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Sarah Kuhn, first year writing UNC Asheville student

The Legacy of Gandhi

One of the most recognized and revered individuals in the world is Mahatma Gandhi. He is often recognized for his teachings with regard to non-violent activism and efforts to resolve conflict in a non- violent manner. Additionally, his words, with a respect to philosophies on life and living, are well known and are quoted extensively. Though the majority of Gandhi’s direct work occurred in India, London, and South Africa, his leadership skills, activism, and principles have had influence globally, nationally, and in local communities throughout the world.  

A Portrait of Mahatma Gandhi 

Mahatma, meaning “Great Soul,” sought to teach others through his words and actions to engage in a more thoughtful way of living, appreciating, and interacting with the environment and those in it. It is no surprise that visitors will be drawn to a portrait of Gandhi overlooking the Burton Street Peace Garden in Asheville, North Carolina as he held and practiced the very ideas behind its creation. Owners of the garden, Barton and Mahaba, have identified the Garden’s purpose and practices which are rooted in the principles of Gandhi. One of Gandhi’s most famous quotes is “To forget how to dig the earth and to tend to the soil is to forget ourselves.” Carrie Eidson’s article describes the transformation of the forgotten into a thriving garden that encourages peace, relaxation, collaboration, and community. Eidson quotes owner DeWayne Barton as saying, “We want it to draw a cross section of people of different ages and races to show how different people from under the same umbrella, the same neighborhood, can come together. Because once you get different people together, then you can start to build better relationships across the board.” (Eidson para. 36)  These are the very principles with which Gandhi conducted himself in overcoming the conflict and adversity that he observed and experienced in his lifetime. 

Born in 1869, Mahatma Gandhi was raised in Porbandar, Kathiawar, India which was part of the British Empire. Shaping the course of his life was his upbringing by a father who was a chief minister, a deeply religious mother, and the imposition of British rule in everyday life. 

Through the urging of his father to become a government minister as well, Gandhi was persuaded to study law and went to London, England to complete his studies. After becoming a lawyer, it was difficult for Gandhi to obtain work in India and he moved to Durban, South Africa to practice (B & A, para. 13-14). It was here that he first recognized racial discrimination and segregation which caused him to become an activist and embark on a journey of civil, non-violent disobedience to create attention and change. Upon returning to India, he was more sensitive to and aware of injustices against groups of people and his opposition to British rule commenced.

From the influence of his mother, Gandhi grew up practicing Jainism which is an Indian religion that is based on fasting, vegetarianism, meditation, non-violence, and worship of the God Vishnu. This introduction to religion led to him be interested in other world religions and he studied them extensively (B&A, para. 2-3). Gandhi assimilated his religious views into every aspect of his existence which resulted in an adult life of simplicity, peaceful protest, advocacy, prayer, and dietary restrictions. His grandson, Arun Gandhi, recalling a lesson imparted by his grandfather, said, “This was the first time I realised that the little things we do every day - overconsumption, judging people - are a form of passive violence.” (Power, para. 4) It was Gandhi’s life experiences, spanning three continents, that influenced his ideas and teachings regarding societal adversity and appropriate ways to overcome passive and active conflict.   

Overcoming Adversity 

Included in Gandhi’s documented experiences were incidents related to racial segregation that he himself faced in South Africa in 1893. Upon commencing his legal career in Durban, he was asked to remove his turban while in the courtroom. Gandhi refused and left the courtroom unwilling to submit to the demands of British and Boer authorities. Within the same time frame, Gandhi was forcibly removed from a train, despite having a ticket, as a white individual objected to sharing a compartment with him. Refusing to move to the back of the train resulted in his extraction (B&A, para. 16). These two events were among Gandhi’s first acts of civil disobedience and were to be the foundation for his motivation to begin efforts “to devote himself to fighting the “deep disease of color prejudice.” ”(B&A, para. 16) His commitment to this injustice was confirmed by creating the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 which aimed to fight segregation and discrimination against Indians in South Africa. The organization used passive resistance in response to instances of mistreatment and oppression. Satyagraha, meaning truth and firmness, was Gandhi’s first mass civil disobedience campaign established in response to the restrictions and limitations imposed on Indian residents by the government in South Africa (B&A, para. 23).

Another injustice that Gandhi observed and encountered was inequitable treatment related to the caste system in India. The caste system was a division of residents and a class structure based on occupation. Upon his return to India in 1915 he realized that citizens in the lower castes/classes were impoverished and did not have access to the same treatment and services of those who were deemed higher ranking. His response was to clean up these areas and build hospitals and schools to help provide needed resources to all (Whipps, para. 7).

In talking with Indian people throughout various communities, Gandhi identified that a way to further his principle of passive resistance was to establish more independence from the British controlled regime. Organizing boycotts of British entities and marketplaces, Gandhi employed civil disobedience to affect change. By not attending British run schools, submitting tax payments, or purchasing British goods, residents were able use non-cooperative methods to work towards their own independence. One of Gandhi’s most well known resistance and non-violent efforts was the ‘salt walk’ of 1930. This protest walk was established in defiance of the British Salt Acts that forbid Indians to collect or sell salt and pay high taxes when purchasing it. Along the 240 mile walk, Gandhi not only collected salt in defiance of the rule but also gained followers to his cause. This message of disobedience without violence was to be the example and foundation for future mass protests throughout India. Many of these efforts contributed to India gaining its full independence in 1947 (B&A, para. 22).    


