As India erupted in Hindu–Muslim strife, a young Christian responded to Gandhi’s plea: “Where are the Christians who live according to the Bible?”
I first saw Mahatma Gandhi when I was twelve, when he came to our state of Kerala in south India to help remove the age-old injustice of caste discrimination. He addressed a huge gathering on a river bed near my school, and I found a seat on the sand near where he was sitting cross-legged on a raised platform. He spoke about vegetarianism, not about national issues, but it impressed me immensely – he spoke in Hindi rather than English, and I saw him as a symbol of the resurgent India.
At that time, Gandhi was already famous in Kerala because of his 1924 action in the nearby town of Vaikom to open the Shiva temple to Hindus of all castes. For centuries, outcastes had been forbidden to enter the temple, and notices even prohibited them from using the town’s roads. Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign to abolish this humiliating segregation had been the first major test of his teaching of satyagraha (“soul force” or “truth force”).
On coming home from hearing Gandhi, I told my mother that I was now a vegetarian. (I would remain one for the next eighteen years, until moving to Uganda, when I gave it up in order to dine in fellowship with my African brethren.) From that day on, I began to follow Gandhi’s teachings. Despite my conflicting feelings toward British missionaries, whom I admired for their sacrificial work to uplift the so-called untouchables in Kerala, I began to participate in the Quit India movement pressing for India’s independence from Britain.
Although as a twelve-year-old I would not have been able to articulate what drew me to Gandhi, I now see four facets of his life and teaching as keys to understanding him. ...
Originally published at Plough, used with permission