In Southern Africa, Mohandas Gandhi worked ceaselessly to improve the rights of the immigrant Indians. It was there that he developed his creed of passive resistance against injustice, stayagraha, meaning truth and force, and was frequently failed as a result of the protests that he led. Before Gandhi returned to India in 1915, he had radically changed the lives of Indians living in Southern Africa. When Gandhi arrived, it was not long before he was taking the lead in the long struggle for independence from Britain. We will now view some of the reasons for Gandhi's passion for independence, and try to understand what Indian self-rule, or "Hind Swarj" meant to the man that helped India to become what it is today.
First, we will examine what India was like, when it was still under British Rule, and by doing this, hopefully get an understanding of why one would want to gain independence from such a government. The most common things the people of India wanted independence from were the grave injustices done onto India, and the unfairness of the British occupation of India. The Partition of Bengal (1905-1911) was a political step taken by Lord Curzon, the Viceroy, by means of which the Province of Bengal was divided into two provinces: West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa with a Hindu majority, and East Bengal and Assam with a Muslim majority. This partition was said to have created India's "new spirit", when which the Indians became aware that independence was needed. This "new spirit" was accompanied with the notion that petitions were in need, must be backed up with force, and that the people of India must be capable of suffering. Another reaction that arose in response to the Partition of Bengal was the Swadeshi movement. The swadeshi movement created chaos in many areas of government. At economic levels, a boycott of British imports took place. At the educational level, it introduced national educational institutions in Calcutta. At the political level, it led to resignations from legislative councils. As early as 1905, Gandhi saw the revolutionary potential of the Swadeshi movement. Gandhi once said, "No cause for unhappiness would remain if swadeshi were to replace everything foreign. We can easily attain happiness if we exert ourselves to that end during the year that has just commenced. Swadeshi carries a great and profound meaning. It does not mean merely the use of what is produced in one's own country. That meaning is certainly there in swadeshi. But there is another meaning implied in it which is far greater and much more important. Swadeshi means reliance on out own strength. 'Our strength' is meaning that of our body, our mind and our soul. For Gandhi, Swadeshi also meant love of one's own language. The love of Boers for Dutch, and of the Jews for Yiddish, reflect their versions of swadeshi. The partition of Bengal also divided leaders into two parties: the moderates, which stood for the constitutional method of attaining self-government similar to that enjoyed by Canadians; and the extremists, which believed that both constitutional and extra-constitutional methods were necessary for attaining swarj. All interpret the two words according to their preconceptions. This much is certain- that there has arisen an enmity between the two. The one distrusts the other, and imputes motives. Gandhi believed that divisions such as this weren't a good thing for their country, but also believed that such a division wouldn't last long, that it all depended on how long the leaders lasted.
Next, we will examine what resulted in Ghandi being jailed in 1930. This jail term resulted from a protest of a salt tax. As far back as 1905, the salt question had entered Gandhi's political consciousness. The duty on salt dated back to Moghul times. Clive in Bengal set up a monopoly of salt for his senior colleagues and himself. In 1780 Warren Hastings put the manufacture of salt in the hands of the government, the price being fixed by the governor-general in Council. In 1878, a uniform tax policy was adopted throughout India, both British India and Princely India. The private manufacture of salt and the possession of salt not derived from government sources both became illegal. Bengal and Assam got its salt from England; Bombay, Madras and Central Provinces and the Southern Princely states from the sea; and North India from rock-salt mines. Needless to say, the price of salt in India was for the benefit of only one group; the government, whom collected revenue from salt in 1880 reaching 7 million pounds from a population of 200 million. On 6 April 1946, at Gandhi's personal request, Sir Archibald Rowlands, the Finance Member of the Viceroy's Executive Council, on his own initiative ordered the abolition of the salt tax. But the Viceroy, Lord Wavell, vetoed the initiative on the grounds that premature abolition of the tax would create a salt famine. He thought that 'vanity' was prompting Gandhi. In protest of the salt tax, Gandhi then led thousands of Indians on a 200 mile march to the sea to make their own salt. Soon after, he was arrested, and jailed.
Gandhi blamed the railroads built by the British for India's greed, and poverty. He did so by explaining that for the reduction of poverty in India, the development of irrigation was more important than that of the railways. But neither British private capital nor the colonial government saw the problem in this way. In the eyes of British investors the railways were more attractive, especially since in the early decades (1850-80) there was a guaranteed profit of 5 per cent charged on Indian revenue. It is true that the railways facilitated the movement of food in times of famine; but it is equally true that the railways did not produce food. For the production of more food, irrigation was crucial. Railways without irrigation did not solve the problem of poverty and famines; in a sense it aggravated them in that capital that could have been spent on irrigation was spent instead on the railways, which proved to be both extravagant and wasteful. Although many Indians saw the railway as a step in the right direction for India, Gandhi saw it as a carrier of diseases, and moreover, the main tool the British used to hold India where they wanted it. Also, Gandhi blamed the railways for an increased laziness of India, where as once people used their feet to bring them to their destination.
Gandhi experienced even more violence after 1906, when he began his peaceful revolution. For the revolution, he declared he would go to jail or even die before obeying an anti Asian law. Thousands joined him in this civil disobedience campaign. The British Government, on many occasions, opened fire on Indian protestors, even though the Indians practiced non-violence, and were of course, unarmed. These occasions were accompanied with mass arrests, and jail terms. Gandhi never once wavered in his unshakable belief in nonviolent protest and religious tolerance. When Muslim and Hindu compatriots committed acts of violence, whether against the British, or against each other, he would fast until the fighting ceased. The last two months of his life were spent trying to end the appalling violence, which ensued, leading him to fast to the brink of death, an act, which finally quelled the riots.
Throughout history, most national heroes have been warriors, but Gandhi ended British rule over his native India without striking a single blow. Gandhi was one of the gentlest of men, a devout and almost mystical Hindu, but he had an iron core of determination. Nothing could change his convictions. This combination of traits made him the leader of India's nationalist movement. Some observers called him a master politician. Others believed him a saint. To missions of Hindus he was their beloved Mahatma, meaning "great soul" . Gandhi brought forward a need for independence to his people. He presented to them the unfairness, and injustices that came upon his people by the British occupation of India. He then presented the only source India had to help obtain independence: to practice non-violence, and patience. As a result of Gandhi's practices, injustice was exposed to the British, and the world's public opinion moved to Gandhi's side. Gandhi's victory came in 1947 when India won independence. The subcontinent split into two countries (India and Pakistan) and brought Hindu-Muslim riots. Again, Gandhi turned to nonviolence, fasting until Delhi rioters pledged peace to him. An assassin killed him in 1948 as he walked through a crowed garden in New Delhi to take evening prayers. Throughout this paper, we have examined but a few of the grave injustices that the British imposed onto India, and observing this we must summarize everything to come up with an answer to the original question. What did independence mean to Gandhi? Although this question may seem to require a complex answer, it can be answered with one word: freedom.