Mohandas Gandhi was born the youngest son of his father, Karamchand Gandhi’s, fourth wife, Putlibai, in a small village in western India called Porbandar. He grew up in a strict Hindu household, for his father was the chief minister, or dewan, of the town. Although Karamchand was not well educated, he was a good leader and politician. His mother, Putlibai was a very religious housewife, and spent most of her time at home or in the temple. She spent much of her time caring for the large family, so she was not interested much in jewelry or other possessions.
He was brought up as a good Hindu, in the particular branch called Vaisnavism, which centered on the worship of the god Vishnu. His family also followed the strict moral values outlined by Jainism, which included the practice of ahimsa (non-injury to all living things), vegetarianism, lots of spiritual fasting, and great tolerance for other cultures. As for his education, the schools in Porbandar were very poor, but his father became dewan of another, richer, province called Rajkot, where he got a proper schooling.
His adolescent years were of great turmoil. He wasn’t excellent at school or at sports, and to make matters worse, he missed a year of school at age thirteen, when he got married. He had been taught to follow elders’ instructions without questioning them, so he did not dispute his mother’s requests for him to help her take care of his sick father.
In 1887, he started college at the University of Bombay. He was uncomfortable there and decided to go to England to become a barrister and then return for a job like his father’s. His mother was slightly hesitant to send him there, so he had to vow not to touch women, wine, or meat while he was away. With help from his brother, he was able to raise the money necessary and set off for England. Ten days after arrival, he joined the University College, in London. He had a painful time switching from east to western cultures, and one of the most difficult obstacles he had to overcome was the fact that he was vegetarian. At first, he had felt embarrassed and alone, but after discovering a vegetarian restaurant and book, he became zealous and enthusiastic about it, and joined a vegetarian society. This was one of the major turning points in his life, and it could be noted as the event that turned him from a timid, shy boy, into an outspoken grown man. After this, he returned to India for a short period and then went to South Africa
In 1891, he decided to return to India and begin his legal career, but many horrible surprises awaited him. To his great sorrow, his mother had passed away while he was in Great Britain. This was followed by another blow almost as bad: He could not get a job anywhere. The Indian legal system was already overcrowded, and he was even turned down for a part time teaching job. Dismayed, he returned to Rajkot in search of better opportunity, but found only a low paying job at drafting petitions. He was even fired from this job after a while. After all that, the offer he then received from a firm in Natal, South Africa, could not have sounded sweeter.
When he arrived however, he was shocked and appalled by the horrible segregation and racial discrimination, but he took the beatings and attacks on his person in stride, and was almost ready to leave in 1894, when, at his farewell party, he read about a bill that would take the vote away from Indians in South Africa. He quickly decided to stay and try to stop the bill. He was unsuccessful in getting the bill stopped, but he was able to draw attention to the Indian community. He moved to Durban, began practicing law, formed the Natal Indian Congress, and became the indefatigable secretary. In 1896, he returned to India to fetch his wife, Kasturbai, and make speeches to the Indian community. Word of his doings found their way back to South Africa, and a white mob was waiting for him to arrive. They attacked him, nearly lynching him, and would have been sent to jail if it hadn’t been for the fact that Gandhi refused to prosecute them when they were called to court!
In 1899, at the outbreak of the Boer Wars, he helped raise 1,100 men to defend Natal and support Britain. Being on the winning side didn’t do much for the rights of the Indian community, though. By 1906, a large movement was taking place to gain those rights. By the end of the movement in 1913, thousands had been jailed, but many compromises were negotiated and agreed on by Gandhi and South African general Jan Christian Smuts. Considering his goals achieved, he returned to India in 1914.
Once back in India, he began supporting Britain in World War One. During this period, he was not involved in much politics, but rather stayed on the sidelines, so to speak, occasionally helping to recruit men. For many years, Gandhi had been friendly with Britain, but he became extremely upset at the passing of the Rowlatt Bills, which were bills that stated that those suspected of sedition could be imprisoned without trial. He immediately called a Satyagraha (“firmness in truth”, civil disobedience) struggle against Great Britain. Gandhi had meant for the citizens to use ahimsa (non-injury) methods of protesting, but they protested violently in some areas, leading to the killing of 400 Indians.
By 1920, Gandhi was extremely influential among Indians. He quickly reformed the old Indian National Congress into a newer, more serious organization. He called a huge boycott of British goods and services, including schools and the like. With a leader like Gandhi, the Indian people were no longer afraid of their foreign rulers and began protesting. When police arrived, they lined up to be arrested, hoping to clog the system and stop the British. Thousands were arrested and the movement was mostly a success, but a few violent outbreaks like in the previous protest caused the INC and their president (Gandhi) to call the protest off and admit it a mistake. Gandhi himself was arrested shortly afterward in 1922 and sentenced to six years, but he was released four years early due to appendicitis. However, even this short sentence took its toll. The INC had split into two parts and the strong bond that had grown between the Hindus and Muslims when they protested together had dissolved as well. Small struggles still took place in villages, prompting Gandhi to fast for three weeks, which brought about peace effectively.
Perhaps his most amazing feat was the Satyagraha against the salt tax in 1930. Instead of buying salt from the British, Gandhi and several thousand other Indians marched to the Arabian Sea and made their own salt buy evaporating seawater. As a result, over 60,000 people were jailed. A year later, Gandhi met with Lord Irwin and the two agreed to allow Gandhi to act as a representative at conferences in London, but the conferences failed to help them, and upon Gandhi’s return to India, he and the other leaders of the INC were jailed. While in jail, they found out that the new constitution would discriminate against the “untouchable” caste by placing them in a different electorate. Gandhi immediately started fasting for change. The government knew they had to change this portion of the constitution quickly, for if Gandhi were to die, revolution would be imminent. Gandhi resigned as president of the INC in 1934 and left the organization entirely to pursue a plan to educate “From the bottom up”, starting with the rural areas of India, which accounted for 85% of the population. He encouraged the peasants to spin and weave to supplement their meager incomes. He himself eventually moved to Sevagram and centered his program there.
When World War Two started, the INC supported Britain on the condition that they withdraw completely from India. Gandhi demanded their withdrawal as well. The British simply jailed all of them. When the end of the war came, India became independent shortly afterward, in 1947, but it split as it became independent, forming Pakistan. Gandhi was upset that Indian freedom did not come with Indian unity, but nonetheless plunged himself into helping repair the riot ravaged areas and fasting for peace in those places where the fighting continued over religion. In that way, he performed two great feats by stopping the riots in Calcutta in September of 1947 as well as causing a truce in Delhi in January of 1948. Alas, he was not able to celebrate freedom for long, as he was shot to death on January 30, 1948, on his way to the evening prayer. Yet he died with freedom, peace, and love within his heart.