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On This Day: Gandhi Imprisoned for Civil Disobedience

Last updated: February 12, 2023

On March 18, 1922, a British colonial court convicted Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi of sedition after a protest march led to violence. He was sentenced to six years.

Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience Leads to Imprisonment

Mohandas K. Gandhi emerged as the leader of India’s resistance to the Raj, Britain’s colonial government, shortly after World War I.

In 1919, Britain passed the Rowlatt Acts, which allowed the Raj to intern Indians suspected of sedition without trial. In protest, Gandhi declared a “satyagraha,” meaning “devotion to truth,” against the Raj, beginning a non-violent movement of civil disobedience.

The Indian National Congress adopted Gandhi’s ideals and in 1920 launched a campaign of non-cooperation against the Raj. “During his first nationwide satyagraha, Gandhi urged the people to boycott British education institutions, law courts, and products (in favor of swadeshi); to resign from government employment; to refuse to pay taxes; and to forsake British titles and honors,” explains the Library of Congress’ “India: A Country Study.”

The satyagraha came to an end after a mass protest in the small market town of Chauri Chaura turned violent on Feb. 22. Protesters fought back against British police, burning down the police station and killing 22 people.

Gandhi, horrified by the violence that had been committed in his cause, called for an end to non-cooperation. He wrote: “God has been abundantly kind to me. He had warned me that there is not yet in India that truthful and non-violent atmosphere which can justify mass disobedience which can be described as civil, which means gentle, truthful, humble, knowing, wilful yet loving, never criminal and hateful. God spoke clearly through Chauri Chaura.”

Gandhi was soon arrested and convicted of sedition. He was given a six-year prison sentence, which he began serving on March 18.

Edmund Candler wrote in the July 1922 edition of Atlantic Monthly:  “Gandhi has awakened the national consciousness in a way that no other man could awaken it; at the same time, he has unloosed forces that he is unable to control. But he has lighted a candle … In Mahatma Gandhi the youth of the country have their own national hero now—a man to whom they can point, without moral or physical fear; like Garibaldi or Mazzini, only saintlier.”

Biography: Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Sources in this Story

  • BNET (The New York Times): 1947: The end of the Raj
  • Library of Congress: Country Studies/Area Handbook Series: India: Gandhi
  • The Guardian: Face to Faith: Causes and effects
  • Atlantic Monthly: Mahatma Gandhi
  • The BBC: Mohandas Gandhi (1869 - 1948)
  • The Times of London: Gandhi’s Salt March
  • Time: Gandhi & Nehru

Born in Gujarat in 1869, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi studied law in London and fought for the civil and human rights of Indian peoples in South Africa. He developed non-violent political strategies influenced “primarily by Hinduism, but also by elements of Jainism and Christianity, as well as writers including Tolstoy and Thoreau,” according to the BBC.

Upon his return to India, Gandhi applied these tactics to the colonial independence movement through the use of the satyagraha. It was during this time that he began to be called “Mahatma,” meaning “Great Soul.”

After his 1922 conviction, he served two years of his six-year sentence, being released in 1924 due to ailing health. He withdrew from political life after his release, but he returned to the nationalist movement in 1930. He led the “March to the Sea,” a protest of a discriminatory British salt tax in which thousands of people symbolically made their own salt from seawater. The march launched a new grassroots effort to end colonial rule that lasted for almost two decades.

Gandhi was again arrested in 1942 after demanding an end to British colonial rule, sparking widespread protests. He was released in 1944 and was involved in negotiations for independence; he opposed the partitioning of India and Pakistan, which was included in the plan for Indian independence.

He was assassinated in 1948 by a man upset about his opposition to the British partition plan. His legacy lives on and he remains an inspiration for those who practice nonviolent campaigns to achieve social progress today.

“Gandhi was idealistic, quirky, quixotic and determined, a cross between a saint and a ward politician … he managed to distill the qualities of both and yet transcend their contradictions,” writes Shashi Tharoor, UN under secretary-general, in Time

Read the findingDulcinea profile of Mahatma Gandhi.

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