Gandhi Jayanti, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi is celebrated on 2 October
Gandhi Jayanti, on October 2, is a special day on the Indian calendar because it’s the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation. He is often called “Bapu” lovingly. Everywhere, in all nook and corners of the country, you will find people celebrating the day in various ways. But it’s not just India, the day is celebrated almost everywhere in the world, even in places where there is no considerable Indian population. That’s because, Mahatma Gandhi is revered the world over.
He is considered as one of the tallest people to have ever walked the earth. On this day, world leaders pay respect to Gandhi, recognize his contributions to the Indian freedom struggle, and more importantly what he has taught us about peace and non-violence.
Many prominent world leaders, visionaries, and leading personalities such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, John Lennon, the US President Barack Obama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Steve Jobs, the Dalai Lama, former US Vice President and environmentalist Al Gore, Desmond Tutu, and many others have openly declared that they are inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophies and what he believed in. In a resolution passed on June 15th 2007 by The United Nations General Assembly, it was announced that October 2nd would be held as the “International Day of Non-Violence”.
Gandhiji is India’s “Father of the Nation”. He is highly revered not just in India, but across the world, even after almost 70 years of his death. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist shortly after Independence (on January 30th 1948). He was 78 years of age at that time.
More than a 100 countries have released stamps of Mohandas K Gandhi. This fact alone shows how the world views this great man. In fact, it has been said that Gandhiji’s political views, and philosophies, and the way he lead his own life and became an example for all, is probably more important and relevant now than it was at that time, because of growing tension between states, international terrorism, and general strife and stress in the lives of common people.
Naturally, the man’s birthday would be held across the world. In India it is celebrated as “Gandhi Jayanti”. Elsewhere, it is the “International Day of Non-Violence”. People from all communities, including some of the tallest world leaders, attend all kinds of programs on this day.
Gandhi – The Early Years
Mahatma Gandhi or Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Porbandar, in what was then Kathiawar Agency in the British Indian Empire. The city is in the Indian state of Gujarat now. The name “Mahatma” was given by Rabindranath Tagore. Mahatma stands for “Mahan Atma” or “Noble Soul”.
He was married off to Kasturbai Makhanji at the very young age of 13 years. That was in 1883. Five years later, Gandhi went to London to study law. The young law student tried his best to adapt to the customs of the new place, and even took dancing lessons.
It was in London that he began to study Hindu and Buddhist literature, inspired by members of the Theosophical Society. He joined the members in reading the Bhagavad Gita. Gandhi eventually returned to India in 1891 and started practicing law in Bombay (today’s Mumbai). But his practice never really took off as he was psychologically not ready to cross-question witnesses. He then went to Rajkot and started drafting petitions for litigants, making a modest living in the process. However soon enough, he accepted a contract for a year from a firm to go to the Colony of Natal in South Africa. The second phase of his life started here.
Gandhi in South Africa
He was just 24 when he arrived in this country as the legal representative of some rich Indian traders in Pretoria. He would also be hired later by some impoverished laborers who enjoyed extremely limited rights. He had not seen this before, and it exposed him to some real issues of the world. The man realized that the world was a much more complicated place. Gandhi went on to spend 21 years in the country, and it was here that he developed his ethics, views and political leadership skills.
He faced discrimination from whites, which were directed at all colored people. Gandhi was beaten up by a stagecoach driver because he refused to make room for a European passenger. He was not allowed to enter several hotels and clubs because of his skin color. Gandhi was also told to remove his turban by a magistrate in a Durban court. These were new experiences for the man.
He was even thrown off a train in Pietermaritzburg because he refused to move from the first-class. However he was allowed to get on the first-class the next day after protesting, and pointing out that he was a practicing lawyer. Interestingly, he believed at that time that the Indians in South Africa should be treated differently than native Africans. He also said once that “the white race of South Africa should be the predominating race”. However the term he spent in jail and the treatment he received there in the hands of whites changed him. He became more sensitive to the plight of the locals.
All these events proved to be a turning point in the young man’s life. This awakened him, and prompted him towards social activism. He realized the need to fight for social justice and started to question his place in society and even the British Empire itself. Gandhi was a changed man, not the same Mohandas of Porbandar or Rajkot, or even the young boy who had traveled to London as a student.
He stayed back in South Africa beyond the contract period to oppose a bill that denied Indians the right to vote. Gandhi asked the British Colonial Secretary for reconsideration. But the appeal was turned down. But Gandhi was able to draw attention to the grievances of the Indian community in South Africa.
The Transvaal government then asked in 1906 that all Indians should get themselves registered. A mass protest meeting was held in Johannesburg in response, and this is where Gandhi applied his philosophy of Satyagraha or nonviolent protest for the first time. He asked everybody to defy the law and suffer punishments for doing so. And the result of this was a seven-year struggle. Hundreds and thousands of Indians were jailed for refusing to register. Those who had already registered burned down their registration cards. The government was able to repress the protest, but there was a huge public outcry over the harsh treatments meted out to peaceful protesters. The government was forced to negotiate a compromise as a result. Gandhi knew his Satyagraha policy works.
