The Woman Behind Gandhi (Not His Wife)

When we were asked to look back into the past and find some kind of lesser known activism in history, I got a bit stuck. Before this class I was not very interested in any kind of activism; I tend to stay neutral in many situations and I like it. I don’t really resonate with any sort of activism. I did some research and ended up pretty far back—at least it feels like it. I started by looking at big movements and then I came across something I never get tired of learning about: Gandhi’s peace efforts against the British. I knew I was off-topic but I kept reading. I began to read more about his life before India. He was a lawyer in South Africa working against apartheid. Then BAM! She appeared. “Who,” you might ask?

I’m talking about Sonja Schlesin, of course!


At the age of 15, Schlesin was employed by M.K. Gandhi as a secretary. She was born in Russia in 1888 but her parents moved to South Africa when she was very young, She was studying at a university when she came across Gandhi and his efforts. Soon, she began to truly get involved in the Satyagraha movement.


The Satyagraha movement is the non-violent efforts he made to protest in the South Africa and India. Schlesin ended up being a crucial part of the campaign. She edited articles for the Indian Opinion, communicated with all the leaders of the movement, and even visited Satyagrahis in prison. She handled the campaign when Gandhi left for conferences in Europe. If it were not for Sonja Schlesin, Satyagraha in South Africa would have been nothing.

After Gandhi left South Africa, Schlesin went on with the efforts but didn’t get far. She struggled with jobs for a while before she started teaching high school for a while and still in touch with Gandhi. At the age of 65 she decided to go back to school to become a lawyer but could not complete it due to an illness which led to her death about two years later. During her time, women did not have much opportunity for jobs but fortunately someone saw her talent and gave her a shot. Schlesin was the woman behind Gandhi, nothing would have been the same without her.


“— But I implore you not to flinch from the hardships which now confront you, not to falter at the shoals ahead but to CONTINUE steadfast on your heroic resolve to give up all, aye very life itself, for the noble cause of country and religion. —- Success is then assured, victory is yours, is ours.”

                                                                                                                                -Sonja Schlesin

To learn more about Sonja Schlesin’s life:

To learn more about Gandhi and the Satyagraha campaign:


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