Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi popularly known as ‘Mahatma’ (Great Soul) Gandhi was born on 2nd October 1869 at Porbandar, Gujarat.
Karamchand Uttamchand Gandhi was his father who although received very less formal education, was a successful court official alias Chief Minister of Porbandar.
Mohandas’ mother Putlibai was devoutly religious woman and her teachings of Jainism invigorated the values of mutual tolerance, non-injury to living beings and vegetarianism into her children.
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Early Life, Education and Family of Mahatma Gandhi
Born into a privileged caste, Mohandas received an all-inclusive education at home and school but he proved to be a rather mediocre student. In May 1883, at the age of 13, he was married off to Kasturba Makhanji also 13 years of her age, it was an arranged marriage.
Gandhi himself recalled candidly, many years later that when he was admitted to an elementary school, he found it difficult to memorise multiplication tables, deeming his own intelligence to be sluggish and memory to be raw. He was also recognised as a timid and shy pupil at school.
One incident that significantly marked, his up keeping of moral values even during troubled times, was when a British school inspector came to examine the boys.
He set a spelling test and Mohandas made a mistake which the class teacher noticed.
The teacher gestured Mohandas to copy it from his neighbour’s slate but he didn’t comply.
Later, although he was called stupid by his teacher but he was proud of the decision he had made.
With time, Mohandas gave in to bad habits and bad company. One of his elder brother’s friend, Sheikh Menon told him that the reason why Britishers are so powerful is because they eat meat.
Mohandas too started eating it although clandestinely from his parents. He also developed habits of stealing money from his siblings and parents that he repented later in his life.
Mohandar later joined Samaldas College in Bhavnagar, where he found the studies difficult and the atmosphere congenial. Since, his father died in 1885, it was suggested for Mohandas to study law in England so as to carry on the administrative responsibilities of his father.
When he was offered to study at the University College of London, he took the opportunity with eagerness but vowed to his mother not to touch wine, women or meat.
His initial days in England were gloomy and sombre as he was a novice to the English etiquette and food. His vouch took him to a vegetarian restaurant where he met Christians who were vegetarian themselves.
They provided him books and he learned that Science had also agreed upon the advantages of vegetarianism which inspired him about the righteous values of his forefathers.
He was also introduced to Bhagwad Gita, translated in English, to New and Old Testaments of Bible, also to Buddhism. This soared Gandhi’s wings of knowledge about various caste, creeds, ethics and religion and bore on him a global perspective.
Having passed his examinations by 1891 and considered a fit to be admitted into the English, he left for India again. Upon his return, Gandhiji learnt a mournful news of his mother’s demise that was deliberately hidden from him to prevent him from a shock in the distant land.
As a result, he started practicing at Bombay but when it was time to argue and cross-examine the witness, he got nervous and couldn’t utter even a word.
He fled from the court and gave back his client the advance money in full. To his dismay, he resorted to escape from India and found a job with an Indian firm in South Africa. Little did he knew that his escapism will not lead him astray.
Soon came that fateful night when Gandhi was travelling from Durban to Pretoria in-connection with a lawsuit. He was travelling in the first-class coach on a first-class ticket provided by his client.
But around 9 PM, a white man entered the coach and asked the railway officers to shift the coloured man i.e. Gandhi to the third-class compartment.
Gandhi, refused as he was travelling on a first-class ticket and he was no offender. Railway officials threw him off the coach cruelly and he landed on the platform.
He spent his night on the platform, the night was chilly and bitterly cold.
This assault made Gandhi stand up for his rights and he aroused the Indian community living in Pretoria and Natal.
He instructed them to be truthful in their dealings for its them on the basis of whom, Indian community shall be judged. He filed for petitions in Court and to Lord Rizon summoned there.
Gandhi won in his first public dealing having united Indians on a foreign land and delivering many public speeches successfully.
He also stopped a bill proposed by Natal Government to disfranchise Indians thereby making a mark for the hard-working countrymen.
He sorts no remunerations for his public work and enrolled to work as an advocate in the Supreme Court of Natal.
A leader in the making
Gandhiji returned to India after a successful tenure of 3 years for a brief visit of 6 months.
When plague broke out in Rajkot, Gandhi volunteered his services and visited several localities even those of untouchable to examine the sanitation of the area and taught them better methods of hygiene.
He came in acquaintance with veteran leaders like Badruddin Tyabji, Surendranath Banerjee, Pherozeshah Mehta and the great savant as well as patriot, Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
However, Gandhi felt greatly admired by the wits and charms of Gokhale whom he regarded as his guru later.
Gandhi had to cut short his visit and sail back to Durban along with his wife and kids when he received a letter from the India citizens of Natal.
During his legal protests and amidst several renunciations, he began following the teachings of Bhagvad Gita, piece by piece making himself a simpleton and drooling away from his successful legal career in wont of becoming a money-making machine.
Gandhi stayed there till 1915 and after having championed their causes and gotten them rid of their traumas and sufferings, legally, at the hands of racism and inequality, he returned to India.
Nobody knew that a ‘Great soul in beggar’s garb’, as Rabindranath Tagore used to remark him, had arrived onto the shores.
