The Story of Gandhi
(For children below 8 years)
- Ramanbhai Soni>
There was a boy. His name was Mohan.
He was studying in a school at Rajkot. He was not bright at studies, but was very fond of reading.
Once he read the story of Shravana. Shravana used to carry his old and blind parents in two baskets slung on a bamboo yoke. Mohan was deeply touched by his devotion to his old parents. He resolved to be like Shravana and serve his parents.
Once Mohan saw a play depicting the life of King Harishchandra, who lost his kingdom and suffered much for truth. Mohan was so deeply moved by this play that he was in tears. He decided never to swerve from the path of truth and be ever truthful and honest like Harishchandra.
In his childhood the young Gandhi was very timid. He feared to step in darkness, even in his own house. He feared ghosts and thieves and snakes. Rambha was a maid servant in his house. Once she said to Mohan: `Why are you so much fearful? Remember Rama! Rama will always protect you. Fear never encounters him who remembers Rama.'
Mohan was deeply impressed by these words. He took to reciting the name of Rama. His faith in Rama increased as he grew up. He remembered God and dedicated all his work to him. When he died his last words were `He Rama!'
Mohan's father, Karamchand Gandhi, was popularly known as Kaba Gandhi. In early years, he was the Diwan of Porbandar, and after that he became the Diwan of Rajkot. During his stay in Rajkot, his Parsee and Muslim friends often visited his house and discussed the good in their religions. Young Mohan, who quite often sat by father's side, heard these discussions. These debates created in him a real love for all religions.
Once the Inspector of schools came to visit his school. He wanted to test the boys, so he dictated a few English words to the boys. Mohan could not spell one of the words correctly. His teacher prompted him to copy that word from his neighbour's slate, but Mohan didn't. He did not like to cheat anybody, come what may. The result was that all the students except Mohan, spelt all the words correctly. The teacher scolded Mohan after the class and Mohan felt wounded. But deep inside him he knew that what he had done was right.
Mohan's full name is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He was born in Porbandar, on the sea-coast of Saurashtra, on October 2, 1869. He did many great things when he grew up. Throughout the world he is now known as Mahatma Gandhi. He led us Indians to the non-violent fight for freedom and finally lay down his life for our sake. He ranks among the greatest teachers of all time like Buddha and Christ. He is the Father of our Nation. Every year, his birthday is celebrated throughout the world.
In those days, India was under the British rule. Once a boy told Mohan: `Do you know why the British are so strong and why they can rule over us? It is because they eat meat. If we become meat-eaters, like them, we will be able to drive them out.'
Mohan was convinced by this argument. But everybody in Mohan's house was strictly vegetarian, so he tried meat-eating outside. He did not disclose this secret to anybody, yet he was averse to telling a lie and deceiving the parents, so finally he decided not to touch meat again.
Mohan was taken to smoking also. For this he had to steal money and to incur debt. When the debt increased, he stole a piece of gold from one of the gold-bracelets that his brother wore and paid off the debt.
But soon after that, his heart was filled with remorse. He resolved never to steal again. He wrote down a confession of his crime on a piece of paper and put it in the hands of his father who was then sick.
The father read the letter and without uttering a word, tore up the paper with a deep sigh.
Mohan was deeply grieved. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He saw the power of truth. From that day, telling the truth became a passion with him. He loved his father more and more. He massaged his legs and served him in all possible ways.
But his father did not live long. He died when Mohan was only sixteen.
After passing his Matriculation examination, Gandhiji joined a college for further study, but his eldest brother decided to send him to England to become a barrister.
Now, Mother Putlibai asked Mohan to take a vow not to eat meat, not to drink and not to live an immoral life, Gandhiji took this vow, and boarded a steamer for England.
He arrived in London in October, 1888. At first, he had to face numerous handicaps. He almost starved until he found a good vegetarian restaurant. He learned Latin and French too, and finally passed his law examination. Now he was a barrister.
Then he returned to India. He was anxious to meet his mother and tell her that he had kept his vows in England. But as soon as he landed in Bombay, he heard that his mother had passed away only a few weeks ago! It was a terrible shock, yet he restrained himself.
Now Gandhiji started practice as a lawyer in Rajkot. After some time, an offer came to him to go to South Africa as a legal adviser to an Indian firm owned by a Gujarati Muslim businessman there. Gandhiji accepted the offer and in May 1893, he went to Natal in South Africa.
