Karamchand Gandhi was born at Porbandar in Gujarat
on 2 October 1869. He was the youngest of three
sons and had one sister. His father, Karamchand
Uttamchand, was Prime Minister of Porbandar and
of Rajkot. His grandfather had also been Prime
Minister of Porbandar and Junagadh. Gandhi thus
belonged to a family in comparatively affluent
The name of Gandhi's mother was Putlibai. She
was deeply religious and spent much of her time
in worship, vigils and fasts.
The Gandhis were Vaisya by Varna and Mod Bania
by Jati or caste. The family belonged to the Vaishnava
sect; but holy men belonging to the Jain religion,
as well as Muslim and Parsi friends of his father,
used to frequent the house and hold religious
discussions with him. There were regular recitations
from the 'Ramayana' and the 'Bhagavata' in the
house, which were attended by the child Gandhi.
In childhood Gandhi was moreover deeply impressed
by the legends of the filial devotion of Shravana,
and the heroic sufferings of Kind Harishchandra;
and he often used to enact the drama of Harishchandra
in secret. The practice of untouchability in the
home against a sweeper girl hurt him deeply even
while he was young.
Gandhi was married in 1881 to Kasturbai, the daughter
of merchant of Porbandar. Four sons were born
to the couple, and their names were Harilal, Manilal,
Ramdas and Devdas.Gandhi was in school from 1881
to 1887. After spending nine months in a college,
he left for England in September 1888 to study
Law. He returned home in 1891 and set himself
up as a lawyer.
It was in England that Gandhi first read the 'Bhagavadgita'
in 1889. After return home, he came into contact
with an ascetic named Raychandbhai. Both exercised
a deep influence upon his spiritual life.In April
1893, Gandhi was called to Natal in the service
of a merchant named Seth Abdulla. Soon after arrival,
he experienced in person the harsh treatment meted
out to coloured people by the whites. There he
also read Tolstoy's 'The Kingdom of God is Within
You', and was deeply impressed by the latter's
After an amicable settlement of his client's case,
Gandhi decided to return home in April 1894. But
news appeared about a proposed legislation against
Asian immigrants when he promptly decided to stay
on and defend his people. The proposals were for
disfranchisement, physical segregation, annulment
of traditional Indian marriages and imposition
of a poll tax.
The struggle in South Africa lasted from 1894
to 1914 in three stages: 1894-99, 1902-06 and
1907-14. A continuous constitutional agitation
was carried on through public meetings, the press
and deputations before the local and Imperial
governments. In order not to embarrass the Government,
Gandhi suspended the movement during the Boer
War (1899-1902) and the Zulu Rebellion (1906),
when he helped in organizing voluntary ambulance
The weekly Indian Opinion (1903) became Gandhi's
chief organ of education and propaganda.
In 1904 it was shifted to the Phoenix Settlement,
14 miles from Durban, where a colony was established
for the practice of an austere, egalitarian life,
and where everyone contributed his share of manual
labour for the service of the community. This
was the result of his accidental reading of Ruskin's
'Unto This Last'.
As constitutional, legal methods did not prove
sufficient for the redress of the Indian grievances,
Gandhi eventually led a peaceful march into Transvaal
in defiance of the restrictions imposed.
He was accompanied by 2,037 men, 129 women and
57 children. The civil resisters were subjected
to severe punishment. A Satyagrahi Camp known
as the Tolstoy Farm was established at Lawley,
21 miles from Johannesburg, on 30May 1910, in
order to shelter the satyagrahis and their families.
Eventually, on 30 June 1914, the Government yielded
and a settlement was arrived at.
Gandhi left for England in July 1914, whence he
finally sailed for India on 19 December 1914.
He reached Bombay on 9 January 1915. After an
interrupted stay in Santinikentan in February
March, 1915, Gandhi collected his companions of
Phoenix and established the Satyagraha Ashram
in Ahemdabad city on 25 May 1915. This was shifted
in June 1917 to the bank of the Sabarmati opposite
Between 1917 and 1918 Gandhi participated in two
peasant movements in Champaran (Bihar) and Kaira
(Gujarat), and in the labour dispute in Ahmedabad
itself. Through his personal intervention, all
these were brought to a successful end.
World War I ended on 11 November 1918; and this
was followed in India by the proposal of the Rowlatt
Bills designed to curb the rising tide of sedition.
Then started a new chapter in Gandhi's political
career. He reacted strongly against the oppressive
measures and stood forth as the leader of the
resurgent Indian nationalism. Gandhi protested
against the Rowlatt Bills and founded the Satyagraha
Sabha (28 February 1919) whose members undertook
a peaceful breach of the law of sedition in April
The movement, however, did not remain peaceful
for long; indisciplined crowds broke into violence
in several cities when Gandhi cried a halt after
| had personally witnessed.
