M. K. Gandhi

"I recognize no God except the God that is to be found in the hearts of the dumb millions...And I worship the God that is Truth...through the service of these millions."

                                                      - Mahatma Gandhi

Author: Amisha Kapadia.

In a small, white-washed house in Porbandar, on the coast of Kathiawad in western India, Mohandas Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869. His parents were Karamchand Gandhi and Putlibai. He was small and dark, and looked no different from the millions of other children born in India. Yet this was no ordinary child. He was to fight and over-come a great empire and, without taking to arms, set his country free. He was to be called the "Mahatma", or the "Great Soul". Having led his people to freedom, he was to lay down his life for their sake.

At the age of seven he was sent to a primary school. He was shy and did not mix easily with the other children. His books were his sole companions and he spent all his free time alone reading. Mohandas was only thirteen when he was told that he was soon to be married. His parents had already chosen his bride. The bride-to-be lived in Porbandar and her name was Kasturba. After passing his high school examination, Mohandas was to go to England to study and become a lawyer.

On September 4, 1888, Mohandas left Bombay for England. In London, young Gandhi found everything around him strange. His attempt to be an Englishman lasted only about three months, then he gave up the idea. He soon became a serious student, and concentrated very hard on his studies. On June 10, 1891, he was called to the bar. Gandhi was admitted as a lawyer and the next day was formally enrolled in the High Court. The following day, June 12, he sailed for India.

Gandhi, after returning to India, set up his practice as a lawyer in Rajkot. Soon, however he was disgusted with the greed and the pettiness that he found among the lawyers. Gandhi realized that it was difficult for the poor and the humble to get away from such things. It was then that an offer came to him to go to South Africa on behalf of Dada, Abdulla & Co.

The opportunity to see a new country and new people excited Gandhi, and he accepted the offer. It was painful for him to be parted from Kasturba again so soon, but he was determined to go. In April 1893, he left bombay for South Africa.

It was a long journey from India to South Africa. Gandhi reached the port of Natal towards the end of May, 1893. The first thing he noticed was that the Indians there were treated with very little respect. Gandhi spent three years in South Africa meeting the Indians and talking about social injustices. He was now a well-known figure, everyone recognized his frockcoat and turban. His practice was going very well and he knew that the people there wanted him with them, so, in 1896, he went back home to bring his wife and children to South Africa.

Gandhi was becoming more and more involved in public activities, his way of life became simpler. It was 1901, six years after Gandhi had brought his family to Durban, that he felt his future activity lay not in South Africa but in India. Upon his arrival to India, Gandhi went on a tour of the country. The annual meeting of the Indian National Congress was being held in Calcutta under the presidentship of Dinshaw Wacho. Gandhi attended the session. It was the first contact with the Congress which he was to lead so gloriously in the future.

Gandhi settled down in Bombay and started practice as a lawyer. He did well, much better than he had expected. In December 1902, however, a cable reached him from South Africa requesting him to return. Joseph Chamberlin, the Colonial Secretary, was arriving from London on a visit to Natal and the Natal Indian Congress wanted Gandhi to present their case to him.

Gandhi reached Natal in time to lead the Indian deputation, but the Colonial Secretary gave the deputation a cold reception. Gandhi now decided to stay in the Transvaal and fight the color bar, which was becoming such an ugly situation there. He realized that now he would not be able to leave the country, as he had hoped to do.

In August 1906, an ordinance was issued by the Transvaal Government requiring all Indian men, women, and children to register themselves and obtain a personal certificate bearing name and thumb impressions. This card was to be carried by all individuals at all times and had to be shown on demand. Anyone failing to produce the certificate was liable to be fined, or imprisoned. The police even had orders to enter private houses and check certificates.

Gandhi saw here the need for passive resistance, or "satyagraha." To the people, he explained his concept of satyagraha. First, he said, they must be prepared to observe nonviolence. The authorities would take all measures to put down the agitation. They might use violence, arrest people, and send them to jail, but all this must be faced without resistance.

A big bonfire was lit, and more than two thousand certificates were burned. Many Indians openly crossed the border into the Transvaal, where their presence was illegal. Gandhi and many of his compatriots were imprisoned several times in the course of the agitation. When Gandhi was released from jail, the Indians held a meeting and decided to send a deputation to England to acquaint the British Government with the real situation in South Africa. Gandhi and Seth Haji Habib were asked to go to London and present the grievances of the Indians. Accordingly, they went, but the mission was a failure. They returned with grim determination to fight to the bitter end.

Gandhi found the Government relentless in its actions against minorities. There seemed no solutions in sight. He had to take further measures. In October of 1913, Gandhi organized a march of over 6,000 Indian workers from the Natal mining area into the Transvaal, although crossing into the Transvaal without a permit was not allowed by law.

Gandhi and many other Indians were imprisoned. The "satyagrahis" were beaten and flogged to force them to go back to work, but without success. The authorities could not make them return to work. Gandhi had aroused in them the spirit of quiet, dignified resistance.

