Rise of Gandhi
Gandhi in South Africa
- The young barrister who landed at Durban in 1893 on a one-year contract to sort out the legal problems of Dada Abdullah, a Gujarati merchant, was to all appearances an ordinary young man trying to make a living. But he was the first Indian barrister, the first highly-educated Indian, to have come to South Africa.
- Indian immigration to South Africa had begun when the White settlers recruited indentured Indian labour, mainly from South India, to work on the sugar plantations. In their wake had come Indian merchants, mostly Meman Muslims. Ex indentured labourers, who had settled down in South Africa after the expiry of their contract, and their children, many born in South Africa itself, constituted the third group of Indians.
- None of these groups of Indians had much access to education.The racial discrimination to which they were subjected, as part of their daily existence, they had come to accept as a way of
life, and even if they resented it, they had little idea about how to challenge it.
- But young Mohandas Gandhi was not used to swallowing racial insults in order to carry on with the business of making a living. He had spent three years in London studying for the Bar. Neither m India nor in England had he ever come in contact with the overt racism that confronted him within days of his arrival in South Africa.
- During his South Africa stay, Gandhi’s ethical thinking was heavily influenced by a handful of books. They included:
- Plato’s Apology and John Ruskin’s Unto this Last (1862) (both of which he translated into his native Gujarati);
- William Salter’s Ethical Religion (1889);
- Henry David Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849);
- Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894).
- Ruskin inspired his decision to live an austere life on a commune, at first on the Phoenix Farm in Natal and then on the Tolstoy Farm just outside Johannesburg, South Africa
Racial Discrimination faced by Gandhi
- His journey from Durban to Pretoria, which he undertook within a week of his arrival on the continent, consisted of a series of racial humiliations.
- Apart from the famous incident in which he was bundled out of a first-class compartment by a White man and left to spend the night shivering in the waiting room, he was made to travel in the driver’s box in a coach for which he had bought a first-class ticket, when he ignored the coach leader’s order to vacate even that seat and sit on the foot-board, he was soundly thrashed.
- On reaching Johannesburg, he found that all the hotels became full up the moment he asked for a room to stay the night.
- Having succeeded in securing a first-class train ticket from Johannesburg to Pretoria (after quoting extensively from railway regulations), he was almost pushed out again from his railway compartment and was only saved this humiliation by the intervention of a European passenger.
Gandhi's Activism in South Africa
- On his arrival in Pretoria, where he was to work on the civil suit that had brought him to South Africa, he immediately convened a meeting of the Indians there. He offered to teach English to anybody who wanted to learn and suggested that they organize themselves and protest against oppression.
- He voiced his protest through the Press as well. In an indignant letter to the Natal Advertiser. Even though he had no plans of staying in South Africa at that stage, he tried his best to arouse the Indians in Pretoria to a sense of their own dignity and persuade them to resist all types of racial disabilities.
- By virtue of being a British-educated barrister, he demanded many things as a matter of right, such as first-class train tickets and rooms in hotels, which other Indians before him had never probably even had the courage to ask for.
- Having settled the law suit for which he had come, Gandhiji prepared to leave for India. But on the eve of his departure from Durban, he raised the issue of the bill to disenfranchise Indians which was in the process of being passed by the Natal legislature.
- The Indians in South Africa begged Gandhiji to stay on for a month and organize their protest as they could not do so on their own, not knowing even enough English to draft petitions. Gandhiji agreed to stay on for a month and stayed for twenty years. He was then only twenty-five.
Moderate Phase of Gandhi's Activism (1894-1906)
- Gandhiji’s political activities from 1894 to 1906 may be classified as the ‘Moderate’ phase of the struggle of the South African Indians.
- During this phase, he concentrated on petitioning and sending memorials to the South African legislatures, the Colonial Secretary in London and the British Parliament. He believed that if all the facts of the case were presented to the Imperial Government, the British sense of justice and fair play would be aroused and the Imperial Government would intervene on behalf of Indians who were, after all, British subjects.
- His attempt was to unite the different sections of Indians, and to give their demands wide publicity.
