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THE STORY OF GANDHI

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Gandhi’s Arrest Creates Sensation Worldwide – Part 14

The story thus far…Newspaper reporters from all over the world were there to report the progress of the Gandhi’s satyagraha. The march ended on April 5 at Dandi village. Gandhi and his selected followers went to the sea shore and broke the salt law by picking up salt left on the shore by the sea. Gandhi then gave a signal to all Indians to break the salt law and prepare to resist the police action in a nonviolent manner.

Heeding Gandhi’s word, all over India people swarmed to the nearest sea coast to break the salt law. Great excitement was created everywhere. Only a few people knew how to make salt, but the people soon found their own ways of making it. All that mattered was the breaking of the salt law.  Gandhi and other leaders had made arrangements for the continuation of the agitation if they were arrested. A chain of leaders had been chosen, so that as each leader was arrested another would be ready to take his place.

The government waited for some time before taking any action, and then at last retaliation began. Gandhi was left at liberty, but many other leaders were taken into custody. Jawaharlal, Mahadev Desai, and Gandhi’s son Devadas were the first to pick up salt to break the law and be sent to jail. In dealing with the breakers of the salt law, the police resorted to their usual brutal methods. The Indian National Congress was declared illegal. Some newspapers, threatened with censorship, suspended publication. The people held hartaals (strikes) and demonstrations, and mass arrests were made. Soon the jails were overflowing. The people remained nonviolent, lest Gandhi should call off the movement.

Gandhi then informed the Viceroy that he was going to raid the government salt works at Dharasana. Lord Irwin decided to act. Two English officers, with pistols, accompanied by many Indian policemen armed with rifles, arrived at Gandhi’s camp in the middle of the night. They woke Gandhi and said, “You are under arrest.”

Gandhi was taken to Yeravda Central Jail and was thus absent for the raid on the Dharasana salt deposits. The salt deposits were surrounded by barbed-wire fencing and protected by four hundred Indian policemen armed with steel-toed canes. A few British officers were in command of them.

Gandhi’s volunteers halted some distance away from the fence. Then a select group of them advanced towards the fence. Police officials ordered the volunteers to disperse but they ignored the warning. Suddenly the police rushed at them and rained blow after blow on the defenseless men. Not one of the volunteers even raised an arm to stop the blows. They fell down, some with broken skulls, some with broken shoulders, arms, or legs.

When the entire first batch had been knocked down and carried off on stretchers, another batch advanced to meet the same fate. The campaign went on for hours. Finally, as the heat of the day increased, the volunteers stopped their activities for that day. Among the volunteers two had died and 320 were injured. Gandhi’s arrest had created a great sensation in India and abroad.

Representations were sent from all parts of the world to the British Prime Minister asking the government to release Gandhi and make peace with India. Even those who were cooperating with the British demanded the release of Gandhi. Gandhi proved to be more dangerous inside the jail than outside. While he sat quietly in Yeravda Jail, countrywide outbreaks of civil disobedience were greatly taxing the British. The jails were full. The government was in distress and finally, in 1931, had to release Gandhi, Nehru, and other leaders. As soon as Gandhi was out of prison he asked for an interview with the Viceroy, Lord Irwin.

The interview was immediately given. Gandhi and Irwin met, but the two men seemed to have come from two different worlds.

Gandhi did not go to seek any favors. He wanted to negotiate on terms of equality. The meeting went on for many days and finally the talks culminated in a treaty, the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. It embodied compromises made by both sides. Irwin agreed to release all the political prisoners, and Gandhi promised to suspend civil disobedience and send a Congress representative to the Round Table Conference.

At the time, in London, the British government was holding a Round Table Conference on the future of India. The Gandhi-Irwin Pact was a victory for nonviolent resistance. But some of Gandhi’s Congress followers thought that he had not gained much as a result of the pact.

Gandhi was designated as the sole representative of the Congress to the Round Table Conference. In August 1931 he sailed for London with a small party.

Gandhi went to England with the object of reaching an agreement with the British on a fair Constitution for India and also of winning the hearts of the British people. In his first object he failed, and in the second he met with great success. Gandhi spent 84 days in England and most of the time he was meeting and talking to people. Prime Minister Winston Churchill refused to see him but Gandhi captivated the hearts of many. He had tea with the King and Queen. When a reporter asked him if he thought he had been dressed well enough for such an august tea party, Gandhi replied, “The King had on enough for both of us.”

At the Round Table Conference nothing was conceded to India. The Conference played up the differences between Hindus and Muslims, and this only served to worsen communal tension in India. Gandhi returned with nothing except warm goodwill for India from the hearts of many English people.
At home, Gandhi found that the government had returned to the policy of repression. There were widespread arrests and seizure of property and bank accounts of people and organizations who were hostile to British interests.

Early in 1932 Gandhi wanted to meet the new Viceroy, Lord Willlingdon, but the Viceroy made it clear that the days of negotiations were over. Gandhi informed the authorities that he was again starting a civil disobedience movement.

