Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in India in 1869. At that time India was under British rule. Two-thirds of India was directly ruled by the British. One-third of Indian was ruled by Indian princes. There were hundreds of Indian princes from different families. Their states were called the princely states. M K Gandhi was born in one of these princely states. Gandhi’s father was a high official in a princely state.
At that time about 70% of the population of India was of the Hindu religion. Around 20% of the population was Muslim. The remaining 10% was divided between Christians, Sikhs and other faiths.
Gandhi was a Hindu. He was not very religiously observant at first. He very much admired British culture and he became absolutely fluent in English. Like many modern minded Indians at the time he believed that British rule was a good thing. It was helping India to advance. The Britishers had brought peace, better technology and the latest science.
At the age of 13 Gandhi got married. This same year his father died. Gandhi and his wife had several children.
Gandhi went to London to study law. He was mightily impressed with London which was then the largest city in the world. He drank alcohol, wore Western clothes and learnt Western dances. After qualifying as a barrister he returned to India.
Later Gandhi went to practise law in South Africa. South Africa was a British colony. 70% OF THE people of South Africa were black. The black South Africans were excluded from politics. About 25% of the population of South Africa was white. Many whites believed they were superior to other races. The whites in South Africa were divided into two groups – those of British and those of Dutch descent. A war broke out between British and Dutch people in South AFrica. Gandhi believed that Indians in South Africa had a duty to help the British who had done much for India.. Gandhi was loyal to the British Empire.
Gandhi noticed that there were laws in SOuth Africa discriminating against Indians. Indians did not have political rights. He began to protest about this. He was briefly imprisoned.
Later Gandhi returned to India. He became more religious and stopped wearing Western clothes. He also began to live very simply. He had been a rich lawyer but from the 1920s he chose to live in poverty and to help the poor. He also denounced alcohol. Gandhi was a sincere Hindu but he also respected other religions. He read aloud from the Holy Koran and the Bible. Gandhi wanted unity between all the religions in India. Gandhi joined the Congress Party. The Congress Party had been set up with the approval of the British Government in India. The Congress Party was to represent the opinions of India and to advise the British rulers of India. However, the Congress Party became more critical of the British Government and wanted more change.
Gandhi believed that Indians should support the British in the First World War. But in return he wanted concessions to the Indians. He began to see that British rule in India was far from perfect and that reform was needed. He wanted Indians to be given more self-government.
After the First World War , although the British won the British were still nervous. They had sent soldiers to Russia to try to defeat the Bolsheviks. There was a possibility of a communist revolution in the United Kingdom. There were many demonstrations in India for major reform. The British Government brought in very strong security laws allowing them to lock up people for almost anything. Gandhi and the Congress Party protested against these laws that they said were unfair and unnecessary.
In 1919 there was unrest in Amritsar, a city in India. Five British people were killed. The British Army commander, General Dyer, put up posters banning all demonstrations. Thousands of people demonstrated anyway. They demanded political change. Dyer led his soldiers to a garden called Jallianwala Bagh. He refused to warn the crowd again. He ordered his soldiers to fire into the crowd. Hundreds of people were killed. No one in the crowd had a gun and General Dyer said the crowd did nor threaten his men.
People were frightened after this massacre and also enraged. Some Indians began to call for total independence for India. General Dyer was forced to retire but was never put on trial for killing so many civilians.
Through the 1920s Gandhi led many protests. He refused to pay tax and was sent to prison for it. Gandhi told Congress that they must never use violence. He became a pacifist. Some Indians believed that Indian independence could only come about through force. SOme Indians assassinated British officials.
There Indian Army was under British command. British rule in India was upheld by Indian soldiers and Indian policemen. Gandhi tried to persuade these men not to serve the British but he could not change their minds.
The British Government was compelled to negotiate with Gandhi and his Congress Party. Elections were held but only literate men were allowed to vote. The Congress Party won most of the seats. There was also another major political party – the Muslim League. The Muslim League was led by Mohammad ALi Jinnah. Jinnah had once been a member of the Congress Party. Jinnah had come to believe that Muslims were very different from Hindus. The Muslim League said that Muslims had different laws, a different culture and a different identity than the Hindus. THE Muslim League was at first happy for British rule to continue. tHEY BElieved this was best for India’s Muslims. They feared that Indian independence would mean Hindu domination and this would be bad for Muslims. Gandhi said that the Congress Party was open to everyone. However, there were very few Muslims in the Congress Party.
There were also other political parties such as the Hindu Mahasbha. Mahasahba means ”great union”. The Hindu Mahasabha wanted India to be independent but to be a strongly Hindu country with Hindu laws. There was also the Liberal Party which was against independence.
