Mahatma Gandhi - Assassination, South Africa & Salt March

In addition to being the principal leader of India’s independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi was also the creator of a style of non-violent civil disobedience that would impact people worldwide. His life and ideas inspired many campaigners, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, until Gandhi was killed in 1948.

Who Was Mahatma Gandhi?

The non-violent independence movement in India against British rule and in South Africa was led by Mahatma Gandhi, who was also an advocate for the civil rights of the Indian people. Gandhi, born in Porbandar in India, received his legal education and engaged in nonviolent forms of civil disobedience by organizing boycotts of British institutions. In the year 1948, he was put to death by a zealot.

Early Life and Education

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Gandhi, was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, Kathiawar, India, a part of the British Empire. Gandhi would go on to become a prominent figure in Indian nationalism.


Karamchand Gandhi, Gandhi’s father, was a chief minister in the Indian state of Porbandar and several other western Indian states. Putlibai, his mother, was a devoutly pious woman who observed the daily fasting practice.

Even as a teenager, the young Gandhi was a timid and ordinary student who was so afraid of being alone that he slept with the lights on. In the years that followed, the adolescent engaged in rebellious behaviors such as smoking cigarettes, eating meat, and stealing money from family servants.

Although Gandhi was interested in going into the medical field, his father encouraged him to go into the legal field in the hopes that he would one day become a government minister and doctor. In the year 1888, at the age of 18, Gandhi boarded a ship bound for London, England, to pursue a legal education. The young Indian had difficulty adapting to the Western world’s culture.

In 1891, when Gandhi returned to India, he found out that his mother had passed away only a few short weeks before. As a new lawyer, he struggled to get established in the field. When it came time for Gandhi to cross-examine a witness in his first case in front of a judge, he completely blanked out. After paying back his client for his legal expenses, he bolted out of the courtroom as quickly as possible.

Gandhi’s Religion and Beliefs

Gandhi spent his childhood practicing Jainism, an ancient Indian religion known for its emphasis on nonviolence, asceticism, meditation, and vegetarianism. He also worshiped the Hindu god Vishnu during his childhood.

During Gandhi’s first stay in London, which lasted from 1888 to 1891, he became more dedicated to a meatless diet, joined the executive committee of the London Vegetarian Society, and began reading various sacred texts in order to learn more about the religions of the world. During this time, he also began his journey toward becoming a vegetarian.

While living in South Africa, Gandhi maintained his study of religions from around the world. He claimed that “the religious energy that was dormant within me became a live force during his time there.” He immersed himself in the holy spiritual books of Hinduism and embraced a life free of all temporal possessions that consisted of austerity, simplicity, fasting, and celibacy.

Gandhi in South Africa

After having a difficult time finding work as a lawyer in India, Gandhi was able to secure a contract to provide legal services in South Africa for one year. In April 1893, he boarded a ship bound for Durban, located in the state of Natal in South Africa.

As soon as Gandhi landed in South Africa, he was shocked to see that Indian immigrants were subjected to prejudice and racial segregation at the hands of white British and Boer authorities. Gandhi’s outrage was immediate. When Gandhi made his initial appearance in a courtroom in Durban, the judge ordered him to take off his turban. He did not comply and instead left the courtroom. In a satirical article, the Natal Advertiser referred to him as “an unwelcome visitor.”

Nonviolent Civil Disobedience

On June 7, 1893, during a train trip to Pretoria, South Africa, a key moment happened when a white man protested Gandhi’s presence in the first-class railway compartment, although he had a ticket. Gandhi was traveling with his family. Gandhi was forcibly removed and thrown off the train at a station in Pietermaritzburg after he refused to relocate to the back of the train where he was supposed to be sitting.

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Gandhi’s act of civil disobedience aroused the urge to devote himself to fighting what he referred to as the “deep illness of color prejudice.” That evening, he solemnly pledged to “attempt, if at all possible, to eradicate the disease and endure difficulties in the process.”

After that night, the quiet, modest man would become enormously influential in the fight for civil rights. In 1894, Gandhi established the Natal Indian Congress intending to combat discrimination.

After his one-year contract, Gandhi made preparations to return to India. However, while attending his farewell party, he became aware of a bill being considered by the Natal Legislative Assembly to deny Indians the right to vote. Gandhi’s fellow immigrants persuaded him to remain in India and head the resistance movement against the legislation. Gandhi could not stop the adoption of the law; nonetheless, he successfully brought international attention to the injustice.

