Everything was ready to start Satyagraha from the Bardoli Taluka in Surat District. There was unexpected excitement in the air. Meetings and processions were the order of the day everywhere. But an unhappy incident occurred in Chauri Chaura a village in U. P. On being harassed by the police, the demonstrators there became violent, and some policemen were burned to death. Gandhiji was very upset. He knew that the people were still not prepared to follow the non-violent way. So he withdrew the struggle of satyagraha and went on fast for five days as a penance.
Now the Government showed courage to arrest him on charge of sedition. The trial opened in Ahmedabad in the court of an English Judge. As Gandhiji entered the court, everyone rose. Gandhiji stated that he was a peasant and a weaver by profession. He accepted that he had preached against Government and said that what was guilt in the eyes of the Government was Dharma in his eyes. He asked for the severest punishment.
He was sentenced to six years imprisonment. He was removed to Yeravda Central Prison in Poona. This was in the year 1922.
Two years after this, Gandhiji fell ill in jail, so the Government released him. Gandhiji saw that the people were in despair and there was deep-rooted mutual distrust in Hindus and Muslims. Communal riots broke out on flimsy excuses. He went on fast for 21 days in Delhi, to bring out Hindu-Muslim unity. This was to be an act of penance, so he remained absorbed in prayer night and day.
He left politics for the time being. He traveled extensively all over India and preached communal unity, the removal of untouchability, and village-uplift through home-industries.
The British Government had, by the time realized that something will have to be done to pacify the feelings of India. Yet they were not really willing to part with power and were only marking time one way or the other. They appointed a committee called `Simon Commission' to visit India and recommend political reforms. No Indian was appointed a member on that Commission, so Gandhiji said: `This is absurd. We must boycott it.'
When the Commission arrived in Bombay, a general strike was observed all over India. Wherever it went, it was greeted with black flags and shouts of `Simon, go back!'
The Commission could achieve nothing.
The same year, the peasants of Bardoli resorted to Satyagraha and non-payment of taxes in protest against the illegal increase of land revenue. Vallabhbhai Patel led the movement. The Government tried to terrorize the people, but failed. At last a settlement was reached. The demand of the people was accepted.
This raised confidence in the Satyagraha method of Gandhiji. The Sardar of Bardoli now emerged as the Sardar of India.
Gandhiji gave an ultimatum to the Government to declare their real intentions about giving Swaraj to India, within 12 months. No reply. At last the Congress, under the Presidentship of Jawaharlal Nehru declared in Lahore, at midnight on December 31, 1929 that full independence was India's goal and hoisted the flag of independent India.
The day of January 26, 1930 was celebrated as Independence day throughout the country. Pledges were taken not to relax until full independence was won. Since then January 26 is now celebrated as Republic day in our country.
The whole country was excited.
The Government had levied a tax on salt and kept the monopoly of manufacturing it. Since salt was a necessity for all, the tax fell most heavily on the poor. Gandhiji asked the Government to remove the salt tax, but they refused to do so. Gandhiji wrote another letter to the Viceroy and said: `On the eleventh of this month I shall proceed to break the salt law. It is open to you to arrest me. I hope, there will be tens of thousands ready to take up the work after me.'
No reply. On March 12, at 6.30 in the morning, Gandhiji started on foot from his Ashram at Ahmedabad, with a band of volunteers, on a march to break the salt-law. His steps were firm. His look was peaceful and fearless. He declared not to return to the Ashram until freedom was won.
The whole world watched with wonder and curiosity Hundreds and thousands of people joined the march on the way. At last, after 24 days, the march ended 241 miles away, on April 5 at Dandi a village on the sea-coast near Surat.
Gandhiji spent that night in prayer. In the morning, he went to the sea-shore and bathed in the sea, then he bent down and picked up a lump of salt left on the shore by the sea and broke the salt-law.
This was a signal for his countrymen to break the salt-law and start civil disobedience movement.
There was great excitement everywhere. The air was rent with shouts of Inquilab Zindabad! and Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai!
From Dandi, Gandhiji issued an appeal to the world in just a few simple words: `I want world sympathy in this battle of right against might.
M. K. Gandhi.
Again Gandhiji informed the Viceroy of his intention to raid the Government Salt Depot at Dharasana. Now the Government arrested Gandhiji, but others carried out the plan. A batch of Satyagrahis advanced towards the salt depot. The police rushed at them and rained blow after blow on them mercilessly with iron-shod lathis. Not one of the Satyagrahis raised even an arm to stop the blows. They fell down, some with broken skulls, some with broken arms or legs. When one batch had been knocked down, another took its place. On the first day two died and 320 were injured. The representatives from all over the world had come there to witness the great event. They praised the spirit of courage and dedication of the Satyagrahis.
