Thursday, 11 August 2011

Mahatma Gandhiji’s First Fast

Gandhiji undertook many fasts, some to resolve issues of great import and others for lesser ones, during the course of the freedom struggle. However, his very first fast was like a thunderclap which hit the country with shattering impact.
The most important thing about this fast was it was totally apolitical i.e. it was not directed to resolve any political issue nor directed against the government. Besides, as in our celebrated epic, Mahabharata, on both sides of the dispute were ranged loving and close friends whom Gandhiji held in high esteem.

The dispute concerned the textile workers at Ahmedabad who were both underpaid and overworked. Gandhiji had studied their grievances and felt they were genuine. On the other side of the dispute were ranged the powerful textile magnates of Ahmedabad, led by the redoubtable Ambalal Sarabhai, the biggest textile manufacturer of Ahmedabad, who was a close friend of Gandhiji.
On the basis of his investigations, Gandhiji advised the millowners to arbitrate the issue. This suggestion was flatly rejected by the millowners. Gandhiji, therefore, advised the workers to go on strike, insisting that; (a) it should be totally violence free, (b) the workers should not attend mills till their demands were met.
Gandhiji was assisted in the strike by none other than Anasuyaben, sister of Ambalal Sarabhai, the leader of the millowners.
Everyday Gandhiji and the striking workers met, reviewed the progress of the strike. Later the workers would march to the town with their banners peacefully.
The millowners remained adamant. The strike dragged on. After some time Gandhiji felt that the enthusiasm of the workers was waning as less and less workers attended his morning meetings. Reports of some workers secretly attending the mills also reached him.
One morning while talking to the workers, Gandhiji suddenly threw a bombshell at them. He declared, he would not touch any food till the strike was won. His unexpected and breathtaking declaration, shook not only the strikers but the employers too. The workers cried, they would also join his fast. Anasuyaben was shattered and besides herself with grief. Gandhiji did not approve of anyone joining him in his fast.
He, however, realised that his sudden decision to fast which was mainly directed to maintain the workers unity, was acting unintentionally as a moral pressure on the millowners. Gandhiji told the millowners that they should not be influenced by his fast.
It was not directed against them. He was a striker and should be treated as such by the employers.
Three days after the fast, the millowners accepted his suggestion of arbitration and so the strike came to an end, which had lasted for three weeks. This first fast of Gandhiji set the pattern for the subsequent important fasts that Gandhiji undertook, based on utter truth and transparency!
Article by : B. N. Dhar
Source: Bhavan's Journal 31 July 2006
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