Satyagraha means literally holding on to the truth. The Hindu understanding of Sat is more than conceptual truth but means also being, existence, reality; ultimately we realize that our spiritual beingness is the essence of truth as a reality greater than any concept of the mind. Thus the term “soul-force” or “truth power” conveys the idea of employing our spiritual energies. For Gandhi this truth or spiritual reality is the goal, and the means to the goal must be as pure and loving as possible. He noted that we may always control the means but never the ends. Thus the means must be as good as the goal. Ahimsa therefore is the way of acting without hurting anyone or inflicting oneself against another spiritual being. We may hate an injustice for the harm that it brings to people, but we must always love all the people involved out of respect for human dignity. Satyagraha attempts to awaken an awareness of the truth about the injustice in the perpetrators, and by ahimsa this is done without hurting them. Because humans are subject to error and cannot be sure of judging accurately, we must refrain from punishing. Thus ahimsa is an essential safeguard in the quest for truth and justice.
Gandhi distinguished satyagraha from the passive resistance which does not exclude the use of force or violence. He believed that satyagraha is not a method of the weak, like passive resistance, but it is a tool for the strong that excludes the use of violence in any shape or form. Satyagraha is the law of love for all, and it renounces violence absolutely. The idea is not to destroy or hurt the adversary but to convert them by sympathy, patience, and self-suffering. The satyagrahi hates all evil and never compromises with it but approaches the evil-doer with love. Satyagraha is insisting on the truth and can be offered in relation to one’s family, rulers, fellow citizens, or even the whole world. Gandhi elucidated three necessary conditions for its success:
1. The satyagrahi should not have any hatred in his heart
against the opponent.
2. The issue must be true and substantial.
3. The satyagrahi must be prepared to suffer till the end
for his cause.1
Gandhi emphasized self-suffering rather than inflicting suffering on others. By undergoing suffering to reveal the injustice the satyagrahi strives to reach the consciences of people. Satyagraha does not try to coerce anyone but rather to convert by persuasion, to reach the reason through the heart. Satyagraha appeals to intelligent public opinion for reform. In the political field the struggle on behalf of the people leads to the challenging of unjust governments or laws by means of non-cooperation or civil disobedience. When petitions and other remedies fail, then a satyagrahi may break an unjust law and willingly suffer the penalty in order to call attention to the injustice. However, one does not hide or try to escape from the law like a criminal, rather one openly and civilly disobeys the law as a protest, fully expecting to be punished. In Hind Swaraj Gandhi wrote, “It is contrary to our manhood if we obey laws repugnant to our conscience.”2 By eliminating violence satyagraha gives the opponent the same rights and liberties.
Satyagraha requires self-discipline, self-control, and self-purification, and satyagrahis must always make the distinction between the evil and the evil-doer. They must overcome evil with good, hatred with love, anger with patience, falsehood with truth, and violence with ahimsa. This takes a perfect person for complete success, and therefore training and education are essential to make it workable. Gandhi emphasized that every child should know about the soul, truth, love, and the powers latent in the soul. Both men and women and even children may participate, and it demands the courage that comes from spiritual strength and the power of love. Surely it takes more courage to face the weapons of death without fighting than it does to fight and kill. From his experience Gandhi believed that those who wished to serve their country through satyagraha should observe chastity, adopt poverty, follow truth, and cultivate fearlessness. It is through fearlessness that we can have the courage to renounce all harmful weapons, filling and surrounding ourselves with the spiritual protection of a loving and peaceful consciousness.
Gandhi listed detailed rules to guide the satyagrahi. One should harbor no anger but suffer the anger of the opponent, putting up with assaults without retaliating but not submitting out of fear of punishment nor to any order given in anger. One should not resist arrest by a person in authority nor resist confiscation of property; but if one is the trustee for the property of another, one may refuse to surrender it. One should not swear or curse or insult the opponent nor join cries that are contrary to the spirit of nonviolence. Civil resisters may not salute the Union Jack (British flag), but they should not insult it nor officials. If officials are being assaulted, one should protect them by risking one’s life. In prison one should behave with decorum and observe discipline that is not contrary to self-respect; one should not consider oneself superior to other prisoners nor observe any distinction. One should not fast to gain conveniences. Gandhi believed that civil resisters who have chosen to join the corps should obey all orders of the leader. One should trust the care of dependents to God. One should not cause communal quarrels, but in the event of a disagreement should support the party clearly in the right.
Non-cooperation is a comprehensive policy used by people when they can no longer in good conscience participate in or support a government that has become oppressive, unjust, and violent. Although satyagrahis do not attack the wrong-doer, it is their responsibility not to promote or support the wrong actions. Thus non-cooperators withdraw from government positions, renounce government programs and services, and refuse to pay taxes to the offending government. While challenging the power of the state in this way non-cooperators have the opportunity to learn greater self-reliance. Gandhi held that non-cooperation with an unjust government was not only an inherent right but as much a duty as is cooperation with a just government.
Most of the time Gandhi and his followers were involved in constructive programs, and he considered these the most important part of nonviolent action. For Gandhi they included Hindu-Muslim friendship or communal unity, removing untouchability or racial discrimination, abstaining from alcohol and drugs, practicing spinning, weaving, and other village industries, sanitation, schooling and adult education, uplift of women, education in hygiene and health, cultivating one’s language, working for economic equality, forming labor unions, helping the poor, rural people and lepers, and improving the education and lives of students.
Ahimsa or nonviolence is absolutely essential to Gandhi’s civil disobedience. Satyagrahis are expected to give their lives in efforts to quell violence if it erupts. Gandhi interpreted ahimsa broadly as refraining from anything at all harmful. This principle can be hurt by every evil thought, by undue haste, by lying, by hatred, by wishing ill to anybody, or by our holding on to what the world needs. Thus even greed and avarice can violate ahimsa. Nonviolence has a great spiritual power, but the slightest use of violence can taint a just cause. The strength is not physical but comes from the spiritual will. Nonviolence implies self-purification, and the spiritual power the nonviolent person has is always greater than one would have by using violence. The end of violence is always defeat, but nonviolence is endless and is never defeated. The following is Gandhi’s summary of the implications of nonviolence:
1. Nonviolence is the law of the human race
and is infinitely greater than and superior to brute force.
2. In the last resort it does not avail to those
who do not possess a living faith in the God of Love.
3. Nonviolence affords the fullest protection
to one's self-respect and sense of honor,
but not always to possession of land or movable property,
though its habitual practice does prove a better bulwark
than the possession of armed men to defend them.
Nonviolence, in the very nature of things,
is of no assistance in the defense of ill-gotten gains
and immoral acts.
4. Individuals or nations who would practice nonviolence
must be prepared to sacrifice (nations to the last man)
their all except honor.
It is, therefore, inconsistent with the possession
of other people's countries, i.e., modern imperialism,
which is frankly based on force for its defense.
5. Nonviolence is a power
which can be wielded equally by all-
children, young men and women or grown-up people,
provided they have a living faith in the God of Love
and have therefore equal love for all mankind.
When nonviolence is accepted as the law of life
it must pervade the whole being
and not be applied to isolated acts.
6. It is a profound error to suppose that
while the law is good enough for individuals
it is not for masses of mankind.3
Gandhi’s struggle was so overwhelming and significant because he challenged the institutional violence of the modern state. He not only recommended refusing military service but also refusing to pay taxes to a militarized state. In addition to citizens’ not cooperating with an evil government, a neutral country also has the obligation to refuse to support or assist a military state or aggressor.
Afghan Amir Habibulla was murdered in February 1919 and was succeeded by his son Amanullah, who was suspected of being behind the murder. Incited by revolutionaries from India, he tried to rally his forces by attacking the British. His Afghan troops crossed through the Khyber Pass into India in early May, calling on the tribes to rise. Other Afghans were joined by Wazirs and Mahsuds, but they were repelled by General Dyer’s forces. The British defeated the Afghan forces in the Khyber and occupied the frontier town of Dakka. After planes dropped bombs on Kabul and Jalalabad, Amanullah agreed to a truce in August. He negotiated with the Bolsheviks but signed a treaty with the British in November 1921. During the interval Waziristan was out of control, and regular troops from India had to replace the tribal militias on which the British had relied since Curzon.
