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Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most fascinating personalities of the 20th century. The way in which he stood up against discrimination in South Africa and in India using non-violence combined with the theory he developed on his methods make him one of the most important examples in the history of humanity. He has been the inspiration for many people including Martin Luther King. Amazingly, Gandhi was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee was unable to reach a decision and have surely regretted this ever since. The following text deals with Gandhi's work in India. You will find a brief overview of the other things available in this section in the following table:

Life and work: A comprehensive text addresses the life and work of Gandhi in South Africa and India.

Quotes: Here you will find a number of quotes from Gandhi on non-violence, civil disobedience and morality.

Background: The history of South Africa and India form the background for Gandhi's work.

Materials: This section provides a collection of quotes and texts about Gandhi, including some from Martin Luther King.

Link link: We have chosen a few websites featuring plenty of information on Gandhi. This list includes short descriptions of these sites that should make your research easier.


I hate privilege and monopolies. I reject everything that cannot be shared with the rest of the people.

[Mahatma Gandhi]

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Gandhi's work in India

India before the 15th of August 1947

Some statistical figures for British-India before the 15th August 1947 shed some stark light on the situation that faced Gandhi after his return to India: A population totaling 410 million, of whom 281 million were Hindus, 115 million Muslims, 7 million Christians, 6 million Sikhs, were faced by 150,000 Englishmen. Yet the Hindus were divided into 3,000 castes and sub-castes with 70 million people rated Untouchables and descendants of the original inhabitants. 310 million of the population lived under British administration and inhabited roughly two thirds of the territory. The remaining third held roughly 100 million people and was divided into 565 principalities speaking 15 different languages and 845 dialects. 85% illiteracy and indescribable poverty (...) hindered India in its struggle for independence.

[You will find further information on the history of India on the page entitled India.]

Gradually Gandhi found strong support among India's population

Following Gandhi's return to India he started presenting his ideas to the public. The concept of civil resistance against unrestricted British power was demonstrated by the Salt March in the year 1930, which ended the state's monopoly on salt and brought a degree of economic relief to India. To Gandhi however, it was essential that his fellow countrymen learned to overcome the British military supremacy by the means of stronger moral power. Initially non-violent trials of strength failed again and again because of the undisciplined crowds, but gradually Gandhi found strong support among the population of India and strengthened their national self-confidence.

He praised the simple life and raised the spinning wheel as a symbol of this way of life

Gandhi's path led him back to the power of religion. He bitterly fought against industrialisation and tried to shield himself and his fellow countrymen from western ideas and ways of life. He praised the simple life and set a personal example himself by his vegetarian life style, nature healing and hygiene. He chose the spinning wheel to be a symbol of this way of life, and beseeched the Indians to create a cottage industry by spinning and weaving their own cloth thereby taking on the struggle against the textile industry of England. For a while he commenced his public lectures by sitting at the spinning wheel in front of his audience in order to promote his idea.

To Gandhi conciliation of the higher-caste Hindus with the Untouchables was an obvious matter of concern, but it was one that he did not succeed in achieving. Maybe one reason was that he entreated the Untouchables to adopt a positive attitude to a life in contempt and insecurity. By 'fasting unto death', a method of making his demands expressive and compelling, he managed to gradually bring Hindus and Untouchables closer together, but he did not succeed in achieving the same between Hindus and Muslims. The members of his own religious community denied him their loyalty and so the bloody disputes between the rival groups increased. Finally, when the independence of India was proclaimed and then enacted on the 15th August 1947, it instantly resulted in partition into Pakistan and India.

He looked on with great concern as the individual groups fell into disunity 

Gandhi's attitude towards non-violence remains his legacy. However one must not fail to recognize that his one-sided life and 'return to the simple life' both missed the requirements of the times and hindered the political process of a modern state.

Gandhi's death was dramatic. On the 30th January 1948 the man whom the Indian poet Tragore had named Mahatma (Great Soul), was killed by shots from a pistol. His whole life he had preached a policy of non-violence. With growing concern he saw how prior to and following the declaration of independence the different groups fell into disunity and fought each other for power. He tried to mediate and called for friendship among the religions. Ten days before his death a bomb had exploded on his property while he was holding a public prayer meeting. Only a few days before the assassination, as if he had a premonition, Gandhi had said: "Should I die by the bullet of a madman, I have to do so with a smile. There must be no anger in me. God must be in my heart and on my lips and you must promise me one thing: Should such a thing happen, do not shed a tear. I have done my deeds for humanity not requested by any human and I cannot stop on request of anybody. I am like God wanted me and I do as he advises me to do. Let him do with me as he pleases. If he wants to he may kill me. I believe that I do as he orders."

The news of his death left the whole world in mourning. The United Nations lowered their flags to half-mast. From the Vatican to the Kremlin sympathy was expressed. Gandhi remains a great example to the world.

[Taken from: Gerhard Zimmermann, Sie widerstanden, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1995, 49ff.]

"The rich have excess supplies of the things they don't need, while millions live on the edge of hunger. If everyone would only own what they actually need, no one would have to live in poverty and everyone would be happy."

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SubjectsHuman Rights  I  Democracy  I  Parties  I  Examples  I  Europe  I  Globalisation  I  United Nations  I  Sustainability

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