Mahatma Gandhi: His Story and Struggle Against Violence

Mahatma Gandhi is known as one of the most influential political and spiritual leaders of the 20th century. Let's take a look at his history and his struggle for nonviolence.
Mahatma Gandhi: His Story and Struggle Against Violence

Written by Editorial Team

Last update: 12 October, 2023

His real name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, but the world knows him as Mahatma Gandhi, a name he received from the poet Rabindranath Tagore, thanks to his struggle for nonviolence. In Sanskrit it means “great soul”.

Mahatma Gandhi was a peaceful activist, Indian Hindu politician, and lawyer who became the leader of the Indian independence movement against British power. But far from galvanizing the masses to fight with weapons, he promoted peaceful resistance and nonviolent civil disobedience.

He is therefore considered a national hero in his country and a symbol of pacifist revolutions around the world. Let’s see a brief history of his life and thought.

There are many causes for which I am willing to die, but none for which I am willing to kill. -Mahatma Gandhi

The early years of Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, northwest India. At that time, his country was a colony under British rule. Indians were second-class citizens in their own territory.

However, Mahatma Gandhi lived with many comforts during his youth, since he came from a well-off merchant family. Thus, he was able to go to England to study law at University College London, where he earned a degree as a barrister.

After receiving his degree, he returned to India to pursue his career there. However, he was unsuccessful, as the legal profession was over-saturated and Gandhi was not a dynamic figure in the courts.

Gandhi’s stay in South Africa

In 1893, he moved to South Africa to work for an Indian company operating in Natal. There he suffered prejudice and discrimination because of his ethnicity. So he began to fight, through passive resistance and civil disobedience, against the laws that discriminated against Indians in that country.

In fact, in 1894 he created the Natal Congress Indian Party, which united the Indian community in South Africa into a homogeneous political force. He flooded the press and the government with denunciations of violations of the Indians’ civil rights and evidence of discrimination by the British.

Moreover, Gandhi insisted to his compatriots to challenge the law that denied the Indians the right to vote, openly, but without violence, while suffering whatever punishment that the government wanted to impose.

This struggle lasted 7 years, during which thousands of Indians were imprisoned (including Gandhi on several occasions), flogged, and even shot for protesting, refusing to register, burning their registration cards, or any other form of non-violent rebellion.

While the government succeeded in suppressing the Indian protest, foreign denunciation of the extreme methods used by the South African government finally forced the South African general, Jan Christian Smuts, to negotiate a solution with Gandhi.

Gandhi en prisión.
Jail was commonplace for Gandhi when he led nonviolent protests against the British government.

Gandhi’s return to India

In 1916, Gandhi returns to India and travels throughout the country. There, he corresponded extensively with various personalities and continued to deepen his knowledge of religion and philosophy. But above all, he paid special attention to politics.

He eventually became the leader of the Indian independence movement against the British Raj. However, he never encouraged armed struggle. On the contrary, Gandhi’s nonviolence (ahimsa) promoted peaceful resistance and new modes of opposition, such as hunger strikes and civil disobedience.

The salt march

Among the most representative large-scale peaceful protests was the famous Salt March, which became one of the most important events leading to India’s independence.

In this demonstration, Gandhi himself, accompanied by dozens of disciples and journalists, walked more than 300 kilometers to the Indian Ocean, proclaiming their right to produce salt. Arriving at the place, Gandhi advanced into the water and picked up some salt with his hands.

This gesture was symbolic. It encouraged his compatriots to violate the monopoly of the British government on the production and distribution of salt. This is because the British, by occupying the territory, appropriated the production of salt, which in reality was a right that should have also belonged to the people.

In this case, the British had even imposed a tax on its consumption. But after the famous march, thousands of people all over the country defied them.

They went to the sea to collect salt, and many ended up in jail. Gandhi as well. However, the viceroy eventually relented and recognized the Indians’ right to produce it.

This march had such an impact that it became an inspiration for Martin Luther King’s nonviolent movements. And in 1930, Time magazine even compared it to the Boston tea riot episode that led to American independence.

Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian Independence Movement

The start of the Second World War in 1939 and the fact that India participated indirectly as a British colony, caused the Indian independence movement to gain more strength. During this time, the authorities arrested thousands of people and Gandhi, now in his seventies, spent two years in prison.

However, popular pressure and the end of the war led the British to accede to the Indians’ demands for independence. Thus, the partition of India in 1947 gave rise to two countries now at odds. They were India (Hindu majority) and Pakistan (Muslim majority).

Estampilla de Mahatma Gandhi.
The figure of Gandhi achieved cultural status, symbolizing peace and the search for justice throughout the world.

The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi

On January 30, 1948, when Gandhi was on his way to a prayer meeting, he was assassinated in New Delhi by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu radical linked to ultra-right-wing groups such as the Hahasabha Party. These groups accused Gandhi of undermining the new Indian government.

After the assassination, Godse and his accomplice, Narayan Apte, were tried and sentenced to death. However, the instigator of the assassination, party chairman Vinaiak Damodar Savarkar, was set free due to a lack of evidence.

Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy

Mahatma Gandhi’s message of peace and love transcends time and space. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela viewed Gandhi as a source of inspiration in their struggle. All of these remarkable people wanted to achieve equal rights for their people.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.