Gandhi. Bronze course lesson 3
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Gujarat in 1869. Gujarat is part of India. Gandhi was born into a Hindu family of the Vaidya caste. Gandhi’s father was the prime minister of a small princely state.
Gandhi was blessed with a prodigious intelligence and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. He had an especial flair for languages. In those days many people did not go to school at all. Gandhi went to school and unlike most Indians in those days he learnt English. He acquired absolute mastery of the language.
When Gandhi was a teenager he married. This was not uncommon at the time. He and his wife had with several children. Gandhi believed as most people did in the 19th century that men should be in charge.
It was decided that Gandhi could make the most of his extraordinary innate abilities by becoming a barrister. To that end he took ship for England. The British Empire was at the apogee of its might. Gandhi knew much of the United Kingdom from his reading. The United Kingdom was the first country to industrialise. It had so many technological inventions and scientific breakthroughs to its credit. Gandhi was in bewildered awe of the British.
Upon arrival in the United Kingdom Gandhi soon discovered that not all Britons were learned or mannerly. The Britons he had met in India were all in positions of authority. Many British people were ignoramuses and many worked in menial jobs. Gandhi realised that he spoke far better English than many native speakers of the language. He knew so so much about the UK. Yet he discovered that most Britons knew almost nothing about India. Many of them thought that Hinduism and Islam were the same thing.
M K Gandhi thought that the British had some special power. How was it that a small number of people from two rainy islands could rule a third of the world? He had been brought up to believe that drinking alcohol and eating beef were the depth of immorality. Yet the British did both. Gandhi wore British clothes and learnt to dance in the British style.
Gandhi did well and passed his law exams. He was called to the bar. This meant he was a barrister. He would be able to practise law in India. He sailed back to India.
- In which year was Gandhi born?
- In which Indian state was Gandhi born?
- What faith was he brought up in?
- What was his profession?
- Was he married?
- What surprised him about the UK? Five marks
He later moved to South Africa and set up a legal practice there. There was a small Indian community there. The black tribes were the majority of 70% of the people there. There was a large white minority comprising 25% of the population. His legal practice prospered.
Gandhi was appalled at the racial discrimination directed against Indians by the South African Government. He was an affluent man and bought a first class rail ticket. He sat in the first class carriage. The ticket inspector came along and demanded that Gandhi move to the third class carriage. Gandhi produced his ticket. The ticket inspector was adamant that no Indian was allowed to travel first class even if he had a first class ticket. Gandhi refused to budge. He was thrown off the train at the next station. It was a rude awakening for him. He had believed in British justice.
Every white man had the vote but Indians and black men generally did not. The law required every Indian to be fingerprinted in case he committed a crime. Whites and black people were not fingerprinted. Why were Indians singled out for this? If every person had his fingerprints taken by the police it could help reduce crime. But to do it to one race only was unfair. Gandhi led a campaign of protest. He was arrested and flung into prison.
Gandhi’s exploits in South Africa garnered press coverage. His tireless advocacy of Indian rights was prominently reported in India. After some years he returned to India. He disembarked at Bombay (Mumbai). A large crowd hailed him. He was perceived as an indomitable campaigner for justice. Gandhi threw himself into the the work of the Congress Party.
- Which African country did he move to?
- What happened to him on a train?
- What was Gandhi’s reputation in India as a result of his South African period?
Back in India
Some of the higher castes discriminated against the lower castes. Gandhi was disgusted by such behaviour. He lamented that caste discrimination was worse than the way that the British treated Indians. He had an abiding hatred for injustice. Some people called the lowest caste ‘untouchables’. Gandhi called them ‘children of God.’ Gandhi was a strictly observant Hindu but he believed that the caste system had no place in Hinduism.
Despite his fervent Hindu faith Gandhi revered other religions. He read the Bible and Koran. He often quoted his favourite passages of these scriptures. His favourite him was a Christian one entitled ‘Abide with me’. Gandhi preached unity between Indians of all religions.
The First World War broke out. The impulse of Gandhi’s heart was pacifism. However, he thought that being part of the British Empire was beneficial for India. Therefore he argued that Indians should serve in the defence of the same. He urged Indians to volunteer for the military. As the war went on Congress asked the British to give India dominion status. London demurred.
After the war major reform was not forthcoming. The viceroy announced the Rowlatt Act. This law abrogated civil liberty. Gandhi and Congress were enraged. They vigorously protested. The government outlawed these demonstrations but they continued all the same.
