Mohandas Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi is known as history’s greatest advocate of non-violence. He used strategic non-violence campaigns to oust the British Empire from India, and he is called “the Father of the Nation” or the greatest force behind India’s independence. He was born in 1869 in India and was shy as a child and a mediocre student. A vegetarian, he experimented with meat-eating a few times. He was married at the age of 13, and as a young man went to England to complete a three-year barrister’s degree. In 1893 he went to South Africa and experienced racism there, such as being ordered to sit outside a stagecoach or being sent to third class on a train although he paid for better seats. He organized to help South Africans from India. Gandhi settled with his wife and children in South Africa in 1896. Once he was almost lynched by a mob but he refused to prosecute his attackers. He insisted on washing his own clothes and cleaning his own chamber pots. He also advocated cleaner habits among the poor. He formed an Ambulance Corps of 1,100 volunteers to help the British to suppress the Boers during the Boer War of 1899-1901. Although he sympathized with the Boers fight for independence, he claimed rights as a British subject and therefore believed he had a duty to defend the Empire when it was threatened. He also helped during the British suppression of the Zulu rebellion. He then took a vow of continence and non-possession. He helped establish small communities based on equality, simplicity of life, moral and physical hygiene. In 1907 the Black Act required all from India to register and submit to fingerprints, and in 1908 Gandhi spent 2 months in jail for protesting the Act. In 1915 Gandhi returned to India with no possessions to serve his people, a Mahatma or “great soul.” He again helped peasants with hygiene and ran schools for children. In a dispute among textile workers, Gandhi starved himself and a resolution was brought about in 3 days. In 1917 he persuaded people to enlist in the British army, believing Britain to be a force for good and India a beneficiary of the Empire. From 1919-48 however he worked on India’s independence. He fought the suspension of civil liberties and massacres of unarmed and peaceful citizens. In 1922 there was mob violence and Gandhi fasted for 5 days. He was sentenced to 6 years in prison but in 1928 he contracted appendicitis and so was released. Hindus and Muslims were in great conflict and after Gandhi fasted for 21 days, the two sides reconciled. He was a staunch advocate of Hindu and Muslim unity, removing untouchability (the lowest class in society were “the untouchables” who cleaned peoples’ filth and garbage, and who had very few rights). He also advocated people spinning their own cotton. In 1930 he resolved the Congress of India to seek independence. Also in that year he led a march for 24 days to the sea to break the law, oppressive to poor people, that they could not make their own salt. 100,000 people were put in jail as a result, and there were shootings as well as jailing without trial. In 1939 Gandhi expressed opposition to all war and was arrested and imprisoned along with other leaders of Congress, and violent rioting followed. In 1943 Gandhi undertook a fast. He succumbed to malaria and was released from prison. In 1945 Gandhi promised Indian self-government. He wandered the villages seeking Muslim-Hindu unity. On August 15, 1947 India was partitioned into India (largely for Hindus) and Pakistan (predominantly Muslim) and made free of the British Empire. He was assassinated at a public prayer meeting on January 30, 1948 by a Hindu who was angry at Gandhi’s seeking peace with Muslims. Every day Gandhi held such meetings, attracting thousands of people depending on where it was held. It was not in any one religious tradition in keeping with his openness of different faiths. Gandhi viewed God as Truth and Truth as God. He insisted on having no personal security guards, and this left him vulnerable to his assailant. Ironically, the world’s greatest proponent of non-violence eventually fell to violence himself.

Note: I am indebted to the 5,000 word biography of Gandhi at for the construction of this much shorter biography.

Gandhi Quotes:

"The seeker after Truth should be humbler than the dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after Truth should be so humble himself that even the dust would crush him. Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of Truth."

"Even from the practical standpoint it is easy enough to see that violence can only do no good and only do infinite harm."

"Non-violence is not a cover for cowardice, but it is the supreme virtue of the brave. Exercise of non-violence requires far greater bravery than that of swordsmanship."

"The non-violence of my conception is a more active and more real fighting against wickedness than retaliation whose very nature is to increase wickedness. I contemplate a mental and, therefore, a moral opposition to immoralities. I seek to blunt the edge of the tyrants’ sword, not by putting up against it a sharper weapon, but by disappointing his expectation that I would be offering physical resistance. The resistance of the soul that I should offer instead would elude him. It would at first dazzle him and at last compel recognition from him, which recognition would not humiliate him but uplift him."

"I have been practicing with scientific precision non-violence and its possibilities for an unbroken period of over fifty years. I have applied it in every walk of life, domestic, institutional, economic and political. I know of no single case in which it has failed. Where it has seemed sometimes to have failed, I have ascribed it to my imperfections. I claim no perfection to myself. But I do claim to be a passionate seeker after Truth, which is but another name for God. In the course of that search, the discovery of non-violence came to me. Its spread is my life mission. I have no interest in living except for the prosecution of that mission."

"Perfect non-violence is impossible so long as we exist physically, for we would want some space at least to occupy. Perfect non-violence whilst you are inhabiting the body is only a theory like Euclid’s point or straight line, but we have to endeavour every moment of our lives."

"Hitlerism will never be defeated by counter-Hitlerism. It can only breed a superior Hitlerism raised to the nth degree. What is going on before our eyes is the demonstration of the futility of violence as also of Hitlerism. What will Hitler do with his victory? Can he digest so much power? Personally he will go as empty-handed as his not very remote ancestor Alexander. For the Germans he will have left not the pleasure of serving a mighty empire but the burden of sustaining its crushing weight. For they will not be able to hold all the conquered nations in perpetual subjection. And I doubt if the Germans of future generations will entertain unadulterated pride in the deeds for which Hitlerism will be deemed responsible."

For additional Gandhi quotes see Peace Quotes elsewhere on this website.

click on your home

to go to KCI's home