Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was the pre-eminent political and ideological leader of India during the Indian independence movement. He pioneered the use of non-violent resistance to tyrannical colonial rule through mass civil disobedience, and developed a model to fight for civil rights and freedom that he called satyagraha. He founded his doctrine of nonviolent protest to achieve political and social progress based upon ahimsa, or total nonviolence for which he is internationally renowned. Gandhi inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. His birthday, 2 October, is commemorated in India as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and worldwide as the International Day of Non-Violence.

After earning a degree in law in 1891 from the University College London, Gandhi settled in South Africa to practice law. He first employed non-violent civil disobedience as an expatriate lawyer in South Africa, in the resident Indian community's struggle for civil rights. After his return to India in 1915, he organized peasants, farmers, and urban laborers to protest excessive land-tax and discrimination. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women's rights, building religious and ethnic amity, ending untouchability, increasing economic self-reliance, and for achieving Swaraj—the independence of India from foreign domination.

Gandhi led Indians in protesting the British-imposed salt tax with the Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in calling for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, on many occasions, in both South Africa and India. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community. He ate simple vegetarian food, and also undertook long fasts as means of both self-purification and social protest.

Gandhi was a prolific writer. One of his earliest publications, Hind Swaraj (1909) is recognized as the intellectual blueprint of India's freedom movement. The book was translated into English the next year, with a copyright legend that read “No Rights Reserved”. He edited several newspapers including HarijanIndian OpinionYoung India; and Navajivan, a Gujarati monthly. In addition, he wrote letters almost every day to individuals and newspapers. Gandhi wrote several books including his autobiography, An Autobiography of My Experiments with Truth, of which he bought the entire first edition to make sure it was reprinted. He also wrote extensively on vegetarianism, religion, and social reforms. Gandhi's complete works were published by the Indian government under the name The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi in the 1960s.

Gandhi's ethical thinking was heavily influenced by a handful of books, which he repeatedly meditated upon. They included especially Plato's Apology, (which he translated into his native Gujarati); William Salter's Ethical Religion (1889); Henry David Thoreau's On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1847); Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1893); and John Ruskin's Unto this Last (1862), which he also translated into Gujarati. Ruskin inspired his decision to live an austere life on a commune, at first on the Phoenix Farm in Natal and then on the Tolstoy Farm just outside Johannesburg, South Africa.

Although Gandhi was not the originator of the principle of non-violence, he was the first to apply it in the political field on a large scale.

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