The Sedition Committee named after Justice Rowlatt had submitted its report in April 1918, and it led to the repressive Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act in March 1919. A special court with three judges and no appeal was set up to meet in secret, and the Indian Evidence Act did not apply. Provincial governments could order any suspected person to furnish security, to reside in a particular area, or to abstain from any specified act. They could search and arrest without a warrant, and the confined person had no right to a lawyer.
After the Government introduced the two bills to implement the recommendations of the Rowlatt Committee in February 1919, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Madan Mohan Malaviya resigned from the committee. Gandhi called a conference and was chosen president of the Satyagraha Sabha to organize a campaign. They planned a hartal (general strike) for March 30, and on that day police fired on a crowd in Delhi, killing eight people, but the main hartal was changed to April 6. Gandhi had called for self-purification by prayer and fasting. He was not allowed to enter the Punjab, and police escorted him from a railway station near Delhi to Bombay. A crowd, angry over his arrest, was thrilled to see him in Bombay. Mounted police charged the crowd and trampled some people. The report of Gandhi’s arrest caused disturbances in Ahmadabad. A mob led by mill-hands became incendiary and violent. Two officials and at least 28 rioters were killed as 123 were wounded. Gandhi described the violence in a speech at Ahmadabad on April 14 and said he did not want to be saved from prison by such acts. Four days later he admitted that he had made a “Himalayan miscalculation.” He suspended the campaign and went on a penitential fast for three days.
In the Punjab Lt.-Governor Michael O’Dwyer had been ruthlessly suppressing the rights of the people and insulting the educated. He interned hundreds of people, censored the press, and blocked nationalist papers from coming into the province. He was especially hated for his forcible recruiting methods and tyrannical ways of raising funds for the war. The two hartals were fairly peaceful, but on April 9 he deported two prominent leaders. A large crowd marched in Amritsar. While approaching the Civil Lines where the British officials lived, they were fired upon, killing six. The crowd became unruly, murdered five Europeans, and destroyed several buildings. Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer arrived on April 12 with several hundred troops and began by arresting people and banning all meetings. When a public meeting was called for April 13 in the enclosed courtyard at Jallianwala Bagh, he did not warn people it was illegal and ordered troops to fire at the densest part of the crowd of 10,000 people for ten minutes. Only 1,650 bullets were fired, but they killed 379 and wounded 1,137 people. Dyer did not even have anyone take care of the wounded.
Martial law was declared in Amritsar on April 15, and it was not lifted until June 11. Airplanes with machine guns killed at least nine and wounded sixteen people, but unofficial estimates were much higher. The Martial Law Commissions charged 298 people, convicted 218, of whom 51 were sentenced to death, 46 to transportation for life, and 104 to imprisonment for three years or more. The official Hunter Report quoted Dyer’s own report that he was less concerned with dispersing the crowd and more intent on “producing a sufficient moral effect from a military point of view.”4 General Drake-Brockman of Delhi also made the statement, “Force is the only thing that an Asiatic has any respect for.”5 The Hunter Report concluded that the moral effect was quite opposite from the one intended; General Dyer was censured and later relieved of his command. The poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote a letter of protest to the Viceroy and renounced his knighthood.
Gandhi emphasized the constructive program. In 1919 he took over the weekly Young India and began editing Navajivan in Hindi. Malaviya investigated the atrocities and presented them to the Central Legislative Council, but the Government passed a Bill of Indemnity to protect the civil and military officials in the Punjab from responsibility for their actions. A Congress Committee investigating got no cooperation from the Punjab government, and so they gave none to the Hunter Committee. About 1,200 lives were lost, and more than 3,600 were wounded. The Viceroy refused to postpone the death sentences until the Secretary of State made him do so. General Dyer was regarded as a savior of the British empire by many, and the English ladies in India raised £26,000 for him. Indian feelings were outraged by both the atrocities and the public support for them.
The Government implemented their reforms in the Government of India Act in December 1919, and Montagu tried to improve relations by getting a general amnesty for political prisoners. The system in the eight Governors’ Provinces was called dyarchy because justice, peace, jails, and land revenue were reserved for the governor and his executive council while other subjects were transferred to the governor and the Indian ministers from the provincial legislative council. Elections for the new Legislative Councils were held in November 1920, and the new reforms went into effect on the first day of 1921. The Legislative Assembly had 145 members with 103 of them elected while only 33 of the 60 members of the Council of State were elected. The franchise based on money was extended to more than five million people in the provincial elections out of 250 million in all of India; but only 17,364 voted for the Council of State while 909,874 voted for the Central Legislative Assembly. The Indian Legislature still had no power to repeal or alter any Parliamentary law related to India. About 70% of the provincial legislatures were elected, but 30% were nominated by the governors. Customs and income tax supported the central government while the provinces depended on land revenues.
The Moderates welcomed the reforms, but the Congress called them “inadequate, unsatisfactory, and disappointing.” They urged the Parliament to establish a responsible government in India with self-determination. Yet Gandhi and others suggested working to make the reforms a success. Tilak had already offered “responsive cooperation.”
The British had promised the Muslims of India that Turkey would be given sympathetic treatment after the war; but their failure to do so led to the All-India Khilafat Conference at Delhi in November 1919. Muslim clerics in India considered the Sultan of Turkey the Khalif (Caliph) or spiritual head of Islam, and they were concerned that he would lose sovereignty over their holy places of Mecca and Medina. Gandhi believed that the test of friendship is giving assistance in adversity. He took this opportunity to support the Khilafat movement whole-heartedly without requiring Muslims to stop slaughtering cows, and he was elected its president. He proposed a nation-wide campaign of nonviolent non-cooperation with the British government. For the peasant this meant not paying taxes and not buying liquor because the government gained revenue from its sale. Gandhi was given editorial control over two weeklies without advertisements—Young India in English and Navajivan in Gujarati and later Hindi. More than seven thousand delegates attended the Amritsar Congress the last week of 1919. Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy, returning his war medals. On March 10, 1920 he issued a Manifesto stating that the intention to wage a non-cooperation campaign. Muhammad Ali led a Khilafat deputation to England, but Prime Minister Lloyd George explained that the British would not let Turkey govern the non-Turkish lands they lost in the war.
The peace terms for Turkey were announced on May 15, 1920, and two days later Gandhi urged the Muslims to adopt non-cooperation. The Central Khilafat Committee did so at a large public meeting in Bombay on May 28. On the same day the Hunter Report was published to an indignant India. Two days later the All-India Congress Committee protested the report. The Khilafat Committee met at Allahabad in June and planned four stages of non-cooperation as resigning titles and honors, resigning from the civil service, resigning from the police and army, and refusing to pay taxes. Gandhi attended the Khilafat Conference in Sind in July, and they decided to call upon millions of Hindus and Muslims to begin the non-cooperation campaign on August 1. The great leader Tilak died that day. In addition to the Khilafat issue, Gandhi and Congress added reparations for the Punjab and the independence of India. That summer about 30,000 Muslims sold their property and emigrated to Afghanistan. They were not well received, and the Afghanistan government closed the border. Most of the impoverished migrants went back to India.
Congress held a special session at Calcutta on September 4 and agreed to the non-cooperation campaign for independence with the following tactics: they would surrender titles and honors, refuse to attend Government functions, withdraw their children from Government schools, boycott British courts, refuse to serve in the military, withdraw candidates from elections to Councils, and boycott foreign goods. For Swadeshi they urged millions of people to spin and weave at home. Gandhi’s proposal at first was opposed by C. R. Das, B. C. Pal, Besant, Malaviya, and Jinnah, but after debate the motion was carried by a thousand votes. The Khilafat movement has been criticized as being contrary to swaraj principles because it aimed to continue the autocracy of the Caliph, but for Muslims it seemed an important issue at the time. Thus it brought the Muslims into the campaign, and the Hindus tolerated it because of their devotion to Gandhi. He promised that non-cooperation would bring about self-government in one year. Gandhi persuaded the Congress not to participate in the November elections in which about a third of those eligible voted.
