On the 100th anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s (1869-1948) arrest for sedition, we honor one of the greatest champions for human rights our world has ever known. Gandhi’s doctrine of Satyagraha (nonviolent protest to achieve political and social progress) has inspired positive change worldwide in the past century, including the Civil Rights movement in the United States.
Gandhi, nicknamed “Mahatma” (which means “Great Soul”) would spend two years in jail before an illness led to his release in 1924. During the years prior to his arrest, he had organized opposing factions in India, including Hindus and Muslims, to act together to achieve shared political and social rights from the British Empire. Upon his release from prison, much of Gandhi’s progress to unite these factions had been lost, and the disagreements between these competing groups stymied the progress Gandhi’s leadership had inspired.
Gandhi would return to political life in 1930 when he organized the Salt March to protest taxes and prohibitions on Indian-owned salt businesses by the British government. While this protest achieved little (the Salt Laws stayed in effect) Gandhi was once again elevated globally as the recognized leader of the Indian people.
Following another arrest and release Gandhi would shift his focus for many years on education, poverty and improving lives in the rural areas of India. He would return to politics and the drive for Indian independence as World War 2 became the primary focus for Great Britain. Gandhi again would use Satyagraha to influence change. Although weakened by numerous hunger strikes, Gandhi influenced Britain moved towards recognizing India as independent as the second world war came to a close.
Unfortunately, Gandhi was unable to achieve peace between Muslim and Hindu groups and when India’s independence was finally agreed to, it included the partition of the country into two nations – Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-led Pakistan. India would gain its independence from Great Britain on August 15, 1947.
Sadly, a man so committed to peace would suffer a violent death. At the age of 78, on January 30, 1948 Gandhi was shot and killed by a Hindu nationalist who was outraged at Gandhi’s tolerance of Muslims. Gandhi’s funeral on February 2 would see more than 2 million people line the streets of New Delhi to honor the “Father of India”.