Civil Rights Leader – Humanitarian
(une vie au service de la non-violence)
In India there is a social order called the caste* system. The order has existed for thousands of years in the country. The privileged are born into a high caste and the poorest are born into a low caste with little chance of ever advancing to a better state in life. The governmentabolished the caste system in the 1960's, but it still exists in practice today.
Mohandas Gandhi (mo HAHN dus GAHN de ) was born October 2, 1869 and belonged to the Bania caste. Some of the men in his family were prime ministers in the government.
The family was Hindu by religion, and Gandhi's mother was very religious, making vows and observing fasts * in which she would not eat for periods oftime.
He was a shy boy and did not do very well in school. Once, according to his autobiography, he misspelled the word "kettle" on a spelling test, and the teacher tried to get him to copy the word from a classmate, but he would not. He simply would not cheat.
He once read a book, a play about a boy named Shravana who cared so much for his blind parents he carried them in slings over hisshoulders. The story left such an impression on him he said to himself, "Here is an example for you to follow."
Later he would attend a play about a boy named Harishchandra who was very truthful. This also helped to form the person he would become.
Gandhi and his bride Kasturbai (kus TOOR bI) were married at age thirteen because the family had three boys yet unmarried, and they decided ifthey had a triple marriage ceremony they could get all three boys married to their brides and just have to plan one celebration. Because of their youth, Kasturbai still spent a lot of time at her parents' home.
Gandhi studied law at University College in London and became a barrister, a lawyer. He tried unsuccessfully to practice law in India, then he went to South Africa to work for a Britishfirm. It was there he experienced prejudice for the first time. As a member of a higher caste, he had always been treated with respect in India, but in South Africa they looked at his dark skin and treated him as an inferior. Even though he had a first-class train ticket, they would not let him sit in his assigned seat.
Due to this discrimination he became an advocate for the rights of allIndians. He had found his life's calling.
Though Gandhi was of the upper caste, he had felt compassion for the Untouchables*, the people of the lower caste. He had experienced their pain of discrimination. The Untouchables were so-called because people of the upper caste believed they were defiled and made unclean if a person of the lower class touched them.
In protest he did not fight, butrather resisted peacefully. He would use passive resistance to achieve his goals. He was put in prison many times because of his civil disobedience. He coined another word to describe his resistance. He called it Satyagraha (suh teYAH gruh huh), a word which means "truth + persistence". After the South African government recognized Indian marriages and no longer required a poll tax of the Indianpeople, Gandhi felt he had achieved his goals there and returned to his home country India after spending more than twenty years in South Africa.
The British had ruled India for two centuries. Gandhi set out to obtain freedom for the people of India. The citizens had been oppressed for too long. The cottage industries, businesses they ran in their homes, had disappeared. Gandhi said these ways ofmaking a living must be restored to the poor people. He urged non-violent resistance. Multitudes were arrested because they sat down and refused to move, work, or go to school.
In 1922 he was sentenced to six years in prison, but he became ill and was released after two years. While recovering from the attack of appendicitis he learned to use a spinning wheel, which was a symbol of the...