After spending some time in India during the latter half of 1896 and the beginning of 1897, Gandhi and his family eventually returned to South Africa. At the outbreak of the Boer War, Gandhi raised an all-Indian ambulance corps of 1,100 volunteers to support the British cause. He argued that if Indians expected full citizenship rights in the British Empire, they also needed to shoulder their responsibilities. Gandhi ran a successful legal practice. At the outbreak of the Boer War, Gandhi raised an all-Indian ambulance corps.


In 1906, in response to the South African Transvaal government’s new restrictions on the rights of Indians, including the refusal to recognize Hindu marriages, Gandhi organized his first mass civil disobedience campaign, which he called “Satyagraha” (which translates to “truth and firmness”). He called it “Satyagraha” (“truth and firmness”).

In 1913, following years of demonstrations, the government of India put hundreds of Indians, including Gandhi, behind bars. In response to outside pressure, the government of South Africa agreed to the terms of a settlement that Mahatma Gandhi and General Jan Christian Smuts had reached. The terms of the compromise included the elimination of a poll tax for Indians and the acceptance of Hindu marriages.

Return to India 

Smuts penned such words in 1914 as Gandhi returned from South Africa to India. He said, “The saint has left our shores, I hope, permanently.” Gandhi lived in London for a few months at the beginning of World War I.

In 1915, Gandhi established an ashram in Ahmedabad, India, welcoming individuals of all castes. Gandhi led a spartan life dedicated to prayer, fasting, and meditation. He was known for wearing only a basic loincloth and shawl. He was given the moniker “Mahatma,” which translates to “great soul.”

Opposition to British Rule in India

Gandhi experienced a political reawakening in 1919 when the newly enacted Rowlatt Act authorized British authorities to imprison people suspected of sedition without trial. At the time, India was still under the firm control of the British, but Gandhi’s political awakening coincided with this event. In response, Gandhi called for the Satyagraha movement, which would involve peaceful demonstrations and strikes.

Instead, violence broke out, ending in the Amritsar Massacre on April 13, 1919. [Citation needed] A mass of unarmed protesters was targeted by machine gun fire from military personnel led by the British Brigadier General Reginald Dyer, resulting in the deaths of over 400 people.

Gandhi was no longer able to pledge allegiance to the British government, so he gave back the medals he had earned for his military service in South Africa and opposed Britain’s policy of conscripting Indians into the military to fight in World War I. He also returned the medals he had earned for his military service in South Africa.

Gandhi rose to prominence as a central player in the Indian independence struggle. He demanded that all citizens quit supporting the British government in any way, including by not contributing to its coffers, not attending its schools, not serving in its armed forces, and not buying its products. He also advocated for the implementation of widespread boycotts.

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Instead of purchasing clothing made in Britain, he started producing his cloth using a portable spinning wheel. This saved him money. The spinning wheel rapidly came to represent Indian autonomy and freedom once it was first introduced.

After assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress, Gandhi advocated a strategy that combined nonviolence and noncooperation to achieve the goal of home rule.

In 1922, after British authorities had arrested Gandhi, he entered a guilty plea to three counts of inciting a riot. Gandhi was operating on his appendix when he was freed from prison in February 1924, despite having been sentenced to a prison term of six years.

After being released from prison, he learned that the relations between India’s Hindus and Muslims had worsened while he was there. In the fall of 1924, in response to a renewed outbreak of violence between the two religious factions, Gandhi began a fast that would last three weeks to call for unity. He refrained from participating in political activities throughout most of the decade that ended in the 1920s.

Gandhi and the Salt March

In 1930, Gandhi returned to active politics to protest the Salt Acts passed by the British government. These acts not only forbade Indians from collecting or selling salt, an essential component of the Indian diet, but they also imposed a heavy tax that was particularly burdensome for the country’s less fortunate citizens. Gandhi planned a new Satyagraha campaign called “The Salt March.” This campaign would involve him walking 390 kilometers (240 miles) to the Arabian Sea, where he would collect salt as a symbolic act of defiance against the government monopoly on salt production.

In a letter that he sent to Lord Irwin, the British viceroy, a few days before the march, Gandhi stated, “My objective is no less than to convert the British people through non-violence and therefore make them recognize the evil they have done to India.”

On March 12, 1930, Gandhi emerged from his holy retreat in Sabarmati carrying a walking stick, a white hand-woven shawl, and sandals. A few dozen followers accompanied him. The marchers’ ranks had grown when Gandhi arrived 24 days later in the coastal town of Dandi, and he breached the law by manufacturing salt from evaporated seawater to feed the growing number of marchers.