- This he tried to do through the setting up of the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 and by starting a paper called Indian Opinion in 1903. The newspaper was published in Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil and English.
- The Phoenix settlement in Natal, was inspired in 1904 by a single reading of John Ruskin’s Unto This Last.
- Gandhiji’s abilities as an organizer, as a fund-raiser, as a journalist and as a propagandist, all came to the fore during this period.
- During the Boer War, Gandhi volunteered in 1900 to form a group of ambulance drivers. He wanted to disprove the British idea that Hindus were not fit for “manly” activities involving danger and exertion. Gandhi raised eleven hundred Indian volunteers. They were trained and medically certified to serve on the front lines.
- In 1906, when the British declared war against the Zulu Kingdom in Natal, Gandhi encouraged the British to recruit Indians. He argued that Indians should support the war efforts to legitimise their claims to full citizenship.The British accepted Gandhi’s offer to let a detachment of 20 Indians volunteer as a stretcher-bearer corps to treat wounded British soldiers.
- But, by 1906, Gandhiji, having fully tried the ‘Moderate’ methods of struggle, was becoming convinced that these would not lead anywhere.
Passive Resistance or Civil Disobedience Phase of Gandhi's Acivism (1906-1915)
- The second phase of the struggle in South Africa, which began in 1906, was characterized by the use of the method of passive resistance or civil disobedience, which Gandhiji named Satyagraha.
- It was first used when the Government enacted legislation making it compulsory for Indians to take out certificates of registration which held their finger prints in 1906. It was essential to carry these on person at all times.
- At a huge public meeting held on 11 September, 1906, in the Empire Theatre in Johannesburg, Indians resolved that they would refuse to submit to this law and would face the consequences.
- Gandhiji formed the Passive Resistance Association to conduct the campaign.
- The last date for registration being over, the Government started proceedings against Gandhiji.
- The passive resisters pleaded guilty, were ordered to leave the country and, on refusing to do so, were sent to jail. Others followed. The fear of jail had disappeared, and it was popularly called King Edward’s Hotel.
- General Smuts called Gandhiji for talks, and promised to withdraw the legislation if Indians voluntarily agreed to register themselves.
- Gandhiji accepted and was the first to register. But Smuts had played a trick; he ordered that the voluntary registrations be ratified under the law.
- The Indians under the leadership of Gandhiji retaliated by publicly burning their registration certificates.
- Meanwhile, the Government brought in new legislation, this time to restrict Indian immigration in Transvaal.
- The campaign, widened to oppose this.
- In August 1908, a number of prominent Indians from Natal crossed the frontier into Transvaal to defy the new immigration laws and were arrested.
- Gandhiji landed in jail in October 1908 and, along with the other Indians, was sentenced to a prison term involving hard physical labour. Government resorted to deportation to India, especially of the poorer Indians.
- Government was in no mood to relent. Gandhiji’s visit to London in 1909 to meet the authorities there yielded little result. The funds for supporting the families of the Satyagrahis and for running Indian Opinion were fast running out.
- At this point, Gandhiji set up Tolstoy Farm,(1910-1913) near Johannesburg made possible through the generosity of his German architect friend, Hermann Kallenbach, to house the families of the Satyagrahis and give them a way to sustain themselves.
- Tolstoy Farm was the precursor of the later Gandhian ashrams that were to play so important a role in the Indian national movement.
- Funds also came from India — Sir Ratan Tata, Congress and the Muslim League, Nizam of Hyderabad, made their contribution.
- Meanwhile, Gokhale paid a visit to South Africa, was treated as a guest of the Government and was made a promise that all discriminatory laws against Indians would be removed. The promise was never kept, and Satyagraha was resumed in 1913.
- This time the movement was widened further to include resistance to the poll tax of three pounds (initially it was 25 pounds but was reduced to 3 pounds) that was imposed on all ex-indentured Indians with the aim of reducing immigration.
- The inclusion of the demand for the abolition of this tax, a particularly heavy charge on poor labourers, immediately drew the indentured and ex-indentured labourers into the struggle, and Satyagraha could now take on a truly mass character.
