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Mahatma Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was the preeminent leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India.
1. Biography
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) was born on October 2, 1869, into a Hindu Modh family in Porbanadar, Gujarat, India. His father, named Karamchand Gandhi, was the Chief Minister (diwan) of the city of Porbanadar. His mother, named Putlibai, was the fourth wife; the previous three wives died in childbirth. Gandhi was born into the vaishya (business caste). He was 13 years old when married Kasturbai (Ba) Makhanji, through his parents arrangement. They had four sons. Gandhi learned tolerance and non-injury to living beings from an early age. He was abstinent from meat, alcohol, and promiscuity.
Gandhi studied law at the University of Bombay for one year, then at the University College London, from which he graduated in 1891, and was admitted to the bar of England. His reading of Civil Disobedience by David Thoreau inspired his devotion to the principle of non-violence. He returned to Bombay and practiced law there for a year, then went to South Africa to work for an Indian firm in Natal. There Gandhi experienced racism: he was thrown off a train while holding a valid first class ticket and pushed to third class. Later he was beaten by a stagecoach driver for refusing to travel on the foot-board to make room for a European passenger. He was barred from many hotels because of his race. In 1894, Gandhi founded the Natal Indian Congress. They focused on the Indian cause and British discrimination in South Africa. In 1897, Gandhi brought his wife and children to South Africa. He was attacked by a mob of racists, who tried to lynch him. He refused to press charges on any member of the mob. Gandhi became the first non-white lawyer to be admitted to the bar in South Africa.
During the South African War, Gandhi was a stretcher barer. He organized the Indian Ambulance corps of 300 Indian volunteers and hundreds of associates to serve wounded black South Africans. He was decorated for his courage at the Battle of Spion Kop. At that time Gandhi corresponded with Leo Tolstoy and expressed his admiration of the Tolstoyan principles of non-violence. In 1906 Gandhi, for the first time, organized a non-violent resistance against the Transvaal governments registration act. He called upon his fellow Indians to defy the new law in a non-violent manner and suffer the punishment for doing so. He was jailed on many occasions along with thousands of his supporters. Peaceful Indian protests caused a public outcry and forced the South African General J. C. Smuts to negotiate a compromise with Gandhi. However, Gandhi supported the British in World War I and encouraged Indians to join the Army to defend the British Empire, in compliance with the full citizenship requirement.
Back in India, Gandhi became active in the struggle for Indian Independence. He spoke at the conventions of the Indian National Congress, becoming one of its leaders. In 1918, Gandhi opposed the increasing tax levied by the British during the devastating famine. He was arrested in Champaran, state Bihar, for organizing civil resistance of tens of thousands of landless farmers and serfs. In jail Gandhi was on a hunger strike in solidarity with the famine stricken farmers. Hundreds of thousands of his supporters gathered around the jail. Gandhi was addressed by the people as Mahatma (Great Soul) and Bapu (Father). He was released. Then he represented the farmers in negotiation with the British administration. His effort worked. The tax collection was suspended and all prisoners were released. He declared that all violence was evil after the Amritsar massacre of 379 civilians by British troops, which traumatized the Indian nation. As the leader of the Indian National Congress party Gandhi launched Swaraj, a campaign for independence and non-cooperation with the British authorities. He urged Indians to replace British goods with their own fabrics and goods. He was imprisoned from 1922-1924, being released after an appendectomy. During that time a Swaraj party was formed by his anxious opponents; it later dissolved back into the Congress.
On New Years Eve, December 31, 1929, the Indian National Congress unfurled its flag of independence. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru issued the Declaration of Independence on January 26, 1930. Gandhi planned to achieve stability through the secularization of India, as the only way of uniting Hindus and Muslims in one peaceful nation. The religious divide was growing under the British colonial rule, which prospered from the monopoly on the salt trade. Everyone needed salt. Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy, Lord Irwin: If my letter makes no appeal to your heart, on the eleventh day of March I shall proceed with co-workers of the Ashram as I can take, to disregard the provisions of the Salt Laws. I regard this tax to be the most iniquitous of all from the poor mans standpoint. As the Independence movement is essentially for the poorest in the land, the beginning will be made with this evil.
