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Mohandas Gandhi is one of the most famous leaders and champions for justice in the world. His principles and firm belief in non-violence have inspired many other important civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela. He is so well known that he is mostly just referred to by the single name Gandhi.


Mohandas was born in Porbandar, India on October 2nd, 1869. He came from an upper class family and his father was a leader in the community. According to the custom, Mohandas' parents arranged a marriage for him at the age of 13. Both the arranged marriage and the young age may seem strange to us, but it was the normal way of doing things where he grew up.

His parents wanted him to become a barrister, a type of lawyer. As a result, when he was 19 years old he went to London, England to attend the University College London in order to study law. He returned to India in 1891 and in 1893 accepted a job at an Indian law firm in Durban, South Africa. Gandhi was appalled by the treatment of Indian immigrants there, and joined the struggle to obtain basic rights for them. During his 20 years in South Africa he was sent to prison many times.

Influenced primarily by Hinduism, but also by elements of Jainism and Christianity as well as writers including Tolstoy and Thoreau, Gandhi developed the satyagraha (devotion to truth), a new non-violent way to redress wrongs. In 1914, the South African government conceded to many of Gandhi's demands.


Once back in India, Gandhi led the fight for Indian independence from the British Empire. He organised non-violent civil disobedience campaigns. This was where large groups of the Indian population would do things like refusing to work, sitting in the streets, boycotting the courts, and more. Each of these protests is small in itself, but when most of the population does it at once, it can shut down the country.

By 1920, Gandhi was a dominant figure in Indian politics. He transformed the Indian National Congress, and his programme of peaceful non-cooperation with the British included boycotts of British goods and institutions, leading to arrests of thousands. He became known as Mahatma (great soul) by his followers.


In 1930, Gandhi proclaimed a new campaign of civil disobedience in protest at a British tax on salt, leading thousands on a 'March to the Sea' (walking 240 miles) to symbolically make their own salt from seawater. He was imprisoned again for his part in the protest; while in prison, he went on hunger strike. He was becoming a well-known figure and his death in prison would make international headlines and greatly embarrass the British at a time when Britain was condemning dictators in Europe.


In 1945, the British government began negotiations which lead to the formation of the two new independent states of India and Pakistan, divided along religious lines. Massive violence marred the months before and after independence. While Gandhi was opposed to partition, he realised that the religious issues of India were too deep for any remedy to work. Therefore he collaborated with British leaders in the build up to independence in 1947. This was to cost him his life.

Gandhi swore to speak the truth and advocated that others do the same. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community and wore the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven from yarn that he had spun by hand himself. He ate simple vegetarian food, and undertook long fasts as a means of both self-purification and social protest.


There had already been one failed assassination attempt on January 20th 1948. Just ten days later, Gandhi was shot by Hindu nationalist, Nathuram Godse while walking to a prayer meeting. Godse could not forgive Gandhi for his belief that Muslims had equal value to Hindus and no-one was better than anybody else.

As per Hindu tradition, his body was cremated and his ashes were immersed in the river Ganges.


Gandhi came to England in 1931 to take part in a conference. The picture shows him standing outside 10 Downing Street after visiting the Prime Minister.

The 1982 movie Gandhi (starring Ben Kingsley, pictured below) won the Academy Award for best motion picture.

Gandhi's birthday is a national holiday in India. It is also the International Day of Non-Violence.

He was the 1930 Time Magazine Man of the Year.

Gandhi wrote a lot: the collected works of Mahatma Gandhi have 50,000 pages!

He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times.

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