Life of Mahatma Gandhi Summary

Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most influential people of the 19th and 20th centuries. Gandhi was an Indian Lawyer and anti-colonialist. His idea of nonviolent resistance against Britain’s rule over India. This resistance eventually led to India’s independence from Britain. Then, his peaceful approaches inspired civil rights movements across the world.

Journey to England

Gandhi’s father passed away when Gandhi was a teen. He was chosen as the successor as head of the family. So, he was encouraged to travel to England and study law. His family wanted him to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a politician. But his mother worried that England would corrupt the morals of Gandhi. To calm her nerves, Gandhi promised to avoid wine and meat. 

Before leaving, there was a problem. The elders of Gandhi’s caste learned of his proposed trip to England. They objected as no members of their caste were allowed to travel to England. England was seen as a danger place which can corrupt the morals. But Gandhi decided to leave and be made an ‘out-caste’. He set sail for England and left the beloved family, wife and his three-month-old child named Harilal.

Gandhi struggled to adapt when he arrived in London. There were many cultural between India and England. Although he had learned English at school, he could not hold a conversation very well. In fact, he was so embarrassed on the trip to Southampton that he ate in his cabin to avoid embarrassment. 

Adapting Western Cultural

After arriving in London, family friends took him under their wing. However, he still had obstacles to overcome. Firstly, vegetarian food was very hard to come by in Victorian London. Many Hindus living in London decided to abandon this Hindu scripture as it was hard to follow. Gandhi had made a promise, though. Gandhi was not the type of man to break promises. He mainly lived off porridge until he found a suitable restaurant. 

Although Gandhi initially struggled to adapt, he did make an attempt to westernise himself in some ways. He took lessons in French, dancing, elocution, and the violin. Gandhi didn’t keep these going for very long, but they were a sign of his intent. He then started dressing in the English fashion. On top of this, Gandhi began reading the Bible. He never accepted the idea of sin and redemption, but this did kickstart his passion for religion.

After reading the Bible, Gandhi first started reading one of the most sacred Hindu books: Bhagavad-Gita. He discovered the work through some friends involved in theosophy, a faddish mélange of superstition and Eastern, then fashionable in Victorian society. Its poetry and message soon enthralled him.

Journey in South Africa

South Africa was starting to display racist tendencies. These racist tendencies would eventually culminate in the apartheid regime of the 20th century. Although the black community was the most marginalised group in South Africa, the Indian population was also treated as second-class citizens.

Gandhi would experience this discrimination firsthand while living in South Africa. While traveling on a train, he was forced to wait overnight in Transvaal station as he refused to give up his first-class seat to a white passenger. This experience outraged him and led him to make his first public speech. He spoke to the assembly of Transvaal Indians and urged them to work hard and learn English. If they did this, they would be able to achieve political equality. 

On the day of Gandhi’s farewell party to South Africa, he was made aware of an Indian Franchise Bill. This bill was extremely discriminatory against Indians. The bill would deprive Indians of the right to vote. He shocked that nobody had created an opposition to the bill. Hence, Gandhi’s friends begged him to stay and assist them in tackling this bill. He agreed to stay. However, he said he could only stay for a month. That month would end up being two years of campaigning in South Africa. By the time Gandhi left South Africa, he has been working there for over twenty years. Many of the associated members are from India. However, he was also hugely influential in South Africa. This country is where he was first given the title of Mahatma, which means great soul. 

Back again

He went home to India for a short while and cheering fans greeted him. However, when he decided to return to South Africa, his welcome was slightly less friendly. Riotous crowds of whites awaited him at Port Natal. Gandhi had developed a bad reputation, and he was seen as a rebel and a troublemaker. Therefore, these whites decided to prevent him from coming on-land. They failed in doing so, though. Although some disliked him, he still had allies who were willing to help him.

While living in South Africa, Gandhi had to live through the Boer War. Although few people realise this, Gandhi was loyal to Britain at this time. Through pacifist approaches, Gandhi supported the British in fighting the Boers. For example, he led an Indian medical corps to help serve the British. He was a British patriot at this time. His views on the empire would change dramatically throughout his life. He initially believed that the empire was based on the principles of equality and liberty.

Rebellion and the Declaration of Independence

Gandhi proposed that the whole country engage in hartal. Hence, the entire country would spend a day fasting, praying, and abstaining from physical labor. These practices would be in response to the repressive new law. The response was overwhelming. Millions of Indians practiced Satyagraha. However, this approach was potentially too drastic at too early a stage. The British arrested him, and angry mobs of people filled the Indian cities. Violence spread throughout the country. Instead of utilizing this mob support, Gandhi told the mob to go home. He did not want Satyagraha if it meant violence would occur. 

In 1920, Gandhi started traveling around India, protesting against British customs. He encouraged Indian people to give up their Western clothing and British jobs. His commitment to the cause encouraged other volunteers to follow him. By 1922, Gandhi had deemed that the time was right for a move from non-cooperation into outright civil disobedience. However, during this time, a horrible event occurred. A mob hacked a local constable to death in Chauri Chauri, a city in India. Gandhi was horrified and withdrew from leading the civil disobedience movement. He spent time meditating and reading to recover. 

Gandhi would be arrested and serve time in prison again for treason. During his time in prison, his movement lost momentum. Indians drifted back into their jobs. However, more worryingly, the Indians and Muslims lost their unity. Gandhi was the one uniting these two religions, and without him, violence would ensue. Gandhi continued to fight for independence, and finally, in January of 1930, Gandhi had written up a Declaration of Independence of India. 

Gandhi’s Final Years

During Gandhi’s final years, India gained independence from Britain. Churchill lost the British election to a left-wing Labour Party. Labour party determined to help push Indian independence through.

The three years after his wife’s death were a catastrophe. As well as losing his wife, he saw his country partitioned into India and Pakistan. Gandhi argued against the partition. He wanted unity. He felt that the partition would also lead to violence and forced migration. Gandhi was right. Hindus and Muslims killed each other at horrific numbers across the newly created borders. People had to seek safety across either side of the border for religious reasons. Hundreds of thousands of people died, perhaps even millions. Gandhi felt like India had not learned from his teaching of nonviolence and unity with others.

He tried to stop this violence but to no avail. He conducted multiple fasts’ until death’ or until there was peace in Delhi. One fast he started lasted five days until the Muslim and Hindu leaders promised to make peace. He was hoping to do the same for Punjab after recovering. However, it was not to be. On Friday 30th January 1948, a Hindu nationalist named Nathuram Vinayak Godse broke into Gandhi’s garden. Instead of being angry or aggressive toward this intruder, Mahatma gave this man a Hindu blessing. However, the man proceeded to take a gun out of his pocket and shoot Gandhi four times. His dying words were Hei Ra…ma, which means ‘Oh God’.

The assassinator’s motivation was that he felt Gandhi had been too accommodating to Muslims during the partition of India. Godse had hoped that Gandhi’s death would lead to war between India and Pakistan and the elimination of the Muslim state. Instead, it led to peace, as Hindus and Muslims alike joined in mourning for the slain Mahatma. Indeed, the entire world mourned: flags were lowered to half-mast, and kings, popes, and presidents sent condolences to India. 

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