Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a political activist in British-controlled India the late 1800s and early 1900s. His main cause was for India-which was a British colony at the time-to gain its independence. Today he is most well-known as being a symbol of peace, humility, and willful poverty.
Gandhi was born in 1869 in Gujarat, a province in India. His father was a well-connected local politician, and his family was upper-middle-class and wealthy. He was an average student, and maintained a strictly vegetarian diet. At age 13, Gandhi's parents arranged his marriage with a 14-year-old girl named Kasturba. Two years later, Gandhi's father died in the night, and he felt intensely guilty at being with his wife instead of with him in his final hours. Shortly afterwards, Gandhi's first child died as well.
In 1888, Gandhi made the choice to travel to London and study law, which he did despite being strictly reprimanded by the Hindu elders for his choice. He graduated in 1891, and attempted to practice law in Bombay, before accepting a job offer in South Africa. That's where he first found his true calling-advocating for civil rights.
In South Africa, where many people from India worked, usually as poor laborers, he saw the racism at play. Indians and other people of color in South Africa were often repressed, and Gandhi attempted to oppose a bill which would deny Indians the right to vote, though he didn't succeed.
During the Boer War, he raised a body of 1,100 volunteers to carry wounded soldiers for miles on stretchers to receive medical care. For this, he and many others were awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal.
Gandhi's core philosophy, Satyagraha, or peaceful protest, came into being when the regional government tried to institute registration for all Indians and Chinese in 1906. Gandhi encouraged them to disobey the government via protest, but to do so without violence. The Indians were beaten or even killed in this resistance, but the public outcry against government brutality made the South African leaders compromise with Gandhi.
In 1915 Gandhi returned to India and joined the Indian National Congress. There he discussed Indian issues with others, growing to become leader of the Congress. The aim of this gathering became to gain independence from Britain. The British had direct control over all of India for almost 100 years at that point. Gandhi realized this was possible to do-but it had to be done without violence. Non-violence on the part of protesters did not mean non-violence by all involved, as the Jallinwala Bagh massacre of 1919 proved, when British troops shot into a crowd of peaceful protestors and pilgrims, killing over 300 and wounding more than 1000.
Nevertheless, Gandhi led many acts of peaceful disobedience, such as the Non-Cooperation Movement, in which Indians boycotted British goods. It protested the Rowlatt Act, which was a law passed in 1919 which allowed the British to jail Indians without trial. Another protest was the Dandi Salt March in 1930, in which Gandhi and 80 others set out on a 240-mile march to make salt in a traditional way which the British couldn't tax. The march inspired millions all over the country to make salt the traditional way in protest of the British tax.
After years of protests, meetings with world leaders, and hunger strikes, for which Gandhi grew famous, Britain granted independence to India in 1947. Gandhi spent the last years of his life doing hunger strikes over civil issues in India-something for which he had become famous for. He was 78 when he was assassinated a year later, by a Hindu nationalist who believed Gandhi was not doing a good job with his protests and demands.
Gandhi is an important figure not just in India and South Africa but in the whole world. His image, of a thin, barefoot man with glasses in a white shawl is instantly equitable with peace. That proves to be Gandhi's most powerful legacy-his non-violent protests would prove successful and influential.
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