Mahatma Gandhi 10/2
Mahatma Gandhi: A Century of Peaceful Protest
He's a huge box-office hit. He's at the top of the
Indian music charts. He's on the front cover of
magazines. One hundred years after Gandhi first called
on his compatriots to resist white colonial rule
without violence, he is back in fashion once more.
by Justin Huggler
http://www.commondr eams.org/ headlines06/ 0916-03.htm
Indians this week have been remembering the day which
changed the fate of their nation for decades to come.
A hundred years ago, on 11 September, 1906, a young
British-trained barrister named Mohandas Karamchand
Gandhi addressed a meeting of 3,000 Indians in the
Empire Theatre building in Johannesburg and asked them
to take an oath to resist white colonial rule without
violence. It was the birth of the modern non-violent
resistance movement- and it has not been forgotten.
Mahatma Gandhi (1931)
Suddenly the Mahatma is back in fashion in India. Two
years ago, it was unthinkable that the centenary of a
speech by Gandhi, seen as a relic of the past by most
young Indians, would be so much as noticed in a
country that was obsessed not with figures from its
past, but with its headlong rush to embrace modernity.
But today Gandhi has caught the Indian imagination all
over again. He appears as a character in the biggest
Bollywood hit of the summer - a comedy, but one that
even his admirers accept does not degrade his message.
His writings are bestsellers again. He is at the top
of India's music charts too, with a tape of his Hindu
devotional songs, or bhajans. A new Gandhi museum in
Delhi is opening its doors to 2,000 visitors a day.
His sayings are visible all over India's cities.
People are openly displaying them. The sunshades
across the rear windows of cars proclaim "There is no
way to peace; peace is the way". Young Indians are
wandering around in T-shirts that say "Be the change
you want to see in the world", complete with the image
of Gandhi's trademark circular-lensed spectacles.
Outlook magazine, India's answer to Time and Newsweek,
even featured Gandhi on its front cover this week -
which is more often adorned with besuited and
self-satisfied looking businessmen. The previous
week's cover, by comparison, showed high-flying
students at India's business schools leaping in the
Something remarkable is happening in India. Just as
the world is beginning to see the country as an
emerging economy obsessed with copying all things
Western, and ever more hooked on consumerism, India
has rediscovered another voice from its past, a voice
that spoke of a different vision for his country.
When I arrived in India two-and-a-half years ago, it
was very different. I tried to ask Indians at a dinner
party about Gandhi. "Oh, we don't think about him," I
was told. "He's just someone whose statues are around
the country and whose face is on the money." Not any
more. It's not just on the cinema screens and in the
CD shops that Mahatma Gandhi is back. Thousands of
young Indians are joining Gandhian youth
organisations, or flocking to summer camps at Gandhian
ashrams. Teenagers are volunteering to work in slums
and poor villages. Not just Gandhi's image, but his
principles and the way of life he taught are catching
on in India again.
Some are ascribing the sudden renewal of interest in
the Mahatma to the movie Lage Raho Munnabhai, or Carry
On Munnabhai (the British Carry On films are bizarrely
popular in India). The big Bollywood hit of the year,
the film depicts Munnabhai, a small-time Bombay
goonda, or gangster, and his attempts to win the heart
of a radio announcer. After he crams for a radio quiz
on Gandhi's life to impress her, the spirit of Gandhi
appears to Munnabhai and advises him on how to cope
with the obstacles in his life without violence.
The film has won universal praise for its success in
incorporating a completely uncompromised protrayal of
Gandhi and his teachings into a seriously funny
comedy. One reviewer described it as "something to
watch before you die".
But other observers say Carry On Munnabhai didn't
start the wave of new interest in Gandhi - it was part
of it. They say there have been signs of growing
interest in Gandhi for some years. Publishers have
been astonished to see translations of his books in
some of India's regional languages sell hundreds of
thousands of copies over the past five years. The
number of applications to Gandhi's estate for the
rights to publish his works has doubled in the past
The outside world never really lost interest in
Gandhi. The British may have mocked him in their
cinema newsreels during the early years of his
campaign for independence, but they soon learnt to
take him seriously. Such is the power of Gandhi's
message that, even from beyond the grave, he was able
to demand international respect for his country even
during the long years when it was an economic
basket-case, mired in hopeless poverty.
He inspired Martin Luther King in the American civil
rights movement, and Nelson Mandela in the struggle
against apartheid in South Africa. But in his own
country, Gandhi faded into the background. As the
English-language Mumbai daily DNA put it in a leader
this week, he became "a largely distant and overawing
figure" embedded in our collective consciousness but
in a non-relevant, non-immediate way. "Yes, we know he
is the father of the nation, we see his photographs on
rupee notes and we all remember getting a holiday on
his birthday, but what exactly did he say or do?" An
"open letter" to Gandhi in the Indian Express put it
bluntly: "To be honest we got too absorbed in our
progress and technology to miss you. Our children
never made any reference to you and we were too caught
up in ourselves to notice that they were growing up
without an idol."