The Congress meeting in December 1920 at Nagpur was attended by 14,582 delegates that included 1,050 Muslims and 169 women. Gandhi had been authorized to draft a new constitution for Congress. A permanent Working Committee of fifteen was made responsible to the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) of 350, who represented the provincial committees that were organized by languages. The words “constitutional means” were replaced by “all peaceful and legitimate means” that included civil disobedience. The constructive side of the campaign included hand-spinning and weaving, removing untouchability, promoting Hindu-Muslim unity, abstaining from alcohol, and collecting money for the Tilak memorial fund that had reached ten million rupees in two months. They hoped to gain ten million members, and the fund was used to support Congress workers. The Khilafatists also demanded the sovereignty of Muslim states, forbidding the imposing of British and French mandates over the Arab states in the Middle East, converting Palestine to a Jewish homeland, or dividing Arabia among tribal chiefs.
The triple boycott of the legislatures, courts, and schools went into effect, and Gandhi supported the burning of foreign cloth by consumers despite criticism from Tagore, Charlie Andrews, and others. National Volunteers organized to carry out the non-cooperation by picketing schools, liquor stores, etc. At the beginning of 1921 Motilal Nehru, C. R. Das, Vallabhbhai Patel, and hundreds of others abandoned their law practices, but many resumed them after a few months. People were encouraged to use arbitration boards or village panchayats to settle legal disputes. Students, teachers, and professionals went into the villages to teach literacy and non-cooperation. Many students stayed out of school, but few teachers went on strike. Attempts by Gandhi to close Benares University and by Muhammad Ali to shut down the University College of Aligarh both failed. Some questioned the tactic of volunteers laying down to block entrances to schools. Although few people quit Government jobs, there were many more people now working for independence full time.
After Muhammad Ali and his brother Shaukat Ali made speeches urging Muslims to support an Afghan invasion to overthrow the Government of India, they were arrested. Gandhi persuaded them to give up advocating violence, and Viceroy Reading agreed to have their prosecution dropped. The Khilafat Conference met at Karachi in July 1921 and adopted non-cooperation, affirming their goals for Turkish sovereignty and declaring it religiously unlawful for a Muslim to remain in the British army. The Ali brothers and a few others were arrested on September 14, and they were sentenced to two years in prison. Gandhi also called on troops to resign, but Viceroy Reading was reluctant to arrest him because of the upcoming visit by the Prince of Wales.
When the Prince of Wales came to Bombay on November 17, 1921, crowds numbering nearly 20,000 turned into rioting mobs. About 45 of the 53 killed were non-cooperators as were most of the 400 wounded. Gandhi denounced the rioting and went on a fast until the violence stopped. He cancelled the civil disobedience planned for Bardoli on November 23 even though the hartal on November 17 was peaceful everywhere except in Bombay. The Government reacted by applying the Seditious Meetings Act, and troops were employed freely throughout northern India. Various associations were declared unlawful, and newspapers and speakers were prosecuted for inciting violence.
In Calcutta the Congress Committee put C. R. Das in charge. Dissatisfied with the number of volunteers, he sent his wife and only son. When they were arrested, many more volunteered. Thousands were arrested and filled the two big prisons with political prisoners. Camp prisons were opened and also filled. They refused to leave prison, and police had to force them out with sticks. Because the Prince of Wales was scheduled to visit Calcutta on December 24, Governor Ronaldshay negotiated with Das by offering to withdraw the repressive measures. Das said it was up to Congress and got himself arrested on December 10. Within a month 25,000 people were arrested. The Government offered to release Congress volunteers and summon a Roundtable Conference. A telegram was sent to Gandhi, but he insisted on the release of the Ali brothers and knowing the date and composition of the Conference. This delay caused the Government to withdraw the offer.
The Congress at Ahmadabad in December 1921 was attended by only 4,726 delegates because nearly 40,000 Congress workers were in jail. Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy on February 1, 1922 that the 87,000 people in Bardoli were ready for civil disobedience by refusing to pay land taxes. He asked the Government to release the nonviolent prisoners, free the press, and stop interfering in nonviolent activities. He gave the Viceroy seven days. On February 5 at Chauri Chaura in Uttar Pradesh (United Provinces) police shot at a procession, exhausted their ammunition, and retreated into their station. A mob set it on fire, killing 22 policemen. At Bareilly another mob was suppressed. Although the incident at Chauri Chaura occurred 800 miles from Bardoli, Gandhi once again canceled the campaign, this time on the day it was to begin; instead, he fasted for five days in penance. He met with the Congress Working Committee at Delhi, and they decided to cancel the non-cooperation campaign in order to concentrate on the constructive programs. Jawaharlal Nehru and others in prison felt frustrated and even angry at Gandhi.
The British took this opportunity to arrest Gandhi on March 10, and on March 18 was the only time they ever gave him a trial. He made no apology for his non-cooperation, which he admitted was legally seditious. To Justice Robert Broomfield he said,
I do not ask for mercy.
I do not plead any extenuating act.
I am here, therefore, 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 a citizen.6
He explained, “In my opinion, non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good.”7 Broomfield sentenced him to six years and hoped the government would reduce the term. Gandhi was in fact released after 22 months when he had an appendectomy.
Also in March 1922 Lloyd George demanded that Montagu resign because of the request he and Viceroy Reading made for the British to revise their treaty of Sevres in Turkey’s favor. Meanwhile 55 members of the United Province Congress Committee were arrested in a meeting and were sentenced to 18 months in prison. C. R. Das after two months detention was sentenced to six months. Lala Lajpat Rai was arrested again as he stepped out of prison and was sentenced to two years. Young Jawaharlal Nehru was sentenced to 18 months for saying he would picket foreign shops and for presiding at a meeting to send letters to cloth merchants.
The non-cooperation of the Khilafat movement also subsided. The Sultan of Turkey fled from Istanbul in November 1922, and his successor Mustapha Kemal abolished the Khilafat. In Malabar the Moplahs were fanatical Muslims and rebelled; in 1921 they attacked and pillaged Hindu landlords and tried to force people to convert to Islam. The Moplah rebels killed 43 Government troops, mostly Gurkhas, but in the fighting they lost 2,226 killed, 1,615 wounded, 5,688 captured, and 38,256 surrendered.
Much violence had occurred on both sides during this campaign, and Gandhi realized that more education in nonviolence was needed. The non-cooperation campaign did not achieve its goals, but thousands of people had lost faith in the Government and had been moved to action. The Indian National Congress had become a powerful movement with mass support and was dedicated to nonviolent revolution.
In a speech to Parliament on August 2, 1922 Prime Minister Lloyd George praised the reforms in India and said they would not deprive the Civil Service in India of their privileges, asserting, “Britain will in no circumstances relinquish her responsibility in India.”8 The Indians found that the dyarchy reforms gave the governors more power than they had before. The All-India Congress Committee (AICC) met at Lakhnau in June 1922 and formed the Civil Disobedience Enquiry Committee. They reported that the country was not prepared for massive civil disobedience. During the Congress meeting at Gaya in December 1922 President C. R. Das made a plea for entering the Councils, but Rajagopalachari persuaded a large majority to continue the boycott. C. R. Das resigned and with Motilal Nehru and others formed the Swarajya party within the Congress. In the November 1923 elections the Swarajya party did much better than the Liberal party of the Moderates. They had 48 members in the Legislative Assembly and formed a majority coalition called the Nationalist party with the 24 Independents led by M. A. Jinnah. The Civil Marriage Act legalized marriage between different Hindu castes. However, the Government refused to modify the repressive laws. The Legislative Assembly rejected a doubling of the Salt Tax, but the Viceroy certified the measure. Viceroy Reading appointed the Lee Public Services Commission to encourage British civil servants while ostensibly planning to get more Indians into the Civil Service in 15 or 25 years.
In January 1924 the Labor party took office with Ramsay MacDonald as prime minister. Motilal Nehru proposed an amendment calling for a revision of the Government in India Act in order to establish fully responsible government in India with a Round Table Conference to protect the rights of minorities in a constitution for India. The Central Legislature would be dissolved and replaced by a newly elected Indian Legislature. The issue was discussed for three days in February, and the Assembly passed the amendment 76-48. On February 26 Secretary of State Olivier rejected the resolution to revise the constitution, but the Labor Government appointed a committee to look into the reforms. Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald said that dominion status for India was the ideal of his Labor Government; but they were replaced by the Conservative party before the committee submitted its report.
