Gandhi left India when he was 18, bound for England to study law at the University College London, where he did well in his studies. He returned to India after passing the bar, and attempted to establish a practice in Bombay (despite the fact that he had studied British law exclusively, and knew nothing of the Hindu or Muslim legal traditions). Gandhi, as he admitted himself, was not a particularly avid or talented lawyer, which some have attributed to an extreme shyness in his younger days. Plagued by failure, Gandhi eventually took a year-long post in South Africa to work for an Indian firm. There, Gandhi became the first non-white person to gain admittance to the South African Bar.
As he became more involved in the struggles for Indian rights in South Africa and India, Gandhi pushed his legal career to the side, shunning his formerly Western habits and the generous lawyer’s salary for his famously ascetic lifestyle.
In light of his non-violent struggle against the unjust laws of the British Empire, which landed him in prison time and again, his limited success as a lawyer is unsurprising. Nevertheless, Gandhi’s position as an Indian lawyer meant he was uniquely equipped to challenge the legal systems that had oppressed his people from the inside-out. Even those trying to undo the law need a complex understanding of its intricacies. Here’s to Mahatma Gandhi, this week’s Notable Legal Mind.