Gandhi-Prophet of Satyagraha

An Acquaintance with the political saint, who brought down an empire by preaching brotherhood and non-violence, whose very name has become synonymous with non-violence and freedom, whose life volumes of books can’t do justice to, whose sacrifices rightly earned him the title of‘Father of the nation’-Mahatma Gandhi is more than an individual, he is a movement that still exists today in the hearts of people.

The honorific ‘Mahatma’ (Sanskrit: high-soul, venerable) employing non-violence Civil Disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. It is undoubtedly South Africa, which the whole world is indebted to, for providing the circumstances for the nurturing and the blossoming of a world figure who would change the contemporary world history in the years to come.

Advent of Gandhi in South Africa

His first challenging situation occurs in South Africa when he came with numerous dream of career shaping opportunity as barrister but incident like removal of turban in court room and clicked out of first class compartment by European made brain storming situation. These incidents played significant role for shaping his first experiment with civil resistance1.

He states that ‘I observed on the very first day that the European meted out most insulting treatment to Indian.I was pushed out of train by a police constable of Maritz burg, and the train having left, was sitting in the waiting room, shivering in the bitter cold. I did not know where my luggage was nor did dare to inquire of anybody, lest I might be insulted and assaulted once again. Sleep was out of question, doubt took possession of my mind. Late at night, I came to the conclusion that the run back to India would be cowardy. I must accomplish what I had undertaken ’.

His self actualisation compelled him to organised non-violent campaigns against racial segregation. To the Indian, he gave nation and to the world he gave the tool of resistance i.e. Satyagraha. He exemplified that political change could be affected by renouncing violence; that unjust laws could be defied peacefully and with a readiness to accept punishment; that soul-force as much as armed force, could bring down an empire. He drew his lesson from his reading of Bhagwat Gita, Bible and Tolstoy. He taught many political activists like Martin Luther King Jr.  and Nelson Mandela who would follow  his foot-step in upcoming years. In other words we can say, Gandhi’s greatest achievement lays in his legacy of his ideals2.

Gandhi and the tool of Satyagraha

Gandhi basedSatyagraha on the Vedantic ideal of self- realisation, ahimsa (nonviolence), vegetarianism, and universal love.The idea of satyagraha in South Africa played significant role in revoking the infinite potential of power such as inexhaustible patience, perseverance and perfection in the smallest of the small things of life. The Satyagraha, as Gandhi stressed was not aimed at any external agency or person but an effort of self-understanding and self actualisation.

  • William Borman states that the key to his satyagraha is rooted in the Hindu Upanishadic texts.
  • According to Indira Carr, Gandhi’s ideas on ahimsa and satyagraha were founded on the philosophical foundations of Advaita Vedanta.
  • Bruce Watson states that some of these ideas are found not only in traditions within Hinduism, but also in Jainism or Buddhism, particularly those about non-violence, vegetarianism and universal love, but Gandhi’s synthesis was to politicise these ideas.
  • Glyn Richards opines that the Gandhi’s concept of satya as a civil movement are best understood in the context of the Hindu terminology of Dharma and Zta.
  • Ginwala who opines that ‘Gandhi was the main spokesperson of Indian grievances, but he spoke for different groups on separateoccasionsandthereweremanygroupsandinterestforwhichhedidnotspeak’5. As Gandhi coined that, there was scope for inclusion of violence in the methodology of passive satyagraha, no matter how remote.Secondly, passivity may also come to imply being weak, being unable to steadfastly and resolutely resist the might of the oppressor. Hence, it may connote a helpless or even escapist measure by the weak that are unable to fight the strong with the weapon of non violent resistance6 .

The ethos of Satyagraha was quite the opposite because it perceived non-violence as a force greater than violence, and hence capable of fighting it effectively, and ultimately unarming it. Patient suffering was its driving force; one lets the oppressors use as much force and oppression as they can on the non-violent protestors, until a stage came when they can incur no more violence or oppression.Their capacity to be violent would exhaust, but the capacity of the protestors to endure it non-violently would not.Such valiant endurance and resistance, by no means, amounts to cowardice. This ideal also expounded that there is a direct relationship between the purity of the suffering and the extent of progress.It believes that the purer the suffering, the greater the material and spiritual progress.

