"I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers."
Gandhi as a journalist
We have end numbers of books on journalism and each author or journalist attempts to define and practise journalism as he/she deems right. There are many rules and laws on media. There are ethics and morality that journalists have to follow. These are all classroom deliberation as only few journalists in profession maintain high standard of ethics.
In such turbulent time of today where news are woven out of few threads of truth and sensationalism is at its peak, where competition to sell had subdue its duty to serve, it is a right time to see what Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace and one of the greatest human being that ever breathed the life in this world think of an journalism especially print media.
Almost everyone knows that Mahatma Gandhi was a Political Leader, but very few know that Gandhi was also a journalist! Yes, Gandhi was a Journalist. For 40 years he edited and published weekly newspapers. But before delving deep into Gandhian way of journalism, it will be only prudent to know him as Mohandas, the journalist not as ‘the Mahatma’ (the Great Soul).
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 in Porbandar, a coastal town in present-day Gujarat, India. His father, Karamchand Gandhi (1822–1885), who belonged to the Hindu Modh community, was the Diwan (Prime Minister) of Porbander State, a small princely state in the Kathiawar Agency of British India. His grandfather's name was Uttamchand Gandhi, fondly called Utta Gandhi. His mother, Putlibai, who came from the Hindu Pranami Vaishnava community, was Karamchand's fourth wife, the first three wives having apparently died in childbirth. Growing up with a devout mother and the Jain traditions of the region, the young Mohandas absorbed early the influences that would play an important role in his adult life; these included compassion for sentient beings, vegetarianism, fasting for self-purification, and mutual tolerance between individuals of different creeds.
He was betrothed thrice in seventh year and married Kasturba Gandhi at the age of thirteen. In May 1883, the 13-year old Mohandas was married to 14-year old Kasturbai Makhanji (her first name was usually shortened to "Kasturba," and affectionately to "Ba") in an arranged child marriage, as was the custom in the region. Recalling about the day of their marriage he once said that “As we didn't know much about marriage, for us it meant only wearing new clothes, eating sweets and playing with relatives."
Mohandas had probably inherited his father’s adamancy for dignity and duty and mother’s devotion to religion and fasting.
As a student, he was no more than mediocre yet incorruptible and truthful. In 1885, when Gandhi was 15, the couple's first child was born, but survived only a few days; Gandhi's father, Karamchand Gandhi, had died earlier that year. Mohandas and Kasturba had four more children, all sons: Harilal, born in 1888; Manilal, born in 1892; Ramdas, born in 1897; and Devdas, born in 1900. At his middle school in Porbandar and high school in Rajkot, Gandhi remained an average student academically. He passed the matriculation exam from Samaldas College at Bhavnagar, Gujarat with some difficulty. While there, he was unhappy, in part because his family wanted him to become a barrister.
He went to England on 4 September 1888. He studied law at University College London in England. After the failed attempt to appear for a defendant in the court, he never did attend to any court until later in South Africa.
Mohandas, now a lawyer by profession was working for his client, a Gujarati business company in South Africa by the name of Dada Abdullah & Co. owned by Dada Abdullah and his partners at the Natal Colony.
There in South Africa, he started his stint with journalism writing few articles to the editors and friendly newspapers as a forum to express his views through letters to local dailies and interviews. He wrote to friendly newspaper for the good causes of Indian living there in Africa. Indeed his stint with paper started with his refusal to take off the turban and wrote to newspaper about the forced removal. This got him first publicity as unwelcome visitor where his temerity was more disapproved than approved.
He started the Natal Indian Congress in 1894to redress the brutalities and discrimination faced by residential Indians and indented workers in the place of work and in the society.
In 1896 when he returned to India, he wrote Green Pamphlet which was published in The Pioneer in Allahabad. It highlighted the plight of Indian in South Africa under rule of Crown. The papers he wrote for and sought interviews were The Hindu, The Madras Standard, Anglo-Indian papers like Statesmen and Englishmen before returned to Africa.
However, given the magnitude of the daunting tasks he decided to take to journalism by launching his first newspaper, Indian Opinion, in 1903. The weekly newspaper was to serve the interests of British Indians in South Africa. It was 16 pages tabloid issued every Saturday. Initially the Indian Opinion started with four languages Tamil, English, Gujarati and Hindi. ‘The sole aim of a newspaper for the Mahatma was service. Conscious of the power of the medium, he believed in control and restraint. The guidelines on policy that he published in the first issue on June 6, 1903 enunciated the advocacy principle in working for the community by asserting their rights and invoking a sense of responsibility among them? He would persistently try to endeavour to bring about a proper understanding between the two communities which Providence has brought under one flagS.’ (BP Sanjay).
Indian Opinion in a significant way laid the foundations for Gandhi’s contributions to Journalism after his return to India in 1915 to take up the larger cause of Indian Independence. It was here that he really understood the importance of running newspaper. For him, the sole aim of journalism should be service.
Through Indian Opinion, he kept informed of people about what was happening in the society, what government is doing and what he expected his countrymen to do. In the Boer War, Gandhi urged Indian to join British as army and he succeeded in forming non-combatant stretch bearers to armed forces. In his own words in The Indian Opinion, "The corps had been formed at the instance of the Natal Government by way of experiment, in connection with the operations against the Natives consists of twenty three Indians".
