Category Archives: 2. Mahatma Gandhi

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is India’s far right nationalist group. The RSS was founded by ex-congressman Keshav Baliram Hedgewar in 1925, after the impact of Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation movement (Andersen 589). The RSS was founded with two major themes involved; to unite Hindus after the initial separation from British rule, and to rally Hindus against invading religious beliefs such as Islam (Andersen 589). The RSS drew most of its beliefs from the Maharashtrian tradition, which combined gymnastic and military traditions. Many of RSS members were a once part of the Maharashtrian tradition, where leading ideologies of the RSS originally emerged (Andersen 589). Savarkar, a nationalist Hindu scholar, had a large impact on the RSS beliefs.

Savarkar’s thesis argued that any Hindu person in the subcontinent is considered a unified nation,  (Andersen 592). Savarkar, along with many other Hindu nationalists, disagreed that the Aryans were not the only ones to invade the subcontinent; instead, Savarkar believed that Aryans were originally from the Sindh valley, and their ideologies spread throughout India over time (Andersen 592). Savarkar argued that the sufferings endured from foreign invasions over the years created a more cohesive nation (Andersen 592). This view was widely accepted by Hedgewar, and many other Hindu nationalists. By March 1925, The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang was created by Hedgewar alongside Savarkar in Nagpur.

The RSS’ activities were very limited during this time. On Sunday mornings they would gather as a group; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, intellectual gatherings, later known as Baudhik, were held (Andersen 592). In April 1926, The RSS’s first activity was recorded. Hedgewar took the swayamsevaks, a grouping of RSS members, to the Shri Ramchandra festival, where they formed queues, and provided drinking water for the locals. The RSS also prevented Brahmins and Muslim beggars from taking money from the locals (Andersen 593). Initiation into the RSS was rigorous, acceptance into the organization showed absolute devotion to India and her people. Additional testing was done even after being accepted into the RSS, done by Hedgewar himself (Andersen 593). By 1928, the RSS began to spread out of Nagpur and into neighboring provinces (Andersen 593). The RSS had 18 shakhas (units) at their disposal at this time. On November 9, 1929, the leaders of the RSS decided that they should have one guide. Hedgewar was appointed to this position, along with two all-Sangh officials. In 1930, Hedgewar was arrested for breaking India’s forest laws and was sentenced to nine months in prison, where he spread the ideology of the RSS. By 1931, the RSS was composed of 60 shakhas (Andersen 594). The RSS was established in the Benaras Hindu University, greatly benefiting from the spread of RSS beliefs through students word of mouth (Andersen 594). On June 21, 1940, Hedgewar passed away after a long illness, and Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar was named his successor (Andersen 594).

From 1940-1948 RSS membership grew extensively, with 500 branches and 60,000 members in the Sangh (Andersen 594). The RSS had two major concerns during the Second World War: the protection of Hindu culture and community in case Japan invaded, and to prepare for the post-war period hardships that would likely follow (Andersen 595). In an attempt to prevent dissolution of the organization, the Sangh cooperated with government policies. On August 5, 1940, the British Government banned para-military drill and uniform activities (Andersen 595). The RSS complied, and was later recognized for this in an analysis done by British government officials. The compliance the RSS showed allowed them continuance to operate as an activist group (Andersen 595).

After Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, Golwalkar was thrown in jail and the RSS was banned from operating due to suspicion that the RSS were acting in crimes  of arson, robbery, and murder (Andersen 674). The government wrongfully assumed that the RSS was a political body, and in retaliation the RSS believed the only way to survive was to become a political party. The Sangh ran on a Hindu monastery model, making it difficult for them to become part of congress. The RSS became democratic in order to better their chances of joining congress, although it was still not used within the Sangh (Andersen 677). Many members within the RSS were acting members of congress. However, they were representing parties separate from the Sangh. (Andersen 677). Hedgewar originally created the RSS with the strict idea of leaving it as an organization; Golwalker continued this idea further with no intention of changing the policy. It was forbidden to have the pracharaks (cadres) to participate in congress at all (Andersen 678). But to much of the RSS’s beliefs, they were allowed entry into Congress on October 7, 1949. However, this lasted only a short while. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s Prime Minister at the time, allowed RSS men to join congress only if they gave up RSS membership (Andersen 678). Still unsure of what to do, the RSS instead became a part of many other organizations to spread their ideology.

The RSS launched their first organization, the Akhil Bharatyia Vidyarthi Parishad, an organization of students (Andersen 725). This group has grown into the one of the largest student organisations in India. The ideologies of the RSS drew the attention of middle to lower class students, who now compose the majority of the organization (Andersen 726). The organisation was most influential in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Madhya Pradesh, all of which had great RSS strength. Another project was to establish a newspaper for the RSS. The newspaper was not very successful, with many news agencies refusing to publish the RSS stories (Andersen 726). Desperate to get their foot in the political doorstep, the RSS began to support the nationalist political group called the Jan Sangh, created by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee on April 5, 1980.

