Gandhi Jayanti (1869-1948)

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace and the father of the nation was born on 2 October 1869 at Porbandar in Gujarat. In his autobiography My experiments with Truth Gandhi recalls that his childhood and teen age years were characterised by education in a local school, marriage to Kasturba at the age of 13 and an intrinsic love for ‘truth’ and ‘duty’.

At the age of the eighteen, he went to England to study law. In 1891, Gandhi returned to India and set up practice at Rajkot. In 1893, he received an offer from an Indian firm in South Africa. With his two minor sons and Kasturba, he went to South Africa at the age of twenty-four. Colonial and racial discrimination showed its ugly colours in the famous train incident, when he was thrown off the compartment meant for the ‘Sahibs’. During his more than two decades of stay in South Africa, Gandhi protested against the discriminating treatment that was meted out to Indians. He protested against the Asiatic (Black) Act and the Transvaal Immigration Act and started his non-violent civil disobedience movement. A satyagrahis camp known as the Tolstoy Farm was established at Lawley, 21 miles from Johannesburg, on 30 May 1910, in order to shelter the satyagrahis and their families. The South African Government had to heed to the voice of reason and in 1914 repealed most of the obnoxious acts against the Indians. The weekly Indian Opinion (1903) became Gandhiji chief organ of education and propaganda.

Gandhi returned to India in 1915. After an interrupted stay in Santiniketan in February-March, 1915, Gandhi collected his companions of Phoenix and established the Satyagraha Ashram in Ahmedabad city. This was shifted in June 1917 to the banks of the Sabarmati. This Ashram became platform for carrying out his cherished social reforms prime among which were Harijan welfare rehabilitation of lepers and self-reliance through weaving Khadi.

Between 1917 and 1918 Gandhi participated in two peasant movements in Champaran (Bihar) and Kaira (Gujarat) and in the labour dispute in Ahmedabad itself. World War I ended on 11 November 1918; Gandhi protested against the Rowlatt Bills and founded the Satyagraha Sabha (28 February 1919). The end of the World war also saw the dismemberment of the Khilafat (Caliphate). This hurt the Indian Muslims deeply. Gandhi was approached for counsel; and in a meeting of the All India Khilafat Conference on 24 November 1919, he proposed that India should respond by non-violent non-cooperation.

For Gandhi ‘Non-violence’ and truth were two inalienable virtues. He summed up the entire philosophy of his life as: "The only virtue I want to claim is truth and non-violence. I lay no claim to super human powers: I want none".

1926 was declared by Gandhi to be his year of silence. His famous march to Dandi in March 1930 started a countrywide movement to violate the Salt-Law. Gandhi was arrested on 4 May 1930, and the Government struck hard to crush the movement, but failed. So Gandhi was set free on 26 January 1931; and following a pact between him and the British Viceroy, Lord Irwin (5 March 1931), he was prevailed upon to represent the Congress at the second Round Table Conference in London. Gandhi was completely disillusioned with the attitude of the British, which had renewed its policy of ruthless repression. As a result the Civil Disobedience Movement was resumed in January 1932.

Gandhi was in prison when the Communal Award was announced in August 1932, providing for the introduction of separate electorate for the Depressed Classes. He opposed this attempt to divide the Hindu community and threatened to fast unto death to prevent it. He started his fast on 20 September 1932. It created consternation in the country, but the situation was saved by the conclusion of the Poona Pact, which provided for special reservation of seats for the Depressed Classes in legislatures, but under joint electorate.

On 8 May 1933 he announced a fast for 21 days for the Harijan cause. After coming out of prison Gandhi devoted himself exclusively to the cause of the ‘Harijans’. The weekly Harijan now took the place of the Young India, which had served the national cause from 1919 to 1932. After 1934 Gandhi settled down in Sevagram near Wardha to form a new Centre for his enlarged Constructive Programme, which included Basic Education (1937), designed to bring about the universalisation of education.

In 1942, his ‘Quit India" slogan was to serve as the final signal to British dominion in India. The partition of India and Pakistan came as a personal shock to Gandhi. When the nation was rejoicing independence (1947), Gandhi went to Naokhali to ameliorate the conditions of the communal riot victims. On 30 January 1948, Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi.

The man of the century had the courage of heart and spirit of the unafraid. His life and teaching reflect the values of this country and the values of humanity. He had been a beacon light to an army of freedom fighters who practised non-violence in world and deed.