Mohandas Gandhi: Discrimination, Noncooperation, Partition & Assassination
With all historical figures we get glimpses through the eyes of historians. Yet the essence of Gandhi’s life was to face discrimination and to redefine who he felt he was. I recall in the Attenborough movie when he moved to South Africa as a Lawyer, he ordered his tickets to travel first class. He had no idea there was apartheid there. He was challenged on the train by the conductor to move to 3rd class, he refused and he was uncerimoniously thrown from the train. This was a defining moment, had he not faced discrimination he would not have made the decision to stand up and face the South Africans with their discrimination. They had demonised the indentured labour and stripped their rights, making them sub human under British law. This humilitation if not addressed would condition the people to see themselves as slaves rather than resurrecting their dignity as equals. That was the gift Gandhi brought. Through his courage he showed others the power of truth, he called it soul force. It is activating virtues which are not just words, when you truly speak your truth you become in alignment with a force that is from the soul. His message was his life and his message was love and truth. This message is alive today. They say the truth sets you free, indeed it does, to see what is so.
A truly remarkable soul. Or indeed Great Soul (Mahatma). You are welcome to see some of my inspired poetry around this wonderful man. I ask men to consider love and truth as alternative statement of manhood. I might just add he was laughed at in England when he attended the Roundtable conference to discuss India’s independence, as he was wearing what the British described as a loin cloth and how inappropriate in England (cold). Yet his point was to wear homespun, it was a symbol of India’s independence from the British cloth trade, which inslaved the Indian people in his view. He ordered all indians to burn British textiles and wear garments homespun. The spinning wheel was also a sign of independence.
When I was in India, I tried spinning wool into cotton it requires concentration and patience. In a university in Armedebad, I watched 500 students facing the wall spinning whilst I was speaking. The teachers said it enhanced concentration and focus. Gandhi’s minimalist status (as a Barrister) was a sign of humility. At the end of his life he had the spinning wheel, the staff (walking stick), his cloth and glasses. That was it. He found his true wealth. His was a spiritual struggle not a political one.
With that, here is a fragment of Gandhi’s life.
Gandhi’s history Courtesy of Wikipedia
Civil rights movement in South Africa (1893–1914)
In South Africa, Gandhi faced the discrimination directed at Indians. He was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg after refusing to move from the first class to a third-class coach while holding a valid first-class ticket. Travelling farther on by stagecoach he was beaten by a driver for refusing to travel on the foot board to make room for a European passenger. He suffered other hardships on the journey as well, including being barred from several hotels. In another incident, the magistrate of a Durban court ordered Gandhi to remove his turban, which he refused to do. These events were a turning point in his life, awakening him to social injustice and influencing his subsequent social activism. It was through witnessing firsthand the racism, prejudice and injustice against Indians in South Africa that Gandhi started to question his people’s status within the British Empire, and his own place in society.
Gandhi extended his original period of stay in South Africa to assist Indians in opposing a bill to deny them the right to vote. Though unable to halt the bill’s passage, his campaign was successful in drawing attention to the grievances of Indians in South Africa. He helped found the Natal Indian Congress in 1894, and through this organisation, he moulded the Indian community of South Africa into a unified political force. In January 1897, when Gandhi landed in Durban he was attacked by a mob of white settlers and escaped only through the efforts of the wife of the police superintendent. He, however, refused to press charges against any member of the mob, stating it was one of his principles not to seek redress for a personal wrong in a court of law.
In 1906, the Transvaal government promulgated a new Act compelling registration of the colony’s Indian population. At a mass protest meeting held in Johannesburg on 11 September that year, Gandhi adopted his still evolving methodology of satyagraha (devotion to the truth), or non-violent protest, for the first time, calling on his fellow Indians to defy the new law and suffer the punishments for doing so, rather than resist through violent means. The community adopted this plan, leading to a seven-year struggle in which thousands of Indians were jailed (including Gandhi), flogged, or even shot, for striking, refusing to register, burning their registration cards or engaging in other forms of non-violent resistance. While the government was successful in repressing the Indian protesters, the public outcry stemming from the harsh methods employed by the South African government in the face of peaceful Indian protesters finally forced South African General Jan Christiaan Smuts to negotiate a compromise with Gandhi. Gandhi’s ideas took shape and the concept of satyagraha matured during this struggle.
