October 2nd is a special day in the Indian history because it is the birth date of Mahatma Gandhi. He is known as the father of the nation and also the birth date of Lal Bahadur Sashtri, second prime minister of India.
Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, at Porbandar. Mohandas or Mohan was youngest of the three sons of Putlibai and Karamchand Gandhi. He was straight and true as steel, known for his steadfastness and loyalty. The little house where Gandhi was born is today the “Kirti Mandir”.
At school, first, the primary at Porbandar, and later the Albert High School, Rajkot, Gandhi showed no particular brilliance, played no games, avoided the company. He read little beyond textbooks, but respected his teacher, though, even at his bidding, he would not copy from his neighbor’s answers.
Marriage with Kasturba, at the age of thirteen, was almost playing. But Gandhi began as a jealous and possessive husband; he wanted to make his illiterate wife an ideal one. When their father was no more, it was Laxmidas who helped to educate him and sent him to England for legal studies.
Putlibai let Gandhi go abroad only after he vowed to lead a chaste and simple life. For a while, Gandhi was tempted to ape English dress and manners. But soon he returned to simplicity. A vegetarian by tradition he soon became one by conviction, joining and working actively for the London Vegetarian Society. He was called to the Bar in June 1891.
In 1893, Gandhi went to South Africa to handle a case. But through his legal work was soon over, he remained there for 21 years, fighting for Indian rights and defending indentured labor in low courts against discrimination.
The Indian struggle
The Natal India Congress founded by Gandhi in 1894, on lines similar to the Indian National Congress, and later the British Indian committee in the Transvaal fought against restriction on Indian trade, movement, and residence. During the campaign against the ‘Black’ Registration Act, Gandhi lit a grand bonfire of thousands of the registration certificates.
Tolstoy Farm was built by Gandhi on land donated by Kallenbach, as a colony for housing satyagrahis families. In November 1913, Gandhi led the ‘Great March’ from Natal into the Transvaal, defying the law.
The Indian relief passed, Gandhi decided to return to India. After receiving farewell tributes, the Mahatma left South Africa in July 1914. When in England, en route home, the great war broke out. Gandhi helped to raise an Indian Volunteer Corps. In December, Gandhi and Kasturba sailed for India.
Back in India with Kasturba, clad in simple Kathiawadi clothes, Gandhi turned to Gokhale, his “Political Guru”, for guidance. The man in South Africa, who had striven valiantly, through Satyagraha, for his peoples’ honor and human dignity, received a Hero’s welcome everywhere. He traveled widely north and south, mostly by third class of the railways. Visiting Shantiniketan to meet Gurudev—Rabindranath – Tagore – was like going on a pilgrimage.
Gandhi’s first satyagraha test in India came in Champaran, Bihar, in 1917 and it led to an inquiry into the evil Indigo system and help to end it.
When in 1917 plague broke out at Kochrab, Gandhi moved his Ashram to Sabarmati. In 1918, Gandhi emerged into National Leadership through satyagraha – for the remission of land revenue in famine-stricken Kheda district; also the Ahmedabad Mills-hands’ strike, during which he fasted, lest strikers weaken.
The Indian National Congress at Calcutta approved of non-cooperation: boycott of law-courts, government educational institutions, and foreign goods. Gandhi saw it as the only alternative to violence for redress of the Khilafat and the Punjab wrongs. The founding of Gujarat Vidyapith in November 1920 was a symbol of the national re-awakening.
“Swaraj in one year” was Gandhi’s slogan. The people rising to Gandhi’s call raised a 10 million rupee memorial fund for Tilak who died on August 1, 1920.
Arrested for seditious writings for Young India and tried March 18, he was sentenced to six years, but an operation of appendicitis brought early release from Yerawada Prison. In September 1924, Gandhi imposed on himself 21 days fast to end Hindu-Muslim tension, an act of religion which taught him to love all equally.
1929-30: “The Year of Grace”. The “Salt Satyagraha” was not merely a protest against taxing the poor man’s diet, or a disobedience of the salt laws. In Gandhi’s eyes, it was a “battle of right against might”. While the world wondered, the “Dandi March” became the “first shot” in this unique fight.
Drawn into the political struggle, largely under Gandhi’s influence, Motilal and Jawaharlal occupied the center of the stage.
The Congress met at Karachi in March, adopted a resolution moved by Jawaharlal and seconded by Badshan Khan endorsing the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. It reaffirmed the goal of “Poorna Swaraj”, authorized Gandhi to represent it at the Second Round Table Conference in London.
In Quest of Freedom
Malaviya, Sarojini Naidu, Madhav and Pyarelal- his secretary, Miraben and son Devdas accompanied Gandhi. Gandhi met many groups of intellectuals, social workers and students. Addressed many meetings. He visited coal miners cottages, east end children celebrated his birthday with candles and cakes, leaders of all shades of thought-social, political, religious- discussed India with him; for instance, the “Red Dean” of Canterbury, Dr. Hewlett Johnson.
In 1932 after returning to India, Gandhiji saw Willingdon’s Ordinance raj everywhere: close associates and colleagues were arrested. Soon he himself was taken to Yeravda Prison. In May 1933, for Harijan work, he was released.
The tour of 1934 had, for its aim, the upliftment of the “untouchable” whom he called the “Hari Jans” or the children of God.
In October 1934, at the Bombay Congress, he parted company. He differed from Congress in the interpretation of the goal: Poorna Swaraj. For he was much more than independence.
In his dynamic programme for the reconstruction of rural India, Gandhiji had the support of intellectuals like Nehru and Azad. While, in 1936, he presided over the Literary Conference at Nagpur and extolled the virtues of literature, he lost no opportunity to stress the dignity of labor, setting an example himself.