Mohandas Gandhi

November 25, 2012 3:07 am

Many people consider Mohandas Gandhi the greatest figure of the 20th century. Gandhi freed India from rule by the British Empire. But it was how Gandhi did it that won the world’s respect. Most new nations are born through war. Gandhi found a different way. He was against violence.
Mohandas K. Gandhi was born in India in 1869. India had then been ruled by Britain for a century. At his mother’s urging, Mohandas went to college in England and studied law.
In 1893, Gandhi went to South Africa to practice law. South Africa, too, was then part of the British Empire. It had a large Indian community. Gandhi was angry to find that Indians were denied basic freedoms. In 1896, he began to lead Indians in South Africa in a struggle for equal rights.
It was not an armed struggle. Gandhi preached nonviolence. He organized marches to call attention to his cause. His followers refused to obey unfair laws. When attacked by police, they did not fight back.
Gandhi described his policy by an Indian word that meant “truth and firmness.” He was jailed many times. But his courage won people to his cause. In 1914, the South African government granted Indians their rights.
Gandhi returned to India in 1915. His goal was to win for his country the right to rule itself. His methods of strong but peaceful resistance spread across India.
In 1920, British soldiers killed hundreds of peaceful protesters in the city of Amritsar. Gandhi then called on Indians to refuse to cooperate with Britain. People stopped buying British goods. Instead, they made things at home in traditional ways. They took their children out of British schools. Those in government jobs quit.
During the years of resistance, Gandhi lived the simple life of the poorest Indians. He gave away his possessions. People called him Mahatma, meaning “great soul.” It was a title given to wise religious leaders.
Not all Indians followed Gandhi. Sometimes violence erupted against the British. This troubled Gandhi so much that he quit politics several times. But his people’s struggle kept drawing him back in.
In 1930, Gandhi called on Indians to refuse to pay taxes to Britain. The most hated tax was on salt. Gandhi led thousands of followers on a march to the sea to make salt from seawater. He was arrested again. But a year later, the British removed the salt tax and freed him. Without Gandhi, the British government realized, India would break out in violent revolution.
Gandhi also tried to break India’s traditional caste (social class) system. He supported the rights of people in the lowest caste, called untouchables. They were the poorest, most oppressed Indians.
Religion also divided India’s people. Violence sometimes broke out between Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi tried to bring them together.
In 1939, World War II began. Gandhi refused to support Britain in the war unless India was granted complete independence after it was over. Five years later, the British agreed.
India became a free country in 1947. Gandhi’s dream of a united India was not realized, however. India’s people were mostly Hindus. The country’s Muslims demanded their own state, which became Pakistan. Religious violence broke out between India and Pakistan.
Gandhi himself became a victim of the violence. On January 30, 1948, he was shot and killed by an Indian who hated his efforts to achieve peace.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi said. His death was considered a world tragedy. But his life inspired other people. One person who followed Gandhi’s way was American civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
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