MAHATMA GANDHI AND YOUTH (Gandhian Philosophy)

Deepti Menon
“A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.”

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2nd October 1869 in Porbandar, a normal young boy who did everything other young children did at that age. His parents taught by example, and he grew up in an atmosphere of religious tolerance which moulded his outlook towards the world. It was easy to see why he advocated ahimsa or nonviolence later in life as he faced a mighty adversary that looked upon him as a naked fakir.

After studying law in England from 1888 to 1891, he moved to South Africa in 1893 where he began working for an Indian firm. On one trip to Pretoria, where he was travelling by first class, he was accosted by a white man who objected to his being there because he was a non-white. Mohandas Gandhi was forcibly evicted from the train, his luggage thrown on the railway platform at Pietermaritzburg, an act that stirred the young lawyer’s heart in a way that would have repercussions for all times to come.

As he shivered in the cold of winter in the railway waiting room, his mind worked overtime. In the light of his own eviction, he recalled the inequities and racial imbalances so rampant, with people being discriminated on grounds of colour and race. That was the beginning of his own odyssey against discrimination of all kinds, an odyssey that would compel him to continue travel by trains back in India to show his solidarity with all those who were treated unfairly.

We had the good fortune to visit the little station of Pietermaritzburg which has grown in stature because of the incident that propelled Gandhi on his journey towards becoming the Mahatma. Ironically, on April 25th, 1997, a special ceremony was held by the then-President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, where the Freedom of Pietermaritzburg was conferred posthumously on Gandhiji. Mandela, a huge admirer of the Mahatma, obviously wanted to set right a century old wrong. He spoke movingly of the times when they had been incarcerated in prison together, recalling “Gandhi’s magnificent example of personal sacrifice and dedication in the face of oppression”.

It was Gopalkrishna Gandhi, India’s High Commissioner to South Africa, and the grandson of Gandhiji, who received the honour and spoke of how the Pietermaritzburg incident was akin to a second birth to his grandfather.

“When Gandhi was evicted from the train, an Indian visiting South Africa fell but when Gandhi rose, an Indian South African rose.”

Going back to 1906, after the Pietermaritzburg incident, Gandhiji worked on his concept of Satyagraha or non-violent resistance. When it worked in South Africa, it fuelled his desire to use it back home as well. India was then firmly under the British who treated Indians as second-class citizens. In 1915, he returned to India to become a champion for Indian Home Rule. By 1920, he was the tallest Indian leader commanding tremendous influence all around.

Gandhi and the Youth:

“If we are to reach real peace in this world, we shall begin with youth.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhiji knew the pulse of the nation as he was in the centre of a maelstrom that was moving towards the attainment of Poorna Swaraj or complete Independence. He had unflinching faith in the power of the youth of the country, their vibrancy, their boundless energy and their enthusiasm. He looked upon them as agents of social transformation. He desired their participation in various arenas that would do good to the nation, be it national, environmental, social, religious or individual. As he put it, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

National: Gandhiji emphasised on the need for the youth to display selfless devotion and love for their country, referring to the patriotism that is the bedrock of the nation’s foundation. He was confident that their enthusiasm and their energy would lead to a loyalty that would keep them tethered to their country.

Environmental: Gandhiji believed that peace, mental and physical, were vital in creating harmony in all walks of life. This would permeate to the highest levels, right from the individual to the social, communal, national and international. This involved natural resources which included forests, animals, minerals, soil and water. He was confident that the youth, if properly led, would ensure judicious utilisation and conservation of these vital resources, thus creating a world where these would be of use to mankind for longer periods of time.

Social: He urged that the youth stand strong and bring forth social reforms for the good of society. He emphasised on how they could condone regressive practices like Sati, Polygamy, Child Marriage, Untouchability, the Caste System and Exploitation, and work together to promote Non-Violence, Equality, Justice, Harmony and Co-operation in all spheres of life.

Religious: Gandhiji wanted the youth to steer clear of misinterpreting religion. All the religions – Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Jainism – preached peace and harmony and Gandhiji himself advocated Satyagraha or peaceful and non-violent resistance. He also disavowed untouchability that arose from an intolerant man-made caste system.

Individual: Gandhiji was an admirer of the Bhagwad Geeta and advocated the principles of Right Living, adherence to Truth and Holistic Excellence. It was his firm belief that the youth, if led well, would strive for excellence in all their pursuits in life. It was essential for them to use their energies usefully to attain long term happiness, and good will in society leading to the positive progress of society. Education that imparted knowledge allied with character building and true values was vital to this end.

Thus, Gandhiji was a seer who prophesied that only the youth of a nation could be the catalysts of change. He believed that “Responsibility will mellow and sober the youth and prepare them for the burden they must discharge.”


Mandela, Nelson. Righting a Wrong

Gandhi, Gopalkrishna. The Acceptance Speech. Mainstream (7 June 1997)

Bio: Deepti Menon has published eight books, starting with Arms and the Woman (Rupa Publishers). Deeparadhana of Poems was followed by The Shadow Trilogy - Shadow in the Mirror, Where Shadows Follow and Shadows Never Lie, and Classic Tales from The Panchatantra (all by Readomania). Her book ‘Defying Destiny: Nalini Chandran – A Life Sketch’ won the Salismania Best Novel of the Year for Non-Fiction in the year 2022.
Deepti’s latest book is titled Classic Tales from Shakespeare and has ten classic stories adapted from the original plays of the Bard.

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