Gandhi, Mahatma

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 in Porbandar, near Bombay (now Mumbai) in India. His family belonged to the Hindu merchant caste Vaisya. His father had been prime minister of several small native states. At age 13 he joined Kasturba, age 12, in a marriage arranged by their parents. They had four sons – Harilal and Manilal who were born in India, and Ramdas and Devdas who were born in South Africa.

When Gandhi was 19 he disregarded custom by going abroad to study. He studied law at University College in London where fellow students affronted him because he was an Indian. In his free time he studied philosophy. During these studies he discovered the principle of nonviolence as set out in Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”. He was persuaded by John Ruskin’s plea to give up industrialism for farm life and traditional crafts; ideals like many Hindu religious ideas.

Gandhi and South Africa

Gandhi returned to India in 1891 to practice law. As he was not successful in Bombay, he accepted a one-year contract in 1893 to do legal work in South Africa. In Natal he was the first so-called “coloured” lawyer admitted to the Supreme Court and he built a large practice. At this stage the British controlled South Africa. When he attempted to claim his rights as a British subject he was abused, and soon came to the conclusion that all Indians suffered similar treatment. Gandhi lived in South Africa for 21 years, and tried to bring about secure rights for Indian people.

He now actively turned his interest to the plight of fellow Indians who had come to South Africa as laborers. He remembered how they were treated as inferiors in India, in England, and now saw it in South Africa. Gandhi developed an approach of direct social action based upon the principles of courage, non-violence and truth called Satyagraha. He believed that the manner in which people behave is more important than what they achieve. Satyagraha promoted non-violence and civil disobedience as the most appropriate methods for obtaining political and social aspirations. He founded the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 to campaign for Indian rights, and still he remained loyal to the British Empire. In 1899, at the outbreak of the Boer War, he started an ambulance corps and served the South African government. In 1906 he gave similar aid against the Zulu revolt.

In 1906, however, Gandhi began his peaceful revolution. He stated that he would go to jail or even die before obeying an anti-Asian law. He was joined by thousands of Indians in this civil disobedience campaign, and in those years he was imprisoned twice. Once again in World War I he organized an ambulance corps for the British before returning home to India in 1915.

Gandhi was one of the gentlest of men; a committed and something like a mystical Hindu. He had; however, an iron core of determination and nothing could sway him from his convictions. This combination of character qualities, within 15 years, made him the leader of India’s nationalist movement. Some analysts refer to him as a master politician while others believed him a saint. Refusing earthly possessions, he wore the loincloth and shawl of the lowliest Indian and subsisted on vegetables, fruit juices, and goat’s milk. To millions of Hindus he was their beloved Mahatma (“great soul”).

Gandhi’s supporters followed him almost blindly in his campaign for swaraj (home rule), as his writings and devout life won him a mass of friends. He strived to bring together all classes and religious sects, especially Hindus and Muslims, and in 1919 he became a leader in the newly formed political party, the Indian National Congress. In 1920 he launched a disobedience campaign against Britain by urging Indians to spin their own cotton and to boycott British goods, its courts, and government. Gandhi’s actions led to his imprisonment from 1922 to 1924.

Protesting against a salt tax in 1930, he led thousands of Indians on a 320-kilometre march to the sea to make their own salt, and he was jailed once again. He retired as head of the Indian National Congress in 1934 but remained its actual leader. Gandhi became increasingly aware that his country would receive no real freedom as long as it remained part of the British Empire. During the early stages of World War II he insisted on instant independence. This he demanded as the price for India’s assistance to Britain in the war. He was imprisoned for the third time, from 1942 to 1944, but was released two years later because of failing health.

Gandhi’s victory came in 1947 when India won independence. The subcontinent split into two countries (India and Pakistan) and brought Hindu-Muslim riots On Jan. 30, 1948, while on his way to prayer in Delhi, Gandhi was killed by a Hindu who An epic motion picture based on his life won several Academy awards in 1983.

India was granted independence in 1947, and the subcontinent split into two countries – India and Pakistan. Rioting between Hindus and Muslims followed. Again, on 13 January 1948 at the age of 78, Gandhi made use of his style of nonviolence. He fasted for five days before the Delhi rioters pledged peace to him. Twelve days later a Hindu fanatic who opposed his program to reconcile Hindus and Muslims assassinated him.

Following the assassination, Gandhi’s body was cremated and 20 urns were filled with ashes of the slain leader. In January 1997, almost fifty years after the assassination, the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were spread in the Ganges River during a ceremony honoring his memory in Allahabad, India. The Indian people thereby complied with Gandhi’s wish that his remains be immersed in the rivers of the country. Gandhi succeeded in ending British rule over his native country without striking a single blow.