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Gandhi: A PrAyEr
India was a colony of the British Empire for several hundred years and was considered to be the crown jewel of the Empire. However, within the country, many people lived in great poverty because the British took all the wealth. India longed for independence but there was not much people could do, except pray. Their prayers were answered with the birth of a Mahatma (great soul); Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He was to use his belief in Ahimsa (Passive resistance) and Satyagraha (nonviolence) to free India from the British oppression.
Mohandas Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869 at Porbandar, Gujrat, a state in India. His father Karamchand held a high administrative position and his mother Putli Bai was deeply religious and pious.
When Gandhi was seven they moved to Rajkot. Here he went to school, and at age 13 married Kasturba (an arranged marriage). Two years later his father passed away.
Mohandas soon, graduated and went to a college. He didn’t like the studies there, and so his brother decided to send him to England to study law. At first his mother refused to let him go, but after various promises of not drinking, eating meat or touching women, she allowed him to go. At age 19 Gandhiji finally left for England. It was quite challenging to adjust to the western style of life. Time soon passed, however, and in June of 1891, Gandhi passed the Bar. He left for India two days later.
Gandhi started his law practice in his hometown of Rajkot. Here he signed a contract for a Dada Abdullah and Co. and was to fight their case in South Africa. He left for South Africa in the April of 1893.
During that time South Africa was also under the British rule and racial discrimination was at its peak. Once, while he was traveling in a train, he experienced, for the first time, racial discrimination. He carried a first class ticket, however he was asked to vacate his compartment for a white man. When he kept refusing, he was thrown out of the compartment. This played a major role in his firm decision to fight injustice.
Gandhi resolved the case of his client, Abdullah, with out even taking it to the court. Having done his job, he was preparing to leave for India, when he decided to stay back to fight against the cruel laws lain on the Indian immigrants. In order to better fight, he started the Natal Indian Congress in May 1894. The new organization was under the leadership of Gandhi, who worked for the welfare of the Indians in South Africa. During his visit he met with several national leaders in India and started gathering support for his movement in South Africa.
In 1899, a war broke out between the Boers and the Britishers. Gandhi decided to help the British as a loyal citizen, by organizing Indian ambulance corps. This act was commended by all the English papers. Upon this, Gandhi returned to India, promising his fellow workers that he would return when they needed him.
Gandhi, now widely recognized as the Indian leader in South Africa, attended various Congress meetings and met with most of the national leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. He was particularly moved by the condition of the people in India especially in villages.
He began an “Indian Journal” a journal published in Gujrati and English to create an awakening among the Indians in South Africa. In 1906 the South African government passed a new law that all the Indian immigrants get themselves registered and obtains certificates bearing their name and thumbprints. Gandhi initiated the people to resort to Satyagraha and explained the code of behavior as satyagrahis. He explained to them with a straight mind, and a quiet yet firm voice,
Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man?. If we practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless.
The government tried to curb the peaceful movement. Many Indian participated in this and the government imprisoned them along with Gandhi in Jan. 1908. This was the first time that Gandhi went to jail. Finally Gandhi agreed to the General Smuts proposal to voluntarily register and then he would repeal the “Black Act” as it was now called. Gandhi was attacked by Indian extremists for agreeing to Smuts’s proposal. But, Smuts didn’t repeal the act though Indians registered themselves, this lead to another Satyagraha movement where Gandhi was once again arrested. When he came out of jail he along with Haji Habib went to England to present the condition of the “Immigrant Indians Crisis” in South Africa.
Gandhi founded the Tolstoy Farm in 1910 and there people of different races and ethnicity lived together in peace. In 1913, Gandhi intensified his agitation against the new laws on the marriage and the poll tax. Gandhi was arrested many times and released unconditionally. Gandhi’s passive resistance and being loyal to the British rule, during the time when it was in crisis influenced the former decisions and the British dropped its poll tax, penalties and collecting fines for entering other states. The British recognized all the Indian marriages as legal. This is a great achievement of Gandhi and the satygraha doctrine he advocated. These came as a great reward to the Indian people in South Africa. Gandhi decided to go back to India forever and reached India in July 1914.
In India Gandhi established a Satyagraha Ashram at Ahmedabad. In the first few years of his return Gandhi, basically studied the condition of the Indian people. His first action was taken in Champran Bihar, where the British were causing problems by imposing regulations on the peasants. Gandhi went there and studied the problem and succeeded in solving the problem; this made the government pass a bill in favor of peasants.
