By John Dear When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, the world hailed him as one of the greatest spiritual leaders, not just of the century, but of all time. He was ranked not just with Thoreau, Tolstoy, and St. Francis, but with Buddha, Mohammed and even Jesus. “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth,” Albert Einstein wrote at the time.
Gandhi’s legacy includes not just the brilliantly waged struggle against institutionalized racism in South Africa, the independence movement of India, and a ground-breaking path of interreligious dialogue, but also boasts the first widespread application of nonviolence as the most powerful tool for positive social change. Gandhi’s nonviolence was not just political: It was rooted and grounded in the spiritual, which is why he exploded not just onto India’s political stage, but onto the world stage, and not just temporally, but for all times.
Gandhi was, first and foremost, a religious man in search of God. For more than fifty years, he pursued truth, proclaiming that the best way to discover truth was through the practice of active, faith-based nonviolence.
I discovered Gandhi when I was a Jesuit novice at the Jesuit novitiate in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. My friends and I were passionately interested in peace and justice issues, so we undertook a detailed study of Gandhi. We were amazed to learn that Gandhi professed fourteen vows, even as we were preparing to profess vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. I added a fourth vow--under Gandhi’s influence--a vow of nonviolence, as Gandhi had done in 1907. My friends and I undertook our own Gandhian experiments in truth and nonviolence, with prayer, discussions, fasting, and public witness, followed by serious reflection. My friends and I returned to Gandhi as a way to understand how best to respond to our own culture of violence.
Gandhi has helped me enormously over the years in my work for peace, interreligious dialogue, civil disobedience and opposition to nuclear weapons. When I was imprisoned for an anti-nuclear demonstration for eight months, I studied Gandhi again to see how he survived prison and promoted civil disobedience as a tool for social change. For more than two decades, I have read Gandhi’s writings and biographies to find clues about how to live humanly in our inhuman world. Gandhi’s answer is always the same: steadfast, persistent, dedicated, committed, patient, relentless, truthful, prayerful, loving, active nonviolence.
For example, a 21-year old British student activist named Ronald Duncan wrote a pamphlet about a labor strike he organized and mailed copies to over one hundred activists around the world. Only Gandhi replied, explaining that the means are the ends, and that all our organizing must be nonviolent to the core.
Duncan responded by asking Gandhi if he could someday come to India for a visit.Gandhi immediately sent a cable saying, “Meet me at Wardha on the 23rd.” With the fundraising support of friends, Duncan set off to India, arrived in the village of Wardha, and hired a taxi to the ashram. On the journey through the barren countryside, Gandhi appeared alone on the road He had walked three miles by himself to meet the young student Gandhi was in his late sixties at the time.
“As I was saying in my letter,” Gandhi said without missing a beat, “means must determine ends and indeed it’s questionable whether there is an end. The best we can do is to make sure of the method and examine our motives.”
They walked back, discussing nonviolence. There were no introductions or questions about the trip. Gandhi picked up as if they were old friends, engaged in passionate discussion. That’s Gandhi: single-minded devotion to nonviolence. Duncan was profoundly impressed.
According to all the accounts I have read, Gandhi had that effect on everyone. He kept trying to plumb the depths of nonviolence, beginning with his own heart and soul. Along the way, he unleashed a new method of social change, which he called “Satyagraha” (from the Sanskrit for truth force.) He led a movement against racial injustice in South Africa and then brought about a nonviolent revolution in India that secured independence from the British empire. His example and teachings inspire us to apply the same single-mindedness in our pursuit of an end to war, nuclear weapons, environmental destruction, violence, hunger, poverty and injustice, and the creation of a culture of peace, justice and nonviolence. In other words, he challenges us to become prophets and apostles of nonviolence.
