Saturday, October 02, 2010

In Memoriam: Mahatma Gandhi

Today is known as Gandhi Jayanti in India, a cause for both celebration and prayer on the occasion of the birthday of Mohandas K. Gandhi, more commonly known as Mahatma (which means Great Soul). It's a national holiday there, and it's no coincidence the United Nations chose the date to serve as the International Day of Non-Violence in June 2007, making this the observation of that day as well.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe Father of the Nation espoused a philosophy he called Satyagraha which advocated the use of civil disobedience in place of violence; in 1930 he led the Dandi Salt March in opposition to British taxation, and in 1941 he founded the Quit India movement. He was also passionate when it came to abolishing India's caste system by uplifting the so-called Dalits; his mentorship of a young Jawaharlal Nehru alienated the younger man from his upper-caste Kashmiri Saraswat Brahmin family, but also virtually assured Gandhi's protege leadership of the newly created India in August 1947.

As with so many other people who have advocated non-violence, the utterly peaceful Gandhi met his end at the hands of an assassin, Nathuram Godse (an activist with Hindu Mahasabha) in January 1948. It had been the fifth such attack on the life of Gandhi.

Although Gandhi was opposed to the death penalty, and would have been opposed to it even in the case of his own assassin, Godse was executed at Ambala Jail alongside co-conspirator Narayan Apte in November 1949, having consistently pleaded guilty and confessed to having committed the crime. The only reason he gave is that Gandhi's tolerance towards Sikhs and Muslims had enraged him - all of which only served to illustrate Gandhi's point that violence (whether committed by individuals or by the state) only begets more violence.
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