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    Mohandas ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi

    Mohandas Gandhi was born October 2, 1869 in Porbandar, India.  As a young man, Gandhi studied law in London and then traveled to work in South Africa.

     In South Africa, Gandhi experienced racism and discrimination first hand.  During his first appearance in a South African court, he was rudely told to remove his turban.  Also, while traveling on a South African train, he had an encounter with a white English man who refused to ride in the same first class car as him.  Gandhi was kicked off the train even though he had a first class ticket. Gandhi soon realized that Indians had no rights in South Africa.  They were required to travel certain highways, follow a curfew, and carry identification cards at all times.  One night as Gandhi walked the streets he was attacked and beaten by the police for being out past curfew even though he had a letter permitting him to travel at night.   Through nonviolent protests and acts of civil disobedience, such as urging all Indians to burn their identification cards, Gandhi eventually helped the Indians of South Africa receive some rights.  Civil disobedience is the use of nonviolent protests to challenge a government and its laws.   

    When Gandhi returned to India, he quickly became the leader of India’s independence movement.  India was a colony of Britain and Gandhi saw that most Indians were landless farmers living in poverty.  He would spend the next years of his life doing a number of things to help his fellow Indians. 

    He led strikes against the wealthy land owners and helped earn better wages and job conditions for Indians.  In addition, Gandhi learned about how the British were exploiting India’s resources and overcharging the Indians for goods.  For example, the British would take Indian cotton and send it to Europe to be manufactured into clothes.  Then, the British would export the clothes to India and charge high prices for them. Gandhi rejected western clothing and would only wear a dhoti, a traditional Indian cloth wrap that he made himself.  Gandhi urged people to boycott, or refuse to buy, all foreign made goods, especially salt.  The Indians could make their own salt or purchase it from another country, but the British made it illegal for Indians to possess any salt that was not British made.  Indians were forced to buy British salt which was heavily taxed and overpriced.  Gandhi led the salt march to the Arabian Sea where he and his followers made their own salt.  Gandhi also worked for the rights of the untouchables or as he called them the “children of God.”  Gandhi fasted, or did not eat, for over twenty days to earn them more rights.    Eventually, Gandhi began the Quit India Movement in which he urged all Indians to stop supporting the British in WWII. For his role in this protest, he went to jail for 2 years. Gandhi's methods of nonviolence, civil disobedience, and fasting came to be called Satyagraha. This is a Sanskrit term that Gandhi created that means to "force truth."

    Finally in 1947, India received its independence from Britain.  However, the land was split into two nations, India and Pakistan.  Six months later,Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu extremist who believed that he was too sensitive to Muslims living in the newly created Pakistan. 
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