Gandhi Honored by Google, Obama, and ... Mini-Gandhis

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October 2, 2009—People around the world are celebrating Mohandas K. Gandhi's 140th birthday, including children who dressed as the Indian national icon yesterday in the city of Bhopal (pictured), U.S. President Barack Obama, who issued a special message to mark Gandhi's birthday—even Google.

Today a doodle on the home page of tech giant Google honors Gandhi, whose philosophy and even clothing, or lack thereof, were at odds with modernization and technology.

Gandhi, who advocated a return to a simpler way of life, "at times sounded very anti-technology," said George Paxton, of the London-based Gandhi Foundation.

Gandhi's view was that technology was often used at the expense of the poor, Paxton said. "In India there were massive numbers of unemployed, and the introduction of technology wasn't benefiting them," he said. "It was benefiting the owners of the factories, et cetera."

That's why Gandhi was often photographed next to a spinning wheel, Paxton said. The simple device could be used by India's rural poor to make cotton, which could supplement their incomes and offer an alternative to expensive, factory-made clothing.

But Gandhi's movement to free India from British rule, finally achieved in 1947, would have been impossible without the Googles of his day: the telegraph, the newspaper, the telephone.

Had he lived today, he may have overcome his aversion to technology and embraced the mobilizing power of software such as Facebook and Twitter, which has been used in Iran and elsewhere to organize massive pro-democracy protests, Paxton suggested.

Indeed, Paxton thinks Gandhi would have approved of such technology if it "empowered the ordinary person."

But Gandhi, a pacifist who advocated nonviolent protest, would certainly not have approved of modern-day India's nuclear arsenal, Paxton said.

"And of course, while India is today quite an affluent society, it's extremely unequal," he added. "It's exactly the opposite of what he wanted. He wanted a simpler style of life and much more equality."

—James Owen

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