Patriots > Freedom Struggle under Mahatma Gandhi > Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand (MAHATMA) (1869-1948)
Mohandas 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 circumstances.

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 writings.

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 services.

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 the city.

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 1919.

The movement, however, did not remain peaceful for long; indisciplined crowds broke into violence in several cities when Gandhi cried a halt after what he
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 of defiance.

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 in London.
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