Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, India. His father was Karamchand Uttamchand Gandhi, who was the local chief minister despite having lacked formal education. Gandhi’s mother, Putlibai, was Karamchand’s fourth wife, and she could neither read nor write. Gandhi had two older brothers and one older sister. 

When Gandhi was nine years old, he started to attend the local school and learned basic arithmetic, the Gujarati language, geography, and history. He then attended Alfred High School at age 11, where he was known as an ordinary student. He lacked athletic abilities and was shy and not comfortable speaking in front of people. As a result, he did not participate in athletics and was only able to appreciate books and lessons. At 13 years old, Gandhi was married to a girl named Kasturbai, who was also 13 years old. Gandhi would later narrate that both of them did not have a clear idea of the wedding; all they knew was that it was a day spent with relatives and wearing new clothes. As an adult, Gandhi recalled that as a teenager, he often had erotic thoughts about his young wife, even in school or when she was with her friends. 

When Gandhi’s father died in 1885, his relatives decided that Gandhi should go to England to study law. They wanted him to take over his father’s career as a public official. However, Gandhi’s mother opposed the idea, worried that England’s culture would corrupt her son’s morals. Gandhi promised his mother that he would not touch wine or meat during his stay in England. And so the plan pushed through, and Gandhi arrived in London and dressed like an English gentleman. He tried his best to fit in and even took up ballroom dancing and elocution lessons. He enjoyed the company of friends in the Theosophical Society, and he studied the Bhagavad Gita with them. Gandhi slowly developed an interest in the philosophy of nonviolence as depicted in the Hindu sacred scriptures and the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible. In 1891, after completing his studies in law, he returned to India. However, he was not able to thrive as a practicing lawyer. 

In South Africa

In 1893, he was contacted by the owner of a shipping company in South Africa, who told him that his cousin needed a lawyer. Gandhi discussed the salary with the businessman, then headed to South Africa. 

Upon arriving in South Africa, Gandhi immediately suffered harsh treatment and discrimination. He eventually became active in movements that fought against the discrimination against Indians there. The discrimination against Indians was widespread as they were treated harshly by both the British rulers and the Boers. Gandhi had planned to stay only a year in South Africa, but in 1896 he was joined by his wife and son, and he ended up staying there until 1914. He established the Natal Indian Congress to protect Indians in South Africa against discrimination. Gandhi also led a medical corps that served the British during the Boer War. When the war was over, Gandhi enjoyed the reputation of a great leader, and his personal convictions grew even sharper. He avoided sexual contact with his wife, turned his back on modern technology, and developed the concept of satyagraha, which meant soul force. 


Satyagraha is a form of passive resistance or the refusal to cooperate. Gandhi and his followers used this form of nonviolent resistance against white authority in South Africa. Satyagraha required uncommon courage, and Gandhi and his followers demonstrated this by their readiness for physical pain and imprisonment. As a result, people back in India admired them for their fearlessness, and British and Boer’s authorities eventually granted the Indians some allowances. In 1914, Gandhi left South Africa and returned home to India, where he was welcomed as a great soul, or “mahatma.”

Despite his efforts against the discriminatory practices of the British, Gandhi was still loyal to the British empire. However, when the British restricted Indian freedoms after World War I, Gandhi decided it was time for India to rule itself. 

In the early 1920s, Gandhi led a massive protest of non-cooperation that crippled the British government. Because of this, he was imprisoned from 1922 to 1924. When he was set free, he stayed away from politics for a while and went around India mingling with peasants. However, in 1930, he returned to action and drafted the Declaration of Independence of India. After this, Gandhi organized the Salt March to protest Britain’s Salt Act of 1882, which disallowed Indians from manufacturing or selling salt. This set off a chain reaction of civil disobedience throughout India and forced the British government to request Gandhi’s presence in London for talks at the Round Table Conference. Gandhi was warmly received at the conference, but talk of an independent India broke down, hounded by issues related to Muslim minorities. After this, Gandhi stayed away from the public once again. However, in 1935, when the Government of India Act conferred considerable amounts of freedom and power to Indians, the Indian National Congress demanded much more. 

When World War II erupted, India descended into chaos, and Gandhi, along with several other leaders, was jailed. When the war ended, the new British prime minister laid out many reasons that favored the granting of independence to India. However, the leader of the Muslim League, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, fought for the establishment of an independent state for Muslims in India. Congress leaders and the British government granted Jinnah’s demand, and in August 1947, India was granted its independence. However, it was also partitioned to allow for the creation of the independent state of Pakistan. This greatly worried Gandhi, as he was in favor of a unified India. Soon, Hindus in Pakistan migrated to India, and Muslims in India migrated to Pakistan, and this led to massive violence. Gandhi tried to address the chaos, but the violence was too massive for his calls for peace. On January 30, 1948, Gandhi was shot three times in the stomach by a fanatic Hindu nationalist who felt that he was the cause of India’s descent into chaos.