not be afraid of different ideas. Every idea, even an idea we do not agree with, helps us think.                   

     His name when he was born was Mohandas Gandhi. His family was very rich. But, as you will see, great ideas (ideas that would help people live with dignity and respect) meant more to him than money. Perhaps that is why, much later in life, he was given the name Mahatma, “Great Soul”. 

     Gandhi’s family were Hindu. They were very devoted to their religion. But something very unusual happened in the temple where Gandhi’s family prayed and it affected Gandhi all his life. The priest in the temple read from both the Muslim holy book, the Koran and from the Hindu holy book, the Gita. The Hindu priest would read from one book and then the other as if he was reading from one book. The priest taught that people should love all words that honor God.

     Q. What affect do you think this priest had on Gandhi as a boy?

     When Gandhi was 13, his parents arranged his marriage [they chose for him the girl he must marry]. He married a young girl in his town who was also just 13 years old. They were very close to each other all their lives. They lived as husband and wife, but they were also closest friends.  

     Gandhi’s parents also decided what work he must do. They told him he must become a lawyer.  When he was 19 he went to London, England to study law. When he finished law school, he then went to South Africa to practice law there. It was in South Africa that, for the first time, he saw and learned the meaning of “injustice”. [The wrongs, or unfair things, one part of society do to another part of society.]  Gandhi experienced these injustices himself. 

     On the train ride through South Africa Gandhi was thrown off the train because he bought a ticket to sit in the first class section of the train. In South Africa, at that time, if you were not white, there were laws that said you must ride in the third class section of the train. This was Gandhi’s first experience in South Africa!

     Q. What do you think? Did Gandhi leave South Africa and go back home after this?  How do you think this train ride changed him?  How do you think it changed the way he thought?

     Gandhi stayed in South Africa.  He did not want to leave. He wanted to help the black people be free. While he was living in South Africa, he began to think about civil rights. [Rights that should belong to everyone in society.]  Gandhi was not a “passive” [not active] person. He did not believe that you should just allow people to do wrong. He did not ignore [try not to think about] the things that were wrong. But he was very clear about how you fight wrong. He said, “You must fight against anger, but not provoke it.” [provoke: to cause a reaction or make something grow worse.]  Later, when Gandhi became famous the world called him “the little man armed only with honesty”.

     Gandhi left South Africa and returned to India. In India he began to work for the country’s freedom from Great Britian. It took more than 20 years of very, very hard work to win freedom for his country. And it took thousands and thousands of small steps. But each small step took the people closer to their goal. Each step alone did not seem important. Many times Gandhi felt that he was failing [was not succeeding]. But all the steps together succeeded. Many times Gandhi was put in prison, was put to shame [made to feel very small or foolish], and was made to doubt himself.  To doubt yourself is the hardest thing of all. Gandhi did not succeed because he was rich or powerful. He succeeded because he did not quit, he did not stop working.  He used time, wisdom, and patience—not violence—to do what he knew was right.

     When, after more than 20 long years, India gained independence from Great Britain, there was a new fear: a fear that Hindus would hurt and persecute [do wrong to] Muslims. To this fear Gandhi answered, “Muslim and Hindu are the right eye and left eye of India! No one will be master, no one will be slave.  We will live as one nation. I am Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Jew!”

     Q. What did Gandhi mean when he said, “I am Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Jew!”

     Many times in his life Gandhi stopped eating when the people in his country were doing terrible things. This is called a “hunger strike”. He said he would not eat until the people acted like people and respected each other. The people did not want Gandhi to die and so they would stop their foolish acts and try to live better. 


Wikipedia.  Public domain.

      Near the end of his life, Gandhi again refused to eat. He was trying to bring an end to the fighting and violence between Muslims and Hindus.  At this time a Hindu man came to him crying and feeling hopeless.  He told Gandhi that he killed a Muslim child. Gandhi asked him why he did it. He said because a Muslim man had killed his son. Gandhi told him that to heal his soul [to feel peace inside], the Hindu man must find a boy whose parents had been killed. He told the man to raise the boy he found as his own son.  He told the Hindu man, “Make sure you find a Muslim boy and raise him as a Muslim! Then your soul will live again.”

     Gandhi truly believed that we must fight battles. But he said that “All our battles should be fought in our own hearts.”  It is the hardest place to fight a battle. And sometimes it is a battle that never ends.

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