October 2nd is Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday and a national holiday in India. This year I had the honor of being in India on the special day known as Gandhi Jayanti. Unfortunately I was feeling under the weather (literally, the pollution was getting to me) but I celebrated it anyway by watching the movie Gandhi on cable television and by following the other celebrations throughout the city.
The India people call Gandhi Bapu, which means father in Hindi. He is considered the father of the nation, and for very good reason. Few people have had such a profound influence on a nation as Mahatma Gandhi has on India. He championed the resistance against Britain for independence and after decades of peaceful protests resulting in imprisonment, cruelty and genocide of the Indian people, the nation finally was granted independence on August 15th, 1947.
The Indian people pay homage to Gandhi in many different ways. Since Gandhi was cremated in Delhi, there is an annual celebration at the place of his memorial. There are many other ways that Indians pay tribute to this great man, including attending prayer services and other memorial ceremonies all over the country. Garlands of flowers are placed on the statues portraying him and many people fast and refrain from alcohol. I know it’s hard for Americans to think about a national holiday without booze, but it is a common practice in India. There are also exhibitions of art and science, along with many essay competitions, because he was a proponent of education.
Awards presentations take place on or around his birthday as well in order to promote and encourage non-violence. Gandhi stood for peace, if nothing else. He refused to resist with violence and instead encouraged social disobedience and protests, resulting in his imprisonment thirteen different times throughout the 78 years of his extraordinary life. In fact, the United Nations recognizes the International Day of Non-Violence on October 2nd. What a horrible twist of fate that he was shot dead suddenly and unprovoked by one of his only country men on January 30th, 1948. One of his best known sayings was “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind”. He was a visionary and inspiration, not only to India, but to the world.
A couple of his most well known movements for radical change involved cloth and salt, both supplied by the British government at the time. As an act of control the British government banned the supply of cloth in India in the late 1800s. Gandhi knew that something had to be done about it. He felt that the Indians would never achieve their independence until they were capable of making their own cloth and other important necessities. So he encouraged the Indian people to make their own clothes utilizing the traditional spinning wheels and looms of India. From then on the traditional hand spinning wheel became the symbol of Indian independence and freedom. Later he staged a march all the way to the ocean so that Indians could learn to make their own salt and no longer be reliant upon Britain for it. If you don’t know much about Gandhi, I encourage you to rent the movie which won several academy awards, or better yet, read his biography.