Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi 2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) was the preeminent leader of Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. The honorific Mahatma (Sanskrit: "high-souled", "venerable")—applied to him first in 1914 in South Africa,—is now used worldwide. He is also called Bapu in India.
Born and raised in a Hindu merchant caste family in coastal Gujarat, western India, and trained in law at the Inner Temple, London, Gandhi first employed nonviolent civil disobedience as an expatriate lawyer in South Africa, in the resident Indian community's struggle for civil rights. After his return to India in 1915, he set about organising peasants, farmers, and urban labourers to protest against excessive land-tax and discrimination. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women's rights, building religious and ethnic amity, ending untouchability, but above all for achieving Swaraj or self-rule.
Gandhi famously led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in calling for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, upon many occasions, in both South Africa and India. Gandhi attempted to practise nonviolence and truth in all situations, and advocated that others do the same. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community and wore the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven with yarn hand spun on a charkha. He ate simple vegetarian food, and also undertook long fasts as the means to both self-purification and social protest.
Gandhi's vision of a free India based on religious pluralism, however, was challenged in the early 1940s by a new Muslim nationalism which was demanding a separate Muslim homeland carved out of India. Eventually, in August 1947, Britain granted independence, but the British Indian Empire ] was partitioned into two dominions, a Hindu-majority India and Muslim Pakistan. As many displaced Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs made their way to their new lands, religious violence broke out, especially in the Punjab and Bengal. Eschewing the official celebration of independence in Delhi, Gandhi visited the affected areas, attempting to provide solace. In the months following, he undertook several fasts unto death to promote religious harmony. The last of these, undertaken on 12 January 1948 at age 78, also had the indirect goal of pressuring India to pay out some cash assets owed to Pakistan. Some Indians thought Gandhi was too accommodating. Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, assassinated Gandhi on 30 January 1948 by firing three bullets into his chest at point-blank range.
Indians widely describe Gandhi as the father of the nation. His birthday, 2 October, is commemorated as Gandhi Jayanti, anational holiday, and world-wide as the International Day of Nonviolence. He was the mentor of Indira Gandhi.
Born into a privileged caste, Gandhi was fortunate to receive a comprehensive education, but proved a mediocre student. In May 1883, aged 13, Gandhi was married to Kasturba Makhanji, a girl also aged 13, through the arrangement of their respective parents, as is customary in India. Following his entry into Samaldas College, at the University of Bombay, she bore him the first of four sons, in 1888. Gandhi was unhappy at college, following his parent’s wishes to take the bar, and when he was offered the opportunity of furthering his studies overseas, at University College London, aged 18, he accepted with alacrity, starting there in September 1888.
Determined to adhere to Hindu principles, which included vegetarianism as well as alcohol and sexual abstinence, he found London restrictive initially, but once he had found kindred spirits he flourished, and pursued the philosophical study of religions, including Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and others, having professed no particular interest in religion up until then. Following admission to the English Bar, and his return to India, he found work difficult to come by and, in 1893, accepted a year’s contract to work for an Indian firm in Natal, South Africa.
Although not yet enshrined in law, the system of ‘apartheid’ was very much in evidence in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century. Despite arriving on a year’s contract, Gandhi spent the next 21 years living in South Africa, and railed against the injustice of racial segregation. On one occasion he was thrown from a first class train carriage, despite being in possession of a valid ticket. Witnessing the racial bias experienced by his countrymen served as a catalyst for his later activism, and he attempted to fight segregation at all levels. He founded a political movement, known as the Natal Indian Congress, and developed his theoretical belief in non-violent civil protest into a tangible political stance, when he opposed the introduction of registration for all Indians, within South Africa, via non-cooperation with the relevant civic authorities.
On his return to India in 1916, Gandhi developed his practice of non-violent civic disobedience still further, raising awareness of oppressive practices in Bihar, in 1918, which saw the local populace oppressed by their largely British masters. He also encouraged oppressed villagers to improve their own circumstances, leading peaceful strikes and protests. His fame spread, and he became widely referred to as ‘Mahatma’ or ‘Great Soul’.
