Gandhi as the leader of a constant, prolonged, and peaceful resistance will forever be remembered in history. He played a greater role in determining the shape of India’s history than the British Empire because through his organizing efforts he was able to consistently mobilize thousands of people to break down the structures set by the British that used to favor just the British. Gandhi helped reform the tax system, abolished monopolies, and changed land regulations. But most importantly, Gandhi was the key player in bringing India its independence from the British rule by running the Indian National Party and drafting and giving the independence proposal to the British rulers of the time.
Historical circumstances surrounding Gandhi’s life as well as other events taking place in his personal life, shaped Gandhi as a leader. Gandhi went to study law in 1988. He arrived in London just three days before his 19th birthday (Wolpert & Wolpert 20). Gandhi passed the Bar and went to practice law in Bombay (now Mumbai), but was unable to cross-examine witnesses because he was still psychologically recovering from his mother’s death which his family did not tell him about until he came back to India (Teldunkar 34). Shortly after his inability to work in Bombay, he relocated to South Africa because another job opportunity came up. He was to work as a lawyer at a shipping company at Colony of Natal (Teldunkar 36).
Mohandas ended up spending 21 years in South Africa. While there, he experienced racism. Streets, transportation, and restaurants were segregated by color, but Gandhi did not always obey the rules. His first political act was addressed at the bill allowing only Europeans to vote in South African elections. Even though the bill passed, Mohandas’s efforts brought attention to the practice of discrimination. In 1906, Gandhi led his first protest to oppose a new law requiring registration of Indians. During that time Gandhi developed his own methodology based on Thoreau’s civil disobedience and outlined his theoretical principles in the Satyaghara. He advocated for a peaceful resistance (Hendrick 462). He took these ideas to India nine years later.
Gandhi’s time in South Africa influenced his activism in India. The unequal treatment of non-whites during the apartheid sparked a hunger for justice in Gandhi. He continued with the peaceful protests approach to bring his homeland independence.
When Gandhi returned to India in 1915, his reputation as the community organizer followed him (Markovits 367). He immediately joined the Indian National Congress and familiarized himself with the issues of the time. By 1920, Gandhi became the leader of the Congress. This era was marked by growth of nationalism in India, spurring many non-cooperation movements (Markovits 354). In the 1930s, civil disobedience movements were the most visible. Protests seemed to be always going on. 90,000 people were arrested and the prisons were often overflowing. As the law-enforcement and the government’s power was decreasing, Indian National Congress’s power was growing (Markovits 374).
Mohandas Gandhi played a greater role in shaping Indian history than the British Empire. The British rule reinforced the caste system in India through designating certain classes to trade and others to labor with no means of social mobility. The colonizers did not distribute the land equitably, causing the rural population to be stuck in a cycle of deep poverty. British suppliers were given a preferential treatment in trade of railway cars, hampering the industry in India (Markovits 540).
Mohandas Gandhi’s peaceful but prolonged resistance reversed many of the British practices. Gandhi gave power to the lower-class peasants when in 1917 he joined them in protests of unfair pricing practices for indigo due to the monopoly that Britain had at the time on the crop. After the pressure Gandhi and his followers put on the administration, the fixed price was lifted and the farmers had the ability to receive a fairer compensation for their crop (Markovits 136). Gandhi also reformed the way goods and land were taxed, and during a famous Salt March of 1930, he advocated for reduction of the land tax by 50%, abolition of the salt tax, and breakup of the British salt monopoly. The march stretched from Gujarat to Danhi and along the way farmers started selling salt directly and refused to pay their land taxes. Even police brutality did not stop the protestors and they continued to follow the principles of peaceful resistance. When Indians gained greater access to land that belonged to them and the goods they produced, more people were able to climb out of poverty and the caste system, while still institutionally entrenched, was no longer reinforced by the British.
Gandhi believed that the British empire could not survive without Indian cooperation so he reached out far and wide persuading more and more people to boycott British goods and fight for equal political rights. In 1946 Gandhi approached the Brits with a proposal for independence. Only after over a year of lengthy negotiations was the proposal accepted (Markovits 113). On June 3rd 1947, India was divided along religious lines into Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan (Markovits 466). The result was a violent clash between the two groups. Gandhi responded on the day of India’s independence calling for peace (Markovits 485). Gandhi was assassinated just a few months after India gained independence but he was able to see the fruits of his and his followers’ labor.
- Hendrick, George. “The Influence of Thoreau’s” Civil Disobedience on Gandhi’s Satyagraha.” New England Quarterly (1956): 462-471.
- Markovits, Claude, ed. A History of Modern India, 1480-1950. Anthem Press, 2004.
- Tendulkar, D. G. Mohandas; Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi: Illus. Collected and Arranged by Vithalbhai K. Jhaveri; Foreword by Jawaharlal Nehru. Vol. 1. University of Michigan, 1951.
- Wolpert, Stanley and Stanley A. Wolpert. Gandhi’s Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mohandas Gandhi. Oxford University Press, 2002.