Gandhi's autobiography, which he had titled 'My experiments with Truth' can be
rated as one of the most popular and the most influential books in the recent
history. It was written at the instance of Swami Anand. It appeared in the
Weekly 'Navjivan' during 1925-28. It covers
Gandhi's life up to 1920. He did not cover the period after that as it was
well known to the people and most of the concerned persons were alive. Besides
he felt that his experiments in that period were yet to yield definite
Gandhi's autobiography is very different from
other autobiographies. The autobiographies normally contain self-praise by the
authors. They want to criticize their opponents and boost their own image in the
people's eyes. Gandhi's autobiography is completely free from all this. It is
marked with humility and truthfulness. He had not hidden anything. In fact, he
is rather too harsh on himself. He did not want to show to the world how good he
was. He only wanted to tell the people the story of his experiments with
Truth, for Gandhi, was the supreme principle, which includes many other principles. Realization of
the Truth is the purpose of human life. Gandhi always strove to realize the
Truth. He continuously tried to remove impurities in himself. He always tried to
stick to the Truth as he knew and to apply the knowledge of the Truth to
everyday life. He tried to apply the spiritual principles to the practical
situations. He did it in the scientific spirit. Sticking to the truth means
Satyagraha. Gandhi therefore called his experiments as 'Experiments with Truth'
or 'Experiments in the science of Satyagraha.'
Gandhi also requested the readers to treat those experiments as illustrative
and to carry out their own experiments in that light.
Gandhi: An Introduction
Gandhi was a man considered one of the great sages and prophets. He was held as
another Buddha, another Jesus, Indians called him the 'Father of the Nation'.
They showered their love, respect and devotion on him in an unprecedented
measure. They thronged his way to have a glimpse of him, to hear one world from
his lips. They applied on their foreheads the dust on the path he had trodden.
For them, he was almost an incarnation of God, who had come to break the chains
of their slavery. The whole world bowed to him in reverence. Even his opponents
held him in great respect.
was, however, not a great scholar, nor was he a great warrior. He was not born
with exceptional faculties. Neither was he a good orator, nor a great writer. He
did not claim anything exclusively divine in him. He did not claim being a
prophet or having superhuman powers. He considered himself an average man with
average abilities. Born in a middle class Bania family in an obscure princely
State in a corner of India,
he was a mediocre student, shy and nervous. He could not muster courage to speak
in public. His first attempt at legal practice miserably failed.
But he was a humble seeker of Truth. He was a man with exceptional sincerity,
honesty and truthfulness. For him, understanding meant action. Once any
principle appealed to him, he immediately began to translate that in practice.
He did not flinch from taking risks and did not mind confessing mistakes. No
opposition, scorn or ridicule could affect him. Truth was his sole guiding star.
He was ever-growing; hence he was often found inconsistent. He was not concerned
with appearing to be consistent. He preferred to be consistent only with the
He sacrificed his
all and identified himself with the poorest of the poor. He dressed like them,
lived like them. In the oppressed and the depressed people, he saw God. For him,
they too were sparks of the divine light. They might not have anything else, but
they too had a soul. For Gandhi, soul-force was the source of the greatest
power. He strove to awaken the soul-force within himself and within his
fellowmen. He was convinced that the potentialities of the soul-force have no
limit. He himself was a living example of this conviction. That is why this tiny
and fragile man could mobilise the masses and defeat the mighty British empire.
His eleven vows, his technique of Satyagraha, his constructive programme - all
were meant to awaken and strengthen the soul-force. He awakened and
aroused a nation from semi-consciousness. It was a Herculean task. For, India
was not a united country, it was a sub-continent. It was a society divided in
different classes, castes and races, in people with different languages,
religions and cultures.
It was a society
where almost half of the population i.e., women, was behind purdah or confined
to the four walls of houses, where one-fourth of the population - the depressed
classes - was living marginalised life, where many did not have a single full
meal every day. Gandhi made the oppressed sections wake up and break their
chains. He mobilised the people and united them to work for the cause of Swaraj,
which gave them a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose. Gandhi wanted to
win Swaraj for the masses. For him, Swaraj did not mean replacement of White
masters by brown masters. Swaraj meant self-rule by all. He said: "Real Swaraj
will come, not by the acquisition of the authority by a few, but by the
acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused." He
worked to develop such a capacity. Development of such a capacity involved
transformation of the individual.
Transformation of the individual and transformation of the society - they were
not separate, unrelated things for Gandhi. Revolutionary social philosophies
had concentrated on changing the society. On the other hand, spiritual seekers
had concentrated on the inner change. Gandhi not only bridged the gap between
these extremes, he fused them together. Gandhi was thus both a saint and a
For Gandhi, unity of life was great truth. His principle of non-violence
stemmed from this conviction. Non-violence was not a matter of policy for him;
it was a matter of faith. He applied the doctrine to all the departments of
individual and social life and in so doing revolutionized the doctrine, made it
dynamic and creative. He believed that a true civilization could be built on the
basis of such non-violence only.
He rejected the modern civilization. For him, it was a disease and a curse. This
civilization leads to violence, conflicts, corruption, injustices, exploitation,
oppression, mistrust and a process of dehumanisation. It has led the world to a
deep crisis. The earth's resources are being cornered by a handful of people
without any concern for others and for the coming generations. The conventional
energy sources are getting depleted. Forests are being destroyed. Air, water,
soil-everything has been polluted.
We are living under the shadow of nuclear war and environmental disasters.
Thinking men the world over are looking to Gandhi to find a way out of this
crisis and to build an alternative model of sustainable development. Gandhi knew that the earth has
enough to satisfy everybody's need but not anybody's greed. He had called for
the replacement of greed with love. Gandhi is,
therefore, now a source of inspiration and a reference book for all those
fighting against racial discrimination, oppression, domination, wars, nuclear
energy, environmental degradation, lack of freedom and human rights- for all
those who are fighting for a better world, a better quality of life. Gandhi is,
therefore, no longer an individual. He is a symbol of all that is the best and
the most enduring in the human tradition. And he is also a symbol of the
alternative in all areas of life-agriculture, industry, technology, education,
health, economy, political organisations, etc. He is a man of the future - a
future that has to be shaped if the human race has to survive and progress on
the path of evolution.
Biography Of Mahatma Gandhi
We hereby give a short version compiled from his Autobiography. We cover the period of his life from 1869 to 1922.
Birth and Parentage
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born at Porbandar, a coastal city in Kathiawad
(now a part of the Gujarat State) on the 2nd October 1869. He was the youngest child of his parents,
Karamchand and Putlibai.
Gandhi belonged to the Modh Bania community. They
were originally grocers. However, Uttamchand, Mohan's grandfather, rose to
become Dewan of the Porbandar
State. Mohan's father. Karamchand, also served as the Dewan of Porbandar, Rajkot
and Vankaner States. Kathiawar then had about 300 small States. Court intrigues
were the order of the day. At times, Gandhis became their victim. Uttamchand's
house was once surrounded and shelled by the State troops. Karamchand was
once arrested. However, their courage and wisdom earned them respect. Karamchand
even became a member of the Rajashanik Court, a powerful agency to solve
disputes among the States.
