Independence is the foundation of a nation. It does not always come easily. Looking back in history, almost every country had to fight its way to gain the right of self-rule. During the process, there was violence, and there was death. When the hard-earned freedom finally arrived, the key people who helped realize the dream became the new nation's founding fathers. Among all those outstanding individuals, there is one who really stands out. This person believed that freedom did not have to come at the cost of using force. He urged his followers to adopt a nonviolent approach. After years of struggle, he proved that he was right. On August 15, 1947, he made his native land an independent country. His ideals have since become the inspiration of people everywhere. This amazing person was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. And the new nation he helped to build was India.
Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, India. Porbandar, at the time, was the capital of a small city-state located west of India. Though the city-state was controlled by an Indian prince, the real power lay in the hands of the British. The British first set their eyes on India in the 17th century. Over the years, they slowly built up their presence and influence. When it became obvious that they were going to take over the entire land, people in India were very angry. They did not want to lose their freedom, so they fought back. The two sides clashed in 1857. Because the British were better organized and armed, they won the battle easily. After that, they made India part of their territory. They turned India into a colony. To effectively manage this vast area, the British resorted to using Indian princes. They allowed them to keep their own small kingdoms or city-states. Those princes did not have absolute power. They all had to answer to the British.
When Gandhi was about seven years old, his father became the prime minister of another city-state, Rajkot. The entire family moved. After they settled down, Gandhi began attending a primary school there. By all accounts, Gandhi was not a remarkable student. Though he received prizes every now and then, his overall academic record was not impressive. As the young boy turned thirteen years of age, he took time off from the school and got married. In 1887, Gandhi passed the entrance exam and became a freshman at Samaldas College. He did not like it there. After staying for just one term, he dropped out and went to Great Britain to study law. While he was there, he became a vegetarian and befriended many vegetarians. Those people initiated him into reading Buddhist and Hindu literature. Gandhi, for the first time in his life, started to show interest in religion. He later became a devoted Hindu follower.
Gandhi returned to India after he passed the lawyer's bar exam in July 1891. To his disappointment, the degree he worked so hard for did not lead to a lucrative career. At the time, there were simply too many lawyers in India! After a brief stint at the court, he started to look for other job opportunities. He applied for a part-time teaching post in a high school, but he was turned down. He tried to make a living by drafting litigations for people, but he had to give it up after a run-in with a British officer. Eventually, Gandhi decided to try his luck abroad. He accepted an offer from an Indian company in Natal, South Africa. He packed his bags and bid his family good-bye. He planned to stay there for a year.
Gandhi's experience in South Africa was not pleasant. He was often harassed by the Europeans who occupied and colonized South Africa then. One time, he bought a first-class ticket and boarded a train. When a European conductor came into the compartment, he had Gandhi thrown out! The discrimination and humiliation he encountered first-hand did not discourage him. Rather, they made him realize that there was work cut out for him. He must do something to change the situation. He must do something to improve the well being of his countrymen. For the remaining time of his employment, that was exactly what he did. As his one-year contract drew to an end, he was ready to go back to India. At a farewell party given in his honor, Gandhi happened to learn that the government in Natal was considering a bill to deny Indians the right to vote. He was angry. At the urging of the guests there, Gandhi decided to stay on and fight the injustice. He drafted petitions and argued his case passionately. Unfortunately, his work did not lead to a fruitful result. The bill passed anyway. Undeterred by the setback, Gandhi organized the National Indian Congress party and continued to use his legal training to challenge the authority at every turn. In 1906, at a rally protesting the mandatory registration of Indians, Gandhi brought up the concept of satyagraha (devotion of truth) for the first time. He asked his followers not to fight the injustice with violence. He urged them to use nonviolent resistance. He told the crowds to defy the new law by refusing to register. For the next several years, he led the struggle against the government. He was not afraid of being sent to prison. He was not afraid of being physically harmed. Eventually, his peaceful protests worked! Jan Christian Smuts, the South African General, negotiated a truce with Gandhi in 1914. The two sides reached an agreement and helped push through the Indian Relief Act. At the onset of World War I and the passage of the Indian Relief Act, Gandhi decided to leave South Africa for good. He and his family packed their belongings and boarded a ship back to India.
