Lead Story


Gandhi begins a protest fast

On this day in 1932, in his cell at Yerovda Jail near Bombay, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi begins a hunger strike in protest of the British government's decision to separate India's electoral system by caste. A leader in the Indian campaign for home rule, Gandhi worked all his life to spread his own brand of passive resistance across India and the world. By 1920, his concept of Satyagraha (or "insistence upon truth") had made Gandhi an enormously influential figure for millions of followers.

Jailed by the British government from 1922-24, he withdrew from political action for a time during the 1920s. In 1930 returned with a new civil disobedience campaign, which took the form of his famous Salt March: a 248-mile march on foot from Ahmedabad to the small village of Dandi on the Arabian Sea, ostensibly to ‘make his own salt’, but in reality a symbolic protest against a tax on salt recently imposed by the British. This landed Gandhi in prison again, but only briefly, as the British made concessions to his demands and invited him to represent the Indian National Congress Party at a round-table conference in London.

After his return to India in January 1932, Gandhi wasted no time beginning another civil disobedience campaign, for which he was jailed yet again. Eight months later, Gandhi announced he was beginning a "fast unto death" in order to protest British support of a new Indian constitution, which gave the country's lowest classes – known as "untouchables" – their own separate political representation for a period of 70 years. Gandhi believed this would permanently and unfairly divide India's social classes. A member of the more powerful Vaisya, or merchant caste, Gandhi nonetheless advocated the emancipation of the untouchables, whom he called Harijans, or "Children of God." "

This is a god-given opportunity that has come to me," Gandhi said from his prison cell at Yerovda, "to offer my life as a final sacrifice to the downtrodden." Though other public figures in India – including Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the official political representative of the untouchables – had questioned Gandhi's true commitment to the lower classes, his six-day fast ended after the British government accepted the principal terms of a settlement between higher caste Indians and the untouchables that reversed the separation decision. He broke his fast ‘by saying a prayer, quavering a hymn of joy, sipping an ounce or two of orange juice and exclaiming weakly "Satyagraha has triumphed."’ (Time, 3 October 1932). He had lost six pounds in six days.

As India slowly moved towards independence, Gandhi's influence only grew. He continued to resort to the hunger strike as a method of resistance, knowing the British government would not be able to withstand the pressure of the public's concern for the man they called Mahatma, or "Great Soul." On 12 January 1948, Gandhi undertook his last successful fast in New Delhi, to persuade Hindus and Muslims in that city to work toward peace. On 30 January, less than two weeks after breaking that fast, he was assassinated by a Hindu extremist on his way to an evening prayer meeting.

Also on this Day

< Full Calendar


First Xerox machine goes on sale

Setting the Toner

If you are, as I imagine, currently hovering over a functioning photocopier, trousers down, buttocks bared, about to liven up a particularly boring sales event or staff meeting in your own inimitable way, then today is a day to celebrate. It was on the 16th September in 1959 that the Xerox 914 photocopying device was launched on an unsuspecting American... Read more >

< Full Calendar


Massacres at Sabra and Shatila

Hours after the Israeli forces enter West Beirut, Phalangist militiamen begin a massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Within two days, 1,000 men, women, and children were dead. The Phalangists, a Christian faction in Lebanon, were closely allied with Israel. After entering West Beirut, Israeli commanders ordered the Phalangists into the refugee camps in search of terr... Read more >

< Full Calendar


Killer quake shakes Iran

An extremely deadly earthquake rocks Iran, killing more than 25,000 people on this day in 1978. The 7.7-magnitude quake struck the northeastern part of the country, an area that has traditionally seen much seismic activity. Ten years earlier, a 6.5-magnitude quake centered in northern Iran near the Afghanistan border killed approximately 12,000 people. When a stronger tremor hit the area on thi... Read more >