As his fame spread, so his political influence increased: by 1921 he was leading the Indian National Congress, and reorganising the party’s constitution around the principle of ‘Swaraj’, or complete political independence from the British. He also instigated a boycott of British goods and institutions, and his encouragement of mass civil disobedience led to his arrest, on 10th March 1922, and trial on sedition charges, for which he served 2 years, of a 6-year prison sentence.
The Indian National Congress began to splinter during his incarceration, and he remained largely out of the public eye following his release from prison in February 1924, returning four years later, in 1928, to campaign for the granting of ‘dominion status’ to India by the British. When the British introduced a tax on salt in 1930, he famously led a 250-mile march to the sea to collect his own salt. Recognising his political influence nationally, the British authorities were forced to negotiate various settlements with Gandhi over the following years, which resulted in the alleviation of poverty, granted status to the ‘untouchables’, enshrined rights for women, and led inexorably to Gandhi’s goal of ‘Swaraj’: political independence from Britain.
Gandhi suffered six known assassination attempts during the course of his life. The first attempt came on 25th June 1934, when he was in Pune delivering a speech, together with his wife, Kasturba. Travelling in a motorcade of two cars, they were in the second car, which was delayed by the appearance of a train at a railway level crossing, causing the two vehicles to separate. When the first vehicle arrived at the speech venue, a bomb was thrown at the car, which exploded and injured several people. No investigations were carried out at the time, and no arrests were made, although many attribute the attack to Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fundamentalist implacably opposed to Gandhi’s non-violent acceptance and tolerance of all religions, which he felt compromised the supremacy of the Hindu religion. Godse was the person responsible for the eventual assassination of Gandhi in January 1948, 14 years later.
During the first years of the Second World War, Gandhi’s mission to achieve independence from Britain reached its zenith: he saw no reason why Indians should fight for British sovereignty, in other parts of the world, when they were subjugated at home, which led to the worst instances of civil uprising under his direction, through his ‘Quit India’ movement. As a result, he was arrested on 9th August 1942, and held for two years at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. In February 1944, 3 months before his release, his wife Kasturbai died in the same prison.
May 1944, the time of his release from prison, saw the second attempt made on his life, this time certainly led by Nathuram Godse, although the attempt was fairly half-hearted. When word reached Godse that Gandhi was staying in a hill station near Pune, recovering from his prison ordeal, he organised a group of like-minded individuals who descended on the area, and mounted a vocal anti-Gandhi protest. When invited to speak to Gandhi, Godse declined, but he attended a prayer meeting later that day, where he rushed towards Gandhi, brandishing a dagger and shouting anti-Gandhi slogans. He was overpowered swiftly by fellow worshippers, and came nowhere near achieving his goal. Godse was not prosecuted at the time.
Four months later, in September 1944, Godse led a group of Hindu activist demonstrators who accosted Gandhi at a train station, on his return from political talks. Godse was again found to be in possession of a dagger that, although not drawn, was assumed to be the means by which he would again seek to assassinate Gandhi. It was officially regarded as the third assassination attempt, by the commission set up to investigate Gandhi’s death in 1948.
The British plan to partition what had been British-ruled India, into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India, was vehemently opposed by Gandhi, who foresaw the problems that would result from the split. Nevertheless, the Congress Party ignored his concerns, and accepted the partition proposals put forward by the British.
The fourth attempt on Gandhi’s life took the form of a planned train derailment. On 29th June 1946, a train called the ‘Gandhi Special’, carrying him and his entourage, was derailed near Bombay, by means of boulders, which had been piled up on the tracks. Since the train was the only one scheduled at that time, it seems likely that the intended target of derailment was Gandhi himself. He was not injured in the accident. At a prayer meeting after the event Gandhi is quoted as saying:
“I have not hurt anybody nor do I consider anybody to be my enemy, I can’t understand why there are so many attempts on my life. Yesterday’s attempt on my life has failed. I will not die just yet; I aim to live till the age of 125.”