In April 1893, Gandhi had sailed for South Africa as a young and inexperienced barrister in search of fortune. In January 1915, he returned to India as a Mahatma with no possessions and only one ambition – to serve his people.
For this purpose, he along with his ‘political guru’ Gokhale, set on an expedition to learn about India and people of India. At the end of his year’s wanderings, Gandhi established an ashram – Sabarmati Ashram at the banks of River Sabarmati.
The ashram’s inmates – twenty-five men and women took an oath of truth, celibacy, ahimsa, non-stealing and non-possession in order to cater themselves to the service masses.
Gandhi’s first public address was at the opening ceremony of Banaras Hindu University in February 1916. Many distinguished princes and Lord Viceroy himself had gathered in the ceremony.
Gandhi shocked everyone by his first statement, “I am experiencing deep humiliation and shame because I have to address my own countrymen in a language that’s foreign to me”.
He further amazed everyone when he addressed the bejewelled Princes, “There is no salvation for India until you strip yourselves off this jewellery and hold it in trust for your countrymen in India”. Many Princes walked out.
Gandhi went to Champaran district to hear their woes who were being forced to work as peasants on their own farmlands and also being ordered to grow Indigo on 15% of their land holdings.
When the poor peasants heard that a leader has arrived they began gathering in flocks to let him know of their plight and sufferings.
This didn’t go well with the Government which arrested Gandhi on accounts of treason. The Judge ordered him to appear in court the next day.
Several thousands of peasants gathered around the court to see their champion being prosecuted for their rights, which alarmed the handful of Britishers.
The judge rather embarrassed released Gandhi without a bail even when Gandhi didn’t ask for it, fearing, thousands of peasants might protest and set the court on fire.
A committee was setup to look into the matter and it gave its verdict in favour of the peasants. This was the first victory of Gandhi in India as a leader.
He then, began preaching peasants to be free from fear. He began instilling in them the feelings of self-reliance, self-dependency and proper sanitation.
He called for volunteers from his ashram to help peasants in the regard and helped set up schools in the area. This was the nature of Gandhi’s leadership. He would ask people to stand on their feet while improving their lives in the background.
Subsequent victories as a leader of agrarian peasants of Kheda district of Gujarat and of textile workers against the Government and mill owners respectively, established Gandhi on the forefront of the caravan of Nation struggle for freedom.
However, noticeable was his demeanour when in 1917, Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford invited Gandhi to a War Conference held at Delhi asking for Indian recruitment into the British army for the ongoing World War I.
Everyone feared, Gandhi would deny, but Gandhi not only supported the motto of War Conference but went to Kheda district himself to ask peasants for a voluntary recruitment. This baffled the pacifists of the West too.
Was Gandhi having a soft heart for the brutality of the foreign rule or was this a shrewd move to gain their tenacity? The question, still remains unanswered.
Dandi March, Salt Satyagraha, Non-Cooperation and a strange Conscience
‘Mahatma’ Gandhi opposed the Rowlatt Act, which would have denied civil rights to very citizens of India.
In 1919, he also took cognizance of the Turkish Sultan, Khalifa, who wanted to champion the wishes of Indian Muslims and sort to organise a Non-Cooperation movement against the Government.
The Government was once again baffled to witness, its war’s ‘recruiting-sergeant’, waging a Non-Cooperation Non-Violent Movement against it.
He asked people to shut down their shops, businesses and play a vital part in the Non-Cooperation movement.
He was dazzled to see the enthusiasm and support he received from all over India. He himself wouldn’t have imagined the huge impact people had of him.
Through his weeklies, ‘Young India’ and ‘Navjivan’, Gandhi poured his electrified words to reach the masses. Article after article and speech after speech, people began to be drawn into the national cause.
Gandhi went on to tour Delhi and Amritsar. But from Delhi, he wasn’t allowed to enter the borders of Punjab. At Palwal station, he was handed over a notice forbearing him to do so. Upon his refusal to abide by the notice, he was arrested and brought to Bombay.
The news of his arrest spread like wild fire and some violence took place in which a British policeman was killed. Gandhi when learnt about the fact, sake to observe three days of fast, as a peace for the violence that had taken place during his movement.
Was this justified? Was this not an act of the weakening the strength of the already frightened and deshelled people of India?
His monk’s nature of condemning violence and observing fast strengthened the ulterior motives of Britishers and the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh took place.
Curfew was already installed in Punjab and when innocent people drew upon the courage to conduct a social meeting in Jallianwala Bagh, General Dyer ordered a cruel, brutal and barbaric assault on men, women, children and old alike. Several were thrashed with lathis and about 1,200 were reported dead while 3,600 casualties were reported.
Had Gandhi not been so coarse towards the mob and the killing of a single Englishman, 1,200 people wouldn’t have been dead! Did he ever take upon himself, the moral responsibility of the killings of his countrymen?
People who in such huge number could have rather killed those handful Britishers but couldn’t do so because they were weakened by their own hero to not fight, to not draw upon arms even in their own defence? What a mockery of India it would have been on an international stage, weak men, weak leaders!!
