On January 30, 1948, the world was shocked when Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi, who led India to independence from British rule with nonviolent civil disobedience and inspired civil-rights activists all over the world, was assassinated.
The Indian prime minister Pandit Nehru said: “The father of the nation is no more. Now that the light has gone out of our lives, I do not quite know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved leader is no more.”
At around 5 P.M., the 78-year-old Gandhi, who was frail from fasting, was on his way to a prayer meeting at Birla House in Delhi when Nathuram Vinayak Godse, a Hindu nationalist, emerged from the huge crowd, bowed to Gandhi, and then shot him three times in the stomach and chest with a Beretta semi-automatic pistol.
Godse was a member of the Hindu Mahasabha, a group that had initially backed Gandhi’s campaigns of civil disobedience against the British government, but later rejected Gandhi’s teachings and blamed him for the bloody Partition of India, in which hundreds of thousands of people died.After gunning down Gandhi, Godse attempted to turn the gun on himself. He failed and he was seized, tried for murder, and sentenced to death. Godse was hanged at Ambala Jail on November 15, 1949.
Gandhi was born and raised in a Hindu merchant-caste family in Gujarat and was trained in law in London. He first employed nonviolent civil disobedience as a lawyer in South Africa, and after his return to India in 1915, he organized peasants, farmers, and urban laborers to protest against excessive land tax and discrimination.
He assumed leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, and led nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women’s rights, and building religious and ethnic amity. He also helped end untouchability and gain self-rule.
Gandhi practiced what he preached. He attempted to use nonviolent means to deal with all situations, lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community, wore simple hand-woven clothing, and adhered to a vegetarian diet, with regular fasts as a means of purification and social protest.
On January 13, beginning what would prove to be his last fast, the Mahatma said that death would be a “glorious deliverance” from being forced to be a “helpless witness of the destruction of India, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Islam,” and re-iterated his dream that people of all religions could live in harmony in India.
Not everyone shared Gandhi’s love for tolerance, which led to attempts on his life. On the 20th, a group of Hindu fanatics set off a bomb some yards from him, and he later said: “If I am to die by the bullet of a madman, I must do so smiling. There must be no anger within me. God must be in my heart and on my lips.”
Main photo: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a.k.a. Mahatma Gandhi [Wikimedia Commons]