The anniversary of the death of Mahatma Gandhi, the man who freed the Indian people from the British Empire, occurred on 30 January. On the same day 73 years ago, Gandhi was in fact killed by a Hindu fanatic who held him responsible for the concessions in favor of the Muslim factions and Pakistan. Even today he is remembered by his compatriots, and by the whole world, as the non-violence paladin who managed to lead India towards independence. What is perhaps less known is his story before becoming the great Mahatma Gandhi.
His original name is Mohāndās Karamchand Gāndhī, but he is often referred to as Mahatma, which means “great soul”. He came into the world in October 1869 in a small fishing village, in an area that now borders Pakistan, in Gujarat. At that time India was part of the British Raj, that is the Anglo-Indian Empire. Fortunately for him, he was born in the right part of society. He was the son of a politician and belonged to the Bania, a merchant caste, which allowed him to lead a comfortable life.
In several works dedicated to his biography we learn that he was not exactly a straight-A student at school, he had bad handwriting and had problems with math. He did not enjoy sports either, he preferred long walks to them. But he was an avid reader. It is precisely during the school period, at the age of 13, that he was given in marriage to the daughter of a rich businessman, through an arranged marriage, as it should be according to Hindu tradition. Gandhi himself later condemned the cruel practice of child marriage several times.
At the age of 18 he decided to leave for England, despite his caste disagreeing. There he studied law at London University College, hoping to pursue a lucrative career as a lawyer. Back in India he realized that the knowledge acquired at university was not enough to start working, especially given his poor knowledge of Indian law. Also the fact that he was very shy didn’t help. An entrepreneur thus offered him to go and follow civil trials in South Africa, in order to gain experience and he accepted.
It was in South Africa that his activist spirit developed. Here he came into contact with the apartheid phenomenon. In particular, there is an incident in which he was directly involved and which probably represents the turning point in his life. During a train ride from Durban to Pretoria, for which Gandhi had bought a regular ticket, the conductor ordered him to leave first class and move to third cllass, where black people were supposed to travel. Mohandas refused to obey and he was forced to get off at Maritzburg station, where he kept mulling over white people behavior towards those with a different skin color.
He decided to stay in South Africa for another 20 years to defend the rights of his compatriots, getting also to form a party, the Natal Indian Congress. He fought for the right to vote, fair taxation and the recognition of mixed marriages. It was in 1905 that he started to challenge the British Empire by taking part in a boycott of British goods. The following year he put his doctrine into practice for the first time, the satyagraha, which means “the power of truth”. It is with this non-violence principle that he set out towards the construction of his great work.