Shortly after Gandhi arrived in his homeland, he again devoted himself to politics. His goal this time was to free his people from the British rule. He wanted to make India an independent country. The tactics he used were no different from those he adopted in South Africa. He called for satyagraha and organized many protests in the form of nonviolent resistance. His charisma was like a magnet. Soon, he attracted a huge following. His popularity did not go unnoticed. The British authority in India considered him a troublemaker. They did not hesitate to use armed force against him and his supporters. Gandhi got arrested several times and spent many years in jail.
In 1921, Gandhi noticed that Indian markets were saturated with foreign-made clothes. The cheap imports drove down the demand for locally produced garments. This turn in economy was bad news for cotton growers and dressmakers in India. To promote self-reliance, Gandhi announced that he would stop wearing western clothes. He encouraged his followers to boycott British goods and only buy products made in India. From that point on, Gandhi no longer wore suits and ties. He would only put on a dhoti, a loose cotton tunic worn traditionally by an Indian man.
In 1930, Gandhi took on another critical cause. His target this time was salt. The British had full control over the production and sale of salt in India. They levied a tax on salt and made it expensive. To challenge the authority, Gandhi and his supporters walked more than 200 miles to a seaside village. Once he reached there, he made the famous gesture of picking up a lump of natural salt left on the shore and intentionally broke the "salt law." His bold move set things in motion. Everywhere in India, people started to manufacture their own salt. The British officials tried to quash the movement. They arrested Gandhi and put many people in jail. During the protest, several people died, and more got injured. Eventually, the British relented and decided to negotiate. In March 1931, the Gandhi-Irwin pact was signed. In it, the British government agreed to free all political prisoners, and Gandhi agreed to suspend his civil disobedience movement. The two sides had a round table conference in London later that year, but nothing much came out of it.
When Gandhi returned to India from Europe, he found the situation not improving as planned. Thus, he decided to start his movement again and was quickly arrested. To protest the injustice the British were carrying out at the time, Gandhi started to fast. His refusal to eat forced the British to once again return to negotiation. For the next several years, Gandhi continued to take on the British authority, while sparing his time caring for the poor. Throughout World War II, he pressured Great Britain to set India free, but his demands were always refused. When Great Britain finally agreed to consider the matter, it wanted to partition India into two nations - India for the Hindu majority and Pakistan for the Islamic population. Gandhi opposed the idea of separation. Nonetheless, the partition was adopted. On August 15, 1947, India became an independent country, and so did Pakistan. Gandhi was not among the celebrating crowd. He was alone mourning for the partition.
Just as he feared, the partition created problems. Shortly after gaining independence, Hindus and Muslims started to clash. To stop the spread of violence, Gandhi fasted and urged his people to set aside their differences and live in peace. His actions and words worked! The riots stopped.
Unfortunately, not everybody was happy about the turn of events. Some Hindu radicals were angry with Gandhi, accusing him of sympathizing with Muslims. Their anger reached a boiling point on January 30, 1948. At 5:13 that afternoon, as Gandhi was on his way to prayer, a young man approached him and shot him in the chest from point blank range. Gandhi died instantly.
Gandhi's death shook the world. His kindness and insistence of using nonviolence were highly respected by everybody. To show their appreciation, people both inside and outside of India long stopped using his given name, Mohandas Karamchand. Instead, they called him Mahatma. Mahatma means "Great Soul." That honorary title is most fitting for Gandhi!
1. Where was Gandhi from?
2. Which of the following about Gandhi is correct?
a. Gandhi was never married.
b. Gandhi's famous "Salt March" occurred in 1921.
c. Gandhi believed in fighting injustice with civil disobedience.
d. Gandhi became a vegetarian after he moved to South Africa.
3. Which country took over India and made it one of their colonies?
4. When did Gandhi first bring up the concept of satyagraha?
a. 1947 b. 1906 c. 1921 d. 1930
5. Who killed Gandhi?
a. Hindu radical b. British soldier c. Muslim fanatic d. South African general
6. Why did Gandhi stop wearing suits and ties?
a. Because he could not afford them
b. Because he wanted to boycott foreign-made clothes
c. Because they were too ugly
d. Because they made him uncomfortable
7. Why did Gandhi get thrown out of a train in South Africa?