How Mahatma Gandhi won India her Independence

1. Return to India (1915)

Riding high on the success of his movement against racism in South Africa, the 46-year-old Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi returned to India. He spent a year travelling around India, understanding people, their needs, aspirations and struggles.

2. Founding of the Sabarmati Ashram (1916)

The Sabarmati Ashram was formed where Gandhi's pupils and followers were taught the principles of non-violence. Gandhi was to experiment his unique ways of protesting like the Satyagraha in the coming years.

3. India's first civil disobedience movement - Champaran Satyagraha (1917)

The peasants in Bihar's Champaran were in distress. The burden of cultivating indigo on a certain portion of land and selling them at the rates fixed by the planters had worsened their state. Upon hearing about Gandhi's heroics in South Africa, many farmers in the district urged him to take up their cause. Gandhi didn't disappoint them. He set up a detailed inquiry into the suffering of the farmers. This infuriated the district officials who asked him to leave Champaran immediately. Gandhi was unwilling to leave and risked imprisonment. Upon his arrest, mass protests broke out in the district. Gandhi's defiance in an uncanny, peaceful manner confounded the officials and he was let go. The struggle continued. Eventually, the British relented and the farmers were given more control over their lands.

4. Ahmedabad Mill Strike (1918)

Gandhi's strong resolve helped solve the dispute between mill owners of Ahmedabad and the labourers in favour of the latter. Under his insistence, the workers used peaceful protests to demand for a 35 per cent hike in their wages. Gandhi's fast unto death until the workers' demands were met further boosted their morale. Fourth day into his fast, the mill-owners decided to meet the demands of the workers.

5. Kheda Satyagraha (1918) and Gandhi has a follower in Sardar Patel

In the same year, following the crop failure in Gujarat's Kheda district, the government was unwilling to remit land revenue. Instead, they wanted to realise the whole collection. Under Gandhi's instruction, the farmers didn't pay any revenue and stood united in their peaceful protests against the British crackdown that followed. The protest was finally revoked when the government decided to collect revenue from only those who were able to pay. During this time, Gandhi won over many followers, which also included a young Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

6. Rowlatt Act (1919) - Gandhi comes to the fore

Just when the call for more autonomy was getting shriller, the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, which was also known as the Rowlatt Act, came as a shock to Indians after World War 1. This law gave the British government a free hand to put anyone behind bars without a trial. As the whole of the country rose in protest, Gandhi took control of the nationalist movement.

7. Satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act

Gandhi understood that constitutional opposition from Indian members within the Imperial Legislative Council was futile and civil disobedience measures in the form of hartal and boycott of foreign goods were the only way to counter the draconian law. He thought that it was unjustified to punish the whole country for the stray acts of some militant nationalists. Under Gandhi, the movement entered villages and connected Indians all over, Hindus and Muslim alike. The Khadi or the hand-woven cloth went on to become the symbol of the movement. For the first time since many years, India forgot its many divisions and stood up united against British oppression.

8. Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, April 13, 1919

As Gandhi's call for a strike spread across the country to protest British atrocities on unarmed agitators repeatedly, things took a turn for the worse when General Dyer ordered the merciless shooting of peaceful protestors in Amristar's Jallianwala Bagh. Over a thousand were killed as a result.

9. The Khilafat Movement (1919-1922)

The Rowlatt Act had brought Muslims and Hindus together like never before. The injustice being meted out to the Sultan of Turkey at the hands of British angered the Muslims in India. Gandhi saw this as an opportune moment to cement the Hindu-Muslim ties. By now, the Muslim League had thrown it's weight behind the National Congress. The national non-cooperation movement became stronger as the Khilafat agitation and Punjab massacre came around the same time.

10. Gandhi warns the British at the Nagpur Session (1920)

The non-cooperation movement reached its pinnacle. Some measures included the boycotting foreign clothes, mass resignation from government jobs, voters boycotting elections and refusing to pay taxes. At the Nagpur session, Gandhi said that if the Britishers didn't keep the interests of Indians in mind, then "it will be the bounden duty of every Indian to destroy the Empire".

11. Khadi becomes a symbol of freedom (1921)

The Tilak Swarajya Fund was set up to finance the raging non-cooperation and civil disobedience movement nationwide. Within 6 months, a crore worth of subscription funds flowed in. The Khilafat committee asked Muslims not be a part of the British army. Throughout the country, foreign goods were set ablaze. More focus was given to hand-woven, home spun khadi products. The major outcome of the movement was that the Indians lost all fear of the British.

12. British oppression grows and Gandhi's answer (1921-22)

The Congress and the Khilafat volunteers were declared illegal by the British. By 1921, all the major leaders except Gandhi were put behind bars. The annual Congress session in December, 1921 passed a resolution affirming its stand on pressing issues such as the Jallianwala Bagh and Khilafat wrongs and the need for the British to address them at the earliest. The resolution further called out to people to carry out disobedience movements, but along non-violent lines. To further raise the ante, Gandhi announced that from February 1, 1922, he would start out a mass civil disobedience movement across the country to demand the freedom all political prisoners and the press from British clutches.

13. Gandhi withdraws the movement; Netaji left dissatisfied (1922)

Gandhi suspended the movement in the wake of the Chauri Chaura and several other violent incidents as a direct outcome of the British's inhumane oppression. Gandhiji was of the opinion that violent measures would put India on the backfoot and the British would easily be able to crush aggressive retaliations. Soon after the Congress met at Bardoli to pass a resolution stopping all violent acts against British and urged members to focus on promoting indigenous goods, education and Hindu-Muslim unity. The Bardoli resolution and calling off the movement had disappointed many young leaders within the Congress including Subhash Chandra Bose. Gandhiji was imprisoned and the Khilafat movement soon lost its relevance as the situation in Turkey improved. Gandhi was released in 1924 on grounds of deteriorating health conditions.

14. Dandi March (1930)

The events leading up to the Salt March were quite important to our freedom struggle. The Calcutta Congress session of 1928 asked the Britishers to grant India dominion status. Failing which, the whole country would rise up against British rule and demand complete independence. When the British didn't pay any attention, the Indian flag was unfurled on December 31, 1929 at Lahore and January 26, 1930 was celebrated as Independence Day. To protest against British salt monopoly, Gandhi organised one of the biggest marches in world history from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi. Gandhi broke the British Salt law on the morning of April 6 in the presence of thousands of Indians who had joined the march.

15. The Quit India Movement (1942)

The final nail in the coffin for British Raj in India was the Quit India Movement, led by Gandhi in 1942. He firmly protested against the British rule and said that the Indians cannot be involved in World War II. Gandhi's 'do or die' Quit India speech from the Gowalia Tank was a pivotal moment in India's freedom movement. The Quit India movement was crushed in no time. However, the problems of governing India in the long term post World War II became a stark reality for the British and, in about five years' time, they had to leave the country for good. (Text credit: News18)

Mahatma Gandhi is synonymous with India’s freedom struggle. When Gandhiji took up the cause of India’s freedom, the country was divided into many factions; infighting among the Congress members had weakened the freedom movement and the Britishers had been successful in alienating the Muslims from India’s nationalistic sentiments against our colonial rulers.

Gandhiji brought something novel to the table and his non-violent means of protesting took the British by surprise, as they were left clueless in the face of the Mahatma’s passive resistance. On our Independence Day, we look at some of the key moments involving the Mahatma that helped to free India from British shackles.

(Photos are sourced from Getty Images)