Soon the movement of passive resistance, or satyagraha, spread all through Natal and Transvaal. The Government did not know what to do, because none yielded to their cruel treatment. In December 1913, Gandhi was released, but he would not give up the struggle. Gandhi had been active in South Africa for twenty-one years and had contributed much to the welfare of the Indians of South Africa. Gandhi now felt that his mission in South Africa was over, and he wanted to return to India.

Gandhi was back in India after twelve long years. A great reception awaited him in Bombay. Gandhi was overwhelmed by the great love shown to him by the people. In May 1915, an "aashram," was established in the village near Ahmedabad. Gandhi named the new institution "Satyagraha Aaashram." A simple uniform style of clothing was worn by all who lived there. They took their food together in a common kitchen and strove to live as one family.

For two years, Gandhi had travelled extensively and had talked at different places. He now wanted to start some work connected with labor. His interest first centered on the problem of indentured labor, the system under which poor, ignorant laborers were enticed away from India to work in British colonies.

With the passive resistance, Gandhi started a great agitation on this issue. He went to Bombay and consulted all the Indian leaders there. They fixed May 31, 1917, as the last date for the abolition of indentured labor. He then travelled throughout the country to get support for this view. Meetings were held in all important places. Everywhere there was a great response. As a result of the agitation, the Government announced that the system of indentured labor would be stopped before July 31, 1917.

Gandhi first conceived the idea of an all-India strike as th beginning of the satyagraha movement. The leaders at once took up the suggestion and gave much publicity to the forthcoming strike. The date was fixed for April 6, 1919. The people had received only short notice for the strike, but it turned out to be most successful. That was the first great awakening of India in her struggle towards independence from the British.

In Bombay, the strike was a great success. Not a wheel turned in any factory. Not a shop was kept open. All over India the strike was observed. Gandhi had asked the people again and again to be peaceful and not to be provoked to violence by the Government's actions. In spite of this, violence broke out in many places. There was disturbances in Ahmedabad and also in Punjab, so he decided to go to these places to promote a non-violence system.

In Punjab the situation was very critical. It was true that there were disturbances on the part of the people, but the measures adopted by the Government to check the disturbances were too severe. The leaders were trying to keep the people peaceful, but the stern measures of repression taken by the authorities had few parallel in history.

It was announced that a meeting was to be held in a garden called Jallianwala Baugh, to make a protest against the Government's actions. General Dyer took no measures to prevent the meeting. He reached the place soon after the meeting began and he took with him armored cars, and troops. Without giving any warning he ordered, "Fire till the ammunition is exhausted." (Kundu, 1975).

The garden was surrounded by walls and buildings and had only one exit. At the first shot, the exit was jammed and there was no hope of escape for the crowd. There were between six and ten thousand people there. The soldiers fired over sixteen hundred rounds into the unarmed mass of people. Once a garden, it was now a scene of merciless massacre. Hundreds of men, women, and children were butchered. Leaving the wounded and dying on the ground, the troops marched away. The words "Jallianwala Baugh" became a synonym of massacre.

Gandhi's influence on the Indian people was steadily growing. The old leaders, many of them with liberal policies, were vanishing from Indian politics. By the close of 1920, Gandhi was the undisputed leader and head of the Indian National Congress.

In 1928, peasants in Bardoli, Gujarat were agitated by grievances and Gandhi advised them to resort to satyagraha and the non-payment of taxes. A new determination, to force the Government to act, filled the minds of the people. Jawaharlal Nehru was elected President of the Congress at the insistence of Gandhi. India now demanded full independence. The whole country was excited. Everyone waited for the go-ahead from Gandhi. After two months of suspense, a salt satyagraha was announced by the great leader. The salt tax was to be attacked and the salt laws were to be broken.

On March 12, at 6:30 in the morning, thousands of people watched as Gandhi started from his ashram with seventy eight volunteers on a march to Dandi, a village on the sea coast 241 miles away. For twenty-four days the eyes of India and the world followed Gandhi as he marched towards the sea. The Government did not dare take the risk of arresting Gandhi. With each passing day, the campaign grew. Hundreds and thousands of people joined the procession. Men, women, and children lined the route, offering flowers and shouting slogans for the victory of the march.

The march ended on April 5 at Dandi. Gandhi and his selected followers went to the sea-shore and broke the salt law by picking up salt left on the shore by the sea. Gandhi then gave a signal to all Indians to manufacture salt illegally. He wanted the people to break the salt law openly and to prepare themselves for non-violent resistance to police action. All over India people swarmed to the nearest sea coast to break the salt law.

The Government waited for sometime before taking any action, and then the retaliation began. Two English officers, with pistols, accompanied by many Indian policemen armed with rifles, arrived at Gandhi's ashram in the middle of the night. They awakened Gandhi and arrested him.

