1915-16: A tour of the homeland
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was already a well-known political activist when the ship, the S.S Arabia, docked in Mumbai — then Bombay — on January 9, 1915. Gandhi and his wife Kasturba, had returned to India, after starting two settlements for Indians in South Africa, and launching a successful satyagraha against unfair laws and taxes on the Indian community there.
In India, however, Gandhi was advised by his mentor Gopalkrishna Gokhale — a freedom fighter who belonged to the ilk of Moderates within the Congress — to tour India for a year before embarking upon any political work. Gokhale’s instructions suited Gandhi well, as the latter realised that there was much about the country that he had not seen, or knew about. In South Africa, differences of religion, caste and language were often elided over, as the community of Indians stood as one against the imperial powers. In India, however, the differences were wide and various, and Gandhi needed time to understand them.
Thus began his tour of the country. He started his travels from Bombay and journeyed across the length and breadth of the country, from Kolkata to Ahmedabad, Delhi to Chennai, attending meetings, and talking about indentured labour, an issue that he had fought against in South Africa. When news of his mentor, Gopalkrishna Gokhale’s death in February 1915 reached him, Gandhi took a vow to not wear any footwear for a year. At a stop in Haridwar some months later he took another vow: To eat not more than five things in 24 hours, and no meal after sunset.
He and Kasturba, who accompanied him on many of these travels, went by the third class railway compartment. Later, in July 1916, he published a pamphlet deploring the manner in which the Railways forced third class passengers to travel.