Mahatma Gandhi was the primary leader of India’s independence movement and also the architect of a form of non-violent civil disobedience that would influence the world. He was assassinated by Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse.
Who Was Mahatma Gandhi?
Mahatma Gandhi was the leader of India’s non-violent independence movement against British rule and in South Africa who advocated for the civil rights of Indians. Born in Porbandar, India, Gandhi studied law and organized boycotts against British institutions in peaceful forms of civil disobedience. He was killed by a fanatic in 1948.
Early Life and Education
Indian nationalist leader Gandhi (born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi) was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, Kathiawar, India, which was then part of the British Empire.
Gandhi’s father, Karamchand Gandhi, served as a chief minister in Porbandar and other states in western India. His mother, Putlibai, was a deeply religious woman who fasted regularly.
Young Gandhi was a shy, unremarkable student who was so timid that he slept with the lights on even as a teenager. In the ensuing years, the teenager rebelled by smoking, eating meat and stealing change from household servants.
Although Gandhi was interested in becoming a doctor, his father hoped he would also become a government minister and steered him to enter the legal profession. In 1888, 18-year-old Gandhi sailed for London, England, to study law. The young Indian struggled with the transition to Western culture.
Upon returning to India in 1891, Gandhi learned that his mother had died just weeks earlier. He struggled to gain his footing as a lawyer. In his first courtroom case, a nervous Gandhi blanked when the time came to cross-examine a witness. He immediately fled the courtroom after reimbursing his client for his legal fees.
Gandhi’s Religion and Beliefs
Gandhi grew up worshiping the Hindu god Vishnu and following Jainism, a morally rigorous ancient Indian religion that espoused non-violence, fasting, meditation and vegetarianism.
During Gandhi’s first stay in London, from 1888 to 1891, he became more committed to a meatless diet, joining the executive committee of the London Vegetarian Society, and started to read a variety of sacred texts to learn more about world religions.
Living in South Africa, Gandhi continued to study world religions. “The religious spirit within me became a living force,” he wrote of his time there. He immersed himself in sacred Hindu spiritual texts and adopted a life of simplicity, austerity, fasting and celibacy that was free of material goods.
Gandhi in South Africa
After struggling to find work as a lawyer in India, Gandhi obtained a one-year contract to perform legal services in South Africa. In April 1893, he sailed for Durban in the South African state of Natal.
When Gandhi arrived in South Africa, he was quickly appalled by the discrimination and racial segregation faced by Indian immigrants at the hands of white British and Boer authorities. Upon his first appearance in a Durban courtroom, Gandhi was asked to remove his turban. He refused and left the court instead. The Natal Advertiser mocked him in print as “an unwelcome visitor.”
Nonviolent Civil Disobedience
A seminal moment occurred on June 7, 1893, during a train trip to Pretoria, South Africa, when a white man objected to Gandhi’s presence in the first-class railway compartment, although he had a ticket. Refusing to move to the back of the train, Gandhi was forcibly removed and thrown off the train at a station in Pietermaritzburg.
Gandhi’s act of civil disobedience awoke in him a determination to devote himself to fighting the “deep disease of color prejudice.” He vowed that night to “try, if possible, to root out the disease and suffer hardships in the process.”
From that night forward, the small, unassuming man would grow into a giant force for civil rights. Gandhi formed the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 to fight discrimination.
Gandhi prepared to return to India at the end of his year-long contract until he learned, at his farewell party, of a bill before the Natal Legislative Assembly that would deprive Indians of the right to vote. Fellow immigrants convinced Gandhi to stay and lead the fight against the legislation. Although Gandhi could not prevent the law’s passage, he drew international attention to the injustice.
After a brief trip to India in late 1896 and early 1897, Gandhi returned to South Africa with his wife and children. Gandhi ran a thriving legal practice, and at the outbreak of the Boer War, he raised an all-Indian ambulance corps of 1,100 volunteers to support the British cause, arguing that if Indians expected to have full rights of citizenship in the British Empire, they also needed to shoulder their responsibilities.
