Mohandus Karamchand Gandhi was a major figure in Indian history. He was best known for his policy of passive resistance and civil disobedience against unjust laws set by the British government. He inspired other nonviolent movements notably the U.S. civil right movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s lead by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Encarta 98). Gandhi was highly influential, some say responsible, for India’s gain of independence and the abolishment of untouchability, the lowest rank under the caste system.
Gandhi was born to a middle-class Indian family in 1869 and married at the age of thirteen to Kasturbai Makanji. He began to study law at the University of London in 1888 and as he completed his studies and prepared to return home for India in 1891 he had doubts about his future (Sherrow 34). He lacked the knowledge of Indian law as well as the social connections needed for a successful career. He had never set foot inside an Indian courtroom in his life. He attempted to set up a law practice but had little success. Two years later an Indian firm with assets in South Africa held him as a legal advisor at its office in Durban.
While in Durban, Gandhi was treated as a member of an inferior race. He was offended and horrified at the denial of rights and liberties to Indian immigrants. He joined the struggle for elementary rights for Indians. He stood in South Africa for 20 years. He was imprisoned many times. Gandhi began to teach a policy of passive resistance to South African authorities after being attacked and beaten by white South Africans. In 1899 the trouble that had been brewing between the British and the Boers escalated into war (Sherrow 47). Gandhi sided with the Boers in what was known as the Boer war but set up a British ambulance service called the Indian Ambulance Corps. According to Gandhi’s sense of justice, if you wanted the rights of a British citizen you must perform the duties expected of one. He urged other Indians to serve with him. Because of this act, Gandhi receives two war medals. In 1914 the government of the Union of South Africa made important compromises to Gandhi’s demands, including recognition of Indian marriages and the abolition of the poll tax for them (Encarta 98). Seeing his work in South Africa complete, he returned to India.
Gandhi became a leader in the tough struggle for home rule. After World War I Gandhi started his movement of passive resistance to Great Britain. He was again urging Satyagraha (Sanskrit, “truth and firmness). In 1919, Parliament passed the Rowlatt Acts, which banned terrorism and disloyal acts or resistance toward the government. Satyagraha spread through India gaining millions of followers. On April 10th 5,000 gathered to protest the Rowlatt Act. Nearly 400 unarmed Indians are massacred and 1,200 were wounded at Amristar, where this demonstration was held, by British soldiers to “punish” the Indians (Sherrow 67). Gandhi declares that Britain must leave India. Britain failed to make amends and Gandhi launched and organized a campaign of noncooperation. Government bureaus were boycotted and the streets were blocked by squatting Indians refusing to leave even when beaten (Encarta 98). Gandhi was arrested but was soon released.
Gandhi realized that Satyagraha would be necessary and that swaraj, or self-rule, must be their goal. Gandhi asked for massive nonviolent noncooperation throughout India. He urged a boycott of British goods, British schools, universities, jobs, liquor, stores and cloth. He carried a portable spinning wheel in hopes of encouraging others to end India’s dependence of British goods (Sherrow 68). He wore simple homemade clothes. Indians saw him as a saint and began to call him Mahatma, Sanskrit for “great soul”. His power was great and Indians adored him.
In 1930 Gandhi proclaimed a new campaign of civil disobedience. It was necessary for the Indian population to refuse to pay the British taxes especially the tax on salt. On March 12, 1930 Gandhi set out at dawn with seventy-nine followers to lead a march to the Indian coast to evaporate the seawater to make salt. This historic march was known as the Salt March. For twenty-four days Gandhi lead the group on the 241-mile march to the sea. People cheered along the way and the group grew. By the time they reached the Dandi on April 5th several thousand people joined them (Sherrow 81). Defying British law the marchers picked up the salt encrusted sand. Many arrests were wade as salt marches took place around the country. About 60,000 people were arrested many people were beaten and injured by police. Less than two weeks later Gandhi was once again arrested but released stopping the campaign after the British made compromises to his demands.
In 1932, Gandhi started a new crusade. Once again he was arrested for civil disobedience. While in jail, Gandhi fasted on behalf of the Untouchables. These fasts were effective because great chaos would have broken out if he had died. He was sixty-three now and his body was weak from years of fasting and years of hard work. Friends came to prison and begged him to stop. His wife, Kasturbai, pleaded with him but Gandhi would not end the fast. Doctors warned him that he was near his death. The British government came to an agreement that allowed the Untouchables to be represented in the Assembly. There was an effort to give Untouchables more rights. Due to these changes, Gandhi finally broke his fast on the sixth day.
By 1945 it finally seemed possible that Great Britain would give India her independence under the condition that the two nationalist groups, the Muslim League and the Congress Party, resolve their differences. The two groups were unable to live together peacefully. Gandhi stood strongly against the partition of India into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India but saw that it was essential in order for Great Britain to grant India her independence. He finally agreed to the separation with hopes that peace would be achieved. India and Pakistan became two different states and Great Britain granted India its independence in 1947. Riots followed the partition of India and Gandhi fasted until the riots stopped. This fast was successful and brought about peace. Twelve days after this fast, while on the way to a prayer meeting, Gandhi was killed by an assassin’s bullet. He was cremated according to Hindu tradition the next day in before millions. All countries sent condolences to India and Gandhi became a historical part of India’s past.
Mohandus Karamchand Gandhi was a huge part of India’s past. He contributed many great things to the world such as passive resistance and civil disobedience against unjust laws. He was an enormous figure in the campaign for home rule the attack upon the caste system and the gain of India’s independence. He was an Indian nationalist leader who established his country’s freedom through a nonviolent revolution. He was the Mahatma.