Karamchand had little education, but had shrewdness of
judgment and practical knowledge acquired through experience. He had little
inclination to amass wealth and left little for his children. He used to say
that "My children are my wealth'. He married four times, had two daughters by
the first two marriages and one daughter and three sons by his fourth marriage. Putlibai, his fourth wife, was younger to him by 25
years. She was not much educated but was well-informed about practical matters.
Ladies at the palace used to value her advice. She was deeply religious and
superstitious and had strong will-power. She used to visit the temple daily and
regularly kept difficult vows. Mohan loved his mother. He used to accompany her
to the Haveli (Vaishnav temple).
Mohan had a great devotion for his father and he often
used to be present at the discussions about the State problems. Gandhis had
Parsi and Muslim friends and Jain monks used to make regular visit. Mohan thus
had occasion to hear discussions about religious matters also. Being the
youngest, he was the darling of the household.
Mohan attended Primary School at Porbandar. When he was seven, his family moved
to Rajkot. He was a mediocre student, was shy and avoided any company. He read little besides the
text books and had no love for outdoor games. He had no love for outdoor games.
However, he was truthful, honest, sensitive and was alert about his character.
Plays about Shravan and Harishchandra made a deep impression on him. They taught
him to be truthful at any cost and to serve his parents with devotion.
He was married along with his brother and cousin for
the sake of economy and convenience. He was only 13 then. He enjoyed the
festivities of the marriage. Kasturbai, his wife, was of the same age. She was
illiterate but strong-willed. His jealousy and immature efforts to make her an
ideal wife led to many quarrels. He wanted to teach her but found no time. His
experience later made him a strong critic of child-marriages.
Mohan joined High School at Rajkot. He was liked by the
teachers and often received prizes. But he neglected physical training and
hand-writing. Habit of taking long walks made up for the first neglect, but he
had to repent later for the neglect of handwriting. He was devoted to his father
and considered it his duty to nurse him during his illness. In the High-School, he made friends with one Sheikh
Mehtab, a bad character. He stuck to the friendship despite warnings from
family-members. He wanted to reform Mehtab but failed. Mehtab induced him to
meat-eating, saying that it made one strong and that the British were ruling India because they were
meat-eaters. Mohan was frail and used to be afraid even to go out alone in the
dark. The argument appealed to him. Later, he realized that lying to his parents
was worse than not eating meat, and abandoned the experiment.
Mehtab once sent him to a brothel, but God's grace
saved him. He induced Mohan to smoking. This once led to stealing. But all this
became unbearable for Mohan. He confessed his guilt to his father, who did not
rebuke him but wept silently. Those tears cleaned Mohan's heart and taught him a
lesson in nonviolence.
Mohan's father died when
Mohan was 16. He had nursed him daily. But at the time of his death, Mohan was
with his wife. He always felt ashamed for this lapse. Mohan passed the
matriculation examination in 1887. He attended the College at Bhavnagar, but
left after the first term. At that time, the idea of his going to England for
studying law came up. Mohan was fascinated. He made up his mind and overcame
resistance from the family-members. He took the vow not to touch wine, women and
meat at the instance of his mother to remove her fears. He then sailed from
Bombay in September 1888, leaving behind his wife and a son. The caste elders
were against his going to England. They excommunicated him from
Gandhi in England
Gandhi reached England
by the end of September 1888. Everything was strange to him. He was shy and
diffident, could not speak English fluently and was ignorant of British manners.
Naturally, loneliness and homesickness gripped him.
Gandhi became a vegetarian for life. It was difficult to get vegetarian food. Friends
persuaded him to break the vow of vegetarianism but he stuck to it. He began
searching vegetarian restaurants and found one ultimately. He purchased Salt's
book 'Plea for Vegetarianism', read it and became vegetarian out of conviction.
He studied other literature and joined the Vegetarian Society.
He came in contact with the leaders of that radical
cult, became a member of the Society's Executive Committee and contributed
articles to the Society's paper. He even started a Vegetarian club in his
locality and became its Secretary. This experience gave him some training in
organising and conducting Institutions. Experiments about diet became a
life-long passion for him.
Gandhi tries to play the 'English Gentleman'
For a brief period, Gandhi tried to become 'The English Gentleman' to overcome
lack of confidence and to make up for the 'fad' of vegetarianism. He wanted to
become fit for the British elite society. He got clothes stitched from an
expensive and fashionable firm, purchased an expensive hat and an evening suit
and learnt to wear the tie. He became very careful about his appearance. He even
joined a dancing class, but could not go on for more than three weeks. He purchased a
violin and started learning to play it. He engaged a tutor to give lessons in
elocution. But all this was for a brief period of three months only. His
conscience awakened him. He realised that he was not going to spend his whole
life in England; he should rather concentrate on his studies and not waste his brother's money.
He then became very careful about his expenses.
Study of religions
Gandhi also started the study of religions. Before that, he had not even read
the Gita. Now he read it in the English translation. He also read Edwin Arnold's
'The Light of Asia,' Blavatsky's 'Key to Theosophy' and the Bible. Gita and The
New Testament made a deep impression on him. The principles of renunciation and
non-violence appealed to him greatly. He continued the study of religions
throughout his life.
Gandhi becomes a Barrister
Bar examinations were easy. He therefore studied for and passed the London
matriculation examination. Becoming a Barrister meant attending at least six
dinners in each of the twelve terms and giving an easy examination. Gandhi,
however, studied sincerely, read all the prescribed books, passed his
examination and was called to the bar in June 1891. He then sailed for home.
A Period of turmoil
Gandhi's three year's stay in England was a period of deep turmoil for him.
Before that, he knew little of the world. Now he was exposed to the
fast-changing world and to several radical movements like Socialism, Anarchism,
Atheism etc. through the Vegetarian Society. He started taking part in public
work. Many of his ideas germinated during this period.
Gandhi in South Africa
Gandhi returned to India as a Barrister, but he knew nothing about the Indian
law. Lawyers used to pay commissions to touts to get cases. Gandhi did not like
this. Besides, he was shy and an occasion to argue in the Court unnerved him. He
became a disappointed and dejected 'Bridles Barrister'. At that time, a South
African firm Dada Abdulla and Co. asked for his assistance in a case. Gandhi
eagerly agreed and sailed for South Africa in April 1893.
Problems of Indians in South Africa
The small Indian community in South Africa was facing many problems at that
time. It consisted mainly of indentured labourers and traders. The indentured
labourers were taken there by the European landlords as there was acute labour
shortage in South Africa. The condition of these labourers was like slaves.
During 1860-1890 around 40,000 labourers were sent from India.
Many of them settled there after their agreement periods were completed and
started farming or business.
The Europeans did not like it. They did not want free Indians in South Africa. They also found it
difficult to face competition from Indian traders. Therefore the White Rulers
imposed many restrictions and heavy taxes on the Indians. They were not given
citizenship rights, like right to vote. They were treated like dirt and
constantly humiliated. All Indians were called 'coolies'. The newspapers carried
out the propaganda that the Indians were dirty and uncivilized. The Indians
could not travel in the railways and could not enter hotels meant for Europeans.
