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39. The Advent of Satyagraha
On return from duty in connection with the Zulu ‘Rebellion’ I met the friends at Phoenix and reached Johannesburg. Here I read with deep horror the draft Ordinance published in the Transvaal Government Gazette Extraordinary of August 22, 1906. It meant absolute ruin for Indians in South Africa.
Under it every Indian, man, woman or child of eight years or upwards, entitled to reside in the Transvaal, must register his or her name with the Registrar of Asiatics and take out a certificate of registration. The applicants for registration must surrender their old permits to the Registrar and state in their applications their name, residence, caste, age etc. The Registrar was to note down important marks of identification upon the applicant's person, and take his finger and thumb impressions. Every Indian who failed thus to apply for registration before a certain date was to give up his right of residence in the Transvaal. Failure to apply would be held to be an offence in law for which a person could be fined, sent to prison or even sent away from the country. Even a person walking on public thorough-fares could be required to produce his certificate. Police officers could enter private houses in order to inspect certificates. I have never known legislation of this nature being directed against free men in any part of the world.
The next day there was held a small meeting of the leading Indians to whom I explained the Ordinance word by word. It shocked them as it had shocked me. All present realized the seriousness of the situation and resolved to hold a public meeting.
The meeting was duly held on September 11, 1906. The most important among the resolutions passed by the meeting was the famous Fourth Resolution, by which the Indians solemnly determined not to submit to the Ordinance in the event of its becoming law in the teeth of their opposition, and to suffer all the penalties attaching to such non-submission.
None of us knew what name to give to our movement. Shri Maganlal Gandhi suggested the word ‘Sadagraha’ meaning ‘firmness in a good cause'. I liked the word, but it did not fully represent the whole idea I wished it to convey. I therefore corrected it to ‘Satyagraha’. Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) brings about and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement ‘Satyagraha’, that is to say, the force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase ‘passive resistance’, in connection with it.