Racism and controversy
Some of Gandhi’s early South African articles are controversial. On 7 March 1908, Gandhi wrote in the Indian Opinion of his time in a South African prison: “Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilised—the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals.” Writing on the subject of immigration in 1903, Gandhi commented: “We believe as much in the purity of race as we think they do… We believe also that the white race in South Africa should be the predominating race.” During his time in South Africa, Gandhi protested repeatedly about the social classification of blacks with Indians, whom he described as “undoubtedly infinitely superior to the Kaffirs”. Remarks such as these have led some to accuse Gandhi of racism. It is worth noting though that the word Kaffir had a different connotation in Gandhi’s time than its current day meaning.
Two professors of history who specialise in South Africa, Surendra Bhana and Goolam Vahed, examined this controversy in their text, The Making of a Political Reformer: Gandhi in South Africa, 1893–1914. (New Delhi: Manohar, 2005). They focus in Chapter 1, “Gandhi, Africans and Indians in Colonial Natal” on the relationship between the African and Indian communities under “White rule” and policies which enforced segregation (and, they argue, led to inevitable conflict between these communities). Of this relationship they state that, “the young Gandhi was influenced by segregationist notions prevalent in the 1890s.” At the same time, they state, “Gandhi’s experiences in jail seemed to make him more sensitive to their plight…the later Gandhi mellowed; he seemed much less categorical in his expression of prejudice against Africans, and much more open to seeing points of common cause. His negative views in the Johannesburg jail were reserved for hardened African prisoners rather than Africans generally.” However, when plans to unveil a statue of Gandhi in Johannesburg were announced, a movement unsuccessfully tried to block it because of Gandhi’s “racist” statements.
Role in Zulu War of 1906
Main article: Bambatha Rebellion
In 1906, after the British introduced a new poll-tax, Zulus in South Africa killed two British officers. In response, the British declared war against the Zulus. Gandhi actively encouraged the British to recruit Indians. He argued that Indians should support the war efforts in order to legitimise their claims to full citizenship. The British, however, refused to commission Indians as army officers. Nonetheless, they accepted Gandhi’s offer to let a detachment of Indians volunteer as a stretcher-bearer corps to treat wounded British soldiers. This corps was commanded by Gandhi. On 21 July 1906, Gandhi wrote in Indian Opinion: “The corps had been formed at the instance of the Natal Government by way of experiment, in connection with the operations against the Natives consists of twenty three Indians”. Gandhi urged the Indian population in South Africa to join the war through his columns in Indian Opinion: “If the Government only realised what reserve force is being wasted, they would make use of it and give Indians the opportunity of a thorough training for actual warfare.”
In Gandhi’s opinion, the Draft Ordinance of 1906 brought the status of Indians below the level of Natives. He therefore urged Indians to resist the Ordinance along the lines of satyagraha by taking the example of “Kaffirs”. In his words, “Even the half-castes and kaffirs, who are less advanced than we, have resisted the government. The pass law applies to them as well, but they do not take out passes.”
In 1927 Gandhi wrote of the event: “The Boer War had not brought home to me the horrors of war with anything like the vividness that the [Zulu] ‘rebellion’ did. This was no war but a man-hunt, not only in my opinion, but also in that of many Englishmen with whom I had occasion to talk.”
Struggle for Indian Independence (1915–1945)
See also: Indian independence movement
In 1915, Gandhi returned from South Africa to live in India. He spoke at the conventions of the Indian National Congress, but was primarily introduced to Indian issues, politics and the Indian people by Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a respected leader of the Congress Party at the time.