They were hated and radically discriminated in all matters by the dominant White
Gandhi fights racial discrimination
Right since his arrival, Gandhi began to feel the pinch of racial discrimination
in South Africa.
Indian community was ignorant and divided and therefore unable to fight it. In connection with
his case, Gandhi had to travel to Pretoria. He was travelling in the first
class, but a White passenger and railway officials asked him to leave the first
class compartment. Gandhi refused, whereupon he was thrown out along with his
luggage. On the platform of Maritzburg station. It was a severely cold night.
Gandhi spent the night shivering and thinking furiously. He ultimately made up
his mind to stay in South Africa, fight the racial discrimination and suffer
hardships. It was a historic decision. It transformed Gandhi.
He had also to
travel some distance by a stage-coach. During this travel also, he was insulted
and beaten. On reaching
Pretoria, Gandhi called a meeting of the local Indians. There he learnt a lot
about the condition of Indians. It was there that he made his first Public
Speech and suggested formation of an association. He offered his services for
the cause. Gandhi later
settled the case, for which he had come, through arbitration. He then decided to
return home. But at the farewell party, he came to know about a bill to restrict
Indian franchise. Gandhi thought that it had grave implications. The people then
pressed him to stay for some time. He agreed.
major fight had started. He addressed meetings petitioned to the legislative
assembly, conducted a signature campaign. He also started regular legal practice
there and soon became a successful and leading Lawyer. For sustained
agitations, a permanent organisation was needed and the Natal Indian Congress
was born. Illiterate indentured labourers also joined the struggle. A proposed
tax on them was fought and got abolished after a fierce battle.
In 1896, Gandhi
visited India for a brief period. In India, he met renowned leaders and gave
wide publicity to the South African struggle. Rumours reached South Africa that
Gandhi had maligned the Whites there and that he was coming with a large number
of Indians to swamp the Natal
colony. It was wrong. But it made the Whites furious. Gandhi had to face the
fury, when he returned with his wife and children, he had to enter the port town
secretly, but he was found out and assaulted. The Whites wanted to hang him but
he was saved by the Police Superintendent and his wife. He forgave his
The Boer War
Gandhi, however, remained a loyal citizen of the British Empire. In that spirit,
he decided to help the British during the Boer War. The Boer were the
Dutch colonizers who ruled some of the South African colonies. They were simple
and sturdy people with strong racial prejudices. The British wanted to rule
whole of the South Africa.
The British-Boer broke out in 1899. Gandhi's sympathies were with the Boers. But
being a British citizen, he considered it his duty to help the British. He also
wanted to show that Indians were not cowards and were ready to make sacrifices
for the empire while fighting for their rights.
Gandhi raised an
ambulance corps of 1100 persons. The work consisted of carrying the wounded on
stretchers. At times, it required walking more than 20 miles. The corps had
sometimes to cross the firing line. The Indians worked hard, their work was
praised and the leaders of the corps were awarded medals. Indian community
learnt a lot from this experience. Its stature increased. British won the war,
although the Boers fought with determination, which made a deep impression on
The Fight continues
In 1901, Gandhi returned to India. He travelled widely and worked closely with
Gopal Krishna Gokhale, whom he considered his guru. He was about to settle down
in Bombay, when he received an urgent telegram from South Africa to rush there.
Gandhi again went to South Africa. He found that the condition of Indians had
worsened. Gandhi had to devote himself to public work.
In 1904, Gandhi started the journal 'Indian Opinion.'
The Phoenix Settlement
In 1904, Gandhi happened to read Ruskin's book 'Unto This Last.' He was deeply
impressed by Ruskin's ideas and decided to put them in practice immediately.
They were: (I) That the good of the individual is contained in the good of all.
(ii) that all work has the same value and (iii) that the life of labour is the
Gandhi purchased some land near Phoenix station and established the Phoenix settlement in mid-1904. The settlers had
to erect structures to accommodate themselves and the printing press. 'Indian
Opinion' was transferred to Phoenix.
The settlers had to go through many trials to print the issue in time. Everyone
had to join in the work. The settlers were divided in two classes. The
'Schemers' made their living by manual labour. A few were paid labourers. To
make a living by manual labour, land was divided in pieces of three acres each.
Stress was on manual labour. Even the printing press was often worked with
hand-power. Sanitary arrangements were primitive and everyone had to be his own
scavenger. The colony was to be self-supporting and the material needs were to
be kept to the minimum. A spirit of self-reliance pervaded the colony. Gandhi, however,
could stay there only for brief periods. He had to be in Johannesburg in
connection with his work.
The Zulu Rebellion
The Zulu 'rebellion' broke out in April 1906. It was not in fact a rebellion,
but a man-hunt. The British wanted to crush the freedom-loving Zulu tribals. The
operation to massacre them was, therefore, started under a flimsy pretext. Out of a sense of
loyalty to the British empire, Gandhi offered the services of the
Indian community, though his heart was with the Zulus. An ambulance corps of 24
persons was formed. Its duty was to carry the wounded Zulus and nurse them. The
Zulus were flogged and tortured and left with festering wounds. Whites were not
ready to nurse them. Gandhi was happy to nurse them. He had to work hard and
walk miles through hills. It was a thought-provoking experience. He saw the
cruelty of the British and the horrors of the war. While marching through Zululand, Gandhi
thought deeply. Two ideas became fixed in his mind-Brahmacharya and the adoption
of voluntary poverty.
Birth of Satyagraha
The White rulers were bent on keeping South Africa under
their domination. They wanted as few Indians there as possible and that too as
slave-labourers. In Transvaal, Indians were required to register themselves.
The procedure was humiliating. The registration was proposed to be made stricter
in 1906. Gandhi realised that it was a matter of life or death for the Indians.
A mammoth meeting was held in September 1906 to oppose the bill. People took
oath in the name of God not to submit to the bill at any cost. A new principle
had come into being - the principle of Satyagraha.
The bill about registration was however passed. Picketing against registration
was organised. A wave of courage and enthusiasm swept the Indian community. The
Indian community rose as one man for the sake of its survival and dignity.
The agitation was first called 'passive Resistance'. Gandhi, however, did not like that term. It
did not convey the true nature of the struggle. It implied that it was the
weapon of the weak and the disarmed. It did not denote complete faith in
nonviolence. Moreover, Gandhi did not like that the Indian struggle should be
known by an English name. The term 'Sadagrah' was suggested. Gandhi changed it
to 'Satyagrah' to make it represent fully, the whole idea. Satyagraha means
asserting truth through non-violence. It aims at converting the opponents
Gandhi was ordered
to leave the colony. He disobeyed and was jailed for two months. Indians filled
the jails. Repression failed to yield the results. General Smuts called Gandhi
and promised that the law would be withdrawn if the Indians agreed to voluntary
An attempt of Gandhi's life
Gandhi agreed. He and his co-workers were set free. Gandhi exhorted Indians to
register voluntarily. He was criticized for this by some workers. A Pathan named
Mir Alam was unconvinced by Gandhi's arguments and vowed to kill the first man
who would register himself. Gandhi came forward to be the first man to register
himself. When he was going to the registration office, Mir Alam and his friends
assaulted him with lathis.
