In the time Gandhi was born India was a colony of the British Empire. The British ruled the country for several hundred years. Many people lived in great poverty because the British took all the wealth. After school Gandhi went to London and studied Law in an university. He became a lawyer. Shortly after he was back in India an Indian firm wanted him to go to South Africa where he worked for them. In South Africa the Indians were not welcome by the white settlers. One day Gandhi got pushed out of the train when he refused to leave his seat for a white person. It was then that decided never to be pushed down again and to fight for the rights of minorities. He started to lead the Indian workers in South Africa and fought for their rights. He made a very important rule for himself which he used his whole life: never to use violence in his fights, even if others would use violence against him. So he started to fight for the rights of Indian workers in South Africa and he had great success. And he never used violence.
He started a project (ashram) where people from different religions lived together in peace and freedom. He never made no secrets of anything and was a nice and friendly person throughout his whole life. When he came back to India crowds were already waiting and cheering for him at the harbor and people celebrated his arrival. But that did not make him happy. He wanted to live like most of the people in India: out in the countryside and poor. He wanted to be one of them, one of the country he was born in but was away from for so long. So he started traveling through the country by train in the third class wagons. There he saw a lot of India and a lot of the ways how people lived and worked there. Very soon he became the leader of the Indian Campaign for Home-Rule. The Indians loved him because he was so close to them. He lived in the country and lived an easy life of joy and satisfaction. And he started spinning. He continued spinning for the rest of his life from then on. He had the opinion that a lot of poverty in India was the result of all the clothes that were produced in and imported from Great Britain to India. Since spinning used to be a common job for people in the Indian villages, Gandhi believed that these imported goods destroyed great parts of India´s economy and thus many people lost their work. Gandhi encouraged the people to start spinning again if they do not have anything better to do because so they could make some money and would produce something. One day - as a symbolic event - he asked his followers on a big meeting to throw all their British clothes on a big fire. He encouraged them not to buy any more British clothes but to produce and buy their own Indian clothes. After that many people started to boycott British goods. People in the British factories got unemployed but more people in India had something to do. That was only one step to India's independence from the British.
Another very important step to independence was that he asked the whole nation to strike for one day. And they did. Nothing worked on that day. There was virtually no traffic, mail was not delivered, factories were not working and - for the British a very important thing - the telegraph lines did not work and the British in India were cut off their mother country. It was then that they first realized Gandhi's power in India. There was another very important event on India's way to independence. The British had control of the salt that was taken out of the sea. Indians had to pay taxes for the salt nobody could live without. Gandhi thought that the rule over the salt industry was one of the British basics to rule India. He started a march over 140 miles (about 200 kilometers) to the ocean. When he started, Gandhi had only a few hundred followers but when they reached the sea they were a group of many thousands of people. People from many villages which they came by decided to walk with them. When they arrived at the sea Gandhi took a handful of salt. That was a symbolic action and he asked everybody to do the same. After the police "cleaned" them all away from the beach they decided to walk into the salt factories and take salt from there. The British ordered soldiers to stand before the gate to the factories and not let anyone in. The protesters walked to them and tried to walk in, only five at a time. And the soldiers hit them all until they could not walk any further. Women picked them up and took them away. No one on the side of the protesters used violence.
Most of Gandhi's actions were a great success. The reason was that the British did not know how to act against an enemy who does not use violence. But it was very important as well that the media all over the world talked about Gandhi and his actions because otherwise there would not have been enough public pressure upon the British officials. More and more people everywhere in the world agreed with Gandhi when they saw the British violence against the non-violent people. And they loved him because he was so close to the people in his country. To work together with the press and to have no secrets was one of the important things of his work. Gandhi went to jail very often in his life. He was arrested several times in South Africa as well as in India. He used the time in jail to think and plan other actions. He also used the time to think about how he could help the Untouchables. He was a religious man and believed in casts but he did not think that God wanted Untouchables to have no rights. He went for long walks through India to collect money for the Untouchables and he fought for their rights his whole life. He also fought for the peaceful understanding of different religions. When fights broke out between Hindus and Moslems he tried to talk to them and when that did not help he started to fast which he did a lot of times in his life. Once he nearly fasted to death when Hindus and Moslems fought against each other. Then the fights stopped and the two religions started to live together in peace again. He also fasted when he heard of violence against the British or against soldiers or policemen. Violence made him very sad and he had more than once the feeling that all he had done was useless when people fought each other again.