Mookerjee held many of the same values as the Sangh, with a desire to unite all Hindu castes and bring the lower castes into the light (Andersen 679). The RSS acted as a mentor for the BJP, guiding their views to be more aligned with the Sangh.  (R. Sarkar & A. Sarkar 333). The BJP was created with the viewpoint of creating a unified, politicized Hinduism (Odgen 304). The BJP had a great distrust in outsiders, and believed that any outsider would have to pledge allegiance to Bharat, the Indian subcontinent (Odgen 307). The Jan Sangh’s first and major concern was to protect the country and her culture from the invasion of Muslim ideologies, going as far to associate Pakistani Muslims with terrorism within India (Odgen 307). The BJP were determined to get back Pakistani occupied land, and believed that restoring and strengthening India’s nationalism through militaristic means were necessary (Odgen 307). These beliefs became the norm for the BJP party by 1998. Aggression towards Pakistan increased tremendously in May 1998, when the BJP came into power and began nuclear testing.

The BJP and RSS still play a role in politics today. Many BJP high-ranking officials were once part of the RSS, including India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, and BJP president Amit Shah (R. Sarkar and A. Sarkar 333). They still hold the same beliefs today, with many BJP decisions having close ties with the Sangh agenda. Recently, the RSS core goal has been the protection of cows in India, a sacred animal to the Hindu religion (R. Sarkar and A. Sarkar 334). In order to protect Hindu values and to strengthen culture, the BJP banned the sale of beef products in India. 22 of the 29 States in India already have imposed a ban on the slaughter of cows, all with varying degrees of punishment (R. Sarkar and A. Sarkar 331). It is a punishable offence in Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh to consume beef products, with jail time of up to 10 years in Jharkhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Haryana, and Rajasthan. With the new BJP law in effect, it is a punishable offence to sell, consume, or be in possession of beef all throughout India.

The RSS is also trying to make change to the national curriculum (Overland 2001). Longtime RSS member Murli Manohar Joshi was India’s Minister of Education. He seeked to change the education system to become more Hindu orientated, with the slogan to “nationalize, Indianize, and spiritualize” India’s educational system (Overland 2001). Joshi’s education draft required children to learn Sanskrit, along with Hindi as well. His draft also touched on history books, making it mandatory to learn about Hedgewar and his beliefs (Overland 2001). The Human Resource Ministry introduced value education, designed to teach Hindu traditions, such as spiritual principles and practices (Overland 2001). Many textbook have had changes made already, with RSS teachings as the predominant subject (Overland 2001).

The RSS has shown their ability to shape Hindu culture very well throughout their history. With the BJP in power, the RSS demonstrates that they have the ability to push their agenda via voting power. Their dedication to Hinduism is still shown today, through education reforms, policy changes, and international relations, specifically with Pakistan. The Swayamsevaks and the BJP will continue to transform India into a nationalized, unified Hindu society.








Andersen, Walter (1972) “The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh: I: Early Concerns.” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 7 No. 11: 589 591-597.


Andersen, Walter (1972) “The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh: III: Participation in Politics”. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.7 No. 13: 673 675 677-682.


Andersen, Walter (1972) “The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh: IV; Jan Sangh and Other Organisations.” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 7 No. 14: 724-727.


Odgen, Chris (2010) “Norms, Indian Foreign Policy and the 1998-2004 National Democratic Alliance.” Round Table (London), Vol. 99 No. 408: 303-315.


Overland, Martha Ann (2001) “A Right-Wing Hindu Group Exerts Its Muscle in India Academe.” The Chronicle of Higher Education.


Sarkar, Amar and Radha Sarkar (2016) “Sacred Slaughter: An Analysis of Historical, Communal, and Constitutional Aspects of Beef Bans in India.” Politics, Religion & Ideology, Vol. 17 No. 4: 329-351.