Role in World War I
In April 1918, during the latter part of World War I, the Viceroy invited Gandhi to a War Conference in Delhi Perhaps to show his support for the Empire and help his case for India’s independence, Gandhi agreed to actively recruit Indians for the war effort. In contrast to the Zulu War of 1906 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, when he recruited volunteers for the Ambulance Corps, this time Gandhi attempted to recruit combatants. In a June 1918 leaflet entitled “Appeal for Enlistment”, Gandhi wrote “To bring about such a state of things we should have the ability to defend ourselves, that is, the ability to bear arms and to use them…If we want to learn the use of arms with the greatest possible despatch, it is our duty to enlist ourselves in the army.” He did however stipulate in a letter to the Viceroy’s private secretary that he “personally will not kill or injure anybody, friend or foe.” Gandhi’s war recruitment campaign brought into question his consistency on nonviolence as his friend Charlie Andrews confirms, “Personally I have never been able to reconcile this with his own conduct in other respects, and it is one of the points where I have found myself in painful disagreement.” Gandhi’s private secretary also acknowledges that “The question of the consistency between his creed of ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence) and his recruiting campaign was raised not only then but has been discussed ever since.”
Champaran and Kheda
Main article: Champaran and Kheda Satyagraha
Gandhi’s first major achievements came in 1918 with the Champaran
agitation and Kheda Satyagraha, although in the latter it was indigo and other cash crops instead of the food crops necessary for their survival. Suppressed by the militias of the landlords (mostly British), they were given measly compensation, leaving them mired in extreme poverty. The villages were kept extremely dirty and unhygienic; and alcoholism was rampant. Now in the throes of a devastating famine, the British levied a tax which they insisted on increasing. The situation was desperate. In Kheda in Gujarat, the problem was the same. Gandhi established an ashram there, organising scores of his veteran supporters and fresh volunteers from the region. He organised a detailed study and survey of the villages, accounting for the atrocities and terrible episodes of suffering, including the general state of degenerate living. Building on the confidence of villagers, he began leading the cleanup of villages, building of schools and hospitals and encouraging the village leadership to undo and condemn many social evils such as untouchability and alcoholism.
But his main impact came when he was arrested by police on the charge of creating unrest and was ordered to leave the province. Hundreds of thousands of people protested and rallied outside the jail, police stations and courts demanding his release, which the court reluctantly granted. Gandhi led organised protests and strikes against the landlords who, with the guidance of the British government, signed an agreement granting the poor farmers of the region more compensation and control over farming, and cancellation of revenue hikes and its collection until the famine ended. It was during this agitation that Gandhi was addressed by the people as Bapu (Father) and Mahatma (Great Soul). In Kheda, Sardar Patel represented the farmers in negotiations with the British, who suspended revenue collection and released all the prisoners. As a result, Gandhi became well-known in India.
Main article: Non-cooperation movement
Gandhi employed non-cooperation, non-violence and peaceful resistance as his “weapons” in the struggle against the British Raj. In Punjab, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of civilians by British troops (also known as the Amritsar Massacre) caused deep trauma to the nation, leading to increased public anger and acts of violence. Gandhi criticised both the actions of the British Raj and the retaliatory violence of Indians. He authored the resolution offering condolences to British civilian victims and condemning the riots which, after initial opposition in the party, was accepted following Gandhi’s emotional speech advocating his principle that all violence was evil and could not be justified. But it was after the massacre and subsequent violence that Gandhi’s mind focused upon obtaining complete self-government and control of all Indian government institutions, maturing soon into Swaraj or complete individual, spiritual, political independence.
Mahatma Gandhi’s room at Sabarmati Ashram
Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi’s home in Gujarat
In December 1921, Gandhi was invested with executive authority on behalf of the Indian National Congress. Under his leadership, the Congress was reorganised with a new constitution, with the goal of Swaraj. Membership in the party was opened to anyone prepared to pay a token fee. A hierarchy of committees was set up to improve discipline, transforming the party from an elite organisation to one of mass national appeal. Gandhi expanded his non-violence platform to include the swadeshi policy — the boycott of foreign-made goods, especially British goods. Linked to this was his advocacy that khadi (homespun cloth) be worn by all Indians instead of British-made textiles. Gandhi exhorted Indian men and women, rich or poor, to spend time each day spinning khadi in support of the independence movement. Gandhi even invented a small portable spinning wheel that could be folded into the size of a small typewriter. This was a strategy to inculcate discipline and dedication to weed out the unwilling and ambitious, and to include women in the movement at a time when many thought that such activities were not respectable activities for women. In addition to boycotting British products, Gandhi urged the people to boycott British educational institutions and law courts, to resign from government employment, and to forsake British titles and honours.