- Further fuel was added to the already raging fire by a judgement of the Supreme Court which invalidated all marriages not conducted according to Christian rites and registered by the Registrar of Marriages.
- The Indians treated this judgment as an insult to the honor of their women and many women were drawn into the movement because of this indignity.
- Gandhiji decided that the time had now come for the final struggle.
- The campaign was launched by the illegal crossing of the border by a group of sixteen Satyagrahis, including Kasturba, Gandhiji’s wife, who marched from Phoenix Settlement in Natal to Transvaal, and were immediately arrested.
- A group of eleven women then marched from Tolstoy Farm in Transvaal and crossed the border into Natal without a permit, and reached New Castle, a mining town. Here, they talked to the Indian mine workers, mostly Tamils, and before being arrested persuaded them to go on strike.
- Gandhiji reached New Castle and took charge of the agitation. Gandhiji decided to march this army of over two thousand men, women and children over the border and thus see them lodged in Transvaal jails. Gandhiji was arrested and sent to jail.
- The morale of the workers, however, was very high and they continued the march till they were put into trains and sent back to Natal jail.
- The Governments’ action inflamed the entire Indian community; workers on the plantations and the mines went on a lightning strike. Gokhale toured the whole of India to arouse Indian public opinion and even the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, condemned the repression as ‘one that would not be tolerated by any country that calls itself civilized’ and called for an impartial enquiry into the charges of atrocities.
- Eventually, through a series of negotiations involving Gandhiji, the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, C.F. Andrews and General Smuts, an agreement was reached by which the Government of South Africa conceded the major Indian demands relating to the poll tax, the registration certificates and marriages solemnized according to Indian rites, and promised to treat the question of Indian immigration in a sympathetic manner.
Significance of South African Activism of Gandhi
- Non-violent civil disobedience had succeeded in forcing the opponents to the negotiating table and conceding the substance of the demands put forward by the movement.
- The blueprint for the ‘Gandhian’ method of struggle had been evolved and Gandhiji started back for his native land. The South African ‘experiment’ was now to be tried on a much wider scale on the Indian subcontinent.
- South African experiment prepared Gandhiji for leadership of the Indian national struggle.
- He had had the invaluable experience of leading poor Indian labourers, of seeing their capacity for sacrifice and for bearing hardship, their morale in the face of repression. South Africa built up his faith in the capacity of the Indian masses to participate in and sacrifice for a cause that moved them.
- Gandhiji also had had the opportunity of leading Indians belonging to different religions:
- Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis were all united under his leadership in South Africa.
- They also came from different regions, being mainly Gujaratis and Tamils.
- They belonged to different social classes; rich merchants combined with poor indentured labourers. Women came along with the men.
- South African experience also stood Gandhiji in good stead.
- He learnt, the hardest way, that leadership involves facing the ire not only of the enemy but also of one’s followers. Gandhiji learnt that leaders often have to take hard decisions that are unpopular with enthusiastic followers.
- South Africa, then, provided Gandhiji with an opportunity for evolving his own style of politics and leadership, for trying out new techniques of struggle, on a limited scale, untrammelled by the opposition of contending political currents.
- In South Africa, he had already taken the movement from its ‘Moderate’ phase into its ‘Gandhian’ phase. He already knew the strengths and the weaknesses of the Gandhian method and he was convinced that it was the best method around. It now remained for him to introduce it into India.
Gandhi back to India
- Gandhi returned to India in January 1915 at the request of Gokhale, conveyed to him by C.F. Andrews.
- He brought an international reputation as a leading Indian nationalist, theorist and organiser.
- His efforts in South Africa were well known not only among the educated but also among the masses. He decided to tour the country the next one year and see for himself the condition of the masses.
- On Gokhale’s advice, and in keeping with his own style of never intervening in a situation without first studying it with great care, Gandhiji decided that for the first year he would not take a public stand on any political issue.
- He spent the year travelling around the country, seeing things for himself, and in organizing his Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad in 1917. (Earlier Ashram was Satyagraha Ashram was at the Kocharab Bungalow of Jivanlal Desai, a barrister, in 1915) where he, and his devoted band of followers who had come with him from South Africa, would lead a community life.
