Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) was an Indian nationalist hero whose actions helped to liberate India from British colonial rule. His honorary title, Mahatma, means “great soul.”
Gandhi studied law in London and moved to South Africa in 1893. He fought unjust laws against Indians in Africa for 21 years. Returning to India in 1914, he became head of the Indian National Congress.
Gandhi advocated and epitomized the idea of non-violent resistance through social non-cooperation (some would say “mass civil disobedience”). He worked tirelessly towards Indian independence, sometimes fasting as a means of protest and also of purification.
Apparently he slept in the same bed with young girls, one of whom being his great-niece, in order to prove that he had conquered the temptations of the flesh.
In 1922, he was imprisoned in a dingy Indian cell for conspiracy, and was detained there for two years. In 1930 he undertook a 200-mile trek to the sea to make salt—a clear statement defying government restrictions.
Jailed again until 1931, he then sat at the London Round Table Conference on Indian constitutional reform.
In 1946 he negotiated with the Cabinet Mission that drafted an independent Indian constitution. Shortly after Indian independence in 1947, he was assassinated by a Hindu extremist while trying to quell Hindu-Muslim conflicts in Bengal.
Among his many memorable achievements, he decried the miserable oppression of the untouchables (at that time, the undisputed social outcastes in India) calling them harijans , “the children of God.”¹
¹ The practice of untouchability was made illegal by the Constitution of India in 1950 and the former untouchables, being a mixed population, now call themselves Dalit.
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