Gandhi fainted with the words 'He Ram' on his lips. It was 10th February 1908.
His colleagues tried to save him otherwise it would have been the
last day for him. Mir Alam and his friends were caught and handed over to the
police. When Gandhi regained consciousness, he inquired about Mir Alam. When
told that he had been arrested, Gandhi told that he should be released. Gandhi
was taken by his friend Rev. Doke to his house and was nursed there. Rev. Doke
later became his first biographer.
Smuts however, betrayed Gandhi. The agitation was again resumed. The voluntary
registration certificates were publicly burnt.
Meanwhile, Transvaal passed Immigration Restriction Act. This too was
opposed by the Indians. They crossed Transvaal border
illegally and were jailed. Gandhi, too, was arrested and convicted. The fight
continued in spite of the repression.
Gandhi realised that the fight would be a long one. He, therefore, desired to
have a center where the Satyagrahis could lead a simple community life and get
training for the struggle. Phoenix
was at about 30 hours distance from Johannesburg.
Gandhi's German friend Kallenbach therefore bought 1100 acres of land at a
distance of about 20 miles from Johannesburg,
where Tolstoy Farm was established. The community was
named after Tolstoy to pay respect to the great Russian writer whose book 'The
Kingdom of God is within You' had greatly influenced Gandhi and made him a firm
believer in non-violence.
The inmates numbered about 50-75. It was a heterogeneous group. It was a tribute to Gandhi's
leadership that they remained together happily under hard conditions. The inmates erected
sheds to accommodate themselves. They did all their work themselves. Drinking,
smoking and meat-eating were prohibited. All ate in the community kitchen. Small
Cottage Industries were started for self-sufficiency. Gandhi and his colleagues
learnt shoe-making. A school was started. Gandhi himself undertook the
responsibility of educating the children. The life was simple, hard, but joyful.
Experiments at Tolstoy Farm proved to be a source of purification and penance
for Gandhi and his co-workers.
The last phase of Satyagraha
Satyagraha continued for four years. Gandhi discontinued his legal practice in
1910. After many ups and downs, the last phase of Satyagraha began in September
1913. A Black Law imposing three pounds tax on Indians provided occasion for it.
Satyagrahis crossed Transvaal border defying the law. Even the women were invited to join. Indian workers in
the Natal coal-mines struck work and joined the struggle. Gandhi led a large
contingent of these workers. They were about 2200 in number. It was on epic march.
It aroused sympathy for Satyagraha and indignation for the South African Government throughout
England and India. Indian National Congress supported the Satyagraha. Gandhi was
arrested. The Satyagrahis marched to Natal without their leader. There, they were arrested
and jailed. Thousands of labourers struck work in sympathy. The public outcry in India
forced the Indian Government to express sympathy for the Indian cause. The
repression having failed, General Smuts had to bow ultimately. Indian demands
were accepted. The fight was over. Gandhi now could return to India where a
great work awaited him.
It was South Africa which made Gandhi. He had gone there as a young, shy, Briefless Barrister. He
returned as an extra-ordinary leader who had mobilised masses to an
unprecedented extent for a novel fight. In South Africa,
Gandhi's ideas were shaped. He was influenced by Ruskin, Tolstoy and Thoreau. He
made a deep study of religions there and became a staunch believer in
nonviolence. The principle of Satyagraha was born in S. Africa.
Gandhi in India: Rise of leadership
Gandhi returned to India in January 1915. He was welcomed and honoured as a
hero. He spent a year touring the country at the instance of Gokhale, his guru.
He travelled mostly in third class railway compartments. He saw the conditions
in the country first-hand. He founded the
Satyagraha Ashram in May 1915 and started getting involved in the social and
political life of the country. The Champaran Satyagraha was his first major
Champaran was a district in Northern Bihar.
When Gandhi was called there, it was virtually under the rule of European indigo
planters. They cruelly exploited and terrorised the tenants. Under the
'tinkathia' system, the tenants had to cultivate indigo in 3/20th part of the
land. The tenants were oppressed and fear-stricken. The British administration
supported the planters.
Gandhi was invited to visit Champaran by Rajkumar Shukla, a peasant from the area, in December
1916. Gandhi was first reluctant. But Shukla's persistent requests made him
change his mind. He went to Champaran in April 1917 to know the conditions there
and the grievances of the peasants. Before visiting the
district, Gandhi visited Muzaffarpur and Patna. He discussed the matter with
lawyers and social workers. Gandhi declined to seek legal remedies as he felt
that law courts were useless when the people were fear-stricken. For him,
removal of fear was most important. He made request to the lawyers for clerical
assistance. Many of them gladly offered the same.
Gandhi first met the planters and the District Commissioner. They were hostile. Gandhi was
ordered to leave the area. He ignored the order. He was then summoned to the
court. The news electrified the area. Crowds gathered at the court. Gandhi
pleaded guilty, saying that he was obeying a higher law, the voice of
conscience. The case against him was later dropped. Gandhi and his
co-workers met thousands of the peasants. They recorded about 8000 statements.
Efforts were made to ensure that they were true. Recording was done in the
presence of police officials. Undue publicity and exaggeration were avoided.
Planters' campaign of slander was ignored. The masses in Champaran overcame
their fear. Public opinion in the country was aroused. The Government ultimately
appointed an enquiry committee in June 1917, with Gandhi as a member. The
committee recommended abolition of tinkathia system and partial refund of money
taken illegal by the planters. The Satyagraha was thus successful. Champaran Satyagraha
was the first Satyagraha on the Indian soil. It was Gandhi's first major
political work in India.
It was carried out strictly in accordance with the principles of Satyagraha.
Attention was paid to constructive work like sanitation, education and primary
A dispute between the textile mill-owners and the labourers at Ahmedabad arose
in 1918, about the grant of bonus and dearness allowance. The labourers wanted
50% increase allowance due to steep rise in prices. The mill-owners were ready
to give only 20% increase. Gandhi was approached to find a solution. He
persuaded both the parties to agree to arbitration. But after a few days, some
misunderstanding led to a strike. The mill-owners seized the opportunity and
declared lock-out. Gandhi studied the case. He thought that 35% increase would be reasonable. He advised the labourers
to demand the same. Regular strike began on the 26th February 1918. Thousands of labourers struck work. They took a pledge not to
resume work till their demand was met or arbitration was agreed upon. They also
decided to observe non-violence and maintain peace.
