Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or Mahatma Gandhi as he is popularly known, was a pioneering leader of the Indian Nationalism in British ruled India. Fondly remembered as "Bapu", Mahatma Gandhi led the principle of non violence and also inspired movements for civil rights, freedom and non violence across the globe. Mahatma Gandhi dedicated his life to the aspect of discovering truth or
Satya. Gandhiji also believed extensively in equality, brotherhood of man and
non violence. Born in Gujarat, Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest freedom fighters the world has ever seen. It is due to the efforts of Mahatma Gandhi, "The father of the nation", along with other leaders, which led India to gain its independence and that Indians are living in a free country.
Life of Mahatma Gandhi:
Mahatma Gandhi was born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2nd October, 1869 in the coastal town of Porbandar in Gujarat. He was born in his ancestral home currently known as Kirti Mandir. Porbandar was at that time a part of the Bombay Presidency in British ruled India. Gandhiji’s father was Karamchand Gandhi and mother was Putlibai. His father, Karamchand Gandhi belonged to the Hindu Modh community served as a diwan of the Porbandar state in the Kathiawar Agency of British India. Gandhiji’s grandfather was Uttamchand Gandhi also called as Utta Gandhi. Gandhiji’s mother, Putlibai was from the Pranami Vaishnava community and was Karamchand’s fourth wife. Putlibai was a devout Jain and her Jain ideas and practices influenced Gandhi a lot. Gandhiji was also influenced by the Indian classics like the stories of Shravana and Harish Chandra. His early self identification and acceptance of truth and love as the foremost of values can be credited to these epic characters.
On May 1833, when Mahatma Gandhi was 13 years old, he was married to 14 year old Kasturbai Makhanji in an arranged child marriage. However, Kasturba Gandhi spent most of her time in her parent’s house and was away from Mahatma Gandhi in the initial years of marriage as per tradition. In the year 1885, when Mahatma Gandhi was 15 years old, the couple had their first child which died few days later. Gandhiji’s father, Karamchand Gandhi too died in the earlier part of that year. Gandhiji also lost a year in his school due to his early marriage. Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi had four more children later on. All were sons namely Harilal Gandhi born in the year 1888, Manilal Gandhi born in 1892, Ramdas born in 1897 and Devdas born in the year 1900. Gandhiji was a mediocre student during his school days. In his middle school in Porbandar and high school in Rajkot, he shone neither in classroom nor on the playing field. Gandhiji passed his matriculation examination from Samaldas College in Bhavnagar in Gujarat with difficulty. His family wanted him to be a barrister as it would increase his chanced of succeeding to his father’s post in time.
Days of the Mahatma in England:
In the year 1888, Mahatma Gandhi traveled to London in England to study law in University College in London where he studies Indian law and jurisprudence and to train as a barrister in the Inner Temple in London. Gandhiji’s time in London was influenced by a vow he made to his mother when he left India. In the presence of a Jain monk, before leaving India, Gandhiji vowed his mother that he would observe the Hindu percepts of abstinence from meat and alcohol as well as of promiscuity. During the time in England, Gandhiji tried to adapt to English customs initially taking dancing lessons. However, he could not accept the bland vegetarian food offered to him by the landlady and was left frequently hungry. He then found one of the London’s few vegetarian restaurants.
He was influenced by Henry Salt’s writings and joined the Vegetarian Society and was elected to its executive committee. During his association with the society, he met some of the vegetarians who were the members of Theosophical Society. This society was founded in the year 1875 to promote universal brotherhood and was devoted to the study of Buddhist and Hindu literature. The members encouraged Gandhiji to join them in the reading of the Bhagavad Gita both in its translation and original version. Gandhiji as did not had any interest in religion beforehand, started developing interest in religious thought.
Mahatma Gandhi was called to the bar in on June 1891 and he left for India where he came to know about his mother’s death during his stay in London. His family kept the news from him. After returning from London, Gandhiji’s attempts to establish a law practice in Bombay failed as he was too shy to speak up in the court. He then returned to Rajkot to make a modest living by drafting petitions for litigants but was forced to close it due to an issue with a British officer. In the year 1893, Gandhiji accepted a year long contract from an Indian firm named Dada Abdulla & Co. for the post in the Colony of Natal in South Africa. It was then a part of the British Empire.