While Gandhi was in Bihar, a dispute arose in Ahmedabad between the Management and laborers in a textile mill. Gandhi led a labor strike against the management. He even took to fasting when the laborers were disuniting and succeeded when the management agreed to the demands of the laborers. This is perhaps the first incident in India, where he proved the effect and influence of non-violence and peace.
In 1919 Rowlatt Act was proposed to make some changes to the criminal law. Gandhi called a nation wide strike for such an injustice proposal passed by the British. Though the strike was not given notice before hand it received a huge response. Several incidents of violence had taken place and Gandhi was arrested; he was released immediately. Gandhi called back the strike due to the riots. Trying to attempt Satyagraha without training the strikers for it, was a mistake.
In 1919 the Jailanwala Bagh incident took place where hundreds of people were killed by the British. The government didn’t take any satisfactory measure on the cause of this incident. Gandhiji called for a total non-cooperation to the British government in 1922. But, the movement was called back as the people resorted to violence and killed police men at Chauri Chaura village. Gandhi was arrested and was sentenced to jail for six years. Gandhi suffered several health problems during his stay in jail. He devoted most of his time in reading, meditating and writing during this period. It was during this time that he began writing his autobiography “My Experiments with Truth.”
The British introduced salt taxes early in 1930. Gandhi, now 61, began his famous march to Dandi, which also received a huge response and the people broke all salt laws by ‘making’ their own. As Nehru, later remarked, “It was immaterial whether the stuff was good or bad, the main thing was to commit a breach of the obnoxious salt laws.” After a series of talks with the Viceroy Lord Irwin, an agreement was reached. This is famously known as the Gandhi-Irwin pact. Gandhi attended the second round table conference in England.
In 1932 the British proposed reserving certain electorates for “untouchables” (lowest of the Hindu caste system), Gandhi summarily opposed it and went on fast until the proposal was taken off.
Gandhi spent the next six years working for the Hindu-Muslim unity and improving the social condition of the untouchables. When the Second World War broke out the British neglected India’s opinion and took things for granted. The congress expressed its absolute opposition to the British’s behavior and told that it would help British only if India is declared as a free nation.
In August 1942, Gandhiji established the “Quit India Movement” This demanded the British to leave India immediately. Gandhiji and the other leaders were arrested. This turned into a big issue and exerted a lot of pressure on the British. WWII came to an end in 1945, and the labor government leadership of Clement Atlee came to power. The new government announced that it would grant complete independence to India, once all the internal problems are sorted out.
The Muslim league headed by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, proposed the separation of India into two. Gandhi opposed this proposal by saying “..You can cut me into two if you must, but don’t cut my India into two.” In 1946 riots broke between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhiji toured the effected places spreading the message of peace. Due to these violent incidents the congress believed that a partition was the only solution to end these riots. The Congress and the Muslim League reached an agreement on the partition. On Aug. 15, 1947 India divided and Pakistan was born.
Gandhi was never in favor of the partition and continued working for the unity between the Hindus and Muslims in the free India. He taught that “Religions are different roads converging upon the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads, so long as we reach the same goal?” This made him appear as a traitor in the eyes of Hindu fundamentalist. Two attempts were made to assassinate Mahatma; The second succeeded. On Jan 30, 1948 while he was attending a prayer meeting at Birla house in Delhi he was shot dead by a Hindu fanatic by the name of Godse. Gandhi collapsed murmuring Hare Rama.
All were shocked by Gandhi’s death. Nehru told the country of Gandhi’s death?
Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere?. The light has gone out I said, yet I am wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years and thousands years later that light will still be seen in this country?”
Nehru’s words had summed everything up. The great soul came to do what he was destined to. Gandhi proved that it is possible to fight without violence, he led the way to a better world. Still today there are people who love him and use his philosophy to change the world. A very prominent example is the Civil Right Movements in the United States of America; led by Martin Luther King Jr. they preached a policy civil disobedience and nonviolence. Other examples include the war against nuclear weapons, or a fight for the preservation of nature (GreenPeace). Whether it be in the past or in the present, whether it be in a within a state or internationally, whether it be for civil rights or environmental purposes, it will be there. Gandhi’s policy of “Satyagraha” and “Ahimsa” will strive. As Gandhi himself said “We must be the change that we wish to see in the world for in the midst of death, life persists; in the midst of untruth, truth persists; in the midst of darkness, light persists.”
Attenborough, Richard. Gandhi. New York: Newmarket Press, 1983
Azad, Abul Kalam. India Wins Freedom. New Delhi: Orient Longman Limited, 1959
Mahatma Gandhi (Http://amerisoft.net/india/gandhi.htm)
Shankar, Raj Kumar. The Story of Gandhi. New Delhi: Children’s Book Trust, 1961.
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