From March 12 to April 6, 1930, Gandhi made the famous Satyagraha (Satya - truth, Agraha - persuasion), The Salt March to Dandi. He walked on foot to the ocean in protest against the British salt monopoly and salt tax. He led thousands of Indians on a 240 mile (400 km) march from Ashram Ahmetabad to the village of Dandi on the ocean to make their own salt. For 23 days the two-mile long procession was watched by every resident along the journey. On April 6, Gandhi raised a grain of salt and declared, With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire. Gandhis plan worked because it appealed to people in every region, class, religion, and ethnicity. The successful campaign led to the reaction of the British government and imprisonment of over 60,000 people for making or selling salt without a tax. The British opened fire on the unarmed crowd and shot hundreds of demonstrators. Gandhi was arrested in his sleep on the night of May 4th, 1930. Eventually the British government, represented by Lord Irwin, signed the Gandhi-Irwin Pact in March 1931, agreeing to free all political prisoners. Gandhi was invited to London as the leader of the Indian National Congress, but he was disappointed with the British attempts to destroy his influence by dividing him from his followers.
Gandhi campaigned to improve the lives of the untouchables, whom he called Harijans (the children of God). He promoted equitable rights, including the right to vote in the same electorates as other castes. In 1934 Gandhi survived three attempts on his life. In 1936, he briefly resigned from the party, because his popularity was stifling the diversity of membership; ranging from communists and socialists to religious conservatives and pro-business groups. He returned to the head of the party with the Jawaharlal Nehru presidency. At the beginning of the Second World War Gandhi declared that India could not be a party to this war, unless it has independence. His Quit India campaign led to mass arrests on an unprecedented scale of struggle. He was arrested in Bombay (Mumbai) and was held for two years. During his captivity his wife passed away and his secretary also died. Gandhi was released in May of 1944, due to a necessary surgery. His campaign led to a release of over 100,000 political prisoners before the end of the war.
India won independence in 1947, followed by the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, and partition of India. Gandhi said, Before partitioning India, my body will have to be cut into two pieces. About one million people died in the bloody riots until partition was reluctantly asserted by Gandhi as the only way to stop the Civil War. He urged the Congress Party to accept partition, and launched his last fast-into-death campaign in Delhi, calling for a stop to all violence. Gandhi also called to give Pakistan the 550,000,000 rupees in honor of the partition agreement. He tried to prevent instability and anger against India.
Gandhi was shot three times in the chest and died while on his way to a prayer meeting, on January 30, 1948. His assassins were convicted and executed a year later. The ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were split in portions and sent to all states of India to be scattered in rivers. Part of Gandhis ashes rest in Raj Ghat, near Delhi, India. Part of Mahatma Gandhis ashes are at the Lake Shrine in Los Angeles.
2. Gandhis Childhood
Mohandas Gandhi was the last child of his father (Karamchand Gandhi) and his fathers fourth wife (Putlibai). During his youth, Mohandas Gandhi was shy, soft-spoken, and only a mediocre student at school. Although generally an obedient child, at one point Gandhi experimented with eating meat, smoking, and a small amount of stealing -- all of which he later regretted. At age 13, Gandhi married Kasturba (also spelled Kasturbai) in an arranged marriage. Kasturba bore Gandhi four sons and supported Gandhis endeavors until her death in 1944.
3. Off to London
In September 1888, at age 18, Gandhi left India, without his wife and newborn son, in order to study to become a barrister (lawyer) in London. Attempting to fit into English society, Gandhi spent his first three months in London attempting to make himself into an English gentleman by buying new suits, fine-tuning his English accent, learning French, and taking violin and dance lessons. After three months of these expensive endeavors, Gandhi decided they were a waste of time and money. He then cancelled all of these classes and spent the remainder of his three-year stay in London being a serious student and living a very simple lifestyle.
In addition to learning to live a very simple and frugal lifestyle, Gandhi discovered his life-long passion for vegetarianism while in England. Although most of the other Indian students ate meat while they were in England, Gandhi was determined not to do so, in part because he had vowed to his mother that he would stay a vegetarian. In his search for vegetarian restaurants, Gandhi found and joined the London Vegetarian Society. The Society consisted of an intellectual crowd who introduced Gandhi to different authors, such as Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy. It was also through members of the Society that Gandhi began to really read the Bhagavad Gita, an epic poem which is considered a sacred text to Hindus. The new ideas and concepts that he learned from these books set the foundation for his later beliefs.