He also established the “Tolstoy Farm” close to Johannesburg during his stay in the country. This is where Gandhi began to nurture his policy of peaceful resistance.
Gandhi in India and the Freedom Movement
Gandhi finally returned to India in 1915. But by then he already had an international reputation as a human right activist and a person seeking social justice. He joined the Indian National Congress. Gopal Krishna Gokhale took him under his wings and introduced him to Indian politics and issues. And by 1920, he had already taken over the leadership of Congress. Immediately, he started to escalate various demands steadily, and on January 26th 1930, the Indian National Congress declared independence. Of course, imperial England would have none of this.
In the first few years of Gandhi’s leadership, British India saw his involvement in, first, the Champaran agitation, and then the Khilafat movement, where he was able to broaden his base by including people from all the communities including the Muslim community as well. He was able to cause considerable disturbance through his peaceful methods in both these agitations. Through these methods, he was able to win considerable concessions from the authorities.
Then happened the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy, where according to the official records, 1200 people were injured and 370 died. This worked as a spark. There were nationwide protests. Gandhi ensured that most of them were peaceful. Gandhi then started focusing on achieving complete self-government or Swaraj. The constitution of Congress was changed with the goal of achieving Swaraj. The goal was expanded to include the policy of Swadeshi, or the boycott of goods made outside India, particularly in England. Khadi or homespun clothing was promoted. Gandhi asked everybody to spend some time daily spinning khadi to support the independence movement.
This was followed by the Salt Satyagraha movement and the famous Dandi March, where he walked for 388 kilometers from Ahmedabad to Dandi to make salt himself. The march was a protest against the salt tax levied on people. This unified the nation as thousands joined him in the march. Britain imprisoned more than 60,000 people, but the wave crossed the length and breadth of the country. It seriously affected British control over imperial India.
Gandhi, Partition, and India’s Independence
Perhaps the one failure in Gandhi’s life was his inability to stop the partition. He was personally against it. He wanted an agreement, under which Muslim League and Congress would work together to attain independence. There would be a plebiscite later. However Jinnah wanted “direct action”.
There was a lot of tension just after the end of World War II. The British economy was devastated. They had no money to govern India, and so decided to part ways. Riots broke out across the country between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, killing more than half a million people. Gandhi visited many riot-prone areas to stop the violence. But it didn’t help too much. He was naturally devastated. His non-violent ways failed in probably the most important situation India has ever been through.
Political Relevance and Global Impact of Gandhiji
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse on January 30th 1948. The world has been completely transformed in close to 70 years since then. We have seen rapid scientific and technological progress, industrial growth, the emergence of information technology, we have sent astronauts to the moon, and our satellites almost everywhere in our solar system, but the reality is that, the more it changes, the more it remains the same.
We are confronted with new challenges now, and they are no less apocalyptic than the ones we faced in the 20th Century. The Middle East is boiling. There is violence even against kids and women and ethnic cleansing in large parts of Africa, we have seen armed revolutions in East Europe, and political and economic strife in Latin America too. And what’s the biggest cause of worry is the emergence of non-state, non-military factors that are taking thousands of lives. Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Bosnia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Colombia, there is far too much violence everywhere you look.
Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence is far more relevant today than it was before. He was extremely active politically and brought about huge changes in spite of defying violence. Clearly, he was a man before his times. We can learn a lot from him.
This is what Gandhi can do
Winston Churchill was so exasperated with him that he wanted to know from General Smuts, the South African Prime Minister, why he did not assassinate this “half naked Fakir” in South Africa itself before he could threaten the British Empire in India. Smuts replied by saying that “while in prison, Gandhi made sandals for me with his own hands. I have worn these sandals for so many summers since then, even though I feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man”.
On a tour of Europe in 1931, political leaders of all class clamored for a meeting with Gandhiji to increase their own stature and gain acceptability. Mussolini was one of them. Gandhi met him but didn’t give him the political acceptability that he wanted.
He enjoyed considerable support in England too. Workers of the Lancashire Textile factories in Britain openly cheered him, while Gandhi explained why it was necessary for India to boycott foreign cloth, which included the cloth manufactured by them in Lancashire as well.
In recent times, the indigenous people of Bolivia have resorted to civil disobedience. They have blocked the government initiatives peacefully, with the result that successive governments have had to resign till the time the government of Evo Morales came to power. They could achieve political and economic justice through peaceful mass movement.
There are plenty more examples like this of Gandhian policies working so well.
Gandhi Jayanti around the World
Given the man, and the huge impact he have had to this day, it’s not surprising that Gandhi Jayanti is celebrated all over the world. This includes the UN too.
