Mahatma Gandhi was one of the most respected spiritual and political leaders (of the 1900’s) ever to have walked the planet. His campaigns of passive resistance and civil disobedience proved to be a great success; through his work, the less privileged people of the world have gained a higher quality of life.
Having born on October 2, 1869 in Porbandar, India he got married to Kasturba, a girl of the same age during his 13. After successfully studying law at University College, London, Gandhi returned to India. He tried in vain to set up a law firm in Bombay in 1891, but soon found work as a legal advisor in Durban, South Africa for a year.
At the time, the British controlled South Africa. When he attempted to claim his rights as a British subject, he was abused, and soon saw that all Indians suffered similar treatment. It must have been quite a culture shock for the young man on arriving in that country. Apartheid was thriving, so anybody who was not white was treated as inferior, second class citizens. Gandhi decided to do something about this problem though, and began his method of passive resistance and non-cooperation, drawing on the likes of Tolstoy and Jesus as his inspirations. It was by no means an easy ride. He regularly endured terms of imprisonment, and was harshly beaten several times. Twenty years of this type of campaigning paid off, when in 1914 the South African government made several concessions to the Indian people living there.
After the First World War, Gandhi decided to concentrate on improving life in his native India. His ideology was well received and he soon had a healthy following that regularly practised passive resistance. The British government didn’t like the campaigning and deemed it to be revolutionary. Consequently, British troops massacred many innocent Indians at a demonstration in 1920.
This caused Gandhi to instigate a policy of non-cooperation towards the British. Indians began removing their children from government run schools and masses of people began squatting in the streets to protest. Even when faced with physical punishments, such as being beaten with a truncheon, they would refuse to move.
He developed a method of action based upon the principles of courage, nonviolence and truth and called it, the Satyagraha. He believed that, the way people behave is more important than what they achieve. Satyagraha promoted nonviolence and civil disobedience as the most appropriate methods for obtaining political and social goals. In 1915 Gandhi returned to India. Within 15 years he became the leader of the Indian nationalist movement
In retaliation Britain imprisoned Gandhi, but he was soon released. In 1924, he was forced to call an end to the campaign of non-cooperation due to rising levels of violence from India towards Britain. Ironically, the opposite of what he preached was starting to take place. Six years later he began another campaign against the payment of tax, and many of his followers joined him on a demonstration march to the sea. In 1934, he formally resigned from politics, having been imprisoned several more times. When imprisoned, Gandhi would begin fasting in protest. The British hated this, because they knew that if he died whilst being wrongly imprisoned the repercussions from the Indian people would be catastrophic.
In 1947 India gained independence, something that Gandhi had worked towards for a long time. Rioting between Hindus and Muslims followed. Gandhi had been an advocate for a united India where, Hindus and Muslims lived together in peace. He was also very critical of the caste system, whereby some Indians of high social standing were deemed ‘untouchable’.
On January 13, 1948, at the age of 78, he began a fast with the purpose of stopping the bloodshed. After 5 days, the opposing leaders pledged to stop the fighting and Gandhi broke his fast. Twelve days later a Hindu fanatic, Nathuram Godse who opposed his program of tolerance for all creeds and religion assassinated him.
If he had wanted, Gandhi could have lived a very comfortable life as a lawyer. Instead he devoted it to prayer, fasting and meditation. He wore basic clothes and lived off fruit, vegetables and milk. He gave up his personal comfort to bring well-being to millions of others.