Mahatma Gandhi: 12 Most Important Achievements
Mahatma Gandhi was a renowned Indian civil rights activist and undoubtedly India’s greatest leader of the 20th century. Born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Gandhi was best known for his non-violent approach and civil disobedience tactics during his hay days of political activism. Starting his professional life as a civil rights lawyer in Apartheid South Africa, Gandhi would go on to fight very hard to win independence for India from Great Britain. This biography provides detailed information about the 12 most important achievements of Mahatma Gandhi.
Quick Facts about Mahatma Gandhi
Birth Day and Place – October 2, 1869 at Porbandar, Porbandar State, British-controlled India
Death – January 30, 1948 at New Delhi, India
Born – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Family – Gujarati Hindu Modh Baniya
Mother – Putlibai Gandhi
Father – Karamchand Gandhi (1822 – 1885) (chief minister of Porbandar state)
Siblings – 5 siblings, including 2 step sisters
Education –LL.B. at University College London
Spouse – Kasturba Gandhi (from 1883 to 1944)
Children – Harilal, Manilal, Ramdas, Devdas
Office held –President of the Indian National Congress
Most Known For – India’s Independence Struggle, Second Most Renowned Time Person of the 20th Century (behind Albert Einstein),
Other names – Bapu ji (Papa), Gandhi ji, “Father of the Nation”
Major Achievements of Mahatma Gandhi
He was a vocal civil rights advocate in South Africa
After his law studies in London and a call to the bar (in 1891), Mahatma Gandhi took up an appointment as a lawyer for an Indian trader and businessman in Johannesburg, South Africa. He moved to Africa because he was unable to establish a thriving law practice in his home country India. South Africa offered him the best opportunity to practice law.
His over two-decade stay in South Africa was instrumental in shaping the person that he became. It was in South Africa that Gandhi truly came out of his shell, refining his political and social views about his environment.
While in South Africa, Gandhi received the harshest form of discrimination due to the color of his skin. On several occasions, he refused backing down and conforming to the discriminatory laws of the country. For his individual protests on buses and trains, he was beaten a number of times. In one instance, a judge in Durban even ordered him to take off his turban. He refused complying with the judge’s order.
Shortly after his employment contract had expired in Johannesburg, he chose to remain in South Africa. Gandhi’s goal was to stay and protest against a newly passed discriminatory law that infringed on voting rights of Indians living in South Africa. In spite of his hard work, the bill was passed in 1896.
Founded the Natal Indian Congress
While in South Africa, Gandhi also worked to unite Indians from all spheres of work. His civil rights activism garnered him a lot of attention. His efforts also helped shed light on the deplorable situation handed out to Indians living in South Africa. Many of his activism was carried out under the Natal Indian Congress, which he established in 1894. During his fight for civil rights in South Africa, he was on the receiving end of abuses and very bad words such as “parasite”, “canker”, and “semi-barbarous”.
Fought to change how the world perceived people of color
Some historians have stated that Mahatma Gandhi devoted all of his attention only to Indians while in South Africa. He had very little, if anything, to say about the deplorable conditions of Africans in the country. Some scholars have even accused him of fueling offensive stereotypes against Africans. He once called the Africans “Kaffir”, a highly offensive term.
South Africa’s anti-apartheid icons such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu begged to differ. According to Mandela, several Africans benefited from the civil rights activism of Gandhi. It has been stated that he lent his voice to the Zulus when Britain declared war on the Zulu Kingdom in 1906. He was quick to deploy his ambulance unit to the aid of the several injured Zulu fighters. His stretcher-bearer services were not only restricted to people of color fighting in the war. Gandhi and his corps saved the lives of wounded British soldiers as well.
Served as a paramedic during the Boer War (1899 – 1902)
In 1900, Mahatma Gandhi volunteered to serve in the British army in their war efforts against the Boers. He established the Natal Indian Ambulance Corps, a group of stretcher-bearers. By so doing, he proved wrong commonly held stereotypical notions that Hindus were unable to carry out brave and manly jobs in the military or emergency care giving.
The corps had more than a thousand Indians sign up. They played a crucial role and supported the British Empire in their fight against the Boers. Many of them even had ample training and certification, serving gallantly on the battle field.
Their defining moment of achievement came when they served right in the thick of things at the Battle of Colenso and Spion Kop. Gandhi and his men saved many British soldiers’ lives by carrying them across a rugged terrain to a hospital that was miles away. For his efforts in the corps, the British Empire awarded Gandhi and a few members from corps the Queen’s South Africa Medal.