In 1906, Gandhi organized his first mass civil-disobedience campaign, which he called “Satyagraha” (“truth and firmness”), in reaction to the South African Transvaal government’s new restrictions on the rights of Indians, including the refusal to recognize Hindu marriages.
After years of protests, the government imprisoned hundreds of Indians in 1913, including Gandhi. Under pressure, the South African government accepted a compromise negotiated by Gandhi and General Jan Christian Smuts that included recognition of Hindu marriages and the abolition of a poll tax for Indians.
Return to India
In 1915 Gandhi founded an ashram in Ahmedabad, India, that was open to all castes. Wearing a simple loincloth and shawl, Gandhi lived an austere life devoted to prayer, fasting and meditation. He became known as “Mahatma,” which means “great soul.”
Opposition to British Rule in India
In 1919, with India still under the firm control of the British, Gandhi had a political reawakening when the newly enacted Rowlatt Act authorized British authorities to imprison people suspected of sedition without trial. In response, Gandhi called for a Satyagraha campaign of peaceful protests and strikes.
Violence broke out instead, which culminated on April 13, 1919, in the Massacre of Amritsar. Troops led by British Brigadier General Reginald Dyer fired machine guns into a crowd of unarmed demonstrators and killed nearly 400 people.
No longer able to pledge allegiance to the British government, Gandhi returned the medals he earned for his military service in South Africa and opposed Britain’s mandatory military draft of Indians to serve in World War I.
Gandhi became a leading figure in the Indian home-rule movement. Calling for mass boycotts, he urged government officials to stop working for the Crown, students to stop attending government schools, soldiers to leave their posts and citizens to stop paying taxes and purchasing British goods.
Rather than buy British-manufactured clothes, he began to use a portable spinning wheel to produce his own cloth. The spinning wheel soon became a symbol of Indian independence and self-reliance.
Gandhi assumed the leadership of the Indian National Congress and advocated a policy of non-violence and non-cooperation to achieve home rule.
After British authorities arrested Gandhi in 1922, he pleaded guilty to three counts of sedition. Although sentenced to a six-year imprisonment, Gandhi was released in February 1924 after appendicitis surgery.
He discovered upon his release that relations between India’s Hindus and Muslims devolved during his time in jail. When violence between the two religious groups flared again, Gandhi began a three-week fast in the autumn of 1924 to urge unity. He remained away from active politics during much of the latter 1920s.
Gandhi and the Salt March
Gandhi returned to active politics in 1930 to protest Britain’s Salt Acts, which not only prohibited Indians from collecting or selling salt—a dietary staple—but imposed a heavy tax that hit the country’s poorest particularly hard. Gandhi planned a new Satyagraha campaign, The Salt March , that entailed a 390-kilometer/240-mile march to the Arabian Sea, where he would collect salt in symbolic defiance of the government monopoly.
“My ambition is no less than to convert the British people through non-violence and thus make them see the wrong they have done to India,” he wrote days before the march to the British viceroy, Lord Irwin.
Wearing a homespun white shawl and sandals and carrying a walking stick, Gandhi set out from his religious retreat in Sabarmati on March 12, 1930, with a few dozen followers. By the time he arrived 24 days later in the coastal town of Dandi, the ranks of the marchers swelled, and Gandhi broke the law by making salt from evaporated seawater.
The Salt March sparked similar protests, and mass civil disobedience swept across India. Approximately 60,000 Indians were jailed for breaking the Salt Acts, including Gandhi, who was imprisoned in May 1930.
Still, the protests against the Salt Acts elevated Gandhi into a transcendent figure around the world. He was named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” for 1930.
Gandhi was released from prison in January 1931, and two months later he made an agreement with Lord Irwin to end the Salt Satyagraha in exchange for concessions that included the release of thousands of political prisoners. The agreement, however, largely kept the Salt Acts intact. But it did give those who lived on the coasts the right to harvest salt from the sea.
