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Gandhi's early experiments with Sathyagraha

(Dear friends, Amids midst of celebrations on Gandhi's Sathyagraha still relevant today by ruling classes and the 'successes' achieved by Mamtas and Patkars . Please read the history of Gandhi's legacy of Sathyagraha.by Suniti Kumar Ghosh in India & the Raj Vol I .)

South Africa: A Weapon is forged

"South Africa", said Gandhi, "gave the start to my life's mission.”1 It was here that he devised his method of struggle which he named satyagraha, developed his mode of leadership and forged links with and won appreciation of the highest representatives of the raj— in South Africa, India and Britain—as well as of India's business and political elite. Gandhi had gone to South Africa for professional reasons in 1893 when he was about twenty-four and returned to India in January 1915—at the age of about forty-six. His experiments with truth, especially his satyagrahas, there were watched with keen interest by the British rulers as well as India's big businessmen and were supported by the latter with very generous funds.

The Indians in South Africa consisted mostly of indentured and ex-indentured labor. The indentured laborers went on five-year contracts to work on the railways and in the coalmines and plantations in Natal. Theirs was actually a state of semi-slavery, as W. W. Hunter said. 2
All Indians, including prosperous Gujarati merchants, were victims not only of social ostracism but also of many social and legal disabilities. Gandhi, the young barrister from India, was known as a "coolie barrister", despite his "faultless English dress", which was unable to save him from kicks and blows and other indignities when he aspired to equality of status with Europeans in railway trains, other means of transport or on the pavements of streets.

Natal and the Cape Colony were British colonies while the Transvaal and the Orange Free State were Dutch until the end of the Boer war in 1901. Later, in 1910, the four colonies merged to form the Union of South Africa. In the Transvaal, then a Dutch colony, Indians had to pay a poll tax of £ 3 and had no franchise; "locations," inconvenient and unhealthy, were set apart for them and color bar was strictly practiced. It was no less vicious in Natal.

The few Indian immigrants who enjoyed the right of franchise in Natal were mostly deprived of it in 1894. Gandhi drafted a petition to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, on behalf of Indians in Natal, opposing the Franchise Law Amendment Bill. The petition, which had no effect, stated: "Your Lordship's Petitioners have noticed with shame and sorrow the zealous attempt made to compare your Petitioners with the Natives of South Africa." 3 In an open letter to the members of the Natal legislatures, Gandhi, while claiming that the Indians and the English have descended from the same common stock, regretted that the English regarded the Indians as "little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa,” whom he referred to as "raw Kaffirs."4

In "An Appeal to Every Briton in South Africa," dated 16 December 1895, Gandhi stated: "It is true England 'wafts her sceptre’ over India. The Indians are not ashamed of that fact. They are proud to be under the British Crown, because they think that England will prove India's deliverer." 4a

In the meantime—in 1894—the Natal government proposed to levy an annual tax of £ 25 on every Indian whose indenture had expired, when the average income of an Indian male worker was no more than 14 shillings a month. The Natal Indian Congress, of which Gandhi was secretary, organized an agitation against the proposal. Ultimately an annual tax of £ 3 was imposed on every Indian—man, woman and child above a certain age with the approval of the then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, whom Gandhi described as the "trustee of the welfare of India." 5

During these years Gandhi "vied with Englishmen in loyalty to the throne" and, curiously enough, it was his "love of truth [that] was at the root of this loyalty”6
Soon after, despite Indian representations, the Natal Legislative Assembly passed two bills, which, though not explicitly directed against Indians, were so designed as to restrict Indian immigration and curb the activities of Indian traders. Read the rest of this Article


posted by Bimal 2.2.07,


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