Was Mahatma Gandhi a qualified lawyer?
The ignorance of those who question Gandhi’s educational qualifications
- By Tushar Gandhi*
Was Mahatma Gandhi a qualified lawyer? If you are to believe the Lieutenant-Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Manoj Sinha, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. Speaking at ITM University, Gwalior, he said that the popular belief about Bapu’s educational qualifications was false. He said he spoke with definite knowledge that, other than a high school diploma, Bapu had no educational qualification.
What his statement implies is that Mohandas Gandhi was a fraud lawyer. He practised law in India and South Africa without a degree, even hoodwinked London’s Inner Temple into admitting him to the bar. Bapu called himself a “barrister without a brief”. Now Sinha has branded him a barrister without degrees.
Let’s read Bapu’s views on higher education:
“Education does not mean a knowledge of letters, but it means character building. It means a knowledge of duty.”
Gandhi’s bar enrollment certificate. All pictures courtesy: Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon
Early education and next steps
As a child, Mohan was enrolled in a kindergarten in Porbandar. When his father, Karamchand Bappa, took up employment in the court of the Thakur of Rajkot as his divan (prime minister), the family moved there and young Mohan (he was referred to as ‘Moniyo’) was enrolled into a kindergarten there. Later, he was admitted to Alfred High School in 1880, where he received primary and high school education.
Mohan wasn’t a brilliant student. He was mediocre, he struggled with academics, hated sports and physical education and in high school avoided both as much as possible.
He appeared for his Indian Matric; the exam was held in Bombay, so for the first time Mohan travelled there, appeared for the exam and cleared it. There is evidence of this; Mohan’s name is in the Alfred High School’s register and there is a record of the marks he secured.
Young Mohan then secured admission to Shyamaldas Arts College in Bhavnagar. He could not cope with the studies and pined for his wife Kastur and so, at the end of the first term, Mohan dropped out and returned home.
Karamchand Bappa had passed away and both the elder sons of the Gandhi family were school dropouts working as lowly government servants. They did not earn enough to ensure comfort for the family, so Mohan was the only hope. He needed to be qualified to secure employment as divan in the court of one of the princes of Kathiyavad, preferably Porbandar or Rajkot where his father and grandfather had worked.
Administration in these principalities was then in the hands of the British Residents, who decided who would be appointed to senior administrative positions. Mavjibhai Desai, a friend of Karamchand Bappa, counselled the family elders that, if Mohan was to secure the job, he needed a British education, preferably in law.
Mohan wanted to become a doctor, but his mother was a devout Vaishnav and could not accept her son working with blood, flesh and the dead, so she refused to allow him to take up medical studies. It was then that Mavjibhai suggested legal studies in London.
There was another hurdle: Vaishnavas believed it was taboo to cross the seas. Putliba, Mohan’s mother, was worried also because she had heard that boys going to vilayat went astray, ate meat, drank alcohol and fell for vilayati women. She did not want her Moniyo to succumb to such temptations. Mavjibhai resolved the issue with the intervention of a Jain monk. The monk counselled Putliba and it was decided that Mohan would pledge to not eat meat, consume alcohol or succumb to the lure of vilayati madams. Mohan did so solemnly in the presence of the monk.
The long road to London
Gandhi’s declaration for the bar.
The economic condition of the family was precarious; they did not have sufficient funds to finance Mohan’s education abroad. They had to borrow the money and yet there was a shortfall. Finally, Kastur handed over the jewellery given to her by her rich father so that Mohan could secure an education in London.
Mohan left for Bombay and, while there, he was informed that elders of their caste, Modh Vanik, had forbidden him from travelling to vilayat, terming it blasphemous. They threatened to ostracise the family and impose heavy fines on them if Mohan defied the ban. Mohan decided to defy the community anyway and on September 4, 1888, boarded the ‘SS Clyde’.
Mohan was very intimidated by the prospect of going abroad; he felt he was a village bumpkin and so he went about in earnest to conform to the norms of being a ‘gentleman’. He had gotten a suit stitched but got it wrong and became a laughing stock.
On arrival in London, he was mentored by Dr Pranjeevan Jagjivandas Mehta who helped him secure admission to the Law School of the University College of London. Initially, Mohan lived in a tiny hotel but then rented a room. Mohan prioritised his effort to become a gentleman more than academics, but then realisation struck with a bit of prodding from Dr Mehta and he took up his studies in earnest.
He cleared the British Matriculation exam in 1890.
Just a few weeks before his final law exams, Putliba passed away in Rajkot. The family decided not to break the news to Mohan, fearing that he would leave for India without appearing for the exam.
Mohan cleared his LLB from University College, London. Along with the law degree, Mohandas also secured diplomas in French and Latin. Then he applied to be enrolled to the bar at the Inner Temple. After fulfilling all requirements, in June 1891, Mohandas Gandhi was admitted to the bar and became a qualified and registered barrister.
Then he set sail for India.
Bapu self-admittedly remained a learner all his life. His best education was obtained in the school of life. On his last day, January 30, 1948, Mohandas Gandhi was learning Bengali.
No, Bapu wasn’t a lawyer without a degree as the ‘learned’ Lieutenant-Governor of Jammu and Kashmir would have us believe. I reproduce here images of proof of his passing the Indian Matriculation and the certificates issued to him at the time of admitting him to the Bar at Inner Temple, London. I suggest that people read the certificates; they list the requirements to be eligible for admission to the bar. Mohandas fulfilled them all.
This is to educate those who want us to believe that Mohandas Gandhi did not have any degrees. Degrees did not matter to him, but he studied and acquired them through honest means. The only degree Mohandas Gandhi never earned was ‘Entire’ Law Studies.
I conclude with Bapu’s words: “An education which does not teach us to discriminate between good and bad, to assimilate one and eschew the other, is a misnomer.” – MK Gandhi, Harijan, February 1939.
Courtesy: Reproduced from the book, ‘All Indians Matter’, dt. 27.3.2023
Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of the Mahatma, is an activist, author and president of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation. Email: email@example.com.