Reflections: Mahatma Gandhi

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”

Despite being born into unexceptional circumstances and rampant poverty in the coastal town of Porbandar, India, in 1869, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi went on to became one of the most influential political and spiritual leaders the world has known. His deeply profound conviction of non-violent resistance in the face of oppression has left an indelible mark on the global community’s psyche, challenging humankind to counter brutality and despair with compassion and imagination.

Born on 2 October, Gandhi was the youngest of his father’s children with his mother Putlibai. His father, Karamchand, was a dewan (chief minister) and his mother is said to have been devoutly religious. Gandhi’s upbringing is believed to have provided the foundation to his later determination for meditation, fasting, vegetarianism, and harmlessness.

An average student during his high school years, Gandhi set off for London in 1888 to study law, returning in 1891 as a qualified lawyer. The course of his life was irrevocably changed when he pursued an offer to work in South Africa, to which he moved in 1893 and where he spent 21 years. 

The turbulent political and social landscape of racially segregated South Africa at the time transformed Gandhi into the liberator and father of the Indian nation globally revered today, with the passive civil resistance campaign he launched in 1906 bearing a long-lasting impact both locally and internationally. Given the honorific title Mahatma (meaning great soul), Gandhi is widely regarded the architect of nonviolent civil disobedience and is said to have inspired Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

On returning to India in 1914, Gandhi launched a campaign against the government’s Rowlatt Acts in 1919, which empowered colonial authorities to suppress subversive activities. Gandhi temporarily refrained from the campaign’s activities when violence erupted, however (culminating in the Amritsar Massacre). In 1922, British authorities arrested him on counts of sedition. He was released in 1924 after serving two years of a six-year sentence.

Gandhi launched a renewed civil disobedience campaign in 1930, this time in protest of the British Salt Acts, which greatly burdened the poor. Not long afterwards, in 1932, he was again arrested and soon went on to commence a series of hunger strikes as a rebuke against the Indian government. Despite retirement from politics in 1934, Gandhi promoted the ‘Quit India’ campaign, which called for “British withdrawal from India in return for Indian cooperation with the [WWII] effort”. He was arrested again in 1942, this time alongside his wife (who would later die in prison), and was released in 1944.

In 1947, Britain granted India independence but split the country into two, India and Pakistan, according to the religious divides between Hindu and Muslim adherents. Aggrieved by the outbreak of violence and bloodshed between the two groups, Gandhi embarked on another hunger strike in 1948. For his efforts, he received plenty criticism from fellow Hindus, who accused him of being too accommodating of Muslims. En route to a prayer gathering, Gandhi was confronted by one such critic, who shot him fatally.

At 78 years old, Gandhi — who had been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize five times in his lifetime — was cremated on the banks of the Jumna River. His procession was attended by almost one million people.

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