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Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi was many things. He was a son, a husband, a lawyer, but he was admired worldwide as a great social reformer, political leader, and thinker. Through a unique method of nonviolence, he won civic rights and eventually independence for India s people.

Mahatma was born Mohandas K. Gandhi in 1869 in Porbandar, India. He lived there until 1888, when he left to study law at University College in London. In 1891, after having been admitted to the British bar, Gandhi returned to India and attempted to practice law in Bombay with little success. Two years later an Indian firm with interests in South Africa hired him as a legal advisor in its office in Durban. This changed his life.

In South Africa, Gandhi was treated as a member of an inferior race. He was disgusted at the lack of civic liberties and political rights available to Indian immigrants to South Africa. He then committed himself to the struggle for elementary rights for Indians.

Gandhi remained in South Africa for twenty years, suffering imprisonment at times. In 1896, after being attacked and beaten by a mob of white South Africans, Gandhi began to teach a policy of passive resistance to, and noncooperation with, the South African authorities. For this, Gandhi coined the term Satyagraha, a Sanskrit word meaning truth and firmness. In 1914, the government of the Union of South Africa made important concessions to Gandhi s demands including recognition of Indian marriages and abolition of poll taxes for them. With his work in South Africa complete, he left for Britain in 1914.

When Gandhi arrived in India in 1915, he was welcomed as a hero. Gandhi s writings and devout life won him many Indian followers. They followed him in his campaign for swaraj or home rule . He worked to reconcile all classes and religious sects, especially Hindus and Muslims. In 1919, he became a leader in the newly formed Indian National Congress political party. In 1920 he launched a noncooperation campaign against Britain, urging Indians to spin their own cotton and boycott British goods, courts, and government. This, lead to his imprisonment from 1922 to 1924. In 1930, in a protest of a salt tax, Gandhi lead thousands of Indians on a 200 mile march to the sea to make their own salt. Again, he was jailed.

In 1934, Gandhi retired as head of his party, but remained its actual leader. Gradually, he became convinced that India would receive no real freedom as long as it remained in the British Empire. Early in WWII, he demanded immediate independence as India s price for aiding Britain in the war. He was imprisoned for the third time, from 1942 to 1944.

Gandhi s victory came in 1947 when India won independence. The subcontinent split into two countries (India and Pakistan) and brought Hindu- Muslim riots. Again Gandhi turned to nonviolence, fasting until Delhi rioters pledged peace to him.

Gandhi was killed by a Hindu who was angered by Gandhi s efforts to reconcile Hindus and Muslims. His death caused worldwide shock and sorrow. To countless people, he was a modern day saint and a teacher of humanity. As a champion of peace, his influence still remains today.


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