Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more commonly known as ‘Mahatma’ (meaning ‘Great Soul’) was born in Porbandar, Gujarat, in North-West India, on 2nd October 1869, into a Hindu Modh family.
- His father was the Chief Minister of Porbandar, and his mother’s religious devotion meant that his upbringing was infused with the Jain pacifist teachings of mutual tolerance, non-injury to living beings and vegetarianism.
- Born into a privileged caste, Gandhiji was fortunate to receive a comprehensive education but proved a mediocre student.
- In May 1883, aged 13, Gandhiji was married to Kasturba Makhanji, a girl also aged 13, through the arrangement of their respective parents, as is customary in India. Following his entry into Samaldas College, at Bhavnagar, she bore him the first of four sons, in 1888.
- Gandhi was unhappy at college, following his parent’s wishes to take the bar, and when he was offered the opportunity of furthering his studies overseas, at University College London, aged 18, he accepted with alacrity, starting there in September 1888.
- Determined to adhere to Hindu principles, which included vegetarianism as well as alcohol and sexual abstinence, he found London restrictive initially, but once he had found kindred spirits he flourished, and pursued the philosophical study of religions, including Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and others, having professed no particular interest in religion up until then.
- Following admission to the English Bar and his return to India, he found work difficult to come by and, in 1893, accepted a year’s contract to work for an Indian firm in Natal, South Africa.
Gandhi in South Africa (early experience in South Africa which prepared him for Indian Experiments)
- Indian immigrants in South Africa were facing racial discrimination but with no idea to challenge the system accepted this as a way of life.
- The immigrants were divided into three classes-
- Recruited Indian indentured labourers mainly from South India,
- merchants mainly Meman Muslims and
- ex-indentured labourers who have settled with their families.
- Mahatma Gandhi first devised ways for leading the mass struggle against the unjust laws and regulations of authorities in South Africa between 1893-1914.
- South African experiment of Gandhi can be studied under two phases-
- Moderate phase (1894-1906) and
- Passive resistance phase (1906-1914)
Moderate Phase of struggle:
- At first, he focused on sending petitions and memorials to authorities in London having faith in the British sense of justice and rule of law. This was done by establishing Natal Indian Congress, publishing Indian Opinion and raising funds for the cause.
Passive resistance or Satyagraha phase:
- The satyagraha phase or civil disobedience phase was started to make authorities react to the demands of the subjects. This included:
- Satyagraha against registration certificates in 1906, which was made compulsory for Indians.
- Campaign against legislation which restricted Indian migration.
- Resistance to poll tax of three pounds and invalidation of marriages not solemnised according to Christian rites.
- Protest against the Transvaal Immigration act.
- Satyagraha against these legislations and orders included the following means
- Formation of passive resistance association to organise the campaign for defiance of authorities.
- Suffering the penalties from such defiance through non-violent means, filling up of jail and publicly burning of certificates, thus not submitting to unjust laws.
- Defiance of migration of laws by crossing over to other provinces without licences.
- Establishment of Tolstoy farms to give protestors means to sustain themselves.
- Government excesses against the protestors attracted condemnations. At last, non-violent satyagraha brought the opponents to the negotiating table, reaching a compromise solution by conceding the major demands that were raised.
Conditions of India at Arrival of Gandhi
- After the war, the conditions in India and influences from abroad created a situation that was ready for a national upsurge against foreign rule.
- Industry: First, an increase in prices, then a recession coupled with increased foreign investment brought many industries to the brink of closure and loss.
- Workers and Artisans: This section of the populace faced unemployment and bore the brunt of high prices.
- Peasantry: Faced with high taxation and poverty, the peasants waited for a lead to protest.
- Soldiers: Who returned from battlefields abroad gave an idea of their experience to the rural folk. They were also surprised to return to a country that was impoverished and had less liberty than before.
- Educated Urban Classes: This section was facing unemployment as well as suffering from an acute awareness of racism in the attitude of the British.