Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable… We may ignore him at our own risk.” King cited Gandhi as one of his biggest inspirations, which should come as no surprise, as Gandhi helped end racism towards as many if not more people than King himself. Gandhi pioneered the use of what he called satyagraha, or political change through nonviolence, and helped bring millions of India’s oppressed to equality. Lord Mountbatten, the last British ruler of India, is quoted as saying, “Mahatma Gandhi will go down in history on a par with Buddha and Jesus Christ.” There is no denying the truth in this statement because of the way he had a profound impact on the lives of those around him, just like these other two famous figures of history. Gandhi may have been very small man, relatively speaking, but he grew to be a giant in the eyes of the world.
Mohandas Gandhi began life as the fourth son in his family— hardly the child typically expected to bring about greatness, even though his father was the small state’s Diwan, or prime minister. He was born on October 2, 1869 in Porbandar, India. From an early age, he exhibited the gentleness and compassion that he would come to cherish later in life. One story about him says that he loved nature enough to climb a mango tree and bandage its branch. Like the vast majority of Indian families, Gandhi’s was a member of the Hindu religion and its associated culture. As was tradition for many at the time, he was wed at the age of thirteen to Kasturba, another child of the same age. A few years later, when he was sixteen, Gandhi’s father passed away. This left a deep impression on the boy, and he would always remember him with fondness, as we can see from his later autobiography.
While initially wanting to go into medicine, Gandhi later decided to study law based on the advice of a family friend. This would allow him to eventually become the successor to his father’s position of Diwan. While his mother had her doubts, he went off to a law school in London, England anyway. It was here that he would learn who he was from a cultural and religious perspective. At first, Gandhi tried to act like an Englishman, doing such things to mimic them as waxing his hair, learning to dance, and tying his tie. However, he eventually learned that he would never really be British, and decided to accept his Indian identity wholeheartedly. He also discovered some of his Hindu religion’s major scriptures in the form of the Bhagavad Gita. This book would have a lasting effect on Gandhi’s principles and beliefs; he became a much more devout Hindu and tried to live the book’s teachings every day.
After returning from England, Gandhi set up a law firm in the populous city of Bombay. His first case was a failure, so he was forced to accept another case in distant South Africa, this time defending his cousin in a civil case. Only intending to stay a few months, he actually remained there for over twenty-two...