Related Topics

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)


India in WWII

Education System in India

Pakistan and India Relations

Indian National Congress

Early Life of Keshav Baliram Hedgwar

RSS Headquarters in Nagpur

Noteworthy Websites

Article written by: Alex Moumdjian (March 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Satyagraha Movement

The Satyagraha Movement

The Satyagraha Movement is often referred to as Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence movement. To be clear, Gandhi’s historical actions took place through various movements, which can all be referred to as satyagraha-based, a term which Gandhi coined himself. As well, although these movements did encompass Gandhi’s beliefs of non-violence, the term satyagraha is actually an amalgamation of two Sanskrit words; satya, meaning truth, and agraha, which is the act of taking, seizing or holding (Hardiman 51). This notion of taking hold of the truth was the underlying basis of much of Gandhi’s quest of civil resistance throughout the early 20th century.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2nd, 1869 in the coastal town of Porbandar, which is within the modern Indian state of Gujarat (Parekh 1). His father and grandfather both held highly regarded political positions as chief administrators, despite the merchant caste status of the Gandhi family name. Mohandas Gandhi grew up within a rather diverse religious upbringing. Although his parents were both Vaisnavites, a sect characterized by expressing devotion towards the Hindu deity Visnu, his mother also belonged to a combined Hindu and Muslim sect called Pranami (Parekh 1). Mohandas Gandhi moved from western India to England in 1888 to study and train to become a lawyer, and when he was called to the Bar in 1891 he moved back to India to begin his legal career. However, his work in India did not seem to interest him much, so Gandhi readily accepted when offered a position as a lawyer in South Africa in 1893. The experiences during his prolonged stay in South Africa are integral for considering the changing course of action that Gandhi’s life would soon take.

Although there were many events and societal conditions that led to the emergence of the Satyagraha Movements, there are a few specific traumas that spurred the initial stages of Gandhi’s journey. On the travel from Durban to Pretoria within South Africa, although Gandhi had a ticket to be seated in the first class compartment, he was refused access to his rightful seat. This was a direct demonstration of racial tensions expressed by a passenger who did not want to ride within the same corridors as a ‘coloured man’. Gandhi held true to his rights in this instance and refused to leave until the police constable forced him out of first class (Gandhi 82). A similar trauma was encountered during the subsequent trip from Charlestown to Johannesburg aboard a stagecoach. Again, although Gandhi had purchased a ticket to be seated inside the coach, he was told by the stagecoach leader that he must sit outside next to the coachman. The racial injustice became too much, however, when the stagecoach leader decided he wanted to sit outside to smoke and demanded Gandhi take a seat on the footboards on a piece of dirty cloth. Gandhi resisted to accept such an insult and was beaten by the stagecoach leader until the cries of fellow passengers caused the assault to cease (Gandhi 84). These traumatic events upon his early travel within South Africa incited the initial basis of much of Gandhi’s life-long satyagraha philosophies, demonstrated through various historical movements.

Over the next few years in South Africa, the developments of Gandhi’s personal beliefs on political, social and spiritual ideals led to the emergence of his manifesto, Hind Swaraj, in 1909, and his Constructive Programme text (Hardiman 2). These works both outlined Gandhi’s view on the “degenerate status” of India and his thoughts on resolving this plight (Parekh 7). Hind Swaraj and the Constructive Programme were the initial vehicles in which Gandhi outlined his ideals regarding civil resistance through the concept of satyagraha. These works are seen as a major turning point in Gandhi’s life’s work and as the start of a series of events that would come to define his satyagraha journey. The radical nature of Gandhi’s philosophies caused a great deal of controversy and the Hind Swaraj was subsequently banned in India by the British (Hardiman 2).

Despite obvious controversy over the satyagraha philosophies presented by Gandhi, he forged onward with his civil resistance plans against the colonial rule of the British in India. His next notable successes include the confrontations with planters in Champaran in 1917, against the Kheda colonial tax bureaucracy in 1918 and against Indian mill bosses in Ahmedabad later that year (Hardiman 2). Triumph with such movements led to his leadership of his first national protest known as the Rowlatt Satyagraha in 1919, involving a cessation of work (hartal) and mass demonstrations taking place nation-wide. However, Gandhi called off the protest once it incurred widespread violence and other non-dharmic actions that were opposite to what Gandhi’s ideals of satyagraha were set out to be. Gaining control over the Indian National Congress in 1920, Gandhi then declared a new satyagraha that he referred to as the Non-Cooperation Movement. Involvement with this led to his arrest in March of 1922 and the commencement of a two-year incarceration (Wolpert 115). Further spiritual developments occurred during this time; Gandhi begun to take vows of silence and episodes of fasting, showing his utter devotion and passion towards his ideals of obtaining freedom for India through movements of satyagraha. After his release from prison, Gandhi continued to lead various well-known campaigns including the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, Civil Disobedience Movement during 1930-1934 and Quit India Movement of 1942 (Hardiman 2).