- The next year as well, he continued to maintain his distance from political affairs, including the Home Rule Movement.
- His own political understanding did not coincide with any of the political currents that were active in India then.
- His faith in ‘Moderate’ methods was long eroded, nor did he agree with the Home Rulers that the best time to agitate for Home Rule was when the British were in difficulty because of the First World War.
- His reasons for not joining the existing political organizations are best explained in his own words: “At my time of life and with views firmly formed on several matters, I could only join an organization to affect its policy and not be affected by it.” In other words, he could only join an organization or a movement that adopted non-violent Satyagraha as its method of struggle.
Reasons of Gandhi's rise and wide popular appeal?
- South African experiments of Gandhi contributed to his rise in manifold ways. His heroic and prolonged struggle for the rights of Indians there had brought to the fore his great organising capacity and his capacity to work for larger interest of the people. He also had experience of mobilising masses and Satyagraha there.
- As for the political currents prevalent at that time in India, he was convinced about the limitations of moderate politics and was also not in favour of Home Rule agitation which was becoming popular at that time. He thought that it was not the best time to agitate for Home Rule when Britain was in the middle of a war.
- He was convinced that the only technique capable of meeting the nationalist aims was a non-violent Satyagraha. He also said that he would join no political organisation unless it too accepted the creed of non-violent Satyagraha.
- Gandhi’s personal traits, his great organising capacity, his concern for masses, novel political ideology and methods and his extensive political-social outlook all combined to produce a powerful and enduring impacts on people mind. The cumulative effect was his emergence to ntional leadership and establishment of his ideological hegemony over the entire course of the national movement.
- He had clear vision of pluralistic nature of Indian Society, but was dedicated to idea of united India.
- For younger generation, frustrated by the eternal squabbles between moderates and extremists, he offered something fresh and new.
- Gandhi appeared as a leader subscribing to neither moderates nor extremists.His name was not associated with any existing political group. he could make a fresh start and receive all India welcome.
- His believe in non-violence attracted all classes including women, capitalist(who were scared from violence due to loss of their business as well as communist ideology).
- By 1915-17, both moderates and extremists had reached an impasse and when Gandhi came to encounter these politicians they had very little room for manoeuvre.
- The most immediate outcome of World War 1 was a phenomenal increase in defence expenditure, resulting in huge national debt, means rising taxes and high price rise. This resulted in near famine conditions in many areas and miseries of people were further compounded by outbreak of influenza.
- While price of industrial and imported goods were rising,exporting raw material remained cheap which affected common men. This gave to many Kisan movements.
- Gandhi’s novel political ideology appealed to few wholly but to many partially, as everyone could find it something to identify with. Religion had stronger influence on popular mind.
- He therefore successfully used religion idioms to mobilise the masses.
- But this was not revivalism as he was not referring to history but religious morality.
- He talked about swaraj as his political goal but never defined it and everyone could interpret it in its own way.Therefore could unite different communities under his umbrella type leadership.
- Gandhi was more prepared to shift of power from western educated elites to masses.
- His concern for masses,his total identification with masses, his being firmly rooted in Indian soil was also significant factor of his rise.
- He was closely associated with the thing which was already part of consciousness and psyche of Indian people.
- His use of vernacular, wearing of half naked cloth, discarding sacred thread as a token of protest against discrimination against Shudras brought him closer to the people. and he became one of them- a symbol of India’s poverty and hardship of common people.
- The novelty value of his political methods- Satyagraha, marches, Civil Disobedience etc had caught the imagination of the masses and leaders alike. The efficacy of these methods were already proved in South Africa and also in his early activism in India.
- His concern for Hindu-Muslim equality, upliftment of Harijan and end of exploitation of depressed class manifested his broader political outlook.
- During 1917 and 1918, Gandhi was involved in three struggles in Champaran, Ahmedabad and Kheda before he launched the Rowlatt Satyagraha.
The first Satyagraha revolutions inspired by Mahatma Gandhi in the occurred in Champaran district of Bihar and the Kheda district of Gujarat on 1916 and 1918 respectively. Champaran Satyagraha was the first to be started, but the word Satyagraha was used for the first time in Anti Rowlatt agitation.
