Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 - 1948)

Gandhi as a lawyer in South Africa

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 29 October 1869 in the small princely state of Porbander where his father was the Diwan (prime minister) to the ruler. He left India for London in 1888 to study law and was called to the Bar in 1891. Gandhi arrived in Durban on 23 May 1893 to assist a Durban merchant, Dada Abdullah, in a law-suit against a rival merchant in the Transvaal.

On conclusion of the case, a group of merchants persuaded Gandhi to remain in South Africa and assist in defending their rights. Gandhi formed the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 and established the Indian Opinion, the mouth-piece of the Natal Indian Congress.

Deeply influenced by the writings and works of Tolstoy and Ruskin, Gandhi set up his first communal farm at Phoenix (Phoenix Settlement) in 1904. Later, in 1910, he set up a similar farm, the Tolstoy Farm, in Johannesburg.

Gandhi's experiences as a member of the Indian Ambulance Corps during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1901 and the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906 played an important role in contributing towards his ideas on non-violence. In 1906, Gandhi took a vow of brahmacharya, committing himself to a life of celibacy, simple living and service. He began to formulate his philosophy of Satyagraha or passive resistance at this time.

Gandhi led the first passive resistance campaign in 1906 in the Transvaal, in opposition to laws forcing Indians to carry passes and restricting their movement across the provinces. In September 1913 Gandhi led a major passive resistance campaign in opposition to the three pound tax on ex-indentured labourers, the Immigration Act and the non-recognition of marriages conducted according to Indian rites.

Gandhi's sojourn in South Africa lasted some twenty-one years and his experiences in this country brought about profound changes in his ideas and way of life. Gandhi left the South African shores in July 1914.

While in India Gandhi set up the Satyagraha Ashram on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in 1915. In 1917 he led the non-violent resistance movement in India against British rule. He also led the 'Salt March' in defiance against British taxes on salt. In 1942 he led the "Quit India Campaign", demanding that the British withdraw from India. He succeeded in liberating India from British rule in 1947. His life was brought to a sudden and tragic end on 30 January 1948 when he was assassinated on his way to a prayer meeting in Delhi.

On his death Jawaharlal Nehru said, "The light has gone out of our lives" "He lives in the hearts of millions and will live for immemorial ages." While Gandhi is no more his message of non-violence, truth and justice can be adopted for the betterment of mankind in all ages.