What Martin Luther learned from Mahatma Gandhi

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HERE are more than two dozen statues of Mahatma Gandhi in the United States of America besides over a dozen major societies and associations related to Gandhiji in the country, which he never visited.

“Outside India, the US has the largest number of statues, memorials and busts of Mahatma Gandhi,” eminent Indian American Subhash Razdan, chairman of Atlanta-based The Gandhi Foundation of USA, told PTI in an interview, adding that Gandhiji has a large following in the USA. He said that the following and respect comes from the fact that the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr was inspired by the teachings and philosophy of the Mahatma.

Mahatma Gandhi, according to Martin Luther King, was probably the first person to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.

Love for Gandhi—King writes in “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”, a chapter in his autobiographical account, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story —was a potent instrument for collective transformation.

King described his book as “the chronicle of fifty thousand Negroes who took to heart the principles of nonviolence, who learned to fight for their rights with the weapon of love, and who, in the process, acquired a new estimate of their own human worth.”

Describing his understanding of the nonviolence, which seeks to win an opponent to friendship, rather than to humiliate or defeat him, King writes that he discovered the method for social reform in Gandhian principles. “The intellectual and moral satisfaction that failed to gain from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, the social contracts theory of Hobbes, the ‘Back to nature’ optimism of Rousseau, and the superman philosophy of Nietzsche, I found in the nonviolent resistance philosophy of Gandhi. I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people m their struggle for freedom.”

Maintaining that Gandhi convinced him that true pacifism is not non-resistance to evil but nonviolent resistance to evil, he says, “American Negroes must come to the point where they can say to their white brothers, paraphrasing the words of Gandhi ‘We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. We will not hate you, but we cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities and drag us out on some wayside road, beating us and leaving us half dead, and we will still love you. But we will soon wear you down by our capacity to suffer. And in winning our freedom we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process.’”

“Fortunately, however, the success of this method is not dependent on its unanimous acceptance.  A few Negroes in every community, committed to the nonviolent way, can persuade hundreds of others to use nonviolence as a technique and serve as the moral force to awaken the slumbering national conscience.”

Taking a cue from India’s independence movement under the leadership of Gandhiji, he tells those fighting for civil rights in America at that time, “Mahatma Gandhi never had more than one hundred persons absolutely committed to his philosophy. But with this small group of devoted followers, he galvanized the whole of India and through a magnificent feat of non- violence challenged the might of the British Empire and won freedom for his people. This method of nonviolence will not work miracles overnight. Men are not easily moved from their mental ruts, their prejudiced and irrational feelings. When the underprivileged demand freedom, the privileged first react with bitterness and resistance.”

“Nehru once remarked that the British were never so angry as when the Indians resisted them with non-violence. That he never saw eyes so full of hate as those of the British troops to whom he turned the other cheek when they beat him with lathis. But nonviolent resistance at least changed the minds and hearts of the Indians, however impervious the British may have appeared. ‘We cast away our fear,’ says Nehru. And in the end the British not only granted freedom to India but came to have a new respect for the Indians,” he further says in his book. “Today a mutual friendship based on equality exists between these two peoples within the Commonwealth.”

Commenting on Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolence, redemption and reconciliation, King further writes, “The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them a new self- respect. It calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had.”

“Finally, it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality,” he concludes.

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