Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), Indian nationalist leader, who established his country's freedom through a nonviolent revolution.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, also known as Mahatma Gandhi, was born in Porbandar in the present state of Gujarāt on October 2, 1869, and educated in law at University College, London. In 1891, after having been admitted to the British bar, Gandhi returned to India and attempted to establish a law practice in Bombay (now Mumbai), with little success. Two years later an Indian firm with interests in South Africa retained him as legal adviser in its office in Durban. Arriving in Durban, Gandhi found himself treated as a member of an inferior race. He was appalled at the ...view middle of the document...
His work in South Africa complete, he returned to India.
Gandhi became a leader in a complex struggle, the Indian campaign for home rule. Following World War I, in which he played an active part in recruiting campaigns, Gandhi, again advocating Satyagraha, launched his movement of passive resistance to Britain. When, in 1919, Parliament passed the Rowlatt Acts, giving the Indian colonial authorities emergency powers to deal with so-called revolutionary activities, Satyagraha spread through India, gaining millions of followers. A demonstration against the Rowlatt Acts resulted in a massacre of Indians at Amritsar by British soldiers (see Amritsar Massacre); in 1920, when the British government failed to make amends, Gandhi proclaimed an organized campaign of noncooperation. Indians in public office resigned, government agencies such as courts of law were boycotted, and Indian children were withdrawn from government schools. Through India, streets were blocked by squatting Indians who refused to rise even when beaten by police. Gandhi was arrested, but the British were soon forced to release him.
Economic independence for India, involving the complete boycott of British goods, was made a corollary of Gandhi's swaraj (Sanskrit, “self-ruling”) movement. The economic aspects of the movement were significant, for the exploitation of Indian villagers by British industrialists had resulted in extreme poverty in the country and the virtual destruction of Indian home industries. As a remedy for such poverty, Gandhi advocated revival of cottage industries; he began to use a spinning wheel as a token of the return to the simple village life he preached, and of the renewal of native Indian industries.
Gandhi became the international symbol of a free India. He lived a spiritual and ascetic life of prayer, fasting, and meditation. His union with his wife became, as he himself stated, that of brother and sister. Refusing earthly possessions, he wore the loincloth and shawl of the lowliest Indian and subsisted on vegetables, fruit juices, and goat's milk. Indians revered him as a saint and began to call him Mahatma (Sanskrit, “great soul”), a title reserved for the greatest sages. Gandhi's advocacy of nonviolence, known as ahimsa (Sanskrit, “noninjury”), was the expression of a way of life implicit in the Hindu religion. By the Indian practice of nonviolence, Gandhi held, Britain too would eventually consider violence useless and would leave India.
The Mahatma's political and spiritual hold on India was so great that the British authorities dared not interfere with him. In 1921 the Indian National Congress, the group that spearheaded the movement for nationhood, gave Gandhi complete executive authority, with the right of naming his own successor. The Indian population, however, could not fully comprehend the unworldly ahimsa. A series of armed revolts against Britain broke out, culminating in such violence that Gandhi confessed the failure of the...