Renaissance in Europe and Development of Science
India and European Colonialism
Colonialism and the Marathas
India: Social and Religious Reforms
Indian Struggle Against Colonialism
Decolonisation to Political Integration of India
World Wars and India
World : Decolonisation
India Transformed - Part 1
India Transformed - Part 2
Mahatma Gandhi: Non-violent Resistance Movement:
The mantle of Lokmanya Tilak, after his death in 1920, was passed on to Mahatma Gandhi. He became the leader of India’s Independence Movement. Under his leadership, the independence movement expanded considerably.
Gandhiji’s work began in South Africa. The British regime in South Africa had reduced the natives and the Indians there to very insignificant status. Several discriminatory laws and regulations were imposed on them. Gandhiji stood up against those laws and regulations. He was successful in it with non-violent means. In 1915 Gandhiji returned to India.
In April 1893, Gandhi had sailed for South Africa, a young and inexperienced barrister in search of fortune. In January 1915 he finally returned to India, a Mahatma, with no possessions and with only one ambition - to serve his people. Though the intelligentsia had heard of his exploits in South Africa, he was not much known in India, and Indians, in general, did not realize that "the Great Soul in beggar's garb", as the poet Tagore called him later, had reached her shores. Nor did he know his shores. Nor did he know his India well. He therefore readily promised his "political guru", Gokhale, that he would spend the first year in India studying the country, with "his ears open but his mouth shut".
At the end of his year's wanderings, Gandhi settled down on the bank of the river Sabarmati, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, where he founded an ashram in May 1915. He called it the Satyagraha Ashram. The inmates about twenty-five men and women, took the vows of truth, ahimsa, celibacy, non-stealing, non-possession, and control of the palate, and dedicated themselves to the service of the people.
Gandhi's first public address in India was on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the Banaras Hindu University in February 1916, which was distinguished by the presence of many magnets and princes and of the Viceroy himself. Speaking in English he shocked them all by expressing his "deep humiliation and shame" at being compelled "to address my countrymen in a language that is foreign to me". He shocked them more when turning to the bejewelled princes he said: "There is no salvation for India unless you strip yourselves of this jewellery and hold it in trust for your countrymen in India." Many princes walked out.
His first satyagraha in India was in Champaran, in Bihar, where he went in 1917 at the request of poor peasants to inquire into the grievances of the much-exploited peasants of that district, who were compelled by British indigo planters to grow indigo on 15 percent of their land and part with the whole crop for rent. The news that a Mahatma had arrived to inquire into their sufferings spread like wildfire and thousands of peasants left their villages to have his darshan and to tell him of their woes. The vested interests were up in arms and the police superintendent ordered Gandhi to leave the district. Gandhi refused and was summoned to appear in court the next day. Thousand of peasants followed him there. The embarrassed magistrate postponed the trial and released him without bail, for Gandhi refused to furnish any.
Later, the case was withdrawn and Gandhi proceeded with his inquiry. Along with the inquiry, he educated the peasants in the principles of satyagraha and taught them that the first condition of freedom was freedom from fear. He sent for volunteers who helped to instruct the illiterate and ignorant peasants in elementary hygiene and ran schools for their children. This kind of activity was typical of Gandhi. Even as he taught people to fight for their rights, he taught them to fulfill their obligations. A free people must learn to stand on their feet. But the more he worked for the people the less was his presence welcome to the Government who were at last obliged to set up a committee of inquiry. The report of the committee of which Gandhi was a member went in favour of the tenant farmers. The success of his first experiment in satyagraha in India greatly enhanced Gandhi's reputation in this country.
In 1917, he took up the issues of the farmers in Champaranya in Bihar. The British plant owners there were pressing local farmers to cultivate only indigo. Not only that, they used to buy indigo from them at very low rates. Gandhiji decided to protest against this exploitation and to relieve the farmers from their misery by doing Satyagraha. Gandhiji was successful in his efforts and the British Government banned the compulsion of cultivating indigo. The farmers were relieved from the harassment of the British plant owners.
The British Government formed a committee to suppress the national movement that was spreading rapidly. Sir Sydney Rowlatt, the British officer was the president of the committee. An Act was passed in 1919 by this committee which came to be known as the Rowlatt Act. This act authorised the British Government to imprison any Indian without a warrant and to put under trial without inquiry. Mahatma Gandhi decided to protest against this act through satyagraha. He appealed on 6th April 1919 to all people to go for a mass Mahatma Gandhi protest (hartal) by closing down all daily transactions.
There were mass protests in Punjab. 13th April 1919 was the day of the 'Baisakhi' festival. Thousands of people had gathered for the meeting held at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar for celebrating the festival. Many of them were not aware of the ban put by the government on public gatherings. General Dyer these people without any prior warning. About four hundred innocent people were killed and thousands of them were injured in this incident. It is known as the 'Jalianwala Bagh Massacre'. It created a wave of rage all through India. Ravindranath Tagore criticised this act in very severe terms and gave up his title (Sir).
In 1920, in the session of Indian National Congress held at Nagpur, a resolution was passed to start the 'Non-Co- operation Movement' all over India. Mahatma Gandhi was asked to lead the movement. It was decided to boycott all schools, colleges, legislative bodies, courts, government offices, and imported goods.
Indian people responded to the Non-Co-operation movement and boycott in a commendable way. Students participated in it on a large scale. Several highly acknowledged Indian lawyers stopped their practice and participated in the movement. Among them were Chittaranjan Das, Motilal Nehru, M.R. Jaikar, Saifuddin Kichalu, Vallabhbhai Patel, and Rajgopalachari. At many places, imported clothes were publicly burnt. The farmers gave a tremendous response to Mahatma Gandhi’s appeal of non-co-operation. The working class also participated in the movement on a very large scale. A nationwide series of public strikes was started. There were 396 instances of public strikes during the year 1921 alone. The leaders of the Indian National Congress had organised these strikes at several places. ‘Charkha’ (the Indian spinning wheel) became the symbol of ‘Swarajya’ and ‘Swadeshi’ became a household term in India.
The British Government had levied a heavy tax on salt, an essential commodity in daily life. Mahatma Gandhi declared satyagraha to protest against this tax. On the day of 12th March 1930, he began a march from his Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi on Gujarat seacoast, against this unjust tax. On 6th April on the seacoast at Dandi, he broke the British law of salt with a token act of collecting a handful of salt from there.