All these movements led by Gandhi characterize and demonstrate his ideals towards societal problems, whether spiritual, social or political, through methods of non-violence (ahimsa) with the underlying insistence on truth (satyagraha). The sources of his complex satyagraha syllabi are various, including Hindu influences such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita, as well as Leo Tolstoy’s Christianity-based book The Kingdom of God is Within You (Parel 118). Combined with Gandhi’s eclectic religious upbringing and personal passion to diversify his knowledge, a very specific and unique set of beliefs is encompassed by this notion of satyagraha. Although the aspect of non-violence in Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha could be attributed to influences from Jainism, it is widely believed that “Gandhi’s non-violence was, by contrast, rooted in altruism and compassion towards fellow humans” (Hardiman 58). From Hindu sources, Gandhi found exceptional power in the concept of dharma, and outlined its use through various aspects such as duty, religion and ethics (Parel 86). As well, his philosophies fought the Untouchability that is outlined within the caste system of the Hindu religion, causing Gandhi to once remark that “there is no warrant whatsoever in Hinduism for untouchability as it is practiced today” (Sharma 37). These sort of specific beliefs are all inclusive in Gandhi’s satyagraha way of life.

Although he was met with a large amount of criticism, violent resistance and incarcerations throughout his life, his movements did manage to make a direct impact throughout India. Most notably, this is true with the independence of India on August 15, 1947 (Parekh 23). However, although independence was achieved through satyagraha movements of truth and non-violence, Gandhi was continually followed by violence. He was persistent and insistent upon non-violent solutions and dharmic actions up to when he was assassinated during a prayer meeting on January 30th, 1948. The legacy of Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha movements of the early 20th century can be seen to permeate global society today. Gandhi’s campaigns of non-violence have been able to awaken a similar type of satyagraha-based passion in various leaders of civil rights movements throughout the world. Two prominent examples of successful satyagraha related campaigns were those led by Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, who both have cited a substantial influence from the philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi (Hardiman 257-283).
































Brock, Peter (1983) The Mahatma and Mother India: essays on Gandhi’s non-violence and nationalism. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House.

Gandhi, Mohandas (1927) An Autobiography; or, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Trans. Desai, Mahadev. (1976) Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House.

Green, Martin (1986) The Origins of Nonviolence: Tolstoy and Gandhi in their historical settings. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Hardiman, David (2003) Gandhi in His Time and Ours: the global legacy of his ideas. New York: Columbia University Press.

Parekh, Bhikhu (1997) Gandhi. New York: Oxford University Press.

Parel, Anthony (2006) Gandhi’s Philosophy and Quest for Harmony. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Prabhath, S.V. (2010) Gandhi Today. New Delhi: Serials Publications.

Rai, C. and Singh, D. (2000) Relevance of Gandhian Thought. Delhi: New Bharatiya Book Corporation.

Sharma, Arvind (2005) A New Curve in the Ganges: Mahatma Gandhi’s interpretation of Hinduism. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld Ltd.

Wolpert, Stanley (2002) Gandhi’s Passion. New York: Oxford University Press.



Related Research Topics:

Hinduism                                                                    Constructive Programme

Jainism                                                                       Non-cooperation Movement

Christianity                                                                 Indian Independence Movement

Indian National Congress                                        Salt Satyagraha

British colonialism                                                     Indian Class (varna)/Caste system

dharma Pranami religious sect

Ramayana                                                                   ahimsa

Bhagavad Gita Nelson Mandela

Mahabharata Martin Luther King Jr.



Related Websites:

Article written by Angie Davis (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi, the famous proponent of peace and non-violence in conflict-torn India during the early 1900’s, devoted his life to achieving an independent, egalitarian and united India. His life experiences led to his discovery of satyagraha, non-violent protest, and he implemented this tool in his work to free India from British colonial rule and to quell the civil disputes occurring within the country. In his attempts to bring India to peace, through well planned satyagrahas and his detailed Constructive Programme, he himself became a symbol in India and around the world.

Gandhi was born in Porbandar India on October 2, 1869 (Parekh 1, Chatterjee 15, Fischer 13-14). His family were members of the merchant class (Vaisyas) [Gandhi directly translates as grocer (Parekh 1, Fischer 12)] but rose to high political positions. His father, Karamchand, was prime minister of Porbandar (Fischer 13) and had many close Jaine friends [Jainism is a religion that employs strict non-violent and peaceful ideologies] (Parekh 1). His mother, Putali Bai, was a member of the Pranami (Prananath) religious sect that combined various beliefs and traditions including those of Hindus and Muslims (Parekh 1, Chatterjee 15). She was a deeply religious woman, and observed many religious fasts over her lifetime (Parekh 1, Fischer 15). Thus, Gandhi’s own political work, religious beliefs and morals were likely influenced by his early life and the beliefs of his parent’s.

