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Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated

This Day in World History

January 30, 1948

Mahatma Gandhi is Assassinated


The 78-year-old man was walking to a prayer meeting with the support of two grandnieces. A man stepped out of the crowd and greeted him. The old man returned the salutation when, suddenly, the other man pulled out a pistol and shot three times. Half an hour later, Mohandas Gandhi—the leading figure of India’s independentce movement and the leading exponent of nonviolent resistance—was dead.

Born in India, Mohandas Gandhi was trained as a lawyer and first began a movement for social change in South Africa, where he had lived and worked for a time. That campaign aimed at overturning laws that limited the rights of Indians living in South Africa. The effort, based on his belief in nonviolent resistance, won some concessions from the government in 1913.

He launched his first civil disobedience movement in India in 1919, protesting a British law that required military service of all Indian men. For most of the next three decades, Gandhi was the spiritual and political leader of India, pushing for reform, boycotting British goods, protesting violence between Hindus and Muslims, and eventually pressuring Britain to grant Indian independence.

That campaign finally succeeded in 1947, though Gandhi’s hope for a united India was dashed when Britain, bowing to pressure from the Muslim League, split the area into two states—the chiefly Hindu India and the mainly Muslim Pakistan.

Religious violence followed, as members of the two faiths attacked and killed each other. Gandhi pleaded for an end to the violence and for the Hindu majority to grant tolerance to Muslims. That plea led his assassin, a Hindu fanatic, to kill the Mahatma, or “Great Soul.” A reporter who had been Gandhi’s friend wrote, “Just an old man in a loincloth in distant India: yet when he died, humanity wept.”

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