In 1918, Mahatma Gandhi intervened in a dispute between the workers and mill-owners of Ahmedabad. He advised the workers to go on strike and to demand a 35 per cent increase in wages. But he insisted that the workers should not use violence against the employers during the strike.
He undertook a fast unto death to strengthen the workers’ resolve to continue the strike. But his fast also put pressure on the mill-owners who relented on the fourth day and agreed to give the workers a 35 per cent increase in wages.
In 1918, crops failed in the Kheda District in Gujarat but the government refused to remit land revenue and insisted on its collection. Gandhiji supported the peasants and advised them to withhold payment of revenue till their demand for its remission was met.
The struggle was withdrawn when it was learnt that the government had issued instructions that revenue should be recovered only from those peasants who could afford to pay.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was one of the many young persons who became Gandhiji’s followers during the Kheda peasant struggle.
These experiences brought Gandhiji in close contact with the masses whose interests he actively espoused all his life. In fact, he was the first Indian nationalist leader who identified his life and his manner of living with the life of the common people.
In time he became the symbol of poor India, nationalist India and rebellious India. Three other causes were very dear to Gandhi’s heart.
The first was Hindu-Muslim unity; the second, the fight against untouchability; and the third, the raising of the social status of women in the country. He once summed up his aims as follows:
I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country, in whose making they have an effective voice, an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people, an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony.
There can be no room in such an India for the curse of untouchability. Women will enjoy the same rights as men. This is the India of my dreams.
Though a devout Hindu, Gandhi’s cultural and religious outlook was universalist and not narrow. “Indian culture,” he wrote, “is neither Hindu, Islamic, nor any other, wholly.
It is a fusion of all.” He wanted Indians to have deep roots in their own culture but at the same time to acquire the best that other world cultures had to offer. He said:
I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other peoples’ houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave.