Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was later known as mahatma or “great soul.” His father was a public servant and his mother, who had a great influence on him, was an adherent of a nonviolent strain of Hinduism. Between 1888 and 1891, the young Gandhi studied law in London and was admitted to the bar there. After returning to India for a few years, he moved to South Africa, where he spent most of the next 22 years. In response to its racial policies, Gandhi employed nonviolent civil disobedience and there formulated his theory of Satyagraha, which can be translated as “truth force” or nonviolent resistance. His campaigns in South Africa were generally directed to the legal and economic conditions of Indians.
On his return to India in 1915, his initial expressions of nonviolent action were not directed against the government, but within a few years, he initiated the first of several mass civil-disobedience campaigns against British colonial rule, and not all of them nonviolent as Gandhi had demanded. In 1922, he suspended a Satyagraha campaign after 22 policemen were killed in Chauri Chaura. His last campaign was on behalf of immediate Indian independence during World War II. The British relinquished power in 1947 but to a largely Hindu India and predominantly Moslem Pakistan. As Moslem-Hindu violence mounted, Gandhi tried to quell the killing and hatred through his appeals for peace and his fasting and calming the areas he visited. On his way to a prayer meeting in 1948, he was assassinated by a Hindu fundamentalist who feared Gandhi's appeals for communal harmony, friendship, and peace.
Background and History
Gandhi is primarily known as a political leader and social reformer, and influential figures including Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Barrack Obama have acknowledged a debt to Gandhi. Unlike them, he was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, although he was nominated several times. Gandhi's significance is that he developed a philosophy that encompasses both social and economic justice and care for the environment. Gandhi was born in Porbandar, India, and studied law in England. After qualifying, he practiced law for two years, and in 1893 accepted a one-year contract in South Africa, which at that time was under British control (Gandhi, 1948, 108-114).
He was appalled at the way that Indians (including himself) were treated in South Africa and worked to unify the Indian community into a political force, including the method of Satyagraha. This Sanskrit word, which literally means devotion to the truth, was his term for the theory of nonviolent protest and mass civil disobedience that he was developing. These activities brought him into conflict with the authorities, and he and many of his followers were often jailed and mistreated by the police. On his return to India, Gandhi began a campaign of resistance with the goal of achieving independence; his strategy included protests and strikes by tenant farmers, a boycott of foreign-made goods and of colonial institutions, and the famous Salt March in ...