On this day in 1932, in his cell at Yerovda Jail near Bombay, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi begins a hunger strike in protest of the British government’s decision to separate India’s electoral system by caste. A leader in the Indian campaign for home rule, Gandhi worked all his life to spread his own brand of passive resistance across India and the world.
Eventually known as “Mahatma,” or “Great Soul,” Gandhi was born and raised in a Hindu merchant caste family in coastal Gujarat, western India. As a young man he trained in law at the Inner Temple, London, but found no fruitful legal work back in India. Gandhi instead took a clerk’s contract to work in South Africa, where he first employed the nonviolent civil disobedience of Jainism in the resident Indian community’s struggle for civil rights.
After his return to India in 1915, Gandhi commenced a decades-long movement seeking independence from Britain for the entire Indian subcontinent, and was jailed several times while leading strikes, boycotts, protests and other mass acts of civil disobedience to recognize the rights and freedoms of his country-men. Finally under British PM Clement Attlee, bending to the relentless pressure of the peaceful man called Mahatma, India won her independence. However, with the proximity to Pakistan and no resolution to Muslim-Hindu animosity, Gandhi continued his mission to quell hatred and heal wounds.
On January 12, 1948, Gandhi undertook his last successful fast in New Delhi, to persuade Hindus and Muslims in that city to work toward peace. Less than two weeks after breaking that fast, he was assassinated by Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse; Gandhi had been on his way to evening prayers.