Mahatma Gandhi and India: Meet “the Father of the Nation”by | January 5, 2024
India has a long and fascinating history spanning millennia. One of the country’s most famous and interesting characters is Mahatma Gandhi, known all over the world for his pacifist stance and his key role in the fight for Indian independence from British rule.
Here you will get to know about what he did to help other Indians and the country itself, as well as some famous places associated with Gandhi where you can learn more about his life and work.
A brief history of British rule in India
The British began to settle in India in the early 17th century with the foundation of the East India Company (EIC). Its goal was to control the profitable trade between Britain and Asia, mainly of cotton, silk, saltpeter (used for gunpowder), tea, color dyes and spices. The East India Company was a key part of daily life in India until the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
The Indian Rebellion against the EIC started with a mutiny of Indian fighters, which were part of the Company’s army. It quickly extended across the area controlled by the British, but it was successfully suppressed by the British government.
After the Rebellion was squashed, the United Kingdom passed the Government of India act 1858, which ceded the control of British India from the EIC directly to the Crown. This was the start of the British Raj.
The British rule of India ended in 1947 with the independence of India and Pakistan. The Raj also ruled over present-day Bangladesh, which separated from Pakistan, as well as Burma (Myanmar), which became its own state in 1948.
Who was Mahatma Gandhi?
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869 in Porbandar, India. His father was chief minister of Porbandar, which was under British control. His mother was a devout Hindu, and her beliefs exposed Gandhi very early on to some practices that he would later on be associated with, like fasting, vegetarianism and nonviolence.
He spent his college years in England studying to become a lawyer so he could hold office in India, just like his father. He vowed to stay away from wine, women and meat while in England to appease his mother, who was concerned about her son facing the temptations of Western life.
Even though he returned to India as a lawyer, he had a lot of trouble finding work, which led to him moving to work for an Indian firm in Natal, South Africa, in 1893. The move to South Africa would be one of the most formative experiences Gandhi would live, which shaped his worldview and politics for the rest of his life. He stayed for 20 years.
The Indians who lived in South Africa were routinely abused by the Europeans, and Gandhi himself was subject to many instances of racial discrimination. These events he felt would awaken in him the desire for change and for a more just society.
Up until that point, Gandhi had been a shy person, who would fear public speaking and didn’t perform well when forced to do it, and he didn’t have a strong political point of view. However, when he was 25, all of that changed whilst in South Africa, where he became the champion of the South Asian community and a defender of human rights against oppression.
Gandhi founded the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 as a way to protect his compatriots. Although the Congress failed in its attempt to change the Indian way of life in South Africa, it did succeed in exposing the abuse they were subjected to.
The Natal Indian Congress was also an opportunity for all Indians in South Africa to unite under a common banner, and to recognize themselves as peers in the struggle to preserve their dignity against the humiliation inflicted on the Indian population by the European rulers.
His stay in South Africa was immensely influential for Ghandi for other reasons: it was the beginning of his nonviolent resistance or Satyagraha, which he upheld unflinchingly until the end of his life. Also, it’s when he involved himself deeper into his religious studies, and the Hindu Bhagavadgita became his spiritual guiding force and greatest influence.
He created two farms in South Africa, signaling his change to a communal and austere way of life. The second colony was named Tolstoy Farm after the famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, whose political and religious writings were very influential for Ghandi. Tolstoy was also his personal correspondent for one year until the writer’s death.
Mahatma Gandhi and the struggle for Indian independence
Mahatma Gandhi traveled back to India in early 1915. He was supportive of the British war effort in World War I and even helped recruit Indian soldiers for the army. The reason was that the British had promised to return self-government to India after the war, a promise that wasn’t fulfilled.
However, Gandhi began to strongly oppose the British in March 1919 after the Rowlatt Acts. These legislations gave Britain the power to imprison Indian citizens without a trial if they were suspected of sedition. Gandhi called for satyagraha as a protest against the British and he was arrested on April 9th, 1919. A few days after that, thousands of civilians were gathered when the army shot into the crowd and killed many innocent men, women and children. It came to be known as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and was a significant step forward in Mahatma Gandhi’s desire for Indian independence.
He brought back the Indian National Congress to further this goal, and he started boycotting the British industry and government. Mahatma Gandhi was arrested in 1922 for sedition and sentenced to six years in jail, although he only stayed for two because of poor health.
Gandhi officially asked that the British give India dominion status and called for complete independence within a year, but the proposal wasn’t met favorably. In reprisal, Gandhi organized a Satyagraha against the salt tax that mostly affected the low-income, agrarian population.
After the Salt March, in 1931 Mahatma Gandhi was asked to negotiate in the Round Table Conferences in London as the sole representative for India, but he made no progress.
During World War II, Mahatma Gandhi’s stance was different than during WWI: this time, he called for no cooperation with the British and he didn’t support the war effort, although millions of Indians ended up volunteering for the Allied cause. It was also the beginning of his Quit India movement.
It was also around this time that the Indian population struggled with religious differences: while Gandhi believed that India should be a united country with Hindus and Muslims coexisting, the Muslim League wanted separation. Once the British government accepted to finally grant independence to India in 1947, they followed the proposal of the Muslim League: thus, the Indian subcontinent was divided into Pakistan (for the Muslim population) and India (for non-Muslims).
Mahatma Gandhi’s life would end in tragedy a short while later: he was assassinated on January 30, 1948 while walking in the garden of the house he was living in. His beliefs and politics carried on after him, influencing modern life and famous characters such as Martin Luther King, Jr.
Tourist attractions that honor Mahatma Gandhi
Are you fascinated about Mahatma Gandhi’s life and would like to know more about him? Then you will need to apply for the Indian visa before you explore these locations strongly associated with him.
Porbandar is the birthplace of Gandhi, where you have the chance of visiting the house he was born in (Kirti Mandir) and even seeing the exact spot where his life began. You can also visit the house his wife Kasturba was born in.
Sabarmati Ashram and Museum
This was the first colony that Gandhi opened in India and where he lived from 1917 until 1930. Inside there’s a museum with plenty of information about his life and the struggle for independence.
Aga Khan Palace, Pune
Mahatma Gandhi, his wife and his secretary were imprisoned in the Aga Khan Palace after the start of the Quit India movement. His wife and secretary died while in captivity. Now it serves as a memorial for Gandhi and the other captives.
Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya, Mumbai
Mani Bhavan was where many of Gandhi’s famous initiatives started. There’s a bust in his honor, as well as a museum and a library where you can learn more about his life.
Gandhi Smriti, also known as the Old Birla House, is where Gandhi lived for his last year and where he was killed in 1948. It has been preserved to exactly what it looked like on that day, with lots of memorabilia and personal artifacts of the Mahatma.
The National Salt Satyagraha Memorial
It’s a memorial in Dandi, the city to where the Salt March was headed to. There’s a mural explaining the historical importance of the event.
This is the exact spot where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated a day after his death. It’s a black marble memorial and the perfect place to honor this unique person’s life.