|[b]Gandhi and the end of the colonial rule in India[/b]
[b]The british Raj[/b]
- The Beginning of British rule in India -
Since the 15th century European colonists had began to visit the seaboards of India.
The Portuguese were the first ones who established their rule on the West Coast of India in the 16th century. But their domination remained on the coastal area, because they were not able to move further into the country.
The British presence in India dates back to the early part of the seventeenth century.
On December 31st, 1600, Queen Elizabeth I. founded the British East India Company, a private company that consisted of merchants, with the permission and the task to travel to East India in order to manage the country and to supervise the commercial trade. Through this internal intervention the Mughal empire, which was the Muslim dynasty in India until then, began to disintegrate.
Between 1601 and 1691 India slowly developed into a huge market for British industrial products. This meant that the country fell
increasingly into the hands of Britain and the East India Company which finally succeeded to become the main ruler of the Indian continent in the 17th century, with Calcutta as its administrative residence.
But the new power exploited the resources of the country and used different methods to create disunity among Indian people causing many violent outbreaks between Moslems and Hindus as a consequence. The result of this dividing policy can still be seen nowadays.
The Indian dominion, or British Raj, as it is often called, was the brightest jewel of the British Empire that also included Canada, Australia, much of Africa and lots of other smaller territories.
The British belief in bringing civilisation to India by establishing a reliable system of justice and Western principles, caused the prohibition of many Indian social and religious practices.
Beyond this, the British sent troops to India to protect and expand their trade business.
As a result, more and more territories came under British rule in the 1840s and 1850s.
This kind of British expansionism demonstrated strength and power to the Indian community.
The final end of the Mughal Empire arrived in 1857, the year of the Sepoy Rebellion, when the British exiled Bahadur Shah II, the last Mugal emperor, to Burma. At the same time they abolished the British East India Company and transferred the control over the Indian subcontinent directly to the British Crown. India became one of Britain's Crown Colonies.
On May 10th, 1857, Indian soldiers of the British Indian Army, rebelled in Meerut, a district near Delhi. The Mutiny spread across the country, and soon much of north and central India was involved in a year-long revolt against the British.
Although the British succeeded in defeating the rebels, India's first big war of independence changed British attitudes towards Indians from relative openness to isolation and xenophobia.One precaution was the enlargement of the British army in order to suppress further revolts.
But the Mutiny had produced a sense of unity between the Hindus and the Moslems of India that had to be proved in the future.
In the late 1800s India established its own National Congress. This led to a large number of educated Indians, especially lawyers, to join government service.
In 1912 the capital of the country was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi, where a new set of official buildings were designed to reflect the imperial brightness, which led to the creation of New Delhi.
Finally, in August 1917, the British government formally announced a policy of "increasing association of Indians in every branch of administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an essential part of the British empire". This policy was an important step for India to slowly become a self-governing country.
At the turn of the 18th century, the freedom movement spread across the country and inspired the minds of thousands of Indians who were seeking to free themselves and their country from British sovereignty. Freedom leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Aurobindo Ghose tried to mobilise the Indian masses in order to become an invincible force against the British. But just one man in the Indian history was able to change a whole nation and to achieve independence through non-violent methods. His name was Mahatma Gandhi.
Mahatma Gandhi, "A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission to alter the course of history".
[b]Gandhi's early years[/b]
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, popularly called Mahatma, was born on October 2nd, 1869 in Porbandar, a city near Bombay, in India. His family belonged to the Vaishya, a merchant class of the Indian caste system. His father, Karamchand Gandhi, was the prime minister of the province of Porbandar. Gandhi's family followed strict rules of Hinduism, which included the practice of non-violence, spiritual fasting, vegetarianism and tolerance towards other religions. The young Mahatma was married at the age of 13. His bride, Kasturba, was at the same age and was chosen by his parents.
In 1887 he started his studies at the University of Bombay, but one year later he went abroad to study law at University College in London. The switching from eastern to western cultures made it difficult for him to assimilate. Additionally, he was very often snubbed by other students because of his Indian origin. Therefore he dedicated himself to the study of philosophy. Famous writers like Henry David Thoreau, John Ruskin or Leo Tolstoy inspired him and characterised his future actions.
After his return to India in 1891, Gandhi attempted to establish a law practice in Bombay, but because he was shy and awkward he had little success.
Two years later he went to South Africa after an Indian firm had engaged him as a legal adviser in its office in Durban. He was the first "coloured" lawyer, who was admitted to the Supreme Court. South Africa was at that time under British control and racial discrimination was freely practised on the streets. Gandhi found himself treated as a member of an inferior race.