Hoping that the agreement would be a stepping-stone to home rule, Gandhi attended the London Round Table Conference on Indian constitutional reform in August 1931 as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress. The conference, however, proved fruitless.
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Protesting "Untouchables" Segregation
Gandhi returned to India to find himself imprisoned once again in January 1932 during a crackdown by India’s new viceroy, Lord Willingdon. He embarked on a six-day fast to protest the British decision to segregate the “untouchables,” those on the lowest rung of India’s caste system, by allotting them separate electorates. The public outcry forced the British to amend the proposal.
After his eventual release, Gandhi left the Indian National Congress in 1934, and leadership passed to his protégé Jawaharlal Nehru . He again stepped away from politics to focus on education, poverty and the problems afflicting India’s rural areas.
India’s Independence from Great Britain
As Great Britain found itself engulfed in World War II in 1942, Gandhi launched the “Quit India” movement that called for the immediate British withdrawal from the country. In August 1942, the British arrested Gandhi, his wife and other leaders of the Indian National Congress and detained them in the Aga Khan Palace in present-day Pune.
“I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside at the liquidation of the British Empire,” Prime Minister Winston Churchill told Parliament in support of the crackdown.
With his health failing, Gandhi was released after a 19-month detainment in 1944.
After the Labour Party defeated Churchill’s Conservatives in the British general election of 1945, it began negotiations for Indian independence with the Indian National Congress and Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League. Gandhi played an active role in the negotiations, but he could not prevail in his hope for a unified India. Instead, the final plan called for the partition of the subcontinent along religious lines into two independent states—predominantly Hindu India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan.
Violence between Hindus and Muslims flared even before independence took effect on August 15, 1947. Afterwards, the killings multiplied. Gandhi toured riot-torn areas in an appeal for peace and fasted in an attempt to end the bloodshed. Some Hindus, however, increasingly viewed Gandhi as a traitor for expressing sympathy toward Muslims.
Gandhi’s Wife and Kids
At the age of 13, Gandhi wed Kasturba Makanji, a merchant’s daughter, in an arranged marriage. She died in Gandhi’s arms in February 1944 at the age of 74.
In 1885, Gandhi endured the passing of his father and shortly after that the death of his young baby.
In 1888, Gandhi’s wife gave birth to the first of four surviving sons. A second son was born in India 1893. Kasturba gave birth to two more sons while living in South Africa, one in 1897 and one in 1900.
Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi
On January 30, 1948, 78-year-old Gandhi was shot and killed by Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse, who was upset at Gandhi’s tolerance of Muslims.
Weakened from repeated hunger strikes, Gandhi clung to his two grandnieces as they led him from his living quarters in New Delhi’s Birla House to a late-afternoon prayer meeting. Godse knelt before the Mahatma before pulling out a semiautomatic pistol and shooting him three times at point-blank range. The violent act took the life of a pacifist who spent his life preaching nonviolence.
Godse and a co-conspirator were executed by hanging in November 1949. Additional conspirators were sentenced to life in prison.
Even after Gandhi’s assassination, his commitment to nonviolence and his belief in simple living — making his own clothes, eating a vegetarian diet and using fasts for self-purification as well as a means of protest — have been a beacon of hope for oppressed and marginalized people throughout the world.
Satyagraha remains one of the most potent philosophies in freedom struggles throughout the world today. Gandhi’s actions inspired future human rights movements around the globe, including those of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
Martin Luther King
- Name: Mahatma Gandhi
- Birth Year: 1869
- Birth date: October 2, 1869
- Birth City: Porbandar, Kathiawar
- Birth Country: India
- Gender: Male
- Best Known For: Mahatma Gandhi was the primary leader of India’s independence movement and also the architect of a form of non-violent civil disobedience that would influence the world. Until Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, his life and teachings inspired activists including Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
- Civil Rights
- Astrological Sign: Libra
- University College London
- Samaldas College at Bhavnagar, Gujarat
- Interesting Facts
- As a young man, Mahatma Gandhi was a poor student and was terrified of public speaking.
- Gandhi formed the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 to fight discrimination.