Sadly, he had only eighteen months to live.
Placed under increasing pressure, by his political contemporaries, to accept Partition as the only way to avoid civil war in India, Gandhi reluctantly concurred with its political necessity, and India celebrated its Independence Day on 15th August 1947. Keenly recognising the need for political unity, Gandhi spent the next few months working tirelessly for Hindu-Muslim peace, fearing the build-up of animosity between the two fledgling states, showing remarkable prescience, given the turbulence of their relationship over the following half-century.
Unfortunately, his efforts to unite the opposing forces proved his undoing. He championed the paying of restitution to Pakistan for lost territories, as outlined in the Partition agreement, which parties in India, fearing that Pakistan would use the payment as a means to build a war arsenal, had opposed. He began a fast in support of the payment, which Hindu radicals, Nathuram Godse among them, viewed as traitorous. When the political effect of his fast secured the payment to Pakistan, it secured with it the fifth attempt on his life.
On 20th January a gang of seven Hindu radicals, which included Nathuram Godse, gained access to Birla House, in Delhi, a venue at which Gandhi was due to give an address. One of the men, Madanla Pahwa, managed to gain access to the speaker’s podium, and planted a bomb, encased in a cotton ball, on the wall behind the podium. The plan was to explode the bomb during the speech, causing pandemonium, which would give two other gang members, Digambar Bagde and Shankar Kishtaiyya, an opportunity to shoot Gandhi, and escape in the ensuing chaos. The bomb exploded prematurely, before the conference was underway, and Madanla Pahwa was captured, while the others, including Godse, managed to escape.
Pahwa admitted the plot under interrogation, but Delhi police were unable to confirm the participation and whereabouts of Godse, although they did try to ascertain his whereabouts through the Bombay police.
After the failed attempt at Birla House, Nathuram Godse and another of the seven, Narayan Apte, returned to Pune, via Bombay, where they purchased a Beretta automatic pistol, before returning once more to Delhi.
On 30th January 1948, whilst Gandhi was on his way to a prayer meeting at Birla House in Delhi, Nathuram Godse managed to get close enough to him in the crowd to be able to shoot him three times in the chest, at point-blank range. Gandhi’s dying words were claimed to be “Hé Rām”, which translates as “Oh God”, although some witnesses claim he spoke no words at all.
When news of Gandhi’s death reached the various strongholds of Hindu radicalism, in Pune and other areas throughout India, there was reputedly celebration in the streets. Sweets were distributed publicly, as at a festival. The rest of the world was horrified by the death of a man nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Godse, who had made no attempt to flee following the assassination, and his co-conspirator, Narayan Apte, were both imprisoned until their trial on 8th November 1949. They were convicted of Gandhi’s killing, and both were executed, a week later, at Ambala Jail, on 15th November 1949. The supposed architect of the plot, a Hindu extremist named Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
Gandhi was cremated as per Hindu custom, and his ashes are interred at the Aga Khan’s palace in Pune, the site of his incarceration in 1942, and the place his wife had also died.
Gandhi's memorial bears the epigraph “Hé Rām” (“Oh God”) although there is no conclusive proof that he uttered these words before death.
Although Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times, he never received it. In the year of his death, 1948, the Prize was not awarded, the stated reason being that “there was no suitable living candidate” that year.
Gandhi's life and teachings have inspired many liberationists of the 20th Century, including Dr. Martin Luther King in the United States, Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko in South Africa, and Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar.
