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The Freedom Struggle Reaches Its Height
"After the Bombay incidents, Gandhiji was filled with doubts about his methods, and he was not quite sure if he should continue his non-violent civil disobedience movement. He was afraid lest there should be fresh outbursts of violence. But he received news that, in the other parts of the country, strikes and satyagraha had been perfectly peaceful and non-violent. This gave him hope: and he decided to continue the struggle.
As a result of the strikes and the boycott campaign, many people in the country had given up the use of foreign goods, and this was a great blow to the manufacturing firms in England. The Government tried hard to kill this movement for the boycott of foreign goods. They arrested and imprisoned hundreds of our national workers, great leaders like Pandit Motilal Nehru, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, Lala Lajpat Rai and Maulana Azad.
Another person in Gandhiji's place would have lost heart and given up the struggle in the face of such opposition. But Gandhiji bravely continued to fight the government. He again and again asked the Viceroy to release our national leaders but the Viceroy paid no heed to his requests.
The fight for freedom was at its height, and it seemed as if victory was within our reach, when suddenly news came that Mahatmaji did not know how to explain Gandhiji's action. Some thought that he had become frightened of the British Government. Others thought that he had made some sort of compromise with them. Each one had his own story to tell, but there were a few sensible persons who could guess what the truth was."
"And what was that truth, mother? Why did Mahatmaji call off the movement?"
"You see, Hari, when Mahatmaji started the country's fight for independence, he wanted the people to master the details of non-violence to perfection. He knew that it was not easy to resist the organized might of such a great Empire. He also knew that as soon as the people started opposing the government, the government was bound to punish them. The, police would make lathi26 charges or even open fire on them. To remain calm under such provocation would be the supreme test of non-violence. And it turned out that people did defy the laws all over the country and calmly faced the lathi charges. At one place in the Uttar Pradesh, however, in the village of Chauri Chaura in the Gorakhpur district, the mob forgot the lesson of non-violence and returned blow for blow and set fire to a police outpost. Twenty-one policemen died as a result of the fire. This incident completely upset Gandhiji, and he immediately called off the movement. A freedom won through bloodshed or pain,' he said, 'was not worth having at all. It was better to remain a slave than take to such violent means. And yet I know that the mistake is mine. The country has not yet learnt the lesson of non-violence properly. Unless people learn the true meaning of the creed of nonviolence, they will not be ready to offer satyagraha. Truth, patience, meekness, understanding and love for the enemy are most necessary for satyagraha.'
Gandhiji is arrested
To admit his mistake and the mistake of his countrymen was not enough for Gandhiji. He sought to do further penance by observing a five-day fast. He returned to the Sabarmati Ashram from where he meant to preach his gospel of non-violence throughout India. But he had hardly been in Sabarmati four days when the Government arrested him. He was sentenced to imprisonment for six years. In his absence, Kasturbai sent his message to the country, asking everyone to give up foreign clothes and wear Swadeshi instead, to spin, to abolish untouchability and to work for the uplift of the country.
Life in jail had many hardships, but Gandhiji bore them all cheerfully. He would read the Gita in the morning and the Koran27 in the afternoon, and in the evening he would read the Bible with a Chinese Christian. He also spun regularly, and in his spare time he would learn to read and write Urdu and Tamil.
Though Gandhiji was in prison, he continued to live in our hearts and to lead us. He had not been in jail quite two years when he fell seriously ill. The news of his illness caused great anxiety, all over the country. For six months he remained ill inside the jail, and when the Government saw that there was no improvement in his condition, they transferred him to the Government hospital in Poona. There he was operated upon for appendicitis by a well-known surgeon. And when after a few days, he was known to be out of danger, there was great rejoicing all over the country.
In the beginning of February that year, Gandhiji was released from jail before he had completed his term of imprisonment. The first thing he did on his release was to write a letter to Maulana Mohammed Ali, the then President of the Congress, saying that he was not at all happy at the way in which he had been released. Even though outside the jail, he considered himself a prisoner for the remaining period of his six years' term of imprisonment. He would not take part in the fight for freedom or oppose the Government during that period.
From the Poona hospital, Gandhiji went to Juhu near Bombay, and here he gradually improved in health. Pandit Motilal Nehru, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das and the young Jawaharlal Nehru visited him there frequently. With them he would discuss the problem of our independence ceaselessly. Everyday he was becoming more and more certain that our country could neither make progress nor win freedom unless poverty, ignorance, untouchability were removed. As soon as he was well enough, Gandhiji started again on his campaign for the uplift of India. Spinning and weaving classes were opened all over the country, so that foreign cloth could be easily replaced. He also worked for removing the evils of drink and untouchability and differences of caste and creed. He wanted the people of India to become strong and united.
Gandhiji kept his word and for almost four years he did not take any part in the fight against the Government. Still the Government felt that if the people of all sects and creeds of India became one and fought unitedly for independence, the strongest of Government would not find it possible to resist them. And so the officers and agents of the British Government tried to create a split among the Hindus and Muslims."
"But, mother, why did the Hindus and Muslims listen to them?"
26. Wooden stick.
27. The Muslim holy book