THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > Indian Opinion
19. 'Indian Opinion'
I propose to acquaint the reader with all the weapons, internal as well as external, employed in the Satyagraha struggle and now therefore proceed to introduce to him Indian Opinion, a weekly journal which is published in South Africa to this very day. The Credit for starting the first Indian-owned printing press in South Africa is due to a Gujarati gentleman, Shri Madanjit Vyavaharik. After he had conducted the press for a few years in the midst of difficulties, he thought of bringing out a newspaper too. He consulted the late Shri Mansukhlal Nazar and myself. The paper was issued from Durban. Shri Mansukhlal Nazar volunteered to act as unpaid editor. From the very first the paper was conducted at a loss. At last we decided to purchase a farm, to settle all the workers, who must constitute themselves into assort of commonwealth, upon it and publish the paper from the farm. The farm is selected for the purpose is situated on a beautiful hill thirteen miles from Durban. The nearest railway station is at a distance of three miles from the farm and is called Phoenix. The paper was and is called Indian Opinion. It was formerly published in English, Gujarati, Hindi and Tamil. But the Hindi and Tamil sections were eventually discontinued, as the burden they imposed upon us seemed to be excessive, we could not find Tamil and Hindi writers willing to settle upon the farm and could not exercise a check upon them. The paper was thus being published in English and Gujarati when the Satyagraha struggle commenced. Among the settlers on the farm were Gujaratis, North Indians and Tamilians as well as Englishmen. After the premature death of Mansukhlal Nazar, his place as editor was taken by an English friend, Herbert Kitchin. Then the post of editor was long filled by Mr. Henry S. L. Polak and during our incarceration, the late Rev. Joseph Doke also acted as editor. Through the medium of this paper we could we could very well disseminate the news of the week among the community. The English section kept those Indians informed about the movement who did not know Gujarati, and for Englishmen in India, England and South Africa, Indian Opinion served the purpose of a weekly newsletter. I believe that a struggle which chiefly relies upon internal strength can be carried on without a newspaper, but it is also my experience that we could not perhaps have educated the local Indian community, nor kept Indians all over the world in touch with the course of events in South Africa in any other way, with the same ease and success as through Indian Opinion, which therefore was certainly a most useful and potent weapon in our struggle.
As the community was transformed in course of and as a result of the struggle, so was Indian Opinion. In the beginning we used to accept advertisements for it, and also execute job work in the printing press. I observed that some of our best men had to be spared for this kind of work. If we did receive advertisements for publication, there was constant difficulty in deciding which to accept and which to refuse. Again one would be inclined to refuse an objectionable advertisement, and yet be constrained to accept it, say because the advertiser was a leading member of the community and might take it ill his advertisement was rejected. Some of the good workers had to be set apart for canvassing and realizing out standings from advertisers, not to speak of the flattery which advertisers claimed as their due. Moreover, the view commended itself, that if the paper was conducted not because it yielded profit but purely with a view to service, the service should not be imposed upon the community by force but should be rendered only if the community wished. And the clearest proof of such wish would be forthcoming if they became subscribers in sufficiently large members to make the paper self-supporting. Finally it seemed that if was in every way better for all concerned that we should approach the generality of the community and explain to them the duty of keeping their newspaper going rather than set about to induce a few traders to place their advertisements with us in the name of service. On all these grounds we stopped advertisements in the paper with the gratifying result that those who were at first engrossed in the advertisement department could now devote their labours to improving the paper. The community realized at once their proprietorship of Indian Opinion and their consequent responsibility for maintaining it. The workers were relieved of all anxiety in that respect. Their only care now was to put their best work into the paper so long as the community wanted it, and they were not only not ashamed of requesting and Indian to subscribe to Indian Opinion, but thought it even their duty to do so. A change came over the internal strength and the character of the paper, and it became a force to reckon with. The number of subscribes which generally ranged between twelve and fifteen hundred increased day by day. The rates of subscription had to be raised and yet when the struggle was at its height, there were as many as 3,500 subscribers. The number of Indians who could read Indian Opinion in South Africa was at the outside 20,000 and therefore a circulation of over three thousand copies may be held to be quite satisfactory. The community had made the paper their own to such an extent, that if copies did not reach Johannesburg at the expected time, I would be flooded with complaints should it. The paper generally reached Johannesburg on Sunday morning. I know of a many, whose first occupation after they received the paper would be to read the Gujarati section through from beginning to end. One of the company would read it, and the rest would surround him to listen. Not all who wanted to read the paper could afford to subscribe to it by themselves and some of them would therefore club together for the purpose.
Just as we stopped advertisements in the paper, we ceased to take job work in the press, and for nearly the same reasons. Compositors had now some time to spare, which was utilized in the publication of books. As here too there was no intention of reaping profits and as the books were printed only to help the struggle forward, they command good sales. Thus both paper and the press a made their contribution to the struggle, and as Satyagraha gradually took root in the community, there was clearly visible a corresponding moral amelioration of the paper as well as of the press from the standpoint of Satyagraha.