Despite this setback, many believed that the Swarajya party had exposed the sham legislatures and the autocracy of the British and Indian bureaucracy. The Assembly reduced the duty on salt and abolished the excise duty on cotton and the import duty on sulfur. Resolutions were passed to improve labor conditions, protect Indian industries, remove racial distinctions in railways, impose a countervailing duty on South African coal, establish a military college for Indians (which did not open at Dehra Dun until 1934), protect trade unions, and relieve the poor by reducing railway fares and the price of postage stamps. Recruiting was taken away from the Secretary of State and given to the ministers for the Indian Educational Service, the Indian Agricultural Service, the Veterinary Service, and other Services.
The Women’s Indian Association was founded in 1923 and formed many branches, and they opened a Children’s Home in Madras. The next year a Birth Control League began in Bombay and was supported by the journal Navayuga (New Age). More than a thousand women attended the Indian National Congress in December 1924 at Belgaum, where Gandhi was president. The All-India Women’s Conference began meeting in 1926.
After recovering his health in 1924, Gandhi met with Motilal Nehru and C. R. Das in June, but they opposed his proposal to disqualify members of the Congress Executive Board for not fully subscribing to the non-cooperation program. Motilal doubted that spinning would bring them closer to swaraj. After C. R. Das died in June 1925, the General Council of the Swarajya party decided to cooperate with the Government. When the AICC met at Patna in September, Gandhi suggested that the Congress emphasize the political work of the Swarajya party even more than the constructive program. In December 1925 the Swarajist members walked out of the Councils in Uttar Pradesh, the Punjab, Assam, Bihar and Orissa, Madras, and Bombay. Swarajist members left the Bengal Council and the Central Provinces Council in March 1926. However, those following the “responsive cooperation” formulated by the late Tilak joined the Independent Congress party in September.
In Bengal revolutionaries committed robberies in 1923 to gain money. The Bengal Government revived the repressive laws and arrested more than eighty suspects to deter the “terrorists.” In the Punjab the Akali Sikhs used violence to make sure that the Sikhs controlled the Sikh temples (gurdwaras). They had been enraged when ruffians massacred about 130 Akalis in the gurdwara precincts in 1921. They formed the Central Gurdwara Management Committee and used passive resistance when the Punjab Government appointed non-Sikhs to a board of commissioners. More than five thousand Akalis were arrested, and some were beaten and had to be treated in a hospital. The Babbar (Lion) Akalis recruited radicals from the Ghadar party. When they used terrorism, the Punjab police infiltrated them. By the end of 1923 most were arrested, and some were hanged or imprisoned. When the British indicted the Sikh Maharaja of Nabha and forced him to abdicate, Akalis entered the state to protest. Police fired on one crowd, and thousands were arrested, including Jawaharlal Nehru who went as an observer and refused to leave. The disturbances ceased when a new gurdwara bill that the Akalis accepted became law in 1925. The Akalis claimed that a total of 400 were killed with 2,000 wounded and 30,000 arrested in the struggle. Master Tara Singh became the Akali leader.
Revolutionaries met at Kanpur in October 1924 and formed the Hindusthan Republican Association. They hoped to “establish a federated Republic of the United States of India by an organized and armed revolution.” Revolutionaries in the United Province led by Ramprasad Bismil robbed a train going from Kakori toward Alamnagar on August 9, 1925. The Kakori conspirators were caught. Ramprasad and three others were hanged; four were transported for life; and fifteen were sentenced to between five and fourteen years in prison.
Many Muslims did not agree with the Hindus on non-cooperation. The Hindu Mahasabha grew to counter the rivalry of the Muslims, and they were concerned that Muslim cooperation with the Government would disadvantage non-cooperating Hindus. Noting that proselytizing had increased the Muslims and Christians in India, in 1923 the Hindu Mahasabha reconverted 450,000 Malakana Rajputs from Islam to Hinduism. After the Khilafat movement fell apart, M. A. Jinnah revived the All-India Muslim League in 1924. They called for a federal constitution for India with minority representation.
Communal riots between Hindus and Muslims broke out in Calcutta in May 1923 and lasted for several days. The riots sporadically erupted in various towns and villages. The scurrilous attack on Muhammad in the book Rangila Rasul (The Gay Prophet) provoked riots in 1924, and the author was murdered in 1929. Muslims attacked fifteen Hindu temples in Gulburga in Nizam’s territory in 1924. The worst riot was at Kohat in the North-West Frontier Province in September 1924 that killed 36 Hindus and burned 473 houses and shops. Investigators could not agree on who started the violence, and the British government had allowed the looting. Gandhi was so upset that he went on a fast for 21 days. Three hundred people met a Delhi but could not resolve the conflicts. In April 1926 a riot in Calcutta killed 44 and injured 584 people. The Hindu proselytizer Swami Shraddhananda was assassinated by a Muslim fanatic at Delhi in December 1926. Between 1922 and 1927 an estimated 450 lives were lost as 5,000 people were injured in 112 communal riots.
During the late 1920s Gandhi wrote An Autobiography, which he subtitled “The Story of My Experiments with Truth.” This book is quite candid and humble in the way he examined his faults and his efforts to overcome them. In the preface he indicated that his goal was spiritual liberation (moksha). In his speeches he pointed out his five-point program on the fingers of his hand: equality for untouchables, spinning, no alcohol or opium, Hindu-Muslim friendship, and equality for women. They were all connected to the wrist, which stood for nonviolence. After he approved of killing stray dogs, Gandhi was accused of abandoning ahimsa. He was blamed for killing a maimed calf that was suffering from an incurable disease at his ashram; but he considered that action nonviolent because the unselfish purpose was to relieve the pain of the calf.
On November 8, 1927 Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin announced the forming of a commission led by John Simon composed of seven members of the British Parliament. In his announcement Viceroy Irwin explained that for the commission to be “unbiased and unprejudiced” no Indian members could be included. This ironic statement shows the deep-seated and unconscious prejudice that pervaded the British Government of India. Indian political leaders unanimously decided to boycott the commission. In December 1927 the Indian princes persuaded Secretary of State Birkenhead to appoint a committee led by Harcourt Butler, but their report upheld British paramountcy.
In 1928 Gandhi announced a satyagraha campaign led by Vallabhbhai Patel in Bardoli against a 22% increase in British-imposed taxes. Refusing to pay taxes, the people had their possessions confiscated, and some were driven off their land; but they remained nonviolent. The campaign lasted six months, and hundreds were arrested. Finally Vallabhbhai’s brother Vithalbhai Patel, President of the Central Legislative Assembly, brokered a compromise. The Government agreed to cancel the tax increase, release all prisoners, and return confiscated land and property, and the peasants promised to pay their taxes at the previous rate.
Amir Amanullah of Afghanistan toured Europe in the summer of 1928. When he tried to introduce social, legal, and educational reforms, conservatives led a rebellion that caused a civil war. Amanullah abdicated in May 1929. The Government of India did not intervene except to help British, Indian, and other foreigners to flee. After Bachai-i-Saqqao usurped power, eventually Muhammad Nadir Shah of the old ruling house restored order. He gradually implemented the reforms but was assassinated by a fanatic on November 8, 1933. His son Muhammad Zahir succeeded him and continued his father’s policy.
On February 3, 1928 the Simon Commission arrived in India to find huge demonstrations and a complete hartal in the major towns. Representatives of 29 major organizations met at Delhi on February 12. Differences between the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha, and the Sikhs led to a small committee being formed in May with Motilal Nehru as chairman. They submitted a report on a new constitution that was considered by the All Parties Conference at Lakhnau in late August 1928. The Nehru Constitution was accepted. Because it called for reforming some provinces to help Muslims but proposed phasing out reserving seats for Muslim minorities after ten years, in Calcutta in December at a convention Jinnah proposed an amendment that Muslims should have one-third of the Central Legislature. When his amendments were defeated, Jinnah and the Sikhs withdrew. An All-India Muslim Conference met and unanimously demanded separate electorates under a federal system. At the Indian National Congress, also held in Calcutta, younger members led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Bose objected to abandoning the goal of independence. So Gandhi suggested the compromise that dominion status be accepted if the British Parliament approved the entire Nehru Constitution by the end of 1929. Otherwise the Congress planned to organize a nonviolent non-cooperation campaign for complete independence calling for tax refusal.
