Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

"Father of the Nation"
Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi and his wife Kasturba - 1902

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

India's "Father of the Nation"
Name : Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Other Name : Mahatma Gandhi
Date of birth : 2 October 1869
Date of Death : January 30, 1948
Place of birth : Porbandar, Gujarat
Place of death : New Delhi, India
Movement : Indian independence movement
Major organizations : Indian National Congress

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a major political and spiritual leader of India and the Indian independence movement. He was the pioneer of Satyagraha resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience, firmly founded upon ahimsa or total non-violence which led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Gandhi is commonly known in India and across the world as Mahatma Gandhi and as Bapu "Father". In India, he is officially accorded the honour of Father of the Nation and October 2, his birthday, is commemorated each year as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday. On 15 June 2007, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution declaring October 2 to be
the "International Day of Non-Violence.

Gandhiji was born on 2 October 1869 at Porbandar, Gujarat. His father, Karamchand Gandhi, was the ‘diwan’ (Chief Minister) of Porbandar. He was not a highly qualified person, but was a good administrator and knew his job well. Gandhiji’s mother, Putlibai, was a deeply religious lady and she influenced him a lot. It was her piety and truthfulness that made him forsake and oppose vice. He would readily accept it if he committed any wrong. Gandhiji was brought up on the religious tenets of ‘Vaishnavism’ (worship of Lord Vishnu) and Jainism. Both the faiths advocated the principles of ‘ahimsa’ or non-injury to all living beings. So he was brought up on the principles of non-violence, vegetarianism and tolerance.

In May 1883, at the age of 13, Gandhi was married through his parents' arrangements to Kasturba Makhanji .They had four sons Harilal Gandhi born in 1888, Manilal Gandhi born in 1892, Ramdas Gandhi born in 1897, and Devdas Gandhi born in 1900.

Gandhiji was an average student at school. At the age of 13, he was married to Kasturba. In 1887, he was just able to clear his matriculation from the University of Bombay. Then he joined Samaldas College in Bhaunagar (now Bhavnagar). He was not happy in college because he had to take up English instead of Gujarati. So when his family gave him the proposal of going to England and study law, he jumped at it. Thereafter, he sailed to “a land of philosophers and poets, the very centre of civilization” in September 1888 and joined the Inner Temple, one of the four London law colleges. He took up English and Latin earnestly but it was difficult for him to adjust to Western society, especially because of his vegetarianism. But he met people like Edward Carpenter, GB Shaw and Annie Besant, idealists who were instrumental in shaping his personality and inspiring him to take up the role of leading the freedom struggle in India.

His mother died while he was in England. When he returned to India in July 1891, he tried to start his practice in Bombay, but failed to make a mark. So he moved to Rajkot and took up the job of drafting petitions for litigants. It was during this time that he had the opportunity of going South Africa on a year’s contract from an Indian company which was based in Natal, South Africa. It was there that he first saw how the coloured people were subjected to inhuman treatment by the white government. In one instance, when he was traveling to Pretoria, he was thrown out of a first-class railway compartment along with his baggage because he dared to occupy a compartment reserved for whites only. This incident led him to revolt against such inhuman practices and made him determined not to accept injustice and indignity.

Gandhiji tried to educate the people about their rights and duties. However, he had to sail back to India after the lapse of the contract in June 1894. He asked the people to protest against a bill that was to be introduced in the Natal Legislative Assembly to deny Indians the right to vote. The people saw a leader in Gandhiji, so they requested him to stay back. Gandhiji was never interested in politics and was afraid of public speaking. But the July of 1894 saw him metamorphose into an active political campaigner. He was just 25 then. Although he was not able to prevent the passage of the bill, he was able to organize a lot of support and got noticed by the press in Natal, India and England. The same year he founded the Natal Indian Congress to bring the Indian community under one banner. ‘The Times’ of London and the ‘Statesman’ and ‘Englishman’ of Calcutta voiced grievances of the Natal Indians.

In 1896, he returned to India to take his wife and children to South Africa. On his return to Durban in January 1897, he was attacked by a white mob. When the question of punishing the guilty came up, Gandhiji refused to prosecute the wrong-doers.

On the outbreak of the Boer War in South Africa in 1899, he raised a body of volunteers which included barristers, accountants, artisans and labourers. But his contribution was not recognized by the Europeans in South Africa. In 1906, the Transvaal Government introduced an ordinance that was particularly insulting the Indian population. Gandhiji organized a mass rally in protest against the ordinance at Johannesburg in September 1906 and vowed to defy the ordinance and to accept any punishment. Thus was born ‘satyagraha’ (appeal to truth). His struggle in South Africa lasted more than seven years. The Indian community too willingly supported Gandhiji and was not deterred from taking part in the struggle by the atrocities of the British. The end of the struggle came when the Governments of India and Britain intervened and the South African Government accepted a compromise.