In the meanwhile, meetings had also taken place
in the Punjab, where the Government unleashed
all its military fury on unarmed citizens.
The end of the war also saw the dismemberment
of the Khilafat (caliphate). These hurt the Indian
Muslims deeply. Gandhi was approached for counsel;
and in a meeting of the All India Khilafat Conference
on 24 November 1919, he proposed that India should
respond by non-violent non-cooperation.
Gandhi then prevailed upon the Indian National
Congress to convert the redress of the triple
wrongs-the Rowlatt Act, the Punjab atrocities
and the Khilafat-as India's national demands.
The Non-Cooperation Movement was consequently
initiated in 1920. It was first adopted at the
Calcutta session (September 1920) by a small majority
and later at the Nagpur session (December 1920)
by an overwhelming majority. It is significant
to note, however, that at the Amritsar session
(December 1919) Gandhi had opposed those who wanted
to reject the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms and had
offered to co-operate with the government.
Gandhi's tirumph at the Nagpur session of the
Congress was historic. Many of those who had gone
to oppose him were converted to his ideology and
method of action. After Nagpur he emerged as the
undisputed leader of the Congress and Indian nationalism
and he retained that unique position till his
death. After the assumption of command by Gandhi,
the Constitution of the Congress was recast by
him and it was transformed into a fighting organization,
whose means were 'legitimate and peaceful'. India
was moreover reorganized into 21 Congress Provinces
on the basis of language.
The programme placed before the country was of
the boycott of governmental institutions and of
British textiles. A multiple constructive programme
was devised for the parallel establishment of
educational and legal institutions for arbitration
and for the manufacture of cloth by hand-spinning.
It was decided that when any part of India had
adequately worked out the 'constructive programme',
it would be permitted to undertake civil disobedience
against 'immoral' laws.
When a decision of this nature had been taken
in respect of Bardoli taluka in Gujarat, there
was, however, a serious outbreak of mob violence
in Chauri Chaura in U.P., in which Congress and
Khilafat volunteers were apparently involved.
On the discovery of this organizational weakness,
the congress was prevailed upon by Gandhi to suspend
the movement for the time being (24 February 1922).
On 10 March 1922, he was arrested and sent to
jail for six years. But after an operation, he
was set free on 5 February 1924 before the expiry
of his term.
The sudden suspension of the civil disobedience
movement brought not a little unpopularity to
Gandhi and gave a new turn to the Indian political
situation. The short-lived Hindu-Muslim unity
gave place to communal riots in many parts of
the country, most of the Congress stalwarts under
the name of Swarajists decided on Council entry
and the programme of boycott of governmental institutions
was virtually abandoned. A mood of inaction and
despondency gripped the people.
From 1924 to 1929, Gandhi devoted himself largely
to the constructive programme. Several local satyagraha
movements were also undertaken during this period
in Kerala,Punjab,Nagpur, Bombay and Bengal, and
Gandhi's guidance was available whenever he was
approached. In 1924 he was elected President of
the Indian National Congress. He had already suggested
labour-franchise for membership of the organisation.
The proposal was, however, not well received;
and the gulf between him and the educated classes
appeared to deepen.
The political lull was broken towards the end
of the 'twenties by the appointment of the all-White
Simon Commission, the Indian reply in the form
of All Parties Convention and the drafting of
a Dominion Constitution and the resolution of
the Congress in the Calcutta Session (December
1928) virtually giving an ultimatum to the British
Government that if Dominion Status was not given
by 31 December 1929 a country-wide Civil Disobedience
Movement would be launched.
No favourable response having been received by
the stipulated date, on 1 January 1930 the Congress
declared Independence to be its political objective
and authorised the Working Committee to launch
a Civil Disobedience Movement. Gandhi was called
back from seclusion to lead the movement again.
Most significantly, Gandhi chose the unpopular
Salt Law which pressed hard on the poorest sections
as the first object of defiance. His famous march
to Dandi in March 1930 started a country-wide
movement to violate the Salt Law which pressed
hard on the poorest sections as the first object
His famous march to Dandi in March 1930 started
a country-wide movement to violate the Salt Law.
It was soon enlarged into a mass movement of open
defiance of the Government. Gandhi was arrested
on 4 May 1930, and the Government struck hard
to crush the movement. But it soon realised the
futility of its policy of repression and decided
to show a conciliatory attitude. So Gandhi was
set free on 26 January 1931; and following a pact
between him and the British Viceroy, Lord Irwin
(5 March 1931), he was prevailed upon to represent
the Congress at the Second Round Table Conference