One day Gandhi was forcefully thrown out of a train after he had refused to offer his seat to a white person. This occurrence finally opened his eyes and he decided to fight for the rights of minorities and especially those from the Indian working class. But he decided to never use violence in his fights. And this intention was one fact why Gandhi became so popular.
Gandhi stayed in South Africa for 21 years. During that time he began his peaceful revolution and he engaged himself in the fight against racial discrimination and the humiliation of non-whites.
Gandhi preferred to go to jail or even die, than to obey any law that was against human rights.
With his writings and his devout life he won a mass of Indian followers that supported his disobedience campaign. Gandhi was imprisoned twice, because of his insurrection-causing policy, but this could not stop him.
One of his many feats was the foundation of the Natal Indian Congress in May 1894, whose striving it was to weld together the diverse cultural and religious immigrants from the Indian subcontinent into a single unified organisation.
But still he remained loyal to the British. Five years after the foundation of the Congress he formed the Indian Ambulance Corps for the British soldiers who fought in the Boer War in South Africa from 1899 to 1902 and commanded a Red Cross unit. For this practice he even got a decoration from the British authorities.
The Boers were a small resistance group in South Africa who fought against British colonial rule.
In 1910 he built the Tolstoy Farm in South Africa, a co-operative colony for Indians, and afterwards he edited a newspaper called 'Indian Opinion'.
In his policy Gandhi combined the terms passive resistance and civil disobedience and created a new term, "Satyagraha", which means insistence and adherence to truth in a non-violent way.
[b]The Principle of Gandhi's "Satyagraha"[/b]
Satyagraha was a way of life, it was an evolving technique to bring change into people's lives without violence. Gandhi believed that non-violence or "ahimsa" was the essential search for truth which also involved fighting against injustice. But this fight required sympathy for fellow beings
and the demand for non-violence. People could only face brutality, when they had self-control and courage.
It was very important for Gandhi to feel first for the oppressed and then fight for justice. With this idea he made "Satyagraha" a kind of force for truth and justice. Gandhi proclaimed that his teachings could be performed by anyone, no matter which caste, religion, sex or age he or she was. Thus, Gandhi's doctrine had great success, because it also seemed very easy for his followers to become a "Satyagrahi". A single person could fast for protest, a group could go on strike or women could boycott shops that sold products from other countries.
Gandhi wrote in one of his writings: "I am a humble seeker after truth. I am impatient to realise myself, to attain "moksha" in this very existence. My national service is part of my training for my freeing soul from bondage of flesh. Thus considered, my service may be regarded as purely selfish. I have no desire for the perishable kingdom of earth. I am striving for the Kingdom of Heaven which is "moksha". [...] For me the road to salvation lies through incessant toil in service of my country and humanity. [...] If I have to be reborn, I should be born as an 'Untouchable' so that I may
share their sorrows, sufferings and the affronts levelled at them, in order that I may endeavour to free myself and them from that miserable condition."
In 1914, due to Gandhi's demands, the government of the Union of South Africa made important decisions about the recognition of Indian marriages and the abolition of the poll tax for Indians. After this great success, Gandhi decided to go back to his home country India, where he continued to practice and teach his doctrine to his Indian followers.
[b]Gandi and british rule in india[/b]
- How Gandhi liberated India from the British -
Mahatma Gandhi had won his political engagement through organising the Indian community against the vicious system of discrimination in South Africa. During his struggle he adopted an austere traditional Indian style of living, which won him wide popularity. When he arrived in India he began to revitalise the freedom movement that had formed on the streets. His goal was to bring all classes and religious sects together, especially Hindus and Moslems.
During the First World War, Gandhi played an active part in organising campaigns and advocating his policy of "Satyagraha".
After the war the cheerful optimism of the long, British-dominated 19th century came to an end.
While Indians gained the will to seek independence, the British lost their will to hold their empire.
In 1919 Gandhi was elected as a leader of the newly formed Indian National Congress political party and received the complete executive authority. The party used both parliamentary and non-violent resistance and non co-operation to achieve independence. Under his leadership the Congress started a series of mass movements, for example the Non Co-operation Movement of 1920, that lasted two years, and the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930. Gandhi's Non Co-operation Movement was unsuccessful, because the Indian population didn't fully comprehend the real message of his doctrine and this led to an outbreak of a series of armed revolts against the British. When Gandhi realised his failure, he immediately ended the campaign.
However, due to the exploitation of Indian cottage industries by British industrialists, the economic situation had resulted in extreme poverty in the country and the destruction of Indian home industries. As a countermeasure Gandhi arranged a boycott campaign against Great Britain, urging the Indian people to avoid to buy British goods and spin their own cotton instead.
Even Gandhi himself began to spin his own clothes with the help of a spinning wheel, that finally became his permanent companion and a symbol for the return to simple village life and the renewal of native Indian industries.
