Mohandas Gandhi and the British Invasion

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  • 0:01 Early Years of Life
  • 1:26 South Africa
  • 2:46 Return to India
  • 3:19 Home Rule & Vows
  • 4:04 Freedom & Loss
  • 5:33 Assassination
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explore the life of Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi. It will explain his role in India's independence while also highlighting the concepts of satyagraha and brahmacharya.

Early Years of Life

Whether through a colonial government or through the monopoly of trade, the British have ruled over the Indian subcontinent for much of modern history. However, when men like Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi came on the scene, the tides began to turn and India led the way into a new form of revolution.

Known to history as the Father of Indian Independence, Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi's impact has been felt around the world, with men like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela following his example of passive resistance. Today's lesson will highlight the life and impact of this most famous Hindu man.

Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi was born in 1869 to an upper-class Indian family. Coming from wealth, Gandhi was afforded the opportunity to travel to England, which claimed ownership of India, to study law. Shortly after graduation, he moved to South Africa to practice law.

It is here that Gandhi began to daily encounter the racial prejudices that would forever change his life. For instance, one day while traveling by train, Gandhi was refused entrance to a first-class car. Although he carried a first-class ticket, all that mattered to the train officials was the color of his skin and his race. Despite his wealthy upbringing and his law degree, Gandhi was seen as below those South Africans of white, European descent.

South Africa

As he encountered the deep prejudices against his people over and over, Gandhi put his law degree to use as he challenged the discriminatory laws of the English-held South Africa.

Within a few short years, Gandhi became rather well-known as a champion for civil rights and as a leader of the Indian community within South Africa. With this fame came persecution from those who feared his ideas of social equality. While in South Africa, Gandhi and many of his fellow activists were not only beaten - they were imprisoned for their beliefs.

Despite the violence against him, Gandhi refused to retaliate in violence. He even encouraged his followers to avoid it at all costs. Choosing to coin his belief in non-violent resistance as satyagraha, Gandhi refused to resort to tactics usually used by those seeking revolutionary change.

In order to remember this term, I like to think that he 'sat' down and said no to fighting fire with fire. Instead, he peacefully put up with personal abuse and injustice, all the while calling for peaceful change. With this, his fame spread, and even newspapers abroad were reporting on his activities. Little did they know, their front pages would one day be covered with the name Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi.

Return to India

After about two decades of living in South Africa, Gandhi returned to live in his homeland of India. However, his civil rights activities had already earned him great fame, and he was met with a hero's welcome by the native people of India.

Also desiring equality in the English-owned India, Gandhi began traveling through the country to tour the living conditions of the poor and downtrodden as well as the wealthy and elite. Dressing just like one of the masses and not one of the rich, he donned a simple gown and sandals.

Home Rule & Vows

Although married, he also pledged himself to the Hindu teaching of brahmacharya, a vow to abstain from sexual relations. This was done in an effort to completely dedicate himself to the mission of freedom and public service.

Despite his modest appearance and his no-frills life, Gandhi continued to affect great change. Soon he and many others began to call for Swaraj within India. To those of us in the West, we usually translate this word as simply 'self-rule' or 'home-rule'. Plainly stated, Gandhi began calling for India's independence from the English. However, just like in South Africa, he desired only non-violent resistance.

Freedom & Loss

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of Gandhi's non-violent resistance was his great Salt March of 1930 in which he and thousands of his followers marched many miles to protest England's monopoly of the Indian salt market. Despite the peaceful nature of this protest, he and many of his followers found themselves imprisoned for their actions.

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