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Gandhi, through the photographs of Kulwant Roy

At the Museo Camera Museum in Gurgaon (Haryana, India), you’d find rare photographs of Gandhi on display. Many of these were clicked by the pioneering photojournalist, Kulwant Roy. Roy, who worked in pre and post Independent India chronicling the Independence movement from close quarters. In 1930s, he began to document the activities of the Congress, and his pictures thus feature several leaders of the time.

Here’s a selection of photographs featuring Gandhi

Gandhi disembarking from a Third Class Carriage c. 1940s

Mahatma Gandhi - disembarking a train - Kulwant Roy

Gandhi’s travels across the country were instrumental in his understanding of India and the idea of a ‘nation’. While he had travelled first-class in South Africa, in India he consciously chose to travel in Third Class carriages. He saw passengers trying to bribe their way to secure a seat, carriages filled with more people than they could hold and tried to draw attention to the dirty, unhygienic compartments. Gandhi even wrote about his opinions and experiences of third-class railway travel making the suggestion that ‘people in high places’ – Rajas, Viceroys, Imperial Councillors – should be made to go through the experience every once in a while.

Mahatma Gandhi pleads for the Harijan fund at New Delhi, c.1940

Gandhi collecting funds for Harijan Welfare - Kulwant Roy

This image spotlights Gandhi’s commitment to the Harijan-cause and his extraordinary fundraising abilities. In 1932, Gandhi founded the Harijan Sewa Sangh as part of his efforts to eradicate the concept of ‘untouchability’ from India’s caste system. The initiative was born out of the historic Poona Pact between Gandhi and Ambedkar. Gandhi had objected to the provision of separate electorates for the Scheduled Castes granted in the Communal Award of 1932, which in his view separated them from the whole Hindu community. In this image you also spot the industrialist Jamnalal Bajaj, who along with others such as G.D Birla supported the cause. Gandhi collected funds on trains, and during public meetings (such as this one!).

Gandhi with Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan in Peshawar at a Public Meeting, 1938

Gandhi and Gaffar Khan 'Badshah'

Gaffar Khan, popularly known as “Frontier Gandhi” led a Civil Disobedience movement against the British in the North West Frontier Province during the 1930s. He raised the group ‘Khudai Khidmatgar’ who pledged non-violence and echoed the Gandhian philosophy. To Gandhi, Gaffar Khan was one of his most valued allies. Take a look at the excerpt below from one of their exchanges.

This picture seems to have been of the time when Gaffar Khan had returned home after 6 years of exile & Gandhi visited him in the first week of May, 1938. Khan, in his own right, had evolved himself as an esteemed leader of the resurgent nation. He was seen taking a leading part in the various movements launched by Mahatma Gandhi, which included the momentous “Quit India” movement in 1942 as well.

From the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 68 published by Publications Divisions

Gandhi and the soldiers of the INA, 1945

Ram Singh Thakuri of INA playing the violin for Mahatma Gandhi at Harijan Colony

Each year, during Republic Day, soldiers march to the song ‘Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja’. In this picture, you see the composer of the song, Captain Ram Singh Thakuri of INA, playing the violin for Gandhi at the Harijan Colony. The idea that music could be used to ignite the patriotic fervor in people was promoted by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, the founder if INA.
It is another story that in 1945 itself, the British banned ‘Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja’ from being recorded, declaring it a seditious song.

Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhai Patel , c.1946

Gandhi and Vallabhai Patel

This picture was taken at the All India Congress Committee (A.I.C.C) meeting, Bombay, 1946. By this time, Sardar Vallabhai Patel’s role in the Congress had reached a critical point. Back in 1915, impressed by Gandhi’s speech in Ahmedabad, Patel started actively participating in the freedom-struggle. Over the years, their relationship developed into a strong bond – Gandhi often relied on Patel’s advice for decision-making, and Patel supported Gandhi in his many endeavours. The Bombay meeting was called upon to get the approval of the committee members on the Cabinet Mission Plan proposed by the British. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, then president of the Congress, issued a statement proposing Nehru’s name for the presidentship and appealed to the Congressmen to elect him unanimously. When the A.I.C.C. met here, Nehru officially took over the responsibility as the Congress President from Azad, paving the way ahead for his Prime-Ministerial position post-independence.

Kulwant Roy (1914-1984)

Kulwant Roy was born in 1914 in Bagli Kalan, Ludhiana, and educated in Lahore. Like other photographers at that time, Roy had no formal training in the medium. Instead, he learned on the job at Gopal Chitter Kuteer, the studio in Lahore where he worked. He worked as a freelancer and eventually founded ‘Associated Press Photos’

After Kulwant Roy passed away in 1984, these photographs were inherited by Aditya Arya –  Chairman & Trustee, India Photo Archive Foundation.

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