In South Africa, Indians were ill-treated and disgraced. They were called `Coolies'. Very soon Gandhiji too had his share of this experience. He was travelling in a train to Pretoria, in a first class compartment. On the way, a European passenger entered the compartment and found Gandhiji in it. He complained to the station master: `Take this coolie out and put him in a lower class!'. Gandhiji raised an objection that he had a first class ticket, but nobody heard him. A policeman pushed him out with his bag and baggage. The train left. Gandhiji spent the night shivering in cold, but he did not touch his luggage.
This incident changed the whole course of his life. He decided to fight all such injustices with the weapon of Truth. Later on, he named this weapon Satyagraha.
More trouble was still in store for him. Next morning, he went to Charlestown by train. He had now to travel by a stage-coach to Johannesburg, but he was not allowed to sit inside the coach with white passengers. To avoid confrontation Gandhiji sat outside on the coach-box behind the coachman. After some time the conductor asked him to sit on a dirty sack on the step below. Gandhiji refused. The conductor began to pull him down and give him blows upon blows. Some of the passengers now came to his rescue and Gandhiji was allowed to sit where he was.
These experiences inspired him to do something to end these sufferings of Indians. He called a meeting of the Indians in Pretoria and told them to form a league. This was his first public speech. It caused a new awakening among Indians.
Gandhiji settled out of court the case for which he had gone to South Africa. This enhanced his reputation. He had helped many to settle their disputes out of court.
After his stay for three years in South Africa, Gandhiji returned to India in 1896. In India, he made speeches about the plight of Indians in South Africa. He then set sail for South Africa, with his wife Kasturbai and two sons. In the meanwhile, the newspaper reports of his speeches in India had reached South Africa in a distorted form. From it, the whites thought that Gandhi had abused them in India, and they were furious.
As soon as Gandhiji landed at the port of Durban, a mob of angry whites threw stones and bricks and rotten eggs at him. They tore off his turban and beat him and kicked him until he was almost unconscious.
At that time, the wife of the Superintendent of Police happened to pass by. She ran to his rescue and opened her parasol to protect him, holding it between him and the crowd. She led Gandhiji to a safe place.
The South African Government wanted to punish the wrong-doers, but Gandhiji refused to file a complaint. This had a very good effect on the whites.
In 1906, the Transvaal Government issued an order that all Indians men, women and children should register themselves with Government by giving their full finger-prints and get their permits. He who fails to do so, will be fined, imprisoned or deported from the country.
Gandhiji declared: `This is an insult to the Indian community. We must fight this `Black Act' in a non-violent way. The Government might use force, arrest us, send us to jail, and prosecute us, but we must face all this without resistance.' He called this `Satyagraha'.
Indians gathered in large numbers and took an oath in the name of God, not to register themselves. They showed wonderful unity. Hundreds of Indians were arrested, but they didn't put up any defence in courts and went to jail. Gandhiji, too, was imprisoned. At last Government made a compromise with Gandhiji and gave a promise in writing to repeal the Black Act if the Indians registered themselves voluntarily.
All the prisoners were released. Most of the Indians supported Gandhiji, but a few rose against. They accused him of being a coward. A Pathan named Mir Alam was one of them. When Gandhiji set out for registration, Mir Alam hit him with a heavy stick. Gandhiji was knocked down unconscious. When he recovered he found himself in the house of an unknown Englishman. The first thing he did was to inquire about Mir Alam and forgive him saying, `I don't want to prosecute him.' Then he called the registration officer, gave him his finger-prints and got himself duly registered.
Thus Gandhiji fulfilled his part of the agreement at the risk of life, but Government went back from its promise and refused to repeal the Black Act.
The Government of South Africa had imposed a heavy poll-tax on Indians. Gandhiji wanted to get all these injustices removed. So again he started the satyagraha movement. A big bonfire was lit and more than two thousand permits were burnt in it. Those who called Gandhiji a coward now greeted him as a real hero.
Gandhiji and many of his colleagues were imprisoned several times in course of this struggle. Gandhiji gave up his practice as a lawyer and devoted all his time in the service of the great cause that he had taken up. He renounced his European dress and put on the simple clothes of a poor Indian labourer. He walked barefoot. He took only one meal a day.
In jail, Gandhiji did hard labour for nine hours a day cheerfully. He never complained about any hardships. He suffered terrible pain of boils in hands, yet did not budge from the work given him. He was made to carry luggages, and was taken to court handcuffed.
