On this day, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was heading to an afternoon prayer meeting in New Delhi when out of the crowd gathering around him, rushed a man brandishing a Beretta revolver. The man -- a Hindu militant called Nathuran Godse -- went straight up to Gandhi and shot him three times at point-blank range. As Gandhi fell to the floor, his assassin stood still, neither running away, nor killing himself and, after a moment of dazed silence, he was seized by police to the hysterical cries of Kill him! Kill him!' from the crowd. Two hours later, Mahatma Gandhi, the Hindu spiritual leader who had contributed so much towards indian independence, was dead.
Gandhi's violent death stands in stark contrast to his own non-violent protests, especially in the form of civil disobedience. However, that he was killed in this way highlights the resentment that his beliefs and policies aroused in certain sections of Indian society, and particularly among more extreme Hindus.
Godse was tried for the murder four months later, along with eight other conspirators. In a ninety-two page written statement submitted at the trial, Godse denounced Gandhi as 'a political and ethical impostor' and a 'curse for india, a force for evil'. The bitterness felt towards Gandhi by his killers stemmed from their dissatisfaction with the outcome of independence -- especially with the partition of India -- in which he had played such a prominent role.
Indeed, the emphasis Gandhi placed on religious unity between Muslims and Hindus, his quest for a free and united India and the abolition of the caste system were all considered a betrayal by extremists such as Godse. The final straw for the conspirators came on January 13th, when Gandhi successfully fasted in order to persuade the Indian government to give 550 million rupees to Pakistan. Although by this time Gandhi was no longer the dominant figure of the Indian National Congress he had been before the Second World War, he remained influential with a large and loyal following.
Trained as a barrister, Gandhi found little success as a practising lawyer in Bombay but moved to South Africa in 1893 where he worked for an Indian legal firm and campaigned ardently for civil rights. However, he gave up a lucrative legal career in favour of brahmachayara, literally meaning 'the realisation of Brahma', which in turn meant that he became a celibate at the age of thirty-six. Throughout his life, Gandhi continued to test his faith and in his dotage even slept in the same bed as young women in order to prove his self-discipline. …