Mohandas Gandhi: Beliefs, Accomplishments & Assassination

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  • 0:01 Mohandas Gandhi
  • 0:43 Early Life
  • 2:08 Accomplishments and Legacy
  • 6:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about the life of Mohandas Gandhi. We will learn what values he stood for, how he stood for them, and his lasting legacy.

Who Was Mohandas Gandhi?

Mohandas Gandhi, sometimes called by the honorary title 'Mahatma' Gandhi, was the leading figure of the Indian independence movement throughout the 20th century. Gandhi has become well-known for his practice of non-violent civil disobedience. Today, he remains an inspirational figure whose quotes and images are found on everything from t-shirts to posters to coffee mugs. Gandhi is recognized as one of the world's leading civil rights activists. His influence particularly affected American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Early Life

Gandhi was born in 1869 in the Western part of India. He was born into a merchant caste. At this time, India was an important British colony. Gandhi was married at the age of 13, in keeping with the arranged marriage tradition of his people. At the age of 18, Gandhi left his family to study law in London. There, he adopted a simple lifestyle, becoming a vegetarian and abstaining from alcohol. He also began reading Hindu literature.

After passing the bar exam in 1891, Gandhi went back to India for a short period of time, before leaving again for the British colony of South Africa. In South Africa, Gandhi witnessed widespread discrimination, and he himself was subjected to it repeatedly. See, in South Africa, Muslim Indians held power over the poorer Hindu Indians. Gandhi recognized this injustice and became convinced that the Indian people should be united regardless of religion or social class. Gandhi soon became the leader of the Indian community in South Africa, and he spent the next 20 years or so working to reform South African society.

Accomplishments and Legacy

By the time Gandhi returned to India in 1915, he was a well-known international reformer. He soon helped initiate campaigns to reform land-tax laws penalizing the poor. He also fought against injustice toward women and the practice of shunning classes traditionally deemed 'untouchable,' or in other words, 'outcast.' Gandhi joined the Indian National Congress, and by the early 1920s, assumed leadership of it.

Central to Gandhi's worldview was satyagraha. Satyagraha is a word coined by Gandhi himself, which means 'truth force,' or 'reliance on truth.' Satyagraha, in its simplest form, is passive resistance. But Gandhi felt the term 'passive resistance' did not adequately reflect the spirit of Indian resistance because it reflected weakness and involved anger. Satyagraha, instead, called for individuals to cling to justice and truth without resorting to revenge or anger. Over his lifetime, Gandhi's use of satyagraha resulted in him being beaten and imprisoned numerous times.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Gandhi increasingly demanded swaraj, or self rule. Swaraj basically meant Indian independence from British rule. In 1930, the Indian National Congress declared independence from British rule. Upon the declaration, Gandhi and thousands of Indians engaged in an act of civil disobedience that has come to be known as the Salt March. The Salt March was an act of civil disobedience intended to protest the British salt tax. Gandhi and others marched some 240 miles to gather salt without paying the tax. The Salt March was largely a symbolic act, but it helped inspire the people to resist British rule.

Britain refused to recognize Indian independence. In fact, throughout the 1930s, the British government increasingly attempted to halt the influence of Gandhi. When World War II broke out, tensions escalated. Gandhi was reluctant to support Great Britain's fight against Nazi oppression, in light of British oppression toward Indians.

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