The Viceroy thought it was a threat and had Gandhi arrested and lodged in Yeravada Central Jail. Several other leaders and many followers of Gandhi were also arrested and jailed.

 


 

Gandhi Fights British Attempt to Divide Hindus – Part 15

At  home Gandhi found that the Government had returned to the policy of repression. There were widespread arrests and the Government seized the properties and bank balances of people and organizations who were hostile to their interests.

Early in 1932 Gandhi wanted to meet the new Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, but the Viceroy made it clear that the days of negotiation were over. Gandhi informed the authorities that he was again starting a civil disobedience campaign.

The Viceroy thought it was a threat. He had Gandhi arrested and imprisoned in Yeravda Central Jail. Several other leaders and many of Gandhi’s followers were also arrested and sent to jail.

In March the struggle entered a new phase. Gandhi had always insisted that the untouchables were a part of the Hindus and must be treated as Hindus. Now, however, it was announced that the British proposed to set up separate voting for the untouchables. That meant that untouchables could vote only for members of their own caste.

Gandhi regarded the Hindu religion as one and indivisible. He saw the game the British were playing. It was an attempt to weaken Hindu society.  “Separate treatment of untouchables cannot be allowed,” Gandhi declared. “Here is an attempt to make untouchability last forever. Unless untouchability is destroyed we shall  never have self-government.” “But what can you do about this election law now?” asked a friend. “I can die,” was his prompt reply. “I will resist this evil provision with my life.” Gandhi announced that he would soon start a fast unto death unless the plan for separate electorates was changed. The public announcement of his intention threw the country into panic.

The Indian leaders were shocked at Gandhi’s decision. Even Jawaharlal Nehru thought that Gandhi was taking a drastic step on a side issue. During the time between the announcement and the day when Gandhi’s fast was to begin, streams of visitors arrived at Yeravada jail. The authorities, anxious to avoid any tragedy, allowed everyone to have free access to Gandhi. But all efforts to dissuade him from fasting unto death were of no avail. The die was cast. Gandhi was going to fast.

Rabindranath Tagore sent a telegram: “It is worth sacrificing precious life for the sake of India’s unity and her social integrity. Our sorrowing hearts will follow your sublime penance with reverence and love.”

Gandhi started his fast on September 20, 1932. The first day of the fast was observed all over India as a day of prayer and fasting. Many temples were opened to untouchables and meetings were held all over India urging the removal of untouchability.

Outside the jail political activity came to a boil. Leaders of upper case Hindus and untouchables met and discussed various measures to try to arrive at a compromise that would satisfy Gandhi. Proposals and counterproposals were made and considered.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the most powerful leader of the untouchables, met Gandhi and assured him that he would try his best to find a just solution. On the third day of the fast, Gandhi’s condition caused anxiety to all his friends. He was very weak and had to be carried to bathroom on a stretcher. His voice was feeble, his blood pressure was rising. The authorities grew panicky. They sent for Kasturba and allowed all his friends and followers to be with him in jail.

On the fifth day of the fast, Hindu leaders finally reached an agreement and signed a pact that would do away with the separate electorates. Gandhi, however, would not accept the pact unless it had been ratified by the British rulers.

News came that the British had approved the pact; but still Gandhi would not break his fast until he had seen the text of the approval. The official document of the British government’s approval to the pact came and Gandhi accepted it. Gandhi was released from prison in early 1933. Shortly thereafter he suspended the mass civil disobedience movement but sanctioned individual civil resistance resistance to the government’s policy of repression.

For the next seven years, Gandhi worked hard for the social and spiritual awakening of the people. Many leaders, including Nehru, did not approve of many of Gandhi’s activities. “But,” said Nehru, “how can I presume to advise a magician?”

Sabarmati Ashram had been seized by the government during the salt satyagraha. So Gandhi established a little retreat at Sevagram near Wardha in Maharashtra. This became his headquarters. New reforms sponsored by the government got little support from the people. However, many people, including Congress workers, wanted to try them out as a means of furthering the Swaraj movement.

In 1939, the Second World War broke out. England and France declared was on Nazi Germany. Without consulting Indian leaders, Britain declared India also to be at war on the side of the allies.

Though Gandhi’s sympathies lay with the British, he believed that all violence was evil and therefore he would have nothing to do with the war effort. The Indian National Congress wanted to help Britain and fight on the side of the allies, but only as a free nation. But to grant India independence seemed ridiculous to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his government. They had no intention of letting India go by default.

Britain refused to accept the cooperation offered by the Congress. As a protest, all the Congress ministries in the provinces resigned. The government took over the administration and they too all measures that would help the was effort. Acting on the goodwill and restraint taught by Gandhi, the Indian leaders showed no reaction.

However, events in Europe were having repercussions in India. The Congress Working Committee found itself unable to accept in its entirety Gandhi’s attitude to the war. In particular, they would not accept his view that the defence of India should not depend on the armed forces.

Congress leaders met several times in Gandhi’s room at Sevagram and talked of their desire to start some action. Finally a proposal was put forward that all provincial governments should join with the British authorities in the defence of India, but the British rejected the offer.

-To be continued next week

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