Gandhi is best known as the father of Indian independence from the British Empire. While independence was achieved, Gandhi was bitterly disappointed that violence led to the country’s partition into Muslim India and Hindu Pakistan. His renown is based as much on the means he used to accomplish change – nonviolent non-cooperation – as the end results. Gandhi has come to personify the policy of change through peaceful resistance, for which he drew inspiration from Leo Tolstoy, Jesus Christ, and Henry David Thoreau. He in turn inspired the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Gandhi was also known for his monastic lifestyle, which renounced all sensual pleasures.
The youngest child of his father’s fourth wife, Gandhi’s father was the chief minister of Indian states, first Porbandar and then Rajkot. His mother was devoutly religious. A mediocre student, Gandhi was a passive, shy young man who married at age 13. He did have a period of adolescent rebellion, but his ruling passion as a youth was self-improvement. He would have liked to become a doctor, but his family pressured him to study law, which he did in London. His career was initially a failure: he was, among other things, turned down for a high school teaching job. Gandhi was not initially anti-British or militant: It was only when he faced blatant discrimination while traveling through South Africa that he became politically active. For 20 years, from 1894 to 1914, Gandhi worked to improve the political situation for South Africa’s Indians.
After his return to India, Gandhi worked for Indian independence, as well as better treatment of the untouchables caste; he also sought social and economic betterment for rural Indians. His adversaries were the British, who imprisoned him twice, and discord between Muslims and Hindus. His greatest campaign of nonviolence took place in 1930 when more than 60,000 Indians were imprisoned while protesting the Salt Tax. Ultimately, he was unable to unite Muslims and Hindus, although he did stop some rioting and communal violence. On January 30, 1948, on his way to an evening prayer meeting, he was shot to death by a Hindu fanatic.