Days of the Mahatma in South Africa:
Mahatma Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa and developed his skills during his stay there. He developed his political, ethical and political leadership skills in due course of time. The Indians who stayed in South Africa at that time were led by the wealthy Muslims who employed Gandhiji as a lawyer. According to Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Indianness’ transcended all religion and caste above all. He also believed that he could bridge religion differences among the people and he took this belief all throughout his life. During his stay in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi faced discrimination which was directed people of all color. Gandhiji was once thrown off a train in Pietermaritzburg after he refused to move from the first class coach. On that act, he protested and later was allowed to travel by the first class coach the very next day.
On his further travel by the stagecoach, Gandhiji was beaten by a driver after he refused to make room for a European passenger. He also suffered other hardships including being barred from several hotels. He was also ordered by a magistrate of a Durban court to remove his turban, which he refused to accept. These events of discrimination modified his social activism and made him look up to social injustice. He witnessed events of racism, prejudice and injustice against the Indians in South Africa and he gradually began to question his place in the society and of his people’s standing in the British Empire. He stayed on for a longer period in South Africa to assist and help Indians in opposing a bill to deny them the right to vote. Though he was unable to stop the passing of the bill, he draws the attention of the grievances on the Indians in South Africa through his bill.
Gandhiji founded the Natal Indian Congress in the year 1894 and through that organization; he transformed the Indian community in South Africa into a unified political force. On January 1897, when Gandhiji landed in Durban, a mob of white people attacked him which he escaped with the help of a wife and also did not press any charges against the mob. According to him, it was his principle to not seek clarification for any wrongdoing in court.
In the year 1906, the Transvaal Government promulgated a new act compelling registration of the colony’s Indian population. In a mass protest on 11th September in Johannesburg that year, Gandhiji adopted the method of ‘Satyagraha’ or non violence protest. He urged the Indians to refuse to accept the bill and to suffer the punishment for doing so in the process. The Government repressed the Indians and the supporters through punishments and even killing. Seeing the harsh treatment by the Government, the South African leader Jan Christian Smuts negotiated a compromise with Mahatma Gandhi. With this, Gandhiji’s Satyagraha movement concept came into view.
Role of Mahatma Gandhi in Indian Freedom Movement:
In the year 1915, Mahatma Gandhi permanently shifted to India. By then, his reputation as a nationalist leader has already taken shape and he joined the Indian National Congress. He was made aware of the politics, Indian issues and the Indian people primarily by the political leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale. He was the key leader of the Congress party and was best known for his restraint and moderation. He was effective in working inside the political system. Gandhiji accepted this liberal approach of Gokhale and transformed it to make it look wholly Indian. Gandhiji took the leadership of the Congress party in the year 1920 and started demanding the British until 26th January 1930 when the Indian National Congress declared the Independence of India.
The British Government could not recognize the steady demanding nature and as a result more negotiations took place until 1930. Later Gandhiji and the Congress party withdrew the support of the raj when the Viceroy declared war on Germany in September 1939 without consulting anyone. Tensions started to escalate in the country and at that time Gandhiji demanded immediate independence in 1942. The British responded by imprisoning him and thousands others. The Muslim League cooperated with the British and moved on against Gandhiji in demanding a separate Muslim country of Pakistan. In August 1947, the British partitioned Indian and Pakistan on terms which Gandhiji strongly disapproved.
Champaran and Kheda:
Mahatma Gandhi’s first successful struggle was in the year 1918 with the Champaran and Kheda agitations. The Champaran agitation backed the local peasantry people who were exploited by the British landlords who were in turn backed by the local administration. The peasants were forced to grow indigo and were forced to sell them at a fixed price. Filled with agitation, the peasants pleaded to Gandhiji for help who pursued a strategy of non violence protest and thus won the concessions. In another agitation in the same year, Kheda was hit by floods and famine at a time and so the peasantry was demanding relief from taxes at that time. However, the British did not lend ear to their demands. Gandhiji then launched a signature campaign where peasants pledged non payment of revenues under the threat of confiscation of land. Gandhiji worked hard to win the public support across the country. The administration refused to the request for five consecutive months and on the middle on May, the Government gave way on important provisions and relaxed the conditions of revenue tax payment until the famine ended.
