Mohandas K. Ghandi, through relentless political pressure and non-violent marches was able to topple a British dynasty that had ruled his beloved country of India for almost 100 years, and he accomplished this historical feat through routine fasting, prayer and political agitation. The British in 1947 eventually conceded control of India back to the Indian people, an act which would also subsequently give birth to their primarily Muslim neighbor, Pakistan. Ghandi was very instrumental in the formation of India’s first post- English ruled government and fought diligently to prevent the secession of Pakistan.
His movement, which he coined Satayagraha, was founded on the principles of utilizing a strong spiritual foundation in conjunction with orchestrated political demonstrations, designed to arouse their colonial overseers and also to awaken the passion of his people in their quest for true freedom. Under the British rule, Indian citizens were denied basic rights, such as equal access to education, inadequate sanitation, discrimination within the legal system and restrictions on purchasing of real estate.
Through a series of calculated protests, Ghandi was able to utilize peaceful resistance as a weapon against British colonization. In 1930, he marched to the beaches of the Dandi Sea, followed by tens of thousands of Indians. The march received worldwide news coverage and would become a turning point in India’s relations with England. Thousands of Indians were beaten and arrested for their participation in the Salt March and as a result, Ghandi became a central figure in India’s quest for emancipation.
Following this march, Ghandi was arrested and incarcerated several times, and on each occasion encouraged the British controlled court to give him the maximum sentence possible. His brazenness and disregard of incarceration, ruffled the court and subsequently empowered Ghandi and his movement, by demonstrating to his followers that incarceration could be used as a tool to further their struggle.
This type of civil disobedience would be replicated in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, led by the Honorable Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and also by Cesar Chavez and again in 1989, in the Tiananmen Square revolt in China. Each of these movements were designed to demonstrate to the world the vagaries of their oppression and injustices. MLK knew that by encouraging young blacks in the South to peacefully resist and march against their Southern persecutors, that the reaction would be nationally televised and the whole world would begin to pay attention to the struggles of disenfranchised African-Americans, once they saw the brutal attacks against young black students by the police. Both MLK and Cesar Chavez were students of Ghandi’s non-violence movement and implemented many of his strategies in their struggle.
MLK kept a portrait of Ghandi in his office as a reminder of the power of peace. MLK, much like Ghandi would lead his people into a new promise land of opportunity and equality. Each willing to pay the ultimate price for their humanitarian efforts.
Perhaps Ghandi’s greatest weakness was his belief that all men could be persuaded to seek spiritual solutions with regard to world affairs. Ghandi wrote to Adolf Hitler in 1939 and encouraged him to reconsider his brutal war campaign. Hitler replied that the English should kill Ghandi and if they couldn’t kill him, they should execute all of his followers, as a means of crushing their hopes for independence. Clearly, Hitler was undeterred by Ghandi’s attempt to intervene in his efforts to control Europe.
However, I’m convinced that Ghandi was able to dismantle the British dynasty’s influence over his country through an unshakeable belief that through fasting, prayer and meditation — no obstacle would be too great, nor too insurmountable. His life story has had a tremendous impact on my life, never before had I studied a man whose complete and singular focus on spiritual enlightenment would manifest as a peaceful weapon that would bring freedom to millions of Indian people.
After reading Ghandi’s biography in 2003, I became a vegetarian, eschewing all forms of meat and meat products. Since then, I have reincorporated fish into my diet and occasionally I enjoy dairy products. This regimen serves as a reminder of man’s conquest over his diet, and that through submission of your appetite and your ego, you can gain the kind of strength that could bring down an empire.
“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” -Ghandi