Meanwhile, the court in South Africa declared all Hindu, Muslim and Parsee marriages illegal and the Government supported the court. Kasturba could not brook this insult of Indian womanhood. She asked Gandhiji to enlist her name as the first woman satyagrahi. Women under her leadership broke the law and courted arrest. Kasturba was also arrested and jailed.
Nobody was allowed to cross the border of the Transvaal without permits. Gandhiji led a march of 6000 Indians, men, women and children without anything except a blanket.
Gandhiji said: `We are fighting for justice, we will not harm anyone.'
It was a wonderful scene. The whole world watched it with interest.
Gandhiji was arrested. The satyagrahis were beaten and flogged mercilessly. Yet, the struggle did not stop.
At last the Indians won. The Black Act was repealed. Indian marriages were recognised as lawful. The poll-tax was abolished and all other demands were accepted.
The jail life had badly affected the health of Kasturba. She was completely bed-ridden when she came out. She was now under the care of a doctor in his hospital. The doctor advised Gandhiji to give her meat-syrup, otherwise, he warned, she would die. But Gandhiji refused. Kasturba also was against taking any such thing. The doctor got angry. He said: 'Quit this place if you don't want to follow my advice.' Gandhiji left at once the hospital with Kasturba.
Once, during this illness, Gandhiji asked Kasturba to give up the use of salt and pulses in food. Kasturba was not inclined to accept the suggestion. She said: 'Give up salt and pulses? Even you won't like to give that up!'
At once Gandhiji took a vow: 'Well, I won't take salt and pulses for a year.'
Now Kasturba was full of remorse. (She wept and said: 'Please you don't take a vow. I agree to give up salt and pulses.')
But Gandhiji was firm in what he had said. He carried out his word not for one year but for full ten years.
Soon after that, Kasturba regained her health and was alright.
Gandhiji spent nearly 21 years in South Africa. He returned to India in 1915.
Then he set up an Ashram in Ahmedabad on the banks of river Sabarmati. He named it Satyagraha Ashram. He did all sorts of manual work in the Ashram with his co-workers. He would sweep the floor, work in the kitchen, clean the utensils and grind corn also. Once a pleader came to him and asked for some work to do. Gandhiji was in the kitchen at that time. He said: 'Yes, here is some work for you. Please clean these food grains'. The pleader stood puzzled. For the first time he met a leader to whom all kind of work was sacred.
Gandhiji became a common topic of talks when the pleaders met in their clubs.
One of these pleaders was very bitter in his remarks. But shortly a miracle happened. The moment this pleader saw how bold and fearless Gandhiji was, he left his practice and jumped into the struggle under Gandhiji's leadership. He soon became the foremost disciple of Gandhiji. He was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
It was the year 1916. Gandhiji was invited to participate in the foundation ceremony of the Banaras Hindu University at Kashi. It was a gorgeous show. Even the Viceroy had come from Delhi to attend it. A number of Indian Maharajas, bedecked in costly jewellery were present. Much was said about the poverty of India and the uplift of the poor.
Gandhiji was clad in his simple Kathiawadi dress. He made here his first great political speech in India. He spoke in English. The first words came out like a bomb-shell: 'It is a matter of shame that I am compelled to address my countrymen in a language that is foreign to me."
Soon another bomb-shell: 'You speak about the poverty of India and make an exhibition of jewellery. There is no salvation for India unless you strip yourselves of this jewellery and hold it in trust for your countrymen.'
Still another bomb-shell: 'The country will be free not through the pleaders and the rich, but through the peasants. If we are afraid of God, we won't ever fear the Princes and the Maharajas, or the Viceroy or King George himself.'
And the last bomb shell: 'If I find it necessary for the salvation of India that the English should be driven out, I would not hesitate to declare that they would have to go and I would be prepared to die in defence of that belief.'
His speech was like a powerful current of fresh air. It instilled new life in the paralyzed limbs of India. The people said: 'Here at last is a man who can help us.'
Gandhiji admitted the so-called 'untouchables' into the Ashram. He adopted a Harijan girl named Lakshmi as his daughter. This upset the orthodox Hindus. They went red with rage and stopped helping the Ashram. Gandhiji decided to close down the Ashram for want of money. At the last moment an unknown gentleman came to the Ashram and gave him Rs. 13000/- in cash. The Ashram was saved.
