GANDHI, THE MAHATMA
None of you may have seen him. But all of you have heard of him. He was a simple man, a man with no lands and no money. He did not even wear enough clothes to cover his whole body. And yet he had more strength and more power in the world than the greatest of emperors. His was the strength of goodness and of faith such as we read about in stories of our gods and saints and heroes. And yet this man lived in our own times. Einstein, the famous scientist, said of him that in a thousand years the world would find it difficult to believe that such a man ever walked on earth.
What did Gandhi do for us?
If we belong to a free country we owe it largely to him. If we are proud of our nation it is mostly because of him. If Harijan children today go to school like all other children and are not treated as untouchables, we owe it to Gandhi. Grown-ups say that he made men out of dust, that he gave us courage and that he taught us always to be a little better than we were. That is why he is called the Father of the Nation, and the story of his life is really the story of our people.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born at Porbunder in Kathiawad. Though his father was the Dewan of a State, he was a very ordinary child. Like most other children, he went to school and just managed to pass his examinations. When he was nineteen years old, he went to England, where he became a barrister. He did not start off as a particularly good lawyer. When he went to plead his first case, he got so nervous that he could hardly speak.
IN SOUTH AFRICA
When he was only twenty-four, he went to South Africa in connection with a legal case. There he was shocked to see that dark-skinned people, Indians and Africans, were treated almost like animals by the European settlers. They were not allowed to walk on the same pavements as the white people, or travel in the same coaches. If they did, they were insulted or beaten and even jailed. Gandhi had to suffer many such insults. He decided to stay on in South Africa to help the people to get fair treatment. He fought for this for twenty years and in the end was able to do something for his people. The way he fought was something quite new. It was not at all like the fighting that you have read about so far.
Gandhi believed that there is always a peaceful way of doing things, and if one had to fight and hurt people to get something, that thing was not worth having at all. If he thought a law was unfair, he believed it his duty to break it and accept cheerfully any punishment he was given without hatred for the person who inflicted it. This way of fighting, without violence, for what one believed to be right, Gandhi called Satyagraha. Satyagraha means insistence on truth. To Gandhi, Satya or truth and Ahimsa or non-violence were the most important things in life. He once said, “If I am a follower of Ahimsa, I must love my enemy.”
RETURN TO INDIA
After his great good work in South Africa, Gandhi came back to India. At that time, a war began in Europe between Germany on one side and Britain, France, Russia and some other nations on the other. Britain wanted help from India and promised that Indians would get more rights when the war was over. Gandhi believed this promise because he thought that one should always trust people. He helped in recruiting soldiers for the army. When the war was won, the British announced a few reforms, called Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, after the men who were Secretary of State and Viceroy. These reforms were so half-hearted that it became clear that the British had no desire to give Indians power to rule themselves. There was great resentment all over the country. The people who appeared to be very meek and mild seemed suddenly to wake up and speak out what they felt. Meetings and processions were held in many parts of the country to demand self-government. The police broke up the processions. Many people were hurt. Thousands were arrested.
At a place called Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar thousands of people had gathered to hear their leaders. Naturally, they had no guns or weapons of any sort with them. Suddenly an English General turned up with soldiers. He posted himself at the gate of the park and ordered his men to open fire. There was no way of escape. Over one thousand were killed and many more wounded. As though this was not enough, the British officers gave orders that all Indians passing through a certain street had to crawl on their bellies.
FOLLOWERS OF GANDHI
The butchery at Jallianwala Bagh shocked the whole country. The poet Tagore returned the honour and title the British had given him, in protest. Gandhi and other national leaders called to the people to come forward and join him in the fight against injustice. Thousands of men and women answered Gandhi's call. Young men left schools and colleges, lawyers gave up their work, and many resigned Government jobs to follow him. Most of our leaders of yesterday and today were among those followers Motilal Nehru with his son Jawaharlal Nehru, Chitta Ranjan Das, Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, C. Rajagopalachari, Sarojini Naidu, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Sardar Patel, Ajmal Khan, Dr. Ansari, Jamnalal Bajaj and Baba Kharak Singh. They defied laws and refused to buy or use anything that was British. They were arrested and put in jail again and again. They suffered great hardships, but as soon as they were released they continued to act exactly as before. In town and village, Indian crowds were beaten up by the police with lathis. But the crowds did not hit back, for Gandhi had taught the people that that was not the way to fight.
Once, however, in a village called Chauri Chaura, people became angry with the policemen and set fire to a police station. This pained Gandhi so much that he stopped the Satyagraha at once. To him, getting freedom was not the only important thing. The way of getting it was just as important. He wanted us to fight for freedom in a clean and pure way without violence. Violence, he said, always led to more violence.
