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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is known as India’s Father of the Nation. He was a political activist and leader of the Indian independence movement against British colonial rule in India. With the weapons of nonviolence and civil disobedience, he led India to independence and inspired worldwide movements for civil rights and freedom. The title of honour ‘Mahātmā’, a Sanskrit word which means “great soul” was given to him first in 1914 in South Africa, this title is now used by the whole world. In India, he was also addressed as Bapu, which means father.
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Educated and trained in law at the Inner Temple, London, he first used nonviolent civil disobedience as a lawyer in South Africa in the struggle for civil rights. After his return to India in 1915, he went about organizing peasants, farmers and urban labourers to protest against excessive land-tax and discrimination in the hands of the British. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, he led nationwide campaigns for various social causes and for achieving Swaraj or self-rule.
Gandhi led Indians in standing up against the salt tax imposed by the British by marching the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in demanding for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years on various occasions in South Africa as well as India. Modestly he lived in a self-sufficient residential community and wore the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven with yarn hand-spun on a charkha or the spinning wheel. He ate simple vegetarian food, and as a means of both self-purification and political protest, he undertook long fasts.
In the early 1940s, Gandhi’s vision of an independent India based on religious pluralism was challenged and threatened by a new Muslim nationalism which was demanding a separate Muslim homeland carved out of and separated from India. In August 1947, Britain granted independence, but the British Indian Empire was divided into two dominions based on religions called India and Pakistan. Eschewing the official celebration of independence in Delhi, Gandhi visited the affected areas to provide solace. In the months that followed, he undertook several fasts unto death to stop religious violence in the country. Some Indians considered Gandhi as being too accommodating. Among the dissenters was Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, who assassinated Gandhi on 30 January 1948 by firing three bullets into his chest.
As a tribute to this great soul, 2 October, Gandhi’s birthday is commemorated in India as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and the world keeps it as the International Day of Nonviolence.
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