Universal Influence  

The ideas, words, and efforts used by Mahatma Gandhi in bringing change regarding racial segregation, social class/bias, and inequitable laws benefitted not only those in India but have been an example to global citizens. Not only did his work draw attention to social injustices but it modeled how to establish resistance and accomplish change through non-violent means.    

Writer and historian Ramachandra Guha argues that “Gandhi was the most influential and important political leader whose legacy still remains relevant to our time.” (TED, 2014).  Guha names examples of Gandhi’s appeal and influence upon current leaders including United States President Obama, who, during his administration, said he’d like to dine with Gandhi and Tawakkol Karman, youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner lauded for her non-violent efforts to obtain greater rights and freedom in Yemen, having a portrait of Gandhi hanging in her workplace (TED, 2014). Having current leaders referencing Gandhi is an affirmation that his principles and teachings are relevant and respected.      

The words and actions, including rhetoric and metaphors, commonly used by Gandhi in the course of his non-violent protests, have been identified as being influential on others involved in conflict resolution.  It was Gandhi’s words and walks that influenced Martin Luther King Jr. in the quest for civil rights in the United States. Gandhi’s Salt Walk is similar, literally and symbolically, in concept to King’s Walk to Freedom March. In studying their work, “activists like Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Luthull, and Martin Luther King, Jr. all resorted to the metaphor of the road, path, or journey” (Kuusisto 282). In emulating the methods of Gandhi, King was furthering the ideals and concept of nonviolent conflict resolution to enact societal change. King himself identified Gandhi’s autobiography as being among one of the books that had most influenced his thinking (Kosek, 1318).  Richard Gregg, an American philosopher, also said to be influential to Martin Luther King, Jr., furthered the ideals of Gandhi. Gregg “believed that Gandhi was developing a comprehensive counter modernity, a more humane alternative to Western civilization that would use modern scientific knowledge to create a simplified, decentralized, peaceful, and ecologically balanced culture” (Kosek, 1320). While Gandhi’s direct work was in India, England, and South Africa, his philosophies and ideals indirectly extended beyond the reaches of those areas through the study of philosophers and activists.

It is the legacy of his ideas that holds meaning for every individual in every community. Gandhi left behind “a strategy of collective resistance to unjust laws using non-violent means,” the knowledge that interfaith understanding must be cultivated for harmony, the recognition that environmental conservation, rather than industrialization, will allow provide resources for all by preserving natural resource availability (TED, 2014). In following these credos, communities everywhere are improved. However, these concepts need to be taught from an early age. Gandhi said, “If you want real peace in the world, start with children.” Asheville is fortunate to have Burton Street Peace Garden whose focuses on working with youth (Eidson, para. 11). Garden owner Mahaba says, “We teach them about the plants and how to care for them, and in the process of doing that, we’re having discussions about how to care for each other.” (Eidson para. 11). It is the children who have benefitted from growing up and learning in this environment that will carry these messages forward.  


Lasting Legacy 

The legacy of Mahatma Gandhi is complex as it incorporates philosophy and actions regarding equality, independence, appreciation for the environment, peace, and building community. The preservation of his legacy has been captured perfectly in the creation and ongoing development of Burton Street Peace Garden. As Gandhi sought to improve communities throughout India, the Peace Garden has been an improvement to Asheville and the Burton Street neighborhood. In welcoming all visitors, it offers a diverse amount of experiences including peaceful reflection upon its art, meditation in a green space, learning from an outdoor classroom, vegetable gardening, and meeting, interacting, and collaborating with people of all ages and races (Eidson, para. 3). These are all elements that Gandhi incorporated within in his own life and identified as  necessities in culture and society. DeWayne Barton has said, “We want to encourage other communities to make green spaces like this” (Eidson para. 36) and for those who are inspired and heed his example, Burton Street Peace Garden is an excellent model for preserving and advancing the principles and legacy of Gandhi.    

It is apparent that Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy is one that is rare as it has universal reach. His upbringing and worldly knowledge gave him insights that were unique and broadened his perception. His philosophies and teachings have been utilized in dealing with world conflict, national movements, and efforts benefitting small communities. When Gandhi said “be the change you wish to see in the world” he could not have been more accurate in how he was to be influential in his time and for future generations.     


B., & A. (2018, March 09). Mahatma Gandhi. Retrieved November 3, 2018, from

Eidson, C. (2014, May 29). We're not going anywhere: How a community garden rallied a neighborhood. Retrieved from

Kosek, J. K. (2005). Richard gregg, mohandas gandhi, and the strategy of nonviolence. The Journal of American History, 91(4), 1318-1348. Retrieved from

Kuusisto, R. (2009). Roads and riddles? western major power metaphors of nonviolent conflict resolution. Alternatives, 34(3), 275-297. Retrieved from

Power, V. (2017, September 30). Arun Gandhi: 'My grandfather saw my anger as fuel for change'. Retrieved from

TED. (2014, January 14). Ramachandra Guha: Gandhi's enduring legacy [Video File]. Retrieved from

Whipps, H. (2008, September 8). How Gandhi Changed the World. Retrieved from

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