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Mohandas Gandhi (1869 - 1948 AD), also known as Mahatma or "Great Soul," was the guiding force behind the foundation of the Indian nation and the father of nonviolent civil disobedience. Centered on equal rights and moral action, Gandhi's beliefs have influenced many of the world's most renowned leaders, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Ho Chi Min. Born in Porbandar, India and educated as a lawyer in England, Gandhi traveled to South Africa seeking work, but his experiences in the country would change the young lawyer forever.
Appalled by the poor treatment of South African Indians and blacks, Gandhi launched a movement to secure rights for marginalized South African citizens. During his twenty years in Africa, Gandhi was threatened, beaten and jailed on multiple occasions, but secured numerous concessions from the South African government to improve the lives of its citizens. It was also here that Gandhi first articulated his philosophy of "Satyagraha" or non-violent protest.
Leaving South Africa for his homeland, Gandhi launched a series of movements with the goal of making India a self-sufficient and independent nation. Much of Gandhi's early work involved lifting Indian dependence on British goods. He urged the Indian citizens to begin weaving their own cloth and making their own salt, despite cheaper goods being available from their English rulers. While ostensibly supporting Great Britain during World War II, Gandhi and his followers grew more adamant in their demand for an independent India as the war progressed. Protests swept the country as Gandhi's demands that Great Britain "Quit India" became a national movement. Finally in 1947, Great Britain granted India its full independence. Gandhi would be able to enjoy his country's independence for barely a year, as in 1948, after dozens of previous attempts ended in failure, an assassin's bullet finally found the man who brought independence to India without firing a shot.
Gandhi's compassionate nature did not only apply to humans. In 1952, Gandhi published "The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism", a book advocating a meat-free way of life.
Gandhi, while never leading India himself, was mentor and guide to India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Coincidentally, Nehru's daughter, Indira, who also became Prime Minister of India, married a man with the last name of Gandhi (unrelated to Mahatma) and became Indira Gandhi. The Nehru-Gandhi line has been a major force in Indian politics ever since.