Gandhi had friends in both the camps. The mill-owners being led by Shri Ambalal Sarabhai. His
sister Ansuyaben was leading the labourers. During the
struggle, Gandhi's co-workers regularly visited the labourers' quarters to solve
their problems and to keep high their morale. Daily meetings and prayers were
held. Bulletins were issued. Gandhi did not like charity. Efforts were made to
find alternative employments for the workers. However, after a
fortnight, the workers started getting tired. It was difficult to face
starvation. It was unbearable for Gandhi that they should break the vow. He then
decided to undertake an indefinite fast. This strengthened the workers. It
brought moral pressure on the mill-owners. They consented to arbitration after
three days. Gandhi broke his fast. The Satyagraha was successful. The arbitrator
studied the case for three months and recommended 35% increase in dearness
allowance. The workers' demand was thus fully met. However, Gandhi's
fast did involve in an element of coercion. But it was a spontaneous decision.
The situation demanded some drastic action. The Satyagraha was significant in
many respects. It was the first Satyagraha by industrial workers. It was wholly
peaceful. It showed how workers could fight non-violently. It also gave rise to
a strong Gandhian Labour Union.
Kheda was a district in Gujarat.
In 1917, there was a crop failure due to famine. Peasants were unable to pay the
land revenue. The rules permitted suspension of revenue collection when the
crops were less than four annas. According to the peasants' estimate, the crops
were less than four annas. Gandhi's inquiries, as well as inquiries by
independent observers, showed that the peasants were right. The Government,
however, thought otherwise. It even turned down a suggestion of an impartial
enquiry. It started coercing the peasants to collect revenue. Petitions etc.
were of no avail. Satyagraha was therefore started on the 22nd March 1918.
Gandhi advised the
peasants to withhold payment to revenue. Satyagrahis took a pledge not to pay
the same and resolved to be ready to face the consequences. Volunteers went to
villages to keep up the morale of the peasants. As in Champaran, Gandhi's main
concern was to remove the fear from the peasants' minds. The officials
started attaching the property of the peasants including cattle and even
standing crops. Notices were sent for attachment of the land. An occasion for
civil disobedience arose when standing onion crop was attached at one place.
Gandhi advised one Mohanlal Pandya and a few volunteers to remove the crop. This
was done. The volunteers were arrested. Pandya earned the nickname 'Onion
The struggle went
on for about four months till July 1918. It tested the people's patience. The
Government discontinued coercive measures. It advised that if the well-to-do
peasants paid up, the poor ones would be granted suspension. In one sense, the
Satyagraha was thus successful. The peasants' demand was not, however, fully met.
Gandhi was not satisfied. He wanted people to come out stronger after Satyagraha. However, the
Satyagraha resulted in awakening the peasants. It educated them politically. It
was the first peasant struggle under Gandhi's leadership, the first nonviolent
mass civil disobedience campaign organised by Gandhi in India. The peasants
became aware of their rights and learnt to suffer for them.
British Government appointed a Committee in 1917 under the chairmanship of
Justice Rowlatt, (1) to enquire and report to the Government about the nature
and extent of anti-government activities, and (2) to suggest legal remedies to
enable the Government to suppress those activities. The Committee submitted its
report in April 1918. Its work was carried out in secrecy. The Committee's
recommendations were embodied in two bills.
The first bill sought to make a permanent change in the Criminal Law. The second bill intended
to deal with the situation arising out of the expiry of Defence of India Rules.
The first bill made punishable the possession of an antigovernment document with
mere intention to circulate it. The second bill also gave sweeping powers to the
officers. There were other harsh provisions also. The bills shocked
the entire country. All the leaders considered the bills unjust, unwarranted and
destructive of elementary human rights and dignity. The second bill was
eventually dropped and the first one passed as a Law in March 1919.
Satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act
India had helped the British in the World War. She expected substantial political
rights. Instead, she received the Black Rowlatt bills.
Gandhi had decided to help the British war efforts during the war. He undertook a recruiting
campaign and worked hard which ruined his health. While he was recovering, he
heard about Rowlatt bills. He was shocked. He took up the matter and started
propaganda against the bill. Gandhi carried out
propaganda against the bill. A separate body called Satyagraha Sabha was formed.
A Satyagraha pledge was drafted and signed by selected leaders. The Government
was, however, adamant. It then suddenly it occurred to Gandhi that a call for
nation-wide hartal should be given. Everybody in the country should suspend his
business and spend the day in fasting and prayers. Public meetings should be
held everywhere and resolutions passed for withdrawal of the Act.
The programme was
taken up. 30 March was fixed as the day of the hartal, but it was later
postponed to 6th April. The notice was very short. Still the masses rose to the
occasion. The country rose like one man. Hartal was observed throughout India.
Communal prejudices were forgotten. All fear disappeared. In Delhi, Swami
Shraddhanand, the Hindu sanyasi was invited to Jama Masjid. It was also decided
that civil disobedience should be offered to selected laws which could easily be
disobeyed by the people. Gandhi suggested breaking of the Salt law and the sale
of the banned literature. The civil disobedience was a great success. Throughout India,
meetings were held and processions taken out.
The public awakening was unprecedented. It startled the British. Repression was let loose.
Processions were broken up by mounted police and firing was done at several
places. Many persons were killed. At some places, people lost balance in the
face of repression. In such a situation, Gandhi thought it fit to suspend the
Civil Disobedience Campaign. It was done on the 18th April. Satyagraha against
the Rowlatt Act was historic. It was the first nation-wide struggle, in which
crores of people participated and showed exemplary courage. The Indian freedom
movement was transformed into a truly people's movement. The period also
witnessed Hindu-Muslim friendship to an extent that was never surpassed
Satyagraha in Punjab was also quite successful. Its leaders Dr.
Satyapal and Dr. Kitchlew were arrested. People observed hartal and took out a
procession in Amritsar to demand their release. It was fired upon, and many persons were killed. The
crowd therefore became violent and killed 5-6 Englishmen. Some public buildings
were burnt. Army troops were rushed in to stop the violence. This was on April 10th 1919. On April 11, a peaceful funeral procession was
General Dyer then took command of the troops. Meetings and gatherings were prohibited. Still a
large meeting was held on April 12th at Jallianwala Bagh. General Dyer took no
steps to prevent the meeting. But when the meeting was taking place, he
surrounded the place and without any warning, gave orders of firing. The crowd
of nearly 10,000 men and women was peaceful and unarmed. They had no idea that
they would be fired upon. When the firing started the people became panicky.
There was only one exit. Bullets were showered on the trapped people. 1650
rounds were fired. About 400 persons were killed and 1200 injured. General Dyer
did this deliberately to teach the Indians a lesson. Jallianwala Bagh
massacre shocked the country. It showed how brutal the British power could get.
It was followed by many more atrocities. They turned Gandhi fully against the
The annual session of the Indian National Congress was held at Amritsar in
Punjab in December 1919. Most of the leaders in jails were released before or
during the session. The session was attended by 8000 delegates including 1500
peasants. It was the last Congress session attended by Lokmanya Tilak. The
Moderates, however, did not attend it. Pandit Motilal Nehru was in the Chair. The Congress was
now acquiring a mass character. The proceedings were conducted mainly in
The Congress passed
a resolution for removal of General Dyer, the butcher of Jallianwala Bagh.
