14 Mar 2015

Who was Mahatma Gandhi and what did he do for India?

Hundreds of people gather in central London to see the unveiling of the statue of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi.

The unveiling in Parliament Square commemorates the 100th anniversary of Gandhi’s return from South Africa to India to begin the struggle for independence.

In an ironic twist, Gandhi’s likeness now shares the same space as a statue of Britain’s former leader Winston Churchill, who tried to thwart Indian independence and who despised Gandhi and his aims.

Churchill famously called Gandhi “a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace.”

India won independence from Britain in 1947, thanks in large part to Gandhi’s peaceful civil disobedience campaign.

Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 in Porbandar, India. He studied law in London but in 1893 moved to South Africa, where he spent 20 years opposing discriminatory legislation against Indians. In using resistance through mass non-violent civil disobedience, he became one of the major political and spiritual leaders of his time.

In 1915, Gandhi returned to India, where he supported the Home Rule movement, and became leader of the Indian National Congress. In 1930, he led a landmark march to the sea to collect salt in symbolic defiance of the government monopoly.

In August 1947, Britain granted India independence, but the British Indian Empire was partitioned into two dominions, a Hindu-majority in India and Muslim in Pakistan.

After independence, Gandhi tried to stop the Hindu-Muslim conflict in Bengal, a policy which led to his assassination in Delhi by a Hindu fanatic.