Quit India Movement and Independence from Britain
An essential part of Gandhi's practice of civil disobedience was the Quit India Movement. The movement had begun because of Gandhi's call for immediate and total independence from Britain.
During his “Quit India” speech in August 1942, Gandhi made the clarion call “do or die” — either we must free India from British rule or die trying. Still, the method was passive resistance, not violence. The resolution to quit India was passed at the Bombay session of the All-India Congress Committee. In response, the British detained Indians and arrested more than 10,000 people. Gandhi fasted, hoping for the release of the prisoners.
In his “Quit India” speech, Gandhi said, “I know the British government will not be able to withhold freedom from us, when we have made enough self-sacrifice. We must, therefore, purge ourselves of hatred. Speaking for myself, I can say that I have never felt any hatred.”
By 1946, the prisoners were set free, and the British conferred with the Indian National Congress to make arrangements for India's independence. Gandhi believed in cooperation between the Hindu and Muslim communities in India and maintained relationships without regard to religious affiliation; he did not believe in segregation of the two faiths. Nonetheless, the Indian National Congress agreed to a partition agreement that cleaved two states out of British India: India and Pakistan. The transfer of power was effected in August 1947, and people celebrated in the streets. But Gandhi wondered, “Why are they rejoicing — I see only a river of blood.”
With hunger strikes — one more variety of civil disobedience — Gandhi was able to quell terrible riots between Muslims and Hindus on the eastern border between India and the new Pakistan. The process of partition was very violent — several million people were forced to flee their homes, and at least 1 million were slaughtered in communal riots.
Gandhi sought peace between the two religious groups and between the two new countries, but when he visited New Delhi in an attempt to pacify the two communities on January 30, 1948, a gunshot rang out and the champion of nonviolence fell. Nathuram Godse, a Hindu radical who opposed Gandhi's acceptance of Muslims, had pulled the trigger. It was the irony of ironies — the world's greatest champion of nonviolence, killed by a gunshot. As he expired, Gandhi uttered the word “Rama,” an Indian word meaning God.
Gandhi was a man of action every bit as much as a man of religion. He was critical of all organized religions. He explained that he was a Hindu, a Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew. Gandhi was deeply spiritual, and his spirituality was never unworldly. He searched for truth and pursued nonviolence in every area of life. He believed these two aspects were the most important on the way to understanding God. Thus, the name Mahatma — really a title of honor — was bestowed on him by India. He is considered the father of the modern Indian nation, but his influence transcends borders, for he was a great soul on the world stage, too.