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Selections from the Autobiography of Mahatma M. K. Gandhi

Selections from the Autobiography of Mahatma M. K. Gandhi

Introduction

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, at Porbandar in what is now the state of Gujarat, India. He was married to Kasturbai and they had four sons. From 1888 until 1891 he studied law in England and was called to the bar but traveled to South Africa in May 1893 to practice law. Subsequently, he developed his strategy of nonviolent noncooperation, Satyagraha (truth force), to fight government policies. He returned to India in January 1915 and in 1917 he started a Satyagraha movement against the indigo growers of Champaran in Bihar and then against the mill owners of Ahmedabad. In 1919 he called for a national hartal (strike) against the British and supported the Khilafat Movement. By 1920 he had become the most important leader of the Indian National Congress. His An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, written in the 1920s, is one of the enduring records of a political leader. Gandhi was not only a political leader, he was also a social reformer.

One of Gandhi's concerns was the institution of child marriage, which he opposed. This was courageous as he had been married at the age of thirteen. The passage "Child Marriage" recounts Gandhi's marriage to Kasturbai of which, in retrospect, Gandhi felt ashamed. He relished the marriage when it occurred but in the fullness of time came to regard it as a shameful event and he later became highly critical of his father for his childhood marriage. He criticized the extravagent way Hindus were married but, above all, he was tormented by his carnal lust in his early years. This was especially so when Gandhi left his sick father to engage in sex with his pregnant wife. During that time his father died. His newborn child also died and the death of his father and the death of his child became linked in his mind. In "Playing the Husband" he recounts his early relationship with his wife and how he had to establish his authority as a husband. Gandhi believed he was saved from the sin of carnal pleasure by his separation from his wife due to his sojourn to England and the Indian custom of the wife spending time with her family.

For Gandhi the most important aspect of his Satyagraha strategy was ahimsa, or nonviolence. When he began the Satyagraha struggle in Kheda district, Gujarat, on 22 March 1918 he expected the campaign for nonpayment of taxes to be conducted in a disciplined manner on the basis of his credo of love and justice. He was not satisfied with the way the campaign was carried out by the peasants, and accordingly he realized he had made a "Himalayan miscalculation." He decided, therefore, to raise a corps of disciplined satyagrahi who would spearhead any future civil disobedience movement strictly on the basis of discipline and nonviolence.

The Indian National Congress, which had been founded in 1885, was led by Western-trained lawyers who took a constitutional path in their fight for independence. It was remarkable that Gandhi became the recognized leader of the Congress in such a short period of time and that he changed the ethos of the organization and the whole independence movement to reflect his own nativist mores. In "Congress Initiation" he relates how he was responsible for the creation of a new constitution for the party and in "The Birth of Khadi" he recounts the way in which he and the members of his ashram learned how to spin khadi and how an untouchable, Gangabehn Majumdar, searched for a spinning wheel for him. One was located in Vijapur in Baroda State as recounted in "Found at Last." In "An Instructive Dialogue" Gandhi presents the mill owners' viewpoint about khadi through a reported conversation with Umar Sobani, a mill owner. Gandhi explained his rationale for the production of khadi and how it would provide work for women.

In "Its Rising Tide" Gandhi reports his success in establishing noncooperation and nonviolence as the official policies of a number of organizations, such as regional Congress parties and the Khilafat movement, where he had to discuss whether Islam forbade its adherents from following nonviolence. At the 1920 special session of the Congress at Calcutta the Congress supported noncooperation but also adopted a controversial resolution calling for independence, Swaraj, a resolution that was adopted "At Nagpur" where Gandhi also discusses Hindu–Muslim unity, untouchability, and khadi.

In "Farewell" he recounts his relationship with the Congress and how all his major activities were conducted through the Congress. He reaffirms his belief that there is no other God than Truth and that Truth is ahimsa. It reveals how idealistic Gandhi was and how committed he had become to his ideals of purity of heart. For him this entailed his belief in "Ahimsa in mind, word, and deed."

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