Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi "Father of the nation" -Mahatma Gandhi Born October 2, 1869 Porbandar, Gujarat, India Died January 30, 1948 New Delhi, India Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (October 2, 1869 - January 30, 1948), (Devanagari), called Mahatma Gandhi, was the charismatic leader who brought the cause of India's independence from British colonial rule to world attention. His philosophy of non-violence, for which he coined the term satyagraha has influenced both nationalist and international movements for peaceful change.
By means of non-violent civil disobedience, an idea he developed from the teachings of Leo Tolstoy and Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi helped bring about India's independence from British rule. This inspired other colonial peoples to work for their own independence, ultimately dismantling the British Empire and replacing it with the Commonwealth of Nations. Gandhi's principle of satyagraha ("soul force"), often translated as "way of truth" or "pursuit of truth", has inspired other democratic activists, including Martin Luther King, Jr.. He often said that his values were simple; drawn from traditional Hindu beliefs: truth (satya), and non-violence (ahimsa).
Early life Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born into a Hindu family in Porbandar, Gujarat, India. They were descendants of traders (the word "Gandhi" means grocer). He was the son of Karamchand Gandhi, the dewan (Chief Minister) of Porbandar, and Putlibai, Karamchand's fourth wife, a Hindu of the Vaishnava sect. Growing up with a devout Vaishnava mother and surrounded by the Jain influences of Gujarat, Gandhi learned from an early age the tenets of noninjury to living beings, vegetarianism, fasting for self-purification, and mutual tolerance between members of various creeds and sects. At the age of 13 Gandhi married Kasturba Makharji, who was the same age as he. They had four sons: Harilal Gandhi, born in 1888; Manilal Gandhi, born in 1892; Ramdas Gandhi, born in 1897; and Devdas Gandhi, born in 1900.
Gandhi was a mediocre student in his youth at Porbandar and later Rajkot, and barely passed the matriculation exam for the University of Bombay in 1887, joining Samaldas College. He did not stay there long, however, as his family felt he must become a barrister if he was to continue the family tradition of holding high office in Gujarat. Unhappy at Samaldas College, he leapt at the opportunity to study in
England, which he viewed as "a land of philosophers and poets, the very centre of civilization."
At the age of 19, Gandhi went to University College, of the University of London, to train as a barrister. His time in London, the Imperial capital, was influenced by a vow he had made to his mother on leaving India to observe the Hindu precepts of abstinence from meat and alcohol. Although Gandhi experimented with becoming "English", taking dancing lessons for example, he couldn't stomach his landlady's mutton and cabbage. She pointed him towards one of London's vegetarian restaurants. Rather than simply going along with his mother's wishes, he read about, and became intellectually converted to, vegetarianism. He joined the Vegetarian Society, was elected to its Executive Committee, and founded a local chapter. He later credited this with giving him valuable experience in organising and running institutions. Some of the vegetarians he met were members of the Theosophical Society, which had been founded in 1875 by H.P. Blavatsky to further universal brotherhood. The Theosophists were devoted to the study of Buddhist and Hindu Brahmanistic literature. They encouraged Gandhi to read the Bhagavad Gita. Although he hadn't shown a particular interest in religion before then, he began to read works of, and about, Hinduism, Christianity, and other religions.
He returned to India after being admitted to the British bar. He tried to establish a law practice in Bombay, but had limited success. By this time, the legal profession was overcrowded in India, and Gandhi was not a dynamic figure in a courtroom. He applied for a part-time job as a teacher at a Bombay high school, but was turned down. He ended up returning to Rajkot to make a modest living drafting petitions for litigants, but was forced to close down that business as well when he ran afoul of a British officer. In his autobiography, he describes this incident as a kind of unsuccessful lobbying attempt on behalf of his older brother. It was in this climate that he accepted a year-long contract from an Indian firm to a post in Natal, South Africa.
