Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi
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England, which he viewed as "a land of philosophers and poets, the very centre of civilization."
At the onset of the South African War, Gandhi argued that the Indians must support the war effort in order to legitimize their claims to full citizen rights, and he organized a volunteer ambulance corps composed of 300 free Indians and 800 indentured laborers. At the conclusion of the war, however, the situation for the Indians did not improve; in fact, it continued to deteriorate. In 1906, the Transvaal government promulgated a new act that called for compulsory registration of the colony's Indian population. At a mass protest meeting held in Johannesburg in September, 1906, Gandhi adopted, for the first time, his platform of satyagraha (devotion to the truth), or nonviolent protest, calling on his fellow Indians to defy the new law and suffer the punishments for doing so rather than resisting through violent means. This plan was adopted and led to a seven-year struggle in which thousands of Indians were jailed (including Gandhi himself on many occasions), flogged, or even shot, for striking, refusing to register, and engaging in other forms of nonviolent resistance. While the government was successful in repressing the Indian protesters, the public outcry stemming from the harsh methods employed by the South African government in the face of peaceful Indian protesters finally forced South African general Jan Christian Smuts to negotiate a compromise with Gandhi.
Movement for Indian independence
After the war, he became involved with the Indian National Congress and the movement for independence. He gained worldwide publicity through his policies of civil disobedience, non-cooperation, and the use of fasting as a form of protest. The British authorities repeatedly imprisoned him. His longest term of imprisonment began on March 18, 1922 when he was sentenced to six years for civil disobedience - although he served only 2 years of that sentence. Gandhi spent a total of 2,338 days (adding to six and a half years) in prison during his lifetime.
Gandhi's other successful strategies for the independence movement included swadeshi policy - the boycott of foreign-made goods, especially British goods. Linked to this was his advocacy that khadi (homespun cloth) be worn by all Indians instead of British-made textiles. Gandhi exhorted Indian women, rich or poor, to spend time each day spinning khadi in support of the independence movement. This was a strategy to include women in the movement at a time when many thought that such activities were not 'respectable' for women.
His pro-independence stance hardened after the Amritsar Massacre in 1919, when British and Gurkha soldiers opened fire on a peaceful political gathering, killing hundreds of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims. In addition to boycotting British products, Gandhi urged the people to boycott British educational institutions and law courts, to resign from government employment, to refuse to pay taxes, and to forsake British titles and honours.
In April 1920, Gandhi was elected president of the All-India Home Rule League. He was invested with executive authority on behalf of the Indian National Congress in December 1921. Under Gandhi's leadership, the Congress was reorganized and given a new constitution, with the goal of swaraj (independence). Membership in the party was opened to anyone prepared to pay a token fee. A hierarchy of committees was set up to improve discipline and control over the hitherto amorphous and diffuse movement. These measures transformed the party from an elite organization to one of mass national appeal.
In 1922, Gandhi called off his civil disobedience movement after violence erupted at Chauri Chaura, Uttar Pradesh. He turned to social activism, establishing the Sabarmati Ashram at Ahmedabad, and began the newspaper Young India. He worked for equal rights for the historically downtrodden castes in Hindu society, particularly the untouchables, whom he named Harijan (children of God).
Gandhi re-entered the independence movement in 1930 when the Congress called upon him to lead another mass civil disobedience movement. He carried out his most famous campaign from March 21 to April 6 1930, marching 400 kilometres from Ahmedabad to Dandi. Thousands walked with him to the sea in what came to be known as the Dandi March or the Salt March. The object was for the people to collect their own salt rather than pay a salt tax to the government .
The Gandhi-Irwin pact was signed in March 1931. According to its terms the British Government agreed to set all political prisoners free in return for the suspension of the civil disobedience movement. In August 1931, Gandhi made a visit to England, including a trip to Birmingham, to attend the second Round Table Conference with the British government. The talks ended in failure. Gandhi returned to India and resumed civil disobedience.
On May 8, 1933 Gandhi began a 21-day fast to protest British oppression in India. In the summer of 1934, three unsuccessful attempts were made on his life. At Bombay, on March 3, 1939, Gandhi again fasted to protest the autocratic rule of India.
Gandhi's chosen successor in Congress was Jawaharlal Nehru, who was to become Prime Minister. They disagreed openly over the path to an independent India. However, Gandhi trusted Nehru over his authoritarian rival Sardar Patel to build the institutions that would guarantee the liberty of India's citizens.
Partition of India and assassination
He was assassinated in Birla house, New Delhi on January 30, 1948 by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu radical who held him responsible for weakening the new government by insisting on a payment to Pakistan. Godse was later tried, convicted, and executed.
It is indicative of Gandhi's long struggle and search for God that his dying words were said to have been an homage to the Hindu conception of God, Rama: "He Ram!" (Oh God!). This is seen as an inspiring signal of his spirituality as well as his idealism regarding the possibility of unifying peace. While some are sceptical of this, evidence from a number of witnesses supports the claim that he made this utterance (see External links).
I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions.... If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them. (Non-Violence in Peace and War)
Although he experimented with eating meat on first leaving India, he later became a strict vegetarian. He wrote books on the subject while in London after having met vegetarian campaigner Henry Salt at gatherings of the Vegetarian Society. The idea of vegetarianism is deeply ingrained in Hindu and Jain traditions in India, and, in his native land of Gujarat, most Hindus were vegetarian. He experimented with various diets and concluded that a vegetarian diet should be enough to satisfy the minimum requirements of the body. He abstained from eating for long periods and used fasting as a political weapon.
Gandhi spent one day of each week in silence. He believed that abstaining from speaking brought him inner peace. This influence was drawn from the Hindu principles of mouna (silence) and shanti (peace). On such days he communicated with others by writing on paper. For three and a half years, from the age of 37, Gandhi refused to read newspapers, claiming that the tumultuous state of world affairs caused him more confusion than his own inner unrest.
The honorific title Mahatma
The wide acceptance of this title outside India may, in part, reflect the complexities of the relationship between India and Britain during Gandhi's lifetime. Such acceptance is consistent with the widespread perception of his deeply held religious beliefs and commitment to non-violence.