LIFE OF GANDHI 1869-1948
Chapter 04: The Great Trial, 1921-1928
Sequence 01 Swaraj and swadeshi ran parallel on Gandhi's schedule. On July 31, he inaugurated the campaign for the boycott of foreign cloth by kindling an immense bonfire in Bombay not out of racial hatred but as a sign of India's determination to break with the past.
To Gandhi the outward fire was a symbol of the inner fire which would burn up all weaknesses of the head and the heart... "In burning my foreign clothes I burn my shame," said he.
"It would be wrong to give this material to the poor, for the poor too have a sense of honour."
2 The bonfire spread all over the land. Gandhi went from village to village and from town to town ...
3 Here in Madurai, he decided to discard his cap and vest realising that the millions were too poor to replace the discarded foreign clothes. On the morning of September 21, his head was shaved and he wrapped a piece of Khaddar around his loins. Thus he resolutely took to the loin-cloth.
Great events seemed imminent.
4 Gandhi declared: "It is contrary to national dignity for any Indian to serve under a Government which has brought about India's economic, moral and political degradation".
5 Non-co-operation clashed with Poet Tagore's way of thinking. Steering his bark against the current, he addressed the nation. "Though the Mahatma is the master of truth and love, it is possible that real freedom of the soul may be crushed in the name of outward liberty".
In Gandhi's command of "Spin and weave", he did not see the gospel of a new creative age ... For him the awakening of India was bound up with the awakening of the world.
6 The warning of the great sentinel evoked a firm rejoinder from Gandhi. "When all about me are dying for want of food, the only occupation permissible to me is to feed the hungry and hunger is drawing them to the spinning wheel.
"Our non-co-operation is with the material civilization and the exploitation of the weak ... I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any of them".
7 The revolution seemed to be smouldering everywhere ready to burst into flames when the Indian National Congress met at Ahmedabad in December 1921. The Congress again proclaimed its faith in civil disobedience as a weapon equally effective and more human than armed rebellion and delegated its powers to Gandhi as its sole executive authority.
8 Gandhi informed the Viceroy that Bardoli Taluka in Gujarat was to be the first unit of non-violent mass revolt, but on February 5, 1922, on the outbreak of violence at Chauri Chaura in the district of Gorakhpur, taking the sins of the people upon himself, Gandhi made a confession "God spoke clearly through Chaurl Chaura... mob-violence even in answer to grave provocation is a bad augury..."
He suspended the intended mass civil disobedience in Bardoli and imposed on himself a five day fast as a penance.
9 The long expected happened at last. On March 10, when Gandhi was about to retire, the police party arrived in the ashram to arrest him. Feeling happy and gratified at his arrest, he equipped himself with his barest necessities. The Ashram inmates joined in his last pr yer and bowed to him. arrived in the ashram to arrest him.
10 At noon March 18, the great trial began at Circuit House, Ahmedabad. When a frail, serene indomitable figure entered, the entire court rose in an act of spontaneous homage.
11 Gandhi was indicted on three seditious articles published in Young India. The first two contained the declaration of fight to the finish and preached disaffection towards the Government.
In the third, challenging the power-intoxicated British Empire surviving on the exploitation of the weaker races, Gandhi had argued, "How can there be any compromise whilst the British lion continues to shake his gory claws in our face?"
12 Accused Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, aged 53, describing himself as a farmer and weaver by profession, spoke in his own defence and pleaded guilty to the charge. "I hold it to be a virtue to be disaffected towards a government which, in its totality, has done more harm to India than any other system ...
"...I do not ask for mercy. I am to invite and cheerfully submit to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a deliberate crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of the citizen."
13 The most epic event of modern times ended quickly. Gandhi was sentenced to six years' simple imprisonment.
The embodied symbol of the Indian nation disappeared as the gates closed behind him ... Peace, non-violence, self-suffering was the message which vibrated from the prison walls.
14 This was the prison meant for Gandhi's long rest.
15 Gandhi saw that the prison system was almost devoid of humanity. He was kept in solitary confinement. The jail manual was applied to him rigorously. He was subjected to search daily before lock-up. His resistance as a Satyagrahi ceased and obedience was resumed as a prisoner though he respectfully declined to be humiliated.
Gandhi mapped out a programme of studies to finish which six years were not enough.
16 He accounted for every minute of his time. His day dawned with a prayer. At six, he began his work. Spinning which became an inner need with him occupied him for three hours. While turning the spinning wheel, his attention was fixed on a single point...
Believing that every spinner should learn to card, he engaged himself in carding for an hour.
Six hours he devoted to literary efforts, sitting down to his books with the delight of a young man. He read extensively on religion and literature ... He studied over again the Hindu scriptures and works on Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. He also read on social and natural sciences. History, for him, had a special spiritual significance, for he believed that "Truth transcends history".
17 The walls were no barriers to his thought. He wrote a primer for children, which stressed the importance of a clean body and a composed mind, of prayer, spinning and nature study, hoping that the mother in India would, in future, be her child's teacher.