Gandhi moved to England in 1888 to pursue an education as a lawyer (Fischer 27) and while there, was engulfed in western traditions and religion. He was introduced to Christianity, the Bible, especially the New Testament (Nanda 12). It was here that Gandhi began cultivating his own religious beliefs and practices in Hinduism which, over time, became infused with aspects of multiple religions including Christianity. It was at this time that Gandhi first discovered the Bhagavad Gita (one part of the larger Mahabharata epic), and its yogic teachings, especially those of Karma Yoga which epitomizes the path of selfless action to achieve spiritual liberation (Fischer 29-33, Hick 90). This text was so important to Gandhi that it became his ‘spiritual dictionary’ (Nanda 13). Upon returning to India, Gandhi experienced little success as a lawyer and eventually moved to South Africa to practice.

In South Africa at this time, Hindus were often used as indentured laborers (Parekh 3, Fischer 46) and suffered from restricted rights and freedoms. Gandhi himself was subject to many indignities, and in response became a strong proponent of Indian rights and legal equality in South Africa (Fischer 48), thus exemplifying the Karma Yoga path taught to him by the Gita. It was here that Gandhi developed and implemented his very first satyagraha. This was the use of non-violent protests to achieve, not victory over an enemy, but instead a compromise or reconciliation (Nanda 4). It was considered a form of civil disobedience, which could involve public demonstrations, non-cooperation with government policies, and even fasting as a personal satyagraha. All forms required the graceful acceptance of the consequences of their actions (Parekh 3). Gandhi achieved many successes in regards to Indian rights while in South Africa, but was also able to unify Hindus and Muslims living there. This can be credited to the fact that many shared a common language and tradition and faced similar challenges in a foreign country. To unite Hindus and Muslims in India would prove to be more difficult in the years ahead.

While in South Africa, Gandhi explored religion further, often incorporating new religious facets into his unique brand of Hinduism, including aspects of Judaism and Christianity, which he learned from various friends (Parekh 5). However, his knowledge of religion came mainly from reading influential texts, such as the Hindu epics of the Ramayana [Gandhi believed it to be “the greatest book in all devotional literature” (Chatterjee 16)], the Mahabharata and most importantly the Bhagavad Gita (Chatterjee 7, Fischer 29-30). The Gita inspired Gandhi to begin his life path of becoming a Karma yogi, and a man of action (Fischer 35-36). For Gandhi, religion was embodied in dharma (righteousness) and was the “sustaining order which upholds the individual and society and in turn has to be upheld by them” (Chatterjee 18). Thus religion was simply a moral framework for the conduct of daily life (Nanda 24). Gandhi eventually came to realize that religion played an important role in politics (Nanda 24) and was critical in maintaining a stable society (Chatterjee 18). After a period of 21 years, Gandhi returned to India, armed with his new religious views and powerful political weapon: the satyagraha.

India, at this time, was suffering from great civil unrest and religious disputes. Hindu-Muslim relations were strained and there was increasing opposition and animosity towards the British colonial government. The Indian National Congress, which had been established as a means of channeling Indian resentment of colonial rule into constitutional reforms and legal moderation (Fischer 132), had become ineffective due to poor leadership (Parekh 7). This ineptitude resulted in public revolts erupting throughout India. Gandhi, a supporter of the colonial rule at first, became unconvinced of its ability to maintain control over the increasing civil unrest. He did not agree with the oppressive measures taken to maintain order, but also could not agree with the Indian National Congress’s ineffective political strategy. Gandhi decided to implement his Constructive Programme which included measures to restructure India and restore peace and order to the country to prepare it for independence from the British government (Parekh 8).

The Constructive Programme focused both on large sweeping changes as well as small, mainly symbolic, changes including: abolishing the caste system and untouchability, equality for women, the use of indigenous languages and the adoption of a common, national language. It also promoted economic equality (including tribal peoples), the development of village industries and banning the use of foreign cloth (Parekh 8-9, Nanda 8). Gandhi believed that in order to restore peace and stability to India, Indian society would first have to become more dharmic, which could be attained if society became more egalitarian (Chatterjee 20). This idea of a dharmic society stems from the teachings of the Gita and Gandhi once said, God’s grace and revelation are not the monopoly of any race or nation; they descend equally upon all who wait upon God” (Nanda 69). Thus any person can become close to their God through personal, loving devotion (bhakti), regardless of race, gender or class (Hick 131-132). He also realized the importance of symbols as a way of attaining and maintaining equality through their ability to convey strong emotional responses in the public. He used symbols such as the spinning wheel, khadi (home spun cloth) the cow and the Gandhi cap. Gandhi himself eventually became a symbol in his own right (Parekh 9). He believed that his Constructive Programme combined with carefully thought out and meaningful satyagrahas would be the key to India’s independence (Parekh 8).