Gandhi’s Life in South Africa
Gandhi experimented with his life as few others have. He strived to renounce every trace of selfishness and violence within himself in a relentless pursuit of truth. While he was plumbing his own depths of nonviolence, he realized that he also had to pursue the practice of nonviolence as widely as possible in the public sphere in the pursuit of peace and justice for the poor. He was at once a devoutly spiritual, religious person as well as an astute politician. He introduced an entirely new way to organize and run nations and to transform cultures of violence into cultures of nonviolence.
Gandhi’s transformation was a slow, painful process of daily renunciation, prayer, study and radical experimentation with his own life at great personal cost. He was born in a small seaside town in India on October 2, 1869 to a proud businessman and a devout mother who fasted regularly and prayed constantly. A shy boy, he was married at age 13 to a girl, Kasturbai, in a marriage arranged by their parents. At age 18, he was shipped off to law school in England, where at first he tried to become the perfect Westerner, even learning how to dance and play the violin When he returned to India in 1891, he was unable to find a job, so his relatives suggested he pursue an offer to practice law for the Indian community in South Africa. Desperate and excited, he boarded a ship to South Africa in 1893.
Fifty years later, a Christian minister asked Gandhi what the most transformative experience was in his life. Gandhi told the story of his first week in South Africa. He was traveling overnight by train to conduct a case in Pretoria. He was quietly reading in a first class compartment when a white conductor appeared at the door and ordered him to move immediately to a third class compartment, or be thrown off the train. Gandhi found himself face to face with institutionalized racism. He refused to budge, so they beat him up and threw him off the train. He sat all night in the freezing cold on the train platform in the middle of nowhere weighing his options. He could return to India, or he could join the handful of violent revolutionaries who seek change through bloodshed, or he could pursue a third path: peaceful, prayerful, public confrontation with legalized racism until everyone’s civil rights were honored.
“The train steamed away leaving me shivering in the cold,” Gandhi recalled. “The creative experience comes there. I was afraid for my very life. I entered the dark waiting-room. There was a white man in the room. I was afraid of him. What was my duty, I asked myself. Should I go back to India, or should I go forward, with God as my helper, and face whatever was in store for me? I decided to stay and suffer. My active nonviolence began from that date. And God put me through the test during that very journey. That was one of the richest experiences of my life.”
The next day, Gandhi began organizing key leaders within the Indian community to speak out publicly against segregation. When he turned twenty-five, he won the law case that had originally brought him to South Africa, and planned to return home to India. But the day of his departure, the South African government announced that Indians would no longer be allowed to vote. At the huge farewell party organized in his honor that night, Gandhi’s friends pleaded with him to stay and help them fight for their civil rights. He stayed in South Africa for twenty more years.
Indians in South Africa had been denied basic civil rights, including the right to vote. Gandhi organized widespread nonviolent resistance to these injustices. He defended hundreds of clients, wrote countless articles and press statements against these unjust laws, and spoke to any group that would listen. Then in 1906, the Transvaal South African government announced it was considering new legislation that would require every Indian to register with the government, be fingerprinted, and carry a certificate of registration at all times. The Indian community was stunned.
On September 11, 1906, Gandhi called a mass meeting in Johannesburg to protest the proposed legislation. Three thousand people filled the Empire theater. Gandhi was not sure what he would say, until one of the preliminary speakers made an offhand remark, announcing that he would resist these unjust laws “in the name of God” even if it meant his death. That was the answer. Gandhi stood up and declared that if everyone present took a vow of nonviolent resistance to these unjust laws, and remained faithful to their pledge and to God, even if they were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and killed, the struggle would be won. It was as simple as that. Their voluntary suffering would attract the sympathy of the world and melt the hearts of white South Africans. The audience was captivated. They rose as one and took a vow of nonviolent resistance to the proposed legislation. Within a matter of months, over 1,500 Indians were arrested and imprisoned for opposing the “pass laws.” Thus was born the Satyagraha movement. (Excerpts from Gandhi’s famous speech are located at the beginning of chapter 7.)