“Non-cooperation” enjoyed widespread appeal and success, increasing excitement and participation from all strata of Indian society. Yet, just as the movement reached its apex, it ended abruptly as a result of a violent clash in the town of Chauri Chaura, Uttar Pradesh, in February 1922. Fearing that the movement was about to take a turn towards violence, and convinced that this would be the undoing of all his work, Gandhi called off the campaign of mass civil disobedience. According to Andrew Roberts, this was the third time that Gandhi had called off a major campaign, “leaving in the lurch more than 15,000 supporters who were jailed for the cause”. Gandhi was arrested on 10 March 1922, tried for sedition, and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. He began his sentence on 18 March 1922. He was released in February 1924 for an appendicitis operation, having served only 2 years.
Without Gandhi’s unifying personality, the Indian National Congress began to splinter during his years in prison, splitting into two factions, one led by Chitta Ranjan Das and Motilal Nehru favouring party participation in the legislatures, and the other led by Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, opposing this move. Furthermore, cooperation among Hindus and Muslims, which had been strong at the height of the non-violence campaign, was breaking down. Gandhi attempted to bridge these differences through many means, including a three-week fast in the autumn of 1924, but with limited success. This may have been due to Gandhi’s “uncanny ability to irritate and frustrate” India’s Muslim leadership.
Salt Satyagraha (Salt March)
Gandhi stayed out of active politics and, as such, the limelight for most of the 1920s. He focused instead on resolving the wedge between the Swaraj Party and the Indian National Congress, and expanding initiatives against untouchability, alcoholism, ignorance and poverty. He returned to the fore in 1928. In the preceding year, the British government had appointed a new constitutional reform commission under Sir John Simon, which did not include any Indian as its member. The result was a boycott of the commission by Indian political parties. Gandhi pushed through a resolution at the Calcutta Congress in December 1928 calling on the British government to grant India dominion status or face a new campaign of non-cooperation with complete independence for the country as its goal. Gandhi had not only moderated the views of younger men like Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru, who sought a demand for immediate independence, but also reduced his own call to a one year wait, instead of two. The British did not respond. On 31 December 1929, the flag of India was unfurled in Lahore. 26 January 1930 was celebrated as India’s Independence Day by the Indian National Congress meeting in Lahore. This day was commemorated by almost every other Indian organisation. Gandhi then launched a new satyagraha against the tax on salt in March 1930. This was highlighted by the famous Salt March to Dandi from 12 March to 6 April, where he marched 388 kilometres (241 miles) from Ahmedabad to Dandi, Gujarat to make salt himself. Thousands of Indians joined him on this march to the sea. This campaign was one of his most successful at upsetting British hold on India; Britain responded by imprisoning over 60,000 people.
The government, represented by Lord Edward Irwin, decided to negotiate with Gandhi. The Gandhi–Irwin Pact was signed in March 1931. The British Government agreed to free all political prisoners, in return for the suspension of the civil disobedience movement. Also as a result of the pact, Gandhi was invited to attend the Round Table Conference in London as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress. The conference was a disappointment to Gandhi and the nationalists, because it focused on the Indian princes and Indian minorities rather than on a transfer of power. Furthermore, Lord Irwin’s successor, Lord Willingdon, began a new campaign of controlling and subduing the nationalist movement. Gandhi was again arrested, and the government tried to negate his influence by completely isolating him from his followers. But this tactic failed.