- Gandhi was assassinated by Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse, who was upset at Gandhi’s tolerance of Muslims.
- Gandhi's non-violent civil disobedience inspired future world leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
- Death Year: 1948
- Death date: January 30, 1948
- Death City: New Delhi
- Death Country: India
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- Article Title: Mahatma Gandhi Biography
- Author: Biography.com Editors
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- Last Updated: September 4, 2019
- Original Published Date: April 3, 2014
- An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
- Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.
- Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads, so long as we reach the same goal? In reality, there are as many religions as there are individuals.
- The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
- To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man's injustice to woman.
- Truth alone will endure, all the rest will be swept away before the tide of time.
- A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.
- There are many things to do. Let each one of us choose our task and stick to it through thick and thin. Let us not think of the vastness. But let us pick up that portion which we can handle best.
- An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.
- For one man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.
- If we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children.
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By: History.com Editors
Updated: June 6, 2019 | Original: July 30, 2010
Revered the world over for his nonviolent philosophy of passive resistance, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was known to his many followers as Mahatma, or “the great-souled one.” He began his activism as an Indian immigrant in South Africa in the early 1900s, and in the years following World War I became the leading figure in India’s struggle to gain independence from Great Britain. Known for his ascetic lifestyle–he often dressed only in a loincloth and shawl–and devout Hindu faith, Gandhi was imprisoned several times during his pursuit of non-cooperation, and undertook a number of hunger strikes to protest the oppression of India’s poorest classes, among other injustices. After Partition in 1947, he continued to work toward peace between Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi was shot to death in Delhi in January 1948 by a Hindu fundamentalist.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, at Porbandar, in the present-day Indian state of Gujarat. His father was the dewan (chief minister) of Porbandar; his deeply religious mother was a devoted practitioner of Vaishnavism (worship of the Hindu god Vishnu), influenced by Jainism, an ascetic religion governed by tenets of self-discipline and nonviolence. At the age of 19, Mohandas left home to study law in London at the Inner Temple, one of the city’s four law colleges. Upon returning to India in mid-1891, he set up a law practice in Bombay, but met with little success. He soon accepted a position with an Indian firm that sent him to its office in South Africa. Along with his wife, Kasturbai, and their children, Gandhi remained in South Africa for nearly 20 years.
Did you know? In the famous Salt March of April-May 1930, thousands of Indians followed Gandhi from Ahmadabad to the Arabian Sea. The march resulted in the arrest of nearly 60,000 people, including Gandhi himself.
Gandhi was appalled by the discrimination he experienced as an Indian immigrant in South Africa. When a European magistrate in Durban asked him to take off his turban, he refused and left the courtroom. On a train voyage to Pretoria, he was thrown out of a first-class railway compartment and beaten up by a white stagecoach driver after refusing to give up his seat for a European passenger. That train journey served as a turning point for Gandhi, and he soon began developing and teaching the concept of satyagraha (“truth and firmness”), or passive resistance, as a way of non-cooperation with authorities.
The Birth of Passive Resistance
In 1906, after the Transvaal government passed an ordinance regarding the registration of its Indian population, Gandhi led a campaign of civil disobedience that would last for the next eight years. During its final phase in 1913, hundreds of Indians living in South Africa, including women, went to jail, and thousands of striking Indian miners were imprisoned, flogged and even shot. Finally, under pressure from the British and Indian governments, the government of South Africa accepted a compromise negotiated by Gandhi and General Jan Christian Smuts, which included important concessions such as the recognition of Indian marriages and the abolition of the existing poll tax for Indians.
In July 1914, Gandhi left South Africa to return to India. He supported the British war effort in World War I but remained critical of colonial authorities for measures he felt were unjust. In 1919, Gandhi launched an organized campaign of passive resistance in response to Parliament’s passage of the Rowlatt Acts, which gave colonial authorities emergency powers to suppress subversive activities. He backed off after violence broke out–including the massacre by British-led soldiers of some 400 Indians attending a meeting at Amritsar–but only temporarily, and by 1920 he was the most visible figure in the movement for Indian independence.
