You are here:
ONLINE BOOKS > BAHUROOPI GANDHI > General
General
South Africa made a man of Gandhi.
He reached Durban at the age of 23. Till then, he was ashy, nervous young man. The moment he landed on South African soil, he noticed how the Indians, the coloured people, were looked down upon by the whites. The Indians were called "coolies " by them.
On the third day of his arrival , he visited the Durban court and was ordered to take off his turban to show respect to the magistrate. Gandhi felt insulted, refused to do so and left the court.
after a week, he had to go to another town by train. He bought a first-class ticket and sat in a first-class compartment. At the next station, he was ordered to occupy a third-class compartment by a ticket checker. When Gandhi tried to prove that he had a right to travel first, he was forcibly dragged down from the train. Gandhi was shaken by this insult. Seated alone in a dark waiting room, he was lost in thought. What should he do? Should he leave this country where Indians were ill-treated or should he fight for his rigts?The honour of his country was at stake. He resolved to stay on. That fateful night decided the future course of his action. The next lap of the journey Gandhi had to cover by a stage-coach. He was not allowed to sit inside the coach. He sat beside the coachman. Soon after, he was ordered to vacate that seat and to sit on a sack cloth spread on the footboard. Gandhi refused to leave his seat and was mercilessly beaten. On reaching the town, he asked for a room in a hotel and that was refused. He spent the night in the shop of an Indian friend who sympathized with Gandhi, but found nothing un usual in this ill-treatment. Some such incident took place every day in that country. The Indians were used to it. They came to South Africa to earn money and they did that at the cost of their self-respect. Gandhi was shocked at their slave mentality. He sent complaints to the newspapers, to the railway and coach-service authorities.
In a short time,  Gandhi learnt that the Indians were not permitted to walk over the footpaths, to move about after 9p.m. or to occupy the front seats in a tram-car. There were particular "coolie" locations to house them. Gandhi himself  was once kicked off from the footpath by a sentry and was labeled "coolie barrister". Some of his white friends wanted to secure for him permission to enjoy special privileges but Gandhi politely refused to avail himself of that offer. He was ken on gaining a few personal advantages , but to root out the colour bar. He did not fret in shame , nor did he try to get the offenders punished.
He collected all information about the disadvantages suffered by the Indian settlers and by every Indian living in that town. Within a week, he called a public meeting and told the Indians to change their way of life and to be honest, to form clean habits and to forget differences of caste, creed and provincialism. Not a word blaming the whites was uttered by him. He wanted his countrymen to understand that if their behavior was correct, they could then demand human rights. He kept in touch with them and patiently listened to their tales of woe.
A year later, a bill was moved to deprive the Indians the little right of vote they had. Gandhi advised them to oppose it. He enrolled volunteers, made Christian youths, Muslim and Parsi merchants and Hindu clerks work for their common welfare. Under his lead, some copied the note of protest drafted by him, some copied the note of protest drafted by him, some donated money and others reached this message of awakening to hundreds living far away from the town. In a month's time, funds were raised and 10, 000 signatures of protest were secured. Printed copies of the protest were sent to the Governor and Premier of Natal, to the Viceroy of India, to Queen Victoria and to the newspapers of Natal, India and England. The wrong done to the Indians in South Africa was given wide publicity. The bill was passed, the Indians gained no rights, but they learnt to shed their apathy and timidity, to challenge the authority of the Government in passing an unjust law. Gandhi soon founded the Natal Indian Congress for the Indians, laid rules for its working and himself collected donations from the members.
During his 20 years' stay in South Africa, Gandhi led his people in opposing many such Black Acts. One exacted an annual tax of Rs. 40 from every adult Indian, another refused to accept marriages performed in India as legally valid, a third demanded every Indian to carry a certificate contaminating ten finger prints. Finger prints are generally taken from criminals. In protest, Gandhi wrote and sent hundreds of letters, appeals and petitions to scores of men whose authority counted. He also met important Government officials . When all agitation through the press and the platform failed, Gandhi forged the new weapon of satyagraha non-violent resistance to evil.