When people came to him and said that it would be their right to kill someone if that person had killed their son or wife Gandhi used to reply: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind". During the Second World War Britain did not have much power to keep India as a colony anymore and they started to talk about independence. After the war, in 1947 India got finally independent and the British left the country. But Gandhi did not feel like celebrating because religious fights broke out again. But with his speeches to the people and finally with his fast he stopped the violence and people lived together again. But India was divided into India and Pakistan. Pakistan was the part where most people were Muslims and India was the part with mainly Hindus. Gandhi did not want to divide the country but he could not help it. Shortly after his last fast with which he stopped the religious violence a fanatic Hindu shot him at his daily prayer.
Gandhi and his influence in the nonviolent movement
I think Mohandas Gandhi was one of the most significant persons in the 20th century. He was the one who proved that it is possible to fight very successfully without violence. He fought his whole life with humanity, tolerance, ideas and without violence. He showed the way to a better world. And still today there are many people who love him and who use his philosophy to change the world. A very important example is the fight against wars. Usually people who fight against a war try to fight without violence. They march through cities and try to convince people not to go to the war or something like that.
Another very popular example is the fight against nuclear energy or nuclear weapons. Demonstrators sit on the road in front of a nuclear power station or block the way of trucks or trains that carry nuclear waste. Or, very popular example, the French tests of nuclear weapons in the pacific 1996. People opposed them and the press all over the world was talking about these tests. That was non-violent resistance. Marches all over the world and other non-violent actions. Another good example is "Greenpeace". They fight for nature and their most important weapon is the public opinion. They do not use violence but they use the press. The actions they do are very spectacular and interesting for the whole world. Many people all over the world agree with what they are doing. An example for not using violence even if others use it against them was when they went very close to where the French wanted to test their nuclear weapons and the French soldiers entered their boat and destroyed lots of things and hit the Greenpeace activists. And all that was filmed by Greenpeace and these pictures were sent all over the world and came in the news everywhere. Also Martin Luther King did not use violence in his fight for the rights of the black people in America.
An example which all of us see and experience from time to time is the strike. Gandhi made the strike as a way of fighting popular and it is still widely used today. In the beginning of the 20th century the British Empire was the biggest empire in the world. India was it's biggest colony and was very important to Britain. Gandhi managed to get India independent of the British. The biggest Empire in the world lost a war of independence against a country like India that not even used violence and good weapons for its fights. That was a sign for the world. And especially for the other countries ruled by the British. It was then that many of those countries saw their chance for independence. Gandhi showed them the way. That was one of the main causes for the independency of many of those countries.
In the 1960's most colonies in Africa became independent and also Indochina became independent. I think that was also one of the things Gandhi caused or helped causing. Gandhi fought for the rights of minorities and people who were pushed down their whole life. He encouraged every one to stand up for their rights and to fight against cruelty. He showed the whole world how easy it is to fight for the rights and how successful it can be if there are many people fighting for the same cause together. Many people in the whole world decided to start fighting for their rights when they realized how successful Gandhi was. That was the start of many fights for humanity and for rights of minorities. Good examples are the fights of the blacks in North America. Especially Martin Luther King fought under the influence of things Gandhi had said. Or the fights in South America under Ché Guevara or even the fights of Aborigines in Australia. But those are only a few examples.
Fights for rights happened and still happen all over the world again and again because there are always people who push others down. I think Gandhi played a big part in the fight for humanity and the rights of minorities. I think Gandhi was and is still a very significant person. He changed people's minds and opened lots of people´s minds. Still today when people see the movie that was made about his life and his fights they think about this person and how successful non-violence and rebellion can be. And that it is important to save the (human) life and not to destroy it.