Leader of a Movement
As part of his nonviolent non-cooperation campaign for home rule, Gandhi stressed the importance of economic independence for India. He particularly advocated the manufacture of khaddar, or homespun cloth, in order to replace imported textiles from Britain. Gandhi’s eloquence and embrace of an ascetic lifestyle based on prayer, fasting and meditation earned him the reverence of his followers, who called him Mahatma (Sanskrit for “the great-souled one”). Invested with all the authority of the Indian National Congress (INC or Congress Party), Gandhi turned the independence movement into a massive organization, leading boycotts of British manufacturers and institutions representing British influence in India, including legislatures and schools.
After sporadic violence broke out, Gandhi announced the end of the resistance movement, to the dismay of his followers. British authorities arrested Gandhi in March 1922 and tried him for sedition; he was sentenced to six years in prison but was released in 1924 after undergoing an operation for appendicitis. He refrained from active participation in politics for the next several years, but in 1930 launched a new civil disobedience campaign against the colonial government’s tax on salt, which greatly affected Indian’s poorest citizens.
A Divided Movement
In 1931, after British authorities made some concessions, Gandhi again called off the resistance movement and agreed to represent the Congress Party at the Round Table Conference in London. Meanwhile, some of his party colleagues–particularly Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a leading voice for India’s Muslim minority–grew frustrated with Gandhi’s methods, and what they saw as a lack of concrete gains. Arrested upon his return by a newly aggressive colonial government, Gandhi began a series of hunger strikes in protest of the treatment of India’s so-called “untouchables” (the poorer classes), whom he renamed Harijans, or “children of God.” The fasting caused an uproar among his followers and resulted in swift reforms by the Hindu community and the government.
In 1934, Gandhi announced his retirement from politics in, as well as his resignation from the Congress Party, in order to concentrate his efforts on working within rural communities. Drawn back into the political fray by the outbreak of World War II , Gandhi again took control of the INC, demanding a British withdrawal from India in return for Indian cooperation with the war effort. Instead, British forces imprisoned the entire Congress leadership, bringing Anglo-Indian relations to a new low point.
Partition and Death of Gandhi
After the Labor Party took power in Britain in 1947, negotiations over Indian home rule began between the British, the Congress Party and the Muslim League (now led by Jinnah). Later that year, Britain granted India its independence but split the country into two dominions: India and Pakistan. Gandhi strongly opposed Partition, but he agreed to it in hopes that after independence Hindus and Muslims could achieve peace internally. Amid the massive riots that followed Partition, Gandhi urged Hindus and Muslims to live peacefully together, and undertook a hunger strike until riots in Calcutta ceased.
In January 1948, Gandhi carried out yet another fast, this time to bring about peace in the city of Delhi. On January 30, 12 days after that fast ended, Gandhi was on his way to an evening prayer meeting in Delhi when he was shot to death by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fanatic enraged by Mahatma’s efforts to negotiate with Jinnah and other Muslims. The next day, roughly 1 million people followed the procession as Gandhi’s body was carried in state through the streets of the city and cremated on the banks of the holy Jumna River.
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Biography of Mohandas Gandhi, Indian Independence Leader
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Mohandas Gandhi (October 2, 1869–January 30, 1948) was the father of the Indian independence movement. While fighting discrimination in South Africa, Gandhi developed satyagrah a, a nonviolent way of protesting injustice. Returning to his birthplace of India, Gandhi spent his remaining years working to end British rule of his country and to better the lives of India's poorest classes.
Fast Facts: Mohandas Gandhi
- Known For : Leader of India's independence movement
- Also Known As : Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Mahatma ("Great Soul"), Father of the Nation, Bapu ("Father"), Gandhiji
- Born : October 2, 1869 in Porbandar, India
- Parents : Karamchand and Putlibai Gandhi
- Died : January 30, 1948 in New Delhi, India
- Education : Law degree, Inner Temple, London, England
- Published Works : Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth , Freedom's Battle
- Spouse : Kasturba Kapadia
- Children : Harilal Gandhi, Manilal Gandhi, Ramdas Gandhi, Devdas Gandhi
- Notable Quote : "The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members."
