Life of Mahatma Gandhi
Early life and education: Mahatma Gandhi (early name: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi) was born at Porbandar in Western India, on October 2, 1869.
In his autobiography, Gandhiji has given a true record of his early life. His father was the Diwan of Porbandar and of Rajkot. He had all the opportunities of receiving the best education in India. However, after not a very successful school career he decided to go to England. In those days, qualifying for the bar was considered the paradise of the wealthy.
All his people who were very orthodox opposed the decision, but young Gandhi carried his point. He was allowed to have his way on his promising solemnly to his mother not to touch liquor or meat – a promise that he kept faithfully. When he left for England in 1888, he was already married and the father of a child.
Life in England: Gandhi in London attended the Inns of Court and kept his terms. His attraction for the moral side of Jesus Christ’s teaching dates from the early experiences in England. Here also he developed that liking for the English character in which he found much to imitate. He was indeed one of the truest friends of the English people, and this repeatedly visible in his lifetime.
As a lawyer: In 1893, Mahatma Gandhi returned to India early and started practice as a lawyer. He was a shy, nervous man in those days. He did not make his own way at the bar, for he refused to plead in support of manifestly false and unjust cases.
In South Africa: At last, Gandhi realized that he was not merely destined to the law of profession. At this psychological moment, he got an invitation to go to South Africa on behalf of an Indian merchant. Gandhi was aksed to help him with legal advice. He agreed, and in 1893, we find him in South Africa.
Gandhi found himself in a new world. He saw his own fellow citizens there treated with contempt. He was personally subjected to the most humiliating indignities. On one occasion, he was thrown out of a railway compartment for traveling in a compartment reserved for the Whites. He was beaten for attempting to walk on roads forbidden to Asiatics.
Once his life was threatened by a mob, and he was saved only by the intervention of a European woman.
Faced with the above situations, Gandhiji made the decision of his life. He determined to remain in South Africa and to help the people recover their self-respect and fight for their rights.
He devised the technique of ‘Passive resistance’ as a political weapon, and non-violence as a means of appealing to the moral conscience of the enemy.
Gandhi founded a colony of passive resisters in Durban – the famous Phoenix colony. Many people joined him there. A good number of them were Europeans who felt the justice of the Indian cause and the force of the great experiment.
Gandhi called off the movement for a few years during the Boer War, and he helped the British by organizing an Ambulance Corps. For this, he received authorities. Then, the fight was resumed.
Mahatma Gandhi was already a man recognized as a great leader all over the World. Men like C.F. Andrews, Willie Pearson and many others had become his devoted disciples. At last, they arrived at a compromise. After the South African Government accepted it, Gandhi felt free to return back to India.
Rise of Gandhi in India: It was now 1915. On arriving at Bombay (now Mumbai), he reported himself to Gokhale. The great Maratha leader was the very soul of moderation. He had seen Gandhi at work in South Africa, and he was the best person to advise Gandhi. That advice was simple – ‘Do not do anything until you have seen and known India’.
Mahatma Gandhi accepted Gokhale’s advice. He studied the contemporary situation of India and its people. The first thing that struck him was wide gap between the leaders and the common people. He decided to bridge that gap.
Gandhi turned his attention to the cultivators, agriculturists, and laborers of India. There was a strike of workers in the Ahmadabad mills. Gandhi took the lead and his efforts resulted in settlement favorable in the main to the workers.
There was trouble in Champaran, where the oppression of the White Indigo Planters had long been unbearable. The farmers were ready for any sacrifice and suffering, if Gandhi would lead them. The Government of Bihar realized the seriousness of the situation and agreed to remove the grievances of the farmers.
Gandhi’s prestige in the country rose rapidly. The country was looking for a new leader, and here was Gandhi to give them what they wanted. With his advent, politics in India assumed a new aspect.
Gandhi’s struggle for freedom
The fight begins: The First Great War broke out. True to his policy of not taking unfair advantage of the enemy when he was in trouble, Gandhi offered his co-operation to the British. He stood as the friend of the British in their need. However, as the war ended, the temper of the British changed. New laws of oppression were made. Imprisonment and detention without trial became a part of the law. The infamous Rowlatt Act was passed.
