The name of Mahatma Gandhi is a household word in India. He was one of the three Indians who have attained world-wide fame in modern times. These three Indians are Rabindranath, Gandhiji and Jawaharlal. Gandhiji will be known in history as a great man of saintly character. In his lifetime he was respected by all for his sincerity and truthfulness.
Early life and education
Gandhiji’s full name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He was born at Porbandar in Gujrat on the 2nd October, 1869. His father was the Dewan of the State. He was not a bright student at school. After passing the Entrance Examination he entered Shyamaldas College at Bhavanagar. While at college he started for England in 1888 to qualify himself for the bar. He was married and he had a son when he left for England. He promised his mother not to touch meat or wine in England and he kept his promise.
Gandhiji returned to India in 1893 and started practice as a barrister at the Bombay High Court. But he did not prove to be a successful lawyer there. At this time an Indian merchant of South Africa asked him to go there to help him with legal advice. He accepted the offer and went to South Africa.
Career in South Africa
This visit to South Africa was an important turning point in his life. There in South Africa Gandhiji began his public activities. There he painfully saw that his countrymen were treated with contempt by the white men. Gandhiji made up his mind. He took up the cause of his countrymen and started a movement to fight for their rights. It was a very hard fight. He showed a new path of struggle. It was the path of Passive Resistance and Non-Violence. Many Indians of South Africa and some Europeans also of that country joined Gandhiji in this struggle. They had to suffer much. At last Gandhiji’s movement was successful to a great extent. There was an honourable compromise with the South African Government. As a result, the lot of the Indians in South Africa improved.
Career in India
Gandhiji then returned to India in 1915. Common people did not then know about his activities in South Africa. He was practically a new man in Indian politics. At first he took up the cause of the cultivators and working class people. They found in him a true leader. Soon he became a popular leader of India. At that time the Indian National Congress had no direct touch with the masses. Gandhiji first made it the Congress of the common people. In the meantime the First World War broke out. Gandhiji helped the British Government. They gave assurance of granting more power to the Indians for responsible Government. But after the war, they began to oppress the people more and more. The terrible Jalianwalabag massacre took place in 1919. It was a great shock to Gandhiji and all right-thinking person. He resolved not to co-operate with the Government. He started his famous Non-Co-operation Movement in 1921.
He received a great response from his countrymen. Students left schools and colleges in large numbers. Many Government employees resigned Government service. Many lawyers gave up their practice. British goods were boycotted. Home-spun khaddar was produced and worn by the people. It was anon-violent movement. Thousands of people courted jail. But the movement did not remain non-violent all along. People used violence in certain cases. So Gandhiji called off the movement. He was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, but was released in 1924. For the next few years he gave up active politics. But in 1930 he started the Civil Disobedience Movement. He disobeyed the Salt Law. The movement spread all over the country, l/ml Irwin, the then Viceroy of India, had a pact with him. Then the Round Table Conference was held in London. Gandhiji represented the Congress there. But nothing came of it. It was practically a failure.
Gandhiji came back to India. He was imprisoned along with other Congress leaders. In the meantime the British Government introduced some political reforms in India. By these reforms the British Government wanted to separate the depressed classes of the Hindus from the Caste Hindus. Gandhiji heard about this in the jail. He undertook a fast unto death to undo the evil. He was released and he called off the fast as his wishes were fulfilled. Then the Congress took office in the provinces under the new Constitution in 1937. Gandhiji himself did not take any office. He only advised the Congress Governments in times of need. He devoted himself to the task of removing utouchability and improving the lot of the depressed classes.
Then came the Second World War in 1939. The British Government offered the Congress fresh proposals of self-determination on condition that Indian leaders would help the British Government in their war efforts. Gandhiji advised the Congress not to accept the offer. Netaji Subhas Chandra was at this time leading his Azad Hind Fauz in Burma against the British Government. Gandhiji also started his ‘Quit India movement’. He asked the British Government to quit India. Gandhiji and other Congress leaders were arrested on the 9th August, 1942. Though the leaders were arrested, the people of India continued the movement and there was an outbreak of violence all over the country.
At the end of the war, Gandhiji was released. The British Government now thought it wise to give freedom to India to win her friendship. Accordingly India was given independence in 15th August, 1947, but India was divided into two separate States—Indian Union and Pakistan. This was done to meet the demand of a class of Muslims who wanted a separate State. Gandhiji did not want this partition. At this time there were serious communal disturbances between the Hindus and the Muslims in several parts of India. Gandhiji was greatly shocked. He visited the disturbed areas with his message of love and tolerance to establish a happy relationship between the two communities. But his efforts were not liked by a section of the people. At last, a young fanatic named Nathuram Godse shot him dead at a prayer meeting in Delhi on the 30th January, 1948.
Gandhiji died the death of a martyr like many great men of the world. They sacrificed their lives for the good of humanity. Though Gandhiji is dead, he will ever live in the hearts of millions of Indians. They will cherish his memory with love and reverence.