Each year on 2 October, legendary civil rights and freedom campaigner Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday is marked across the world as the International Day of Non-Violence, as we remember his incredible achievements.
Born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on 2 October 1869, Mahatma Gandhi was a world-renowned promoter of non-violent civil disobedience, and led the Indian nationalism movement that would eventually free India from British rule as an independent nation, scarcely a year before Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. Gandhi used his principals of peaceful rebellion in civil conflicts worldwide, and first earned the widely-used honorific of ‘Mahatma’, which is Sanskrit for ‘high-souled’, during his work as a lawyer for the Indian community in South Africa. Gandhi advocated a non-violent and simple lifestyle and practiced it himself, including eating vegetarian meals and wearing traditional homespun clothing, all while campaigning worldwide for women’s rights, ending poverty and discrimination, and a heroic array of other civil and social issues.
As a young man, Gandhi left his birthplace in the coastal area of Gujarat in western India to study law in London. After a brief stint as an overly-shy and inexperienced lawyer in Bombay, Gandhi travelled to a British colony in South Africa under a year-long contract with an Indian firm, where he would witness first-hand the discrimination and intolerance that would shape his strong ethical code and leadership skills in the years to come. Even as a young man, Gandhi held his lifelong view of a unified Indian racial unity that transcended history, religion, and social status; in South Africa he was exposed to a level of discrimination and racism that opened his eyes to the social complexities that his people faced, both in their own country and worldwide. Gandhi extended his stay in South Africa in order to oppose a bill that would deny Indian residents the right to vote. Though he failed in this particular mission, he remained deeply and passionately involved in the politics and civil rights of South Africa, not permanently returning to India until 1915. His many heroic and selfless efforts in South Africa included raising volunteer ambulance drivers during the Boer war, and providing medical relief to British soldiers during later conflicts; experiences that he would later rely on to implement his peaceful non-violent strategies against the British Empire in his native home.
Gandhi returned to India in 1915 as a politician with a strong Indian nationalist reputation, and took leadership of Indian National Congress by 1920, immediately beginning a campaign for Indian independence. Congress declared an independence in 1930 that was not recognized by the British Empire, which led to a violent escalating struggle between nations. Mahatma Gandhi protested against violence on both sides and promoted a philosophy of non-cooperation, including boycotts of British goods and nonviolent civil disobedience.
Throughout his political campaign for independence, Gandhi continued to reach out to women and untouchables in a lifetime quest to end discrimination and poverty. He struggled for emancipation for individuals as well, and for the unity of a nation with many different religious and social differences; Gandhi saw all these differences as Indian, and worked to promote that ideal.
On 20 January 1948 and aged 78, Gandhi was assassinated by Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse, who opposed his non-violent philosophies and ideals of religious and national harmony. He was cremated at Rajghat in Delhi. The Gandhi Smriti Museum in New Delhi is dedicated to the great man and is the site where he was actually assassinated.
Though India mourns his loss, his legacy lives on in an independent nation and a political theory of non-violence that has influenced civil leaders like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and many others.
Each year the world marks Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday on 2 October, which is timed to coincide with the International Day of Non-Violence. The event is also better known as Gandhi Jayanti across India.
Image Credit: Flickr: Delhi