Gandhi successfully passed the bar on June 10, 1891 and sailed back to India two days later. For the next two years, Gandhi attempted to practice law in India. Unfortunately, Gandhi found that he lacked both knowledge of Indian law and self-confidence at trial. When he was offered a year-long position to take a case in South Africa, he was thankful for the opportunity.
4. Gandhi Arrives in South Africa
At age 23, Gandhi once again left his family behind and set off for South Africa, arriving in British-governed Natal in May 1893. Although Gandhi was hoping to earn a little bit of money and to learn more about law, it was in South Africa that Gandhi transformed from a very quiet and shy man to a resilient and potent leader against discrimination. The beginning of this transformation occurred during a business trip taken shortly after his arrival in South Africa.
Gandhi had only been in South Africa for about a week when he was asked to take the long trip from Natal to the capital of the Dutch-governed Transvaal province of South Africa for his case. It was to be a several day trip, including transportation by train and by stagecoach. When Gandhi boarded the first train of his journey at the Pietermartizburg station, railroad officials told Gandhi that he needed to transfer to the third-class passenger car. When Gandhi, who was holding first-class passenger tickets, refused to move, a policeman came and threw him off the train.
That was not the last of the injustices Gandhi suffered on this trip. As Gandhi talked to other Indians in South Africa (derogatorily called coolies), he found that his experiences were most definitely not isolated incidents but rather, these types of situations were common. During that first night of his trip, sitting in the cold of the railroad station after being thrown off the train, Gandhi contemplated whether he should go back home to India or to fight the discrimination. After much thought, Gandhi decided that he could not let these injustices continue and that he was going to fight to change these discriminatory practices.
5. Gandhi the Reformer
Gandhi spent the next twenty years working to better Indians rights in South Africa. During the first three years, Gandhi learned more about Indian grievances, studied the law, wrote letters to officials, and organized petitions. On May 22, 1894, Gandhi established the Natal Indian Congress (NIC). Although the NIC began as an organization for wealthy Indians, Gandhi worked diligently to expand its membership to all classes and castes. Gandhi became well-known for his activism and his acts were even covered by newspapers in England and India. In a few short years, Gandhi had become a leader of the Indian community in South Africa.
In 1896, after living three years in South Africa, Gandhi sailed to India with the intention of bringing his wife and two sons back with him. While in India, there was a bubonic plague outbreak. Since it was then believed that poor sanitation was the cause of the spread of the plague, Gandhi offered to help inspect latrines and offer suggestions for better sanitation. Although others were willing to inspect the latrines of the wealthy, Gandhi personally inspected the latrines of the untouchables as well as the rich. He found that it was the wealthy that had the worst sanitation problems.
On November 30, 1896, Gandhi and his family headed for South Africa. Gandhi did not realize that while he had been away from South Africa, his pamphlet of Indian grievances, known as the Green Pamphlet, had been exaggerated and distorted. When Gandhis ship reached the Durban harbor, it was detained for 23 days for quarantine. The real reason for the delay was that there was a large, angry mob of whites at the dock who believed that Gandhi was returning with two shiploads of Indian passengers to overrun South Africa. When allowed to disembark, Gandhi successfully sent his family off to safety, but he himself was assaulted with bricks, rotten eggs, and fists. Police arrived in time to save Gandhi from the mob and then escort him to safety. Once Gandhi had refuted the claims against him and refused to prosecute those who had assailed him, the violence against him stopped. However, the entire incident strengthened Gandhis prestige in South Africa.
When the Boer War in South Africa began in 1899, Gandhi organized the Indian Ambulance Corp in which 1,100 Indians heroically helped injured British soldiers. The goodwill created by this support of South African Indians to the British lasted just long enough for Gandhi to return to India for a year, beginning at the end of 1901. After traveling through India and successfully drawing public attention to some of the inequalities suffered by the lower classes of Indians, Gandhi returned to South Africa to continue his work there.


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