A short time later, in response to a letter Gandhi had written to him, Leo Tolstoy wrote to Gandhi that Gandhi was offering not just South Africa, but the whole world, a new way to fight injustice through the practice of loving resistance on a massive scale. Tolstoy had theorized and theologized about such a program, but Gandhi was living it. Gandhi wanted to find a word to describe this new method of opposing injustice, and so he organized a contest. Eventually, he coined the word himself, Satyagraha, or “truth force.” “Satyagraha means resisting untruth by truthful means,” Gandhi explained in a speech in 1911. “It can be offered at any place, at any time, and by any person, even though he may be in a minority of one. If one remains steadfast in it, in a spirit of dedication, it always brings success. Satyagraha knows neither frustration nor despair.”
When the Asiatic Registration act became law in July 1907, Gandhi officially launched the Satyagraha campaign. On January 10, 1908, Gandhi was arrested for the first time and the next day, he was sentenced to two months of hard labor in prison. It was his first prison term On August 16, 1908, Gandhi publicly called for the burning of registration certificates. Indians throughout South Africa were inspired by Gandhi and joined his campaign. “They will put us in prison, they will torture us, and they will kill us,” Gandhi told the Indian community, “but we will not fight back nor will we give in, and so, our victory is assured.” Thousands marched and went to jail and the oppressive white government was forced to back down. When Gandhi was arrested and imprisoned later that year, he studied Thoreau and drew the astonishing conclusion that, “The real road to happiness lies in going to jail and undergoing sufferings and privations there in the interest of one’s country and religion.”
In 1913, the South African government announced that only Christian marriages were valid, in a blatant attack on the Indian community, which was largely Hindu and Muslim. Gandhi organized new marches and demonstrations and Indians burned registration cards. As government repression intensified, Gandhi called upon Indians to accept whatever suffering they were forced to endure without flinching or retaliating. He held that the authorities, as well as the whole world, will eventually be forced to recognize the Indians’ human dignity and the truth of their cause and give them justice. As the jails filled up and the world denounced the racist repression, the government caved in to the growing pressure.
On November 6, 1913, Gandhi led 5,000 Indians, primarily mine workers, in an illegal march from Natal to Transvaal. He was arrested and imprisoned on November 11th and sentenced to three months hard labor. Like Nelson Mandela fifty years later, Gandhi spent those long prison days breaking rocks. But within months, the South African government gave in to the campaign, passed new legislation protecting the rights of all Indians, and set all the remaining political prisoners free. As the pass laws and other segregation laws were lifted and the prisoners released, the Indian community declared victory, not just for themselves, but for all South Africans.
Throughout their years in South Africa, Mohandas and Kasturbai raised four sons. One day, near the turn of the century, Gandhi visited a Trappist monastery outside of Johannesburg. He was so inspired by the life of intentional community, prayer, simplicity, and farming, that he considered forming his own religious community and farm. His reading of Ruskin’s classic work, Unto This Last, pushed him to do it. In 1904 Gandhi purchased one hundred acres near Durban and created the Phoenix Settlement, his first ashram.
In 1910, as the movement exploded and hundreds sought to join his farm, he bought 1,100 acres near Johannesburg and founded Tolstoy Farm, his second ashram, which became the center of the Satyagraha campaign and the support network for all political prisoners. Ashram community members grew their own food, built their own buildings, ran their own schools, pooled all their money, made their own clothes, prayed together, and shared everything in common. In an effort to be poor and simple, Gandhi walked nearly everywhere he went. For years, he walked nearly every day to Johannesburg--a twenty-one mile hike, one way. Gandhi also started a national weekly newspaper to mobilize and organize the Indian community in their struggle for justice.
Just as he arrived on South Africa’s political stage, Gandhi underwent a profound inner spiritual explosion. Gandhi studied Tolstoy, Thoreau, Emerson, the New Testament and the Bhagavad Gita. His reading of the religious scriptures, particularly of the Sermon on the Mount, deepened his convictions and gave him a moral and spiritual framework that determined the rest of his life. He committed his life “seeking God face to face.” In 1906, he professed lifelong vows of truth, nonviolence, celibacy, poverty and fearlessness.
