DescriptionMohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi Archive comprised of twenty-four handwritten letters spanning the years 1928 through 1933. The vast majority are written in his hand while a handful have been dictated. Written mostly in Gujarati, several of the letters have translations provided.
The bulk of the translated letters date from Gandhi's time of imprisonment in Yerwada Central Jail, where he had been imprisoned since January 1932 after an arrest in Bombay during the freedom struggle. Beginning in September of that year, he began what would become a six day hunger strike in protest of the Communal Award which gave Dalits (the lowest caste in Indian society also known as untouchables) separate electorates according to the Constitution. This protest led to the Poona Pact, signed by Gandhi and Dr. Bhimrao R. Ambedkar at the jail, which granted new civil rights to the lowest classes of Indian society. Several months later, Gandhi, who referred to those in the lowest caste as Harijan (Child of God), began publishing a newspaper from Yerwada Jail called Harijan Weekly. The paper, first published February 11, 1933, ran until his death in 1948 and focused on social and economic issues. Three versions were printed in three languages: Harijan was published in English, Harijan Sevak in Hindi, and Harijan Bandu in his native Gujarati. Writing to one of his female correspondents (all of whom he addresses as "sister") on February 4, 1933, just seven days before the first issue was published, he expresses concern regarding the new editor: "The 'Harijan Weekly' will come out sometime next week. R. V. Sastri has been appointed as the editor. He has abandoned his job which earned him Rs. 600 a month and has adopted the way of life of the poor. He has agreed to work for 'Harijan Weekly' for RS. 75." Gandhi then asks for assistance in paying for the man's train ticket which is "being paid by the 'Servants of India Society.'" The Servants of India Society was founded in 1905 by Gopal Krishna Gokhale as a purely secular welfare organization dedicated to the promotion of education, health care, and sanitation among India's poorest and underprivileged peoples. "I ought to be bearing this expense," he continues, "His train ticket works out to be more than his salary. If I can have your support . . . it will take off a burden from the 'Harijan Weekly." He further asks that she get "as many subscribers for the 'Harijan Weekly' as possible." He reiterates his devotion to the Dalits several months later, on May 8, 1933, when he writes in response to an invitation he has received offering him a place to stay or live, in part: "Dear sister, I have received your letter. . . . If such a time comes, I will keep your house in mind. However, as I once told you, the place where the Harijans [Dalits] live is most dear to me. But I reckon that will pose certain problems."
Gandhi held firm in the belief that spinning yarn and producing hand-woven cloth (a movement he began called khadi) illustrated the self-reliance of Indians and their non-dependence on British goods and he urged both men and women to create khadi daily. He felt it was so important to produce Indian cloth that when, in 1924, he was asked to preside over one session of the Indian National Congress he agreed on one condition - that Congressmen would wear only home-spun cloth. Several of the letters contained in this archive speak about khadi, as on October 25, 1930, when he wrote one of his female correspondents saying, "I am running short of yarn. . . . The yarn should be hand-made. It is difficult to spin from a ball of yarn prepared in a mill. The strands turn out to be weak." Several months later, he sent another letter again asking for yarn, dated December 16, 1930, "Please send me 4 ratals of yarn. . . . Do inform the place you buy the yarn from that it contains too many cotton seeds which is why it takes more time in cleaning it up. And a lot of it goes to waste." Even during his imprisonment in Yerwada, he continued the production of yarn and cloth as this letter, dated April 21, 1932, illustrates: "Yesterday I received yarn and honey. Thank you for sending them. However, the yarn appeared to be produced in a mill. You ought to know that such a yarn has no use. . . . This time I had hoped that you would have collected good, hand-made yarn, fluffed it up at your place and woven it."
Gandhi accepted people of all faiths and nationalities in his movement to rid India of British rule. In an undated letter (circa early 1930s), he addresses the owner of a Dharamasala (a kind of sanctuary or spiritual dwelling) regarding a recent arrival to India: "I would also want someone else to stay at your place. There is a German lady who has arrived today . . . I wish to send her to the ashram in a day or two. There is nothing scandalous to hold against her. So I would like her to stay at your place as long as she is here. She has been a teacher in Germany. She is a Jew. Because of all the farce taking place in Germany, even she had been expelled from her job. Even otherwise, she was planning to come to India. The circumstances in Germany have forced her to leave for India at this time."
Several of the letters give insight into the Mahatma's diet. Gandhi was a vegetarian who ate meagerly and would oftentimes fast. Admirers and benefactors would often provide him with food including prasad, a ritual offering of food in the Hindu faith which has been blessed by the gods and is then consumed by worshippers as a gift, as in a letter of August 1933: "On Diwali [Hindu festival of lights], you could not resist yourself. I have received the prasada from you. . . . I hope now you are satisfied. . . . I wish you a happy New Year." In Gandhi's native Gujarat, the day after Diwali is New Year's Day. Another letter, dated March 1, 1932, concerns his feelings on wild honey and the life of the bees that create it: "I keep making demands on you for honey. We two require to drink it along with warm water. . . . Occasionally it tends to be unclean. Often, it contains bits of the cork. I suspect it is of the raw variety. If this is the case then I do not consider it fit to be consumed. The reason being the preparation of such a honey entails the killing of lots of bees. How can it be considered pure? I prefer honey which is prepared according to the [Hindu] scriptures."
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