Mahatma Gandhi : A Life Sketch
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
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
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. “