Who Was Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi?

Mohandas "Mahatma" GandhiJanuary 30 is the anniversary of the death of Mohandas Gandhi, a small man but a towering figure of history. Most of us have at least a vague notion of who Gandhi was, but I took this occasion to learn more. Here is some of what I learned.

Known as “Mahatma” (great soul), Mohandas Gandhi was the leader of the Indian nationalist movement against British rule, and he is widely considered the father of his country.

His philosophy of nonviolently resisting oppression and discrimination – called Satyagraha – has influenced and inspired countless leaders for social justice throughout the world.

A Brief Gandhi Bio

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar in the Indian state of Gujarat.

After completing his university studies, in 1885, 16-year-old Mohandas went to London to train as a barrister. Having passed the bar examination in 1891, he returned to India and in 1893 he accepted a job at an Indian law firm in Durban, South Africa.

It was in South Africa that Gandhi first developed his philosophy of Satyagraha, which means to nonviolently resist oppression and discrimination through civil disobedience. He organized Indians in South Africa to protest discrimination and he was sent to prison multiple times.

Gandhi returned to India with his family in 1914 and he continued to spread his philosophy of Satyagraha.

By 1920, Gandhi was a dominant figure in Indian politics. He transformed the Indian National Congress, and his program of peaceful non-cooperation with the British included boycotts of British goods and institutions.

In 1922, Gandhi was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. Released after two years, he withdrew from politics, devoting himself to trying to improve Hindu-Muslim relations, which had worsened.

In 1930, Gandhi proclaimed a new campaign of civil disobedience to protest a tax on salt, leading thousands on a “March to the Sea” to symbolically make their own salt from seawater.

In 1931, Gandhi attended the Round Table Conference in London, as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress, but he resigned from the party in 1934 and was replaced as leader by Jawaharlal Nehru.

In 1945, the British government began negotiations which culminated in the Mountbatten Plan of June 1947, and the formation of the two new independent states of India and Pakistan, divided along religious lines, with India as a Hindu state and Pakistan as a Muslim state.

Gandhi was opposed to the partition, and he fasted in an attempt to bring calm in Calcutta and Delhi.

On 30 January 1948, he was assassinated in Delhi by a Hindu fanatic.

But the violent act of an unhinged religious fanatic did not kill Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence.

Gandhi’s non-violent approach to confronting power and obtaining rights influenced and inspired such leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, Lech Wałęsa, and Nelson Mandela. President Barack Obama also sites Gandhi as a major influence on his life.

Quotes From Mahatma Gandhi

These are some of my favorite Gandhi quotes:

  • “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

  • “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

  • “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

  • “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”

  • “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

  • “When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it–always.”

  • “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

  • “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

  • “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

  • “Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn’t have it in the beginning.”

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