Recall of the Punjab Governor and the Viceroy was also demanded. It was decided
to erect a memorial for the Jallianwala Bagh martyrs. Gandhi moved a resolution
condemning violence on the part of the people and got it passed. It was a very
significant event. The resolution also urged the people to remain peaceful. The
Congress also reiterated the demand for responsible Government. The Montague
Reforms were considered inadequate, disappointing and unsatisfactory. But it was
decided to work the reforms. Revival of hand-spinning and hand-weaving was
recommended. The Congress
appointed a subcommittee for reconsideration of the Congress Constitution with
Gandhi as the Chairman. It was the first
Congress session in which Gandhi took an active part. His leadership was
strengthened in Amritsar Congress.
The Khilafat question
During the First World Way, Turkey sided with
Germany against the British. The Sultan of Turkey was the Khalifa, the religious
head of the Muslim world. The future of Khalifa, therefore, became a matter of
concern for Indian Muslims. The British Government promised them that the
Khilafat would not be violated and favourable peace terms would be offered to
Turkey. But when Turkey was defeated in the war, the promises were forgotten. Turkish Empire
was broken. Indian Muslims felt agitated over this.
with the Khilafat cause. He felt that Hindus should help the Muslim in their
need. For him, it was an excellent opportunity to forge communal unity, bring
Muslims in the freedom movement and form a common front against the British. The Khilafat
Committee was formed. It demanded that terms of treaty with Turkey should be
changed to satisfy the Indian Muslims. Gandhi suggested the programme of
Non-Cooperation with the British Government. This programme was adopted by the
Committee in May 1920.
The Non Co-operation Movement
The redressal of injustice of Punjab
and Khilafat and the attainment of Swaraj became the key issue. The masses were
getting awakened. Gandhi announced the inauguration of Non-violent
Non-Co-operation Movement on the 1st August 1920. A special session of Congress in September
accepted the programme. The Nagpur Congress in December 1920 endorsed it
The programme consisted of the following points -
Surrender of titles and honours given by the British Government
Boycott of law-courts
Boycott of educational institutions
Boycott of councils and elections
Boycott of foreign cloth
Boycott of Government functions
Picketing of liquor shops
Refusal to get recruited in the army
The programme was not just negative. It included the building of new
institutions. National Education was encouraged. Stress was laid on Khadi.
Charkha became the symbol of freedom.
The Congress was completely reorganised and a new constitution drafted by Gandhi was adopted to
make it a mass organisation and a useful tool for the struggle. The movement
started with hartal, fasting and prayers. It soon spread like wildfire. The
freedom movement had become a mass movement. Gandhi declared the Swaraj could be
won within one year if the programme was fully implemented. People showed great
unity, determination and courage. Hundreds of National schools were established.
Tilak Swaraj Fund was over-subscribed. About 20 lakh charkhas began to be plied
in the country. The boycott shook the Government.
1921 was the year of the rise of Indian Nationalism Gandhi became a Mahatma, the most loved and
revered figure in the country. Masses looked to him as a saint, as an
incarnation of God who had come to free them from slavery and poverty. The Government
started repression. Arrests were made. Firing took place at some places. The
country boycotted the visit of Prince of Wales, the British Prince in November
1921. Disturbances broke out at Bombay and Gandhi had to fast to control the situation. By the end of 1921, the number
of prisoners had risen to 30,000. Processions and meetings were being broken up.
The masses were getting impatient. Call was given for Civil Disobedience. Gandhi wanted to start
the campaign step-by-step. He chose Bardoli in Gujarat for starting the
campaign. Notice was given to Government on the 1st February 1922. However, the
movement had to be called off within a few days. On the 5th February, a mob
including Congressmen set fire to a police station at Chauri Chaura in U.P.,
killing about 22 policemen. Gandhi was shocked. He realised that people had not
fully accepted non-violence. He persuaded the Congress to suspend the agitation. Gandhi was arrested
in March and was sentenced to 6 years' imprisonment. He was kept in the Yeravda
jail near Pune.
The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (1922-1948)
Gandhi was freed from jail in 1924 on the ground of health.
The country was witnessing a wave of communal riots. Gandhi fasted for 21 days
in October 1924. He toured the entire country. He laid stress on the charkha and
the removal of untouchability. Political
atmosphere in the country began to change slowly. There was a wave of labour
strikes in 1928-29. Armed revolutionaries stepped up their activities. There was
widespread discontent among the peasants. The historic Satyagraha at Bardoli in
Gujarat showed its intensity.
Bardoli was a tehsil in Gujarat. Government increased the land revenue assessment
there by 30%. Protests brought it down to 22%. The peasants thought it unjust.
Vallabhbhai Patel studied the case. He was convinced that the peasants were
right. The peasants decided to withhold the payment until the enhancement was
cancelled or an impartial tribunal appointed for setting the case. Gandhi
blessed the Satyagraha. It started in February 1928.
led the struggle. He organised sixteen camps under the charge of 250 volunteers.
His organisation was superb. It earned him the title 'Sardar'. The government
tried its best to terrorise the people and extract the payment. It tried
flattery, bribery, fines, imprisonment and lathi-charge. Pathans were brought in
to threaten the people. The cattle was taken away and lands auctioned at several
places. Patel kept up the people's morale. His volunteers were arrested. People
imposed a social boycott on the Government officials and against those who
bought auctioned property. Seven members of the Legislative Council resigned in
protest against the Government repression. Several village officials, too,
resigned their posts.
1) The Government issued an ultimatum for payment. Patel demanded that
2) The Satyagrahi prisoners should be released.
3) The lands sold and forfeited, should be returned.
4) The cost of seized movables should be refunded.
All the dismissals and punishments should be undone. Gandhi and Patel promised to
call off the agitation if these demands were met and an inquiry ordered. The Government
ultimately yielded. An Inquiry Committee was appointed. The Committee
recommended an increase of 5.7% only. The satyagraha was thus successful. The Bardoli
struggle was very well organised one. The peasants remained united against all
odds. Women took part in the struggle on a large scale. The struggle became a
symbol of hope, strength and victory for the peasants in the country.
The discontent against the British Government was increasing. The Government
appointed Simon Commission to decide about the grant of political rights of
India. Indian leaders had not been consulted. There was no Indian Member in the
Commission. The country boycotted Simon Commission.
Gandhi had regarded himself as a 'Prisoner' and refrained from political activities till
1928, when his jail term was to expire. He thereafter took the reins of Congress
in his hands. Congress resolved in 1929 to fight for complete independence. Confrontation with the Government
became imminent. Gandhi launched Civil Disobedience Campaign-the famous Salt Satyagraha.
The Salt Satyagraha
Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy, listing eleven demands which, according to him,
formed the substance of self-government. They were rejected. Gandhi then
decided to start Civil Disobedience by breaking the Salt Law, which heavily
taxed the salt, an article of daily consumption for the poorest of the poor. He
started his epic Dandi March on the 12 March 1930 from Ahmedabad.
A carefully selected band of 78 Satyagrahis accompanied Gandhi in this March to Dandi, a
deserted village on the sea-coat, at about 240 miles from Ahmedabad. As the
March progressed, the atmosphere in the country was electrified. Several village
officials resigned their posts. Gandhi declared that he would not return to
Sabarmati Ashram till Independence was won. Congress Committee met on the 21st March to plan the strategy.