Mohandas Gandhi was born October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, India, the last child of his father Karamchand Gandhi and his fourth wife Putlibai. Young Gandhi was a shy, mediocre student. At age 13, he married Kasturba Kapadia as part of an arranged marriage. She bore four sons and supported Gandhi's endeavors until her 1944 death.
In September 1888 at age 18, Gandhi left India alone to study law in London. He attempted to become an English gentleman, buying suits, fine-tuning his English accent, learning French, and taking music lessons. Deciding that was a waste of time and money, he spent the rest of his three-year stay as a serious student living a simple lifestyle.
Gandhi also adopted vegetarianism and joined the London Vegetarian Society, whose intellectual crowd introduced Gandhi to authors Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy . He also studied the "Bhagavad Gita," an epic poem sacred to Hindus. These books' concepts set the foundation for his later beliefs.
Gandhi passed the bar on June 10, 1891, and returned to India. For two years, he attempted to practice law but lacked the knowledge of Indian law and the self-confidence necessary to be a trial lawyer. Instead, he took on a year-long case in South Africa.
At 23, Gandhi again left his family and set off for the British-governed Natal province in South Africa in May 1893. After a week, Gandhi was asked to go to the Dutch-governed Transvaal province. When Gandhi boarded the train, railroad officials ordered him to move to the third-class car. Gandhi, holding first-class tickets, refused. A policeman threw him off the train.
As Gandhi talked to Indians in South Africa, he learned that such experiences were common. Sitting in the cold depot that first night of his trip, Gandhi debated returning to India or fighting the discrimination. He decided that he couldn't ignore these injustices.
Gandhi spent 20 years bettering Indians' rights in South Africa, becoming a resilient, potent leader against discrimination. He learned about Indian grievances, studied the law, wrote letters to officials, and organized petitions. On May 22, 1894, Gandhi established the Natal Indian Congress (NIC). Although it began as an organization for wealthy Indians, Gandhi expanded it to all classes and castes. He became a leader of South Africa's Indian community, his activism covered by newspapers in England and India.
In 1896 after three years in South Africa, Gandhi sailed to India to bring his wife and two sons back with him, returning in November. Gandhi's ship was quarantined at the harbor for 23 days, but the real reason for the delay was an angry mob of whites at the dock who believed Gandhi was returning with Indians who would overrun South Africa.
Gandhi sent his family to safety, but he was assaulted with bricks, rotten eggs, and fists. Police escorted him away. Gandhi refuted the claims against him but refused to prosecute those involved. The violence stopped, strengthening Gandhi's prestige.
Influenced by the "Gita," Gandhi wanted to purify his life by following the concepts of aparigraha (nonpossession) and samabhava (equitability). A friend gave him "Unto This Last" by John Ruskin , which inspired Gandhi to establish Phoenix Settlement, a community outside Durban, in June 1904. The settlement focused on eliminating needless possessions and living in full equality. Gandhi moved his family and his newspaper, the Indian Opinion , to the settlement.
In 1906, believing that family life was detracting from his potential as a public advocate, Gandhi took the vow of brahmacharya (abstinence from sex). He simplified his vegetarianism to unspiced, usually uncooked foods—mostly fruits and nuts, which he believed would help quiet his urges.
Gandhi believed that his vow of brahmacharya allowed him the focus to devise the concept of satyagraha in late 1906. In the simplest sense, satyagraha is passive resistance, but Gandhi described it as "truth force," or natural right. He believed exploitation was possible only if the exploited and the exploiter accepted it, so seeing beyond the current situation provided power to change it.
In practice, satyagraha is nonviolent resistance to injustice. A person using satyagraha could resist injustice by refusing to follow an unjust law or putting up with physical assaults and/or confiscation of his property without anger. There would be no winners or losers; all would understand the "truth" and agree to rescind the unjust law.