Champaran Satyagraha (1917) First Civil Disobedience
- Gandhi was requested by Rajkumar Shukla to look into the problems of the indigo planters of Champaran in Bihar.
- The European planters had been forcing the peasants to grow indigo on 3/20 of the total land (called tinkathia system). When towards the end of the nineteenth century German synthetic dyes replaced indigo, the European planters demanded high rents and illegal dues from the peasants in order to maximise their profits before the peasants could shift to other crops. Besides, the peasants were forced to sell the produce at prices fixed by the Europeans.
- When Gandhi, joined now by Rajendra Prasad, Mazhar- ul-Haq, Mahadeo Desai, Narhari Parekh, J.B. Kripalani, reached Champaran to probe into the matter, the authorities ordered him to leave the area at once. Gandhi defied the order and preferred to face the punishment. This passive resistance or civil disobedience of an unjust order was a novel method at that time.
- Finally, the authorities retreated and permitted Gandhi to make an enquiry. Now, the Government appointed a committee to go into the matter and nominated Gandhi as a member.
- Gandhi was able to convince the authorities that the tinkathia system should be abolished and that the peasants should be compensated for the illegal dues extracted from them. As a compromise with the planters, he agreed that only 25 percent of the money taken should be compensated.
- Landlords, who with the guidance of the British government, signed an agreement granting more compensation and control over farming for the poor farmers of the region, and cancellation of revenue hikes and collection until the famine ended. It was during this agitation, that Gandhi was addressed by the people as Bapu (Father) and Mahatma (Great Soul).
- Answering critics who asked why he did not ask for a full refund (in stead of 25%), Gandhiji explained that even this refund had done enough damage to the planters’ prestige and position. As was often the case, Gandhiji’s assessment was correct and, within a decade, the planters left the district altogether.
‘Other Works during Champaran Stay:
- Gandhi established an ashram in Champaran, organizing scores of his veteran supporters and fresh volunteers from the region. He organized a detailed study and survey of the villages, accounting the atrocities and terrible episodes of suffering, including the general state of degenerate living.
- Building on them confidence of villagers, he began leading the clean-up of villages, building of schools and hospitals and encouraging the village leadership to undo purdah, untouchability and the suppression of women. He was joined by many young nationalists from all over India, including Brajkishore Prasad, Rajendra Prasad, Anugrah Narayan Sinha, Ram Navami Prasad
Ahmadabad Cotton Mill Strike (1918)—First Hunger Strike
- Gandhi now intervened in a dispute between mill owners of Ahmedabad and the workers over the issue of discontinuation of the plague bonus. The Mill Owners wanted to withdraw the bonus whole the workers demanded a 50% wage hike.
- Gandhi asked the workers to go on a strike and demand a 35 per cent increase in wages. The employers were willing to concede a 20 per cent bonus only.
- Gandhi advised the workers to remain non-violent while on strike.
- After some days, the workers began to exhibit signs of weariness. The attendance at the daily meetings began to decline and the attitude towards blacklegs began to harden.
- In this situation, Gandhiji decided to go on a fast unto death, to rally the workers and strengthen their resolve to continue.
- The fast also had the effect of putting pressure on mill owners who finally agreed to give the workers a 35 per cent increase in wages.
Kheda Satyagraha (1918)—First Non-Cooperation
- Because of drought in 1918, the crops failed in Kheda district of Gujarat. According to the Revenue Code, if the yield was less than one-fourth the normal produce, the farmers were entitled to remission. The authorities refused to grant remission.Gandhi supported the peasants’ cause and asked them to withhold revenue.
- The tax withheld, the government’s collectors and inspectors sent in thugs to seize property and cattle, while the police forfeited the lands and all agrarian property.
- The farmers did not resist arrest, nor retaliate to the force employed with violence.
- Instead, they used their cash and valuables to donate to the Gujarat Sabha (Gandhi was its President) which was officially organizing the protest.
- The revolt was astounding in terms of discipline and unity.
- Even when all their personal property, land and livelihood were seized, a vast majority of Kheda’s farmers remained firmly united in the support of Patel.
