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Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi leading the Great Salt March in protest against the British government monopoly on salt production.

Central Press/Getty Images

Mahatma Gandhi was a scrawny, sickly kid and a mediocre student. He became a lawyer as an adult, but his shyness made him ineffective. He could be rude and tactless. And he wasn't remotely charismatic. Until, that is, he got angry. Really angry.

Gandhi had moved from India to South Africa in 1893 to work as a lawyer and was traveling on a train in South Africa. Although he had a first-class ticket, a white man didn't want him sitting there, so a guard threw him off. Shivering in a dark waiting room, Gandhi had an epiphany. Within a week, he was speaking out publicly on discrimination and mesmerizing crowds with his passion. He shed the English clothing he'd favored, and began wearing the simple tunic-like garb of Indian farmers. Soon, his modus operandi of nonviolent protest through civil disobedience was born, which he used to work toward human rights and political equality. The more prominence and success he achieved, the more he was viewed as charismatic [sources: Denning, Daniel].

After helping to change some of the discriminatory laws in South Africa, Gandhi moved back to India in 1915. Soon, he was mobilizing the people to peacefully revolt against their British colonizers. Specifically, Gandhi instructed Indians to boycott everything British: British-made clothing, British universities and even British laws. One such law stipulated Indians couldn't produce salt, but instead had to buy it from licensed factories -- all of which were owned by the British. So in 1930, Gandhi staged a 24-day march to the sea, later known as the Great Salt March. Hundreds of thousands of his countrymen joined the march; when they reached the sea, they used it to make their own salt [sources: Denning, Daniel].

Gandhi's tactics worked. India gained its independence in 1947, and the new country of Pakistan was also created out of the northeastern and northwestern areas, which were predominantly Muslim. Unfortunately, Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a Hindu nationalist who despised him for his tolerance of Muslims [source: History Learning Site].

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