GANDHI AND THE PHASES OF INDIAN FREEDOM STRUGGLE PART-1

INTRODUCTION

Indian freedom struggle mainly has three major phases, the first phase could be truly categorized as the moderate phase which ranged for first 20 years of congress (1885-1905). Having faith in the honesty and sincerity of the British government they linked the progress of India with their prosperity was the main idea behind this phase[1]. This phase could also be called the phase of moderate ideas.

The second phase of congress could be marked with a rise of extremism or militant nationalism within the National Congress extending from 1906 to 1919. This phase could be defined as the extremist phase of the national struggle.

The third phase or the gandhian phase is also called the era of mass nationalism. It is during the third phase only, that anti imperialist nationalism was at its peak not only in india, but across all the colonies of Asia and Africa. The first world war, where Indians had contributed to the finances as well as workforce also came as a huge wakeup call. This war also served as a medium to erode the myth of cultural superiority of the british.

In 1888, 18-year-old Gandhi sailed for London, England, to study law. The young Indian struggled with the transition to Western culture. Upon returning to India in 1891, Gandhi learned that his mother had died just weeks earlier. He struggled to gain his footing as a lawyer. In his first courtroom case, a nervous Gandhi blanked when the time came to cross-examine a witness. He immediately fled the courtroom after reimbursing his client for his legal fees.[2]

Some define Gandhi as a personality of contradictory beliefs, but while looking at the events and his contribution to the indian freedom struggle, a consideration should be made to the changing circumstances of that period when changes were taking place at the homeland and the world at a very fast pace.

Gandhi’s experience in south Africa, and the type of resistance from colonial authorities against the struggle he leveled up with the help of small number of Indians had already created a heroic image in the minds of the general population as well as the leaders who were currently at the top positions of Indian national congress.

Now the general question which arises is what was the reason that Gandhi supported methods of passive resistance and non-violence even when he commanded such a large population at his beck and call. The research paper would focus on how gandhi’ s contribution to the indian freedom struggle from the perspective of different fronts which were present at the time of indian freedom struggle and after that.

Gandhi was just not the face of a freedom struggle, but a moral reformist. Gandhi had a vision of religious pluralism for the country, which was home to multiple faiths and sporadic instances of religious conflicts.

GANDHI’S EXPERIENCE IN SOUTH AFRICA

Gandhi’s undisputed leadership for the nationalist movement came as a result of his experience and endeavors he undertook in south Africa. The South African experience can also be called a mini battleground where Gandhi tested his skills and new experiments were conducted. It was in south Africa that Gandhi perfected the mode of Passive Resistance, which he later called “satyagraha”, to defend the interests of the indian community in south Africa.[3]

When the 24-year-old Gandhi arrived in south Africa, slowly he realized that he had walked into a hornet’s nest. After more than 30 years of transporting labourers in sugarcane fields, three categories of indentured labourers were created. In the 1860s, British settlers recruited indentured labourers from India primarily to man the sugar, tea and coffee plantations in the Natal region. These labourers were promised good wages and the right to settle as free men after five years.[4] After more than 30 years of importing labourers to the sugar-cane fields of Natal there were three categories of Indians in the country: ‘indentured’ who were under a five-year labour contract; ‘ex-indentured’ who had chosen to remain for another five years; and ‘passengers’, mainly traders who had paid their own fare to South Africa. Some Indians in the latter two categories qualified for the vote and shared the franchise with Natal’s white settlers. In April i894, however, the Franchise Amendment Bill was introduced to that Province’s first Legislative Assembly under Responsible Government, and this stated that ‘no person belonging to Asiatic races not accustomed to the exercise of franchise rights under parliamentary institutions’ could in future qualify for the vote.[5]

The following month Gandhi met a number of Indian merchants, the most vocal and active among the new arrivals, who realised that they needed to create pressure on the local electorate to have their views and commercial interests represented. They decided to establish and supported Gandhi’s idea of creating their own voice in the form of a newspaper – the Indian Opinion – which first appeared in June I903. In keeping with Gandhi’s emerging philosophy of withdrawal from urban comforts and non-violence it was also decided to locate a communal settlement at Phoenix, north of Durban, which became associated with Gandhi and his family for more than 50 years.

It was in south Africa, Gandhi witnessed the ugliest face of white colonialism. The humiliation and contempt faced by the Indians in south Africa, was the awakening call which lead to his future involvement in the indian nationalist movement. While he was travelling by train to Pretoria, Gandhi, despite carrying first class ticket, was thrown out of the train by the authorities because a white man complained of an Indian sharing the space with him.

Gandhi formed the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 as a response to the systematic discrimination faced by indians. This organisation led non-violent protests against the oppressive treatment of the white people towards the native Africans and Indians.[6] This event led to his political baptism.

In 1906, Gandhi organized his first mass civil-disobedience campaign, which he called “Satyagraha” (“truth and firmness”), in reaction to the South African Transvaal government’s new restrictions on the rights of Indians, including the refusal to recognize Hindu marriages.[7]

After years of protests, the government imprisoned hundreds of Indians in 1913, including Gandhi. Under pressure, the South African government accepted a compromise negotiated by Gandhi and General Jan Christian Smuts that included recognition of Hindu marriages and the abolition of a poll tax for Indians. This was the first real political victory for Gandhi and with this great achievement, his contribution came under notice for many indian nationalists, and created a fertile ground for future leadership in indian national congress.


[1] https://www.historydiscussion.net/history-of-india/history-of-freedom-struggle-in-india/3188

[2] https://www.biography.com/activist/mahatma-gandhi

[3] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/mahatma-gandhi-150th-birth-anniversary-the-evolution-of-gandhis-thought/article29567005.ece.

[4] Laher, S., & Cockcroft, K. (2013). Contextualising psychological assessment in South Africa. In Laher S. & Cockcroft K. (Eds.), Psychological Assessment in South Africa: Research and applications (pp. 1-14). Johannesburg, South Africa: Wits University Press. doi:10.18772/22013015782.6

[5] Maureen Swan, Gandhi: the South African experience Johannesburg, p. 95.

[6] https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/bapu-in-africa-344314-2016-10-01.

[7] Du Toit, B. (1996). The Mahatma Gandhi and South Africa. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 34(4), 643-660. Retrieved July 15, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/161593

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