“In the history of India, there have been occasions when a cloud, no bigger than a man’s hand, has soon covered the whole sky,” so wrote Mahatma Gandhi in 1921. He himself poured life- giving water on a land thirsting for freedom.
In just four weeks in 1919, he changed the outlook of this subcontinent. He transformed the cowed and the weak into a nation which fearlessly asserted its right to be free. He gave his people a new weapon, which ultimately delivered them from colonial rule. This weapon was Satyagraha, civil disobedience or nonviolent non- cooperation. Literally, the word means “insistence on truth.” It was a weapon that did not need physical strength. But to be effective it did need the greatest self-discipline.
After Mahatma Gandhi conducted his first Satyagraha campaigns in the country, it took India thirty long years to wrest freedom. During this time we learnt the full meaning of freedom. He taught us that a people who permitted injustice and inequality in their own society did not deserve freedom and could not preserve it. Thus equality of opportunity, irrespective of birth, sex, or religion, became the objectives of our struggle for freedom.
These ideals have come down to us through the ages. Buddha, Ashoka and Akbar, to name only three of the many wise and great men who have molded our history. Mahatma Gandhi reinterpreted these old truths and applied them to our daily lives, and so made them comprehensible to the humblest of us. He forged them as instruments for a mass struggle for a peaceful political and social revolution. His stress was on reconciliation, whether amongst classes or amongst nations.
Mahatma Gandhi interpreted the yearnings of the inarticulate masses and spoke the words that they themselves were struggling to express. Wearing the loincloth, which was then all that the vast majority of our peasants could afford, he identified himself with the downtrodden and the poor. To those whom Indian society had regarded as untouchables, he gave the name “men of God,” and to the last days of his life he worked ceaselessly for their uplift and emancipation. During the communal riots, this frail and aged man walked amongst the people and, through sheer faith and force of spirit, achieved miracles of reconciliation, which peacekeeping armies could not have wrought. He met his martyrdom because he refused to compromise with hatred and intolerance.
Mahatma Gandhi relied on spiritual strength. He believed in limiting one’s wants and in working with one’s hands. He modeled his life according to the ancient Hindu book, the Bhagavad-Gita or “the Lord’s song,” but he drew inspiration also from Christianity and Islam. Indeed he thought that no man could follow his own religion truly unless he equally honored other religions. Long before him, in the third century B.C., the Emperor Ashoka had written, “In reverencing the faith of others, you will exalt your own faith and will get your own faith honored by others.”
Mahatma Gandhi called his life story “My Experiments with Truth.” His truth was neither exclusive nor dogmatic. As he once wrote, “There are many ways to truth, and each of us sees truth in fragment.” Thus, tolerance is essential to truth; violence is incompatible with it. Nor can peace come from violence. To him, ends and means were equally important. He believed that no worthy objective could be achieved through an unworthy instrument.
Mahatma Gandhi will be remembered as a prophet and a revolutionary. He stood for resistance nonviolent resistance to tyranny and social injustice. He asked us to apply a test, which I quote, “Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, recall the case of the poorest and weakest man who you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him control over his own life and destiny? Will it lead to SWARAJ that is self-government, for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then, you will find your doubts and self melting away.” This, test is valid for our times, indeed for all times, it is valid for India and for the world.
As long as there is oppression and degradation of the human spirit, people will seek guidance from him to assert their dignity. The weapon of nonviolent resistance which he has given mankind is today used in other lands and other climes. The world rightly regards Gandhi as the greatest Indian since the Buddha. Like the Buddha, he will continue to inspire mankind in its progress to a higher level of civilization. In India, it is our endeavor to build a future which is worthy of him.