Mahatma Gandhi popularly known as Father of Nation played a stellar role in India's freedom struggle.Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more commonly known as 'Mahatma Gandhi' was born in Porbandar, Gujarat, in North West India, on 2nd October 1869 into a Hindu Modh family.His father, named Karamchand Gandhi, was the Chief Minister (diwan) of the city of Porbanadar. His mother, named Putlibai, was the fourth wife; the previous three wives died in childbirth. Gandhi was born into the vaishya (business caste).
Gandhiji was truthful in his conduct right from the childhood. There is a very famous incident in this regard. A British school inspector once came to Gandhiji's school and set a spelling test. Gandhiji spelled all the words correctly except kettle. The class teacher noticed the mistake and gestured Gandhiji to copy the correct spelling from the boy sitting next to him. Gandhiji refused to take the hint and was later scolded for his "stupidity".
Gandhiji was married at the age of thirteen to Kasturbai. He was in high school at that time. Later on in his life, Gandhiji denounced the custom of child marriage and termed it as cruel. After matriculating from the high school, Gandhiji joined the Samaldas College in Bhavnagar. After the death of Gandhiji's father in 1885, a family suggested that if Gandhiji hoped to take his father's place in the state service he had better become a barrister which he could do in England in three years. Gandhi welcomed the idea but his mother was objected to the idea of going abroad. To win his mother's approval Gandhiji took a solemn vow not to touch wine, women and meat and remained true to it throughout his stay in England.Gandhiji sailed for England on September 4, 1888. Initially he had difficulty in adjusting to English customs and weather but soon he overcame it. Gandhiji completed his Law degree in 1891 and returned to India. He decided to set up legal practice in Bombay but couldn't establish himself. Gandhiji returned to Rajkot but here also he could not make much headway. At this time Gandhiji received an offer from Dada Abdulla & Co. to proceed to South Africa on their behalf to instruct their counsel in a lawsuit. Gandhiji jumped at the idea and sailed for South Africa in April 1893.
Although not yet enshrined in law, the system of 'apartheid' was very much in evidence in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century. Despite arriving on a year’s contract, Gandhi spent the next 21 years living in South Africa, and railed against the injustice of racial segregation. On one occasion he was thrown from a first class train carriage, despite being in possession of a valid ticket. Witnessing the racial bias experienced by his countrymen served as a catalyst for his later activism, and he attempted to fight segregation at all levels. He founded a political movement, known as the Natal Indian Congress, and developed his theoretical belief in non-violent civil protest into a tangible political stance, when he opposed the introduction of registration for all Indians, within South Africa, via non-cooperation with the relevant civic authorities.
On his return to India in 1916, Gandhi developed his practice of non-violent civic disobedience still further, raising awareness of oppressive practices in Bihar, in 1918, which saw the local populace oppressed by their largely British masters. He also encouraged oppressed villagers to improve their own circumstances, leading peaceful strikes and protests. His fame spread, and he became widely referred to as 'Mahatma' or 'Great Soul'.
In 1921, Gandhiji gave the call for Non-cooperation movement against the ills of British rule. Gandhiji's call roused the sleeping nation. Many Indians renounced their titles and honors, lawyers gave up their practice, and students left colleges and schools. Non-cooperation movement also brought women into the domain of freedom struggle for the first time. Non-cooperation movement severely jolted the British government. But the movement ended in an anti-climax in February 1922. An outbreak of mob violence in Chauri Chaura so shocked and pained Gandhi that he refused to continue the campaign and undertook a fast for five days to atone for a crime committed by others in a state of mob hysteria.
Gandhiji was sentenced to six years imprisonment but was released in 1924 on medical grounds. For the next five years Gandhi seemingly retired from active agitational politics and devoted himself to the propagation of what he regarded as the basic national needs, namely, Hindu-Muslim unity, removal of untouchability, equality of women, popularization of hand-spinning and the reconstruction of village economy.
On March 12, 1930 Gandhiji started the historic Dandi March to break the law which had deprived the poor man of his right to make his own salt. On April 6, 1930 Gandhiji broke the Salt law at the sea beach at Dandi. This simple act was immediately followed by a nation-wide defiance of the law. This movement galvanized the whole nation and came to be known as "Civil Disobedience Movement". Within a few weeks about a hundred thousand men and women were in jail, throwing mighty machinery of the British Government out of gear. This forced the then Viceroy Lord Irwin to call Gandhiji for talks. On March 5, 1931 Gandhi Irwin Pact was signed. Soon after signing the pact Gandhiji went to England to attend the First Round Table Conference. After he return from England Gandhiji was arrested without trial.
After the outbreak of Second World War in 1939, Gandhiji again became active in the political arena. British Government wanted India's help in the war and Congress in return wanted a clear-cut promise of independence from British government. But British government dithered in its response and on August 8, 1942 Gandhiji gave the call for Quit India Movement. Soon the British Government arrested Gandhiji and other top leaders of Congress. Disorders broke out immediately all over India and many violent demonstrations took place. While Gandhiji was in jail his wife Kasturbai passed away. Gandhiji too had a severe attack of Malaria. In view of his deteriorating health he was released from the jail in May 1944. In February 1944, 3 months before his release, his wife Kasturbai died in the same prison.
Second World War ended in 1945 and Britain emerged victorious. In the general elections held in Britain in 1945, Labour Party came to power, and Atlee became the Prime Minister. He promised an early realization of self-Government in India. A Cabinet Mission arrived from England to discuss with Indian leaders the future shape of a free and united India, but failed to bring the Congress and Muslims together. India attained independence but Jinnah's intransigence resulted in the partition of the country. Communal riots between Hindus and Muslims broke out in the country in the aftermath of partition. Tales of atrocities on Hindus in Pakistan provoked Hindus in India and they targeted Muslims. Gandhiji worked ceaselessly to promote unity between Hindus and Muslims. This angered some Hindu fundamentalists and on January 30, 1948 Gandhiji was shot dead by one such fundamentalist Nathu Ram Godse while he was going for his evening prayers. The last words on the lips of Gandhiji were Hey Ram.
Although Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times, he never received it. In the year of his death, 1948, the Prize was not awarded, the stated reason being that "there was no suitable living candidate" that year.
Gandhi's life and teachings have inspired many liberationists of the 20th Century, including Dr. Martin Luther King in the United States, Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko in South Africa, and Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar.
His birthday, 2nd October, is celebrated as a National Holiday in India every year.