Protested against economic marginalization of rural farmers
After returning to India in 1915, Gandhi quickly devoted his life to championing Satyagraha (devotion to the truth) and nonviolent forms of protests in his country.
In 1917 for example, he got heavily involved in the Champaran agitations. He sought to replicate the methods that he used in South Africa in India. The Champaran agitations saw peasants, laborers, and farmers lock horns with their British landlords and the local administration.
The farmers resisted efforts to force them to grow Indigofera. The crop was used for Indigo dye. The crop’s price were steadily declining, hence the farmers refused growing them. Additionally, some farmers were forced to receive a fixed price for the produce. The protest began in earnest at Ahmedabad. Gandhi took the fight to the British landlords and protested in a nonviolent manner until the authorities gave in to some of the farmers’ demands.
Opposed intolerable land tax and discriminatory policies
Shortly after the Champaran agitations, Mahatma Gandhi was at it again, getting involved in the Kheda agitations of 1918. The district of Kheda in Gujarat was reeling from floods and famine and as such, the farmers wanted reliefs in the form tax breaks from the British government. To their dismay, Britain turned a blind eye to Kheda’s woes.
Gandhi and Vallabhbhai Patel organized communities in the district and protested for some economic reliefs to be given to the peasants in the region. He encouraged the peasants not to pay any taxes to the authorities even though they risked having their lands seized.
After about six months, the authorities gave in to the demands of Gandhi and the protesters. Following the protests in Kheda district, Mahatma Gandhi’s reputation skyrocketed. He was remarkably successful at getting the entire country to support Kheda during the agitations. As part of the concessions, Britain agreed to release all the prisoners that were arrested during the protests. Also, the lands that were seized from the farmers were returned to them.
Worked hard to bridge the divide between Hindus and Muslims
He devoted his life to the pursuit of a united front in India in order to fight against British imperialism. In a bid to win the support of Muslims, he took to supporting the Ottomans just after World War One.
Additionally, Gandhi and Britain went into an agreement during WWI. He agreed to recruit Indian soldiers to help Britain during WWI. In exchange, Britain would grant India self-rule and government (swaraj) after the war was over. Britain failed to relinquish its hold on British India. Instead, Britain offered only a minuscule set of reforms to Indians.
It was this betrayal that prompted Gandhi to begin his civil disobedience and protest (satyagraha). Britain responded with the Rowlatt Act, which barred Indians from engaging in any form of civil disobedience. Culprits were arrested and sentenced to prison often with no trial.
In view of those developments, he reached out to the Muslims and tried to corporate with them in the fight against Britain. He worked extensively with the Sunni Muslims and the Khilafat movement, an organization that was in bed with the Ottomans.
This move of Gandhi drew sharp criticism from influential Hindus in the society. They were against all sorts of cooperation with the Sunni Muslims. Regardless, his cooperation with the Muslims catapulted him into the most prominent Indian civil rights activist at the time. His efforts also helped reduce tensions between Hindus and Muslims.
Championed Satyagraha and the Non-Cooperation Movement in India
Mahatma Gandhi believed that British rule in India thrived because Indians cooperated with Britain. He reasoned that should that cooperatin come to an end, British rule in India would end. So he sought to halt all forms of cooperation with Britain.
This stance of his came after Britain failed to heed his protest against the passage of the Rowlatt Act, a very discriminatory law that economically and politically disenfranchised Indians. Upon the passage, he galvanized his nation and rallied scores of people to engage in what is termed as satyagraha, peaceful protest. Additionally, he entreated his fellow Indians to boycott English goods and services. He admonished the usage of violence to voice one’s dissent. In April 1919, he was arrested for defying an order to enter Delhi. Shortly after his arrest, there were massive protests and riots all across the country. Those protests culminated in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of April 13, 1919. On that day, scores of Indians were shot down by British officers under the command of Reginald Dyer.
Gandhi was disheartened by the horrific events that took place Jallianwala. He criticized his fellow Indians for resorting to violent protests against Britain. He vehemently rejected such moves and called for only peaceful forms of protests. To put an end to the violence, he engaged in a series of fasting rituals, which almost killed him. Shortly after that, the riots in the country abated and a modicum of law and order was restored.
Leader of the Indian National Congress
By 1921, Mahatma Gandhi’s appeal to his fellow Indians had shot up. Buoyed on by this, he was elected leader of the Indian National Congress. In that role, he reorganized the Congress and made it more effective in the pursuit of India’s independence.
Campaigning on themes such as Swaraj (i.e. self-rule) and independence for India, Gandhi encouraged Indians to boycott foreign-manufactured goods, especially British-made products. He sought to make India unattractive for Britain by going after the revenue streams.
