Mohandas K. Gandhi is conventionally described as an anti-colonial rebel, a prophet of nonviolence and a political saint. But though seldom described as a “humanitarian,” Gandhi himself sometimes deployed the term to describe his aspirations and activities; likewise, he criticized colonists for their failure to honour “humanitarian” principles. In examining Gandhi’s politics from the relatively unfamiliar vantage of humanitarianism, his political inspirations and his relationship to empire emerge in new ways. Equally, the form and the meaning of Gandhi’s actions also raise important questions regarding the limits and assumptions of the humanitarian project. This paper considers the changing connections between Gandhi, humanitarians and empire over more than half a century. It aims, more ambitiously, to consider how these relationships contributed to a significant moment in the global history of nonviolence.

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