In the year 1919, when Gandhiji was in his weak position, he decided to broaden his base by appealing to the Muslims. During the time of the Khalifat movement, Gandhiji succeeded in gaining the support of the Muslims and he soon became the most prominent spokesman of the All India Muslim Conference. He attracted a strong base of the Muslim support and he was the India’s first national leader with a multicultural base. Subsequently in the year 1920, he became a major leader in Congress party. However, by the end of the year 1922, the Khalifat movement collapsed and the Muslims support for Gandhiji and the Congress party declines.
After Gandhiji separated from the Congress, he accepted non-violence, non-cooperation and peaceful resistance as his weapons in the struggle against British. He garnered the support of both the Muslims and the Hindus equally. During that time after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, a national protest spark ignited which brought the Indians together against the British. Gandhiji himself criticized the actions of the British and the retaliatory violence of the Indians. After the massacre and the violence that followed, Gandhiji began to focus on winning the self government and control of the Indian Government institutions, maturing soon into Swaraj or complete spiritual, individual and political independence. He then claimed himself to be a highly orthodox Hindu and also spoke of acceptance of non cooperation.
On December 19271, Gandhiji was entrusted with the executive authority on the behalf on the Indian National Congress. Under Gandhiji’s leadership, the Congress party formed newly with the aim of Swaraj. Gandhiji spread the message of acceptance of non violence platform to include the Swadeshi policy which was the boycott of foreign made goods and British goods. He told the Indian mend and women to spin khadi and accept khadi goods. He also made a small spinning wheel for making khadi for the garments. In addition to the British goods, Gandhiji also urged the people to boycott British educational institutions and law courts and to resign from government employment and to forsake British titles and honors. This later led to the violent clash in Chauri Chaura in Uttar Pradesh on February 1922. Gandhiji feared more violence and called off the campaign of mass civil disobedience.
He was arrested on 10th march 1922, tried for sedition and sentenced to six years imprisonment. He began his sentence on 18th march 1922 and was subsequently released on February 1924 for an appendicitis operation. When the Congress party was breaking down in his absence, he was asked to step in as a president. Subsequently he accepted that on one condition that all Congressmen should wear khadi. Gandhiji stayed out of mush active politics and concentrated on resolving the wedge between the Swaraj party and Congress party.
Later on March 1930, Gandhiji launched a new Satyagraha against the tax on salt. This was highlighted by the famous Salt March to Dandi from 12th March to 6th April where he marched 388 kms from Ahmadabad to Dandi in Gujarat to make slat himself. He was joined by thousands of Indians on the way. This march was successful and upset the British who responded by imprisoning many people. Gandhiji also opposed practices like purdah, child marriage, untouchability, sati and the extreme oppression of Hindu widows which were done on womenfolk.
The Government represented by Lord Edward Irwin decided to negotiate with Mahatma Gandhi. Subsequently, the Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed in March 1931 where the British Government agreed to release all political prisoners in return for the suspension of the civil disobedience movement. As a result of the pact, Gandhiji attended the Round Table Conference in London as a sole representative of the INC. later the successor of Lord Irwin fought back hard against the negotiation and arrested Gandhiji. Gandhiji also went on fast for the benefit of the Harijans. Later when the Congress party chooses to contest elections and accept power under the Federation scheme, Gandhiji resigned from the party. He returned to active politics again the year 1936 with the Nehru presidency and the Lucknow session of the Congress.
Quit India Movement:
During the year 1934, three attempts of assassination also took place on Mahatma Gandhi’s life. During the break out of the Second World War, Gandhiji favored in offering ‘non violent moral support’ to the British. The Congressmen criticized his decision strongly. He started the Quit India Movement which was the most forceful movement in the history of Indian struggle. During this movement thousands of protesters were killed and arrested. Gandhiji made it clear that they would not support the war effort unless India was granted immediate independence. He called on all the Congressmen and the people to maintain disciple through Ahimsa and go with the Quit India Movement.
Gandhiji and the entire Congress working committee were arrested in Bombay by the British on 9th August 1942. Gandhiji as held for two years in Aga Khan Palace in Pune. During his arrest there, he suffered two setback blows in his life. One was the death of his secretary Mahadev Desai who died of a heart attack and second was the death of his wife Kasturba Gandhi on 22nd February 1944. He was released on 6th May 1944 because of his ailing health. Gandhiji came out in the middle of an altered political scene. He then met Muhammad Ali Jinnah in September 1944 in Bombay for talking grounds. Gandhiji proposed that the tight of the Muslim provinces be opted out of substantial parts of the forthcoming political union. However, Jinnah rejected on the grounds that it fell short of a fully independent Pakistan.
