Mahatma Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi; October 2, 1869 – January 30, 1948) was a major political and spiritual leader of India, and the Indian independence movement. He was the pioneer and perfector of Satyagraha - the resistance of tyranny through mass civil disobedience strongly founded upon ahimsa (total non-violence) — which led India to independence, and has inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Gandhi is commonly known and addressed in India and across the world as Mahatma Gandhi (from Sanskrit, Mahatma: Great Soul) and as Bapu (in many Indian languages, Father).
An English-educated lawyer, Gandhi first employed his ideas of peaceful civil disobedience in the Indian community's struggle for civil rights in South Africa. Upon his return to India, Gandhi organized poor farmers and labourers in India to protest oppressive taxation and extensive discrimination, and carried it forward on the national stage to protest oppressive laws made by the British Raj. Becoming the leader of the Indian National Congress, Gandhi led a nationwide campaign for the alleviation of the poor, liberation of Indian women, for brotherhood amongst communities of differing religions and ethnicity, for an end to untouchability and caste discrimination, and for the economic self-sufficiency of the nation, but above all for Swaraj — the independence of India from foreign domination. Gandhi famously led Indians in the disobedience of the salt tax through the 400 kilometre (248 miles) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and in an open call for the British to leave India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years on numerous occasions in South Africa and India.
Throughout his life, Gandhi remained committed to non-violence and truth even in the most extreme situations. Gandhi was a student of Hindu philosophy and lived simply, organizing an ashram that was self-sufficient in its needs. He made his own clothes - the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven with a charkha and lived on a simple vegetarian diet. He used rigorous fasts - abstaining from food and water for long periods - for self-purification as well as a means for protest.
Gandhi's life and teachings inspired many other influential people, such as his one-time colleague Annie Besant, as well as Henry David Thoreau, Dr. Martin Luther King, Steve Biko and Aung San Suu Kyi and respectively the USA civil rights movement and the South African freedom struggle as well as that of Myanmar (Burma). In India, Gandhi is recognized as the Father of the Nation. October 2, his birthday, is each year commemorated as 'Gandhi Jayanti', and is a national holiday.
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