Gandhi’s Struggle for India’s Independence
On July 18, 1914, after negotiating a breakthrough settlement with the government, Gandhi left South Africa for good. He embarked on a trip to England, and finally returned to India permanently on January 9, 1915, to a hero’s welcome. Under the guidance of G. K. Gokhale, a revered politician, Gandhi spent his first year back rediscovering his homeland by criss-crossing the country, learning its problems and listening to the poor. He reacquainted himself with India’s needs and potential and studied how he could apply the lessons of satyagraha learned in South Africa to India’s struggle for independence from Britain.
Gandhi set up another ashram, on the Sabarmati river near Ahmedabad, where he lived for the next sixteen years. Over 250 people eventually joined his community, which practiced the same austerity he originally witnessed at the Trappist monastery in South Africa. Each member professed 14 vows, including truth, nonviolence, celibacy, poverty, fearlessness, physical labor, tolerance of all religions, and making their own clothes. They prayed together, ate together, farmed the land, published newspapers, and prepared themselves to suffer and die in the nonviolent struggle for independence.
In 1917, a determined peasant from the other side of the country begged Gandhi to visit his desperately poor remote region (Champaran) and to help the starving peasants in their struggle against oppressive British landlords. Gandhi agreed, made the long journey by train, and quietly started gathering information about the specific injustices committed against the peasants. He expected to stay a month, but stayed nearly two years. One day, while he was riding along on an elephant, the British arrested him. Overnight, the news spread throughout the region that a holy man had been arrested while seeking their rights. Thousands of peasants gathered outside the courthouse to support Gandhi. He was immediately released, allowed to finish his study of illegal abuses against the farmworkers, and eventually, the Indian government passed a new agrarian reform law to protect disenfranchised farmworkers. Gandhi became the hope of the Indian people.
On March 18, 1919, Britain announced that the repressive measures it set up during World War I against the Indian independence movement, restricting basic civil rights, would continue, even though the war was over. The Rowlatt Acts suppressed freedom of speech, press and assembly, in an effort to crush the ever-growing dissent. Gandhi announced the next day that he had a dream in which the whole nation had gone on strike against British rule, and he invited the whole nation to consider making his dream a reality. On April 6th, in response to Gandhi’s call for a general hartal, a national day of prayer and fasting, virtually everyone stayed at home to pray and fast and India was shut down for a day. Millions marched in the street to the stunned shock and amazement of the British (and Gandhi). Suddenly, India was waking up. The British government responded by doing what empire’s do--repressing the movement, arresting its leaders, killing demonstrators. The following week, British soldiers massacred 379 peaceful protesters and wounded another 1,200 in the city of Amritsar.
In the months that followed, Gandhi prayerfully decided to make a complete break with the British empire and dedicated the rest of his life to achieving India’s independence through peaceful nonviolence. He called for massive “nonviolent non-cooperation with the British, until they peacefully realize they are masters in someone else’s house and leave.” In 1920, Gandhi persuaded the Indian National Congress to adopt the strategy of satyagraha to achieve freedom, and the movement officially began. From 1920 to 1921, Gandhi called for widespread civil disobedience against British rule, but after a handful of demonstrators brutally killed 21 police officers in Chauri Chauri, Gandhi suspended the movement, infuriating other protest leaders. For the rest of his life, Gandhi would wrestle with the movement, calling off every campaign at the slightest outbreak of violence. In the end, he regretted that the Indian people were never as committed to nonviolence as he wanted them to be.
By 1922, over 50,000 Indians were in prison for civil disobedience. When Gandhi called off the campaign, the British released all political prisoners, but then arrested Gandhi. On March 18, 1922, Gandhi was brought before a judge on the charge of sedition and invited to make a statement before he was sentenced. “Noncooperation with evil was as much a duty as cooperation with good,” Gandhi said, and since British rule over India was evil, he declared, he was guilty of nonviolent non-cooperation with it. Then he challenged the judge to give him the highest penalty possible or to resign and join the movement. Gandhi was sentenced to six years in prison, the maximum sentence.