Gandhi's arrest had created a great sensation in India and abroad. Representatives were sent from all parts of the world to the British Prime Minister asking the Government to release Gandhi and make peace with India. The Government under pressure, at last released Gandhi. As soon as Gandhi was out of prison he asked for an interview with the Viceroy, Lord Irwin. The interview was immediately given. Gandhi and Irwin met, but the two men seemed to have come from two different worlds.

In August 1942, the All-India Congress Committee met in Bombay, and was presided over by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Again, the demand to set up a provisional Government was made. The "Quit India" resolution was drawn up and passed by the meeting for presentation to the Government. Nehru moved the resolution and Sardar Patel seconded it. The resolution also announced the starting of a mass struggle on the widest possible scale.

The Government did not wait for the mass movement to begin. Overnight Gandhi was arrested, and also many other leaders in various parts of India. Gandhi was confined to the Aga Khan's palace in Poona. With the leaders in jail, India did not remain idle. "Do or die" was taken up by the people. (Lahiry, 1970). There were mass movements everywhere, great outbursts of violence throughout the country. People began to destroy government buildings and whatever else they considered to be symbols of British imperialism.

All over India there were strikes and disorder. Lord Linlithgow, the Viceroy, attributed all this to Gandhi. Gandhi had incited violence, he claimed. In a long series of letters to Lord Linlithgow, Gandhi tried to persuade him to retract this charge against him. Failing in this, Gandhi decided to undertake a fast as "an appeal to the Highest Tribunal" (Geoffrey, 1980) against the unjust charges. Gandhi fasted for twenty-one days in February 1943. It was a great ordeal, but he survived.

A few weeks later Gandhi was taken seriously ill with malaria. The Indian people demanded his immediate release and the authorities, believing that he was nearing death, released him. Gandhi was slowly restored to health.

The demand for Indian independence had now grown into a world-wide question. Apart from India's own attitude, America and other countries pressed Britain to grant freedom to India. Two months later in May 1945, the Labor party came into power in Britain and Attlee became the Prime Minister. A few months later, the British Government announced that they expected to grant self-government to India as soon as her internal problems could be solved.

This was a victory for India. It was a victory for non-violence. Britain, defeated by the peaceful revolution, could not hold onto India any longer. Britain agreed to a planned withdrawal from India, without bitterness and in friendship.

All through his life Gandhi had worked for unity between the Hindus and the Muslims. But he had not had much success. There was a large section of nationalist Muslims in the Congress, but the heads of the Muslim league were drifting further and further away. Gandhi was not the man to give up hope, however, and he pursued his efforts to bring about a settlement. On the other hand, Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, was hostile to the idea of unity. He demanded a separate Muslim state before freedom was given to India. "We can settle the Indian problem in ten minutes if Mr. Gandhi agrees to the creation of Pakistan," said Jinnah. "Cut me in two," cried Gandhi, "but do not cut India in two." (Geoffrey, 1980).

In February 1946, the British Government sent a Cabinet Mission to India. The task of the Cabinet Mission was to study the situation and suggest what should be done. After careful consideration, the Cabinet Mission issued a statement proposing the withdrawal of British authority from India. They wanted a united India. On June 3, 1947, Attlee, the British Prime Minister, announced the plan for partition. The Congress and the Muslim League accepted it.

Thus on August 15, 1947, India's long struggle and suffering for freedom was over. A new nation, although split in two, was born.

Gandhi had never given his approval to partition, but when it was done he accepted it and did everything possible for the attainment of Hindu-Muslim friendship. Yet the tension between Hindus and Muslims continued to increase. As a result of the partition, over seven-hundred thousand Hindus, Sikhs, and other non-Muslims in Pakistan, fearing the Muslims, left their homes and set out towards security in India. From India, about the same number of Muslims, fearing the Hindus, left their homes for Pakistan. The miseries on the mass migration, one of the greatest in history, were manifold. Fifteen-hundred thousand people on the move were exposed to starvation, disease, and massacre on the way.

Gandhi decided to do penance by fasting, which he thought would bring about change in the attitude of the Hindu fanatics. The fast began on January 13, 1948. There was gloom all over India at the news of Gandhi's fast. People thought that he would not be able to survive another fast. The whole world watched as Gandhi, seventy-eight years old, fasted to save his country from destruction.

On January 18, a peace committee, representing all communities, met and signed a pact pledging unity and the protection of life, property, and faith to the Muslim minority. Gandhi was informed of the pledge and he broke his fast.

On January 30, after a midday nap, Gandhi woke up at 3:30 p.m. The whole day he had a stream of visitors. Gandhi left his room at 5 o'clock and went towards a prayer-meeting. He passed through a cordoned-off path, accompanied by Manu and Abha, his grand-daughters. As he was walking along, a youth, named Nathuram Godsey, came forward as if to seek his blessings. He stood in front of Gandhi and at point-blank range fired three shots in quick succession. All the bullets hit the great leader. Gandhi fell, uttering the prayer, "Rama, Rama." (Kundu, 1982). Gandhi was dead.

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