Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Why was Mahatma Gandhi an important Hindu?

Mohandas Karmachand Gandhi (1869-1948) received the title Mahatma (“Great-Souled One”) because of his towering example of personal integrity and commitment to social justice. He was a nationalist in the sense that he sought Indian independence from British rule. But he also taught tolerance for religious diversity at a time when strident voices cried out for vengeance against members of other communities of faith. His “experiments with truth” (satyagraha, “truth-grasping”) led to his espousal of methods such as the quest for simple living and nonviolent resistance to oppression. On several occasions his willingness to fast nearly unto death called attention to the evils against which he fought. Gandhi spoke out often on behalf of the socially marginalized, the untouchables—the Lord’s Children, he called them—and women. Human dignity and equality were the goals he pursued within the context of a vibrant religious faith. Gandhi’s great-souled inclusiveness improved the lives of millions and eventually cost him his own. A militant Hindu, convinced that Gandhi was conceding far too much to the nation’s Muslims, shot him on January 30, 1948.


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