In Bihar, the cultivators were forced by European planters to grow indigo. They were treated unjustly and not paid properly. They requested Gandhiji to help them. Gandhiji went to Champaran to study the grievances of the peasants. This was in the year 1917.
The European District Magistrate ordered Gandhiji to leave the district. Gandhiji refused to obey. He was summoned to the court. The magistrate said: 'If you leave the district, the case against you will be withdrawn.' But Gandhiji refused to oblige.
The court-room was packed. A large crowd was outside shouting slogans. On Gandhiji's advice the crowd dispersed peacefully.
Gandhiji pleaded guilty and said: 'You can send me to jail'. However the case was postponed.
This was the first instance of satyagraha in India. The whole country experienced a pleasant shock.
At last the case was withdrawn by the Government. Gandhiji was allowed to stay in the district. He visited villages, recorded statements of peasants and proved their sufferings. The battle was won.
A new wave of hopes swept over the country. For the first time the people knew that the so-called invincible British government can be challenged successfully.
Gandhiji travelled all over India. He saw the terrible poverty of the people.
At one place, seeing the dirty clothes of women, he asked Kasturba to advise them to be clean.
When Kasturba approached those women, one of them led her to her hut and said: 'See, I have no other clothes. I have put on the only piece of cloth I have! How am I to wash it?'
When Gandhiji heard this tale from Kasturba, he was terribly moved. He was pained at heart, for he felt strongly for his poor countrymen. Though he was always simple in his dress, he decided to be simpler still. He gave up wearing a cap, a shirt and a dhoti too! Henceforth he wore only a lion-cloth. How could he wear so many clothes, when his countrymen couldn't get the bare minimum to protect their modesty?
Thousands of labourers worked in the textile mills of Ahmedabad. They demanded higher wages. They pledged their full confidence in Gandhiji and went on strike under his guidance.
Days passed. The mill-owners were adamant. Starvation faced the strikers. Gandhiji feared the workers would break their pledge, so he went on fast. His fast moved the mill-owners. In three days a settlement was reached between the mill-owners and the mill-workers.
Gandhiji considered it his duty to help the British. He had helped them in times of difficulties in South Africa and in recognition of those services, medals were awarded to him. During the first world war too, Gandhiji offered to help the Government and started a recruiting campaign. He worked so hard that he became very ill. He himself felt at times that he was dying. He ate nothing. He took no medicine, He refused to take even milk. Years earlier, he had vowed not to drink milk because cows were ill treated. At last, on Kasturba's persuasion Gandhiji agreed to take goat's milk henceforth.
The war was over. Germany was defeated. The British won. Gandhiji hoped that the Government would now proceed towards granting Self-Rule to India. But the Government did the reverse. It proposed to make a law to suppress the Indians. Gandhiji was still not well. From his sick-bed he declared: 'This is unjust. We ought to offer Satyagraha.'
He went to Madras. There in a dream he got an idea of an All-India strike. The date was fixed April 6, 1919. The people were asked to fast and pray and stop work that day.
That was the first great awakening of India. The strike was a great success everywhere. Not a shop was open. Not a wheel turned in any factory. Gandhiji was in Bombay that day. Thousands of people bathed in the sea and moved in procession along the streets of Bombay under his leadership shouting slogans: 'Vande Mataram' and 'Allah-O-Akbar!' The Government had prescribed a book 'Hind Swaraj' written by Gandhiji and prohibited its sale, but today, the book was freely sold in the streets. Thus the people got the first taste of civil disobedience.
The next day, Gandhiji started for Punjab. On the way, he was arrested, sent back to Bombay and then set free. The news of his arrest infuriated the people. Violence broke out in Ahmedabad. Gandhiji came to Ahmedabad. He called a public meeting in the Ashram, rebuked the people for their violence and said that he would fast for three days as a penance.
But the situation in the Punjab was very critical. A big public meeting was held in the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. Thousands of men, women and children were present. Suddenly a military officer came there with his soldiers. He blocked the only exit and, without giving warning ordered to open fire on the unarmed crowd. There was no way of escape. The soldiers fired till the ammunition lasted. Hundreds were killed and wounded in this cruel massacre.
Then followed a reign of terror. The people were made to crawl on all fours. They were stripped naked and were flogged. Gandhiji was deeply moved by the sufferings of the people in the Punjab. He went there. The people flocked to see him.
