Few individuals have accomplished so much for not only their country but the world, as Mahatma Gandhi. Known for his peaceful demonstrations that inspired a nation, his legacy lives on through today.
In British-controlled Kathiawar, India, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869. Few would have expected the great accomplishments he would later have. His father, Karamchand Gandhi, was a chief minister in Porbandar in western India. Putilbai Gandhi, his mother, fasted regularly as part of her religious faith. Both parents had a strong influence on what was to come.
Following his rebellious teenage years, where he frequently ate meat, stole from household servants, and smoked, he became interested in being a doctor. At 18, he set off for London to study law at the wishes of his father. While struggling with the cultural differences of his new home, Gandhi became recommitted to the religion of his parents—becoming vegetarian, fasting, and studying the sacred texts on different world religions as well. He returned to India three years later and began work as a lawyer.
His return to India came just weeks following the death of his mother, and he soon found that being a lawyer was a demanding career—so much so that he was unable to represent his first client in court and instead reimbursed him for his services.
Public Servant and Leader
In 1893, Gandhi took a one-year job in the South African state of Natal. There he was exposed to terrible racism and segregation as the controlling British harshly ruled over the Indian immigrants.
After being the subject of several extreme acts of racism in Natal, Gandhi decided to organize the Natal Indian Congress in 1894. The group worked on ending segregation, including a bill that deprived Indians of their right to vote. It was during this fight that he started a path to notoriety.
The following years saw a series of wins and losses in his fight for equality in Natal, including his arrest in 1913 following a mass civil disobedience campaign.
He returned to India in 1914 and founded an ashram that was open to all castes. His attire changed to a shawl and loincloth, and his days were filled with fasting, meditation, and prayer. He soon was known as the “great soul” or “Mahatma.”
1919 brought his focus back to peaceful protest against British rule in India. His reputation and leadership skills soon gathered a massive following despite often being met with violence.
Over the following decades, Gandhi led the Indian people through boycotts, extended fasts, and a large demonstration against over-taxation—the Salt March. The rebellious act landed him in prison, but he was also named Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1930.
A Violent End
After countless bouts with government and opposing religious groups, Gandhi was assassinated at the age of seventy-eight by Nathuram Godse. Godse was an extremist Hindu who was infuriated by Gandhi’s relationship and tolerance of Muslims.