Mahatma Gandhi, born Mohandas Kamarchand Gandhi, was one of the fathers of Indian independence. Gandhi pioneered satyagraha, a doctrine of nonviolent protest that inspired Martin Luther King Jr. After decades of resistance, Gandhi lived to see India’s independence from Great Britain. However, Gandhi was devastated by the partition of India and the continuing tensions between Hindus and Muslims. While attempting to defuse these tensions, Gandhi was assassinated in 1947 by a Hindu extremist named Nathuram Godse. The byname Mahatma, meaning Great Soul, indicates the reverence millions still feel for Gandhi and his unwavering commitment to nonviolence.
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Gandhi worked as a lawyer in South Africa between 1893-1914. While there, he witnessed firsthand British discrimination against Indians. Gandhi developed his theories of satyagraha while protesting this discrimination. He also formed an intentional community named the Tolstoy Farm, after one of Gandhi’s formative intellectual influences.
Gandhi returned to India in 1915 and immediately began to work for his homeland’s independence from Britain. In 1930, Gandhi organized a massive act of civil disobedience known as The Salt March. Gandhi and thousands of Indians marched to the town of Dandi to defy Britain’s monopoly on salt and make their own salt from seawater. The protest continued even after Gandhi was arrested. Gandhi negotiated an end to the protest with Lord Irwin, the British viceroy, in exchange for increased British recognition of the Indian National Congress.
The 1932 Poona Pact was an agreement designed to grant new rights to low-caste Hindus, also known as Dalits or “Untouchables.” The 1932 British Communal Award initially allocated a certain number of seats in India’s legislature for the Dalits. Gandhi was opposed to this allocation, believing untouchability was a social issue, not a political issue, and he began a hunger strike in protest. Eventually, Dalit leader BR Ambedkar and Gandhi compromised on the Poona Pact, which provided increased representation (but not a separate electorate) for the Dalits.
The Swadeshi movement was an integral part of Gandhi’s independence program. Swadeshi called for economic self-sufficiency as part of a larger goal of swaraj, or self-rule. Gandhi promoted a boycott of British goods and corresponding development of Indian products such as khadi fiber to realize swadeshi.
MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE Margaret Bourke-White was a famous American photographer. She is best known for taking the most famous photo of Gandhi. This photo showed Gandhi sitting at his charkha, or portable spinning wheel, making his own thread. The charkha exemplified the self-sufficient spirit central to swadeshi.
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Visit this site to learn more about the background of Margaret Bourke-White’s famous photograph.
Gandhi was profoundly influenced by the philosophy of Tolstoy, and the pair maintained a long-term correspondence.
Gandhi is rarely the focus of criticism today, but not everyone was a fan of the man. The relationship between Gandhi and the Dalit community has been a contentious one since the signing of the Poona Pact; read more about this dispute here.
Watch below for rare footage of a 1931 interview of Gandhi:
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