Mahatma Gandhi Childhood and Early Years

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was undoubtedly one of the greatest spiritual and political figures of all times. He entered the troubled scenario of the Indian Nationalist movement against the British colonialist rule in the early 1900s and immediately shot to fame with his non-violent modes of civilian resistance.
His spiritual beliefs revolutionized all aspects of the Indian life. Gandhi's ideologies made a deep impression on the minds of thinkers as well as the common people across the globe and he soon became one of the most revered personalities of the modern world. His countrymen graced him with the sobriquet of the 'Mahatma' or the great soul, a name by which he became known to his millions of countrymen. He was also referred to as 'Bapu' or the 'father' by his thousands of admirers who looked up to him for inspiration guidance. His life was a living example of piety and simplicity. His works became an inspiration to millions, and his mission became an ideal to follow. Gandhi was the founder of satyagraha, a mode of non-violent resistance based on ethical and moral strength, against aggressive and armed revolutions that characterized political endeavors till then. It was the beginning of a new era, a new guiding light in the world.

Childhood and Early Years

M.K. Gandhi was born on 2nd October, 1869 at Porbandar in the state of Gujarat of India. Right from his early years, his sensitive mind was often stormed by various moral and ethical questions. In his autobiography, Gandhi has put down in detail the various spiritual and moral questions that troubled his young mind. Committed towards leading a meaningful life right from his early years, Gandhi was disturbed by the condition of the poor and the deprived. His studies of various religious and philosophical works also helped him to develop a unique and individualistic view of the world, which although at its nascent stage, would finally reach maturity in later years. However, in the early years, there was nothing in Gandhi's life that would portend the great things that would follow. Being married at a tender age of 13 to Kasurba Bai, Gandhi sired four children. Gandhi left for his legal studies to London in 1891 and stayed there for two years. Soon after his return to India, Gandhi left for South Africa for a one year contractual legal job. The incidents there changed his life for ever, shaping and strengthening him for the great endeavors that he would undertake in the later part of his life.

Gandhi in South Africa

Experiences in South Africa changed Gandhi's life for ever. Gandhi, on his arrival at South Africa, was already well versed in various theologies and philosophies. Ruskin, Tolstoy and Thorough, with their theories of passive resistance, were particularly strong influences on him. He was pained by the treatment that was meted out to the Indians in South Africa by the British authorities. However, history has shown us that it always takes the immediacy of some momentous incident to finally bring into light what has been latent for a long time. For Gandhi, it happened at Petermaritzberg. Gandhi where he was traveling on a first class compartment with a valid ticket when was asked by some British train officials and passengers to move to the third class. On refusing to do so, he was thrown out of the train. This changed Gandhi's life. He initiated an organized resistance against the British rule with the Indians settled in South Africa. He pioneered a movement for acquiring voting rights for the Indians living there. It was during this movement that Gandhi introduced the idea of the satyagraha, a spiritual ideology based on non-violence and commitment to truth, with clear political connotations - as the guiding principle of his political activism. This non-violent mode of civilian resistance was hardly employed before, if not altogether unheard of. Gandhi met with exemplary success with his satyagraha in South Africa. Soon after that, his period of stay in South Africa came to a close and he returned to India in 1915.

Gandhi and the Indian Struggle for Freedom

At the time of his return to India, Gandhi was already a well-known name in international political circles, having led successful political movements on the behalf of the Indians settled in South Africa. His first duty in India was to make a nation wide tour following the advice of his political mentor and Indian National Congress leader, Sri Gopal Krishna Gokhale. The tour re-affirmed in Gandhi's mind his faith in satyagraha, as he found India to be economically weak and morally emasculated for any form of revolution against the mighty British army. He understood that the greatest strength that India had was its spiritual and moral strength and it is with such spiritual force alone that India could challenge the oppressive colonial regime. Gandhi's first direct involvement in Indian politics was when he lead the revolution of the indigo farmers at Champaran in 1918 and then the peasant revolutions at Ahmedabad and Kheda in Gujarat. He met with success at both the places and was immediately hailed as the new guiding light in Indian politics. Although his methods of picketing and passive resistance were first rejected by the extremist among the Congress ranks, there was no one in the party at that time to rival his leadership skills. There was something about Gandhi that immediately instilled faith among his followers. Gandhi worked hard to take the revolution to the masses in the villages of India, which he believed to be the greatest repositories of strength in the country. Being elected as the president of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi immediately started to bring about rapid changes in the party hierarchy and methods, in a bid to take the revolution to the masses. He changed the Congress from an elite platform to a party of the Indian masses. The Rowlatt Act of 1920 infuriated the Indians, and Gandhiji immediately launched the non-cooperation movement against it, based on his ideals of non-violence and satyagraha. The movement was received with unprecedented enthusiasm across the nation and the Indian national movement took on a dimension that it never had before. However, unfortunate incidents of violence at Cauri Chaura forced him to call off the revolution when at its height. This did not go down well many Congress leaders but Gandhiji knew that any armed form of revolution would never make it possible for India to gain freedom.

In the mean time, Gandhi created his ashram at Sabarmati, based on his ideals of satyagraha. Gandhi believed political activism to be an extension of spiritual strength, and a morally weak individual, or nation by extension, will never be able to stand for the right. His primary objective was to strengthen the people of his country, who would be courageous enough to tread on the stormy path of satyagraha. Gandhi started his second major political activism, the Civil Disobedience movement against the Simon Commission and the Amritsar massacre, from the Sabarmati ashram by violating the British Salt laws. It created widespread agitation throughout the country, and the British government was forced to initiate the first round table conference leading to the Gandhi-Irwin pact. According to the terms laid down by this pact, Gandhi traveled to England in 1931 as the sole Congress representative to attend the second round table conference. It was a failure and Gandhi returned empty-handed.

Gandhi kept himself aloof from direct involvement in the Indian political scenario for some time. During this time he worked diligently, with his base at Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat, to bring about reforms in every sphere of Indian life and to eradicate social evils like untouchability and discrimination against women. Gandhi's one last shot at the Indian Nationalist movement was the Quit India Movement, following the same ideals of secularism and non-violence. Picketing and resistance to government rules were rampant. Independence finally came in August, 1947, but at the cost of partition, making separate nations for Hindus and Muslims, much to Gandhi's dismay.

Assassination of Gandhi

The political turmoil in India continued long after the Independence was granted to India. Great degree of migration followed the partition and riots were rampant on both sides of the border. It was a virtual nightmare for Gandhi who earnestly believed in secularism all through his life, and earnestly hoped that the Hindus and the Muslims of India would stay side by side as brothers and sisters. He travelled across the riot-ridden country trying to spread the message of peace and brotherhood, but with little success. The independence that came at the cost of partition was summarily unacceptable to him. Thwarted in his pacifist attempts, Gandhi took the last resort to a fast until death. His health deteriorated after five days of fasting. The antagonistic parties came to a common platform to settle the differences. But Gandhi had to pay the price with his life. He became the martyr for ideals, when Nathuram Godse, an assassin with radical Hindu fundamentalist ideology, assassinated him at a prayer meeting in Delhi on 30th January, 1948. A pall of gloom enveloped the country after the incident. Despite his bodily death, the legacy of Gandhi's ideals stayed on as India marched bravely on through its new era of independence.

Last Updated on 17/04/2013