Gandhiji and Delhi

Between 1915 and 1948 Gandhiji visited Delhi eighty times and stayed for 720 days in the city. His first stay was on April 12, 1915 at Mr. Sushil Kumar Rudra's house, who was the Principal of St. Stephen's College.

In 1918, during one of these visits to Delhi Brij Krishna Chandiwala, a student at St. Stephen's College met Gandhi and was deeply influenced by him. Chandiwala became a close associate of Gandhi and authored many books about his life with Gandhi. He is particularly well known for two works-At the Feet of Bapu and Gandhiji ki Delhi Diary.

Chandiwala's family had lived in Delhi for many generations and were engaged in the chandi or silver trade. Under the influence of Gandhian ideas Chandiwala gave up his traditional lifestyle and took to wearing 'khadi'. He also decided to change his food habits. He gave up sugar, sweets, rice and dal along with spices and fried foods. He began to follow the Indian system of three meals a day with no tea etc. in between, Chandiwala also took upon himself the task of supplying Gandhiji with goat's milk whenever he was in Delhi. His earnestness in this matter was noticed by Mr. Ansari who nicknamed him 'Gwalin' or 'milkmaid'.

In the 1930's Chandiwala organised a union of the stone breakers of Delhi. There stone breakers led a very difficult life--they were taken advantage of by the constructors who paid them less than the scheduled government rates. The workers were required to fill a wooden box of about 100 sq, ft. for a certain wage, but the contractor made them fill larger boxes for less wages. Also the stone breakers were not provided with first aid when they got hurt.

Not only that, even when some of them got seriously injured and some even lost their lives, they were not given any compensation. Chandiwala met the local officer, the District Commissioner or D.C., as he was then known, and saw to it that government regulations were followed. He also took up their cases in the law courts and got compensation for the workers.

Chandiwala narrates an episode of 1924. He was very keen to invite Gandhiji to his house, so he asked Mahadev Bhai (Gandhiji's secretary) who said, "Ask Gandhiji"--Gandhiji agreed. The next morning when Chandiwala went to the house he was informed that Gandhiji had decided to undertake a forty-day fast for communal harmony. This was in response to the communal riots at Kohat, Nagpur, Delhi and Lucknow. He broke the fast after twenty one days. It took him some time to recover his energy after such a long fast but as soon as he was better he visited Chandiwala with Maulana Muhamamed Ali. It was late evening, time for Maulanaji's evening namaz, so he went to Chandiwala's room to say his prayers. There was a picture in Chandiwala's room which was covered with a sheet before Maulanaji could say the namaz. When it was time to leave Gandhiji searched for the Maulana's shoes in the pile of shoes at the door and brought them for the Maulanaji to wear. Chandiwala says this had a great impact on him because it made him realise how humble Gandhiji was.

Chandiwala also describes the Delhi of the 1920's, 30's and 40's.

(i) He says that the call for boycott of foreign cloth was usually a peaceful affair. The volunteers would go to the shops where foreign cloth was being sold and distribute leaflets. After that, they would sit there with their spinning wheels, spin yarn and carry on a dialogue with the traders. This form of agitation was known as picketing. Picketing had a tremendous impact on women and most of the volunteers were also women. As a result of picketing many of the shopkeepers cancelled their orders for foreign cloth. One of the traders, Mohan Brothers, even donated his bungalow at Okhla, which now houses a girls' school.

(ii) During the nationalist movement, the police used to harass the Satyagrahis. The District Superintendent, Mr. Beiden was particularly harsh and frequently ordered lathi charges and arrests. But by the 1930's many of the Indian policemen and C.I.D. informers, in Delhi, were Sympathetic to the Congress cause. Chandiwala tells us that the bulletin taken out by the Congress could not be banned because the local police ignored it and did not bring it to the notice of their English officers. Usually a demonstration would use bullock carts, and sometimes even small tractors were brought in but sometimes to make their point the demonstrators would bring donkeys and camels as well. Once, when the government had banned any loud protest, a procession of camels with placards silently walked the streets of Delhi. On one occasion the police even arrested the camels because of the posters on them.

(iii) Another strategy addressed itself to lawyers as a group because lawyers continued to use foreign cloth for their official outfits. So, the volunteers designed a poster which showed an ass sporting a necktie, a collar and foreign clothes. This was displayed at the Bar Room where the lawyers used to change their clothes. This had the required effect. The lawyers soon passed a resolution saying they would all adopt khadi.

Oral History documentation, Nehru Memorial Library