For the next two years behind bars, Gandhi meditated, read hundreds of books, wrote countless letters, and worked on his spinning wheel each day. He also began writing his autobiography. Though the British government tried to silence Gandhi, his imprisonment only raised his stature in the hearts of all Indians, who now called him, “Mahatma,” meaning “Great Soul.”
Gandhi urged all those who risked arrest to embrace suffering with love, as the path to political and spiritual freedom. “We must widen the prison gates,” he wrote, “and we must enter them as a bridegroom enters the bride’s chamber. Freedom is to be wooed only inside prison walls and sometimes on the gallows, never in the council chambers, courts, or the schoolroom.”
On February 5, 1924, Gandhi was released from prison because of poor health. In the following years, while continuing his support for independence, he focused much of his time on reforming Indian life, to prepare India for the coming of independence. His top priority was Hindu-Muslim unity. At one point, he undertook a grueling 21 day fast for interreligious reconciliation and reformation, which inspired millions of Indians to relinquish past prejudices and pursue reconciliation. He called for the abolition of Hinduism’s lowest caste, the untouchables, the poorest of the poor, who were consigned from birth until death to clean toilets. He advocated daily use of the spinning wheel to make one’s own clothing, and a boycott against British clothing. He campaigned for the development of “constructive programs,” which would improve village life for ordinary, impoverished Indians. He toured the country, preaching nonviolence and inspiring millions of Indians to change their lives and their nation. Occasionally he met with the current British viceroy and would announce that the time had come from Britain to leave India. Hundreds of thousands of people would turn out to catch a glimpse of the Mahatma wherever he appeared. If the crowd was loud or unruly, he would sit in silence for hours, until everyone became perfectly still. Then, he would quietly depart.
On March 2, 1930, Gandhi wrote to the viceroy and announced that unless Britain lifted the unjust salt tax that deprived millions of salt, he would embark on a campaign of civil disobedience. On March 12, Gandhi set off on a 240 mile march to the sea town of Dandi.Thousands of people turned out to greet the marchers, surprising even Gandhi. Each day, the tension and excitement mounted. On April 6th, after his morning meditation, Gandhi bent down and picked up the illegal salt. The country exulted in jubilation. Hundreds of thousands of people began to pick up, make, sell and distribute salt, thus violating the British salt tax and declaring their independence. Gandhi’s simple gesture worked. It woke up the sleeping giant, and the days of British rule were numbered.
Within a month, the British arrested and imprisoned 60,000 protesters, including all the leaders of the movement. Gandhi himself was arrested on May 4th and imprisoned for eight months. On May 20th, two thousand satyagrahis marched to the Dharsana salt mines and approached the entrance in small groups in order to enter and demand their right to salt. As each group of Gandhian protesters approached, the British soldiers savagely beat them over the head with steel rods, seriously wounding hundreds and killing several of them. The world was horrified by reports of this vicious assault by the so-called “civilized” British empire upon unarmed, peaceful demonstrators who did not to lift a hand in self-defense. Thousands more joined the protest. The British were quickly losing control and becoming ever more repressive. Within the year, the British imprisoned more than 100,000 Indians for nonviolent protest. Millions of people around the world began to call for the British to leave India.
In March 1931, in response to mounting pressure, the British released all political prisoners, recognized the right to boycott foreign-made cloth, and lifted the ban on home-made salt. They then invited Gandhi to England for a “Round Table” conference to discuss possible independence for India. Gandhi went to London, where he stayed for four months with Muriel Lester at Kingsley Hall in the poor East End section. Though there was no immediate political outcome from his efforts, Gandhi was able to put the case for independence to millions of British citizens and Europeans. He won them over with his sincerity, charm and truth. Though many of his co-workers concluded that the conference was a failure, Gandhi felt that one should not refuse to meet with one’s enemies. One week after he returned to India, on January 4, 1932, the British outlawed the Congress party and imprisoned all its leaders, including Gandhi.
