Chapter 18: GANDHIJI's EARLY
YEARS AND ACTIVISM
story of MK Gandhi started in 1893 when a 25 yr old barrister
began a struggle of Indians against racial discrimination.
1890 was a period when Indian labor to South Africa had started.
The laborers were called to work in sugar farms, following them
were Indian merchants and traders. A third group who lived was
ex laborers whose contract had ended and they lived with their
children. All of them had no access to education.
was at this time that MK Gandhi an English educated barrister
came to South Africa. Young Gandhi hadn’t faced overt racism
at any point in his life either in India or England. But when
he was in South Africa he had tolerate racism from hotel
owners, railways and even other South Africans.
reaching Pretoria he called a meeting of all Indians there and
asked them to protest against oppression. He also tried to
arouse the Indians to a sense of own dignity and persuade them
to resist all types of racial discrimination.
settling the law suit for which he had come he was about to
leave when the South African government passed a law to
disenfranchise Indians. He was asked by the Indians there to
stay for a month and draft their petitions. He went on to stay
for 25 yrs. He being English educated demanded many
facilities as a matter of right which the other Indians didn’t.
felt that they were being discriminated as they weren’t
westernized but Gandhiji showed them that the real reason was
assumption of racial superiority by the South Africans. Many
of the senior merchants of the Indian community chose him as
the leader as he alone could speak to the rulers in their
Highlights of the struggle by
Gandhiji: Return to India
I: Moderate Methods
1894-1906 Gandhiji’s methods followed the moderate methods of
petitioning and debating. He was convinced that by putting
forward all evidence to the rulers the British sense of fairplay
and justice would rouse and intervene. He also started
newspapers to consolidate all sections of the society and
publicize the demands of the Indian community. By 1906 Gandhiji
was convinced these methods won’t work.
Phase II: Satyagraha
phase of passive resistance or civil disobedience called
Satyagraha by Gandhiji had begun. It was first used when the
government enacted a legislation declaring that all Indians must
carry the registration certificate bearing their fingerprints at
all times. Gandhiji and his supporters refused to obey the law
as it was discriminatory and were sent to jail. Others followed
them and the numbers increased to 155. Finally General Smuts
called Gandhiji for talks and agreed to make registration
voluntary. Gandhiji agreed to call of the agitation and became
the first to register.
Smuts had tricked him by ratifying voluntary registrations under
the law. So Gandhiji and others decided to publicly burn their
brought in under law to control immigration and as opposition to
this Indians marched from natal to Transvaal to break the
immigration laws. They were arrested and deported. But the
struggle continued. Soon there were signs of fatigue as the
workers had no resources to continue. Hence Gandhiji started
Tolstoy farm with help from his friend kallenbach where
satyagrahi's could stay and sustain themselves.
between Gandhiji and the British government bore no results and
government and satyagrahi’s were at an impasse. At this
stage a new agitation was started to stop the poll tax on poor
indentured laborer. This agitation saw entry of indentured
laborers on large scale as the agitation was for their rights.
Indian leaders and parties too supported the South African
Indian community in their struggle.
to fire was added when the Supreme Court of South Africa ruled
that all marriages of Indian community were unrecognized. This
inflamed the entire community and the hunger for struggle had
been inflamed again. Women too participated in this struggle by
crossing over to Transvaal from natal. The brutal repression by
the police incensed the Indian community in other parts of South
Africa and they went on lightening strikes. The public
sympathy of Indians and even the Viceroy of India Lord
Hardinge was high for the South African Indian community.
this stage a meeting was called between the General Smuts and
Viceroy Harding, Gandhiji and British government representatives
and a solution was proposed. Majority of the demands of the
Indian community were accepted viz. poll tax, registration
certificate, recognition of marriages etc.
non violent civil disobedience was first applied in South Africa
and this great experiment would now be needed in the Indian
subcontinent. The title of Mahatma was given to him by
his friend Pranjivan Mehta.
Return to India and Local Movements
European planters forced the cultivators to grow indigo on 3/20th
of their land. As synthetic dyes emerged and the value of indigo
fell, the planters increased their rents and illegal dues to
release the cultivators from the contracts. It was here that
Gandhiji’s help was sought. Gandhiji reached the village but was
asked by the local government to leave immediately. Gandhiji
refused to obey this unjust order [this was a novel way as
even veteran leaders like Tilak and Besant followed orders
even though they were unjust!].
and fellow satyagrahi’s went from village to village
interrogating people to ensure the information was correct. The
government had appointed a commission of inquiry with Gandhiji
as a member. All evidence collected by Gandhiji was presented to
the committee and the committee ruled in the favor of the
cultivators. Planters were asked to refund the illegal dues
collected by them.
mill owners and the workers were in a dispute regarding the
plague allowance. The owners wanted to withdraw it as the
epidemic had passed. But the workers argued that the allowance
was a compensation for the rising cost of living. Gandhiji
persuaded the owners and the workers to decide matter by
arbitration. But the owners withdrew from the promise and
offered a 20% hike of allowance and threatened to dismiss those
who wouldn’t accept this. Gandhiji then advised the workers to
go on strike and as the time prolonged the workers resolve was
weakening and Gandhiji himself started a fast. This had an
effect on the owners and they too joined the tribunal. The
tribunal awarded a 35% hike to the workers.
peasants of Kheda were appealing for an exemption from land
revenue as the crops had failed. Gandhiji investigated these
claims and found them to be justified. Gandhiji was aided by
Vthalbhai Patel who toured the villages and advised the peasant
to not pay the land revenue and stand firm against the
government’s repression. A secret government notification was
given directing the authorities to collect revenue only from
those who can pay.
First Major Application of
Satyagraha: Rowlett Satyagraha
government had passed the Rowlett bills on recommendation of a
committee chaired by Rowlett. The civil liberties of people were
to be curbed. This was seen as a backstabbing attempt by the
government as the world war had ended and several concessions
were expected. Gandhiji gave a call to the people to start a
Satyagraha a constitutional protest had failed.
of the home rule league were contacted and they eagerly joined
the movement. Finally the movement was launched.
Jallianwala Baug Massacre
it was observed that the Satyagraha was followed by violence.
Gandhiji personally visited these places and urged people to be
calm. In Punjab there were several incidents of violence and the
state was handed to general dyer.
ordered a ban on all public gatherings. But on baisakhi day in
jallianwala bag thousands had gathered to attend a public
meeting. General Dyer opened fire on unarmed crowd without
warning them and in this situation thousand s lost their
lives. This incident stunned the nation. Seeing the atmosphere
of violence Gandhiji withdrew the movement.
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