He helped bring about India's independence from British rule, inspiring other colonial peoples to work for their own independence and ultimately dismantle the British Empire and replace it with the Commonwealth. Gandhi's principle of satyagraha (Sanskrit: truth + force), roughly translated as "passive resistance", has inspired generations of democratic and anti-racist activists including Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Gujarat, India. He was the son of a local official and trained as a lawyer in London. He went to South Africa to practise law in 1893 and began his political career by lobbying against laws discriminating against Indians in South Africa.
Gandhi drew inspiration from the writings of Leo Tolstoy, who in the 1880s had undergone a profound conversion to a personal form of Christian anarchism. Gandhi translated Tolstoy's "Letter to a Hindu" which was written in 1908 in response to aggressive Indian nationalists, and the two corresponded until Tolstoy's death in 1910.
During World War I Gandhi returned to India and became involved with the Congress Party and the movement for independence. He gained worldwide publicity through his policy of civil disobedience and the use of fasting as a form of protest, and was repeatedly imprisoned by the British authorities. One of his most striking actions was the salt march of 1930, when he led thousands of people to march to the sea to collect their own salt rather than pay the salt tax.
Gandhi became even more vocal in his demand for independence during World War II. Post-war negotiations with the British resulted in an imperfect form of independence, with the country divided into Hindu India and the Muslim state of Pakistan.