This is my response to Michele’s Soundtrack Tuesday question over on Songshine, where she asks us to:
Tell us something about a historical figure that you admire?
I had to scratch my head over this. To be honest, there aren’t many I admire. Or rather, there are lots that I admire, but just aspects of them. Lots of little tiny fragments.
I can’t help noticing the subject matter of the musical. Monarchs, I’m afraid, do nothing for me. To hold a particular position because of your lineage? Ugh. What little I achieved, I at least did so on my own merit, not that of my ancestors..
So any monarch is out, straight away. The only heads of state with any legitimacy are those who have been mandated by their peoples as the best person for the job.
No. It has to be a politician. Somebody who got/gets up in the morning and believes that they can make the world a better place for the rest of us. Okay, straight away, I’m on dodgy ground. Probably the most useful commodity we have today, is electricity, and we could therefore make a good case for people like Tesla, amongst others, who changed the world thanks to their pioneering work.
But I want to define it even more tightly. Somebody who said, “the world, as it stands, is wrong, and I want to do something about it to make it right”. Lots of people have attempted this, but very few have succeeded on any sort of a large scale.
One who did was Mohandas Gandhi. Everybody has heard of Gandhi, surely? He was an Indian lawyer, born during the Raj, in 1869. Having experienced British rule, his main dream was that India should govern itself.
Gandhi actually studied to become a lawyer in London. Newly qualified, he returned to India to start his own law firm. Which wasn’t successful. In fact, he was forced to take work in South Africa to make ends meet. He lived there for 21 years.
South Africa, at that time, was also a British colony, and, of course, practiced apartheid, and Gandhi was politicised by the experience, becoming involved in the non-violent civil rights protests for which he is most well-known.
He returned to India in 1915, aged 45, and involved himself in politics once more, organising peasants to fight against discrimination. He rose quickly through the ranks in national politics until becoming leader of the Indian National Congress party in 1921, and campaigned on issues such as reducing poverty – even remodelling himself to live a simpler life, so as to identify with the poor – women’s rights and, a big deal at the time, a pluralistic society in terms of religion.
All the right noises. It seems obvious to us, now, doesn’t it?
Not least, Gandhi campaigned for India to be independent, along pluralistic lines. But while the British finally accepted independence (a lot thanks to Gandhi), there were also loud voices calling for a Muslim “homeland”. Taking heed of these voices, Britain’s idea went along the lines of religious segregation, and so India was split into Hindu-dominated “India”, plus Muslim-dominated Pakistan.
In practise, this often meant pretty-much forced relocation. There was heightened tension and this often spilled over into religious violence. As a pluralist, Gandhi campaigned against the violence, but although a Hindu himself, often found himself more on the side of the Muslims than the Hindus. Indeed, he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist shortly after independence, in 1948.
Incidentally, you’ll often hear him referred to as Mahatma. This was just an honorary title, whose approximate traslation is venerable, which started being used about him as early as South Africa.