Now Gandhiji announced a programme of Non-co-operation and Civil Disobedience movement to win Swaraj within a year. 'Don't co-operate with Government!' He said: 'Don't serve the Government in any capacity. Quit Government services, return the titles and the honours given by the Government! Boycott its law courts! Don't buy any foreign goods. Leave Government schools and colleges and refuse to pay any taxes.'
There were meetings and processions and strikes. Students deserted schools and colleges and jumped wholeheartedly into the struggle. New schools and colleges sprang up having a national and humanitarian outlook. Huge bonfires were organised to burn foreign cloth. Lawyers gave up their practice and local panchs became local courts.
The British Government sought to pacify the Indians. They sent here their Prince of Wales. But the Prince was boycotted in city after city. He was greeted with empty streets. Not a shop was open. Government was furious. Leaders were arrested everywhere.
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.'
Fearing some disturbance, he had set up some armed guards near and about he camp of Gandhiji, When Gandhiji knew this, he at once issued instructions to remove them. 'God is my guard.' He said.
This made a deep impression on the mind of the brave Pathans. They said, 'Here, at last, is a man who has complete faith in God!'
Gandhiji toured the whole area and delivered there his message of Truth and Non-violence.
At that time in India, there were many princely states. The rulers of these states, backed by the British Government ruled autocratically. The ruler of Rajkot had entered into a certain agreement with Sardar Patel and then backed out. This gave rise to an agitation in Rajkot. Kasturba hailed from Rajkot, so she went there to take part in it. She was at once arrested. Now the movement gained momentum. Gandhiji was not keeping well at the time, yet he went to Rajkot and tried to persuade the ruler to honour the agreement, but the ruler refused. So Gandhiji went on fast unto death. His condition became serious. At last the Viceroy interfered. A new agreement was reached and Gandhiji ended his fast.
But the ruler broke his promise. Not only that, he sent men to break Gandhiji's prayer meetings. However, Gandhiji's fearlessness and patience turned these hooligans into friends. That evening Gandhiji returned to his place with his hands on the shoulders of these gangsters.
In 1939 a war broke out between England and Germany. It turned into a second world war. Britain declared India to be at war on their side.
Gandhiji was against taking part in war, yet the Congress decided to help the Government, if the country was made free. But the Government was totally indifferent towards India's aspirations. So Gandhiji organized Individual Civil Disobedience against the Government. Sri Vinoba Bhave was the first to launch this Satyagraha. Others followed and within a short time, thirty thousand Satyagrahis were in jail. Still Gandhiji was free.
In 1940, Gandhiji and Kasturba paid a visit to the Shantiniketan Ashram of Rabindranath Tagore, the great poet. They were received with great love and devotion. The poet himself offered him 'malachandan' and said: 'Gandhi Maharaj, you belong to us because you belong to the whole world.'
Gandhiji said: 'Gurudev, I have come here to seek your blessings.'
At the time of departure, next day, the poet put a sealed letter in Gandhiji's hands. Gandhiji read it on the way. In it the poet wrote that he put the whole Vishwabharati institution in Gandhiji's hands. Gandhiji sent a reply that he accepted it.
The poet was now free from his anxieties about Vishwabharati.
After independence, the Government of India under instructions from Gandhiji, accepted the responsibility of Vishwabharati.
The world war was no more confined to the West. Japan had jumped in, on Germany's side and swept through Malaya and Burma and might even invade India. Winston Churchill was then the Prime Minister of Britain. He hated Gandhiji and ridiculed him as a 'half-naked Fakir'. He had announced that he was not there to liquidate the British Empire by making India free. Yet the war forced him to seek some settlement with India. He sent one of his Cabinet Minister Sir Stafford Cripps to India for negotiations.
Cripps met Gandhiji and showed him his plan. Gandhiji saw through the game. He told him straightway: 'If this is what you have to offer, catch the first plane homeward!'
Nobody liked Cripps plan, so he returned.
Now Gandhiji was convinced that the British won't leave unless they were kicked out of the country. He drafted a resolution which is known as 'Quit India Resolution'. The Congress Committee met in Bombay, on August 8, 1942, under the Presidentship of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. It passed this resolution and declared that the British rule in India must end at once.
The same day, Gandhiji, addressing a mammoth public meeting said: 'I have pledged the Congress and the Congress has pledged herself that she will do or die.'
The Government arrested Gandhiji and other leaders overnight before they could start a mass struggle on non-violent lines. The people were left leaderless. They took up the 'Do or Die' mantra. Even those who had no faith in non-violence joined them. There was a great outburst of violence everywhere. The Government let loose a reign of terror. Guns were freely used. The demonstrators were savagely and mercilessly beaten and flogged to create an atmosphere of fear.