- What did Gandhi think of caste discrimination?
- Did Gandhi dislike other religions?
- What was his attitude to the First World War?
- What was his attitude to the Rowlatt Act?
Amritsar and afterwards
In 1919 a British officer ordered his men to shoot hundreds of unarmed Indians. The Amritsar Massacre shook Gandhi to the core. He had believed that the British were in India for the upliftment of India. But he came to believe that the British were in India only for their own enrichment.
Gandhi and other Congress leaders started to reject British projects. They burnt their British clothes and announced they would buy no more British manufactures. They would hit the British where it hurt: in the wallet. After more forbidden protests were arrested. He spent much of the 1920s and 1930s in and out prison. He had been a rich man. But he rejected opulence and even when free chose to live austerely. He chose to mingle with the penniless. M K Gandhi was noted for his compassion for those who were poverty stricken.
When Gandhi was in prison he said he was on ‘a fast unto death’. He would refuse to eat until he died. However, after a few weeks he always started eating again. The British sneered at this. If Gandhi really wanted to starve himself to death why did he not do so? He always gave up his fast.
Some Indians said that India was oppressed and must fight for independence. They argued that India had been taken by the gun and could be retaken by the gun. Neither logic nor history suggested any other course. Gandhi rejected the use of force.
M K Gandhi asked why it was that London permitted other countries to be dominions. Southern Ireland, Canada and Australia were allowed parliaments. Why not India? It seemed to be colour prejudice. The UK said it stood for freedom yet was denying freedom to India. The British demanded democracy for whites but oppression for non-whites. The British said that the Indians were unfit for self-governance. This was absurd. India had governed itself for over 4 500 years of recorded history. The Indians had had writing for 2 500 years longer than the British. The British only got writing from the Romans. The British claimed that they knew how to govern India best. Gandhi believed that surely Indians knew more about India than any foreigner. The British said that only they would adjudicate fairly between Muslims and Hindus. Gandhi believed that communal asperities in India were carefully fostered by the British. The British authorities did not want Indians to make common cause against them. Therefore they were devilishly cunning in fanning hatred between Indians of different religions. But still plenty of Hindus and Muslims got along well despite this. There were eminent members of Congress who were Muslims.
Gandhi protested against a tax on salt. He marched to the sea with hundreds of acolytes to evaporate and get some salt. This was a technical breach of the law. The Salt March gained media attention from around the world. His exploits were reported in the United States and UK.
- Which party was Gandhi in?
- How did he change his wardrobe in the 1920s?
- Did Gandhi believe in using violence?
- What did Gandhi believe cause inter-commmunal tension in India?
- What did Gandhi do about the Salt Tax?
How do they rule?
In the First World War there had been only 40 000 British soldiers in India which had a population of over 250 000 000. How was it the British could control India which such a tiny number of soldiers? The British soldiers were armed. But even if Indians were fighting with their bare hands they would have defeated the British whom they outnumbered so heavily. But there were plenty of Indians who were armed. The Indian Army had well over 1 000 000 men in India. If they had turned their guns on the British then the British Raj would be over in one day. The princely states had armies totaling hundreds of thousands of men. Then there was the Indian Police whose men were usually armed. India could end British rule in an instant even without force. If civil servants and railwaymen simply went on strike then the Raj would be paralysed. But people obeyed. Gandhi lamented that several million Indians actively supported the British Raj. He said, ”the British are here not because of their strength but because we keep them here.”
In India there were almost 600 princely states. These states were ruled by hereditary rulers. These princes were ardently pro-British. The British authorities always made a fuss over the princes. These princes were made to feel valued. They often ruled as despots. Gandhi thought that the British were fiendishly clever in using the princes as puppets. Gandhi looked down on them for collaborating with the British in return for effusive flattery.
- What was surprising about the size of the British Army in India?
- Did princely states have armies?
- Did Gandhi respect the princes?
In the 1930s Gandhi was perturbed by the rise of a political party called the Muslim League. It was led by a barrister named Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Jinnah was a man who liked the finer things in life. He did not mix with the poor like Gandhi and instead Jinnah lived in the lap of luxury. Jinnah also wore costly Western suits and shunned traditional Indian raiment. Gandhi’s conspicuous Hinduism made some Muslims fear that an independent India would discriminate against them.