Mahadev Desai (left) reading out a letter to Gandhi from the viceroy at Birla House, Bombay, 7 April 1939
In 1932, through the campaigning of the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar, the government granted untouchables separate electorates under the new constitution. In protest, Gandhi embarked on a six-day fast in September 1932. The resulting public outcry successfully forced the government to adopt a more equitable arrangement via negotiations mediated by the Dalit cricketer turned political leader Palwankar Baloo. This was the start of a new campaign by Gandhi to improve the lives of the untouchables, whom he named Harijans, the children of God. On 8 May 1933, Gandhi began a 21-day fast of self-purification to help the Harijan movement. This new campaign was not universally embraced within the Dalit community, as prominent leader B. R. Ambedkar condemned Gandhi’s use of the term Harijans as saying that Dalits were socially immature, and that privileged caste Indians played a paternalistic role. Ambedkar and his allies also felt Gandhi was undermining Dalit political rights. Gandhi had also refused to support the untouchables in 1924-25 when they were campaigning for the right to pray in temples. Because of Gandhi’s actions, Ambedkar described him as “devious and untrustworthy”. Gandhi, although born into the Vaishya caste, insisted that he was able to speak on behalf of Dalits, despite the presence of Dalit activists such as Ambedkar.
In the summer of 1934, three unsuccessful attempts were made on Gandhi’s life.
When the Congress Party chose to contest elections and accept power under the Federation scheme, Gandhi resigned from party membership. He did not disagree with the party’s move, but felt that if he resigned, his popularity with Indians would cease to stifle the party’s membership, which actually varied, including communists, socialists, trade unionists, students, religious conservatives, and those with pro-business convictions, and that these various voices would get a chance to make themselves heard. Gandhi also wanted to avoid being a target for Raj propaganda by leading a party that had temporarily accepted political accommodation with the Raj.
Gandhi returned to active politics again in 1936, with the Nehru presidency and the Lucknow session of the Congress. Although Gandhi wanted a total focus on the task of winning independence and not speculation about India’s future, he did not restrain the Congress from adopting socialism as its goal. Gandhi had a clash with Subhas Bose, who had been elected president in 1938. Their main points of contention were Bose’s lack of commitment to democracy and lack of faith in non-violence. Bose won his second term despite Gandhi’s criticism, but left the Congress when the All-India leaders resigned en masse in protest of his abandonment of the principles introduced by Gandhi.
World War II and Quit India
Main article: Quit India Movement
Jawaharlal Nehru sitting next to Gandhi at the AICC General Session, 1942
World War II broke out in 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Initially, Gandhi favoured offering “non-violent moral support” to the British effort, but other Congressional leaders were offended by the unilateral inclusion of India in the war, without consultation of the people’s representatives. All Congressmen resigned from office. After long deliberations, Gandhi declared that India could not be party to a war ostensibly being fought for democratic freedom, while that freedom was denied to India itself. As the war progressed, Gandhi intensified his demand for independence, drafting a resolution calling for the British to Quit India. This was Gandhi’s and the Congress Party’s most definitive revolt aimed at securing the British exit from India.
“I want world sympathy in this battle of right against might” – Dandi 5 April 1930
Gandhi was criticised by some Congress party members and other Indian political groups, both pro-British and anti-British. Some felt that not supporting Britain more in its struggle against Nazi Germany was unethical. Others felt that Gandhi’s refusal for India to participate in the war was insufficient and more direct opposition should be taken, while Britain fought against Nazism yet continued to contradict itself by refusing to grant India Independence. Quit India became the most forceful movement in the history of the struggle, with mass arrests and violence on an unprecedented scale. Thousands of freedom fighters were killed or injured by police gunfire, and hundreds of thousands were arrested. Gandhi and his supporters made it clear they would not support the war effort unless India were granted immediate independence. He even clarified that this time the movement would not be stopped if individual acts of violence were committed, saying that the “ordered anarchy” around him was “worse than real anarchy.” He called on all Congressmen and Indians to maintain discipline via ahimsa, and Karo Ya Maro (“Do or Die”) in the cause of ultimate freedom.
Gandhi and the entire Congress Working Committee were arrested in Bombay by the British on 9 August 1942. Gandhi was held for two years in the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. It was here that Gandhi suffered two terrible blows in his personal life. His 50-year old secretary Mahadev Desai died of a heart attack 6 days later and his wife Kasturba died after 18 months imprisonment on 22 February 1944; six weeks later Gandhi suffered a severe malaria attack. He was released before the end of the war on 6 May 1944 because of his failing health and necessary surgery; the Raj did not want him to die in prison and enrage the nation. He came out of detention to an altered political scene – the Muslim League for example, which a few years earlier had appeared marginal, “now occupied the centre of the political stage”  and the topic of Jinnah’s campaign for Pakistan was a major talking point. Gandhi met Jinnah in September 1944 in Bombay but Jinnah rejected, on the grounds that it fell short of a fully independent Pakistan, his proposal of the right of Muslim provinces to opt out of substantial parts of the forthcoming political union.
