Gandhi preached rebellion, launched mass civil disobedience and was repeatedly jailed. When arrested, he pleaded guilty and asked for the severest punishment. In South Africa, the charge against him and his co-workers was proved by witnesses furnished by him. The horror, shame and hardship of jail life, originally a punishment allotted to criminals, scared the Indians. Gandhi removed this fear from their hearts.
He was jailed eleven times. Once he was arrested thrice within
four days. If he had to complete all his jail terms, he would have spent 11
years and 19 days in jail. Occasionally his punishment was reduced and and he
altogether spent 6 years and 10 months in prison. At the age of 39, he first
entered a jail. He came out of the prison gates for the last time when he was
He first entered the jail in South Africa with five satyagrahis. He had heard terrible stories about jail life and was a bit nervous
and wondered whether he was to be specially treated as a political prisoner or
was to be separated from his his co-worker. a slight feeling of awkwardness
crept in his mind, when he stood in the very court where he often appeared as a
counsel. He got two months' simple imprisonment. He was stealthily driven to
prison from the court in a cab to evade the big crowd waiting outside the court.
On reaching the jail , he had to give digit impressions. He was weighted,
totally undressed and made to wear very dirty jail clothing. every second or
third day, more comrades joined him and, in a fortnight, the number rose to 150.
they were huddled in a room meant for 50. Tents were pitched to accommodate some
prisoners at night only.
The jail inspector, Governor and chief warder visited the
prison four or five times a day. Gandhi and others had to fall in a row, cap in
hand. He volunteered to do manual labour but that was a not allowed.
The jail diet was trying for the Indians. In the morning and
evening, they were given mealie pap (a sort of maize porridge) without sugar,
milk or ghee and this they could not eat. Some evenings only boiled beans were
served. No sugar and no spices except salt was a allowed. European prisoners got
meat., bread and vegetables. Peelings of those vegetables, cooked with
vegetables were served to the coloured convicts. Gandhi sent a complaint bearing
the signatures of 100 Indian prisoners to the jail authority. He was told: "
this is not India. This is a prison, no palatable dish can be allowed here."
within a fortnight , Gandhi succeeded in a getting a ration of rice, bread,
vegetables and ghee sanctioned for Indians. They were also permitted to cook
their food. Gandhi helped in cooking and twice a day distributed the food.
Without clamoring for better or more rations, the half-cooked porridge without
sugar was eaten by Gandhibhai's followers. During his third jail term, food was
no problems. He then lived on fruits and got enough bananas, tomatoes and nuts.
He liked some disciplinary rules of the jail an dafter release, he stopped
taking tea and continued to take the dinner before sunset.
Gandhi suffered many hardships in his next two convictions is
South Africa. He was awarded hard labour and was led in handcuffs from the same
court where he had practised for ten years. He was clad in the dress of a"
native convict with a small military cap, loose coarse jacket bearing a convict
ticket number and board arrow marks, short trousers similarly marked, thick grey
woollen socks and leather sandals". He had to march six furlongs carrying his
bed on his head in pelting rain. He was lodged with the worst type of Negro and
Chinese prisoners. Some Zulu prisoners abused him and beat him. There was no
privacy in sanitary arrangements. their indecent manners scared him. He could
not understand their languages. Soon he was removed to a dark isolation cell
4ft. by 6ft. There was a small window near the roof for ventilation. He had to
take his meals standing behind locked doors. Every day he was taken out twice
for exercise. In protest, he did not take rice for 15 days because no ghee was
given with it. He lived on on one meal of mealie pap a day. Ghee and bread were
thereafter given to him. He was given a coir mat, a small wooden pillow, two
rugs and some books . He was daily supplied with one bucket of water.
Another bucket placed on a large tray served for chamber-pot. For keeping a
watch on the prisoner an electric light was kept burning after dark, but that
was too dim for reading a book. If, as a change, Gandhi walked up and down the
cell. the warder shouted : " don't walk about like that . It spoils my floor."
and the precious floor was made of tar.
If Gandhi asked permission for a bath, the warder ordered him
to go undressed. Gandhi could not walk 125 feet naked . His request for hanging
his clothes on the curtain of the water closet was granted. Before he could
clean his body, came the order: " Sam come out." If Sam was not prompt in
vacating the place, a Negro would knock him down.
He had to cut shirt-pockets, sew pieces of torn blankets or
polish varnished iron doors for nine hours a day. After rubbing the doors and
floors for three hours, he found them same as before. He also was asked to clean
the lavatories. Gandhi bore these hard-ships with a smile, but when he joined
colleagues, their plight moved him. The fatigue made some of them weep, some to
faint. He was responsible for dragging them weep, some to faint. He was
responsible for dragging them from their homes to this life of suffering and
shame. He believed that self-sacrifice and suffering was the only remedy for
ending their slavery and that helped him to regain his peace of mind.