Gandhi first organized satyagraha against the Asiatic Registration Law, or Black Act, which passed in March 1907. It required all Indians to be fingerprinted and carry registration documents at all times. Indians refused fingerprinting and picketed documentation offices. Protests were organized, miners went on strike, and Indians illegally traveled from Natal to the Transvaal in opposition to the act. Many protesters, including Gandhi, were beaten and arrested. After seven years of protest, the Black Act was repealed. The nonviolent protest had succeeded.
After 20 years in South Africa, Gandhi returned to India. By the time he arrived, press reports of his South African triumphs had made him a national hero. He traveled the country for a year before beginning reforms. Gandhi found that his fame conflicted with observing conditions of the poor, so he wore a loincloth ( dhoti ) and sandals, the garb of the masses, during this journey. In cold weather, he added a shawl. This became his lifetime wardrobe.
Gandhi founded another communal settlement in Ahmadabad called Sabarmati Ashram. For the next 16 years, Gandhi lived there with his family.
He was also given the honorary title of Mahatma, or "Great Soul." Many credit Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, winner of the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature, for awarding Gandhi this name. Peasants viewed Gandhi as a holy man, but he disliked the title because it implied he was special. He viewed himself as ordinary.
After the year ended, Gandhi still felt stifled because of World War I. As part of satyagraha , Gandhi had vowed never to take advantage of an opponent's troubles. With the British in a major conflict, Gandhi couldn't fight them for Indian freedom. Instead, he used satyagraha to erase inequities among Indians. Gandhi persuaded landlords to stop forcing tenant farmers to pay increased rent by appealing to their morals and fasted to convince mill owners to settle a strike. Because of Gandhi's prestige, people didn't want to be responsible for his death from fasting.
When the war ended, Gandhi focused on the fight for Indian self-rule ( swaraj ). In 1919, the British handed Gandhi a cause: the Rowlatt Act, which gave the British nearly free rein to detain "revolutionary" elements without trial. Gandhi organized a hartal (strike), which began on March 30, 1919. Unfortunately, the protest turned violent.
Gandhi ended the hartal once he heard about the violence, but more than 300 Indians had died and more than 1,100 were injured from British reprisals in the city of Amritsar. Satyagraha hadn't been achieved, but the Amritsar Massacre fueled Indian opinions against the British. The violence showed Gandhi that the Indian people didn't fully believe in satyagraha . He spent much of the 1920s advocating for it and struggling to keep protests peaceful.
Gandhi also began advocating self-reliance as a path to freedom. Since the British established India as a colony, Indians had supplied Britain with raw fiber and then imported the resulting cloth from England. Gandhi advocated that Indians spin their own cloth, popularizing the idea by traveling with a spinning wheel, often spinning yarn while giving a speech. The image of the spinning wheel ( charkha ) became a symbol for independence.
In March 1922, Gandhi was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison for sedition. After two years, he was released following surgery to find his country embroiled in violence between Muslims and Hindus. When Gandhi began a 21-day fast still ill from surgery, many thought he would die, but he rallied. The fast created a temporary peace.
In December 1928, Gandhi and the Indian National Congress (INC) announced a challenge to the British government. If India wasn't granted Commonwealth status by December 31, 1929, they would organize a nationwide protest against British taxes. The deadline passed without change.
Gandhi chose to protest the British salt tax because salt was used in everyday cooking, even by the poorest. The Salt March began a nationwide boycott starting March 12, 1930, when Gandhi and 78 followers walked 200 miles from the Sabarmati Ashram to the sea. The group grew along the way, reaching 2,000 to 3,000. When they reached the coastal town of Dandi on April 5, they prayed all night. In the morning, Gandhi made a presentation of picking up a piece of sea salt from the beach. Technically, he had broken the law.
Thus began an endeavor for Indians to make salt. Some picked up loose salt on the beaches, while others evaporated saltwater. Indian-made salt soon was sold nationwide. Peaceful picketing and marches were conducted. The British responded with mass arrests.
