Biography: The life of ‘Father of the Nation,’Mahatma Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a boy born in Porbandar, in modern day Gujarat, on October 2, 1869, lived a life by the end of which, not only did he came to be called 'Mahatma' or Great-soul, but also the 'Father of the Nation' to the newly independent India.
His life, in how he lived it and what he achieved in it, saw him become one of the most famous and important figures not only for those in his own country but around the world. His fight for India's independence made him become a universal symbol for peace and non-violent protests.
But this is not what he had set out to achieve as he sailed to Britain when he was 18 to study law after finishing his schooling in Gujarat. After completing his studies, the young Gandhi returned to India but struggled to establish a successful practice.
Such circumstances led him to accept an offer of an assignment in South Africa, which too was a colony of the British at the time. So he moved to the country along with his wife Kasturbai Kapadia, who he married when he was 13 and she 14 in 1883, and their two children (They had two more later).
It was his experiences and struggles in the 21 years he spent in the country that developed his political views, ethics and politics. Though he was originally hired for just a case, he ended up becoming the leader of the fight against racism and discrimination faced by the Indian community at the hands of the colonial masters in the country.
And it had all started with the now famous story of him being racially discriminated and not being allowed to sit in a first-class coach of the train, he was travelling in and had tickets for, due to his skin color. After he protested he was thrown out of the train at the next station.
After becoming a well-known leader in the Indian community, given his two decades of work following the incident, he was welcomed back by his mentor Gopal Krishna Gokhale and leaders of the Congress who were familiar with his achievements.
Soon after his return he joined the Congress, whose fight against the British was not very effective at that moment. But before taking part in direct efforts and struggle for freedom, Gandhi chose to tour the country for a year so as to familiarize himself with the people of the country and their problems.
He eventually went on to lead the Congress during various movements against the British. The first three major events that saw him dawn the role of the leader were related to Champaran agitations, Kheda agitations and Khilafat movement.
Gandhi's first major achievements and Satyagraha came in 1918 with the Champaran and Kheda agitations of Bihar and Gujarat. In Champaran, the local peasantry was pitted against their largely British landlords who were backed by the local administration and were forcing the farmers to plant crops against their will. Pursuing a strategy of nonviolent protest, Gandhi took the administration by surprise and won concessions from the authorities.
In the same year, floods and famine hit Kheda, and the peasantry was demanding relief from taxes. Gandhi, who moved to the area, organized scores of supporters and fresh volunteers from the region. Using non-co-operation as a technique, Gandhi initiated a signature campaign where peasants pledged non-payment of revenue even under the threat of confiscation of land. After five months of refusal by the administration, the Government gave way on important provisions and relaxed the conditions of payment of revenue tax until the famine ended.
After that, Gandhi supported the Khilafat movement in 1919, which was launched after the British abolished the Caliphate in the Ottoman Empire. This support was an attempt by Gandhi to unite and try to keep the Indian population of different religions together.
Other than specific instances of protests based on particular issues, Gandhi also launched movements at the national level. The first of these was the Non-Cooperation Movement on August 1, 1920, following the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre were British forces opened fire on an unarmed gathering of people in Amritsar. The protests saw Indians refuse to buy British goods and instead turn to local products. Though a success, in what can be seen as his adherence to non-violence, he single-handily stopped the movement after protestors resorted to violence in Chauri Chaura and killed policemen in 1922.
The second major movement came when he went on Salt March, better known as Dandi March, which was an act of civil disobedience against the salt tax imposed by the government. He marched to the coastal village of Dandi in Gujarat to make salt, an illegal act at the time. The 24-day march began from 12 March 1930 gained worldwide attention, which gave impetus to the Indian independence movement and started the nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement.
During the period from his arrival in the country till independence, he represented the negotiations at various levels between the Indian side and government, and was also sent to jail during his various movements. The final major movement launched by him was the Quit India Movement in 1942 demanding the end of British rule in India.
Along with direct attempts to help India gain independence, his work also included trying to build a society without discrimination whether on the basis of class, caste or religion etc. These saw him gain as many followers as he did critiques.
As India came close to independence and the demands for partition started getting louder, incidents of communal violence were also seen in different parts of the country. He took himself away from the details and negotiations that were part of Independence and partition, and threw himself into trying to bring peace in areas, which saw such violence. With him going on hunger strikes in protests till the rioters stopped. A tactic, that worked well in cities like Calcutta.
Age and such protests using non-violence measures took a toll on his health. And yet these were not the cause of his death. Instead, even though he was the most followed leader of the country and one of the most celebrated personalities in the world, he was shot dead on January 30, 1948, by a right wing Hindu nationalist, Nathuram Godse, who blamed him for the partition of the country.
His death saw an outpour of emotions not only in India but also from around the world. And saw his standing turn from that of a boy born in Gujarat to a 'Mahatma' and an inspiration to leaders such as Martin Luther, Nelson Mandela, Jawaharlal Nehru among others and is still quoted as the symbol of non-violence and peace throughout the world.