Mahatma Gandhi (2 October 1869– 30 January 1948)
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi was born in the town of Porbander in the state of what is now Gujarat on 2 October 1869, was the preeminent leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India.Employing non-violent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for non-violence, civil rights and freedom across the world.
His father Karamchand Gandhi was the Diwan (Prime Minister) of Porbandar. Gandhi’s mother Putlibai was a pious lady and under her tutelage Gandhi imbibed various principles of Hinduism at an early age. In 1883, all of 13 and still in high school, Gandhi was married to Kasturba as per the prevailing Hindu customs.Mohandas and Kasturba had four children, all sons: Harilal, born in 1888; Manilal, born in 1892; Ramdas, born in 1897; and Devdas, born in 1900.
in 1888, Gandhi travelled to London, England, to study law at University College London, where he studied Indian law and jurisprudence and to train as a barrister at the Inner Temple. Upon completion of his law degree in 1891, Gandhi returned to India and tried to set up a legal practice but could not achieve any success. In 1893, when an Indian firm in South Africa offered him the post of legal adviser Gandhi was only too happy to oblige and he set sail for South Africa. This decision alone changed the life of Gandhi, and with that, the destiny of an entire nation. As he descended in South Africa, Gandhi was left appalled at the rampant racial discrimination against Indians and blacks by the European whites.
Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa, where he developed his political views, ethics and political leadership skills. In South Africa, Gandhi faced the discrimination directed at all coloured people. He was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg after refusing to move from the first-class. He protested and was allowed on first class the next day. Travelling farther on by stagecoach, he was beaten by a driver for refusing to move to make room for a European passenger. He suffered other hardships on the journey as well, including being barred from several hotels. In another incident, the magistrate of a Durban court ordered Gandhi to remove his turban, which he refused to do. These events were a turning point in Gandhi’s life and shaped his social activism and awakened him to social injustice. After witnessing racism, prejudice and injustice against Indians in South Africa, Gandhi began to question his place in society and his people’s standing in the British Empire.
In 1906, the Transvaal government promulgated a new Act compelling registration of the colony’s Indian population. At a mass protest meeting held in Johannesburg on 11 September that year, Gandhi adopted his still evolving methodology of Satyagraha (devotion to the truth), or non-violent protest, for the first time. He urged Indians to defy the new law and to suffer the punishments for doing so. After the black majority came to power in South Africa, Gandhi was proclaimed a national hero with numerous monuments.
In 1915, Gandhi returned to India permanently. He brought an international reputation as a leading Indian nationalist, theorist and organizer. He joined the Indian National Congress and was introduced to Indian issues, politics and the Indian people primarily by Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Gandhi took leadership of Congress in 1920 and began a steady escalation of demands (with Intermittent compromises or pauses) until on 26 January 1930 the Indian National Congress declared the independence of India.
Gandhi’s first major achievements came in 1918 with the Champaran and Kheda agitations of Bihar and Gujarat. The Champaran agitation pitted the local peasantry against their largely British landlords who were backed by the local administration. The peasantry was forced to grow Indigo, a cash crop whose demand had been declining over two decades, and were forced to sell their crops to the planters at a fixed price. Unhappy wIth this, the peasantry appealed to Gandhi at his ashram in Ahmedabad. Pursuing a strategy of non-violent protest, Gandhi took the administration by surprise and won concessions from the authorities.
In 1918, Kheda was hit by floods and famine and the peasantry was demanding relief from taxes. Gandhi moved his headquarters to Nadiad, organising scores of supporters and fresh volunteers from the region, the most notable being Vallabhbhai Patel. Using non-cooperation as a technique, Gandhi initiated a signature campaign where peasants pledged non-payment of revenue even under the threat of confiscation of land. A social boycott of mamlatdars and talatdars (revenue officials within the district) accompanied the agitation. Gandhi worked hard to win public support for the agitation across the country. For five months, the administration refused but finally in end-May 1918, the Government gave way on important provisions and relaxed the conditions of payment of revenue tax until the famine ended. In Kheda, Vallabhbhai Patel represented the farmers in negotiations with the British, who suspended revenue collection and released all the prisoners.
In 1919 Gandhi, with his weak position in Congress, decided to broaden his base by increasing his appeal to Muslims. The opportunity came from the Khilafat movement, a worldwide protest by Muslims against the collapsing status of the Caliph, the leader of their religion.
In 1921, Mahatma Gandhi called for the non-cooperation movement against the British Government with the sole object of attaining Swaraj or independence for India. Even though the movement achieved roaring success all over the country, the incident of mob violence in Chauri Chaura, Uttar Pradesh forced Gandhi to call off the mass disobedience movement. Consequent to this, Mahatma Gandhi took a hiatus from active politics and instead indulged in social reforms.
The year 1930 saw Gandhi’s return to the fore of Indian freedom movement and on March 12, 1930 he launched the historic Dandi March to protest against the tax on salt. The Dandi March soon metamorphosed into a huge civil disobedience movement. The Second World War broke out in 1939 and as the British might began to wane, Gandhi called for the Quit India movement on August 8, 1942. Post World War, the Labour Party came to power in England and the new government assured the Indian leadership of imminent independence.
” He opposed purdah, child marriage, untouchability, and the extreme oppression of Hindu widows, up to and including sati.
In 1932, through the campaigning of the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar, the government granted untouchables separate electorates under the new constitution. In protest, Gandhi embarked on a six-day fast in September 1932. The resulting public outcry successfully forced the government to adopt an equitable arrangement through negotiations mediated by Palwankar Baloo. This was the start of a new campaign by Gandhi to improve the lives of the untouchables, whom he named Harijans, the children of God.
In 1934 Gandhi resigned from Congress party membership. Gandhi returned to active politics again in 1936, with the Nehru presidency and the Lucknow session of the Congress. Although Gandhi wanted a total focus on the task of winning independence and not speculation about India’s future, he did not restrain the Congress from adopting socialism as its goal. Gandhi had a clash with Subhas Chandra Bose, who had been elected president in 1938, and who had previously expressed a lack of faith in non-violence as a means of protest. Despite Gandhi’s opposition, Bose won a second term as Congress President, against Gandhi’s nominee, Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya; but left the Congress when the All-India leaders resigned en masse in protest of his abandonment of the principles introduced by Gandhi. Gandhi declared that Sitaramayya’s defeat was his defeat.
On 30 January 1948, Gandhi was shot while he was walking to a platform from which he was to address a prayer meeting. The assassin, Nathuram Godse, was a Hindu nationalist with links to the extremist Hindu Mahasabha, who held Gandhi responsible for weakening India by insisting upon a payment to Pakistan. Godse and his co-conspirator Narayan Apte were later tried and convicted; they were executed on 15 November 1949. Gandhi’s memorial (or Samādhi) at Rāj Ghāt, New Delhi, bears the epigraph “Hē Ram”, (Devanagari: हे ! राम or, He Rām), which may be translated as “Oh God”. These are widely believed to be Gandhi’s last words after he was shot, though the veracity of this statement has been disputed. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the nation through radio:-
“Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the father of the nation, is no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that; nevertheless, we will not see him again, as we have seen him for these many years, we will not run to him for advice or seek solace from him, and that is a terrible blow, not only for me, but for millions and millions in this country.”—Jawaharlal Nehru’s address to Gandhi.