Although the Quit India movement had moderate success in its objective, the ruthless suppression of the movement[clarification needed] brought order to India by the end of 1943. At the end of the war, the British gave clear indications that power would be transferred to Indian hands. At this point Gandhi called off the struggle, and around 100,000 political prisoners were released, including the Congress’s leadership.
Partition of India
While the Indian National Congress and Gandhi called for the British to quit India, the Muslim League passed a resolution for them to divide and quit, in 1943. The Mahatma is believed to have been opposed to the partition during independence and suggested an agreement which required the Congress and Muslim League to cooperate and attain independence under a provisional government, thereafter, the question of partition could be resolved by a plebiscite in the districts with a Muslim majority. When Jinnah called for Direct Action, on 16 August 1946, Gandhi was infuriated and visited the most riot prone areas to stop the massacres, personally. He made strong efforts to unite the Indian Hindus, Muslims and Christians and struggled for the emancipation of the “untouchables” in Hindu society.
On the 14th and 15th of August, 1947 the Indian Independence Act was invoked and the following carnage witnessed a displacement of up to 12.5 million people in the former British Indian Empire with an estimated loss of life varying from several hundred thousand to a million. But for his teachings, the efforts of his followers, and his own presence, there would have been much more bloodshed during the partition, according to prominent Norwegian historian, Jens Arup Seip.
Stanley Wolpert’s words sum up Gandhi’s role and views on the partition perfectly:
Their plan to carve up British India was never approved of or accepted by Gandhi, however, who realised too late that his closest comrades and disciples were more interested in power than principle, and that his own vision had long been clouded by the illusion that the struggle he led for India’s freedom was a nonviolent one.
– Stanley Wolpert, Gandhi’s Passion, The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, Oxford University Press
Raj Ghat, Delhi is a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi that marks the spot of his cremation
Gandhi’s ashes at Aga Khan Palace (Pune, India)
On 30 January 1948, Gandhi was shot while he was walking to a platform from which he was to address a prayer meeting. The assassin, Nathuram Godse, was a Hindu nationalist with links to the extremist Hindu Mahasabha, who held Gandhi responsible for weakening India by insisting upon a payment to Pakistan. Godse and his co-conspirator Narayan Apte were later tried and convicted; they were executed on 15 November 1949. Gandhi’s memorial (or Samādhi) at Rāj Ghāt, New Delhi, bears the epigraph “Hē Ram”, (Devanagari: हे ! राम or, He Rām), which may be translated as “Oh God”. These are widely believed to be Gandhi’s last words after he was shot, though the veracity of this statement has been disputed. Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the nation through radio:
“Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the father of the nation, is no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that; nevertheless, we will not see him again, as we have seen him for these many years, we will not run to him for advice or seek solace from him, and that is a terrible blow, not only for me, but for millions and millions in this country.” – Jawaharlal Nehru’s address to Gandhi
Gandhi’s ashes were poured into urns which were sent across India for memorial services. Most were immersed at the Sangam at Allahabad on 12 February 1948 but some were secretly taken away. In 1997, Tushar Gandhi immersed the contents of one urn, found in a bank vault and reclaimed through the courts, at the Sangam at Allahabad. Some of the Mahatma’s ashes were scattered at the source of the Nile River near Jinja, Uganda, and a memorial plaque marks the event. On 30 January 2008 the contents of another urn were immersed at Girgaum Chowpatty by the family after a Dubai-based businessman had sent it to a Mumbai museum. Another urn has ended up in a palace of the Aga Khan in Pune (where he had been imprisoned from 1942 to 1944) and another in the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Los Angeles. The family is aware that these enshrined ashes could be misused for political purposes but does not want to have them removed because it would entail breaking the shrines.