Gandhi matriculated at the age of 18. Soon after he went to London to study law. He was the first Modh bania to go abroad. After joining the Inner Temple, Gandhi found that passing law examinations very easy. Reading notes on the texts only for a could of months, many passed the examinations. That easy course of reading notes did not appeal to Gandhi. He loathed deception. He chose to read the text-books in original and spent much money on them. He had to study hard for nine months to read the fat volumes on Common Law. He learnt Latin and read the Roman Law books in the original. The Barrister then when to known as " dinner barristers" because they had to keep 12 terms in about three years. That meant they had to attend at least 72 dinners. The students had to meet the expense of these costly dinners.
Gandhi was not used to such social gatherings and could not
understand how eating dinners and drinking wine helped one to become a good
barrister. Anyway he had to attend dinners. He was a good vegetarian and a
teetotaller. As he could not share all the dishes and did not drink, many law
students were keen on having him as a partner.
These dinners and readings did not help Gandhi to overcome his
shyness and nervousness. He wondered how to use the book learning in arguing a
case. An English lawyer encouraged him and told him honestly and industry were
enough to become a lawyer and to earn a modest living. Facts were 3\4 of the
law, if he took care of the facts of a case, the law would take care of itself.
He advised Gandhi to read books on history and general knowledge. Gandhi
followed his advice.
For a short time, Gandhi made an effort to become a smart
English gentleman. He tried to learn proper pronunciation and speech making to
dance, to play the violin and to dress in the right fashion. He bought an
expensive suit from the most fashionable shop and sported a double watch
chain of gold. He wore top hats and ties. He also made friends with young
ladies. Slowly he was drifting to a life of ease and luxury. Some months later,
he realized how foolish he was, expensive habits. He had to come to England for
study, not to ape the ways of an Englishman. Immediately he decided to change
his style of living. He hired a cheap room and a stove and began to cook his
breakfast and dinner himself. He lunched at cheap vegetarian restaurants and
stopped spending money on conveyance. He walked eight to ten miles every day.
In due time, after 32 months stay in England, Gandhi was
enrolled as a barrister. Two days later he sailed for India.
On reaching India, he rented a house in Bombay and hired a
cook, He attended the High Court regularly, saw how cases were conducted and
spent many hours in the Bar library. He read books on Indian Law.
His first case was a simple one. He was offered a fee of Rs.
30 for it. When the young inexperienced barrister of 22 stood up to argue, he
lost his nerve. His head reeled and tongue got parched up. He left the court in
shame. Thenceforth he did not take up any case in that court.
His expenses mounted up, his income was almost nil. He proved
good at drafting memorials but that neither was a barrister's job, nor did it
fetch enough money. After six months' trial, Gandhi joined his brother and his
family at Rajkot. His brother had high hopes in the success of his
England-returned barrister brother . He was sorely disappointed. Gandhi felt
At Rajkot another problem arose. As a rule, he had to play
commission to the vakils who brought him cases. Gandhi declined to do so, it
appeared immoral to him to give commission. His brother pleaded and Gandhi made
a compromise. Gandhi was then earning about Rs. 300 per month. He was not happy
in doing that work, nor with the practices of falsehood all around.
Luckily he got an offer from a rich Muslim merchant of South
Africa. He was to get Rs. 1,575 all found and a first-class passage with return
fare. He accepted the offer and sailed for the far-away continent. He had no
idea about the conditions of living in South Africa. When the ship anchored at
Zanzibar, he went to see how the court worked there. Questions relating to
book-keeping he could not follow. the case for which he was going to south
Africa was mainly about accounts. Gandhi bought a book on accounting and read it
On the third day of his arrival at Durban, Gandhi went to the
court. The magistrate ordered him to take off his turban. Gandhi refused to obey
him and left the court. From the time of his landing on the South African soil,
he noticed how the Indians were ill-treated by the whites. He was labeled an
unwelcome visitor and a "coolie barrister". He smarted under under this insults.
From his client Dada Abdulla le learnt details about the
litigation and made a thorough study of the case. He thought both the parties
would be ruined if they continued to spend on the lawyers for long. He did not
like to gain money or position by exploiting his client. He believed that the
true function as algal counsel was to unite both the parties. He insisted on
meeting the other party for setting the case out of court. When dada Abdulla
hesitated, Gandhi said: "Not a soul shall know anything that is confidential
between us. I would only suggest to him to come to an understanding."
In spite of Gandhi's meditation , the case dragged on for one
year. Gandhi had a good chance of studying how a complicated case was conducted
by the best attorneys and counsels. He prepared the evidence. The case was
settled to the satisfaction of both the parties, but Gandhi got disgusted with
his profession that could raise points of law in support of each party and make
we the cost go up.
