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Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand: In South Africa

Educated in India and in London, he was admitted to the English bar in 1889 and practiced law unsuccessfully in India for two years. In 1893 he went to South Africa, where he was later joined by his wife and children. There he became a successful lawyer and leader of the Indian community and involved himself in the fight to end discrimination against the country's Indian minority. In South Africa he read widely, drawing inspiration from such sources as the Bhagavad-Gita , John Ruskin , Leo Tolstoy , Ralph Waldo Emerson , and Henry David Thoreau , and his personal philosophy underwent significant changes. His later political thought and his philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience was mainly shaped by his experiences in South Africa, the profound disappointment with the British legal system he experienced there, and his disenchantment with British social institutions he had once idolized. It was in Sout Africa that he developed the strategies he would later use in the struggle for the indpendence of India. He abandoned (c.1905) Western ways and thereafter lived abstemiously (including celibacy); this became symbolized in his eschewal of material possessions and his dress of loincloth and shawl. While in South Africa he organized (1907) his first satyagraha [holding to the truth], a campaign of civil disobedience expressed in nonviolent resistance to what he regarded as unjust laws. Although he served three prison sentences during his time in South Africa, his nonviolent protests and other activities were so successful that he secured (1914) an agreement from the South African government that promised the alleviation of anti-Indian discrimination.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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