October 2019 will mark the the 150th anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi’s birth. Gandhi was the primary leader of India’s independence movement against British rule and is now known as The Father of the Nation. India, which is today the world’s largest democracy, will embark on a general election in May and hundreds of millions of Indians are gearing up to decide who will govern them for the next 5 years. Many politicians in India today take their inspiration from Gandhi. so his legacy is worth exploring.
Gandhi was born in Porbandar, India on October 2, 1869. Born into an upperclass family, Gandhi was encouraged to become a barrister and moved to England to study.
Three years later, Gandhi returned to India but struggled to make a living as a lawyer. He took a job with an Indian law firm, based in South Africa. It was here that Gandhi began to experience racial prejudice against Indians and began his work in civil rights. He was appalled by the treatment of Indian immigrants and set up the Indian Congress in Natal to fight segregation – he himself had to leave a first class train carriage because of his skin colour.
In 1913, Gandhi led a march of 2,221 people in protest against a £3 tax on people of Indian descent. Gandhi was arrested and sentenced to 9 months imprisonment but the strike spread and the British were forced to drop the tax and release Gandhi. Reports reached England and Gandhi started to become an international figure.
After moving back to India, Gandhi was shocked by the overcrowding and poverty experienced by poor Indians and vowed to work for those deprived. At a protest he called, against the right of the British to imprison anyone they suspected of terrorism, 20,000 protesters were fired on by the British in Amritsar. Gandhi was convinced by this massacre to start campaigning for Indian independance. He organised many non- violent campaigns where large groups of Indians did things such as: refuse to work, sit in the streets, boycott courts and much more.
Gandhi was put in prison 4 times throughout his life. He would often fast, and as a result of the Indian’s love for him, the British government eventually released him out of fear of what the Indian’s would do if the British let Gandhi die.
The Salt March is one of Gandhi’s most famous protests. When the British increased taxes on salt, a main aspect of Indian diet, Gandhi led thousands of Indians 241 miles to the sea, to make their own salt, in an effort to peacefully disobey British rules.
Winston Churchill sought Indian support during World War II to fight against the Nazis. However, Gandhi objected as India was still not free. In response, Gandhi planned another peaceful protest but as a result was imprisoned along with his wife who died in jail.
Faced with increasing calls for freedom, the British finally began negotiations for independence for India. The Mountbatten Plan, in 1947, resulted in the new independent states of India and Pakistan, divided along religious lines, against Gandhi’s vision of a united India. The Partition caused the migration of 10 million people and mass killings. Gandhi tried to protect Muslims who had opted to stay in India by fasting but was shot three times in the chest by a Hindu extremist. A crowd of nearly 1 million people lined the route of his funeral procession. Gandhi was a figure of peace who never saw his dream of a united India become a reality.
But his message to the world resonates more than ever today : “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”