He wanted to put an end to British rule in India, but he did not want the British people to be hurt. Freedom, he said, should be won in a way, which would make both Indians and Britons better people.
Gandhi said that it was not only the British who made us slaves but also we ourselves and some of our own customs. One of our worst customs was untouchability. Millions of our people were looked down upon and considered unfit event to be touched. They were not allowed to mix with other people. They could not pray in the same temples. They could not send their children to the same schools; they could not even draw drinking water from the same well. This was a disgrace to the nation. Gandhi loved the untouchables so much that he called them Harijans, the people of God.
To him, their well being was dearer than his own life. Once he went on fast to persuade the people to give more rights to Harijans. He did not touch any food for three weeks, and ate only when he was satisfied that they would be treated a little better. He spent a great deal of his time working for them. He fought to get them the right to enter temples, and mix with others as equals.
Apart from untouchability, Gandhi found poverty, unhappiness and ignorance in the country. In their ignorance, Hindus and Muslims were sometimes unkind to each other. Gandhi believed that all religions were really the same and that Allah of the Mussalmans and Ishwara of the Hindus were just two names of the same God. He was filled with sadness when Hindus and Muslims fought each other just because their religions happened to be different. Many times he went on fast when rioting broke out between the two communities.
Gandhi's heart was always with the peasants, the labourers and all the poor people. Throughout his life he thought of them in everything he did.
He taught the people to rely on themselves. He asked them to spin cotton on the charkha and wear only khadi. This helped the villagers and millions of poor weavers. At the same time it gave our own people the money spent on buying foreign cloth. Gandhi felt that by doing what the poor have to do every day, one came closer to them. “I cannot imagine better worship of God than that in His name I should labour for the poor even as they do,” he said. Gandhi also taught the people that to labour with one's hands was nothing to be ashamed of, and that it was the only way a human being could have dignity. All his life, he lived and ate in the simplest possible way. Many people were attracted by the simple way he lived, and followed him to the ashrams he had set up at Sabarmati, Sevagram and other places.
On January 26, 1930, the people of India, led by Gandhiji and Jawaharlal Nehru, took the pledge that they would not rest until the country won complete freedom. It was on this day, twenty years later, that India became a Republic.
THE DANDI MARCH
Soon after the pledge of freedom was taken, Gandhi asked the British to give what India asked. The British were not ready to do so. Gandhi decided to start another Satyagraha. You already know that Gandhi believed in breaking laws that are unjust. He believed that it was wrong to tax salt which even the poorest people use. He therefore made up his mind to break this unfair law and informed the Viceroy that he was going to do so. Followed by seventy-eight men and women, amongst whom was Vinoba Bhave, he marched for twenty-four days from his ashram to the sea beach at Dandi, near Ahmedabad. There he prepared some salt from the sea water in order to proclaim that the poor could make their own salt without paying a tax. And so a Law was broken. Thousands of men and women, in cities and villages, repeated Gandhi's example. They were put in prison, beaten with lathis and shot at. In a few weeks the jails of India were full and more had to be built.
ROUND TABLE CONFERENCES
The British Government now began to feel that they would have to talk to Indians in a more understanding way. They arranged three conferences in London. These were called the Round Table Conferences and many eminent Indians were called to attend them. The Congress at first refused to take part in these talks. Gandhi went to the second conference as the sole spokesman of the Congress. When he was there, the Congress felt, what need was there for anybody else? He went in his simple dhoti and wooden sandals. He told the English people: "Most of my countrymen cannot afford to dress any better than this and it is as the representative of my people that I sit here." The Conferences in London were not very helpful. All that the British finally agreed to was to let each province of India have a Government elected by the people with the British still having a say in all important matters.
A few years after this came the Second World War. Britain was at war with Germany. Without consulting the Indian leaders, Britain declared that India was also at war with Germany. The people of India protested. The popular Governments in the provinces, which were run by the Congress, resigned. Gandhi waited for a change of heart in the British. Finally, he asked them to "Quit India". It became the slogan of the whole country.
Before a new Satyagraha could be launched, the British arrested Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Rajendra Prasad and other leaders. This made the people very angry. There were protests all over the country, but the Government put down the people sternly. Much blood was shed and many thousands of people were thrown in prison without trial.
A little earlier, another of the leaders of our freedom movement, Subhas Chandra Bose, escaped from the country with the aim of fighting the British from outside. He led an army which was built up of Indians who were abroad. This army was called the Indian National Army. At that time Germany and Japan were at war with Britain. The Indian National Army also fought against British forces. Subhas Chandra Bose, who is affectionately called Netaji, is remembered as one of the bravest heroes of India.