Jawaharlal Nehru had visited Europe and attended the Brussels Congress of Oppressed Nationalities in February 1927. He was elected to the executive committee of the League Against Imperialism. He and Subhas-chandra Bose organized the Independence for India League in August 1928, and in 1929 many youth and student organizations sprang up all over India. His father Motilal Nehru led the Congress Party in the Legislative Assembly; the Bengal Congress party won elections in May, as did Nationalist Muslims. In July the Congress Working Committee called upon Congressmen to resign their seats, but the AICC rescinded the decision. Jawaharlal Nehru was elected president of the next Congress and was also a devoted follower of Gandhi. The young Nehru then differed with Subhas Bose, who continued to lead the youths and the left wing.
A Communist party had been formed in 1921 by M. N. Roy, but it was very small until Philip Spratt came from England in December 1926. Narayan Malhar Joshi had founded the All-India Trade Union Congress in 1920, and the labor movement grew. A general strike stopped the Bombay textile mills in the summer of 1928, and by the next year more than a half million workers were on strike in other places. Conditions in the slums of Bombay, Calcutta, and Ahmadabad were so appalling that Viceroy Irwin appointed the Socialist Speaker of the House of Commons, J. H. Whitley, as chairman of a Royal Commission on Labor. In the annual 1929 meeting of the Trade Union Congress they passed a resolution to affiliate with Moscow, causing Joshi and his followers to leave the meeting. The strikes alarmed the Government of India, and they arrested 31 Communist leaders on March 20, 1929. To avoid a jury trial they were prosecuted in Meerut. The trial was protracted, and 27 people were finally sentenced to prison in January 1933.
The Labor party won the 1929 British elections in October. Prime Minister MacDonald summoned Viceroy Irwin, who upon returning to India announced on October 31 the goal of dominion status. This declaration was criticized in the British press, and both the Conservative and Liberal parties opposed it in Parliament. As the Labor party did not have a majority without the Liberal party, Viceroy Irwin could not promise dominion status to Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Vithalbhai Patel, Jinnah, and Tej Bahadur Sapru on December 23, 1929. So Gandhi declared himself for independence, and the Congress at Lahore in the final days of 1929 agreed to launch civil disobedience for independence. At midnight as the new year began, they raised the tricolor flag of Indian independence.
Dhanpat Rai (Premchand) was born on July 31, 1880 in a village near Benares (Varanasi). His mother died when he was seven, and he studied Persian for eight years. When his father died in 1897, he had to support his step-mother and two brothers. He worked as a teacher for 18 rupees a month and earned his college degree. His first marriage was arranged when he was fifteen; but he refused to live with her. Later he challenged tradition by marrying a child widow; she was a writer too, and they were happy together. They had three children and struggled financially. Nawab Rai’s first novel, The Mystery of the Temples (Asrar-e-Muavid), began serialization in 1903 and satirized the corruption of temple priests. He became a school inspector and kept that job until 1921, when he resigned in answer to Gandhi’s call for non-cooperation. His second novel, Having the Best of Both Worlds (Hamkhurma-Hamsawab), was published in Urdu about 1905 and in 1907 as Prema in Hindi. The hero Amrit Rai is a lawyer who admires western culture, and to show his eagerness for social reform he marries a widow. This means that he cannot marry the beautiful Prema until after both their spouses die. This novel shows the author’s acceptance of English culture before India’s freedom struggle became more radical.
Nawab Rai’s first collection of short stories was published in Urdu in 1908 as Soz-e Vatan (Anguish of the Nation). In the first story a young woman asks suitors for the “most precious thing in the world,” and after rejecting two gifts she accepts the last drop of blood shed by a patriot who fought for freedom. Authorities condemned the book as seditious in 1910, and he had to surrender his unsold 700 copies to be burned. To avoid their censorship he changed his pen name to Premchand or Prem Chand. He wrote 265 short stories, a dozen novels, and two plays. After 1914 he wrote in Hindi to reach a larger public, but he also published his books in Urdu.
Premchand’s first Hindi novel, The Abode of Service (Sewa Sadan) or Beauty for Sale (Bazar-e-Husn), earned him 450 rupees. Suman’s father is a policeman who accepts a bribe in order to provide her with a dowry; but he is caught and imprisoned for five years. Suman marries a poor man and envies the life-style of her neighbor, a courtesan. One night her suspicious husband shuts her out, and she stays with her friend, who is married to Padam Singh. This starts gossip, and the scandal leads her to become a courtesan herself. Well meaning people arrange for her to live in a widows’ home, but she is ostracized and becomes the warden of a home for the daughters of prostitutes. Thus she finds a house of service. Premchand’s novels were unusual then in that half his main characters are women. His stories describe the struggles of the poor and the middle-class to survive in a competitive world. Often they suffer injustice, but efforts to pay back offenders usually result in ironic consequences as they each learn from their karma.
In Premchand’s most famous short story, “The Chess Players,” a soldier living in a rent-free house is so obsessed with his daily chess games that he postpones getting a doctor for his wife and avoids the call of duty as the British are moving in to take over Awadh (Oudh) in 1856. Finally he quarrels with his chess partner, and they duel with swords. In “A Moral Victory” a gluttonous Brahmin is persuaded to go on a fast to persuade shopkeepers not to close their shops during a general strike called by the Congress for the Viceroy’s visit. The pandit loves sweets so much that a Congress worker is able to tempt him into eating them.
Premchand’s novel The Abode of Love (Premashram) appeared in 1921. Gyan Shankar, who is educated and ambitious, instructs his bailiff to increase the rents of his tenants, but the peasants rebel and murder the bailiff. Shankar’s oldest son Prem Shankar returns from America as an agricultural expert and starts a model farm with an ashram. One person notes that most educated men become more crooked and exploit the poor but that God gave Prem a true education. Gyan Shankar represents the selfish education, and he fails to find happiness.
Premchand edited periodicals and invested what little money he had in publishing. He reached success in 1925 when his novel The Field of Action (Rangabhumi) gained him an advance of 1,800 rupees and a prize of Rs. 500. The novel depicts peasants being oppressed by Indians working with the British. John Sevak is an Indian Christian who wants to establish a cigarette factory. The local raja has cooperated with the British and agrees to help him. However, the blind untouchable Surdas leads the resistance of the poor by refusing to sell his land. He rejects the legal attempts to take their land by calling on higher law with Gandhian methods, but his wretched situation and low social status symbolize the plight of poor India.
A difficult period for Premchand in the mid-1920s during the Hindu-Muslim communal violence is reflected in his novel Metamorphosis (Kayakalp). Manorama observes that her tutor Chakradhar is corrupted by power. Yet he rejects running for a legislative council and believes in serving the people. The purification (shudhhi) movement of Arya Samaj in 1924, when Hindus reconverted Muslims, is criticized for increasing conflict. In 1928 Premchand published Nirmala about a young woman who is married to an elderly man because her family cannot afford a dowry. Her husband becomes jealous of her friendship with one of her three stepsons and separates them.
Premchand published The Stolen Jewels (Ghaban) in 1931. The government clerk Ramanath marries beautiful Jalpa, who loves jewelry. He struggles financially and starts taking bribes. To buy bracelets he borrows money from the office. When he is unable to return the money, he runs away. Rama is suspected by police, who persuade him to testify falsely against fourteen men in a dacoity case that is political. However, Jalpa courageously believes in her husband; the money is returned; and he tells the judge the truth.
Premchand tried to make some money writing for films; but he was frustrated because the director controlled the projects, and their aim was mere entertainment. Premchand suffered from poor health, and his last novel, The Gift of a Cow (Godaan), was published the year he died in 1936. A poor peasant Hori longs to own a cow, but his struggle to gain it causes him to lose his life. Then the priests demand the cow from his widow Dhania to pay for his funeral services. She condemns the greed of the headmen for their loan-sharking, extortion, bribery, and oppressing the poor. She notes that they want swaraj, but she says that independence will not be won by going to jail but by bringing about justice.
