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Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Champion of Nonviolence, Spiritual Leader (1869 – 1948)
Mohandas was born in Porbandar, Kathiawar, West India on October 2, 1869. He came from a merchant class family and his father Karamchand Gandhi, served as a chief minister in Porbandar and other states in western India. His mother, Putlibai, was a deeply religious woman. Gandhi grew up in the Hindu and Jain traditions. At a young age he wed Kasturba Makanji in an arranged marriage, who a strong and committed partner.
Gandhi’s parents hoped he might become a government minister so at 19 years old he went to London to study law. Three years later he returned to India, but when his law practice was unsuccessful, he took a position with an Indian Law office in South Africa in 1893. It was there that Gandhi experienced the full force of racial prejudice against Indian people. He spent 20 years there opposing discriminatory legislation against Indians using nonviolent means.
As a pioneer of Satyagraha (“truth force”), or resistance through mass non-violent civil disobedience, he became one of the major political and spiritual leaders of his time. Satyagraha remains one of the most potent philosophies in freedom struggles throughout the world today.
In 1914, Gandhi returned to India, where he supported the Home Rule movement, and became leader of the Indian National Congress, advocating a policy of nonviolent non-cooperation to achieve independence. His goal was to help poor farmers and laborers protest oppressive taxation and discrimination. He struggled to alleviate poverty, liberate women and put an end to caste discrimination, with the ultimate objective being self-rule for India.
Following his civil disobedience campaign (1919-22), Gandhi was jailed for conspiracy (1922-4). In 1930, he led a landmark 241 mile Salt March in symbolic defiance of the government monopoly. On his release from prison (1931), he attended the London Round Table Conference on Indian constitutional reform. In 1946, he negotiated with the Cabinet Mission which recommended the new constitutional structure.
After independence (1947), Gandhi sought to stop the Hindu-Muslim conflict in Bengal through nonviolent means. This policy led to Gandhi's assassination, on the on the prayer-grounds in Birla House, Delhi, on January 30, 1948 by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu extremist. Gandhi has been called the Father of the Nation in India and is revered for his nonviolent vision and teachings.
Even after his death, Gandhi's commitment to nonviolence and his belief in simple living – making his own clothes, eating a vegetarian diet, and using fasts for self-purification as well as a means of protest – have been a beacon of hope for oppressed and marginalized people throughout the world. His articulation of the principal of Satyagraha has guided renowned civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
This short biography was compiled from a variety of sources.