Nevertheless, he returned his medals, titles and honours and continued the non-violent protest after the incident. Once, again a mob attacked British officials at Chauri Chaura and he again decided to observe five days fast as an intuitive measure.
His colleagues protested and warned him of the consequences. He didn’t budge and his observance of fast, Satyagraha led to his easy arrest and was imparted simple imprisonment for six years.
A huge opportunity was lost. What could have been a mass agitation and could earn an impetus of throwing the foreign rule out as the movement was being observed on a grandeur scale all over the country turned into a mere failure.
Pity with Gandhiji’s conscience that didn’t take care of the innumerable deaths that this foreign rule had caused to the nation for more than 200 years instead sympathised with the enemy’s death!
In January 1924, following a surgery of appendices in Pune, he was released from jail. Meanwhile, the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movement had died a natural death which led to communal riots between the Hindus and Muslims.
He upon learning this decided to retire from active politics and work behind the scenes for Hindu-Muslim unity and untouchability. Little did he realised that his release from jail could itself have reunited Hindus and Muslims. Sadly, again a big opportunity was lost.
It was on January 26th 1930 that Gandhi’s interest began to arouse in politics. He forced a resolution of ‘Purna Swaraj’ as INC’s policy. In March 1930, after having duly informed the Viceroy, Gandhi began a 24-day March along with seventy-eight members of his ashram.
Villagers flocked to kneel at the foot of barefooted and unarmed man. The Dandi March was observed with devout fervour and much success with thousands participating in the cause. On April 4, after having walked 241 miles, Gandhi after offering his prayers, went to the beach and picked up a lump of salt.
Thousands of others did the same and started generating salt on their own. The law observed a nation-wide defiance. The machinery of British once again went out of gear.
This led to Gandhi’s arrest on May 4th soon after midnight followed by others of several other men and women.
First Round Table Conference back in London witnessed the embarrassment of the leaders ruling in India and soon Gandhi with his colleagues was released from Jail in January 1931.
He was invited with prominent leaders of the Congress to the Second Round Table in London.
He was well received in England due to his simplicity, kindness, trust and affection. Gandhi-Irwin Pact that was being founded, irked the then Viceroy Lord Willingdon.
The pact was destroyed by the repressive policy of new Viceroy. India was being ruled by ordinances, shooting and arrests had become the order of the day. Jawaharlal Nehru who went to receive Gandhi, was arrested on his way.
On landing in Bombay on December 28th 1931, Gandhi said, ‘I take it, these are Christmas gifts from Lord Willingdon, our Christian Viceroy’.
A week later, Gandhi himself was arrested and locked in Yeravda jail without even a trial.
Quit India and India’s Independence
In 1936, Gandhi returned in the forefront with Jawaharlal Nehru as the newly elected President of Indian National Congress but remarkably in 1938, he had a clash with Subhash Chandra Bose who didn’t recognize non-violence as the principle to obtain freedom.
Subhash Chandra won the second term as a President against Dr. Pittabhi Sitaramayya, Gandhi’s nominee. But Bose suffered resignations dropping in from Congress leaders in lieu of his abandonment of Gandhian principles.
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Gandhi opposed offering any helping hand to Britain during World War II, thoroughly acknowledging the fact that Britain was fighting for its own democracy without giving any to India.
But Gandhi, by 1942, had many haters amongst Congress leaders and common masses.
He appealed to his countrymen to not take part in the British Army, but as large as 2.5 million ignored his plea. Rajendra Prasad and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel emerged as the ardent supporters of Nazism and Fascism as opposed to Gandhi.
In 1942, Gandhi waged the ‘Quit India’ Movement against the Britishers while the failure of Khilafat Movement paved way to the formation of ‘Muslim League’ headed by Jinnah that waged, ‘Divide and Quit India’ movement.
In 1944, the Britishers, sombre and moral from winning the second World War II agreed to levy strategies and making necessary arrangements before leaving India.
They accepted Jinnah’s proposal of dividing India on religious lines much to the dismay of Gandhi. The leaders of All-India Congress working Committee, however forced him to accept the proposal. Strange enough, he didn’t fast this time!
And on the fateful day of 15th August 1947, India was granted its freedom. While the first Prime Minister, was busy delivering his speech, ‘Tryst with Destiny’ on the Independence Day, Gandhi didn’t celebrate it.
He was in Calcultta, spinning his wheel and appealing masses to not cause riots. Millions were rendered homeless and thousands of corpses laid in blood on the barren land on that day. What a mockery of freedom India received!
Breathing his Last
On 30th January 1948, at 5:30 PM, Gandhi was shot three bullets in his chest by Nathuram Godse while he was going the prayer meet from Birla house along with his two grand-nieces.
Some eye-witnesses claimed that he died on the spot while some journalists wrote that he was taken to his bedroom in Birla House and died 30 minutes later amidst his family members reading verses from the Gita.
Nathuram Godse was arrested on the spot. He neither flee nor denied charges levied against him.
He wasn’t even remorseful. Godse was the member of ‘Hindu Mahasabha’ and stated that he killed Gandhi who set the stage for killings of many Hindus and rendering them homeless, for letting the pious motherland get divided on the line of religion which will be a cause of disdain even for the coming generations.