The Mission and Legacy of Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi is a name that is recognized the world over for representing peace and independence, the life's mission of the man himself.
By Ben Smith

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a remarkable man that helped the nation of India gain its independence from the British Empire during the first half of the 20th Century. He became known not only for his goals of independence for his native land, but also his principles of nonviolence.

Gandhi was born in 1869 in the coastal town of Porbandar. At that time, arranged child marriages were common, and he married Kasturbai Makhanji, affectionately known as 'Ba,' at age 13. At age 18, Gandhi enrolled in an English law school in London to train as a type of lawyer. Before leaving India, his mother made him promise to refrain from eating meat, engaging in promiscuity, and drinking alcohol. His adherence to that promise had a profound impact on his life.

Dissatisfied with the vegetarian cuisine offered by his landlady, Gandhi eventually joined a group known as the Vegetarian Society; Britain's oldest group dedicated to the ideals of vegetarianism. He was elected to the charity's executive committee and began a chapter of his own. During his time with the Vegetarian Society, Gandhi developed an interest in the writings of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity.

After 3 years in law school, Mohandas graduated and returned to India. He eventually obtained a legal posting that took him to South Africa. It was in South Africa where he came face-to-face with the notion that as an Indian he was a second-class citizen in the British Empire. Eventually, Gandhi found himself unable to sit idly by and do nothing; he began to get involved politically with many issues facing the Indians living in South Africa.

In 1915, Gandhi returned to India and became involved with the movement there for Indian independence from England. To say he 'became involved' is a bit of an understatement because it was his life's work over the course of the next 30 years. What set Gandhi apart were his principles of nonviolence and his determination that Indian independence could be achieved without war. During this period of time he became referred to as Mahatma, which means "Great Soul," and to many he is simply known as Mahatma Gandhi.

Many of Gandhi's methods can be attributed to a set of values he called 'satyagraha', or 'holding firmly to truth.' The goal of satyagraha is not to defeat the person who opposes you, but rather to convert them to your way of thinking. When this happens, your opponent is no longer your opponent and it is possible to move forward together toward what is now a mutual goal.

One of the most famous examples of satyagraha was Gandhi's "Salt March" in 1930. The British had a monopoly on the salt industry. Salt could only be purchased at official outlets, and the salt had a tax on it that many Indians were unable to pay. The situation was so dire that illnesses due to a lack of iodine in the diet afflicted many.

As an intentional act of civil disobedience, Gandhi led several followers on a 241-mile march to the ocean. Along the way, Gandhi gave interviews with the press as well as daily speeches to the denizens of the cities he passed through. By the time Gandhi reached the ocean on April 6, he had gathered a crowd of 50,000 as well as a worldwide audience following the event through newspapers and newsreels.

After saying "With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire," Gandhi boiled some salty mud in a pot of water and produced illegal salt. He was promptly arrested, and hundreds of thousands of Indians made their own salt as well. The British came down on this activity hard, however, and arrested nearly 600,000 people for breaking the salt laws.

Gandhi spent several years in prison during his crusade for Indian independence, but in 1947 his efforts paid off, and India was granted its independence from England. Having fought so hard for an independent nation, however, Gandhi was horrified to see his vision of a unified, free India fall apart due to infighting. There was tremendous controversy, not to mention violence, over whether or not Hindus and Muslims should be separated into separate nations. The Muslim-dominated areas eventually broke away from India to form the nation of Pakistan.

During the last year of his life, Gandhi worked tirelessly to help the two nations resolve issues that had caused a bitter divide between the former countrymen. On January 30, 1948, Mohandas Gandhi was shot and killed during his nightly walk by a Hindu that felt Gandhi's diplomatic efforts were causing India to be weakened.

Though his life was cut short, Gandhi accomplished a great deal. He helped to end numerous injustices against his people and gain independence for the land he loved. He spoke of peace and his life proved that he believed in nonviolence. His life inspired many that came after him, including Martin Luther King Jr., who stated in 1955 that "Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics." Gandhi's legacy will always live on, inspiring others to live lives of nonviolence and urging them to hold firmly to the truth.