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Mahatma Ghandi: Quiet Strength

“Strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from an indomitable will.” 

Mahatma Gandhi was the leader of the Indian independence movement, famed for his use of non-violent passive resistance to gain India’s freedom from British rule. He dedicated his life to the pursuit of civil rights and freedom for all around the world, and his teachings inspired many political leaders to come, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. The story of his personal struggles and experiences in his early life not only help to uncover the true strength of his character, they also demonstrate the truth behind his words when he said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from an indomitable will.”

London Bound

In 1888, at the age of 18, Gandhi set sail from India to study law in England. It was hoped that he would one day step into his father’s role as diwan (chief minister) of Porbandar state and a Brahmin priest advised his family that qualifying as a London barrister would help him to succeed in securing this position.

It would be 1891 before Gandhi returned to India, but his planned law practice in Bombay failed due to his difficulty with cross-examining witnesses. In 1893, he took a new post with an Indian company based in South Africa, also under British rule, in which he would work as a legal representative for Muslim Indian Traders. His contract was for one year, but Gandhi remained in South Africa for 21 years.

Discrimination

Gandhi was employed as a lawyer by wealthy Muslims and he also represented Hindu laborers with very few rights. The discrimination faced by Indians and all people of color in South Africa was something he was to experience first-hand, being physically removed from a bus after he refused to vacate his first-class seat. He was then beaten by a bus driver after refusing to give up his seat to a European passenger; prevented from entering several hotels, and kicked into the street by a police officer upholding the South African law that Indians had no right to walk on footpaths.

Witnessing the injustice, prejudice and racism facing Indians in South Africa led to Gandhi seriously questioning the place and standing of his people in the British Empire, proving to be a turning point in his life and the beginnings of his social activism – Gandhi’s will to change the world was on its way to becoming indomitable.

The Boer War

In 1900, Gandhi raised a group of over one thousand Hindu volunteers to aid the British in the Boer War as stretcher-bearers. They were medically certified and trained for front line duties, something Gandhi had been determined to achieve in response to the British belief that Hindus were not suited to physical, dangerous or “manly” tasks. As auxiliaries to a European (white) ambulance corps, Gandhi’s stretcher-bearers proved themselves when they carried wounded soldiers for many miles on foot across terrain that was unsuitable for ambulances, a feat the European volunteers were unable to match due to the heat and lack of food and water.

For their courage, Gandhi and 37 Indian volunteer stretcher-bearers received the Queen’s South Africa Medal. His life-long devotion to ending the “deep disease of color prejudice” and his will to endure whatever hardships this would bring was now indomitable.

Independence

Gandhi returned to India in 1915, but by 1919 he found he was no longer willing to pledge allegiance to the British government after the massacre of 400 unarmed, peaceful protestors, and he returned the medals awarded to him in South Africa. His struggle to achieve independence for India through non-violent civil disobedience would continue until 1947, a time through which he endured imprisonment on more than one occasion and undertook many fasts in protest.

Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” and he was. While we may not face the challenges faced by Gandhi in our daily lives at the office, we’d all do well to remember that the changes we want to see in our environment and the people around us must first of all come from us – and our will to be the change we want to see in the world around us must be indomitable.