Gandhi reached Dandi on the 6th April and broke the Salt law symbolically by picking up a pinch
of salt. It was signal for the nation. Civil Disobedience campaign was started
throughout the country. Salt Law broken at many places by illegal production of
salt and its sale. Gandhi went to the surrounding places and started a
campaign to cut toddy trees. Picketing of liquor and foreign cloth shops was
started. Women were on the forefront in picketing the liquor shops. The whole
country was stirred. Some other laws like Forest Laws were also taken up for
disobedience at some places.
Government intensified the repression. Most of the important leaders including Gandhi
were arrested. But the agitation grew in strength. People bravely faced police
brutalities and even firing at many places. A wave of strikes and hartals swept
the country. At Peshawar, soldiers of Garhwali regiment refused to
fire on the unarmed people. They were court-martialled. Before his arrest,
Gandhi hit upon a novel idea to raid salt depots. The Dharasana raid, in which
several non-violent Satyagrahis were mercilessly beaten, sent shock-waves
throughout the world. It lowered the British prestige. The movement
progressed till January 1931. The boycott of foreign cloth, liquor and British
goods was almost complete. Gandhi and other leaders were subsequently released
from jail. Government started negotiations. Gandhi-Irvin Pact was signed in
March. The Satyagraha was discontinued. This was a major
Satyagraha, during which 111 Satyagrahis died in firings and about one lakh
persons went to jail.
A phase of repression
Gandhi took part in the Round Table Conference in England in 1931 as the
representative of the Congress. It was a frustrating experience for him. The
British were bent on prolonging their rule by following the policy of Divide and
Rule'. Gandhi stayed in London
in a poor locality. He even met the unemployed textile mill-workers who had lost
the jobs due to Gandhi's movement of Swadeshi and Boycott. He explained to
them the rationale behind Khadi. The workers showered love on him.
The Round Table
Conference yielded nothing. Gandhi returned in December 1931. He was arrested
and the Civil Disobedience Campaign was resumed. The Congress was declared
illegal. The Government was determined to crush the movement. The leaders and a
large number of workers were arrested. Ordinances were issued to arm the
Government with wide powers. Gandhi was lodged in the Yervada jail.
While Gandhi was in Yeravda jail the British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald
announced the provisional scheme of minority representation, known as the
Communal Award. The depressed classes (now known as Scheduled Castes) were
recognised as a minority community and given separate electorates.
Gandhi was shocked. It was an attempt to divide and destroy the Hindu Society and the
Nation and in turn to perpetuate India's slavery. It was not good for the
depressed also. Gandhi announced his decision to fast unto death from the 20th September 1932.
He was fully for the representation to the depressed classes, but he was against
their being considered as a minority community and given separate electorates. Gandhi's decision
stirred the country. Indian leaders began hectic efforts to save Gandhi's
life. But Dr. Ambedkar described the fast as a political Stunt. Gandhi's
decision awakened the Hindu Society. It dealt a blow to the orthodoxy. Hindu
leaders resolved to fight untouchability. Several temples were thrown open to
The fast began on 20th September. Attempts to evolve an alternative scheme were continuing.
Gandhi's health started deteriorating. He had several rounds of discussions
with Dr. Ambedkar. At last, an agreement was reached on the 24th September. The
Government was urged to accept the same. The British Government ultimately gave
its consent. Gandhi broke his fast on 26th September. The agreement is
known as the Yeravda Pact or the Poona Pact. It provided for doubling the number
of representatives of depressed classes. Separate electorates were however, done away with. It was decided that for every reserved seat, members of
the depressed classes would elect four candidates and the representative would be elected from them by joint electorate. The system of primary
election was to be for ten years.
>Yeravda Pact gave a great boost to the anti-untouchability work. Harijan Sevak Sangh was
established. 'Harijan' Weekly was started. After his release, Gandhi put aside
political activities and devoted himself to Harijan service and other
constructive work. All-India Village Industries Association was also formed.
Gandhi gave the Sabarmati Ashram to the Harijan Sevak Sangh and later settled
at Wardha. He toured the entire country and collected Harijan Fund. The massive
anti-untouchability propaganda launched by him had spectacular results. He had,
of course, of face opposition. Even a bomb was once thrown at him. The campaign
destroyed the legitimacy of untouchability. It cleared the way for legal ban. In 1936, Gandhi
settled down at Sevagram, a village near Wardha. In 1937, he presided over the
Educational Conference, which gave rise to the scheme of Basic Education.
India and the War
While Gandhi was busy in the constructive work, elections to the provincial
assemblies were held in 1937. Congress Ministers were formed in several
provinces. the Second World War began in 1939. The British Government dragged
India into the War without consulting Indian leaders. Congress Ministries
resigned in protest. The Congress expressed expressed sympathy for the Allied
powers' fight against Nazism and Fascism and offered co-operation provided
responsible Self-Government was granted. Gandhi was however against any
co-operation in war efforts on the ground of Nonviolence. When the Government
turned down the Congress demand, Gandhi was requested to resume the
Gandhi decided to launch Anti-War individual Satyagraha against curtailment of freedom. It was
inaugurated by Vinoba in October 1940. Pandit Nehru was the Second Satyagrahi.
The Satyagrahis were arrested. By May 1941, the number of Satyagrahi prisoners
had crossed 25000.
The War was
approaching India's borders with the advance of Japan.
England was in difficulties. It could not afford any agitation in India. There
were various other pressures on the British Government to make political
concessions. As a result, Sir Stafford Cripps was sent to India in March 1942.
the matter with the Indian leaders. He proposed Dominion Status with power to
the States and the provinces to secede and convening of a constitution-making
body after the War. But the adherence to the constitution drafted by that body
was not to be obligatory. Indian leaders
including Gandhi found the Cripps Proposals disappointing. They were aptly
termed as post dated cheque on a crashing bank. The Muslim League wanted a
definite pronouncement about Pakistan and therefore criticised the Cripps proposals.
Congress rejected the Cripps scheme because it did not provide for the
participation of the people of the states and the principles of non-accession
was against Indian unity. The Cripps Mission failed.
'Quit India' Movement
The country wanted nothing but Complete Independence. The Congress passed the
historic 'Quit India' resolution on 8th August 1942. Gandhi and other leaders were arrested. The country now
rose in revolt. With most of the leaders in jail, it fought in the way it
thought fit. Railway lines and telegraphic communications were interfered with.
Government property was burnt or destroyed in several places. The people
displayed unprecedented courage and heroism. Unarmed people faced police lathis
and bullets. Young boys suffered flogging without flinching. Government
machinery was paralysed and parallel Government was set up at some places.
Many workers went
underground. About 1000 people died in firings during the movement. About 1600
were injured and 60000 people were arrested. It was noteworthy that violence was
done to Government property only. Englishmen were safe throughout the Movement.
There was little personal violence. Thus, while the masses rose to great heights
of heroism, they also displayed remarkable restraint. It was surely Gandhi's
contribution. The rebellion was, however, gradually put down.