Gandhi implemented his first national satyagraha in 1919 which involved nation wide cessation of work (hartal) and mass demonstrations, in response to the further losses of civil liberties and freedoms imposed on India by the colonial government (Parekh 12). It was Gandhi’s first nation wide defiance of the British government (Fischer 176). The hartal proved to be very successful in Bombay with six hundred followers. However, when the hartal reached Delhi some demonstrations turned violent and Gandhi had to abandon it, calling it his ‘Himalayan miscalculation’ (Parekh 12, Fischer 177-178). Further oppression by the British government by banning group gatherings and demonstrations, escalated tensions in India, and on April 13, 1919 colonial forces opened fire on unarmed civilians, killing hundreds (Parekh 12, Fischer 179-180). This event was a turning point in Indian history and the stability of the British rule began to be threatened.

In response this tragic event, and in the face of exponentially increasing violence in the country, Gandhi implemented his second nation wide satyagraha: The Non-cooperation Movement of 1920 (Parekh 12, Fischer 187). Gandhi based it on his belief that the government could no longer rule effectively if its citizens refused to cooperate with its policies and set up their own alternative governing institutions (Parekh 12, Fischer 187). Gandhi also attempted to incorporate the Muslim community into his nationalist movement for independence (Nanda 97). The Non-cooperation movement was unsuccessful for two reasons: alternative governing bodies were not created because the public was not willing to give up their hard earned careers (Parekh 14) and it inadvertently caused further strain in Hindu-Muslim relations. The majority of Muslims were supportive of the British governing body as it provided them with an English education and government careers (Nanda 97).

Gandhi became increasingly concerned over the growing Hindu-Muslim conflict. The emerging Muslim middle class felt that their progress was being impeded, as they were in constant competition, with the Hindus, over jobs. Most middle class Muslims did not have the access to the level of education needed to obtain these jobs and thus felt they were at an unfair disadvantage (Fischer 220). To address their frustrations Gandhi began a twenty-one day fast to promote unity and a mutual respect and tolerance and support of a Hindu-Muslim friendship (Parekh 15, Fischer 221). However, civil unrest continued to increase until he felt that another satyagraha was necessary to avoid explosive violence, and edge India closer to independence. He decided to protest against the British salt tax of the 1930’s by having thousands of people along India’s sea coast produce salt illegally (Parekh 15-16, Fischer 268-269). Gandhi chose his salt satyagraha for several reasons: salt was important to all Indians and Muslims, and bore heavily on the poor, and showed the how corrupt and cruel the British government was (Parekh 15-16). The salt satyagraha was successful as it was able to show colonial rule was weak and could be defeated (Parekh 16). It has been considered Gandhi’s most successful attempt at non-violent civil disobedience as a means to promote compromise, through the use of powerful symbolism (Nanda 81).

Hindu-Muslim relations continued to worsen and partition of India was immanent. In light of economic and political trouble Muslim’s feared they would no longer be in control of their people and that a partition was necessary to maintain Muslim religious integrity (Parekh 20). Pakistan and the Indian Union were eventually formed out of the partition (Fischer 476). The newly formed Pakistan contained millions of Hindus, and likewise the Indian Union contained millions of Muslims. These newly formed minorities were concerned with their status under the new majority rulers and fighting erupted from within (Fischer 476). Gandhi disagreed with the partition on religious and traditional grounds and predicted the violence that resulted. Thus, he devoted the remainder of his life to quelling violence between the disputing parties, and bringing about Hindu-Muslim religious equality through pilgrimages of peace (Parekh 23, Nanda 147), because he felt that all religions could be considered equal (Hick 131). His own life became a weapon in the war against violence, and he hoped that his sacrifice would act as a catalyst promoting peace and equality throughout India, as well as Pakistan (Parekh 23).

India achieved its independence on August 15, 1947 (Parekh 23). Gandhi remained focused on his pilgrimage and on January 13, 1948 began his final satyagraha, a fast unto death (Fischer 494), which was ultimately successful in ending the religious riots in both Pakistan and the Indian Union (Fischer 502). People, moved by his selfless action, pledged to ‘establish real peace’ between the dominions (Fischer 499). However, while he had many followers, there were still some who disagreed vehemently with his ideals and as a result Gandhi had many threats on his life (Parekh 24, Fischer 503-505). Instead of worrying for his life, Gandhi believed his death would act as a symbol to the country and achieve what he could not accomplish in his lifetime (Parekh 25). On January 30th, 1948 Gandhi was assassinated (Parekh 25).

Gandhi’s death proved to be incredibly influential in the events that would follow. It effectively united people in mourning the loss of India’s most beloved political peace activist, and calmed the conflict torn nation, and was instrumental in achieving the egalitarian society Gandhi has strived for during his life (Parekh 25). Gandhi exemplified the Karma Yoga path of selfless action, and he never wavered in his attempts to achieve a dharmically stable Indian society through religious and social equality. Gandhian policies and ideologies remain in Indian society and have also spread around the world in a ‘nonviolent revolution’ (Hick 203-204). His emphasis on morality, religion and non-violent cooperative negotiations have often been used as a template to base political decisions as well as decisions made in day to day life.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Chatterjee, Margaret (1983) Gandhi’s Religious Thought. Notre Dame: University of

Notre Dame Press.