When Gandhi announced a march on the government-owned Dharasana Saltworks, the British imprisoned him without trial. Although they hoped Gandhi's arrest would stop the march, they underestimated his followers. The poet Sarojini Naidu led 2,500 marchers. As they reached the waiting police, the marchers were beaten with clubs. News of the brutal beating of peaceful protesters shocked the world.
British viceroy Lord Irwin met with Gandhi and they agreed on the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, which granted limited salt production and freedom for the protesters if Gandhi called off the protests. While many Indians believed that Gandhi hadn't gotten enough from the negotiations, he viewed it as a step toward independence.
After the success of the Salt March, Gandhi conducted another fast that enhanced his image as a holy man or prophet. Dismayed at the adulation, Gandhi retired from politics in 1934 at age 64. He came out of retirement five years later when the British viceroy announced, without consulting Indian leaders, that India would side with England during World War II . This revitalized the Indian independence movement.
Many British parliamentarians realized they were facing mass protests and began discussing an independent India. Although Prime Minister Winston Churchill opposed losing India as a colony, the British announced in March 1941 that it would free India after World War II. Gandhi wanted independence sooner and organized a "Quit India" campaign in 1942. The British again jailed Gandhi.
When Gandhi was released in 1944, independence seemed near. Huge disagreements, however, arose between Hindus and Muslims. Because the majority of Indians were Hindu, Muslims feared losing political power if India became independent. The Muslims wanted six provinces in northwest India, where Muslims predominated, to become an independent country. Gandhi opposed partitioning India and tried to bring the sides together, but that proved too difficult even for the Mahatma.
Violence erupted; entire towns were burned. Gandhi toured India, hoping his presence could curb the violence. Although violence stopped where Gandhi visited, he couldn't be everywhere.
The British, seeing India headed for civil war, decided to leave in August 1947. Before leaving, they got the Hindus, against Gandhi's wishes, to agree to a partition plan . On August 15, 1947, Britain granted independence to India and to the newly formed Muslim country of Pakistan.
Millions of Muslims marched from India to Pakistan, and millions of Hindus in Pakistan walked to India. Many refugees died from illness, exposure, and dehydration. As 15 million Indians became uprooted from their homes, Hindus and Muslims attacked each other.
Gandhi once again went on a fast. He would only eat again, he stated, once he saw clear plans to stop the violence. The fast began on January 13, 1948. Realizing that the frail, aged Gandhi couldn't withstand a long fast, the sides collaborated. On January 18, more than 100 representatives approached Gandhi with a promise for peace, ending his fast.
Not everyone approved of the plan. Some radical Hindu groups believed that India shouldn't have been partitioned, blaming Gandhi. On January 30, 1948, the 78-year-old Gandhi spent his day discussing issues. Just past 5 p.m., Gandhi began the walk, supported by two grandnieces, to the Birla House, where he was staying in New Delhi, for a prayer meeting. A crowd surrounded him. A young Hindu named Nathuram Godse stopped before him and bowed. Gandhi bowed back. Godse shot Gandhi three times. Although Gandhi had survived five other assassination attempts, he fell to the ground, dead.
Gandhi's concept of nonviolent protest attracted the organizers of numerous demonstrations and movements. Civil rights leaders, especially Martin Luther King Jr. , adopted Gandhi's model for their own struggles.
Research in the second half of the 20th century established Gandhi as a great mediator and reconciler, resolving conflicts between older moderate politicians and young radicals, political terrorists and parliamentarians, urban intelligentsia and rural masses, Hindus and Muslims, as well as Indians and British. He was the catalyst, if not the initiator, of three major revolutions of the 20th century: movements against colonialism, racism, and violence.
His deepest strivings were spiritual, but unlike many fellow Indians with such aspirations, he didn't retire to a Himalayan cave to meditate. Rather, he took his cave with him everywhere he went. And, he left his thoughts to posterity: His collected writings had reached 100 volumes by the early 21st century.
- " Mahatma Gandhi: Indian Leader ." Encyclopaedia Britannica.
- " Mahatma Gandhi ." History.com.
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