Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was born Mohandas K. Gandhi in 1869, in Porbandar, India. His mother was illiterate, but her common sense and religious devotion had a lasting impact on Gandhi’s character. Gandhi was a bright student, going on to study law in England, before being sent to South Africa to practise. It was in South Africa that Gandhi first experimented with campaigns of civil disobedience and protest; he called his non-violent protests satyagraha. Despite being imprisoned for short periods of time, he also supported the British under certain conditions. He was decorated by the British for his efforts during the Boer War and Zulu rebellion.

After 21 years in South Africa, Gandhi returned to India in 1915. He became the leader of the Indian nationalist movement campaigning for home rule or Swaraj. Gandhi successfully instigated a series of non-violent protest. This included national strikes for one or two days. Gandhi also encouraged his followers to practise inner discipline to get ready for independence. Gandhi said the Indians had to prove they were deserving of independence. This is in contrast to independence leaders such as Aurobindo Ghose, who argued that Indian independence was not about whether India would offer better or worse government, but that it was the right for India to have self-government. Gandhi also clashed with others in the Indian independence movement such as Subhas Chandra Bose who advocated direct action to overthrow the British. Gandhi frequently called off strikes and non-violent protest if he heard people were rioting or violence was involved.

In 1930, Gandhi led a famous march to the sea in protest at the new Salt Acts. In the sea, they made their own salt, in violation of British regulations. Many hundreds were arrested and Indian jails were full of Indian independence followers. However, whilst the campaign was at its peak some Indian protesters killed some British civilians, and as a result, Gandhi called off the independence movement saying that India was not ready. This broke the heart of many Indians committed to independence. It led to radicals like Bhagat Singh carrying on the campaign for independence, which was particularly strong in Bengal (Biography Online).

After World War II, Lord Mountbatten arrived in India with instructions to take Britain out of India by June 1948. The Congress Party by this time had agreed to separation, since the only alternative appeared to be continuation of British rule. Gandhi, despairing because his nation was not responding to his plea for peace and brotherhood, refused to participate in the independence celebrations on August 15, 1947. On September 1, 1947, after an angry Hindu mob broke into the home where he was staying in Calcutta, Gandhi began to fast, ‘to end only if and when sanity returns to Calcutta.’ Both Hindu and Muslim leaders promised that there would be no more killings, and Gandhi ended his fast.

On January 13, 1948, Gandhi began his last fast in Delhi, praying for Indian unity. On January 30, as he was attending prayers, he was shot and killed by Nathuram Godse, a thirty-five-year-old editor of a Hindu Mahasabha extremist newspaper in Poona (Encylopedia of World Biographies).

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