Mohandas Gandhi

Born on October 2nd, 1869 in Porbandar, Kathiawar, which was at the time apart of the British Indian Empire, Mohandas Gandhi would become the father of the Indian independence movement. Gandhi influenced men such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela among others. Martin Luther Jr. used Gandhi's concept of non-violent protest as a model for his own struggles.

At the tender age of 13, Gandhi joined Kasturba, age 12, in a marriage arranged by their parents. They would be together until death. While Gandhi displayed loving kindness to everyone else, he was quite demanding and severe with his wife and sons. Another interesting fact which Gandhi admits in his autobiography is that at that at around the same age, he contemplated committing suicide because he was caught smoking with one of his relatives and couldn't bear the humiliation and anguish he had caused his parents. Of course, he never went through with it, or else we would've never come to know the skinny man wrapped in sheets who would change the course of history.  

In September 1888, at age 18, Gandhi left India, without his wife and newborn son, in order to study to become a lawyer in London. Attempting to fit into English society, Gandhi spent his first three months in London attempting to make himself into an English gentleman by buying new suits, fine-tuning his English accent, learning French, and taking violin and dance lessons. After three months of these expensive endeavors, Gandhi decided they were a waste of time and money. He then cancelled all of these classes and spent the remainder of his three-year stay in London being a serious student and living a very simple lifestyle.

He studied law in London, but in 1893 went to South Africa, where he spent 20 years opposing discriminatory legislation against Indians. As a pioneer of Satyagraha, or resistance through mass non-violent civil disobedience, he became on of the mass non-violent civil disobedience, he became one of the major political and spiritual leaders of his time. Satyagraha remains one of the most potent philosophies in freedom struggles throughout the world today. 

In 1914, Gandhi returned to India, where he supported the Home Rule movement, and became leader of the Indian National Congress, advocated a policy of non-violent non-cooperation to achieve independence. His goal was to help poor farmers and laborers protest oppressive taxation and discrimination. He struggled to alleviate poverty, liberate women and put an end to caste discrimination, with the ultimate objective being self-rule for India.

In addition to learning to live a very simple and frugal lifestyle, Gandhi discovered his life-long passion for vegetarianism while in England. Although most of the other Indian students ate meat while they were in England, Gandhi was determined not to do so, in part because he had vowed to his mother that he would stay a vegetarian. In his search for vegetarian restaurants, Gandhi found and joined the London Vegetarian Society. The Society consisted of an intellectual crowd who introduced Gandhi to different authors, such as Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy. It was also through members of the Society that Gandhi began to really read the Bhagavad Gita, an epic poem which is considered a sacred text to Hindus. The new ideas and concepts that he learned from these books set the foundation for his later beliefs.

Following his civil disobedience campaign between 1919-1922 he was jailed for conspiracy. In 1930 he led a landmark 200 mile march to the sea to collect salt in symbolic defiance of the government monopoly. On his release from prison in 1931, he attended the London Round Table Conference on Indian constitutional reform. In 1946, he negotiated with the Cabinet Mission which recommended the new constitutional structure.

Outside the Congress, Mahatma Gandhi also had many rivals who defied his political philosophy. His main rivals outside the were Hindu Nationalists. During and after achieving independence in 1947, Gandhi tried to stop the Hindu assassination because they viewed Gandhi as a traitor because of his role as a middleman between Hindus and Muslims. On January 30, 1948, Gandhi was shot while he was walking to a platform from which he was to address a prayer meeting. The assassin, Nathuram Godse, was a Hindu nationalist with links to the extremist Hindu Mahasabha, who held Gandhi responsible for weakening India by insisting upon a payment to assist Pakistan.

Even after his death, Gandhi's commitment to non-violence and his belief in simple living by making his own clothes, eating a vegetarian diet, and using fasts for self-purification as well as a means of protest have been a beacon of hope for oppressed and marginalized people throughout the world. Among the tributes to Gandhi upon his death were these words by the great physicist, Albert Einstein: "generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood."

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