His birthday, 2nd October, is celebrated as a National Holiday in India every year.Gandhiji’s life, ideas and work are of crucial importance to all those who want a better life for humankind. The political map of the world has changed dramatically since his time, the economic scenario has witnessed unleashing of some disturbing forces, and the social set-up has undergone a tremendous change. The importance of moral and ethical issues raised by him, however, remain central to the future of individuals and nations. We can still derive inspiration from the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi who wanted us to remember the age old saying, “In spite of death, life persists, and in spite of hatred, love persists.” Rabindranath Tagore addressed him as ‘Mahatma’ and the latter called the poet “Gurudev’. Subhash Chandra Bose had called him ‘Father of the Nation’ in his message on Hind Azad Radio.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, at Porbandar, a small town in Gujarat, on the sea coast of Western India. He was born in the distinguished family of administrators. His grandfather had risen to be the Dewan or Prime Minister of Porbandar and was succeeded by his father Karamchand Gandhiji .His mother Putlibai, a religious person, had a major contribution in moulding the character of young Mohan.
He studied initially at an elementary school in Porbandar and then at primary and high schools in Rajkot, one of the important cities of Gujarat. Though he called himself a ‘mediocre student’, he gave evidence of his reasoning, intelligence, deep faith in the principles of truth and discipline at very young age. He was married, at the age of thirteen, when still in high school, to Kasturbai who was of the same age, and had four sons named Harilal, Ramdas, Manilal and Devdas. His father died in 1885. At that time Gandhiji was studying at Samaldas College in Bhavnagar. It was hoped that his (Mohandas’s) going to England and qualifying as a barrister would help his family to lead more comfortable life.
He sailed to England on September 4, 1888 at the age of 18, and was enrolled in The Inner Temple. It was a new world for young Mohan and offered immense opportunities to explore new ideas and to reflect on the philosophy and religion of his own country. He got deeply interested in vegetarianism and study of different religions. His stay in England provided opportunities for widening horizons and better understanding of religions and cultures. He passed his examinations and was called to Bar on June 10, 1891. After two days he sailed for India.
He made unsuccessful attempts to establish his legal practice at Rajkot and Bombay. An offer from Dada Abdulla & Company to go to South Africa to instruct their consul in a law suit opened up a new chapter in his life. In South Africa, Mohandas tasted bitter experience of racial discrimination during his journey from Durban to Pretoria, where his presence was required in connection with a lawsuit. At Maritzburg station he was pushed out from first class compartment of the train because he was ‘coloured’ Shivering in cold and sitting in the waiting room of Maritzburg station, he decided that it was cowardice to run away instead he would fight for his rights. With this incident evolved the concept of Satyagraha. He united the Indians settled in South Africa of different communities, languages and religions, and founded Natal Indian Congress in 1893. He founded Indian Opinion, his first journal, in 1904 to promote the interests of Indians in South Africa. Influenced by John Ruskin’s Unto This Last, he set up Phoenix Ashram near Durban, where inmates did manual labour and lived a community living.
Gandhiji organized a protest in 1906 against unfair Asiatic Regulation Bill of 1906. Again in 1908, he mobilsed Indian community in South Africa against the discriminatory law requiring Asians to apply for the registration by burning 2000 official certificates of domicile at a public meeting at Johannesburg and courting jail. He established in May 1910 Tolstoy Farm, near Johannesburg on the similar ideals of Phoenix Ashram.
In 1913, to protest against the imposition of 3 Pound tax and passing immigration Bill adversely affecting the status of married women, he inspired Kasturbai and Indian women to join the struggle. Gandhi organized a march from New Castle to Transvaal without permit and courting arrest. Gandhi had sailed to South Africa as a young inexperienced barrister in search of fortune. But he returned to India in 1915 as Mahatma.
As advised by Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Gandhiji spent one year travelling in India and studying India and her people. In 1915 when Gandhiji returned from South Africa he had established his ashram at Kochrab near Ahmedabad. Now after year’s travel, Gandhiji moved his ashram on the banks of Sabarmati River near Ahmedabad and called it Satyagraha Ashram.