He also became associated with khadi (homespun cloth), refusing to wear any British-made clothes. He even took to spinning khadi himself. Additionally, he asked his fellow Indians not to stay away from British institutions, businesses and courts.
All his nonviolent protests aimed to hurt Britain politically and economically. For this, he was arrested in March 1922. He was charged with sedition and slapped with a six-year prison sentence. His release came after about two years on health grounds. He briefly suffered from appendicitis.
Opposed the Salt Tax in 1930
For close to half a century, Britain had imposed draconian tax laws on British India in terms of the production and distribution of salt. Those oppressive tax laws came under immense opposition from Indians in 1930. In April that year, Mahatma Gandhi organized a protest march that saw him march a distance of about 388 kilometers (241 miles) from Ahmedabad to Dandi.
He was able to rally several thousands of people to his cause in the struggle against the salt tax. The march, which took place between March 12 and April 6, later became known as the Dandi Salt March.
And even though he and the protesters were beaten, none of them raised a hand to fend of the attacks by the police. They remained defiant, writhing in complete pain and agony. Some of them had their skulls fractured, others were beaten unconscious. At the end of the day, a couple of protestors succumbed to their injuries and died.
To add insult to injury, Britain proceeded to imprison at least 50,000 people, including Jawaharlal Nehru, one of Gandhi’s closest friends and later Prime Minister of India.
In a letter to Lord Irwin, the viceroy of India, Gandhi criticized Britain’s extreme exploitation of Indian farmers and the intolerable taxes imposed on the poor.
His struggles for political and economic independence for India brought him into confrontation with political leaders in London such as Sir Winston Churchill and Lord Birkenhead. Lord Irwin and Churchill in particular were against India gaining independence. Irwin used force and arrests to quell Gandhi’s independence struggle. As for Churchill, the future World War II (WWII) hero even called Gandhi a “Hindu Mussolini”.
Champion women’s rights and empowerment
Women were not left out of Gandhi’s nonviolence protests and marches. He encouraged women to join in the protests. By so doing, Gandhi was able to give women some say in the political arena. It also boosted the confidence and dignity of women. During the Salt Tax March, Gandhi marched hand in hand with several women. Soon, many Indian women signed up to join Gandhi’s struggle for India’s independence. Many of those women suffered similar fates as the ones suffered by their male counterparts, receiving physical abuse from the authorities.
He was instrumental in breaking the hold Britain had on India
In his Quit India speech in Mumbai in 1942, Gandhi called on all Indians to united towards a common purpose – the independence of India. Following that speech, he was arrested, along with all the the members of the Congress Working Committee. An additional 100,000 or so Indians were put behind bars without any trial.
Angered by those arrests, numerous violent protests erupted across the country. Many lives were lost as well. Gandhi did come out to reject those protests, stating that they went against everything that he stood for. A few months before the end of WWII, Britain eventually released Gandhi. It had become clear as the day that British India couldn’t remain a colony of Britain. All political prisoners were released.
Fought to gain Independence for India
Owing to Ali Jinnah’s rejection to co-operate, several Muslims and Hindus died in the months prior to partition and independence. There were many protests across India. In Muslim dominated areas, Hindus were attacked, beaten and killed by Muslims. Likewise in Hindu-dominated areas, Muslims were killed. Gandhi worked very hard to bring the tensions down. It has been estimated that about 10 million people died during those religious riots. Had he not intervened the deaths could have been way more than that figure. He was against partitioning British India because he reasoned that the partition on basis of religion could plunge the country into a civil war.
Independence eventually came on August 15, 1947; however, Gandhi did not like the terms that it came with. The British Indian Empire was partitioned into two – Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan. The partition caused a lot of displacement and religious violence, especially in Punjab and Bengal.
Mahatma Gandhi appealed to his countrymen to end the senseless bloodshed and religious violence, which ultimately claimed at least 200,000 lives. In an effort to rein in the violence, he used his fasting to appeal to his country.
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Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy
Because he was at the forefront in India’s pursuit for independence, Gandhi is commonly described as the “Father of the Nation”. Outside India, his life-time commitment to lifting people out of poverty and non-violent approach to civil rights activism earned him enormous praises. Mahatma Gandhi has often been described as a “Great Soul” or the “Venerable one”.
Many have claimed that the Dandi Salt March of 1930 had huge influences on the likes of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., America’s most renowned civil rights activist of the 20th century.
To this day, Mahatma Gandhi’s life and the achievements that he chalked serve as an inspiration to countless number of people across the world. And that inspiration transcends ethnic, racial and political divide.