Later Gandhi edited six newspaper namely, Indian Opinion, Young India, Navajivan, Harijanbhandu, Harijan Sevak and Hairjan.For decades he edited several newspapers including Harijan in Gujarati, in Hindi and in the English language; Indian Opinion while in South Africa and, Young India, in English, and Navajivan, a Gujarati monthly, on his return to India. Later, Navajivan was also published in Hindi. In addition, he wrote letters almost every day to individuals and newspapers. He also published Young India, Navjivan and Gujarat Samachar.
Indian Opinion was started in South Africa by Mahatma Gandhi 1903. The first issue was prepared through June 4 and June 5, and released on June 6, 1903. Mansukhlal Nazar, the secretary of the Natal Congress served as its editor and a key organiser. In 1904, Gandhi relocated the publishing office to his settlement in Phoenix, located close to Durban. At Phoenix, the press workers were governed by a new work ethic - they would all have a share in the land, in the profits if there were any, they would grow crops to sustain themselves and they would work jointly to produce Indian Opinion. The newspaper's editors included Hebert Kitchin, Henry Polak, Albert West, Manilal Gandhi, who was the paper's longest serving editor (for 36 years), and Sushila Gandhi. All but one of its editors spent some time in jail.
The aim of publishing this newspaper/ newsletter was educating European communities in South Africa about Indian needs and issues. Apart of Indian rights and discrimination, it also highlights duty of indentured Indian and residential Indian as the citizens of British Empire.
The Indian Opinion began with adopting a very moderate tone, reiterating its faith in British law and seeking not to provoke the hostility of British officials. However, the Indian Opinion especially highlighted the poor conditions under which indentured labourers worked. Editorials tackled the discrimination and harsh conditions prevalent in the agricultural estates where indentured Indians were employed. Cases of harsh treatment by employers were publicised and the astoundingly high rate of suicide amongst Indians was pointed out. A campaign to end the system was launched and Editor Henry Polak, a friend of Gandhi's, went to India to mobilise support. From 1906 onwards it became a vehicle for challenging state laws and urging defiance of these when these were clearly unjust. This tradition began during the satyagraha campaign between 1906 and 1913 which began because of attempts to impose passes on Indians in the Transvaal. The paper played a fundamental role on defeating the registration drive of officials. Its pages paid tribute to local resisters and Brian Gabriel, one of Natal's earliest Indian photographers, provided visual coverage.
The Indian Opinion was a means of bringing news about Indians in the colonies before the public in India. The pages of Indian Opinion provide a valuable historical record of the disabilities that Indians suffered under Crown. It also provided an invaluable record of the political life of the Indian community. Gandhi's experience with the publication and the political struggle in South Africa proved a major experience for him that helped him in his work for the Indian independence movement. He commented "Satyagraha would have been impossible without Indian Opinion."
Gandhi's handwriting, on a note preserved at Sabarmati Ashram
Coming back to India in 1915, Gandhi left South Africa to live in India and spoke at the Indian National Congress. He staged his first Satyagraha movement (after success in South Africa) at Champaran in Bihar in 1917 and Kheda in Gujarat against indigo planters which insisted on levying increased tax to already famished and underpaid workers. It was not only success but it also spread Gandhi’s fame throughout the country. Later he carried three major movement; Non-Co-operation Movement (1921, Civil Disobedience Movement (1930) and Quit India Movement (1942) which finally made British to quit India.
When in India Gandhi was edited many newspapers and wrote many things on socio-eco-political situations of India. Other than Indian Opinions, all newspapers Gandhi edited were in India. It is believed that his popularity was greatly enhanced by use of mass media that was press. The Young India was another newspaper edited by Gandhi.
Young India was a weekly journal published in English by Mahatma Gandhi from 1919 to 1932.Gandhi was legendary journalistic figure from the Indian perspective; he wrote in this journal various famous quotes that inspired many. He used the 'Young India' to spread his unique innocence and ideology. Within the same year, he also started another newspaper called Navjivan. He regularly published those papers except for the time when he was arrested and when government ceased the press. These two newspapers folded up in 1932 when Gandhiji was imprisoned for a long spell after Civil Disobedience Movement.
Then in 1933 Gandhi added a third weekly, Harijan (which means 'the children of God') and ran it all his life except when the press was seized. It was aimed at uplifting the cause of Dalits which were by then considered untouchables. Between 1933 and 1940, besides Harijan (English), Harijan Bandu (Gujarati) and Harijan Sevak (Hindi) became the Mahatma's voice to the people of India. These newspapers found the Mahatma concentrating on social and economic problems.Caste disparities and such instruments of social deprivation as untouchables and ostracization were the targets of the Mahatma's crusade. This even led to some confrontation with staunch dalit leader Dr.Ambedkar who was also later the architect of Indian constitution.
In his life Gandhi has wrote many articles, essays and books which averaged to 500 words per day for 50 years his public life. He was voracious reader and staunch writer. More than 75 % of the content in his papers came from his own pen. The pen was his weapons along with Satyagraha. However, Father of Nation and well-known scribe that he was, but Hindu fanatic who thought he was trying to favour Muslim attempted on his life. There were many attempts in his life earlier; he finally was assassinated by Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse with his co-conspirator Narayan Apte on 30th Jan 1948. On his death, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the nation through radio;
"Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the father of the Nation, is no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that; nevertheless, we will not see him again, as we have seen him for these many years, we will not run to him for advice or seek solace from him, and that is a terrible blow, not only for me, but for millions and millions in this country."