During that time, when the Congress leaders were in jail, other parties supported the war and gained organizational strength. After the end of the war, the British gave indications that the power would be finally be transferred to the Indian hands an Gandhiji then called of the struggle. All the political prisoners were subsequently released including the Congress leadership.
Gandhiji was opposed to the concept of partition as it would divide and harm sentiments of the people. Concerning the partitioning of India to create Pakistan, while the Indian National Congress (INC) and Gandhi called for British to quit India, the Muslim League passed out a resolution for them to divide and quit in the year 1943. Gandhiji then suggested an agreement which required the Congress and the Muslim League to cooperate and attain independence under a provisional agreement rather than portioning both countries.
When Jinnah called for direct actions on 16th August 1946, Gandhiji was raged and visited the prime riot areas to stop the massacres. Mahatma Gandhi made strong efforts to unite the Indian Hindus, Muslims and the Christians and struggled for the emancipation of the untouchables in Hindu society. On 14th August and 15th August 1947, the Indian Independence Act was invoked which led to riots in the border areas. The communal riots lead to killing of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims
Death of Mahatma Gandhi:
On 30th January 1948, Gandhiji was shot dead while he was walking to a platform to address a prayer meeting. He was killed by the assassin, Nathuram Godse who was a Hindu nationalist. Nathuram Godse approached Gandhiji and bowed and were tried to put off by the girl accompanying Gandhiji saying he was late for the prayers. However, Nathuram Godse pushed her aside and shot Gandhiji thrice on his chest from point blank range. The final words of Gandhiji were ‘Hey Ram’ who fell backwards by the bullet impact. Godse who had links with the extremist Hindu Mahasabha held Mahatma Gandhi responsible for weakening India by insisting upon a payment to Pakistan. Nathuram Godse and his co-conspirator Narayan Apte were later tried, convicted and executed on 15th November 1949.
Gandhiji was cremated in Raj Ghat where a memorial or Samadhi bearing the epigraph ‘Hey Ram’ bearing on the memorial. Gandhiji’s death was mourned worldwide. His funeral procession was joined by more than two million people. The funeral procession took more than five hours to reach from the Birla House to Raj Ghat. His body was transported on a weapons carrier and raised to allow people to have a look of him.
Establishments in London remain close in mourning on that day. His ashes were poured into many urns and sent across India for various memorial services. Most of the ashes were immersed in Sangam in Allahabad on 12th February 1948 though some were secretly taken away. In the year 1997, Gandhiji’s great grandson Tushar Gandhi immersed the contents of one of the urn in Sangam. This urn was kept in a bank vault and was reclaimed through courts. Some of his ashes were also scattered at the source of the Nile River in Uganda where a memorial is erected. On 30th January 2008, the contents of another urn were immersed in Girgaum Chowpatty. There is an urn located in Aga Khan Palace in Pune and another urn in the Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Los Angeles.
Philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi:
Mahatma Gandhi dedicated his life to the aspect of discovering truth or Satya. He also believed extensively in equality, brotherhood of man and non violence. Gandhiji also used fasting as a political device. He often threatened suicide when his demands are not met. He also accepted celibacy from the year 1906 though he was married and already a father of four sons. Gandhiji was a self described philosophical anarchist and his vision of India means the country India without an underlying government. His idea was true self rule in a country by which each person rules his or herself and there is no state which enforces laws upon the people. According to him, this state would be achieved with time with the non violent conflict meditation as power is divested from the layers of hierarchical authorities to the individual who come to embody the ethics of non violence.
Literary works of Mahatma Gandhi:
Mahatma Gandhi was also a prolific writer. One of the Gandhiji’s earliest publications, ‘Hind Swaraj’, was published in Gujarati in the year 1909 and is recognized as the intellectual blueprint of India’s freedom movement. This book was translated to English in the next year with a copyright legend that reads ‘No Rights Reserved’. Gandhiji also edited several newspapers including the ‘Harijan’ in Gujarati, Hindi and English language; the ‘Indian Opinion’ while his stay in South Africa; ‘Young India’ in English and ‘Navajivan’, a Gujarati monthly on his return to India. The monthly ‘Navajivan’ was also published in Hindi. Gandhiji also wrote much letters to individuals and newspapers. Gandhiji also wrote many books including his autobiography ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth’ of which he bought the entire first edition to make sure it was reprinted. His other autobiographies were ‘Satyagraha in South Africa about his struggle there; ‘Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule’, a political pamphlet and a paraphrase in Gujarati of John Ruskin’s ‘Unto This Last’. The essay is his work on economics.