Gandhi continued to speak out for the abolition of the Hindu untouchable caste. On September 20, he began a “fast unto death” in his prison cell “for the removal of untouchability.” The country was shocked. His friends, particularly Nehru, said that untouchability had existed for thousands of years, and such a fast was suicidal. But Indians revered Gandhi and trusted his wisdom. Almost immediately, Hindu leaders around the country welcomed untouchables into their temples for the first time in thousands of years. In just days, Hinduism underwent breath-taking reforms as the faithful feared the death of their mahatma. After five days, Gandhi ended his fast. He would continue to advocate for the untouchables for the rest of his life, and Hinduism would never be the same.
Gandhi was released from prison in May, 1933. He and Kasturbai decided to move their home to the poorest region in India, the tiny, inaccessible village of Wardha, located directly in India’s center. Then, he embarked on a full-time, nationwide tour and campaign to reform Indian village life. For the next six years, Gandhi traveled the country, spoke to millions of people, fought poverty and illiteracy, urged use of the spinning wheel, and raised enormous amounts of money to support the untouchables, whom he now called “Harijans,” or “Children of God.” At several rallies, over two hundred thousand people turned up to watch Gandhi strike a match and burn huge mounds of British clothing.
Over the years, he built what he called a “model village,” or “Sevagram” meaning “Service Village,” in Wardha, which became his home for the rest of his life. He chose the location because of its extreme poverty and because this region was inhabited almost entirely by untouchables. He hoped it would be a place of solitude. Instead, it quickly became a pilgrimage site, and tens of thousands of people visited the village over the years. His home was a small, mud and bamboo hut which contained a spinning wheel, a straw mat, a low writing table and two shelves for a few books. He rose for prayer at 4:00 a.m. every morning, and ate only fruit, nuts and vegetables. As before, he and his friends made their own clothes, grew their own food, ran their own school, published their own newspapers, raised funds for the poorest of the poor, and shared everything in common. Once when he was beginning a prison term, he was told to list his occupation and wrote “farmer and weaver.” Though a lawyer, politician, and journalist, Gandhi saw himself as a simple, poor man of the people, living in solitude and poverty, devoted to his friends and the struggle for peace and justice.
As the world rushed again to war, Gandhi continued to advocate nonviolence and peaceful alternatives to war. When the war began in 1939, Gandhi broke down and wept. Though he opposed the Nazis, he also opposed warfare and spoke out against it everywhere, pleading for nonviolent resistance to Hitler. His was one of the few voices in the world against World War II. In 1940, Gandhi left the Congress party when they decided to support Britain in the war. He rejoined the following year after Churchill rejected the Congress’ party offer to help fight the Nazis. Gandhi announced repeatedly that if the Allies truly stood for the cause of democracy, they must immediately grant independence to India. His public stand against the war threatened Britain even more than his work for independence, and the British government, led by Churchill, hated Gandhi more than ever.
On August 8, 1942, Gandhi called for a new civil disobedience campaign against British rule The next day, the British arrested him and his wife. Riots broke out throughout the country. In early 1943, Gandhi undertook a 21 day fast against both British imperialism and Indian violence. He barely survived.
On February 22, 1944, Gandhi’s beloved wife Kasturbai died in his arms in prison, after a long illness. They had been married for sixty-two years Gandhi buried her ashes on the prison grounds. A few months before, Gandhi’s secretary, one of his closest friends, had also died in prison. That spring, after Gandhi contracted malaria and nearly died, the British released him--on May 6, 1944. Altogether, Gandhi was arrested on twelve occasions during his life and spent nearly six years behind bars (2,089 days in Indian prisons and 249 days in South African prisons.)