Soon after Gandhi began to practice in Durban Court,
Balasundaram, an indentured labourer in tattered clothes and with two front
teeth broken came to his office. He was beaten by his white master. Gandhi
calmed him, got him treated by a white doctor and secured a medical certificate
relating the seriousness of the injury. He fought for Balasundaram, won the case
and found him a better master. This incident made Gandhi very popular with the
poor Indian labourers. His fame as the protector of the helpless reached India.
Thenceforth, he was looked upon as the friend of the friendless.
One year's experience helped Gandhi to gain confidence. After
some exchange of arguments, this coolie barrister was permitted to enrol himself
in the Natal Supreme Court. the white attorneys did not give him cases. He
himself added more handicaps to his practice of law. He was determined to prove
that a lawyer's profession was not a liar's profession. He never told untruth or
tutored a witness for winning a case. Whether his client won or lost, he
accepted nothing more or less his clients for unpaid fees and did not prosecute
anyone for personal grievances. He was four times assaulted in South Africa, but
every time he declined to drag the offender to the court or to get him punished.
During his 20 years of practice as a lawyer, he helped to settle hundreds of
cases out of court.
Once while conducting a case, he found the client was
dishonest. Without pleading for him further he asked the magistrate to dismiss
the case and himself rebuked the client for bringing a false case. Gandhi once
said; : " I began my legal career as a second-rate
lawyer. My clients were not at all impressed with my legal talents but when they
saw that I would not under any circumstances swerve from truth, they clung to
me." His clients from jail-going. The old client smuggled goods without paying
the customs duty. When his honour was at stake, he told the truth to Gandhi.
Gandhi advised him to confess his crime and accept the penalty Gandhi met the Attorney-General and Customs Officer and reported the matter
truthfully. His version of the report was not questioned and offender was only
fined. In gratitude the client had the whole incident printed and hung that
sheet in his office room.
On another occasion, there was a wrong entry of accounts
in his client's papers. Gandhi pointed out the error to the opponent and argued
ably. The judge who at first accused Gandhi of sharp practice, gave verdict in
favour of Gandhi's client. The judge told the other party: "Supposing Mr. Gandhi
had not admitted of the slip, what would you have done?" Gandhi was an expert
cross-examiner. He was respected by the judges and members of the bar. He had
many white clients. Both in India and South Africa, he found in 99 cases out of
100, justice was denied to Indians against Europeans and that made him say: "has
a single Englishman suffered the extreme penalty of the law for brutal murders
in India? Look at the trial of an English officer and the farcical punishment he
received for having deliberately tortured inoffensive Negroes."
In spite of observing rigid and making adverse remarks about
law, Gandhi prospered in his profession. In India he practice extended to 20
years. At the beginning he rented a house in a good locality and set up an
establishment befitting a rising barrister. He furnished it in European style.
On Sundays and holidays, he had a feast at his house. He kept an open house and
invited his close friends and subordinates to live with him. His office was six
miles from his house. for some months he rode a bicycle. Afterwards he walked to
the office. As Indians were not allowed to occupy any front have got special
permission to do so. He slowly tried to identify himself with the poor Indian
labourers and took to a simple life. At the age of forty when he was earning on
an average Rs. 4,000 a month, he gave up his practice and dedicated himself to
public work. He gave up all his possessions for the community, worked with his
hands and lived on farms.
Years later Gandhi condemned the high fees charges by lawyers
and barristers in India where the law courts are run most extravagantly. They
bear no relation to the poverty of the people. A lawyer can earn fifty thousand
rupees to one lakh per month. Gandhi said: " A legal practice is not a
speculative business. If we were not under the spell of the lawyers and law
courts, we would be leading a much happier life. The lawyer's profession teaches
immorality . perjured witnesses are ranges on either side, they sell their souls
for money". he realized that a radical change in the legal machinery was needed
to make justice pure and inexpensive. He himself took up the cases of the poor
without charging fees and whenever the case was connected with any public work,
he charges nothing beyond actual pocket expenses. When poor Indians settlers
were being ousted from the coolie locations by the municipality, Gandhi sided
with the tenants. He worked hard for each case but charged only Rs.150 per case.
out of 70 cases, one was lost . half of that income he donated to build a
In order to gain human rights for his countrymen, he preached
resistance against the government. He was put under arrest and was tried both in
South African and Indian Courts. He was sentenced to jail many times. In South
Africa, he had to stand handcuffed in the witness box of the sane court where he
practiced for ten years. After his first conviction in India, his name was
removed from the roll of barristers.
Gandhi declared non-co-operation with the courts of the
British Raj an advocated revival of panchayat. At the call of this law-breaker,
many eminent lawyers gave up their practice and joined the freedom movement.
In reply to an address presented by a Bar association, Gandhi
said that he had been disbarred by his own inn and had long forgotten his law.
He had been engaged more in breaking the laws than in interpreting them.