But now Gandhi is back. As to why he has suddenly
returned to the popular consciousness, observers have
many answers. For some, it was about young Indians
disinterring the human Gandhi behind the image that
had been preserved in aspic by his followers, more
monument than man.
"Gandhi was ill-served by everyone, including the
Gandhians," Mushirul Hassan, a historian, told Outlook
magazine. "They deified him and buried him in
institutions. He was conveniently portrayed as a saint
so they wouldn't be threatened by his ideology." A
Annamalai, of the Gandhi Study Circle, one of more
than 150 Gandhi youth organisations in India, said:
"Young people may not be able to relate to a
dhoti-clad Gandhi. But tell them how he was a
millionaire London-returned barrister who threw away
everything to fight for justice and equality, and they
begin at once to appreciate him."
Suddenly Gandhi is an alternative voice in an India
that has become obsessed with material wealth and
advancement. "Corner offices are earned" say the
deeply dispiriting billboards above Delhi, next to
endless advertisements for mobile phones and cars that
95 per cent of Indians could never dream of affording.
For young people in a country that has become so
success-driven that sixth-form students who don't get
the right grades commit suicide, Gandhi's
anti-materialist message still has resonance.
The Rashtriya Suva Sanganathan, a national Gandhian
youth movement, has even gone so far as to get rid of
the traditional symbols of Gandhianism, the homespun
dhoti, or loincloth, and the spinning wheel. People
who see these as irrelevant are calling themselves new
Gandhians. As one, Leeladhar Manik Gada, puts it:
"What does it matter if a man wears pants, shirts,
uses a motorbike rather than walk, so long as he gets
the job done?" Others credit the new interest in
Gandhi to the appeal of satyagraha, the philososphy of
non-violent resistance he preached into a world that
is racked by violence.
Under the headline "Gandhi is not history", Vinoy Lal
wrote in The Hindu: "Many in Gandhi's own lifetime
doubted its efficacy. Many more have since claimed
that the unspeakable cruelties of the 20th century
render non-violent resistance an effete, if noble,
idea. [But] the advocates of non-violent resistance
who are dismissed as woolly-headed idealists should,
on the contrary, ask the proponents of violence to
demonstrate that violence can produce enduring good."
In its leader, DNA asked: "Will those non-violent
tactics work today, say with terrorists? We can't say
for sure. But knowing Gandhi, he certainly would have
given it a shot."
These are not just questions of far away places on
television screens for Indians. In the past 12 months,
India has suffered major bombings in Mumbai, Delhi,
and Hinduism's holiest city, Varanasi, in which scores
of people have died.
There is another possible explanation for Gandhi's
appeal: the rise of Hindu nationalism. In a country
that has been racked for the past decade and more by
communal violence between Hindus and Muslims, often
set off by far-right Hindu groups, Gandhi offers a
different vision of Hinduism. Only four years ago, in
Gandhi's home state, Gujarat, more than 2,000 people,
most of them Muslims, were massacred in Hindu-Muslim
riots. This week, the Bombay High Court has been
giving its verdict in the trials over the 1993 Bombay
bombings, in which more than 250 people died and which
were widely believed to be Muslim revenge for Hindu
atrocities in religious riots a year earlier.
On the back of this religious chauvinism, Hindu
nationalists are still in power in many states, and
make up the main opposition nationally.
In contrast to this stands Gandhi, who amid tensions
between Hindus and Muslims in his lifetime, told his
supporters: "I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am a
Christian, I am a Jew - and so are all of you." It is
hard to imagine Tony Blair having the moral courage to
stand up and say the same.
It is too early to say whether the renewal of Indian
interest in Gandhi will last, or whether it is just
this summer's fad, fuelled by a hit movie. But,
judging by the enormous sales of his books across
India, whatever big city society moves onto next, out
there in the vast hinterland of India that he loved,
Gandhi's message is getting out again.
When Gandhi summoned those 3,000 Indians to the Empire
Theatre, he started a movement that changed the world
without a shot being fired. Yet what sparked that
meeting is often forgotten: it was a move by South
Africa's colonial rulers to have all the Indians
fingerprinted, which was seen at the time as
tantamount to criminalising them. There is an irony
that, amid today's anti-terror legislation, it would
barely raise an eyebrow.
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http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/ Mahatma_Gandhi
http://www.time. com/time/ time100/leaders/ profile/gandhi. html
http://www.quotatio nspage.com/ quotes/Mahatma_ Gandhi/
http://www.sscnet. ucla.edu/ southasia/ History/Gandhi/ gandhi.html
http://www.mahatma. org.in/flash. html
http://www.lucidcaf e.com/library/ 95oct/mkgandhi. html
http://www.mkgandhi -sarvodaya. org/
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