His first Satyagraha in India was at Champaran, Bihar in 1917 for the rights of peasants on indigo plantations. When British Government ordered Gandhiji to leave Champaran, he defied the order by declaring that “British could not order me about in my own country”. The magistrate postponed the trial and released him without bail and the case against him was withdrawn. In Champaran, he taught the poor and illiterate people the principles of Satyagraha. Gandhiji and his volunteers instructed the peasants in elementary hygiene and ran schools for their children.
In Ahmedabad, there was a dispute between mill workers and mill owners. The legitimate demands of workers were refused by mill owners. Gandhiji asked the workers to strike work, on condition that they took pledge to remain non-violent. Gandhiji fasted in support of workers. At the end of 3 days both the parties agreed on arbitration. Same year in 1918, Gandhiji led a Satyagraha for the peasants of Kheda in Gujarat.
In 1919, he called for Civil Disobedience against Rowlatt Bill. This non-cooperation movement was the first nationwide movement on national scale. However, the violence broke out; Gandhiji had to suspend the movement as people were not disciplined enough. He realized that people had to be trained for non violent agitation. Same year he started his weeklies Young India in English and Navajivan in Gujarati.
In 1921, Gandhiji took to wearing loin cloth to identify himself with poor masses and to propagate khadi, hand spun cloth. He also started Swadeshi movement, advocating the use of commodities made in the country. He asked the Indians to boycott foreign cloth and promote hand spun khadi thus creating work for the villagers. He devoted himself to the propagation of Hindu-Muslim unity, removal of untouchablity, equality of women and men, and khadi. These were important issues in his agenda of constructive work – essential programmes to go with Satyagraha.
On March 12 1930, Gandhiji set out with 78 volunteers on historic Salt March from Sabarmati Ashram; Ahmedabad to Dandi, a village on the sea coast .This was an important non violent movement of Indian freedom struggle. At Dandi Gandhiji picked up handful of salt thus technically ‘producing’ the salt. He broke the law, which had deprived the poor man of his right to make salt .This simple act was immediately followed by a nation-wide defiance of the law. Gandhiji was arrested on May 4. Within weeks thousands of men and women were imprisoned, challenging the authority of the colonial rulers.
In March 1931, Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed to solve some constitutional issues, and this ended the Civil Disobedience. On August 29, 1931 Gandhiji sailed to London to attend Round Table Conference to have a discussion with the British. The talks however were unsuccessful. In September 1932, Gandhiji faced the complex issue of the British rulers agreeing for the separate electorates for untouchables. He went on fast to death in protest and concluded only after the British accepted Poona Pact.
In 1933, he started weekly publication of Harijan replacing Young India. Aspirations of the people for freedom under Gandhi’s leadership were rising high. In 1942 Gandhiji launched an individual Satyagraha. Nearly 23 thousand people were imprisoned that year. The British mission, headed by Sir Stafford Cripps came with new proposals but it did not meet with any success.
The historic Quit India resolution was passed by the Congress on 8th August 1942. Gandhiji’s message of ‘Do or Die’ engulfed millions of Indians. Gandhiji and other Congress leaders were imprisoned in Aga Khan Palace near Pune. This period in prison was of bereavement for Gandhiji. He first lost his trusted secretary and companion Mahadev Desai on 15th August 1942. Destiny gave another cruel blow to Gandhiji, when Kasturbai, his wife and companion for 62 years, died on 22 February 1944.
Gandhiji was released from prison as his health was on decline. Unfortunately, political developments had moved favouring the partition of the country resulting in communal riots on a frightful scale. Gandhiji was against the partition and chose to be with the victims of riots in East Bengal and Bihar. On 15 August 1947, when India became independent, free from the British rule, Gandhiji fasted and prayed in Calcutta.
On 30th January 1948, Gandhiji, on his way to the prayer meeting at Birla House, New Delhi, fell to the bullets fired by Nathuram Vinayak Godse.
As observed by Louis Fischer, “Millions in all countries mourned Gandhi’s death as a personal loss. They did not quite know why; they did not quite know what he stood for. But he was ‘a good man’ and good men are rare. “
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