Mahatma Gandhi was a politician with irreproachable ethical principles -- personal integrity and non-violence were the main tenets of his struggle for social justice. He challenged India’s British colonial rulers and finally led his country to independence. On 30th Jan. 1948, Gandhi was shot by a fanatic Hindu.
Mahatma Gandhi delivering a prayer in New Delhi, India, in January 1948
When the young lawyer Karamchad Mohandas Gandhi was posted to South Africa in 1893, he was shy of the public, and he believed in the laws he had studied in London.
The young barrister was soon confronted with a society in which Indian expatriates were discriminated against legally, which would transform him.
One day Gandhi was pushed out of the train after refusing to leave his seat for a white person. “This is when he decided never to be pushed down again and to fight for the rights of minorities“, said Gita Dharampal-Frick, a historian at the Southasia Institute of the University of Heidelberg.
Developing a philosophy
Gandhi started to fight for the rights of Indian workers in South Africa and explained his philosophy to them.
“He emphasised the integrity of each single individual,” said Gita Dharampal-Frick. “He called it the truth. Each individual should live a true live, a life in harmony with the environment and with other human beings. And politics were to support this kind of life.”
Gandhi called his philosophy of truth “satyagraha“. He combined it with the traditional Indian teachings of “Ahimsa” -- non-violence. He made a very important rule for himself which he used his whole life -- never to use violence in his fight, even if others used violence against him.
He followed his principles strictly and as the years passed, the shy young man became a fearless activist, leading Indian workers in the fight against discrimination under British rule.
Return to India
When, 20 years later, he returned to India, his teachings of non-violence were already well-known all over the country. Gandhi accepted to take over the leadership of the Indian National Congress and transformed it altogether.
“In 1895, India was in a very depressive state,” explained Gita Dharampal-Frick. “The Indian National Congress was then a mere debating club. In 1920, Gandhi changed the National Congress into a people’s movement. With Gandhi’s support and inspiration, the Congress became an attractive people’s party for all different kinds of citizens.”
Many of those under colonial rule considered Gandhi a symbol of freedom and resistance. His message helped them to become more self-confident, says Radha Bhatt, chairperson of the “Gandhi Peace Foundation” in Delhi.
“People in India were not that brave, or not that fearless earlier, but this satyagraha made them very fearless, they knew they were fighting, but not with weapons but with satyagraha, meaning the truth. The truth was so much inside them that they became fearless, and they didn’t care if their lives were lost for satyagraha,” Bhatt explained.
Challenging British rule
Again and again, Gandhi challenged India’s British rulers. In March 1930, he called on Indians to defy the British salt tax and marched with thousands to Dandi to make salt himself. The Salt March broke the British salt monopoly. Britain responded by imprisoning over 60,000 people.
Gandhi also organized a boycott of garments manufactured in Great Britain, remembers Gandhi Expert Radha Bhatt.
“One of the actions for civil disobedience was to burn foreign clothes,” Bhatt said. “People were throwing all their foreign clothes into the fire. This was one of the things which gave the idea that our nation was a self-reliant nation -- ‘we can make it, we don’t depend on other countries’ production or other countries’ help’, it meant.”
Mahatma was sent to prison over and over again and he always continued his fight for Indian independence. At the same time, he strived to change Indian caste system from within, helping the members of lower castes to lead a live in dignity.
On 15 Aug. 1947 Gandhi reached his highest aim -- India’s independence from British rule. But Independence also brought about a separation -- British India was divided into the predominantly-Hindu India and the Muslim state Pakistan.
Although Gandhi had fought for a peaceful coexistence of both religions, he now had to see how violence exploded. Hundreds of thousands lost their lives and millions lost their homes.
Only some months after declaration of Independence, Mahatma Gandhi was shot by a fanatic member of the Hindu community.