An organisation called the Hindu Mahasabha (”Great Union”) was founded. The Hindu Mahasabha was not pressing for independence but said that if it came India must be an avowedly Hindu country. They noted that the Muslims, Sikhs and Christians in India were mostly of Hindu descent. They said these people should be reconverted to Hinduism. This was grist to the mill for the Muslim League. The Muslim League said that in an independent India Muslims would be deprived of their rights. They wanted a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent.
In 1930 Gandhi returned to the UK for a Round Table Conference on India’s future. He was warmly greeted by the crowds. He visited Eton and Oxford University. The conference did not come up with a solution.
Gandhi was upset by the persecution of Jews in Germany. He wrote the the German President Hitler asking him to desist from mistreating Jewish people. Some people felt that Gandhi was foolish to write politely to such a cruel tyrant.
By the late 1930s Gandhi had stepped back from front line politics. Nehru had become the leader of Congress. Gandhi seemed more focused on spirituality than winning power. His views became increasingly eccentric. He rejected Western medicine and said that no one should get an injection because it was ‘violent.’
- What was the party for Muslims only?
- What did the Hindu Mahasabha want?
- Why did some people believe that Gandhi was foolished in the late 1930s?
In 1939 the Second World War broke out. Gandhi was a pacifist and told people not to fight. When the United Kingdom was facing invasion by Germany he said that the UK should surrender to the Nazis rather than spill a drop of blood. Many people thought that Gandhi was crazy to say this.
In 1942 Congress began the Quit India Campaign. A series of protests and strikes seriously threatened the British ability to control the country. Congress was proclaimed an illegal organisation. Gandhi and others were incarcerated. The Japanese invaded India. Gandhi was well aware of the many huge scale atrocities that the Japanese had perpetrated in China. These would make the Amritsar Massacre seem minor by comparison. He was obliged to reconsidere his principled opposition to the use of force. How should the Japanese be resisted? Gandhi suggested using lathis (sticks). Even those who respected him felt he was being totally unrealistic about the need to fight properly.
The war ended in 1945 and Gandhi was set at liberty. He was dead against the idea of partitioning India. Congress reluctantly agreed to the Partition of India. The Muslim League was jubilant. Gandhi was bitterly disappointed that India was going to be divided.
In August 1947 India was partitioned. A new nation called Pakistan was born. There were was a huge outbreak of communal violence. Gandhi begged for peace between people of different religions.
- What was Gandhi’s attitude to the war?
- What happened to Gandhi in 1942?
- What did he say should be done about the Japanese?
- Did Gandhi like Partition?
In January 1948 Gandhi changed his tune about Pakistan. He had not wanted the country to be created. However, he decided to accept Pakistan. He announced that he planned to go on a visit to Pakistan to achieve rapprochement between the two countries.
Some Hindu fanatics were irate that Gandhi had accepted the existence of Pakistan. To them Pakistan was an illegitimate country. Its soil belonged to India. Hindus had lived in that land since time immemorial. They decided that Gandhi must die for preaching reconciliation with Muslims.
One evening Gandhi went to Birla House, Delhi to lead evening prayers. A member of the Hindu Mahasabha named Nathuram Godse stepped out of the crowd and shot Gandhi. Gandhi uttered ‘hai ram’ before falling dead.
The shockwaves reverberated across the world. The apostle of peace had been felled by an assassin’s bullet. All India Radio announced the killing of Gandhi. People were worried that if the assassin was a Muslim then some people would attack every Muslim they could find. The radio emphasised that the killer was a Hindu.
The next day Gandhi’s body bedecked in flowers was borne on a gun carriage through the streets of Delhi past hundreds of thousands of mourners. Lord Mountbatten, Nehru and others sat in the front row at the funeral service as prayers were chanted around Gandhi’s corpse. Then the sandalwood was lit by his son. Gandhi was cremated. His ashes were scattered on the river.
Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte were arrested at the scene. Apte had been present when Godse had bought a gun for the purpose of assassinating Gandhi. They were both charged with murder. Several of their confederates were charged with lesser crimes.
In line with Gandhian principles his sons appealed for the life of Nathuram Godse. Nonetheless Godse was sentenced to death and hanged.
Gandhi is world famous. He was a man of unexampled probity and moral courage. His sayings are often quoted. A 1981 film about him was made entitled ‘Gandhi’. He is known as Gandhiji. The suffix ‘ji’ is honorific. Many called him Mahatma meaning ‘Great Souled’.
- How did Gandhi change his mind about Pakistan?
- Where in Delhi was Gandhi on his last evening?
- Who killed Gandhi?
- What were Gandhi’s last words?
- In which year did Gandhi die?