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 The magistrate postponed the trial and released him without bail and the case against him was withdrawn.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.