- Those Indians who sought to buy the confiscated lands were ostracized from society.
- The authorities, not willing to openly concede the peasants’ demands, issued secret instructions that only those who could afford to pay should pay.
- During the Kheda Satyagraha, many young nationalists such as Sardar Patel, IndulalYagnik . N.M. Joshi, ShankerlalPareekh and several others.became Gandhi’s followers.
Gains from Champaran, Ahmedabad and Kheda:
- Gandhi demonstrated to the people the efficacy of his technique of Satyagraha.
- He found his feet among the masses and came to have a surer understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the masses.
- He acquired respect and commitment of many, especially the youth.
Satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act—First Mass Strike
- Just when the nationalists were expecting post-War constitutional concessions, the Government came out with the repressive Rowlatt Act which the nationalists took as an insult. Gandhi called for a nationwide protest in February 1919.
- The Rowlatt Act’ was a legislative act passed by the Imperial Legislative Council in London on March 10, 1919, indefinitely extending “emergency measures” (of the Defence of India Regulations Act) enacted during the First World War in order to control public unrest and root out conspiracy in India. Passed on the recommendations of the Rowlatt Committee and named after its president, British judge Sidney Rowlatt, Main provissions of this act:
- This act effectively authorized the government to imprison any person suspected of terrorism living in the Raj for up to two years without a trial.
- It provided for stricter control of the press, arrests without warrant, indefinite detention without trial, and juryless in camera trials for proscribed political acts.
- The accused were denied the right to know the accusers and the evidence used in the trial.
- Those convicted were required to deposit securities upon release, and were prohibited from taking part in any political, educational, or religious activities.
- The Act annoyed many Indian leaders and the public, which caused the government to implement repressive measures.
- Gandhi and others found that constitutional opposition to the measure was fruitless, so on April 6, a nationwide hartal strike accompanied by fasting and prayer, and civil disobedience against specific laws, and courting arrest and imprisonment. This event is known as the Rowlatt Satyagraha.
- Gandhiji named the Rowlatt Act as “black act”. Gandhi roped in younger members of Home Rule Leagues and the Pan Islamists.
- There was a radical change in the situation by now:
- The masses had found a direction; now they could “act” instead of just giving verbal expression to their grievances.
- From now onwards, peasants, artisans and the urban poor were to play an increasingly important part in the struggle.
- Orientation of the national movement turned to the masses permanently. Gandhi said that salvation would come when masses were awakened and became active in politics.
- Satyagraha was to be launched on April 6, 1919 but even before that there were large-scale violent, anti-British demonstrations in Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Ahmedabad, etc.
- Especially in Punjab, the situation had become very explosive due to wartime repression, forcible recruitments and ravages of disease, and the Army had to be called in.
- April 1919 saw the biggest and the most violent anti-British upsurge since 1857.
- To put down this movement, the government decided to meet the protest with repression, particularly in Punjab, under its Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Michael O’ Dyer.
- At the same time, two prominent leaders, Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlu and Dr. Satyapal, were arrested in Punjab.
- In protest against these arrests, an unarmed and defenseless crowd gathered on 13 April 1919 in Jallianwala Bagh at Amritsar.
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (April 13, 1919)
- On Baisakhi day, a large crowd of people mostly from neighbouring villages, unaware of the prohibitory orders in the city, had gathered in this small park to protest against the arrest of their leaders, Saifuddin Kitchlew and Satyapal.
- The Army surrounded the gathering under orders from General Dyer and blocked the only exit point and opened fire on the unarmed crowd killing around “1000. After this massacre, martial law was proclaimed in Punjab.The incident was followed by uncivilised brutalities on the inhabitants of Amritsar.
- The entire nation was stunned. Rabindranath Tagore renounced his knighthood in protest. Gandhi was overwhelmed by the total atmosphere of violence and withdrew the movement on April 18, 1919.
- Congress boycotted the special committee headed by Lord Hunter to enquire into the killings.
- Accepting the report of the Repressive Laws Committee, the Government of India repealed the Rowlatt Act, the Press Act, and twenty-two other laws in March 1922