Fischer, Louis (1950) The Life of Mahatma Gandhi. New York: Harper and Row Publishers Incorporated.

Hick, John and Hempel, Lamont, C. (1989) Gandhi’s Significance for Today. New York: St. Martin’s Press, Inc.

Nanda, B. R. (2002) In Search of Gandhi: Essays and Reflections. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Parekh, Bhikhu (1997) Gandhi. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation





Islamic religious beliefs and traditions

Hindu-Muslim conflict

The partition of India

Indian National Congress

British colonialism

Constructive Programme

British salt tax and the salt satyagraha

The Non-cooperation Movement

Indian Class (Varna)/Caste system

Untouchables (Candala)

Pranami (Prananath) religious sect




Karma Yoga



Bhagavad Gita



Related Websites

Article written by: Karma Tiberg (April 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

Related Readings (On Mahatma Gandhi)

Chatterjee, M. (1983) Gandhi’s Religious Thought. South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press.

Desai, Mahadev (1946) The Gita According to Gandhi. Amhedabad: Navajivan.

Erikson, E. H. (1970) Gandhi’s Truth. New York: W. W. Norton.

Fischer, L. (1959) The Life of Mahatma Gandhi. Reprint Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Gandhi, M. K. (1982) An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Harmondworth: Penguin.

Tendulkar, D. G. (1952-58) Mahatma: Life and Work of M. K. Gandhi, 8 vols. Bombay: V. K. Jhaveri.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar India. Gandhi was the youngest child of his father’s fourth wife, and it was his mother who taught him about the inner strength and sacrifice he would become known for (Watson 7). Belonging to the working class, the Vaisyas, Gandhi grew up in a well to do family as his father Karamchand was a successful businessman (Fischer 1950:12). While his father owned homes in Porbandar, Rajkot, and Kutiana (Fisher 9), Gandhi lived an ordinary childhood. In school he was a mediocre student, sometimes having learning troubles. As Gandhi himself once remembered “My intellect must have been sluggish, and my memory raw” (Fisher 1954:9). At the age of 13 Gandhi was married in an arranged marriage to another 13 year old named Kasturbai; a match made by their parents. Gandhi was not aware of the arrangement until all the plans were complete and later said his marriage was as if “two innocent children all unwittingly hurled themselves on the ocean of life, with only their experiences in a former incarnation to guide them” (Fischer 1954:10). Later on in life, Gandhi became a bitter enemy to child marriage because sex had obsessed him greatly in his child years (Parekh 1). After he finished school, Gandhi was faced with the decision of what career he would pursue. He thought of medicine but his father objected to the dissection of dead bodies; subsequently, he turned his attention to law. Gandhi learned about an English law course and degree that he could obtain and quickly jumped at the opportunity (Fischer 1954:12). However, elders in his caste rejected, in vain, the idea of him leaving for England because they believed the English had different morals. However, in order to gain acceptance and go, Gandhi made an oath that he would not touch meat, alcohol, or women. In September 1888, he set sail from Bombay for England (Watson 9).

In order to fit into English culture Gandhi found himself wearing a top hat, morning coat, striped trousers and spats, as well as participating in dancing and elocution lessons (Watson 9). However, it was a Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita, which Gandhi read while in England that shaped his inspiration in life (Fischer 1954:15). The Bhagavad-Gita, an exquisite poem about the science and practice of yoga, inspired Gandhi. He felt that it was a metaphor in which the battlefield was the soul and Arjuna, the protagonist, was man’s higher impulses struggling against evil (Fischer 1954:16). Mahatma Gandhi could be regarded as a karma yogi; one who used the Gita to define the perfect karma yogi.

“He is a devotee who is jealous of none, who is a fount of mercy, who is without egotism, who is selfless, who treats alike cold and heat, happiness and misery, who is ever forgiving, who is always contented, whose resolution are firm, who is dedicated mind and soul to god, who causes no dread, who is not afraid of others, who is free of exultation, sorrow and fear, who is pure, who is versed in action yet remains unaffected by it, who renounces all fruit, good or bad, who treats friend and foe alike, who is untouched by respect or disrespect, who is not puffed up by praise, who does not go under when people speak ill of him, who loves silence and solitude, who has a disciplined reason. Such devotion is inconsistent with the existence at the same time of strong attachments” (Fischer 1954:18).

