A skinny man wearing a hand-woven dhoti and with a stick in his hand fought against the biggest empire of human history. His only weapons were truth and non-violence. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi was born in the coastal city of Porbandar, Gujrat. His father was a nationalist. He chose to homeschool Gandhi. Young Gandhi looked up to his mother the most. His mother had a very peculiar way of dealing with Gandhi’s mischiefs. Instead of scolding or beating him up, she would fast till Gandhi apologized. Gandhi went on to use this method against the British East India Company. He named it ‘Satyagrah’ (holding firmly to the truth).
Mahatma Gandhi went to South Africa after completing his education. There he quickly established himself as a popular lawyer. He was known for fighting against racial injustices. His movement against racism took a big turn when he was thrown out of a train. He organized and led a peaceful movement resulting in separate compartments for people of colour. His work in South Africa often gets overlooked. It was in South Africa where he practised and perfected his non-violent protests.
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At an age of 45, Gandhi returned to India. Already an experienced campaigner, Gandhi was sought by farmers for help. The city of Champaran became the stepping stone for Gandhi’s career as a freedom fighter. He never looked back after this. The Jallianwala Massacre of 1919 led to the non-cooperation movement. This was the first nationwide movement under the leadership of Gandhi. Gandhi believed that British rule in India was established through the cooperation of the Indian people. Hence he asked the people of India to boycott British goods and adopt Indian goods. He too adopted a loincloth dhoti as his attire. His growing popularity concerned British officers and hence he was jailed for two years.
After being released from jail, Gandhi spent the next 5 years defining and writing books on Swaraj (self-governance). He also reorganized the Indian National Congress party. Demanding Swaraj, Gandhi began his second nationwide movement in 1928, named the Civil Disobedience Movement. In this movement, he asked people to politely disobey the government.
Leading by example he began the Dandi March. A march in protest of the taxation of salt. Gandhi and his followers walked 241 miles from his ashram in Sabarmati to the town of Dandi. The march lasted 25 days and was well received by the public. Once again, to calm the movement, Gandhi was jailed.
At the age of 63, Gandhi started focusing more on the rural areas of India. While he is popularly known for his protests, his work with rural India had an even greater impact. It was Gandhi who first brought women into India’s struggle for independence. He also worked extensively against the taboo of untouchability. Back in the day, people with cleaning professions were considered untouchables. Gandhi fought this stigma by becoming a cleaner himself. He gave the name Harijan (people of God) to such professionals. As a result, this stigma has now become a thing of the past in modern-day India.
In an effort to end India’s religious strife, Gandhi resorted to fasts and visits to the troubled areas. His tolerance for Muslims angered Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse and on the eve of January 30th,1948, he assassinated Gandhi. Seven decades later, his values and principles are still the faces of India. India as a nation cherishes Gandhi’s way of peace and non-violence. His works paved the way for many future leaders including Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. His quotes still find their way into important speeches around the world.
Gandhi represents the best of humankind. Early in his age, he understood the importance of human lives and hence chose peace and non-violence over hatred and violence. The way of non-violence always takes more courage than the way of violence. This is why he is regarded as the Mahatma (superior soul).