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Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India

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Born in 1869 near the Arabian Sea in the vast land mass encompassing multiple languages and cultures now known as India, it seemed as if Gandhi’s future would be mapped out by his family, as was customary then. He was betrothed by his family at age six to Kastur Makanji; they married when Gandhi was 13 and became parents as teenagers. To some extent, Gandhi broke free of the imposed constraints, traveling to England at age 19 to study law. He became a lawyer in Bombay, but in 1893 his lawyerly vocation took him to South Africa, where he would remain nearly full time until 1914.

Many other men and women born in India resided in South Africa, and those exiles often received second-class treatment from the reigning Caucasians of Afrikaner Dutch descent, the same ruling class that treated South African blacks as subhuman.

Nothing about Gandhi as a young Indian lawyer in South Africa immediately suggested he would become an apostle of passive resistance in a struggle to deliver de facto and de jure equality to the oppressed in either South Africa or India. Nor did anybody foresee that Gandhi – a husband of an arranged marriage who fathered four sons with his wife – would soon renounce sexual contact, meat and most other foods, and would begin what seems to have been a homoerotic relationship with Hermann Kallenbach, a Jewish architect transplanted from East Prussia to South Africa.

When Gandhi returned to India during 1915 to live the remainder of his years, he was already lionized and idolized by millions, and feared as a cryptic agent of change by millions more. Could his personal striving for purity and his intellectual underpinnings truly overcome the cruel caste (class) system stamped onto Indian culture? Could his tireless preaching halt hatred between Hindus and Muslims? Could he play a meaningful role in driving away the British colonizers so that Indians could rule India?

It seemed as if Gandhi had set himself up for failure, and that his followers would eventually feel disappointment when seemingly unattainable goals in fact had not been attained. The eventual partition of India as the nation states of Pakistan and Bangladesh became reality suggest that Gandhi failed spectacularly in the realpolitik realm.

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