Premchand gave the presidential speech at the first Progressive Writers’ Conference at Lakhnau on April 9, 1936. He said that the aim of literature is to explain and criticize life, contemplate nature, and sharpen our perceptions. He believed that fiction should go beyond romance and fantasy by exploring social problems. Premchand thought that literature should have the same aims as ethics; but instead of preaching it describes emotional and mental states. The writer’s sense of beauty should expose the ugly, the uncivilized, and what lacks humanity. The writer weaves together the human and divine with civility. Premchand believed that the writer’s duty is to support and defend the oppressed, the suffering, and the deprived, and his writings certainly do so. The writer pleads for justice and the awakening of beauty by broadening the readers’ mental horizons and ideas.
The ailing Premchand said that just as the sick seek a cure, so writing strives to get rid of weaknesses and make humans better. He said, “Love is the real spiritual food, and all weaknesses stem from not getting this food or from getting it in a polluted form.”9 The arts express spiritual harmony in visible form. Premchand particularly wanted to strengthen the “feelings of loyalty, truthfulness, sympathy, love for justice, and equality” by overcoming “division, opposition, self-interest, hatred, enmity and death.” Literature can cure emotional and mental diseases and make lives natural, free, and refined. He argued that writers and artists are naturally progressive. The more acutely a writer can feel human suffering the greater truth the work will produce. The writer helps people realize their unhappy states and their causes so that they can remove them.
Premchand quoted Iqbal several times. The water of life is found in struggle. Art is the key to mental and spiritual happiness and is most useful. Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad have tried to build equality on ethical foundations, but Premchand pointed out that the difference between the rich and poor is still more cruelly evident than ever. He predicted,
When we are no longer able to accept a system in which
thousands of people are slaves for a few oppressors,
then, not content with creating something on paper,
we will create a system that will not be the enemy
of beauty, taste, self-respect, and humanity.10
Premchand said that literature has gone beyond individual egotism to see each person's relation to society in the psychological and social context. Literature needs those "whose hearts bleed with pain and burn with love." Yet language can become simpler because "inner beauty can afford to be indifferent to artificial adornments." Premchand concluded his talk,
The only literature that will pass our test
is that which contains high thinking, a sense of freedom,
the essence of beauty, the soul of creativity
and the light that emanates from the truths of life,
a literature which instills in us dynamism
and restlessness, not sleep;
because to go on sleeping now would be a sign of death.11
Muhammad Iqbal was born on November 9, 1877 at Sialkot in the Punjab. His grandfather had emigrated from Kashmir after the British transferred it to Hindu rulers. His father made him study the Qur’an, and he was educated at Government College in Lahore. Iqbal studied in Europe from 1905 to 1908, earning a degree in philosophy from Cambridge University and a doctorate from the University of Munich. He became a barrister, which helped him earn a living while he devoted himself to writing. He also lectured on philosophy and English at Government College. Iqbal supported the Swadeshi movement in 1906, and he argued that Muslims could gain as well as Hindus from their unity and economic self-development. He was concerned that Islam had declined since the European renaissance and reformation while the West was exploiting them. Faced with an aggressive western civilization, he advocated Pan-Islamism with an evolving philosophy of self-expression. He criticized nationalism and materialism that sanctify selfishness, arrogance, greed, and ill will by calling them patriotism. Yet he was proud of the historic conquests of the Islamic empire. In 1912 he wrote poetry for the Balkan Relief Fund. Then to reach a wider audience he changed from writing his poetry in Urdu to Persian, but this cost him readers in India.
Iqbal especially admired Rumi, and he wrote two masnavis in Persian—The Secrets of the Self (Asrar-i-Khudi) in 1915 and The Mysteries of Selflessness (Rumuz-i-Bekhudi) in 1918. Influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche and Henri Bergson, Iqbal criticized self-negating quietism while advocating creativity, independence, and progressive self-expression. He believed that freedom makes humans creative while Nature is passive and deterministic. In his first edition Iqbal warned against the poison of the wine-cup promoted so passionately by the poetry of the famous Hafiz. In the second work the self is transcended by the ideals of brotherhood and justice in the Muslim community. In 1920 Gandhi wrote to Iqbal, asking him to take charge of the National Muslim University (Jamia Millia Islamia), but the poet replied that he did not believe he was qualified. He praised Gandhi as a “truthful and virtuous leader.” Iqbal was knighted by the Government of India in 1922.
Iqbal’s Persian poetry also included The Message of the East (Payam-i-Mashriq) in 1923 that answered Goethe’s book on the West, love poetry in Persian Psalms (Zabur-i-‘Ajam) in 1927, and The Song of Eternity (Javid Namah) in 1932 in which Rumi guides the poet through Dantean realms. Iqbal translated this into English himself. Here is a selection:
Art thou in the stage of "life," "death" or "death-in-life"
Invoke the aid of three witnesses to verify the "station;"
The first witness is thine own consciousness,
The second witness is the consciousness of another Ego,
The third witness is God's consciousness;
See thyself, then, with God's light.
If thou standest unshaken in front of this light,
Consider thyself as living and eternal as He.
That man alone is real, who dares to see God face to face.12
Iqbal also wrote,
Death is only another name
for the renewal of the zest of life.
Life is forever driven forward by desire;
It is ever intent on discovering
a more perfect form for itself.13
Iqbal gave six lectures at Madras, Hyderabad, and Aligarh in 1928-29 that were later published in English as The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. He advised studying history and nature so that Muslims using consensus could develop new social and political institutions while making use of modern science and technology. He agreed with liberals that the teaching of the Qur’an calls for a progressive process in which each generation solves new problems. In his presidential address to the Muslim League in 1930 he startled India with the proposal that Muslims in northwest India should demand a separate state, and he was a delegate to the Round Table Conferences in England.
In Gabriel’s Wings (Bal-i-Jibril) in 1933 Iqbal included a poem about Lenin. He had ambivalent feelings because of his atheism, and in his poem Lenin repudiates his renouncing of Christianity and prays to God to help the poor. Iqbal used Urdu and Persian poetry to criticize western civilization fiercely in The Blow of Moses (Zarb-i-Kalim) in 1934. He wrote,
The democracy of the West is the same old organ,
Which strikes the self-same note of Imperialism;
That which thou regard'st as the fairy Queen of Freedom,
In reality is the demon of autocracy
clothed in the garb of democracy.
Legislation, reforms, concessions, rights and privileges,
In the materia medica of the West are but sweet narcotics.
The heated discussions of assemblies and conferences
Are the camouflage of capitalists.14
Iqbal wrote in "The Command of Allah" a call for revolution.
Go and awaken the poor
and the dispossessed of my Universe,
And shake to the very foundations the palaces of the rich.
Make the blood of the slave boil with the fire of faith,
Let the tiny sparrow hurl itself against the mighty hawk,
Declare that the "Kingdom of People" is coming fast,
And obliterate the traces of all the age-old system.15
In his last three years Iqbal published three more books of poetry in Urdu. In a letter to Jinnah in June 1937 Iqbal referred to North-West India and Bengal as self-governing provinces within an Indian federation in his hope that they would be like "other nations in India." After a period of declining health, Iqbal died on April 21, 1938. His birthday is celebrated annually in Pakistan as Iqbal Day.
Mohandas Gandhi excluded the left-wing Subhas Bose and Srinivasa Iyengar from the Congress Working Committee that met on January 2, 1930 to plan the non-cooperation campaign. Gandhi drafted a declaration of complete independence (purna swaraj) that was proclaimed by Jawaharlal Nehru and endorsed all over India on January 26. The declaration described how the British had ruined India economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually. Indians were preparing themselves to withdraw from the British Government and were refusing to pay taxes. Viceroy Irwin said that a Round Table Conference would discuss constitutional issues for Parliament to consider. Gandhi then announced the following eleven-point program:
1) Total prohibition (of alcohol).