Gandhi was in Agakhan Palace jail. He was blamed by the British for the disturbances. He could
not tolerate questioning of his faith and honesty and fasted for 21 days. Gandhi lost his
wife Kasturba and his Secretary Mahadev Desai in the Agakhan Palace. It was a
great blow to him. His health was not in a good condition. He was finally
released in May 1944 on health grounds. He then started efforts to break the
Background of the Partition
The Hindu-Muslim unity, forged at the time of the Khilafat agitation, collapsed
thereafter. The country witnessed a wave of communal riots. The British
encouraged Muslim communalism and used it to obstruct the path of the Freedom
Movement. M. A. Jinnah, an erstwhile liberal leader, who had been sidelined when
the Congress became a mass organisation, assumed the leadership of Muslim
The Muslim League under his leadership became more aggressive, unreasonable and violent. The
two-nation theory-that Hindus and Muslims were two separate Muslim homeland
called 'Pakistan,' consisting of the Muslim-majority provinces. Jinnah's
shrewdness, ambition and ruthlessness, communalisation of large sections of
society and the British support for Jinnah, brought about such a situation that
the Muslim demands became an obstacle in the way of India's Independence. Jinnah
kept the demands fluid and utilised every opportunity to frustrate the
Nationalist Movement and further his end with the support of the British rulers.
The two-nation theory was an untruth. The Hindus and Muslims had lived together
in India for centuries. Gandhi fought this untruth with all his might. He did everything
possible, including meeting Jinnah several times. But he failed. Jinnah wanted
recognition of the League as the sole representative of the Muslims. It was not
acceptable to the Congress.
The War ended in 1945. After an election, Labour Party's Government came to
power in England. England had been extremely weakened financially and militarily.
The Azad Hind Sena had shown that even the army was not untouched by
nationalism. Mutiny of the naval ratings in February 1946 gave the same
indication. The people were in an agitated mood. The British rule had lost
legitimacy in the eyes of the people. The British, therefore, decided to
withdraw from India.
Cabinet Mission was sent to India to help in the formation of Interim Government and to purpose a
scheme regarding the transfer of power. The mission proposed that the provinces
be divided in three groups, in one of which Hindus were in the majority while in
the other two Muslims. Subjects like defence, foreign affairs, communications
etc, were to be with the Central Authority and the groups were to be free to
frame constitutions about other subjects. Gandhi found the
proposals defective. Muslim League declared 'Direct Action' to get Pakistan.
'Direct Action' meant unleashing of violence. The Hindus retaliated. In Calcutta
alone, over 6000 people were killed 4 days. The Hindu communalism too became
The Noakhali massacre
In the Noakhali area of East Bengal, where Muslims formed 82% of the population,
a reign of terror was let loose in a planned and systematic way in October 1946.
The Hindus were killed and beaten, their property was burnt, thousands of Hindus
were forcibly converted and thousands of Hindu women were abducted and raped.
Temples were defiled and destroyed.
The League Government in Bengal aided the goondas. Even ex-serviceman joined in committing
the atrocities. In Noakhali, about three-fourth of the land belonged to the
Hindu landlords and the tenants were mostly Muslims. The peasant unrest was
naturally there. It was now turned along communal channels.
The Noakhali massacre had few parallels in the history. It showed to what level
communal politics could stop to. It was meant to terrorise, kill, convert or
drive away the Hindus from Muslim-majority areas so that Pakistan could become a
Gandhi's Noakhali March
Gandhi was deeply shocked. He could not bear the defeat of his long-cherished
principles. On 6th November 1946, he rushed to Noakhali. It was to be his final
and perhaps the most glorious battle.
Gandhi reached Shrirampur and camped there for a few days. He sent his associates including
Pyarelal and Sushila Nayyar to different villages which were mostly deserted by
the Hindus. He did all his personal work himself. He worked like a possessed
man. He walked barefooted, went from house to house, talked to Hindus and
Muslims, heard their points of view, and reasoned with them and addressed
He wanted to instill fearlessness into the Hindus. He exhorted them to die nonviolently, if need be,
but not to submit to terror. He did not appease the Muslim. He told the truth
bluntly. He wanted to win their confidence and make them see reason and earn the
confidence of the Hindus. He did not only preach, he served the village poor. He
was testing his Nonviolence. It was very
difficult to establish mutual trust. The League had made poisonous propaganda
against him. But Gandhi's mission began to yield results. It boosted the morale
of Hindus. Passions began to subside. Some evacuees started returning home. Some
even returned to their original faith. Gandhi gradually succeeded
in earning the love and confidence of even the Muslims.
India wins Independence
Noakhali had its reaction in Bihar, where Hindus resorted to violence. The
country was seized by communal madness. Gandhi went to Bihar and brought
the situation under control.
The situation in the country was explosive. Civil War was imminent. The Congress
ultimately consented to the partition of India. Despite Gandhi's bitter
opposition, he could not do anything to prevent the partition.
While the country was celebrating the Independence.
Day on 15th August 1947, Gandhi was in Bengal to fight
communal madness. Partition was followed by riots, a massacre of unparalleled
dimensions. It witnessed movement of about one crore persons and killing of at
least six lakh persons. Calcutta was once more on the verge of riots. Gandhi under-took a fast which had a magical
effect. Lord Mountbatten described him as 'one-man peace army'. Gandhi continued
to plead for sanity in those turbulent days.
It was January 1948. Communal feelings were high due to the partition of the
country. Hindu communalists thought that Gandhi was pro-Muslim. His fast for
communal amity which resulted in the Government of India honouring its
obligation of giving Rs. 50 Crores. to Pakistan had further angered them.
Gandhi was staying at the Birla house in New Delhi. He used to hold evening
prayer meetings regularly. He used to speak on various issues. Once a bomb was
thrown during his prayer meeting. Still, Gandhi did not permit security
On 30th of January 1948, about 500 people had gathered for the prayer meeting on the lawns of the
Birla House. Gandhi was a bit late as Sardar Patel had come to see him. At
5.10 p.m. he left the room and walked to the prayer ground. He was supporting
himself on the shoulders of Abha and Manu, his grand daughter-in-law and
granddaughter respectively. People rushed forward to get his darshan and to
touch his feet.
Gandhi folded his
hands to greet them. When he was a few yards away from the prayer platform, a
young man came forward. He saluted Gandhi, suddenly took out a small pistol and
fired three shots. The bullets hit Gandhi on and below the chest. He fell
to the ground with the words. 'Hey Ram' on his lips. He died within minutes. The
crowd was shocked. The assassin was Nathuram Godse,' a worker of Hindu Mahasabha.
He was caught and handed over to the Police.
Gandhi's body was taken to Birla House. People thronged the place and wept bitterly. The whole
world was plunged in sorrow. The next morning, Gandhi's body was placed on a
gun-carriage and taken to Rajghat. Millions of people joined the procession to
have the last darshan (glimpse) of the Mahatma. His son Ramdas lit the funeral pyre. The
Mahatma had become a martyr for communal unity.