Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Thursday, January 29, 1998 Published at 19:05 GMT


The life and death of Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi: 1869 - 1948

Eyewitness account of Gandhi's assassination by Robert Stimson for the BBC on Jan 30, 1948 (3'15")
Fifty years ago on January 30, 1948, India's "Father of the Nation", Mahatma Gandhi, was assassinated.

Gandhi, one of the world's most famous pacifists, was killed by a fellow Hindu.

The name "mahatma" means "great soul", and his philosophy of peaceful resistance is widely credited with having forced the peaceful end of British rule of India in 1947, the year before his death.

He was born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on October 2, 1869, into a family of merchants.

Breaking with caste tradition, he went to England to study law when he was 19.

His fellow students shunned him because he was an Indian.

It was in London that he read Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience", which inspired his principle of non-violence.

[ image: Remembering Gandhi]
Remembering Gandhi
He returned to India in 1891. But two years later he left again, this time for South Africa where he was to stay for 20 years. He was the country's first "coloured" lawyer to be admitted to the bar.

Deeply troubled by the country's racism towards Indians, he founded the Natal Indian Congress to agitate for Indian rights in 1894.

There he also developed his politics of peaceful protests. In 1906, he announced he would go to jail or even die before obeying an anti-Asian law. Thousands of Indians joined him in this civil disobedience campaign, and he was twice imprisoned.

Back in India

He returned to India in 1914, and began campaigning for home rule and the reconciliation of all classes and religious groups.

In 1919 he became a leader in the newly-formed Indian National Congress party. The following year Gandhi launched a campaign of non-cooperation with the British authorities, urging Indians to boycott British courts and government, and spin their own fabrics to replace British goods.

This led to his imprisonment from 1922-1924.

[ image: Thousands marched over 200 miles in protest over Salt taxes]
Thousands marched over 200 miles in protest over Salt taxes
By 1930 M.K. Gandhi had a mass following. To protest against the British salt monopoly and the salt tax, he led thousands of Indians on a 200 mile (320km) march to the Indian ocean to make their own salt. Again, he was jailed.

Gandhi had become convinced that India could never be truly free as long as it remained part of the British Empire.

At the beginning of the Second World War he demanded independence as India's price for helping Britain during the war.

Independence and partition

India finally won independence in 1947.

But for Mahatma Gandhi, triumph was tempered with disappointment over the violent partitioning of the country into India and Pakistan.

[ image: Violent riots broke out over partition]
Violent riots broke out over partition
Nearly one million people died in the riots that ensued between Hindus and Muslims.

Mahatma Gandhi had always been against the partition. The year before he had said, "Before partitioning India, my body will have to be cut into two pieces."

But the alternative to partition was thought to be civil war between Hindus and Muslims, and so at the last minute Gandhi urged the Congress Party to accept partition.

[ image: Gandhi's great grandson, Tushar, remembering Mahatma]
Gandhi's great grandson, Tushar, remembering Mahatma
When he saw the extent of the bloodshed, Mahatma Gandhi again turned to non-violent protest. He went on a hunger strike, saying he would not eat until the violence stopped and India gave back the 550 m rupees (about £40m) that it was holding from Pakistan.

But his efforts to achieve reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims eventually brought him death. He was assassinated by a fellow Hindu, Nathuram Godse, who felt that Gandhi had betrayed the Hindu cause.

Mahatma Gandhi, aged 78, was on the way to a prayer meeting, when he was shot three times in the chest and died on January 30, 1948.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia

Relevant Stories

29 Jan 98 | World
The lost legacy of Mahatma Gandhi

Internet Links

The MK Gandhi Institute for non-violence

Mahatma Gandhi - great pacifists

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

From Business
Microsoft trial mediator appointed

Violence greets Clinton visit

From Entertainment
Taxman scoops a million

Safety chief deplores crash speculation

Bush calls for 'American internationalism'

Hurricane Lenny abates

EU fraud: a billion dollar bill

Russian forces pound Grozny

Senate passes US budget

Boy held after US school shooting

Cardinal may face loan-shark charges

Sudan power struggle denied

Sharif: I'm innocent

From Business
Vodafone takeover battle heats up

India's malnutrition 'crisis'

Next steps for peace

Homeless suffer as quake toll rises

Dam builders charged in bribery scandal

Burundi camps 'too dire' to help

DiCaprio film trial begins

Memorial for bonfire dead

Spy allegations bug South Africa

Senate leader's dismissal 'a good omen'

Tamil rebels consolidate gains

New constitution for Venezuela

Hurricane pounds Caribbean

Millennium sect heads for the hills

South African gays take centre stage

Lockerbie trial judges named