A sad thing which happened during this time was that many Muslims in India began to think of themselves as separate people. The leader of the Muslim League, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, wanted a separate State for Muslims, which was to be called Pakistan.
At last, the war came to an end. Right-thinking Englishmen realized that they could not cling to India much longer. The time had come when Indians would rule themselves. The British set free the leaders who were in prison. Gandhi had been released a year earlier. The Congress and the Muslim League were invited by the Viceroy to form a government for the whole of India. Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders took oflice on behalf of the Congress. A little later, leaders of the Muslim League also joined the Government. But this did not work out well. Jinnah and members of the Muslim League wanted many parts of India to be carved out and formed into Pakistan. But the Congress wanted India to remain united. There was much rioting in the country.
Gandhi left all his other work and went to a place called Noakhali, in East Bengal, where a riot had broken out and where most people were Muslims. He knew quite well that in the midst of such madness and hatred, he might be killed. But he refused to have policemen to protect him. He went on his bare feet to many other villages praying that God should purify the hearts of both Hindus and Muslims. "If you become mad again, you must destroy me first," he told the villagers. But Gandhi's was a lone voice in a wilderness of hate and violence. Riots broke out in Bihar where there were more Hindus than Muslims, and then in the Punjab where there were more Muslims than Hindus or Sikhs.
People forgot that their fight was with the British and that the most important thing was to win freedom. They began fighting with each other. Those who wanted a separate state for themselves in the shape of Pakistan fought with others who wanted India to remain undivided. Rioting went on for many months. At last the British decided to give up their rule over India, but when they left there would not be a united India, but two separate countries. The leaders of the country finally agreed to the creation of Pakistan. The partition of the country, they thought, was less of an evil than the death of thousands of people.
GANDHI THE MAN
There was something in Gandhi, which made him a leader wherever he went. What were the qualities that made Gandhi such a great man? They were truth, courage, a promptness in action and a neatness of mind. Whatever he thought right he carried out in action, no matter how difficult it might be. He had unlimited courage. Gandhi became great by doing things, not just by telling others what to do. He never expected others to do what he could not do himself. And in everything he did, he was guided by truth, love and cleanliness.
To Gandhi, truth was the most important thing on earth. His search for truth never ended. There was always more to be known, more to be done, and done better than it had been done before. Life itself was a great experiment for Gandhi. As you know, an experiment is something from which you can find out more. Gandhi wrote the story of his life, and he called this book My Experiments with Truth.
Perhaps you think that a great man who did so many important things for us must have been a very serious kind of person. But Gandhi loved laughter. He liked to play with children. He was full of jokes about himself. One of his friends used to call him Mickey Mouse because of his big ears. He was a man with a gentle touch, a man whom the sick always wanted at their bedside.
Gandhi was against the idea of owning a lot of things. All he possessed himself could be made up into just one small bundle. “We are thieves in a way”, he said. “If I take anything that I do not need for my own immediate use, I thieve it from somebody else”.
Gandhi said, “We should be ashamed of resting or having a square meal so long as there is one able-bodied man or woman without work or food.” He always wanted to be with the poor people. In trains he travelled third class, and he liked to labour as the poor do.
The India which became free was not the India of Gandhi's dreams. Part of it had become Pakistan, as Jinnah and his Muslim League had wanted. On the midnight of August 14, 1947, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last of the Viceroys, handed over the reins of Government on behalf of the British Crown. Though there was unhappiness at the time because of the riots, we must remember that we had won our fight for freedom without weapons but with truth and non-violence. Such a thing had never happened before in the history of any country.
When India became free, the people sang and danced for joy and sent up fireworks and rockets in the sky. The whole country was jubilant, but Gandhi, who had made freedom possible, was sad because his beloved country had been cut up in two and because thousands had been killed and millions made homeless refugees. While free India celebrated Independence Day, Gandhi was far away in Bengal among the poor victims, trying to wipe the tears from their eyes, praying and fasting to atone for the sins of both Hindus and Muslims.
Some people who were full of hate against the Muslims were angry with Gandhi for caring as much for them as for the Hindus. When riots started in Delhi, Gandhi began a fast and gave it up only when peace was restored in the city. This made those who hated the Muslims angrier and they wanted to take revenge. One evening when Gandhi was going to say his prayers, a pistol shot suddenly rang out. It was followed by two more. Gandhi just said "Hey, Ram", folded his hands in prayer and fell. The whole nation was plunged in grief. They could hardly believe that one whom they affectionately called Bapu, and on whom they relied as much as little children rely on their fathers, was not with them any more.
Our Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, told the nation, “The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere.” But he went on to say, “And yet I am wrong for the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. It will illumine this country for many more years and a thousand years later it will still be seen in this country.”