In four months, the police opened fire 470 times and the military 68 times. Over 60000 persons were arrested.
Gandhiji was kept in the Aga Khan Palace at Poona, with Kasturba and Mahadev Bhai Desai, his secretary. After a few days, Mahadev Bhai died of a heart attack. Gandhiji was full of sorrow. He said: 'This sacrifice will hasten the day of India's deliverance.'
The Government blamed Gandhiji for the widespread violence in the country. They didn't see their own doings and responsibility in it. They said, 'Gandhiji had invited violence.' Gandhiji wrote to the Viceroy about this untruth, but he got no reply. At last he began a 21-day fast 'as an appeal to God' on February 18, 1943. On the seventh day, Gandhiji's health took a serious turn. The doctors feared that he might die. Many prominent Englishmen appealed to the Government in England to release Gandhiji and save his life, but Churchill bluntly said:'No.'
It was a great ordeal, but Gandhiji survived the fast.
After some time, Kasturba fell ill. Twice she had a heart attack. At last, keeping her head in the lap of Gandhiji she breathed her last at the age of 75 on February 22, 1944. She married Gandhiji when she was thirteen. Gandhiji too was of the same age and was still a student in High school. Sixty two years of their married life now came to an end. She was cremated in the compound of Aga Khan's Palace. Her Samadhi stands there today along with that of Mahadevbhai.
Kasturba had courted jail several times. She presented an ideal of Indian womanhood.
A few weeks later, Gandhiji was seriously ill. Now the Government released him. On May 6, 1944, ended his last imprisonment. On the whole, Gandhiji spent in jail 249 days in South Africa and 2089 days in India.
As soon as he recovered, Gandhiji started his work. All through his life he had worked for Hindu-Muslim unity, yet the same question harassed him still. The Muslim League was the most powerful organisation of the Muslims and Mr. Jinnah was its President. Like Gandhiji, he was also a Gujarati, so Gandhiji wrote him a letter in Gujarati addressing him as 'Brother Jinnah' and signing the letter as 'your brother Gandhi'. In the letter he said: 'Let us meet wherever you wish. Do not regard me as an enemy of Islam or of Indian Muslims. I have always been a servant and friend to you and mankind. Do not disappoint me.'
Thus Gandhiji took the initiative to come to a compromise with Mr. Jinnah. Mr. Jinnah asked Gandhiji to first accept that the Congress represented only the Hindus and the League was the sole representative of the Muslims. Gandhiji pointed out that the fact was otherwise. The Congress represented the whole country. A holy Muslim like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was its President.
Mr. Jinnah further insisted that the Muslims formed a separate nation and as such there should be a separate Muslim state called 'Pakistan' cut out of the existing India.
At the end of the second world war Britain went to polls. Defeating Mr. Churchill's party, the labour party came to power and Mr. Atlee became the Prime Minister. He announced to withdraw the British Rule from India and sent in March 1946 a Cabinet Mission to India to study the situation.
At the first opportunity, the Mission contacted Gandhiji, who was staying at the time in the Bhangi Colony of Delhi.
Once a foreign correspondent asked him: 'What would you do if you were made a dictator of India for one day?' Gandhiji replied: 'I would not accept it in the first place, but if I did become a dictator for one day, I would spend that day in cleaning the hovels of the Harijans in Delhi!' This shows how deep were Gandhiji's feelings for Harijans.
The Cabinet Minister tried to arrive at a solution of the Hindu-Muslim problem. The Congress was willing to adjust, but Mr. Jinnah was adamant. He insisted on the partition of the country.
Now the Viceroy announced the formation of an Interim National Government to replace his Executive Council. But the league refused to join it. So the Viceroy formed the Interim Government on September 2, 1946 with himself as the President and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as the Vice-President.
In protest, the Muslim League had observed a Direct Action Day in August. They called it Jihad. Riots broke out on that day in Calcutta. More than 5000 persons were killed and more than 15000 were injured. This caused a dangerous reaction. After two three months, the Hindus went mad in Calcutta. Then there were widespread communal rioting by Muslims in Noakhali with murder, arson, looting, forced conversions, forced marriages and abduction. There were similar riots in Bihar. Thousands of Muslims were killed and many more thousands were injured. Thus the hatred entered the countryside. It seemed as if the whole country was on the verge of a civil war.
