"A man is but a product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes." These words are only few of the many spoken by this great man that have inspired many people over decades. We have heard stories of courage, determination and perseverance displayed by this man, but little do we know of the humble background he grew up in. In this essay we will explore in-depth his personal life, his law degree in London, his struggles in South Africa for equal rights, then his triumphant return to India and fight for the independence from Britain. Finally, it is important to emphasize the influence that Gandhi has on the world today and will continue to have for generations to come.
Early Years and Humble Beginnings
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2nd October, 1869, in the village of Porbandar, in the state of Gujarat in India to Karamchand Gandhi and Puthlibai. His mother was his father's fourth wife, the first three having died during childbirth. They lived a humble life in a small village but aspirations inside Gandhi began here.
Gandhi's quest for truth began quite early in life, which was inspired by stories his mother used to narrate to him. They were the stories of Indian kings Harishchandra and Shravana, who were thought to be the most noble and truthful. These moral philosophies through children stories became deeply engrained in Gandhi’s mind from early life. He mentioned an incident regarding his early childhood in his biography. When he was thirteen years old, he stole gold from his brother. He was feeling so much guilt that he decided to confess it to his father. He did not have the courage to speak in front of his father, hence he wrote a note confessing what he had done and asking for adequate punishment. His father, though initially furious, forgave him in the end (Mahatma Gandhi, 2004). From the early childhood Gandhi learnt an important lesson regarding honesty with oneself and others.
In May 1883, Gandhi got married at the age of 13 to 14-year old Kasturba Makhanji. Child marriages were the custom in India at the time, and Gandhi admitted, "we knew nothing of marriage, we just knew that we were getting sweets and new clothes." The first year of marriage they spent apart with their families as tradition. Later, they gave birth to their first child, which died shortly after birth. Earlier the same year his father had also died and Gandhi was struck hard by both of these events. Despite all the hardship, he and his wife eventually had four more children (Mahatma Gandhi, 2004).
Life as a Barrister
In 1888, Gandhi proceeded to London to study law at the University College London. Before leaving for London, he promised his mother that he would remain vegetarian and follow the principles of Jainism. When he went to London, he took creative ways to uphold this promise, for example by joining a Vegetarian Society (Rosenberg, 2002). In 1891 he got his degree and returned to India only to find that his mother had died. This news had been withheld from him in order to protect Gandhi from pain. However, he would have been devastated, as it was his mother who had inspired him in many ways since childhood.
His career as a barrister in India was unsuccessful as he was shy to speak in court. Hence, in 1893 he moved to South Africa, where he worked in a law firm owned by Indian Muslims. In South Africa, Gandhi faced racial discrimination equal to that, which was faced by all people of non-European descent. He was enraged by various incidents with regard to racism. On one occasion, he was thrown out of a first class compartment of a train; however, he protested and was allowed the next day to travel in first class (Rosenberg, 2002). In another story, he was pushed off a horse carriage for refusing to make room for a couple of European travelers. These incidents sparked off Gandhi's vigor for justice and equality.
Gandhi assisted Indians in South Africa to oppose the law that Indians were not allowed to vote. It was then that he developed upon the concept of Satyagraha, which is literally translated as the quest for truth (Encyclopedia Britannica online).
Gandhi and the Indian Freedom Struggle
Mahatma Gandhi returned to India in 1915. He joined the Indian National Congress as a young, dynamic leader. In 1920, he became the leader of the Congress, which was a powerful position. When Britain declared war against Germany, Gandhi and the Congress withdrew their support for the British. From this turning point his non-cooperation with the British government began. Gandhi did not want India to get involved in war in the time when the country was already facing so much hardships because of the tyranny of the British overrule.
Civil Disobedience Movement
As time went on, Gandhi had acquired great respect and support from both Hindu and Muslims in the country, the two major religious groups in India. Hence, when he persuaded his followers to disobey British laws and not cooperate with them, he gained nationwide support. He was looking for non-violent ways to oppose the British government. His main strategy was to boycott all British goods. He concentrated on two main household products, which were fabric and salt. He started the widely-followed concept of weaving khadi (hand-woven cotton) using a manually operated spinning wheel. Thus, people started spinning their own clothing and stopped buying readymade clothes, which was brought in the country by the British government. Gandhi also led the famous Salt March, which was a 240 mile march joined by hundreds of followers to the sea coast. This march demonstrated the opposition of the public to the increased price of salt levied by the British government. These boycotts were extremely surprising and overwhelming to the British government, and they used violent force against the citizens of India. Nevertheless, under the persuasion of Gandhi, Indians stayed strong and kept on with their peaceful protests. That was the effect that Gandhi had over people, he encouraged people to stay strong on their principles even when everything was against them.
Quit India Movement
Quit India Resolution was passed in 1942 by the Congress, which urged the British to grant India immediate independence (Ghose, 2012). Gandhi continued promoting the path of non-violence; however, as the freedom struggle across the country gained momentum, violent clashes between the British and Indian public occurred. There was an incident, where a mob burned down a police station killing a number of police officers. This action was greatly condemned by Gandhi; he was so saddened by it that he called off Quit India Movement.
Although Quit India Movement was a failure, its importance cannot be undermined. It brought about national unity and the spirit of the freedom struggle in India.
Communal Violence and the Untouchables
After the Muslim League Party decided on the partition of India form Pakistan, there was communal violence between Hindus, Muslims and Christians in India. Gandhi was infuriated and visited the riot hit areas personally. By this time, in the fight for freedom Gandhi had started to lose some of his power, but he never gave up and continued to promote non-violence. He particularly worked towards the upbringing of lower caste people referred to as untouchables and their acceptance by the society. Gandhi called these people Harijans, literally meaning "the people of God". Moreover, he said that all people regardless of caste should have equal rights.
Indian Independence and the Assassination of Gandhi
On 15th of August 1947, India obtained its independence and Jawaharlal Nehru, a close aide of Gandhi, took over as prime minister. This was followed by migration of 10-12 million Hindus and Muslims across the Indo-Pakistan border, and the killing of nearly half a million in communal violence. This bloodshed hurt Gandhi deeply and he expressed utmost remorse regarding the situation.
On 30th of November, during a procession, Gandhi was shot by an assassin named Nathuram Godse, who believed that Gandhi was responsible for the weakening of the national integrity of India (Ronquillo, 2010). Gandhi was shot in the chest and his last words were 'He Ram', meaning 'Oh God', which are the same words engraved at Gandhi's memorial called Raj Ghat in New Delhi, India.
Gandhi-ism in Today's World
The principles of Gandhi are followed widely all over the world today. Gandhi is a synonym for honesty and non-violence. Great leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. were influenced and inspired by Gandhi's views. The concept of self-sacrifice has inspired many. Gandhi's influence lingers in the world today, and will linger on for many generations to come.
"An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind" - Mahatma Gandhi