The fibre of Gandhi's resistance

Storied highlights in a lifetime of fighting oppression and prejudice


NH Web Desk

The fibre of Gandhi's resistance

1906: South Africa

A law in South Africa required Asians above the age of eight to register and give fingerprints. It imposed a tax on Asians, restricted their travel rights and invalidated marriages conducted with Hindu or Muslim rites. Gandhi mobilised the community to defy the law. He persuaded his own wife and daughters-in-law to court arrest, inspiring hundreds of women to follow suit. It took seven years of non-violent struggle before the South African government of Jan Smuts relented in 1913. Gandhi left for India the next year.

~20,000 Indians worked in sugar plantations, coal mines and the railways; they weren’t allowed in gold mines

The fibre of Gandhi's resistance

1917: Champaran satyagraha

On his arrival in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, Gandhi wrote to the Commissioner that his visit was only to enquire into the grievances of peasants, not to start an agitation. He sought to conduct the enquiry with the help of officials. Peasants were paid low wages, forced to cultivate indigo, and to pay illegal cesses. Gandhi was taken to court for instigating peasants. He offered to go to jail but refused to stop the inquiry. Eventually the government relented, appointed a commission with Gandhi as member and enacted a law in 1918 to redress grievances.

~25,000 Sworn statements Gandhi collected from peasants, a large number of those from women and Dalits.

Photo: Getty images
Photo: Getty images

1919: Rowlatt Act/ Jallianwala Bagh

The ‘Black Act’ sought to give the government discretion to conduct political cases without juries and detain ‘suspects’ without trial. Indians were outraged; Rabindranath Tagore returned his knighthood in 1915. On April 6, Gandhi gave the call for a nationwide satyagraha to oppose the Act. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place on 13 April, triggering further protests and violence; provisions of the Act were never implemented.

The fibre of Gandhi's resistance

1920-21: Non-cooperation movement

Shocked by the Rowlatt Act and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the Congress resolved to press for self-governance. Gandhi announced a non-cooperation agitation in August-September, 1920. Indians were urged to boycott British goods, withdraw children from government schools and colleges, pull out of all government bodies and/or strike work (hartal). The movement was abruptly called off in February 1921 following violence at Chauri Chaura in Gorakhpur where a mob set a police station on fire.

The fibre of Gandhi's resistance

1930: Civil Disobedience/ Dandi march

The Civil Disobedience movement was launched on the heels of the Congress’s Purna Swaraj resolution. Gandhi decided to break the salt law, which protected a British monopoly on salt manufacture. He began the march from Sabarmati with 80 people; thousands joined along the way. This triggered protests and similar marches from Peshawar to Assam and from the Malabar to Andhra Pradesh, leading to the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, the release of all arrested Indians, and an invitation for Gandhi to attend the Round Table Conference in London.

~60,000 people were arrested or courted arrest during the Salt satyagraha

The fibre of Gandhi's resistance

1942: Bharat Chhodo/ Quit India movement

The Congress had refused to support the British war effort in 1939 unless India was assured of complete independence. Congress ministers resigned from provincial governments, while the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha and sections of the Indian business class opposed the Congress resolution and supported the government. In August 1942, Gandhi raised the ‘Quit India’ slogan, and exhorted Indians to ‘do or die’ in one last push for independence. In less than 24 hours of Gandhi raising this slogan, all Congress leaders were rounded up and put in jail.

~100,000 were arrested during the Quit India movement; 26,000 were convicted under the Defence of India Rules

The fibre of Gandhi's resistance

1946: Noakhali

Riots had erupted in East Bengal’s Muslim-dominated Noakhali area, soon after the week-long Calcutta riots in August had taken 5,000 lives. The better off among Hindus had fled, and the poorer ones were either killed or converted. Tension ran high following retaliatory killings in Bihar. Gandhi took himself to Noakhali, disregarding the threat to his life. He walked from door to door, village to village. Gandhi, 77 at the time, slept in a different village every night, held prayer meetings every day, played the Ramdhun and addressed both Muslims and Hindus. Waterlogged roads were dug up and human excreta thrown on narrow pathways in villages. But that did not deter him. ‘No police or military will protect cowards,’ he said in response to those who demanded the army be sent out to protect the Hindus. Singlehanded, he restored peace.

~100,000 Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian women were kidnapped, converted or raped during the Partition

The fibre of Gandhi's resistance
The fibre of Gandhi's resistance

1947: Independence Day/ Gandhi fast in Calcutta

In August and September of 1947, away from the celebration of independence in Delhi, Gandhi was in Calcutta trying to douse communal fires lit by the Partition. On August 13, two days before Independence, Gandhi moved into a dilapidated and abandoned Hyderi Manzil in Calcutta’s Beliaghata area. He began an indefinite fast on August 31, and broke it on September 4 only after both Hindu and Muslim community leaders called on him, surrendered arms and urged him to break his fast.

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