Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more commonly known as ‘Mahatma’ (meaning ‘Great Soul’) was born in Porbandar, Gujarat, on 2nd October 1869. In May 1883, aged 13, Gandhi was married to Kasturba Makhanji. Shortly after the birth of the first of four surviving sons, 18-year-old Gandhi, in 1888, sailed for London, England to study law. Following admission to the English Bar, and his return to India, he found work difficult to come by and, in 1893, accepted a year’s contract to work for an Indian firm in Natal, South Africa.
The the system of ‘apartheid’ was very much in evidence in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century. Despite arriving on a year’s contract, Gandhi spent the next 21 years living in South Africa, and railed against the injustice of racial segregation. On one occasion he was thrown from a first class train carriage, despite being in possession of a valid ticket. Witnessing such racial bias, he attempted to fight segregation at all levels. He founded a political movement, the Natal Indian Congress, and developed his theoretical belief in non-violent civil protest into a tangible political stance, when he opposed the introduction of registration for all Indians, within South Africa, via non-cooperation with the relevant civic authorities.
After a brief trip to India in late 1896 and early 1897, Gandhi returned to South Africa with his wife and two children. Kasturba would give birth to two more sons in South Africa. Gandhi organized his first mass civil-disobedience campaign, which he called “Satyagraha” (“truth and firmness”), in reaction to the Transvaal government’s new restrictions on the rights of Indians. After years of protests, under pressure, the South African government accepted a compromise negotiated by Gandhi and General Jan Christian Smuts.
In 1915 ,Gandhi returned to India. In 1919, however, Gandhi had a political reawakening to Rowlatt Act authorized by British authorities. In response, Gandhi called for a Satyagraha campaign of peaceful protests and strikes. Gandhi assumed the leadership of the Indian National Congress and advocated a policy of non-violence and non-cooperation to achieve home rule. The Salt March sparked similar protests and Gandhi was imprisoned in May 1930 to January 1931.
Gandhi launched the “Quit India” movement and in August 1942, the British arrested Gandhi, his wife and other leaders. With his health failing, Gandhi was released after a 19-month detainment but his 74-year-old wife died in February 1944.
After the Labour Party defeated Churchill’s Conservatives in the British general election of 1945, it began negotiations for Indian independence with the Indian National Congress and Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League. Gandhi played an active role in the negotiations, but he could not prevail in his hope for a unified India. Instead, the final plan called for the partition of the subcontinent along religious lines into two independent states—predominantly Hindu India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan. India was declared Independent on August 15, 1947. In the late afternoon of January 30, 1948, the 78-year-old Gandhi, was assassinated.