Five 'Satyagrahas' of Gandhi Ji

Gandhiji launched five major 'Satyagrahas' (peaceful & pacifist agitations) in his life-time. Two of them were launched in South Africa during the course of his stay there. The rest three were launched in India. Even though there was considerable time-gap between these Satyagrahas, a strain of similarity is visible in all of them. The similarity was the result of Gandhiji's personality. His personality is reflected in all the Satyagrahas. Even though there was a gap of nearly 40 years between the first and the last Satyagraha, their pattern remained almost unchanged over the period of time; the reason being that there hardly any difference in the issues taken up by him as well as his work style, in all these years.


The first Satyagraha campaign was started by Gandhiji in 1906 in South Africa. He had not given any name to his agitation till then. The name Satyagraha was adopted by him later on.


A new legislation known as Asiatic Bill was brought forward by the British Government of South Africa in 1906. It required every Indian to obtain a 'permit' from the Government to live in Transvaal. Even those Indians, who had already been living there, were required to deposit the old permit and acquire a new one. But the most objectionable part of that Bill was that under which every Indian had to give the prints of all the ten fingers of his hands. Impressions of the ten fingers are generally taken from offenders punished with imprisonment. The Indians felt that they were being treated on par with criminals.


Gandhiji started a campaign against the Asiatic Bill through his paper 'Indian Opinion' and built up the Indian opinion against it. He wrote in the 'Indian Opinion' that by reading various classes of the Asiatic Act, he got convinced of the ill-will the British against Indians. I could see that if this Bill was approved or Indians accepted it, it will be end of Indians in this country. For Indians it was a matter of life & death. It was better to die than bowing to this Act.


Meetings were held at many places. Gandhiji and his colleagues moulded the people's mind against this Bill. Pledges were taken to oppose it. A delegation met the Colonial Secretary. Gandhiji's paper 'Indian Opinion' was at the centre of this campaign.


In spite of opposition of the Indians, the Asiatic Bill was passed and became an Act. It made compulsory for every Indian living in Transvaal to obtain a permit between 1st July and 31st July, 1907 for staying in Transvaal.


Gandhiji organized the Indian community and decided not to take the 'permit'. He formed groups of young men to 'picket' the branches of 'Asiatic Office' to ensure that no Indian goes to take the permit. There were strict instructions to all Satyagrahis that they would not leave the path of non-violence. They would only dissuade the Indians who went to take the permit and would also behave politely with the police. If the police beat them up, they would bear with it and would not retaliate.


As a result of this campaign, nearly 500 Indians did not take the permits. The British started arresting them after the expiry of the last date of 31st july, 1907 for taking permits. Gandhiji was also arrested. Most of the people were sentenced to three months imprisonment. Those imprisoned with hard labour had to do manual work such as grinding, stone-breaking etc.


Gandhiji had spent about 15 days in jail when the editor of 'Transvaal Leader' met him. Thereafter, General Smuts called Gandhiji for talks on 30th January 1908. After some formal civility, the General gave an assurance to Gandhiji that he would later revoke the Asiatic Act if most of them took permits now. Believing Smut's words, Gandhiji decided to immediately call off the Satyagraha and go in for taking permits. Only a few months earlier, he had written in the 'Indian Opinion' that it was better to die than bow one's head before the Asiatic Act; the same Gandhi now bowed his head before that Act. He was released from jail immediately within 15 days of his imprisonment, though he was awarded two month's jail term.

He reached Johannesburg the same night on 30th January 1908. There, he told a gathering of one and a half thousand people that an agreement had been reached with General Smuts under which he would repeal the Asiatic Act if the Indians took permits now. He, therefore, urged the people to take permits.


Some people asked Gandhiji what would happen if General Smuts went back on his words. Gandhiji replied:- "Satyagrahi never despairs… He is prepared to believe twenty first time, even if he is betrayed twenty times."


A Pathan named Mir Alam did not agree with Gandhiji. Accusing Gandhiji, he said that he had heard that he (Gandhiji) had sold himself to Smuts for fifteen thousand pounds. He would never give the impressions of his ten fingers, and swore by Allah that he would kill anybody who took lead in going to Asiatic Office for this purpose.


Ten days after this incident on 10th February 1908, when Ganghiji was going to Asiatic Office to take permit and give impression of his ten fingers, Mir Alam and his Pathan colleagues attacked Gandhiji with lathis. One blow struck his head and he fell down unconscious. Even after that, they continued attacking him with lathis and kicks. Many people collected there on hearing the noise. Some people came in between and restrained the Pathans. The white men caught the Pathans and handed them over to police. A British clergy, Doke, took Gandhiji to his residence and looked after him for ten days. Gandhiji gave his finger prints at the clergy's residence, and received his 'permit'.


This is how Gandhiji's FirstSatyagraha came to an end. General Smuts did not keep his promise of repealing the 'Asiatic Act' even until five years after the withdrawal of the Satyagraha. It was clear beyond doubt that Smuts had befooled Gandhiji. Gandhiji had committed a blunder in believing his words. Therefore, he launched another campaign. Public meetings were held. Resolutions were passed. Memoranda were sent to the Government. Permits were publically burnt. But Smuts renamed unmoved. The agitation against Asiatic Act began gradually fizzling out. At that point, an event occurred that infused a new life into the Satyagraha.