All over the country, even in distant villages,
men and women came out in processions, held meetings, observed hartals and manufactured salt without paying any tax. The Government brutally beat the demonstrators, even resorted to firing. Yet the struggle didn't stop. More than a hundred thousand Satyagrahis were imprisoned. The jails were so full to overflowing that barbed wire jails were created in the open.
The British Government had called a Round Table Conference in London to draft a future constitution for India, but they couldn't move on without Gandhiji, so they released him from jail. The Viceroy talked with him in terms of equality and entered into treaty with him. This treaty is known as Gandhi-Irwin Pact. It was a great victory of Satyagraha. Now Gandhiji suspended the movement and the Government released all the political prisoners. Then Gandhiji went to England as an honored guest of the British Government to attend the Round Table Conference with Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Sarojini Naidu.
In London, Gandhiji stayed in the locality of the poor people. He mixed freely with the poor. Even in the cold climate of England, he wore only a wrap, sandals without socks and no coat. When the British king invited him in his palace, he went there in his usual dress, and sat with the king and queen. Someone asked him if he was dressed well enough for such a meeting, he replied with a smile, `The king had on enough for both of us.'
Even in England, he never swerved from his vow to work on a spinning wheel everyday. He sat at the wheel even when it was midnight and he was completely exhausted.
Gandhiji remained in England for 84 days, but nothing was accomplished in the conference. The British Government had no real intention to part with power. So they played up the differences between the Hindus and the Muslims. This only served to increase the communal tension in India. In the end, Gandhiji said in plain words: `You tell me that I am to be the master in may own house, but you keep the key of the safe and station a sentry at the door.'
The children of England loved Gandhiji. They gave him many toys for poor children in India. These toys were the only thing Gandhiji took with him to India when he left London. Gandhiji loved children so much.
When Gandhiji returned to India he saw that in his absence, the Government had violated the provisions of the treaty, and let loose a reign of terror. Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru were in jail. Gandhiji informed the Viceroy that he would resume Satyagraha. But before he could start the movement, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Yeravda Jail. The movement at once gathered momentum. Thousands were arrested.
In the meanwhile, the Government announced a plan to separate Harijans from the Hindus by creating separate electorates for them. This meant the untouchables would ever remain untouchables and would not be absorbed in society. Gandhiji saw the game the British were playing. He said: `I will resist this with my life.' He announced a fast into death.
Gandhiji started the fast on September 20, 1932 in jail. His condition became serious on the third day. Leaders met in the jail. At last on the fifth day of the fast, a pact was signed with Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, the most powerful leader of the untouchables. The Government accepted it and the epic fast was at last over.
Now Gandhiji formed an organisation called the Harijan Sevak Sangh, devoted entirely to the service of Harijans, but the response was poor. He was anxious. Suddenly on May 7, 1933, at midnight, he heard a voice telling, `Begin a fast for 21 days!' Gandhiji started the fast the very next day. This time the Government released him immediately.
The fast completed without any incident. It had a wonderful effect on caste-bound Hindus. Schools and temples were thrown open for the Harijans. Age-old bonds of religious and social superstitions broke.
Gandhiji established his new Ashram in a village called Sevagram, near Wardha. It took up the cause of village uplift and home-industries. He founded `Go-Seva Sangh' to improve the condition of cows. He introduced manual labour in education and advocated total prohibition for the whole country.
One day, a patient suffering from leprosy came to the ashram. Gandhiji welcomed him, personally waited on him and served him with love and care. He would wash his wounds and bandage. He would cut jokes with him and thus try to make his sufferings tolerable.
Gandhiji valued the service of his patients above all else. He regularly looked after his patients. Once the Viceroy had called him for some discussions. As soon as the conversation was over, he said: `May I take leave now? My patients are waiting!'
Really Gandhiji was a perfect embodiment of love and service.
Gandhiji was moving in the country like a whirlwind. Huge crowds gathered everywhere. He spoke about Hindu-Muslim unity, Harijan uplift, rural industries and prohibition.
He, then, visited the North-West Frontier Province the land of valiant Pathans. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was their leader. He was a staunch follower of Gandhiji and known as `Frontier Gandhi'. He believed in complete non-violence and had organized a peace army called the `Red Shirts.'