Who Was Mahatma Gandhi?
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) was a great Indian political leader who played a major part in his country’s struggle to win independence from Great Britain. The title Mahatma, or Great Soul, was given to him by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore in 1915.
In 1893 Gandhi went to South Africa as a lawyer and championed the cause of the Indian community there against discrimination. It was while he was in South Africa that he was converted to a strict personal regime of self-denial, called brahmacharya, which was closely interwoven with his creed of non-violent resistance, which he named satyagraha, or truth force.
Gandhi returned to India in 1914 and soon became the recognized leader of the Indian National Congress in its struggle to establish an independent republic. Although he attacked the British Government, Gandhi asserted that he respected the British people.
In their turn most Britons admired Gandhi even when they did not understand him. He adopted the loincloth as his dress and toured the country promoting the spinning wheel as a means of freeing India from dependence on Lancashire cotton mills. In 1922 he was imprisoned for two years for sedition as the leader of a mass campaign of civil disobedience.
Gandhi famously led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in calling for the British to Quit India in 1942. Gandhi attempted to practice nonviolence and truth in all situations, and advocated that others do the same. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community and ate simple vegetarian food, and also undertook long fasts as a means of both self-purification and social protest.
Gandhi published newspapers and pamphlets, identified himself with the Untouchables (low-caste Hindus), whom he called Children of God, and introduced a system of hygiene and first aid in remote villages. Millions of followers of all classes called him Bapu, meaning Father. But his efforts to bring Muslims and Hindus together did not meet with great success.
Finding progress towards self government too slow, Gandhi increased his harassment of the British authorities. He was frequently sent to prison, for the last time in 1942 when he declared that the Allies could expect support only from a “free India.” After the Second World War, Gandhi agreed to the formation of the separate Muslim state of Pakistan as a condition of independence.
When riots broke out between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi entered on his fourteenth fast, which he swore he would maintain until death or the end of the bloodshed. For a time he was successful in halting the fighting. But on January 30, 1948, shortly after the end of his fast, he was shot dead by a Hindu fanatic (Nathu Ram Godse) on his way to conduct a prayer meeting.