By six in the morning, ablution and toilet had to be finished.
work started from seven and they all had to labour for nine hours. With them ,
Gandhi walked a mile and then began digging dry hard ground. He lost weight. His
back ached, water oozed from the blisters covering his palms and with difficulty
he could lift the spade. He he rested a while, the guard shouted: " Go on go
on." Gandhi warned the guard that if he did not mend his manners, he would stop
working. This mellowed the guard. Gandhi prayed to god to defend his honour by
giving him strength to finish the task allotted to him.
When Gandhi stayed in " His Majesty's Hotel" in India, his
expenses were borne by the Government, yet he disliked to incur any extra
expenditure for his maintenance. Once he asked the jail superintendent to remove
all furniture and extra pots and pans. He used one iron cot and a few utensils.
He could never forget that the whole the dumb millions of India. Referring to
his last detention in the Aga Khan Palace, he said: " The huge palace in which I
am being detained with big guards around me, I hold to be waste of public fund.
When the people are dying of starvation , it is almost a crime against
The first trial scene of Gandhi in India was a memorable
incident. The English sessions Judge nodded a respectful salutation to this
native standing in the dock, before he took his seat. He awarded six year's of
simple imprisonment for Gandhi's rebellious you in politics look upon you as a
man of high ideals and of noble and even saintly life." Gandhi said: " I
know that some of the most loved of India's patriots have been convicted under
it. I consider it a privilege to be charged under that section. I know I was
playing with fire, I would still do the same" The entire court rose to pay
homage, when Gandhi entered and left the court. In telegrams the police secret
code referred to him as " Bombay Political No. 50." his name was struck off from
the roll of barristers. In jail, his height and special identification marks
were noted down. He was confined in a solitary cell. He had nothing but a
loin-cloth on, still his groins were touched and blankets searched. Gandhi made
no protest, till his water-pitcher was touched with boots. Out of disgust, he
sometimes stopped having visitors or writing letters.
Gandhi never became bitter or fretful under duress. Every time
he came out of jail, his mind grew richer and more poised. Jail to him was a
rest-cure where one learns to be more regular in one's habits and companions. He
felt as happy as a bird in jail. He was fond of reading, but outside the prison
he kept so busy with numerous activities that he could get little time for
study. In jail he followed a strict routine for study. He learned Urdu and read
books in Sanskrit, Tamil Hindi, Gujarati and English. In two years, he once read
150 books by noted authors on religion, literature and social science. He read
the Gita , Koran, Bible and books on Buddhism, Sikhism and Zorostrianism. He
also read the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Upanishads, Manusmriti and Patanjali Yoga
Darshan. He took his first lessons in astronomy at 65 from a co-prisoner. He
managed to get a telescope from the jail authorities and studied the stars.
Gandhi regularly prayed, spun for four to six hours a day and
took brisk walks in jail. In the Aga Khan Palace, at 75, he gave lessons to
Kasturba and to his grand-niece on geography, geometry, history, Gujarati
grammar and literature. Previously he taught English to a Chinese co-prisoner
and Gujarati to an Irish jailor. He also wrote a text-book for Children and to
an Irish jailor. He also wrote a text-book for children and the history of the
satyagraha struggle in south Africa. He translated hymns from the Upanishada and
poems by Indian saint poets into English and that collection was published as
Songs from the prison. He wrote hundreds of letters form jail to the ashramites,
co-workers, jail authorities, Governors, Viceroys and the British Prime
Ministers. Every week he sent such charming notes to the ashram children will
as" If you learn to fly without wings, all your troubles will vanish. I have no
wings yet I come flying to you every day in thought. Here is little Vimla and
there is Hari".
Gandhi noted down the advantages of the disciplined life in
jail and described how a model prisoner should behave. He wanted the prisoners
to do what ever work was given to them and to obey jail regulations so long as
it was not immoral to do so. Also they were not to start a hunger-strike until
they were humiliated or were given unclean food. He and his followers never sat
in a crouching position or shouted "Sarkar salam."
Gandhi admitted that we shall have to maintain jails even
under swaraj. He wanted to convert them into reformatories and workshops a
school for education of those who in fact were temporarily deranged and
misguided. While in prison , he once suggested how the prisoners could do
productive work and make the jail self-supporting. the jail authorities could
not accept and such scheme from the prisoner.
This ideal prisoner at times proved very exacting and put the
jail authorities in a fix. When he was permitted to eat bread, he demanded a
knife to cut it, as he could not eat untoasted bread. he asked for more
space for his walks. He treated his comrades as wards kept under his special
care. He wanted to bear the responsibility of treating somebody who suffered
from asthma of someone else who needed nature cure or Ayurvedic treatment and
asked for special facilities. He indirectly coerced the jailors to meet his
demands by resorting t long fasts. When his condition grew worse, the jail
authority set him free. They did not want to take risks with the life of
renowned citizen of the world like the Mahatma. They showed great concern and
promptly got him operated when he developed appendicitis. He twice fell ill in jail.
Gandhi invariably entered the jail with a retinue of friends
and relatives. Kasturba and his secretary Mahadev Desai were kept with him in
the Aga Khan Palace. They both died there and were cremated inside the jail
compound. Gandhi said:" they lived up to the 'Do or Die' mantra and laid down
their lives at the altar of the Goddess of Freedom. They have become immortal."