For his role in organising the boycott and his Non Co-operation Movement Gandhi was imprisoned for about two years. After his release he withdrew from active politics for a while and devoted himself to propagating communal unity. But he also continued to teach his idea of non-violence, also called "ahimsa".
In 1930 Gandhi proclaimed a new campaign of civil disobedience, known as the famous Dandi March. Thousands of Indians followed him on foot on his 200-mile march from Ahmedabad to Dandi at the Arabian Sea in order to make their own salt by evaporating sea water. This was a protest and a symbolic violation of the British law by members of the Indian population that were forced to pay a tax on salt. About 90.000 people were arrested, among them Gandhi and his friend Jawaharlal Nehru, the future Prime Minister of India, but both were released very soon after.
The Salt March event swept India into a series of civil actions against the British, because everybody felt affected by the salt tax.
Gandhi was also admired because of his simple lifestyle. Wherever he went he wore a self-made loincloth and a shawl. His only nourishment where vegetables, fruit juice and goat's milk. "He lived a spiritual and ascetic life of prayer, fasting and meditation." Through his doctrine and his way of life he gave people in India and all over the world a way to fight for their rights. Soon he became the international symbol of a free India and the leader of the Indian Nationalist Movement. Indians honoured him as a saint and gave him the name "Mahatma", which means 'Great Soul'.
Gandhi's political and spiritual influence on India became so great, that the British authorities did not dare to interfere with him. Moreover they didn't know how to treat an enemy who didn't use violence.
One year after the march, Gandhi went to a conference in London to act as a representative of the Indian National Congress, but the British failed to help him and he was again sent to jail after he returned to India.
During his imprisonments Gandhi began several times to fast over long periods. His fasts were effective measures against the British, because if he had died, revolution might well have broken out in India. In 1932, soon after his return from Britain, he nearly fasted to death to achieve a better status for the 'Untouchables'. Gandhi was well known as an adversary of the Hindu caste system. For this reason he travelled through India to teach "ahimsa" and to demand the abolition of this unfair and unsocial system.
When World War II broke out, Gandhi and the Congress decided to support Britain on the condition that the British would completely withdraw from India. But the British refused and offered instead some compromises that the other side refused to accept. In August 1942 Gandhi arranged the 'Quit India' movement, where he issued again the call to the British to quit India.
"I want freedom immediately, this very night before dawn if it can be had. [...] We shall free India or die in the attempt, we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery" was his declaration when British soldiers resorted into brutal outbreaks against non-violent Satyagrahis.
The maintenance of British rule in India and especially the Second World War meant enormous costs for Britain. At the end of the war a number of constitutional reforms were passed to achieve a transfer of power to the Indian government.
By 1944 the Indian struggle for freedom was in its final stages. The British government agreed to the demand for independence under the condition that the two contending nationalist groups, the Muslim League and the Congress party, should resolve their differences.
Later, namely after the Indians had won independence, this step led to the partition of India and to the separation of Muslims and Hindus into two different countries. Gandhi was against this measure, but hoping that the two hostile groups would finally gain internal peace, he agreed to the Muslim demand for separation.
India finally succeeded in achieving independence on August 15th, 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi's friend, was soon elected as its first Prime Minister. Shortly after, the country was divided into Pakistan and India.
But because of this action, the riots continued. Gandhi was very disappointed that Indian freedom did not result in Indian unity, but nevertheless he helped to rebuild the areas that were marked by the riots and he began to fast for peace in those places where the fighting over religion was still continuing. This way, he ended the riots in Calcutta in September 1947 and caused a truce in Delhi on January 18th, 1948.
Twelve days later a fanatic Hindu, Naturam Godse, who blamed Gandhi for the partition of India and the betrayal of the Hindus, shot Gandhi at a prayer meeting in Delhi. It was a tragic end for a peace activist to have such a violent death.
Gandhi's body was burned and his ashes
were spread in the Ganges 50 years after his
death during a ceremony honouring his memory.
After the new constitution was published on January 26th, 1950, India became a republic within the Commonwealth.
Gandhi became a role model for many people. His new policy of truth and non-violence inspired lots of freedom activists like Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela, who learned from his philosophy and used it to fight for their rights and their beliefs.
Albert Einstein eulogised Gandhi as one of the most inspiring and influential men of the twentieth century. "Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth," he said once.
Gandhi was the man for whom truth and humanity stood above everything else. Just armed with ideals and courage, he accomplished to free about five hundred million Indians from the powerful sovereignty of Great Britain without raising any weapon. With this feat Gandhi achieved the unbelievable. No one could have ever believed that this slight, soft-spoken man was able to change the course of history. The secret of his success lies in his incomparable nature that will ever remain in the hearts and the minds of the people.