As the war came to an end and it became increasingly clear that the British would withdraw from India, Muslim politicians demanded that India be divided along religious lines to create East and West Pakistan. Hostility and riots between Hindus and Muslims broke out across the country. Gandhi decided to journey to one of the poorest outskirts of India, where the most brutal riots and massacres were occurring, in a living plea for unity and nonviolence. For nearly six months, Gandhi walked through Noakhali, one of the most inaccessible regions of India, made up of two and half million Muslims living and dying in desperate, absolute poverty Though he was relatively unknown in this remote province, where no one heard any news from the outside world, within weeks, the region celebrated the presence of a mahatma walking barefoot through their villages preaching nonviolence and religious unity. Gandhi would stay overnight with the first peasant who offered to take him in. Altogether, he visited 49 villages. He inspired the Muslims to welcome back the Hindus who had fled the region. Within a few months, the entire region was disarmed and at peace. Later, after his death, Gandhi’s associates described the months in Noakhali as the most miraculous period of Gandhi’s life. He walked unarmed as a pilgrim of peace into a chaotic warzone, an apostle of nonviolence in a land possessed by violence. Everyone was captivated by Gandhi. He was seventy-eight years old at the time.
As the war ended, the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, incinerating over one hundred forty thousand people in two brief flashes. Gandhi condemned the atomic bomb, and pleaded with the world powers not to use these weapons again. He was the most prominent religious voice in the world against the U.S. development of nuclear weapons. He pleaded with his own country never to manufacture or use such weapons. Until the very afternoon of his death, he said repeatedly that the possession of nuclear weapons risks the destruction of the planet. His plea for nuclear disarmament became his central spiritual message until his death.
After Churchill was defeated, the new British government decided to grant independence to India and accepted Muslim demands for the creation of the separate Muslim nations of Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). On August 15, 1947, independence was granted. Gandhi spent the day alone in solitude, prayer and fasting for unity and nonviolence. But as millions of Muslim refugees fled to the two Pakistans and millions of Hindus fled East and West Pakistan for India, the country exploded in violence. Hundreds of thousands of people were massacred within a few short months.
Gandhi searched for a way to stop the killing. He decided to move into a poor Muslim home in Calcutta, the scene of the worst violence, and declared a fast unto death until the violence stopped. Within 73 hours, Hindus and Muslims not only stopped the violence, but began to march and pray together by the thousands. As Gandhi approached death, Calcutta came to a standstill and everyone prayed for peace. Gandhi ended his fast. The violence had stopped because no one wanted him to suffer for what they were doing. Gandhi had performed another miracle. Nevertheless, during those terrible years, nearly one million Indians were killed as the country was divided.
Gandhi then moved to Delhi to try to stop the riots there. On January 13, 1948, Gandhi began another fast to the death. This was his eleventh public fast. Huge parades were organized and meetings between local politicians and religious leaders were held, and on the sixth day, fifty leading Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, signed a peace pledge in Gandhi’s presence. But Gandhi said this was not enough, and broke down sobbing. They insisted their commitment to Hindu-Muslim unity was sincere. As he listened to their pleas, he decided to end his fast. The next day, on January 20th, a bomb exploded while he was holding his outdoor evening prayer meeting. While many Muslims hated him as a Hindu leader, many Hindu fanatics hated him for defending and protecting Muslims. On January 29th, he said to a friend, “If someone were to end my life by putting a bullet through me, and I met his bullet without a groan and breathed my last taking God’s name, then alone would I have made good my claim.” Gandhi expected he would be killed.
Gandhi felt that he had failed to convince India that nonviolence was the only way to independence. The partition of the country, the massacres, the riots, the deep hatreds and the world war left him sad and depressed. Still, he continued his public work of disarmament, and planned to travel to Pakistan. On January 30, 1948, at 5:10 p.m., as he walked through the garden to his evening prayer service, Gandhi was shot and killed. He fell to the ground calling out God’s name.
“I have nothing new to teach the world,” Gandhi wrote shortly before his death. “Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could. In doing so, I have sometimes erred and learned by my errors. Life and its problems have thus become to me so many experiments in the practice of truth and nonviolence.”