Civil rights movement in South Africa At this point in his life, Gandhi was a mild-mannered, diffident, politically indifferent individual. He had read his first newspaper at age 18 and was prone to horrible stage fright when speaking in court. South Africa changed him dramatically as he faced the humiliation and oppression that was commonly directed at Indians in that country. One day in court in the city of Durban, the magistrate asked him to remove his turban, which he refused to do and then stormed out of the courtroom. Several days later, he began a journey to Pretoria that would serve as the catalyst for his activism. First, he was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg because he had refused to move from first class to third class when asked in spite of the fact that he was travelling on a first class ticket. Later, now travelling by stagecoach, he was beaten by a driver for refusing to travel on the footboard to make room for a European passenger. In addition to these specific incidents, he suffered other hardships on the journey as well, including being barred from many hotels on account of his race. This experience led him to more closely examine the hardships his people suffered in South Africa during his time in Pretoria.
At the onset of the South African War, Gandhi argued that the Indians must support the war effort in order to legitimize their claims to full citizen rights, and he organized a volunteer ambulance corps composed of 300 free Indians and 800 indentured laborers. At the conclusion of the war, however, the situation for the Indians did not improve; in fact, it continued to deteriorate. In 1906, the Transvaal government promulgated a new act that called for compulsory registration of the colony's Indian population. At a mass protest meeting held in Johannesburg in September, 1906, Gandhi adopted, for the first time, his platform of satyagraha (devotion to the truth), or nonviolent protest, calling on his fellow Indians to defy the new law and suffer the punishments for doing so rather than resisting through violent means. This plan was adopted and led to a seven-year struggle in which thousands of Indians were jailed (including Gandhi himself on many occasions), flogged, or even shot, for striking, refusing to register, and engaging in other forms of nonviolent resistance. While the government was successful in repressing the Indian protesters, the public outcry stemming from the harsh methods employed by the South African government in the face of peaceful Indian protesters finally forced South African general Jan Christian Smuts to negotiate a compromise with Gandhi.
Movement for Indian independence
As he had done in the South African War, Gandhi urged support of the British War effort in World War I and was active in recruiting Indians to serve in the military. He did speak out against specific incidents of British oppression and supported the peasantry of Bihar and Gujarat, but he did not entirely break with the British and remained on the periphery of the Indian nationalist movement.
After the war, he became involved with the Indian National Congress and the movement for independence. He gained worldwide publicity through his policies of civil disobedience, non-cooperation, and the use of fasting as a form of protest. The British authorities repeatedly imprisoned him. His longest term of imprisonment began on March 18, 1922 when he was sentenced to six years for civil disobedience - although he served only 2 years of that sentence. Gandhi spent a total of 2,338 days (adding to six and a half years) in prison during his lifetime.
Gandhi's other successful strategies for the independence movement included swadeshi policy - the boycott of foreign-made goods, especially British goods. Linked to this was his advocacy that khadi (homespun cloth) be worn by all Indians instead of British-made textiles. Gandhi exhorted Indian women, rich or poor, to spend time each day spinning khadi in support of the independence movement. This was a strategy to include women in the movement at a time when many thought that such activities were not 'respectable' for women.
His pro-independence stance hardened after the Amritsar Massacre in 1919, when British and Gurkha soldiers opened fire on a peaceful political gathering, killing hundreds of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims. In addition to boycotting British products, Gandhi urged the people to boycott British educational institutions and law courts, to resign from government employment, to refuse to pay taxes, and to forsake British titles and honours.
In April 1920, Gandhi was elected president of the All-India Home Rule League. He was invested with executive authority on behalf of the Indian National Congress in December 1921. Under Gandhi's leadership, the Congress was reorganized and given a new constitution, with the goal of swaraj (independence). Membership in the party was opened to anyone prepared to pay a token fee. A hierarchy of committees was set up to improve discipline and control over the hitherto amorphous and diffuse movement. These measures transformed the party from an elite organization to one of mass national appeal.
In 1922, Gandhi called off his civil disobedience movement after violence erupted at Chauri Chaura, Uttar Pradesh. He turned to social activism, establishing the Sabarmati Ashram at Ahmedabad, and began the newspaper Young India. He worked for equal rights for the historically downtrodden castes in Hindu society, particularly the untouchables, whom he named Harijan (children of God).
Gandhi re-entered the independence movement in 1930 when the Congress called upon him to lead another mass civil disobedience movement. He carried out his most famous campaign from March 21 to April 6 1930, marching 400 kilometres from Ahmedabad to Dandi. Thousands walked with him to the sea in what came to be known as the Dandi March or the Salt March. The object was for the people to collect their own salt rather than pay a salt tax to the government .