He also wrote extensively on other issues like being a vegetarian, health and diet, religion and social reforms. Gandhiji wrote mostly in Gujarati though also revised in Hindi and English translation of his books. The complete works of Gandhiji were published in the 1960s by the Indian Government under the name ‘The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi’. The writing consists of about 50,000 pages and was published in a hundred volumes. In the year 2000, the revised edition published sparked controversy due to errors and omissions. The edition was later withdrawn by the Government.
Awards and Titles of Mahatma Gandhi:
The title ‘Mahatma’ was accorded by Rabindra Nath Tagore to Gandhiji. The Time Magazine portrayed Gandhiji as the ‘Man of the Year’ in the year 1930. Gandhiji was also the runner up to Albert Einstein as the ‘Person of the Year’ in the year of 1999. The Indian Government annually awards the Gandhi peace Prize to distinguished social workers in regard to Gandhiji’s work. Nelson Mandela, a leader of South Africa’s struggle against racial discrimination is a prominent non Indian recipient. In the year 2011, the Times magazine named Mahatma Gandhi as one of the top 25 political icons of all time. Gandhiji was nominated five times in between the years 1937 to 1948 for the Nobel Peace Prize, although he did not get it.
Gandhiji influenced many political leaders and movements. Many people regard Gandhiji as their mentor and discuss and thereby follow his ideals and principles. Many people and leaders have referred to Gandhi relating to his teachings and ideals which have influenced their life. People like John Lennon, Barak Obama, Al Gore, Nelson Mandela, Roman Rolland and Albert Einstein among others have spoken of Mahatma Gandhi over time. The Mahatma Gandhi district in Houston, Texas in US is named after Gandhiji. The district was officially renamed on 16th January 2010 when the city of Houston held a naming ceremony.
On 15th June 2007, the United Nations General Assembly has unanimously adopted a resolution 2nd October as the ‘International Day of Non-Violence’. 30th January is also observed as the ‘School Day of Non Violence and Peace’ in schools of many countries. This was first proposed by the UNESCO. Gandhiji’s birthday is also celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti in India. Gandhiji’s image also appears on paper currency of all denominations issued by the Reserve Bank of India except for the one rupee note. Gandhiji’s date of death, 30th January is commemorated as Martyrs’ Day in India. There are also two temples dedicated to Gandhiji. One is located in Sambalpur in Orissa and the other in Nidaghatta village near Kadur in Chikmagalur district of Karnataka. There is also the Gandhi memorial in Kanyakumari. The Tamukkam or Summer Palace in Madurai now houses the Mahatma Gandhi Museum.
Portrayals of Mahatma Gandhi:
Mahatma Gandhi is portrayed in film, literature and theatre. Actor Ben Kingsley portrayed Gandhiji in the 1982 film ‘Gandhi’ which won the Academy Award for the best picture. The 2007 film 'Gandhi, My Father' explores the relationship between Gandhiji and his eldest son Harilal. Gandhiji also was a central figure in the 2005 Bollywood superhit comedy film ‘Lage Raho Munna Bhai’. The 1996 film The Making of the Mahatma documents Mahatma Gandhi’s time spent in South Africa and his transformation from an inexperienced barrister to a recognized political leader.
There are many biographies which portray Gandhiji. D.G. Tendulkar’s ‘Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’ portray him in eight volumes. Apart from that, there is also Pyarelal and Sushila Nayyar’s ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ which portray Gandhiji in ten volumes. There is also a documentary titled ‘Mahatma: Life of Gandhi, 1869-1948’ which portrays Gandhiji in 14 chapters and has a duration of six hours. The biography ‘Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India’ written by Joseph Lelyveld and published on April 2010 contained controversial content speculating Gandhiji’s sexual life. This book was subsequently banned in Gujarat, Gandhiji’s birthplace. To Read More, Click Here