2) Reduction of ratio to 1s. 4d. (rupee revaluation).
3) Reduction of land revenue to at least 50 percent
and making it subject to Legislative control.
4) Abolition of the Salt Tax.
5) Reduction of Military expenditure at least by 50 percent
to begin with.
6) Reduction of salaries of the highest grade services
by half or less, so as to suit the reduced revenue.
7) Protective tariff on foreign cloth.
8) Passage of the Coastal Traffic Reservation Bill.
9) Discharge of all political prisoners,
save those condemned for murder or attempt to murder ...
10) Abolition of the CID (Criminal Investigation Department),
or its popular control.
11) To issue licenses to use fire-arms for self-defense,
subject to popular control.16
They were committed to avoiding violence even under provocation to assure the end of the inhuman rule; but Gandhi promised other leaders he would not cancel the campaign because of sporadic violence. Some arrests were made; Subhas Bose and eleven others were sentenced to a year in prison. However, many Congress members declined to resign their seats in the legislatures.
On March 2, 1930 Gandhi wrote a long letter to Viceroy Irwin explaining the issues and informing him that civil disobedience would begin on March 11. He noted how the ruinously expensive British military administration was exploiting them. Even the salt from the sea was taxed. He believed that nothing but organized nonviolence could stop the organized violence of the British government. Civil disobedience would begin with a few people from his Satyagraha Ashram, but others might choose to join. Gandhi wrote,
My ambition is no less than
to convert the British people through nonviolence,
and thus make them see the wrong they have done to India.
I do not seek to harm your people.17
Gandhi decided to disobey the Salt Laws, which forbade Indians from making their own salt, because this British monopoly especially struck at the poor. The Viceroy refused to meet with Gandhi.
Beginning with 78 members of his ashram on March 12, Gandhi led a 240-mile march to the sea that took 24 days. Thousands had gathered at the start, and several thousand joined them on the march. On April 6 Gandhi and then others all along the seacoast gathered some salt water in pans to dry it. In Bombay the Congress had pans on the roof; 60,000 people assembled, and hundreds were arrested. At Karachi, where 50,000 watched the salt being made, the crowd was so thick that the police could make no arrests. The jails were filled with at least 60,000 offenders. Amazingly there was practically no violence; people did not want Gandhi to cancel the movement. In the Central Province and Bombay people defied forest laws by cutting down timber. In Gujarat, the United Provinces, and in the Midnapur district of Bengal they refused to pay taxes and land revenue. On April 10 Gandhi published an appeal in Young India for women to picket, and thousands responded. In the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) the Pathans were led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who was known as the Frontier Gandhi. After he was arrested in Peshawar on April 23, his Servants of God, who were called Red Shirts, took over Peshawar and were invaded with armored cars.
Before he could invade the Dharasana Salt Works, Gandhi was arrested on May 4; but on May 21 the poet Sarojini Naidu led 2,500 volunteers and told them not to resist the blows of the police. According to an eye-witness account by the United Press reporter Webb Miller, they continued to march in hour after hour and were beaten down with steel-shod lathis by the 400 police; they did not try to fight back, and the injured were dragged away by women. Six days later an angry mob surrounded a police barrack at Bhendibazar in Bombay and broke windows with rocks. A few police rushed out and shot their revolvers at the crowd, killing eight. In the Wadala suburb of Bombay a hundred Congress volunteers led a mob of 40,000 that broke through police lines and invaded the salt works, taking away salt. In this breakdown of the nonviolent discipline, Webb reported that a thousand people were arrested, and several hundred were injured.
The poet Tagore declared that Europe had lost her moral prestige in Asia. Soon more than 100,000 Indians were in prison, including almost all the leaders. President Motilal Nehru was the first in a succession of presidents who were detained. Gandhi’s English disciple, Madeleine Slade, went to Gujarat and published a report in Young India on June 12 describing the police brutality. Official figures reported that police fired on 24 crowds, killing a total of 111 people.
On April 27, 1930 the Government of India had passed an Emergency Ordinance and revived the repealed 1910 Press Act. By July officials estimated that 131 newspapers had paid 240,000 rupees in securities, and nine newspapers refused to pay and were suspended. On June 7 the Simon Commission Report was published, calling for a federal constitution. Viceroy Irwin transferred the two Nehrus to the Yeravda jail so that they could consult with Gandhi during the negotiations with the British. However, they demanded a complete transfer of power with responsible government.
The first Round Table Conference began on November 12, 1930 with Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald presiding. The British invited 16 from British parties, 16 from British Indian States, and 57 from British India, including many prominent people; but the Indian National Congress was not represented. Gandhi commented that it was like performing Hamlet without the prince of Denmark. MacDonald’s concluding speech on January 19, 1931 included many advances beyond the Simon Commission recommendations. Sapru and Sashtri sent the Congress Committee a telegram urging them to postpone their response. The Governor-General removed the ban on the Working Committee so that they could consider the new proposals, and they were released on their independence day, January 26.
Gandhi wrote to Viceroy Irwin on February 14, 1931 and began meeting with him three days later. Gandhi demanded an inquiry into the police brutality. Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, and others reluctantly agreed to what Gandhi negotiated, and the Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed on March 5. Civil disobedience was discontinued. The Government agreed to withdraw the Emergency Ordinances, release the 18,800 political prisoners, remit fines, restore confiscated property, and reinstate village officials who had resigned. People on the coast could collect salt for their own use. Peaceful picketing would be allowed, but the boycott of British goods was given up. Federation was accepted; several Congress concerns about the constitution were acknowledged; and Congress would participate in the discussions at the next Round Table Conference in London.
Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Bose, and the Youth Organizations complained that the Delhi Pact that Gandhi signed gave up the Congress demand for independence or dominion status. Yet for the first time the British had treated the Congress as an equal by agreeing to a negotiation. On March 23 the revolutionaries Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru, and Sukh Dev were executed in the Lahore Conspiracy Case, and radicals blamed Gandhi for not gaining their reprieve. That night a Hindu-Muslim riot broke out in Kanpur (Cawnpore), and officials estimated that 166 people were killed with 480 injured. Congress met at Karachi on March 31, and once again they demanded a fully responsible government. The Working Committee selected Gandhi as the only representative of Congress to attend the second Round Table Conference. Lord Willingdon became viceroy in April, and the British ignored stipulations of the Gandhi-Irwin Agreement. In July the Working Committee drew up a revised communal settlement. The Government resumed its repression, and Gandhi wired the Viceroy on August 11 to say he would not go to England. The Government agreed to hold an inquiry on revenue collection in Surat, and Gandhi gave in. The Conservatives gained power in Britain, and Samuel Hoare became secretary of state for India.
On September 12, 1931 Gandhi reached London, where he met Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw, and Maria Montessori among others. Not having seen a movie, Gandhi did not know who Chaplin was, but his criticisms of modern civilization may have influenced Chaplin’s 1936 film Modern Times. Gandhi spoke for a half hour on radio to the United States about a nonviolent way better than brute force to fight for freedom that is more consistent with human dignity. He appealed to the conscience of the world to rescue his people, who were dying in order to regain liberty. In discussing relations with the British he said he did not want isolated independence but voluntary interdependence based on love. However, the British Labor government had been replaced by a coalition led by Ramsay MacDonald, and they used the Indian minorities problems to divide the Indian Congress. Gandhi received a telegram that the Congress representatives had withdrawn from the restricted Surat inquiry. In his final speech at the Conference on November 30, 1931 Gandhi said he still wanted complete independence and warned, “Today you have to fight the school of terrorists which is there with your disciplined and organized terrorism, because you will be blind to the facts or the writing on the wall.”18
Back in India repressive ordinances were imposed on Bengal and the United Provinces (UP). Jawaharlal Nehru led a no-rent campaign in the United Provinces that began on December 6. The Red Shirt Volunteers led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan in NWFP were declared illegal, and thousands were imprisoned. Nehru and several UP Congressmen were arrested on December 26. Gandhi returned to India on December 28, and the next day he sent a telegram of protest to the Viceroy. The Government justified its policies, and the Working Committee demanded an inquiry and complete independence. Otherwise civil disobedience would be resumed by refusing to pay taxes, boycotting foreign cloth, and picketing liquor shops and salt manufacturing. On January 2, 1932 Viceroy Willingdon refused an interview under this threat. Young India criticized the Government for its evasions, suppression, and falsehoods. The English scholar Verrier Elwin made an objective investigation of the brutality charges and concluded that the Government was trying to crush the Congress in the Frontier province. Yet the Government was supported by the Europeans in India.