Purposes of Satyagraha

1. It purifies the sufferer.

2. It intensifies favourable public opinion.

3. It makes a direct appeal to the soul of the oppressor.

Technique of Satyagraha

Gandhi advocated three types of technique of Satyagraha i.e. civil-disobedience, fasting and strike. Through Non-Cooperation, he wants to paralyse the tyrant government because he said that injustice prevails in the society only when both, the government perpetuates and the people extend their cooperation. On Civil Disobedience, He stated that it is method of violating the established order of the state in a non- violent and peaceful fashion. When it comes to the Hijrat, he opines that it is a protest against the oppressor. Meanwhile, he discovers another tool of nonviolence, i.e. fasting and strike that mobilised the strike demanding justice for legitimate cause as well as the Redressal of grievances.

What makes Gandhi a saint-cum-politician?

Gandhi’s message of peace and non-violence holds the key to human survival in the 21st century. He never fights for the revenge of wrong but for the freedom. His ideas of non-violence and civil disobedience attract common man to contribute in their capacity.He was the first person in modern history to realise that it is non- violence that is real symbol of masculinity.He advocated a willingness to sacrifice one’s life in the cause of truth, even if it meant losing to something that is pure evil. His leadership never inclined towards community but people and ideas of constructive politics of liberation against tyrant rule became effective policy in statecraft today. His candid gesture, made other leaders in public scrutiny7 .

According to Dennis Dalton, it was the ideas that were responsible for his wide following. Gandhi criticised Western civilisation as one driven by “brute force and immorality”, contrasting it with his categorisation of Indian civilisation as one driven by “soul force and morality”. Gandhi captured the imagination of the people of his heritage with his ideas about winning “hate with love”. These ideas are evidenced in his pamphlets from the 1890s, in South Africa, where too he was popular among the Indian indentured workers. After he returned to India, people flocked to him because he reflected their values.

He was popular among commons because of his soul, simplicity, humility and saintliness; he seemed a rishi (sage) of old who had stepped from the pages of an ancient epic to bring about the liberation of his countrymen. We can drawan ideas that how he become folk hero among commons.

According to Atlury Murali, Indian Congress in the 1920s appealed to Andhra Pradesh peasants by creating Telugu language plays that combined Indian mythology and legends, linked them to Gandhi’s ideas, and portrayed Gandhi as a messiah, a reincarnation of ancient and medieval Indian nationalist leaders and saints. The plays built support among peasants steeped in traditional Hindu culture, according to Murali, and this effort made Gandhi a folk heroin Telugu speaking villages, a sacred messiah-like figure.


Apart from all the criticism and appraisers but in reality, Gandhi’s visit to SouthAfrica transformed a shy and dreamer youth to mature idealist. From 1915, he becomes a source of inspiration to peace movements in the form of satyagraha. He branded as a skilled political mobiliser and evolved a political technique of superb flexibility. He defined from his leadership that what non-violence can do and how it affect the masses. For Example- In South Africa, he shows a mass struggle can doona large scale with the social and political application of non-violence. During the war of freedom, he used terminology and phrases such as Rama-rajya from Ramayana, Prahlada as a paradigmatic icon, and such cultural symbols as another facet of swaraj and satyagraha. These ideas sounded strange outside India, during his lifetime, but they readily and deeply resonated with the culture and historic values of his people. Hence, we can say, Gandhi’s true character and moral stature and saint-cum- politician were the outcomes of incident happen in SouthAfrica.



1. James K. Mathews, TheMatchlessWeapon:Satyagraha (Mumbai, Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan,1 989).

2. M.K. Gandhi, An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments withTruth(Ahmedabad, Navjivan PublishingHouse, 1927),

3. Fatima Meer,“The Making of the Mahatma:TheSouthAfricanExperience”in B.R.Nanda, ed.;MahatmaGandhi125 years(New Delhi,WileyEasternLtd., 1995)

4. T.G. Ramamurthi, Apartheid andIndianSouthAfrican(NewDelhi,ReliancePublishingHouse,1995),

5. Cited inibid.O.Ibid.

6. B.R. Nanda, In Search of Gandhi: Essays and Reflections(NewDelhi,OxfordUniversityPress,2002)

7. M.K. Gandhi, The Ashram, Sabarmati. Autobiography – the story of my experiments with truth, introduction.1983, Doverpublications,inc.

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