By 1935 India had limited self-government. The Congress Party said this was not enough and campaigned for total independence. In the meantime they co-operated with the British Government. Gandhi stepped back from politics and concentrated more on his religion. The new leader of the party was also a Hindu. He was named Jawaharlal Nehru.
In 1939 the Second World War broke out. India was on the British side. Many Indians wanted to be neutral but as their country was under British control India entered the war anyway. SOme Indians said that they had no quarrel against Germany. Some Indians sought German help against the British.
Many Indians volunteered for the Indian Army – at that time it was under British command. Gandhi was a pacifist and said that Indians should not fight. The British Government conceded that Indian independence must come after the war.
The Muslim League saw that Indian independence was coming. The Muslim League said that a new country must be created as a home for India’s Muslims. This new country would be called Pakistan. It would be created out of territory in the very west and the very east of India. The Congress Party was very much against this idea. They wanted all Indians to stay together and said that India was for people of all faiths.
In 1941 Japan attacked British colonies in Asia. Some Indian soldiers were captured by the Japanese. These Indian soldiers were often persuaded to change sides. They would fight alongside the Japanese against the British. Their objective was to bring about Indian independence. The Japanese Army even penetrated the very eastern border of India. Then Gandhi saw that Japanese rule would be much worse than British rule. The Japanese talked about Indian independence but they had no intention of granting it. They wanted to conquer India and exploit it more than the British had.
The war ended in 1945. India, the United Kingdom and other countries were the winners. The UK was broke after the war and agreed that India would be granted independence within three years. The question at the time was whether or not Pakistan should come into being. In the north-west of India and in some of the eastern provinces there was a Muslim majority. The Muslim League won elections there. There was a lot of violence and Hindus and Muslism were killed.
The new British governor of India was Lord Mountbatten. Lord Mountbatten was sympathetic to Congress but he saw that a high majority of Muslims wanted Pakistan to be set up. He persuaded Congress that they should agree to Pakistan being founded. The Indian Parliament voted to allow Pakistan to be created. Even Nehru – the leader of Congess – voted for it. Most Congress Party members were very sad. They did not want India divided but they said that the partition of India could not be prevented. If they did not let Muslims set up this new country of Pakistan then there would be a terrible war. Gandhi was not in Parliament at the time but he campaigned against Pakistan’s creation. He said it would be better to allow the Muslim League to rule the whole of India than to allow partition.
There was more and more fighting between Hindus and Muslims. British soldiers just wanted to go home. Lord Mountbatten brought independence forward by a year. On 14 August 1947 Pakistan became independent. On 15 August 1947 India became independent. The border was only then established.
Many Hindus and Sikhs left Pakistan to move to India. Many Muslims moved from India to Pakistan. There was horrific fighting. Up to 1 000 000 people were killed. Most of them were civilians. There was one Indian state which was disputed. Kashmir had a Hindu prince but a Muslim majority. The Hindu price decided to join India but most of his people wanted to be in Pakistan. India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir.
Gandhi’s dream of friendship between different religions seemed to have ended in disaster.
In 1948 Gandhi decided to accept Pakistan’s existence. He had not wanted Pakistan to be born but Pakistan was a reality. He said he would go on a visit to Pakistan to try to achieve reconciliation between Pakistanis and Muslims. Some Hindu fanatics were furious. They felt that Gandhi has betrayed them by saying that Pakistan must now allowed to be independent. These Hindu extremists wanted Pakistan to be conquered and forced to rejoin India.
In January 1948 Gandhi was walking to a prayer meeting in New Delhi. Two men stepped out of the crowd, Narayan Apte and Nathuram Godse. They shot him in the stomach. Gandhi cried ”He Ram!” meaning ”Oh God!” and fell dead. His killers were arrested at the scene.
Gandhi was cremated in accordance with Hindu custom. The gun that killed him can still be seen in a museum.
Gandhi’s killers were put on trial and found guilty. The judge sentenced them to death. Gandhi’s sons believed in non-violence. They pleaded for these men to be spared the death penalty. However, the Government of India would not grant them mercy. Apte was very confident that he would not be executed. He had looked at the palm of his hand and seen a long life line. When the executioner came to his cell he fainted with fear. Both men were hanged.
Gandi is remembered for preaching friendship betweel religions and for rejecting violence. He also had some strange ideas such as saying we should all be vegetarians. He was against modern medicine saying it was effeminate. He was against injections for being violent. He said that people should not even fight against Nazis.
Indians often called him Gandhiji. Putting ji on the end of the name shows respect for that person. He is a national hero in India and many people honour him.
Two Prime Ministers of India have had the surname Gandhi but they are not related to M K Gandhi. M K Gandhi is often called Mahatma meaning great souled.