This is how Gandhi lived and he used this ideal of desirelessness to teach others of ahimsa (non violence). Gandhi said that “one person, who can express ahimsa in life, exercises a force superior to all the forces of brutality” and even though it seems that passive resistance seems very ineffective, it is really intensely active and more effective in ultimate result (Misra & Gangal 52-53). In addition to nonviolence, Gandhi also taught satyagraha (adherence to truth) (Pant 5). Satyagraha is a combination of two words, satya (truth) and agraha (taking seizing, holding) and that one seizes hold of the truth (Hardiman 51). Gandhi knew that reason itself could not win an argument so to aid in his quest for truth he would often go through self inflicted suffering such as fasting (Hardiman 52). Gandhi believed greatly in adherence of non violence. As he once said, “truth is God and there is no way to find truth except the way of non violence” (Woodcock 7).

Before the great strides Gandhi made in his later years, his early career in London was not a success because he was too shy to voice his opinion in court. Therefore, in 1893, when he was sought after by a Muslim firm in South Africa, he was thrilled with the new job prospect and accepted the offer, sailing off to South Africa that same year (Parekh 2-3). While in South Africa he went through several experiences and challenges that would change the way he thought. Gandhi quickly learned of the racial prejudice that existed in South Africa because of the British and Dutch colonial activity. The first day of traveling to work on a railway carriage, Gandhi was beaten because he refused to give up his stage coach seat (Watson 9). In another situation where all Indians had to register and be fingerprinted, Gandhi used his method of satyagraha. Included among his non violent resistant acts were picketing in front of registration centers, burning cards, courting arrest and gracefully accepting punishment and suffering from police officers (Parekh 3). Gandhi realized that his methods of ahimsa and satyagraha worked because it reversed the “eye for an eye” mentality which, in his opinion, just makes the whole world blind (Fischer 35).

While still married, Gandhi gave up sexual intercourse at the age of 36 from 1906 until his death (Fischer 1950:72). This practice, known as brahmacharya, gave him a spiritual and practical purity that would purge him from weakness. Gandhi saw brahmacharya as a means of making himself equal to his tasks instead of being engaged in the pleasures of daily life and the propagation and rearing children (Watson 13). It signifed control of all the senses at all times and at all places in thought, word, and deed (Fischer 1950:72).

After twenty one years in South Africa Gandhi returned to his homeland in India. After his arrival, he traveled around India with “his ears open and mouth shut” to see what the social situation of India was like at the time (Parekh 6). After four years of being back in India he became an influential national leader because of his morals, visions, manners, self confidence and courage to stand up against established leadership (Parekh 11). After several years of using his approaches of ahimsa and satyagraha Gandhi was able to teach the meaning of swaraj or “self governance” to the Indian people by showing them what they could do (Pant 5). He believed that India needed general principles on how to govern the society, and then allow India to comprehend them in their own way (Parekh 75). Gandhi, like every Indian, wanted to be free of British domination, but also wanted more for his country. Gandhi said “I am not interested in freeing India merely from the English yoke. The movements, political freedom and social and economic freedom must go together” (Pant 16). Finally, on August 15th 1947 India gained independence from England because of the tireless work of Gandhi (Watson 57). He was a crusader for equal rights, respect for women and had removed the untouchability and thus he was given the title “Father of the Nation” (Pant 16).

The name Mahatma Gandhi is often thought to be Gandhi’s real name, however the name Mahatma is taken from Sanskrit meaning Great Soul. It is used to honor the man who gave Indians and the world self-respect and hope through his beliefs and actions. Interestingly Gandhi never personally thought that he deserved the honor of the title (Woodcock 2).

On the evening of January 30, 1948 during a prayer meeting Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead by a young Hindu by the name of Nathuram Godse who belonged to an extremist party (Watson 61). As Gandhi fell to the ground his last words were “He Ram, He Ram” (Oh God, Oh God) (Fischer 1950:505). His life journey was now over; Gandhi had left his mark on the world. He had left home as a young, timid man and through non-violence, adherence to the truth and belief in his people, he ended it as a Mahatma.


Fischer, Louis (1950) The Life of Mahatma Gandhi. New York: Harper and Row.

Fischer, Louis (1954) Gandhi; His life and message for the world. New York: Mentor Press.

Hardiman, David (2003) Gandhi in his time and ours. New York: Columbia University Press.

Mirsra, K. and Gangal, S. (1981) Gandhi and the Contemporary World. Delhi: Chanakya


Pant, Jitendra (2002) Gandhi; Messiah of Peace. Toronto: Lustre Press.

Parekh, Bhikhu (1997) Gandhi. New York: Oxford University Press.

Watson, Francis (1967) Gandhi. London: Oxford University Press.

Woodcock, George (1971) Mohandas Gandhi. New York: The Viking Press

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India Independence




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Article written by Travis Petrisor (April 2006), who is solely responsible for the content .