Cape Supreme Court gave a decision that only those marriages of Indians in South Africa would be recognized that were performed according to Christian rites and were registered with the Registrar of marriages. A demand for repealing this order as also for cancelling the annual cess of three pounds was included in the agenda of Satyagraha. The Indian community was once again energized. This time, women also participated in the Satyagraha.


Gandhiji decided to enter Transvaal with a batch of Satyagrahis. After being given a latitude of a few days, all the Satyagrahis were arrested and sentenced. They were tortured in various ways. Together with Gandhiji, his English friends Kelenbeck and Pollak were also arrested and awarded three month's imprisonment.


The British Viceroy in India, Lord Hardinge, not only delivered a speech against Gandhiji's arrest but also sent the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, Sir Benjamin, as his envoy to South Africa. Gandhiji was released from jail unconditionally after two months. A three-man commission was appointed to go into the complaints of the Indians.


Gandhiji demanded the inclusion of an Indian in the commission. But, Smuts rejected this demand. Gandhiji announced that he would launch a Satyagraha from 1 January 1914. It was a sheer coincidence that at the same time, the white employees of Railroad Company of South Africa went on a striked and indulged in acts of violence and vandalism. Gandhiji withdrew his Satyagraha. He said that it was not in the spirit of a Satyagrahi to take advantage of the adversity and weakness of his opponent and harm him or humiliate him.


This declaration of Gandhiji was welcomed by General Smuts and his Government. All his friends thanked to him. Lord Empthill, Secretary of state sent a congratulatory telegram from London.


This was the end of the SecondSatyagraha of Gandhiji. Six months after this, he departed for India via London.

Mahatma Gandhi's third Satyagraha was against the Rollet Act which came into operation on 21 March 1919. Gandhiji started his Satyagraha campaign against it with a 'hunger strike', Country-wide strikes took place and processions were taken out all over India. Mahatma Gandhi had initiated the Satyagrahis into Ahinsa (non-violence), yet there were clashes between the volunteers and the police in Delhi leading to death of eight Satyagrahis. Similar clashes took place in Bombay, Calcutta, Ahmadabad, Lahore and Amritsar. In Amritsar the tragic massacre of Jalianwala Bagh occurred in the wake of these clashes. Gandhiji suspended this Satyagraha on 18 April because he had failed to conduct it in a non-violent way. Thus, the Third Satyagraha was also given up mid way by Gandhiji.


The Fourth Satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi is very famous. It can be termed as a mixture of Khilafat Agitation and Non-Cooperation Movement.


Turkey had sided with Germany in the First World War. The war ended with the defeat of Germany. Turkey was also defeated. Muslims all over the world had considered the Sultan of Turkey as their Khalifa (religious head). The powers of Sultan were diminished by Britain and he was made subservient to the Allied High Command. This led to a sharp reaction amongst the Muslims of India. They started a Khilafat Movement with the aim of re-establishing the old glory of the Sultan. The leaders of this movement were Dr. Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Maulana Abdulbari, Mohammad Ali, Shaukat Ali etc. Gandhiji associated himself with the Khilafat Movement in the hope that in return, they would support the Congress Movement for independence of India. In his view, the Khilafat Movement was a unique opportunity for establishing Hindu-Muslim unity, the kind of which will not come in the next hundred years.


Gandhiji started the Non-Cooperation Movement in August 1920 with three objectives; restoration of Khalifa to his old position of honor in Turkey; bringing an end to the genocide going on in Punjab, and attainment of freedom for the country. He promised to bring freedom to the country within one year (by August 1921). Later, he extended this date to 31st December 1921. However, that did not happen. The assurance for independence was reduced to a hollow promise.


Ultimately, on 1 February 1922, Gandhiji informed the Viceroy through a letter that he would launch non-cooperation Movement after a week in Bardoli Village. At the same time, he also offered to postpone this movement if the Government released all non-violent Non-Cooperation Volunteers and gave an assurance that it would not interfere in non-violent activities of the Satyagrahis. It is clear from this letter that he did not want to carry on the non-violent movement any further and was only in search of some excuse to suspend it. Suddenly, he got a providential opportunity. In the Chaura-Chauri village of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, a crowd of agitators set fire to a police post in which twenty-two policemen were burnt to death. Gandhiji immediately announced withdrawal of his campaign. Thus ended his Satyagraha.


Gandhiji launched his fifth Satyagraha in 1930. In the Congress Session held at Lahore under the presidentship of Jawahar Lal Nehru, the Congress, defining its goal of struggle for the first time, declared that its goal was to attain "Full Independence"(Poorna Swaraj). In line with this objective, Subhash Chandra Bose proposed that the Congress should announce setting up of a parallel government. But Gandhiji paid no heed to his advice. He was not prepared for such virulent confrontation with British. Instead he came up with an innocent plan, which is known in history as "SaltSatyagraha". British Government levied tax on salt. The salt Satyagraha was a symbolic protest against it, in which Satyagrahis made salt from sea-water. He termed it as Civil Disobedience movement.


The Civil Disobedience Movement had not reached its climax when the Viceroy invited Gandhiji for Talks. Gandhi-Irwin pact was signed on 5th March 1931. Under the Pact, the Government announced release of all non-violent volunteers and Gandhiji announced suspension of the movement. Thus, he withdrew this Satyagraha also mid-way. Thus ended the fifth Satyagraha of Gandhiji.

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