Gandhiji left all work and went to Noakhali. He walked from village to village and house to house carrying his message of peace. The atmosphere of Noakhali was simply poisonous. The Muslims looked upon him with suspicion and distrust. But Gandhiji was fearless. He said: 'I would rather die at the hands of an assassin than return from Bengal defeated.'
Amtus Salam was a Muslim lady. She was a staunch follower of Gandhiji. Gandhiji had posted her in a village of Noakhali to strive for peace in the area, but she found the Muslims not cooperative enough. So she went on fast. When Gandhiji went to that village, it was the twenty-fifth day of her fast. The Muslims of the village welcomed Gandhiji and requested him to persuade her to give up her fast. They promised to keep peace and signed a pledge to that effect. Gandhiji accepted their word and warned them that if they failed to keep their pledge, he himself will go on fast. At last Amtus Salam broke her fast by taking orange-juice at Gandhiji's hands. Things were altogether different in that area after that.
Manuben attended to Gandhiji's needs in this march. One day, she suddenly remembered a Dhun she had heard sung in a Vaishnav Temple in Porbandar and she sang it:
"Ishwar Allah Tere nam! Sabko Sanmati de Bhagwan!" [Thy name is Ishwar and Allah. May you grant right understanding to all!]
Gandhiji liked this Dhun (tune) very much. He said to Manuben that it was a sign of God's Power that she was spontaneously inspired to sing that Dhun that day. This Dhun was daily sung thereafter during their pilgrimage. Today it is sung all over India.
Once Gandhiji had an attack of giddiness. His hand and feet became cold. He was wet with perspiration. Manuben wrote a letter to call a doctor, but before she could send it, Gandhiji opened his eyes and said: 'Don't inform anybody about this. Rama alone is my true doctor. He will keep me alive so long as he wants to take work from me. I have been put to test today. If Rama is really firm in my heart I shall not die of illness.'
Manuben tore up the slip.
Gandhiji walked bare-footed in 56 villages in Bengal and covered distance of 116 miles. He had the zeal to learn the Bengali language. He said, he was in love with the huts of Bengal. He used to see the Muslims in their homes and as far as possible stayed with them in their houses.
Once a Muslim brought to him a small twig of a tree and said: 'See, apuji, this twig has two leaves and both of them are of a different type!' Gandhiji smile and said: 'That's the play of God. It is the same with the Hindus and the Muslims. They are the leaves of the same twig. They share a common destiny.'
Everybody was pleased to hear this.
Gandhiji's feet often bled and had to be bandaged, but the march won't stop. Sometimes he was so weak and exhausted that he had to be carried in a chair slung over a pole and borne on the shoulders of volunteers. On Mondays, he observed silence and gave his message in writing mostly in these words: 'Let us pray to God to purify the hearts of both the Hindus and the Muslims.'
From Noakhali Gandhiji went to Bihar. He had seen the atrocities committed by the Muslims in Noakhali and now saw the doings of the Hindus in Bihar. Men, women and children were brutally done to death. Several villages were completely destroyed. Gandhiji moved with a heavy heart. He poured his heart in prayer meetings everyday.
Like an oasis in a desert, he came across certain inspiring incidents of self sacrifice and courage. He paid glowing tributes to the brave men and women.
In one village, a Hindu mob set a Muslim's house on fire. Suddenly a Rajput girl appeared on the scene. She persuaded the mob to disperse, but in vain. At last she threatened to jump into the burning house. Now the mob retreated. The Muslim lives and property were saved.
Another instance of how Gandhiji's words had stirred up the hearts of the people. Once Gandhiji was returning from his morning walk when a blind Hindu beggar touched his feet and laid some small coins at his feet. He said: 'Bapu, this is all I have got by begging. Please use this for the relief of the Muslim sufferers.' Gandhiji's heart was filled with joy. He accepted the money and said: 'This donation of four annas (25 paisa) is worth more to me than four crores of rupees. For this poor man has given me all he had.' He affectionately patted the blind man on the back and told him to give up begging. He assured him that he will be provided with some work for his living.
The leaders in villages presented purses to Gandhiji and gave him letters signed by them stating therein: 'We are extremely sorry for what has happened. We assure you that such a thing will never happen again. We will hence forth regard the Muslims as our blood brothers. We beg your and God's pardon for our great sin.'
