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Mahatma Gandhi- Non-Violent Political and Spiritual Leader

Updated on January 11, 2017

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi Sets Down the Foundation for His Life Mission

For over 300 years, India was ruled by the British East India Company and then the British Crown. One man changed all of that. His name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, affectionately known as "Mahatma", or "Great Soul", and "Bapu", or "Father" by his followers. He professed and practiced "satyagraha", or "civil disobedience", and "ahimsa", or "non-violence". He embraced all religions as equal in the eyes of God and was a prolific writer. "Truth" was his ultimate goal.

Gandhi was educated in England to become a lawyer. Upon returning to India to practice law, he could find no work or none that would sustain him and his family. So, he seized upon the opportunity to go to South Africa, legally representing Indians there. He had plans to become successful and adopted Western habits and dress in order to fit in with polite society. He soon found that no matter how he behaved, he was considered a second class citizen by the ruling British.

His convictions for civil disobedience were realized when he was ordered to relinquish his first class seat on a train so as to let an European woman sit. Gandhi refused to go to third class and was subsequently expelled from the train to spend a frigid night in a train depot. From then on he vowed to uphold the rights of the minority masses via astute legal maneuvers and political resistance to the established authority. However, he was determined to accomplish his ends through non-violent means.

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Gandhi Returns to India to Become Political Leader

Gandhi Promotes Civil Disobedience through Non-Violence

Gandhi returned to India in 1915 with his experiences and notoriety in South Africa preceding him. He almost immediately made speeches to the Indian National Congress. His longtime friend Gopal Krishna Gokhale advised him of politics, affairs of state and the Indian People. He travelled throughout India familiarizing himself with the varied cultures in the various locales, the poverty of the masses and the oppressive rule of the British "Raj". He eventually became the leader of the Indian National Congress.

Gandhi began to fashion his own garb from homespun cloth or "khadi" on his spinning wheel, and encouraged others to do likewise in the boycott of British and foreign made goods. He never again wore Western styled clothes, imitating India's poor in his attire. In 1922 he was arrested for sedition and sentenced to 6 years in prison for his "non-cooperation". He was released in 1924 due to the need for an appendectomy. Throughout the years from 1915, he organized strikes and fasted to attain victory.

Gandhi Executes the Salt March to Dandi

Gandhi Becomes a Spiritual Leader

In 1930, Gandhi led a march of thousands from Ahmedabad to Dandi in protest to the British imposed salt tax. Travelling some 241 miles without assistance, he made his own salt by the sea and also participated in prayer. British authorities chose to ignore Gandhi's quest at that time. However, in the following months, millions of Indians made their own salt in defiance of the tax, which cost the British controlled government millions in revenue. 60,000 Indians were imprisoned as a result.

Also in the 1930's, Gandhi aided the lowest caste of Hindus known as "Untouchables". He called them "Harijans", or "The Children of God". He fasted for 21 days in support of their cause and for self-purification. He was instrumental in improving education, living conditions and hygienic sanitation projects. Gandhi read the Bhagavad Gita and once stated that, "God has no religion." He also studied the Bible and the Koran. He wrote extensively, no matter where he was or what he was doing. He authored an autobiography, "The Story of My Experiments with Truth".

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World War II, Quit India, Reconciliation and Martyrdom

The Mahatma, Mohandas K. Gandhi

In the 1940's, Gandhi led the "Quit India Movement" in referendum. He applied constant pressure on the British government through non-support of war efforts, urging Indians not to enlist in the army. His relentless non-violent struggle against authority through his writings, fasting and other civil disobedience proved to be overwhelming and frustrating to the British, weakening their grip on the treasured colony. Furthermore, Gandhi's naivete in dealing with totalitarianism disheartened the British. He opened a letter to Adolf Hitler pleading for the lives of the Jews with "Dear Friend".

Being preoccupied in the fight against fascism, depleted militarily and economically and becoming exhausted from years of non-violent defiance, Britain finally granted India its independence on August 15, 1947. Gandhi yearned for a united India, with all religions living as one. This was not to be. The subcontinent was partitioned into Pakistan for the Moslems and India for the Hindus. A disgruntled Hindu, Nathuram Godse, assassinated the Mahatma on January 30, 1948 because of Gandhi's concessions and humility toward the Moslems.

Mahatma Gandhi led a devoted life in the search for truth, or "Satya". He was a vegetarian and practiced celibacy since the age of 36. He was criticized for sleeping naked with young women in his later years. He insisted that it was to keep himself warm. He fought the British Crown to a standstill, all through non-violent civil disobedience. He gained India its independence from 300 years of oppressive rule. He was ascetic and altruistic, yet, ignored his family. He was not only a part of Indian and British History but of World History. His dichotomy made him suspect to many. To others, his leadership, charisma, unselfishness, martyrdom and complexity made him one of the greatest men who has ever lived.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi - The Mahatma

Mahatma Gandhi's life entailed struggle and sacrifice in order to change India and the world forever. Read on this amazing man's mission to make India free.

Mahatma Gandhi - Indian Independence

Do you think that Gandhi's method for Indian Independence was the right one? Could India's independence have been won sooner through violent means?

Did the Mahatma do the right thing?

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