The United Nations has been running contests and publishing news articles since 2007. Gandhi Jayanti has been marked as the “International Day of Non-Violence” since 2007. There are seminars, deliberations, community lectures, and conferences on non-violence. Picture exhibitions are organized to highlight different social issues like illicit arms, dangers of drugs, child trafficking and such others. There are plenty of awareness campaigns as well. Ceremonies are held in public places for promoting peace and non-violence through speeches and street plays. Many famous people from civil society become a part of these events. People from different faiths attend prayer meetings.
The day is held at different schools and universities too in the US, UK, Canada, mainland Europe, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere. Many intuitions use this opportunity to educate with talks and lectures on relevant topics. Students in the University of Miami, USA, last year held the Gandhi Jayanti by making it a day of service. Students took time off from their busy schedules and decided to focus on giving back to the society for a change.
Of course it’s special if there are Indian students there because it’s an opportunity for them to connect with students from other countries. But often in many of these schools and universities, there is nobody from the Indian community as well. It does not matter as Gandhi is a true world figure.
Many world leaders do their bit too, including the US President Obama who has openly declared that he is greatly influenced by Gandhi. Heads of state of several other countries would attend seminars, make speeches, garland the statues of Gandhi, and hope and pray for world peace, equity and social justice.
Gandhi Jayanti in India
But of course nothing compares with the Gandhi Jayanti celebrations in India. October 2nd is one of the three official National Holidays in India declared by the NI Act. The other two are Independence Day on August 15th and Republic Day on January 26th. Gandhi Jayanti is held across the country, in all states and union territories. It’s a national holiday, and so, all schools, colleges, and offices (both government and private) are closed. However some of them would ask people to come and attend various events anyway.
It starts with tributes and prayer services at Raj Ghat, which is Gandhi’s memorial in India’s capital city, New Delhi. This is where Gandhi was cremated after his death. The Prime Minister of India, President, Vice President, Chief Justice, the Chief Minister of Delhi, and other union and Delhi government ministers would visit the memorial to show their respects. This is followed by common people from all walks of life throughout the day. Favorite songs, ‘bhajans’ and hymns of Gandhi (Raghupathi Raghava Rajaram, Vaishnava Jana Toh, and others) would be played. It is a very humbling experience. The government will often come out with special rupee notes and stamps to mark the occasion as well.
Similar functions would be held at venues marked as Gandhi memorial in many other state capitals where the Chief Ministers, Governors and council of ministers as well as senior officials would come to pray and show their respects. These programs, both at New Delhi, and the state capitals, are attended not just by the politicians, but people from all walks of life, including celebrities, common people and even kids. Schools would often organize educational trips to the Gandhi memorial for their students and teachers.
Many parents will also take their children to such programs and tell them about the freedom struggle in general, and Gandhi in particular. It’s an eye-opener for them. They learn about all the sacrifices made and the difficulties they faced to achieve freedom. They also learn about non-violence and equality.
Almost every Indian city and even many smaller towns too have statues of Mahatma Gandhi in prominent locations. Statues and pictures of the great man would be garlanded. You will see huge garlands on these statues on October 2nd. The Mahatma is so much respected that almost all Indian cities have roads named after him too. More often, you will find a Mahatama Gandhi Road (MG road) and Gandhi Nagar as well as Bapu Nagar in almost all the cities of India. And some cities like Kolkata have more than one important road named after him.
There are special exhibitions on the life of Gandhiji, his teachings, and also on India’s freedom movement. Many schools, colleges, clubs, socio-political institutions, and others would also organize essay and painting competitions on the theme of Gandhiji, non-violence, peace and independence. Organizers would play Gandhi’s favorite devotional songs in these places.
Both vernacular and English language newspapers bring out special supplements and center-spreads to mark the day almost every year. There are special pieces from the life and times of Gandhi, his impact on India and the world, and what he means to all of us now. And not just the print media, there would be events throughout the day on television too. This includes Gandhi’s famous quotes and speeches, visuals from the Dandi March, songs, and movie screenings on India’s freedom movement.
A few channels will of course play the renowned “Gandhi” movie of 1982 featuring Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. The movie was produced and directed by Richard Attenborough. Some other movies played on the day include Mother India, Lagaan, 1942, Kaalapani, Mangal Pandey: The Rising, and Veer Savarkar. There would be day-long programs on the radio too.
Gandhi Jayanti is certainly one of the most important days on the Indian calendar. It’s an important day on the world calendar too, because the importance of the man and his works cannot be limited within the country’s border. The day is not just a celebration of Gandhiji’s birthday. It is the right opportunity of making a new beginning. A beginning of non-violence and treating everybody in the same way, irrespective of community, caste and social position. Gandhi Jayanti is also about important lessons on India’s independence movement, the struggles, and sacrifices made by thousands of individuals to give us our freedom.