Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi
EMMA Legend Award 2002
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) was a theorist and a charismatic mass movement leader, who brought the cause of independence for British colonial India to world attention. His ideas of non-violent protest have influenced both nationalist and internal movements throughout the world.
The word "mahatma", while widely mistaken for Gandhi's given name, is a Sanskrit term of reverence that literally means "great soul".
By means of hunger strike, Gandhi helped bring about India’s independence from British rule. Inspiring other colonial peoples to work for their own independence to ultimately dismantle the British Empire and replace it with the Commonwealth, Gandhi motivated generations of democratic and anti-racist activists, including fellow EMMA award winners Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
Gandhi was born in Porbandar, Gujarat, India. At the age of 19, he went to University College in the University of London to train as a barrister. He returned to India after being admitted to the British bar. In India he tried very hard to establish a law practice in Mumbai, though he had diminutive success. Two years later an Indian firm sent Gandhi to South Africa.
Gandhi was dismayed to see the prevalent denial of civil liberties and political rights to Indian immigrants and began protesting and lobbying against legal and racial discrimination against Indians in South Africa. One of the most cited incidents of his initial days in South Africa was the one in which he was physically thrown off a train in Pietermaritzburg after refusing to move to the third class coach, while travelling on a first class ticket. Gandhi was arrested on 6 November 1913 while leading a march of Indian miners in South Africa.
After World War I, Gandhi became involved with the Indian National Congress and the movement for independence. He gained worldwide publicity through his policy of non-cooperation and the use of fasting as a form of protest, and was repeatedly imprisoned by the British authorities.
Gandhi's other successful strategies for the independence movement included ‘swadeshi’ policy – the boycott of foreign-made goods, especially British goods. Linked to this was his advocacy that all Indians should wear ‘khadi’ – homespun cloth, instead of relying on British-made textiles.
One of Gandhi’s most striking actions was the salt march known as the Dandi March that started on 12 March 1930 and ended on 5 April; leading thousands of people to the sea to collect their own salt rather than pay the salt tax.
On 8 May 1933, Gandhi began a fast that would last 21 days to protest British oppression in India. In Bombay, on 3 March 1939, Gandhi fasted again in protest of the autocratic rule in India.
Gandhi became even more vocal in his demand for independence during World War II, drafting a resolution calling for the British to Quit India. This soon sparked the largest movement for Indian independence ever, with mass arrests and violence on an unprecedented scale. Gandhi and his supporters made clear that they would not support the war effort unless India was granted immediate independence.
Gandhi was assassinated in Birla House, New Delhi on 30 January 1948 by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu radical who held him responsible for weakening the new government by insisting on a payment to Pakistan. Before shooting Gandhi, Godse bowed before him three times. Gandhi’s dying words were a popular two-word mantra to the Hindu conception of God as Rama: "Hai Ram!" It is seen as an inspiring signal of his spirituality as well as his idealism regarding the possibility of unificatory peace. While there are some who are sceptical about this, the vast majority of evidence and witnesses, as well as popular opinion, support this utterance as truly having occurred.
Mahatma Gandhi's work is not forgotten by his future generations. His grandsons, Arun Gandhi and Rajmohan Gandhi and even his great grandson, Tushar Gandhi, are also socio-political activists, who are continuously promoting non-violence to the world.