It really struck a blow at the political life of the country. Gandhi called on the people to observe a nation-wide strike.
Jalianwala Bagh massacre: The British Government in the Punjab met this national protest with a ferocious brutality that reached its culmination in the massacre of Jalianwala Bagh. The whole country shuddered at the exhibition of brutality by a people that called it civilized. Gandhi faced the brute strength of the Government with his moral strength. It was now that he became known as Mahatma.
The Non-cooperation Movement: Mahatma Gandhi told the people that they would not cooperate with a Government that was ‘unjust’ in character. He, therefore, called upon the people to non-co-operate with the Government. There was, at first, some opposition to this call for direct action, but very soon, the whole country was electrified.
Lawyers headed by Chittaranjan Das and Motilal Nehru gave up their practices. Students came out of schools and colleges. Indians boycotted the British goods. Thousands of people took to spinning. Millions began to wear khaddar as a symbol of their revolt. Gandhi promised Swaraj (freedom) in one year, and although some skeptics said that ‘magic was no substitute for logic’, the country believed in the leader.
The British Government once again resorted to violent repression. This was met here and there by popular violence. This distressed the Apostle of non-violence, and when he heard that a mob in the village Chauri Chaura had burnt a police outpost with the police officers in it, he was so shocked that he called off the movement. He was now arrested and sentenced to six years; imprisonment. A great nation-wide revolutionary urge was killed just as it was gaining in strength.
Civil Disobedience Movement and after: It was a great disappointment to the people and it killed the national enthusiasm. Mahatma Gandhi was released in 1924, because he was found to be suffering from appendicitis. A British surgeon operated upon him.
Gandhiji remained inactive in politics for the next few years. He left the field clear for the Swaraj Party of Deshabandhu. Though he presided over the Congress at Bezwada in 1925, he did nothing except preach the gospel of khadi.
In 1930, however, he felt the time ripe for another movement. He started a Civil Disobedience Movement. He led a party to break the Salt laws at Dandi. The movement soon spread all over the country, and in 1931, the Viceroy Lord Irwin agreed to a truce and induced Mahatma Gandhi to attend the Round Table Conference.
In London, he was well received by the people, but he could do nothing in the Conference, for the British had packed it with all the reactionary leaders of India. The Conference ended in a fiasco.
From 1935 to 1942: Meanwhile, the British introduced another installment of political reform. The Mahatma Gandhi heard in jail of the attempt made in these so-called reforms to create a gap between the lower caste and the upper caste people. He undertook a fast unto death to put pressure on the British Government.
The Government released him. He decided to end the fast when the people acted up to his advice. The Congress now took office under the New Constitution in the provinces. For the next few years, Gandhi acted as adviser-in-chief to the Provincial Congress Governments, edited the Harijan and devoted himself to the cause of the untouchables.
Gandhi’s last movement: The Second Great War had begun. India became a major center for the manufacture and supply of war materials. The Japanese swept across South East Asia, and were soon knocking at the gates of Burma. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was now leading an Azad Hind army in Burma against the British. The latter were alarmed. The British they sent Stafford Cripps to negotiate with the Indian leaders. The basis of discussion was that if India cooperate and support the British in their war efforts, then the British Government would give Indians the right of self-determination after the war.
Gandhiji advised the Congress to refuse to accept this post-dated cheque. Cripps went back and Gandhiji launched his last great movement. Now he raised the slogan ‘Quit India’. However, before anything could have materializes, Gandhi and his colleagues were once again imprisoned and kept in determination during the period of the war. Nevertheless, the people took up the challenge, and there was nation-wide outbreak of violence against the British. Though the British were able to put it down, their prestige was definitely gone.
Independence: After the end of the war, Mahatma Gandhi was released. The Churchill Government had fallen and the new Labor Government saw that it was more advantageous to the British to have a free and friendly India than an India dissatisfied. They sent a Cabinet Mission to negotiate a transfer of power with the Indian Congress leaders.
Finally, India got its freedom on 15th August, 1947.
The end: On 30th January 1948, Gandhi was shot dead even as he was proceeding to attend the prayers where thousands had gathered to listen to the flattering accents of one whom Netaji Subhas had acclaimed as ‘Father of the Nation’.