The Assassination Of Mahatma Gandhi: Why, How, And Who
After a lifetime of advocating for nonviolence, Mahatma Gandhi was gunned down by Nathuram Godse on January 30, 1948. His assassination ripped through the peace community, bringing an end to his mission of making the world a better place. There was little reason behind his death, which came about when his assassin decided that Gandhi was too amenable to Muslims after India and Pakistan separated into two different states. His death changed the political landscape, and he was used as a martyr by Hindu nationalists. Rather than conform to his ideals of peace, however, the Indian Republic acted in opposition to his beliefs.
Gandhi led a contradictory life
Throughout his life, Gandhi acted as the leader of the nonviolent independence movement of India. Rather than raise an army, he used acts of civil disobedience to advocate for people of color and fight discrimination. In and out of prison multiple times, he went on hunger strikes and instructed his followers to do the same, essentially laying a blueprint for all the peaceniks to follow.
Gandhi wasn't a perfect angel, however. His nonviolent beliefs led to a naive call for the Jewish people to embrace the Holocaust at the onset of World War II. In 1938, he wrote to Hitler, called him his "friend" before assuring him that he didn't believe the chancellor was the "monster" that people made him out to be.
When he wasn't advocating for the acceptance of one of the worst guys on the planet, Gandhi was also espousing some pretty awful beliefs about sex. He believed that men and women should sleep apart, but even though he was married, Gandhi still had extramarital affairs for which he never fully accepted responsibility.
As complicated a figure as he was, he did a lot of good for the community and the world at large and deserved to live out his life into old age.
Gandhi's assassin was unmoored in life
Like Lee Harvey Oswald and many other assassins of the 20th century, Nathuram Godse was never tied down to one place. It's not that he was traveling the world and learning about himself; he just never fit in anywhere. Early in life, he looked up to Gandhi, but as he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer organization, he grew disillusioned with Gandhi's calls for peaceful solutions.
After spending time in the RSS, Nathuram is believed to have moved to the Hindu Mahasabha after the separation of Pakistan and India. The partition was a real sticking point for him: He felt that Gandhi favored the Muslims during the split, something that he refused to let stand. Rather than taking on Gandhi's principles, Nathuram carried out one of the most upsetting assassinations that the world had seen.
Nathuram shot Gandhi in the middle of a crowded street
On January 30, 1948 in New Delhi, India, Gandhi was walking to a late-day prayer meeting. The setting sun stretched out over the raised lawn of the Birla House, a place that Gandhi used as his meeting space, and a crowd of people gathered around the spiritual and political leader. As he walked up the steps to his prayer meeting, Nathuram broke away from the crowd and gave the namesteh, a customary Hindu greeting with two hands pressed together. Ghandi returned the gesture, not thinking anything of the man in the blue pants and khaki jacket. Some onlookers say that Ghandi spoke to the man, but whether the two spoke or not, it would be the last time the Indian people would see their leader.
Gandhi's assassination occurred in front of his followers and family
After their initial meeting, Nathuram used an Italian handgun to fire three shots into Gandhi at point-blank range, hitting his abdomen, stomach, and arm. Gandhi's nieces were helping him walk to the prayer meeting and saw the entire exchange from the bow to the shooting. As soon as the shots were fired, his nieces and a group of followers helped Gandhi into the meeting room he was trying to reach and laid him down. About half an hour after the shooting, Gandhi passed away, leaving a vast hole in the Indian peace movement and sending a ripple of sadness through the community.
Nathuram tried to kill himself immediately afterward
The moments after the shooting were pandemonium. The crowd around Gandhi fell into a frenzy, his nieces tried to get him to safety, and Nathuram attempted to kill himself following the assassination. While his plan to kill Gandhi worked, his idea of ending his own life didn't go as well, thanks to a sergeant in the Royal Indian Air Force who grabbed Nathuram's arm and pulled the pistol away as he fired his fourth shot. The enraged crowd set upon Nathuram and began pelting him with sticks, their fists, and whatever else they had, but the police managed to break through the crowd and bring the assassin into custody.
As much as the Indian people wanted to trounce this guy, beating his assassin to death would have gone against everything that Gandhi believed. Nathuram would get his wish soon enough: A year later, he was sentenced to die by hanging.
Crowds flocked to Gandhi's body
Rather than keep the news of Gandhi's death quiet, it was announced by All-India Radio as soon as his passing was confirmed. Shortly after 6:00, thousands of people found their way to Birla House, where they waited in a mix of ennui and anticipation. It was a tense evening, and as news of the leader's death spread through India and Pakistan, local governments worried about what would happen. When word spread to Bombay, the people rioted. After a police blockade was set up to guard Ghandi's body, his followers swarmed the site, attempting to get a final look at their beloved leader's body any way they could.
The Nobel committee refused to give an award in 1948
It's unquestionable that, despite his flaws, Gandhi was a symbol of peace across the world. He seems like a natural candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, but while his work was so important to the world, he never won the award. When he passed in 1948, it was only a few days before the Nobel nominations closed, but in that time, the committee received six letters of nomination.
The Nobels aren't like the Academy Awards or the Grammys, however. No one gets a posthumous Peace Prize, even if it's the guy who perfected nonviolent protests and almost starved to death for peace. Instead, the Nobel Prize committee refused to give an award in 1948 because there was "no suitable living candidate." Essentially, they left the award open as a way to honor Gandhi without breaking their own rules.
Jawaharlal Nehru gave a touching eulogy following Gandhi's death
As the world mourned the fallen icon of peace, Indian independence activist Jawaharlal Nehru spoke about what the loss of Ghandi meant to India:
The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later that light will still be seen in this country, and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented the living truth ... the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom ...
The first thing to remember no wish that no one of us dare misbehave because we're angry. We have to behave like strong and determined people, determined to face all the perils that surround us, determined to carry out the mandate that our great teacher and our great leader had given us, remembering always that if, as I believe, his spirit looks upon us and sees u, nothing would displease his soul so much as to see that we have indulged in any small behavior or any violence.
So we must not do that. But that does not mean that we should be weak, but rather that we should in strength and in unity face all the troubles and difficulties and conflicts must be ended in the face of this great disaster. A great disaster is a symbol to us to remember all the big things of life and forget the small things, of which we have thought too much.
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