As during the salt campaign, the old Regulation 25 of 1827 was used to imprison Gandhi and Congress president Vallabhbhai Patel indefinitely without a trial. The British Government declared Congress and all its branches illegal organizations. While he was in the Yeravda jail, Gandhi announced in March that if the Harijans (untouchables) were given a separate electorate, he would fast to death, hoping to awaken the Hindu conscience. In August 1932 MacDonald announced his Communal Award that included separate electorates for Muslims, Europeans, Sikhs, and the Depressed Classes (untouchables). On September 20 Gandhi began his “fast unto death,” and the next day millions of Indians fasted with him for 24 hours. Three days later the Yeravda Pact was signed reserving twice as many seats for the Harijans, and it was ratified the next day. After an overwhelming vote in favor of it, Hindu temples were opened to untouchables for the first time. Gandhi replaced Young India with the weekly Harijan. Jawaharlal Nehru was upset that Gandhi had given up the goal of independence to help the untouchables.
The India League in London sent a delegation in August 1932 that traveled throughout India until November, and their report described a reign of terror without the rule of law similar to the Communists and Fascists in Europe. Bertrand Russell compared the methods used in British India to those of Nazi Germany. The civil resisters led processions, held public meetings, picketed, boycotted, issued bulletins, saluted their national flag, withheld taxes, refused police parole, reoccupied offices taken over by police, and manufactured salt despite the many prohibitions against these activities. Police methods were cruel and vindictive; they beat people because it was cheaper than arresting them and more effective. The report said that Congress and other groups had their funds confiscated, their leaders arrested, and force was used to break up their meetings. Police inflicted massive and severe punishments for minor infractions, tortured and starved prisoners, confiscated land and personal property, abused women and children, censored the press, intercepted correspondence, interfered with travel, imprisoned without trials, searched without warrants, beat picketers, and destroyed property.
Congress boycotted the third Round Table Conference that began on November 17, 1932 with only 46 delegates from India. The Conference increased the franchise for women, but generally the British Conservatives did not allow progress. Civil disobedience continued. On January 26, 1933 many people were arrested, and police shot at demonstrators in Bengal. Despite the ban more than a thousand Congress delegates met at Calcutta on March 31. Mrs. J. N. Sengupta presided, and resolutions confirmed the goal of independence, civil disobedience, and the boycott of British goods. Malaviya noted that 120,000 people had been arrested in the previous fifteen months.
Still concerned about the Harijans, Gandhi fasted for three weeks in May 1933; British officials, afraid he might die, released him from prison. He asked Congress to suspend civil disobedience for a month or more, and he appealed to the Government to withdraw its ordinances and release prisoners. Acting Congress President Aney suspended mass civil disobedience for three months, and individual civil disobedience began on August 1. Gandhi was to lead a march, but the night before he and 34 other members of his ashram were arrested. Three days later Gandhi refused to reside in Puna; he was arrested again and was sentenced to one year. Because he was not given facilities for conducting his anti-untouchability campaign, he began a fast on August 16. One week later he was released unconditionally in a very precarious condition. After he recovered, Gandhi said he would not commit civil disobedience until his sentence expired, and he went on a speaking tour and raised money for the Harijans, traveling more than 12,000 miles.
Generally, except in NWFP, the Muslims did not join the civil disobedience campaigns of the early 1930s. Muhammad Ali, who had been active in non-cooperation a decade earlier during the Khilafat movement, said that Gandhi’s movement wanted to make the seventy million Muslims dependents of the Hindus. He considered himself a Pan-Islamist and a supernationalist. Muhammad Ali Jinnah had put forth his fourteen points in 1929, and he supported the first Round Table Conference along with the Ali brothers, Abdul Qadir, and Muhammad Shafi, who led an independent league in the Punjab. At the Muslim League session in December 1930 Muhammad Iqbal called for a Muslim state in northwest India that would defend India from foreign invasion. Rahmat Ali was educated at Cambridge, and at the Round Table in London he told Muslim delegates they could form Pakstan, a name he derived by using the first letters of the provinces Punjab, the Afghan province (NWFP), Kashmir, Sind, and the last syllable of Baluchistan. (Later the name was changed to Pakistan, which means “the land of the pure.”) He argued that the Muslims and Hindus were distinct nations because of differences in religion, culture, traditions, economics, laws, and marriage customs. Rahmat founded the Pakistan National movement in 1933.
Muslims accepted the Communal Award as a victory and held a Unity Conference at Allahabad on November 3, 1932. Samuel Hoare announced that the British decided to allot one-third of the seats in the Central Legislature to Muslims, and Sind would be a separate province. Hindus complained that the British were using their divide-and-rule policy.
A few revolutionaries used violent tactics. Bhagat Singh had avenged the 1928 death of Lala Lajpat Rai by murdering the police superintendent Saunders in Lahore. On April 8, 1929 he dropped a bomb in the Assembly along with copies of their Red Pamphlet. Their bomb factories were discovered, and the Lahore Conspiracy case began. Prisoners went on a long hunger strike but finally accepted the Government’s promise of more favorable treatment. Only Jatin Das continued and died after 64 days. Bombs exploded under the Viceroy’s special train near Delhi in December 1929. Chandrasekhar used armed robbery to get 14,000 rupees in Delhi on July 6, 1930. Their large stock of chemicals for making bombs was found a few days later. Chandrasekhar was killed by police in a shootout on February 27, 1931.
The Chittagong branch of the Indian Republican Army in Bengal issued a manifesto on April 18, 1930. That night fifty youths in khaki captured the Police Armory and the Auxiliary Force Armory in Chittagong, killing a few people and taking revolvers, rifles, and a Lewis gun. They took over the telegraph office and declared a provisional government of India with Surya Sen as president. They were attacked two days later and dispersed in the hills to continue guerrilla warfare. The armory trial ended in 1932, and fourteen were transported for life. Surya Sen was caught in February 1933 and was hanged. The man who betrayed him was murdered.
In May 1930 the Yugantar party in Calcutta planned to murder Europeans with bombs and destroy the airfield, gas and electric works, petrol supply, telegraph, trams, bridges, and railways. During the next three years they attempted 47 outrages, 167 robberies, and 24 bombings. They killed 43 people, including 23 officials, while 33 of the terrorists were killed.
1. M. K. Gandhi in Harijan, 31 March 1946 quoted in Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), p. 382.
2. Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule by Mahatma Gandhi, p. 80.
3. M. K. Gandhi in Harijan, 5 November 1936, vol. IV, p. 236 in Non-Violence in Peace & War, Volume 1, p. 127-128.
4. The Life of Mahatma Gandhi by Louis Fischer, p. 182.
5. Ibid., p. 183.
6. Ibid., p. 202.
7. Ibid., p. 203.
8. Quoted in Struggle for Freedom, p. 376.
9. The Oxford India Premchand, Appendix.
12. Quoted in Iqbal: The Poet and His Message by Sachchidananda Sinha, p. 113-114.
13. Quoted in A History of Urdu Literature by Muhammad Sadiq, p. 482-483.
14. Quoted in Iqbal: The Poet and His Message by Sachchidananda Sinha, p. 98.
15. Ibid., p. 103.
16. The History of the Indian National Congress, Volume 1 by B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, p. 366.
17. Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, p. 744.
18. Ibid., p. 891.
19. The History of the Indian National Congress, Volume 2 by Pattabhi Sitaramayya, p. 42.
20. The Life of Mahatma Gandhi by Louis Fischer, p. 344-345.
21. M. K. Gandhi in Harijan, December 24, 1938 quoted in The Gandhi Reader ed. Homer A. Jack, p. 339.
22. Toward Freedom by Jawaharlal Nehru, p. 387.
23. Quoted in Struggle for Freedom, p. 632.
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