Gandhi now asked the Indians to boycott registration of finger prints. He told them to get ready for a long non-violent fight to march to jail, if need be, to die, but not to submit to that law. His slogan was; "I want you to shed the fear of death. Voluntary suffering is the quickest and best remedy for removal of injustices." He warned them that they would not be able to reach their goal by dependending on him but by understanding and following the programme suggested by him. His instructions were explained to the people in Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil and Telugu. His army took a vow to fight the battle with perfect non-violence. Uneducated men in the street , artisans, hawkers, miners, merchants and women joined the army. Gandhi led on foot an unarmed, peaceful, disciplined army of 5000. He walked with his caravan, slept with it under the sky, shared the waterish dal or half-cooked rice with all. He tended the sick, cheered up the stragglers, cooked and served food to them all. His physical strength matched with his mental fortitude. About 2,500 persons were penalized with hard labour, 1,000 were absolutely ruined, fed died. With their leader Gandhi, merchants, used to a life of luxury, broke stones or did sweeper's work in jail. Kasturba too joined the satyagraha and was jailed.
In England, sympathy was shown for Gandhi's campaign. In India, at the Congress sessions, South African problem was discussed. Sir Wedderburn, an Englishman who became the President of the Congress, said:" A good example of what may be achieved by Hindu and Muslims standing shoulder to shoulder in service of India is supplied by the latest news from south Africa. Thanks to the determined stand taken by the Indians under the splendid generalship of Mr. Gandhi. " Gandhi needed money for meeting a daily expense of Rs. 3, 200, when he led the march. An appeal for funds was made in India. Women tore gold bangles and rings from their persons, princes and businessmen gave thousands of rupees. Tagore sent donation collected by him. The long-drawn-out battle ended in a compromise favorable to the Indians. Gandhi was ever ready to make a compromise, when self respect was not at stake.
There were many leaders in India, yet after his return to India, harassed people peasants and labourers in distress sought Gandhi's help. Through his efforts, the century old enforced plantation of indigo in Champaran was annulled, the indenture system was abolished. Gandhi encouraged the people to remedy a specific local grievance themselves. All such agitations gained publicity and drew attention of the whole of India.
Gandhi used the same tactics, whenever he launched a mass movement in India. Apart from guiding the peasants of Champaran, Kheda and Bardoli, he led generalship in India. He toured all over India and studied all details of a problem in hand.
He interviews thousands of persons and worked 18to 20 hours a day for collecting information from the people involved in a fight with Government. He spoke in thousands of public meetings and laid rules for discipline. Gandhi justified his choice of non-violence saying: " There is another remedy before the country drawing of the sword. If that was possible, India would not have listened to the gospel of non-violence. You can not get swaraj by speeches and processions, the will to do should not be lacking. We want to become brave soldiers who do not run away. You should be ready to sacrifice your own lives. To attain this, manly power is necessary. Instead of killing, if necessary, be killed. Why should it be easy to risk death in the act of killing and almost superhuman to do so in the act of sparing life? The killing of others is not bravery. Die for your honour and freedom."
Women, children and aged persons could form his non-violent army. The children's squad was known as Vanar Sena. When there was any outbreak of violence, Gandhi suspended satyagraha. He loathed secrecy. He always openly announced his future moves. He wanted the people to banish anger, hatred and vengeance from their breast.
This hard task-master never raised false hopes in his men and told his soldiers how they would have to face lathi-charges and bullets, court jail and mount gallows without raising their hands in protest. Their property could be forfeited. His mantra of "Do or Die" meant suffering and that suffering, he knew , would melt the heart of the opponent.
Along with his call for bonfire of foreign cloth, non-payment of land-tax, salt-making and boycott of Government schools, colleges an law courts, he asked the people to do constructive work. He wanted them to spin and weave, to revive village panchayats and to establish national schools and colleges. His bid to were set free. The awakening of the masses was a great gain. His march to Dandi had a magic spell. Hundreds of women came out of purdah to collect natural salt and showed they could serve the country on equal terms with men. They also took part in picketing foreign cloth shops and liquor shops. For the first time in the political history of India, Gandhi used non-violent non-co-operation on amass scale.
Gandhi often used war terminology to describe his non-violent fights: " I am out for a battle. Just as an Afridi cannot do without his rifle, even so, everyone of you non-violent soldiers, should not be able to do without your spinning. Yarn balls ate your lead, the spinning wheel is your gun. Independence will protected not by guns, but by the bullets in the shape of cones of handspun yarn... You attack the Dharasana Salt works and it will be known as the Battle of Dharasana." The destructive weapons of violent war were discarded but all the soldierly virtues bravery, chivalry, patriotism, endurance and self-sacrifice were there.
He preferred violence to cowardice, but attached greater importance to soul-force than to brute force. When asked, " Has not the atom bomb shaken your faith in non-violence", Gandhi replied : " Nor only it has done so, but it has clearly shown to me that in the world. Before it the atom bomb is of no effect." He asserted that the freedom of India won non-violently would demonstrate to all the exploited races of the earth that their freedom was very near.