Today we visited Mani Bhavan, the home that was Mohandas Gandhi’s headquarters and residence during the time he spent in Mumbai. It contains a large library for research into his life and philosophy, photographs, letters, tableau art pieces depicting scenes from his life, and a preserved room in which Gandhi slept. Most Americans know Gandhi as that Indian man with the white cloth around his waist (dhoti) and of his belief in nonviolent and ascetic methods to achieving his ends related to India’s independence, and perhaps of how he inspired the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. Many have heard that he urged people to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Few know the extent of his efforts: how he often fasted, how he was often arrested, how he brought peace into divided societies, and his central role in lifting the “untouchable” Dalit caste from their sub-human status.
Born to a Hindu family in Gujarat, India, Gandhi was expected to take over his father’s government job. He trained in London to become a barrister and it was there that he became interested in religious thought and spirituality. After completing his studies, he ended up in South Africa, defending Indians who lived there. During the more than two decades that he lived there his mind was opened to the unfairness of discrimination and the necessity of drastic, though nonviolent means in which to correct inequitable social structures.
Gandhi campaigned against child marriage, a practice which he was a victim of, having married his lifelong companion, Kasturba, when they were both young teenagers. He spoke in favor of the rights of women, opposing the practices of sati (widow burning) and purdah (female seclusion). He brought peace to places where Hindus and Muslims were at odds. He called for an end to the horrible treatment of those in the “untouchable” caste, whom he called Harijans, or “children of God.” He led the Salt March movement. He fought to keep India one country rather than dividing it between Indian and Pakistan. He did these things with the simple but powerful tools of nonviolent words and actions. The whole country paid attention to him and his assassination brought on national mourning. His birthday is celebrated in India today with a national holiday known as Gandhi Jayanti.
Gandhi’s opinions often differed from other Indian leaders and even from those of his close friends and family. Some of those ideas are what made him such a revolutionary and beloved figure, and others draw criticism against him even today. But the lasting impact he made during his life and the wisdom he imparted to future generations makes him one of the most important and illustrious luminaries of all time.
I will leave you with some great Gandhi-isms:
- “Ahimsa is the highest ideal.” (Ahimsa means nonviolence.)
- “Freedom is like a birth.”
- “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
- “Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of an ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
This last quote is important to keep in mind as I encounter some of the worst of India, because it serves as a reminder that the bad doesn’t negate all the good to be found.