Gandhi’s internal conflicts

I recently gave a lecture on machine learning.  When I concluded the lecture, I was given a book as a gift. It was an abridged copy of Gandhi’s autobiography.  Today is the 143rd anniversary of Gandhi’s birth, so I will share a few excerpts from the book.

Excerpts from Gandhi’s Autobiography

Gandhi went to England as a young man to study.  He wrote:

I decided to take dancing lessons at a class and paid down 3 pounds as fees for the term. I must have taken about six lessons in three weeks. But it was beyond me to achieve anything like rhythmic motion. I could not follow the piano and hence found it impossible to keep time.

He participated in the Boer and Zulu wars (he set up an Indian Ambulance Corps that would assist the South African government):

In order to give me a status and to facilitate work, and also in accordance with the existing convention, the Chief Medical Officer appointed me to the temporary rank of Sergeant Major and three men selected by me to the rank of Sergeants and one to that of Corporal.

To hear every morning reports of the soldiers’ rifles exploding like crackers in innocent hamlets, and to live in the midst of them was a trial. But I swallowed the bitter draught especially as the work of my Corps consisted only in nursing the wounded Zulus. I could see that but for us the Zulus would have been uncared for. This work, therefore, eased my conscience.

He later also wrote:

I make no distinction, from the point of view of ahimsa, between combatants and non-combatants. He who volunteers to serve a band of dacoits, by working as their carrier, or their watchman while they are about their business, or their nurse when they are wounded, is as much guilty of dacoity as the dacoits themselves. In the same way those who confine themselves to attending to the wounded in battle cannot be absolved from the guilt of war.

About the support he extended to England during World War 1, he wrote:

It was quite clear to me that participation in war could never be consistent with ahimsa.  But it is not always given to us to be equally clear about one’s duty.

I used to issue leaflets asking people to enlist as recruits.  One of the arguments I had used was distasteful to the Commissioner:  ‘Among the misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act of depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest.  If we want the Arms Act to be repealed, it we want to learn the use of arms, here is a golden opportunity.  If the middle classes render voluntary help to Government in the hour of its trial, distrust will disappear and the ban on possessing arms will be withdrawn.’

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