Because of his activities in South Africa, not only was he a known figure in India but also familiar with the people in other British colonies. When he returned to India in 1915, he was acclaimed as an esteemed leader. The elite business class of India had formed an organization called the Congress and they did not have any agenda except petitioning the British Government. Gandhiji’s experiment with satyagraha in South Africa gave a new impetus to the freedom struggle in India. When he returned to India, not only leaders, even the Indian people welcomed him with open arms. The Indians found in Gandhiji a leader who acted as a buoy and harnessed the strength of the people for the independence struggle. But, his struggle for freedom in India was different from that in South Africa.

People of the whole country, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, became involved in Gandhiji’s freedom struggle. With the Champaran, Rowlatt Act and the Khilafat Movements, he was able to involve the people from all over India and thus became the unrivalled leader of the Congress. His position in the Indian struggle was similar to the position occupied by Lord Krishna in the Mahabharata war. Even without wielding a weapon, the Lord steered the Pandavas to victory. Gandhiji was initially not a member of the Congress, but be became its lifeline.

After returning to India, Gandhiji met Indian leaders like Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, Lokmanya Tilak and Gokhale and toured the nation. His first Satyagraha revolution was at Champaran in Bihar where the farmers were forced to cultivate indigo for the British. It was here that he met prominent leaders of Bihar like Rajendra Prasad and they also pledged their support to Gandhiji.

In august 1919, he stirred a nation-wide protest against the Rowlett Act, which gave the British the authority to imprison without trial. Gandhiji launched a Satyagraha and people all over the country participated in his struggle. In the spring of 1919 a gathering of around 4, 000 people, who had collected for a meeting at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, were fired upon by soldiers and several hundreds were killed. The whole nation was rocked by the incident and decided to call off the struggle.

By 1920, Gandhiji became a prominent national leader. He believed that it was because of our weakness that we were being ruled by the British. He launched the Non-cooperation Movement where he asked students to boycott government-aided schools and colleges and told people to leave government service. The response was overwhelming. In spite of large-scale arrests, the movement picked up. In February 1922, a violent mob set fire to a police station in Chauri Chaura killing 22 policemen. Gandhiji decided to call off the movement. He was arrested in March 1922 but was released in 1924 because of ill health.

Meanwhile, disunity between the Hindus and Muslims had crept in. Gandhiji tried to persuade the tow communities to forsake their fanaticism. There was a serious communal outbreak. Gandhiji then undertook a three-week fast in 1924 to arouse the people to follow the path of non-violence.

In 1927, the British Government appointed Sir John Simon to head a constitutional reform commission. The Congress and other parties boycotted the commission because it did not contain any Indian member. In 1928 Gandhiji demanded Dominion status for India at the Calcutta Congress meeting. In March 1930, he launched the Dandi March in protest against the imposition of tax on salt. Around 60, 000 people were imprisoned in the nation-wide non-violent strike against the British.

In 1931, after talks with Lord Irwin, he called off the strike and agreed to go to England to attend Round Table Conference. The conference was a great disappointment because it rather than the issue of transfer of power to the Indians.

Back to India, Lord Wellington succeeded Lord Irwin. The new British viceroy tried to curb the growing influence of Gandhiji, who was imprisoned. In September 1932, he undertook a fast to protest against the attempt of the British to segregate the “untouchables” by allotting them separate electorates in the new constitution. A mass campaign was launched to stop discrimination against “untouchables”. Gandhiji called them “Harijans” (the children of God).

In 1934, he resigned from the leadership and membership of the Congress. He felt that the members had adopted the policy of non-violence for political reasons. He went to Sevagram, a village in central India, and concentrated on the uplift of weaker sections of society.

In 1939, the Second World War broke out. It was a crucial phase in India’s independence struggle. Gandhiji wanted the British to withdraw from India. Gandhiji launched a massive campaign called the “Quit India” Movement. There were violent outbreaks and an attempt was made to curb the movement.

The war ended in 1945 and the elections that ensued in Britain were won by the Labour Party. They decided to grant independence to India but the Muslim League wanted separate state for themselves. Tripartite negotiations were held for the next two years between the Congress Party, the Muslim League and the British Government. In mid-August, there came a breakthrough in the talks when it was decided to partition India to form the Muslim state of Pakistan. With Partition came the mass exodus and massacre of innocent people on both sides.

Even before the negotiations were on there was large-scale communal violence. The incidents pained Gandhiji. He immersed himself in the task of healing the scars inflicted by communal conflicts. In Calcutta and Delhi he was able to bring about communal truce.

Gandhiji used organize prayer sessions. On 30 January 1948, when Gandhiji was being led to the prayer hall at Birla House in Delhi, he was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse. With ‘Hey Ram’ on his lips, he breathed his last. The symbol of peace, truth and non-violence was gone forever. His memorial at Rajghat attracts people from around the world.

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