Thursday, January 25, 2018

In Praise of a “Half-naked Fakir”

A tragic assassination occurred seventy years ago next week, on January 30, 1948. That was the day that Mahatma Gandhi was shot and killed by a right-wing advocate of Hindu nationalism. This article is written in praise of Gandhi, whom Winston Churchill called “seditious” and a “half-naked fakir.”
The Life of Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869. He came to be called Mahatma, which is not a name but rather a term of respect. (“Mahatma is Sanskrit for “Great Soul” and is similar to the English term “saint.”)
After studying law in England for three years, Gandhi returned to India in 1891 but then two years later went to South Africa where he lived and worked as a civil rights activist until 1914.
The first part of the movie “Gandhi” depicts his struggles for justice in South Africa. (My respect for Gandhi was so great that I went to a showing of the movie on its opening day in Japan, where I was living in 1983; it is still on my list of “top ten” movies.)
Following the end of World War I, Gandhi began to protest Great Britain's control of India. By 1920 he was the leader of the movement for Indian independence, which he finally saw come to fruition on August 15, 1947—just 5½ months before his assassination.
The Work of Gandhi
The lifework of Gandhi was multifaceted, but perhaps of greatest importance is his role in leading India’s struggle for independence from Great Britain.
In 1930 he launched a mass protest against the British salt tax, including civil disobedience activities such as leading the Salt March to the Arabian Sea where they could make their own salt by evaporating sea water.
That march galvanized opposition to Britain’s rule over India, and it resulted in Gandhi and some 60,000 others being arrested.
In 1931 Gandhi was released from imprisonment and allowed to attend the Round Table Conference on India in London as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress.
Earlier that year, Winston Churchill had referred to Gandhi as a seditious, half-naked fakir. (According to Merriam-Webster second definition, a fakir is “an itinerant Hindu ascetic.”
Upon his return to India, and after being jailed and released again, Gandhi continued his work as the leader of the independence movement based on his core value: satyagraha (truth-force), which basically means non-violent resistance toward that which was considered evil.
Here is a picture of Gandhi in 1946 at an All-India Congress committee meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the first Prime Minister of India the following year. 
Gandhi’s long, hard, non-violent work led to India gaining independence in 1947.
The Influence on and of Gandhi
Gandhi was a Hindu, and remained so throughout his lifetime, although generally there is little difference between being Indian and being Hindu. But he had great admiration for Jesus Christ and in many ways lived and acted like a follower of Jesus.

A Methodist missionary to India has shared (here) these words he heard Gandhi speak:

I have a great respect for Christianity. I often read the Sermon on the Mount and have gained much from it. I know of no one who has done more for humanity than Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity, but the trouble is with you Christians. You do not begin to live up to your own teachings.
As is widely known, Martin Luther King, Jr., was influenced by Gandhi and his practice of satyagraha.

There are many reasons to praise Gandhi, who, like King just 20 years later, was tragically assassinated in spite of his non-violent activities for truth and justice.


  1. Thinking Friend Dan O'Reagan in Louisiana wrote early this morning,

    "Hi, Leroy. Was Gandhi not the one who said, "I would be a Christian if I could see a Christian?' Was that after being denied entrance to a Christian church where he was told that they did not allow 'n------' in there?"

    Responding by email I said that I have heard/read various accounts of such an incident. However, I have been unable to find any first-hand sources about that -- so for that reason I used the quote in the article from the missionary to India who reported what he had heard Gandhi say.

    C.F. Andrews, a Christian missionary from Great Britain, tells about Gandhi being refused entrance to the church in South Africa where he (Andrews) was preaching in January 1913 (see "Routledge Revivals: Mahatma Gandhi's Ideas" 1929). He and Gandhi had a long, cordial relationship after that, and unless I missed it, Gandhi says nothing about that or any other bad church experience in his autobiography.

    If anyone can provide me with some primary source material (as opposed to sermon illustration material), I would appreciate it.

    1. I got curious, and nosed around the web to see what I could find. Some sources included a variation of the quote. However, one source that specifically addressed fake Gandhi quotes put this at number 5 on his list of 7. Personally, I was more sad to learn about number 6: "Interviewer: What do you think about Western Civilization? Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea." For the full list, check here:

  2. What an example of a Good&Decent human being was Gandhi!
    I actually cried when I recently watched a Movie about Gandhi and how he and others were treated by us `So-called Christians`.
    Hard to imagine that Any christian would prevent him from entering their church.
    I doubt that JESUS would be a Christian in today`s world of such poor examples of Christianity?

    1. "So-called Christians" seem to be of all stripes - about as diverse as Christendom is. There are a few who are very GOOD ambassadors, but they are very few. There are a few very BAD apples as well, but on the curve, they are very few as well. It seems to be them/us that have made the militant atheists who they are. This week I observed a couple of missionaries take the hit. And a few others joined the stone-throwers union. We/I MUST learn better the commandments - Love your neighbor, and Love one another.

      Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Please conform me into Your image (not a stone-thrower's image of You, from any stripe).

      Thank you, John.

  3. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your comments about Gandhi.

    "Ben Kingsley did an admirable job portraying Gandhi in what is great film, as you have said. Gandhi reminds us, echoing Jesus, that nonviolence must begin within each one of us before we can turn societies and governments away from violence.

    "One interesting perspective on Gandhi is found in Erik Erikson's 'Gandhi's Truth.' I read it a number of years ago; perhaps I should reread it."