The Muslim League had first refused to join the Interim National Government. Later on they joined it, but did not co-operate in the work. In March 1947, Lord Mountbatten became the Viceroy. He announced that he had come to India to end the British rule. He invited Gandhiji, so Gandhiji went to Delhi from Bihar to see him. Now Swaraj was knocking at the door and the situation in the country was so dangerous that Jawaharlalji, Sardar Patel and other leaders saw no way out but to accept the demand of the Muslim League for division of the country. Nehruji said to Gandhiji that unity was impossible and they had to accept the creation of Pakistan.
Gandhiji asked: 'Is there no way out? No hope of a united India?' Nehruji's voice was heavy with sadness. He said: 'No, Bapuji, otherwise there will never be peace.'
On 3-6-1947, The British Government announced the division of India. Though Gandhiji had not given his consent to it, he advised the country to accept it.
On August 15, 1947, the struggle for independence was over. The British rule in India came to an end after nearly 200 years, and two sovereign states, India and Pakistan appeared on the map. Nehruji became the first Prime Minister of India and Sardar Patel the Deputy Prime Minister. The whole country celebrated the day. There were singing and dancing processions and parades everywhere. Free India's Tricolour flag fluttered proudly on the historical Red Fort in Delhi and the National Anthem was sung in chorus:
JANA GANA MANA
But where was Gandhiji in the midst of all these festivities? Was he in Delhi? No, he was in Calcutta striving for communal peace. Riots had again broken out there and he was in the midst of that fire. He stayed in a poor area in a poor hut and did his bed on the ground. He moved from street to street and house to house. There was no end to his suffering. At last he went on fast. This had a desired effect on the minds of the people. Now the leaders of both communities assured him that they would control the people. Gandhiji accepted that assurance and broke the fast.
The Hindus, the Sikhs and the others found their lives unsafe in Pakistan. There was no end to their miseries. Their houses were looted, women were abducted; there were forced marriages and forced conversions. Thousands of men, women and children were killed. Millions of people left Pakistan on their way to India as refugees leaving behind all their possessions. Thousands died on the way out of starvation, disease and massacre. An equal number of the Muslims were fleeing into Pakistan from India on foot.
Riots broke out in Delhi. Gandhiji saw that the Muslims in Delhi were inhumanly treated. He decided to fast unto death. He poured out his heart in the prayer-meetings: 'This makes me hang my head in shame. Oh God, give me strength!'
He commenced his fast on January 13, 1948. The fast at the age of 78! There was deep gloom all over the country. The whole world watched. Finally, on the sixth day, a pact was signed assuring peace between the two communities, and Gandhiji broke his fast.
But some fanatic Hindus did not like this. They thought that Gandhiji was unjustly favoring the Muslims. One of these people threw a bomb at Gandhiji in his prayer meeting at Birla House, on January 20. The bomb missed the target and exploded on a garden-wall which was soon in ruins. Gandhiji was not the least disturbed. He continued his prayer-meeting as if nothing had happened. Somebody told him:'Bapuji, a bomb exploded!'
'Really?' said Gandhiji, 'perhaps some poor fanatic threw it. Let no one look down on him!
"Death is our true friend. It is our ignorance that makes us suffer."
Ten days after this, Gandhiji was coming to his prayer-meeting at five in the evening on 30-1-1948. Suddenly a young man pretending to seek his blessings made a small bow, raised a pistol and shot at him thrice in quick succession. All the bullets hit him. Gandhiji fell uttering Rama! Rama! He was dead.
The whole world experienced a big shock at the death of Gandhiji. The whole world mourned his death, paid him glowing tributes and hailed him as one who will never die.
The dead body of Gandhiji was taken out in a five mile long funeral procession to the banks of the Yamuna and was cremated there. This place is known as Rajghat.
There stands the Samadhi of Gandhiji. From all over the world, people come here to pay homage to Gandhiji.
The ashes of Gandhiji's body were thrown in all the sacred rivers in India. Thousands of memorials are erected all over the country. Seldom there will be any town without having a road named after Gandhiji. But the message which Gandhiji wished to give to the world is ill-conveyed by these numerous memorials, because Gandhiji himself said: 'My life is my message!' Let us always keep this in mind.
Nehruji broadcast to the country, his voice choked with emotion: 'The light has gone out and there is darkness everywhere. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the father of the Nation, is no more. The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. That light will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later that light will still be seen in this country, and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts.'
Albert Einstein, one of the world's greatest scientists paid a tribute to Gandhiji in these words: 'Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.'