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The Birth of Satyagraha
"I mentioned the name of Gokhale a little while ago. He was one of the most important Indian leaders of those times. He had a great affection for Gandhiji and looked upon him as a younger brother. On his advice Gandhiji decided to set up practice again in Bombay. He had hardly settled down to work, when cable after cable came asking him to return to South Africa. The Indians there wanted him to come and place their grievances before Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, the British Minister for Colonies, then visiting Africa, and try to have them redressed. Gandhiji saw how important this task was and felt that he must go.
Struggle for Justice in South Africa
He immediately left for South Africa. On reaching there, he gave up practicing as a lawyer, though it meant giving up a good income, and started a newspaper in which he could make known the needs and difficulties of the Indian community. There was an outbreak of plague in the country, and Gandhiji set out nursing the sick and the helpless. And with renewed vigour he worked to win for Indians equal rights with Britishers. He also went on fasts and penances in order to purify his inner self; he carefully studied the Gita22and even learnt by heart thirteen chapters of this great book. He now fully believed that one could realize God only by giving up pomp and luxury.
Gandhiji had come to believe that all men were equal, and that there could be no distinction between the rich and the poor. He decided to spend his time with the poor and the common people. So he settled in a small village, from where he brought out his paper, and lived humbly and simply with the villagers. His way of life impressed his English friends very deeply and three of them even came to live with him in this small colony.
Those were days in Africa when a number of laws were being passed against the Asians. Under Gandhiji's advice and leadership, the Indians decided to resist those laws by offering satyagraha.23 This was his main weapon in the non-violent struggle against injustice and foreign rule. With rare courage and capacity for suffering, peacefully and non-violently, the Indians in South Africa faced the batons and the bullets of their white rulers. They went to jail willingly and cheerfully: Gandhiji was himself arrested for disobeying the law and sent to jail in 1908. This was his first imprisonment, for as you know, Hari, later on in his life he was arrested and sentenced to imprisonment many times. He had hardly served his sentence for twenty days, when the Prime Minister, General Smuts, called him to Pretoria, to discuss terms for an agreement. But Gandhiji replied that he would discuss the terms of settlement only after the Government had released all those who had been sent to jail along with him. All his companions were at once set free; a huge meeting of the Indians was held at the mosque in Johannesburg and it was unanimously decided to open negotiations for a settlement with the Government. A few fiery Pathans,24 however, did not like the idea of coming to terms with the Government. One of them even assaulted Gandhiji and injured him seriously on the head."
"But, mother, didn't Gandhiji get that Pathan arrested and punished ?"
"Not at all, my child. Gandhiji refused to take any action against him. He believed that his suffering would ultimately move even his enemies. And he was not wrong. For, when the Pathan came to know of Gandhiji's large-heartedness, he was filled with sorrow. He came to ask for his forgiveness and became one of his most loyal friends and supporters ever after.
Then came 1914. On the 4th of August, England declared war against Germany. It dragged in almost all the countries of the world. It became a world war. Gandhiji felt that at such a time his country would need his services. He first went to London, and after staying there for a short while, he returned to India. He arrived in Bombay on the 9th of January, 1915, dressed in a Kathiawari coat, a puggaree (headgear) and a dhoti of Indian mill-made cloth."
"I am sure he must have looked very smart in those clothes. I wonder why and when he gave up that dress."
"Quite so, my child. He did look very smart in those clothes. But in 1919 he realized that millions of his countrymen could not afford even a shirt, much less a coat. And so he himself took to wearing only what the poorest of his countrymen used to wear-namely, a short dhoti, and a chadar. And that is why you could never see him dressed in a shirt or a jacket."
22.One of the most important Hindu holy books
24.Persons from the north western frontier (now in Pakistan)