In prison, Gandhi was "as happy as a bird".
Sequence 1 Gandhi's spirit animated the free world. Romain Rolland observed in his biography of Gandhi, "This is the man who stirred three hundred million people to revolt, who has introduced into human politics the strongest religious impetus of the last two thousand years."
Twenty two months of the prison life had an adverse effect on Gandhi's health.
2 On the night of January 12, 1924, amidst a violent thunderstorm, state prisoner Gandhi was operated upon in the Sassoon Hospital, Poona ... The electric light fused during the operation ... The appendectomy had to be finished by the light of a hurricane lamp.
3 Gandhi thanked his surgeon Col. Maddock profusely and they became warm friends.
4 The prisoner under guard began picking up unexpected fast.
5 On February 4, the Government remitted the unexpired portion of Gandhi's sentence and released him unconditionally. His reaction was, "my release has brought me no relief."
6 Early in March, Gandhi came to "Palm-Bun" at Juhu by the sea-side near Bombay to recuperate. He enjoyed the beauty of the landscape and recovered slowly.
While convalescing, Gandhi resumed editorial charge of his weeklies after two years... "I had hoped for release by an act of a swaraj parliament", he wrote, "but that was not to be ... We have yet to attain freedom. I have no new programme. My faith in the old Is just as aright as ever."
7 It soon became obvious to Gandhi that the only question before the country was that of Hindu-Muslim unity, which was both necessary and natural.
8 The triumph of communalism over national interest weighed heavily on his body and mind ... Dedicated to the highest cause - universal brotherhood of man - though still weak, Gandhi at the call of his conscience, imposed upon himself a penitential fast of 21 days on September 18, 1924.
The attention of the nation was focussed on Maulana Mahomed Ali's house in Delhi for the stake was on man's life and the price, the nation's freedom. Gandhi appealed to end the quarrel which "was a disgrace to religion and humanity ...Faith in oneself is faith in God. If we have that faith, we shall cease to fear one another".
9 The thirty-ninth session of the Indian National Congress was held at Belgaum on December 24, 1924, with Gandhi as the President. He induced the Congress to accept the spinning franchise, making labour in the form of a contribution of self-spun yarn, as an alternative to four-anna membership. His concluding remarks were "Satyagraha is search for Truth ... Like Swaraj it is our birth right."
10 Throughout 1925, Gandhi travelled ceaselessly to be morally prepared for future political opportunities.
Fiery and passionate words flowed from him. "Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be beauty and the test of our civilization ... My swaraj takes note of the weakest of the weak. It will come, not by the acquisition of authority by a few, but by the acquisition, by all, of the capacity to resist authority when it is abused."
Gandhi regarded untouchability as a fiendish sin. "Anything that is prejudicial to the welfare of the nation is untouchable but no human being can be so.
"The spinning-wheel was presented to the nation for giving occupation to the millions ... who have been reduced to pauperism ... Charkha is intended to realize the essential and living oneness of interest among India's myriads...It is criminal to displace the hand labour by the introduction of power driven spindles ... If India was really to prosper in her villages and not in her cities, the spinning wheel was the only instrument of its prosperity and freedom."
11 At the news of the sudden death of Deshbandhu Chittranjan Das, Gandhi almost broke down. "India has lost a jewel but we must regain it by gaining swaraj."
12 On the expiry of his Presidential term, Gandhi took a vow of a year's political silence and immobility, for he believed that silence was the language of cosmic adoration.
13 The year of silence gave Gandhi's body time to rest. He devoted more time to the inmates of his ashram and kept in touch with people through his journals trying to awaken and strengthen the nation from within by advocating social reforms.
14 Justifying his crucial decision to kill an ailing calf in the ashram, he argued, "I felt that humanity demands that agony should be ended by ending life itself... "After a calm and clear judgment, to kill or cause pain to a living being from a pure selfless intent may be the purest form of ahimsa." "To cause pain or wish ill to take life of any living being out of anger or selfish intent is himsa".
15 He gave discourses on the New Testament, the Gita and the Ramayana. The central theme of the Gita according to him was the renunciation of the fruits of one's action.
16 A new impulse was driving the people forward. The peasants of Bardoli Taluka in Gujarat, who were lifted into a mood of sacrifice by the spark of Gandhism, launched a struggle against the oppressive increase of revenue under the guidance of Vallabhbhai Patel, spontaneously called Sardar-the leader.
Hundreds were arrested and driven off their farms. Their property was attached and confiscated. Gandhi gave consolation, "Those who have stout hearts and hands need never fear loss of belongings... They will have lost their possession but kept their honour."
17 People, driven by the nationalist spirit that was awakened in the country, greeted the Simon Commission with black flags and angry shouts of "Go Back". The commission was touring India in connection with constitutional reforms.
The repressive measures of the Government failed to frighten the people.
In an anti-Simon demonstration in Punjab, the veteran leader Lala Lajpat Rai was struck on the chest. He died soon afterwards. Gandhi's tribute was "Men like Lalaji cannot die so long as the sun shines in the Indian sky."