The Gandhi-Irwin pact was signed in March 1931. According to its terms the British Government agreed to set all political prisoners free in return for the suspension of the civil disobedience movement. In August 1931, Gandhi made a visit to England, including a trip to Birmingham, to attend the second Round Table Conference with the British government. The talks ended in failure. Gandhi returned to India and resumed civil disobedience.
On May 8, 1933 Gandhi began a 21-day fast to protest British oppression in India. In the summer of 1934, three unsuccessful attempts were made on his life. At Bombay, on March 3, 1939, Gandhi again fasted to protest the autocratic rule of India.
Gandhi's chosen successor in Congress was Jawaharlal Nehru, who was to become Prime Minister. They disagreed openly over the path to an independent India. However, Gandhi trusted Nehru over his authoritarian rival Sardar Patel to build the institutions that would guarantee the liberty of India's citizens.
Partition of India and assassination
Gandhi had great influence among the Hindu and Muslim communities of India. It is said that he ended riots through his mere presence. He was vehemently opposed to any plan that partitioned India into two separate countries. Nevertheless, partition was eventually adopted, creating, in 1947, a secular but Hindu-majority India and an Islamic Pakistan. On the day of the power transfer, Gandhi did not celebrate independence with the rest of India, but was alone in Calcutta mourning partition.
He was assassinated in Birla house, New Delhi on January 30, 1948 by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu radical who held him responsible for weakening the new government by insisting on a payment to Pakistan. Godse was later tried, convicted, and executed.
It is indicative of Gandhi's long struggle and search for God that his dying words were said to have been an homage to the Hindu conception of God, Rama: "He Ram!" (Oh God!). This is seen as an inspiring signal of his spirituality as well as his idealism regarding the possibility of unifying peace. While some are sceptical of this, evidence from a number of witnesses supports the claim that he made this utterance (see External links).
Gandhi's philosophy and his ideas of satya and ahimsa were influenced by the Bhagavad Gita and Hindu beliefs, the Jain religion and the pacifist Christian teachings of Leo Tolstoy. The concept of 'non-violence' (ahimsa) has a long history in Indian religious thought and has had many revivals with Hindu, Buddhist and Jain contexts. Gandhi explains his philosophy and way of life in his autobiography The Story of my Experiments with Truth. In applying these principles Gandhi did not balk from taking them to their most logical extremes. In 1940, when invasion of the British Isles by the armed forces of Nazi Germany looked imminent, Gandhi offered the following advice to the British people:
I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions.... If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them. (Non-Violence in Peace and War)
Although he experimented with eating meat on first leaving India, he later became a strict vegetarian. He wrote books on the subject while in London after having met vegetarian campaigner Henry Salt at gatherings of the Vegetarian Society. The idea of vegetarianism is deeply ingrained in Hindu and Jain traditions in India, and, in his native land of Gujarat, most Hindus were vegetarian. He experimented with various diets and concluded that a vegetarian diet should be enough to satisfy the minimum requirements of the body. He abstained from eating for long periods and used fasting as a political weapon.
Gandhi spent one day of each week in silence. He believed that abstaining from speaking brought him inner peace. This influence was drawn from the Hindu principles of mouna (silence) and shanti (peace). On such days he communicated with others by writing on paper. For three and a half years, from the age of 37, Gandhi refused to read newspapers, claiming that the tumultuous state of world affairs caused him more confusion than his own inner unrest.
The honorific title Mahatma
The word "Mahatma," while often mistaken for Gandhi's given name, is taken from the Sanskrit term of reverence "mahatman," meaning "great souled." The title "Mahatma" was accorded Gandhi in 1915 by his admirer Rabindranath Tagore (the first Indian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature). It was given in response to Gandhi having conferred the title "Gurudev" (great teacher) upon Tagore.
The wide acceptance of this title outside India may, in part, reflect the complexities of the relationship between India and Britain during Gandhi's lifetime. Such acceptance is consistent with the widespread perception of his deeply held religious beliefs and commitment to non-violence.