There is perhaps no more prominent advocate for peace than Mahatma Gandhi.

Born Mohandas Gandhi, he was given the name Mahatma (meaning ‘great soul’) in recognition of his teachings and contributions to peacemaking. While he died at the hand of violence in 1948, his advocacy for the importance of non-violence continues to influence the way we think about social change.  

Born in 1869 in the coastal city of Porbandar, Gandhi was a member of the Vaishya, or labourer caste. His father, who worked as a chief minister in the government of Porbandar, inspired Gandhi to pursue an education in law, and in September 1888, he left for London where he trained as a barrister and established his lifelong goal of seeking justice. 

Gandhi’s journey toward establishing justice continued in South Africa, where he formed the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), a political organisation that sought to affirm the rights of Indians in South Africa. NIC gained global attention as Gandhi helped the local Indian population within the Transvaal region of South Africa fight back against the repressive laws. Most striking were the methods Gandhi and his followers used during their protests, as they relied solely on non-violent demonstrations. This came because of Gandhi’s ethos of satyagraha, a form of peaceful resistance that takes its name from the Sanskrit word for ‘truth force’. Satyagraha developed from Jainism, demonstrating the diverse nature of Gandhi’s spiritual and personal inspirations — although a devout Hindu, Gandhi was also inspired by the work of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy as well as the teachings of the Bible.  

Despite being jailed several times, Gandhi’s protests were successful, and the law was eventually repealed. Following this, Gandhi returned to India in 1915, having developed a cult following, and after four years became the leader of the Indian National Congress, a political party that advocated for India’s independence from the British Empire. 

Established in 1858, the British Raj was the period of British rule of India that resulted in widespread inequality and caste-based discrimination. Gandhi’s demonstrations within this period align with Global Peace Index research that demonstrates how high levels of political instability increase the likelihood of mass protests. In his case, the protests were aimed at dismantling the discriminatory policies and attitudes of the British government in the hope of establishing a free and independent India that reconciled the differences between Muslims and Hindus.  

In particular, he peacefully protested the British Empire’s discriminatory laws which segregated and discriminated against the lowest group in the caste system, the Dalits, the caste of ‘untouchables’, as well as the harsh taxes they imposed on basic goods like salt. His promotion of peace was exemplified in the 1930 Salt March, a protest against a tax that forced local Indians to buy British-owned salt instead of producing their own. Resulting in over 60,000 arrests, the protest was one of many demonstrations that led to Gandhi’s arrest. Despite facing persistent challenges, his demonstration of satyagraha was ultimately successful; the British agreed to change the policy, and Gandhi was eventually released.  

Gandhi’s non-violent protests promoted individuals nationwide to take up his example of asceticism, or self-restraint, to achieve social justice. His promotion of peace puts into focus how certain forms of contestation more effectively achieve social change than others. 

Gandhi’s non-violent protests demonstrated how positive peacemaking will always be more effective than its negative counterpart.

While violent and radical forms of change can sow discord and stoke resentment within communities, non-violent means of protest can achieve social justice without sacrificing levels of peace. Gandhi’s non-violent protests demonstrated how positive peacemaking will always be more effective than its negative counterpart. Now more than ever, Gandhi’s model for promoting non-violent peace should be used as a guide for individuals and governments in the 21st century. Positively oriented peacemaking will be necessary for multilateral cooperation within the increasingly divided global arena and in the domestic sphere of local governance. 

Seventy-six years after his death, Gandhi’s ethos of pursuing peaceful relationships and advocating for collective freedoms remains as important as ever. His legacy leaves behind an enduring reminder: that strengthening peaceful relations is in everyone’s interest. 


Joshua Woo

Communications Associate

Vision of Humanity

Vision of Humanity is brought to you by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), by staff in our global offices in Sydney, New York, The Hague, Harare and Mexico. Alongside maps and global indices, we present fresh perspectives on current affairs reflecting our editorial philosophy.