Similar demonstrations were inspired due to the Salt March, and large-scale civil disobedience spread throughout India. The Salt Acts resulted in the imprisonment of over 60,000 people in India, including Gandhi, who served time beginning in May 1930. Gandhi was one of those people.

After being released from prison in January 1931, Gandhi reached a deal with Lord Irwin to call off the Salt Satyagraha two months later in exchange for certain concessions, one of which was the release of thousands of political prisoners. However, the Salt Acts were not significantly altered due to the agreement. On the other hand, it did grant the right to extract salt from the sea to people who lived along the shores.

In August of 1931, Gandhi went to the London Round Table Conference on Indian constitutional reform as the lone delegate of the Indian National Congress. He did so with the expectation that the agreement would serve as a stepping stone to full sovereignty for India. However, the conference did not provide any useful results.

Protesting “Untouchables” Segregation

After returning to India in January 1932, Gandhi discovered that he had been re-arrested amid a period of increased repression ordered by India’s new viceroy, Lord Willingdon. He began a fast that would last for six days to demonstrate his disapproval of the British government’s intention to divide the “untouchables,” or those who were at the lowest rung of India’s caste system, into separate electorates. The uproar from the general people compelled the British government to make some changes to the idea.

In 1934, following his final release, Gandhi resigned from his position as leader of the Indian National Congress, passing the mantle to his protégé Jawaharlal Nehru. He once more withdrew from politics to concentrate on education, poverty, and the challenges faced by India’s rural areas.

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India’s Independence from Great Britain

In 1942, when the United Kingdom was already deeply involved in World War II, Mahatma Gandhi initiated a movement known as “Quit India,” which demanded that the British government immediately withdraw from the country. The British government apprehended Gandhi, his wife, and other leaders of the Indian National Congress in August of 1942. It held them in the Aga Khan Palace, which is located in what is now the city of Pune.

Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, stated to Parliament in favor of the crackdown that he did not become the King’s First Minister to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire.

After being detained for 19 months in 1944, Gandhi was finally freed because his health was deteriorating.

Following the Labour Party’s victory over Churchill’s Conservatives in the general election held in the United Kingdom in 1945, negotiations for Indian independence were initiated with the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Although Gandhi participated actively in the negotiations, his efforts to realize his dream of a unified India were ultimately unsuccessful. Instead, the final plan called for the subcontinent to be split along religious lines into two autonomous states: one with a largely Hindu population called India and the other with a predominantly Muslim population called Pakistan.

Before independence was formally declared on August 15, 1947, violence between Hindus and Muslims had already begun. Following then, there was an increase in the number of killings. To put an end to the violence, Gandhi fasted while making his way through communities that riots had ravaged. However, a rising number of Hindus regarded Gandhi as a traitor because of his sympathetic statements toward Muslims.

Gandhi’s Wife and Kids

Gandhi entered into a prearranged marriage with Kasturba Makanji, the daughter of a merchant when he was only 13 years old. In February 1944, at 74, she passed away as Gandhi was holding her.

In 1885, Gandhi experienced the loss of both his father and a young child within a short time after his father’s death.

In 1888, Gandhi’s wife gave birth to the first of four sons who would go on to survive childhood. In the year 1893, India welcomed its second son into the world. While Kasturba was residing in South Africa, she gave birth to two more sons, one in 1897 and one in 1900.

Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi

Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fundamentalist, was dissatisfied with Gandhi’s tolerance of Muslims and shot and murdered him on January 30, 1948. Gandhi was 78 years old at the time of his death.

Gandhi, who had been on a string of hunger strikes, clung to his two grandnieces as they led him from his living quarters in New Delhi’s Birla House to a prayer service in the late afternoon. The hunger strikes had sapped Gandhi’s strength. Godse knelt in front of the Mahatma before pulling out a semiautomatic pistol and shot him three times while they were close to one another. A pacifist who spent his entire life advocating for nonviolence was taken from this world by a violent act.

In November of 1949, Godse and another conspirator were both hanged for their roles in the crime. Additional conspirators have been given life sentences for their roles in the crime.


Even after Gandhi’s death, his dedication to nonviolence and his belief in simple living — which included making his clothes, adhering to a vegetarian diet, and using fasts as a method of self-purification as well as a form of protest — has continued to serve as a beacon of hope for people who are marginalized and oppressed in many different parts of the world.

Satyagraha is still widely regarded as one of the world’s most influential ideologies in contemporary freedom movements. Gandhi’s activities inspired subsequent human rights movements worldwide, such as those led by civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr in the United States and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

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