Article 1-Gandhi’s Work in South Africa

South Africa’s  was a learning phase for Mahatma Gandhi ; there he tested  his tools of Satyagraha and Non Violence which were subsequently used  by him  in India  in  ousting the Britishers from the country  . A brief recap  of this great man’s birth, family   etc would not be out of place  to set the context for this article whose main topic is Gandhi’s Period in  South Africa .

Gandhi was  born on 2nd October  1869 to Karamchand Gandhi  as father and Putlibai  as mother , in Porbandar . Porbandar at that time was a princely state ; presently it is a district in the state of Gujarat . Putlibai was the 4th wife of his father Karamchand . He was named as  Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi . He had two real brothers , both elder to him Karsandas ,  Laxmidas and one real sister  Raliatbehn .  His father was a  Dewan ( Chief Minister  ) in the princely  court of Rajkot . The family had been associated with the Rajkot Court for many generations and thus  were very well off  and also very well known . In due course of time ,  Laxmidas got attached to Rajkot Court and soon became an important member of administration .   He sent Mohandas to London to study bar at law . Gandhi sailed  to England in September 1888 to pursue studies in law  and  returned to India as a barrister after three years in July 1891 . Meanwhile he lost his mother Putlibai in his absence. Gandhi  started his legal career not as a lawyer pleading court cases  but  behind the scene drafting petitions for litigants .   Gandhi  married  Kasturba at an early age of thirteen years which means he was married when he had not even completed his school level studies .   Kasturba was a simple lady fully devoted to religion and family .  Mohandas and Kasturba had four sons ;  Harilal , Manilal were born in India and Ramdas,  Devdas were born   in South Africa .


Britishers started reaching South Africa in 18th century . In the home country , these people had no standing , were of low means ; so they fanned out in different countries of Asia , Africa and South America to improve their lot . In South Africa they wanted to become rich by mining , agriculture which offered high returns ;  however they failed to get the co-operation of local people deployed as laborers ;  as a result got highly frustrated .  They were badly in search of  alternative to the natives in order to  grow their business .  In 1851 , in a meeting  of prominent ,  rich and influential   Britishers , a  resolution was passed to urge the British govt to permit import of laborers from India;  It was argued that such an arrangement of laborers from India was working fine in Mauritius –  another British colony .  By then ,  Britishers had full control over India ; 1st  War of Independence was suppressed in 1857 and rule of India was transferred from East India Company  to the  Queen of England . As a result, after 9 years of passing the resolution of importing laborers  from India  ,  the first ship named  Turo carrying nearly 350 Indian laborers reached Natal , a prominent town in South Africa , on 16th Nov 1860 .  The group included men , women and few children also . Most of these  people were  starving in India and to improve their condition , they fell in trap of the white people. These Indians were promised good life under an  agreement which was mostly in favour of the white people .  Imagine sea journey of thousands of miles some  160 years ago ; many would die enroute  due to  dysentery,  cholera and sickness . There was hardly any care , medical help on board the ship  .  The dead  used to be  thrown in sea unceremoniously .

When these laborers reached the shore ,  It was a very strange scene ; no body knew each other , nor the  language . The interpretation was being done through the agent who accompanied the ship from India and who had picked up some Hindi . The worst was ,  they were traded ,  sold and purchased by the interested European business men .  They  were called “coolies” put in huts called “barakas” on  huge farms  of the British masters  . The irony was they would not know European language to communicate with the masters nor did they know the language of other Indians ( they were from different states )  in the group to share their grief . The language of the British master  was severe  physical punishment  in full view of others  ; The word “No”  was not acceptable by the master  which sometimes included to go in to the sea in dead of  night in a storm ;  the order had to complied , come what may .

It is in this prevailing  social conditions ,  Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 18 93 on the assurance and advice of  Laxmidas of a lucrative career . Laxmidas had arranged him a job initially for one year at an annual salary of 105 British pounds  in Abdulla Shipping company , owned by Zaveri Abdullah .  ( 150 pounds annual salary is a  joke in present scenario  but remember it was 160 years back ) .  Gandhi was full of conflicting thoughts ; whether the decision to come so far across seven seas , for a career in law , was worth the pain , leaving behind wife and children . He was skeptical of his own performance as a barrister  in a distant land ; the only silver lining was that he knew the British people, their culture , their legal system  because of his studies in  London . He was received at Natal by Karim Abdullah , brother of Zaveri Abdullah ,  Rustam Ji , a Parsi businessman  and one French businessman  Mr Marshal Ledyu . Abdullah and Co had grown to a reasonably big size and Karim Abdullah used to enjoy  a name in business circles and also among Indians . Rustam Ji was also equally popular .

Gandhi was settling and making himself familiar with the company  , society , British rules by going around , by talking to local Indians .  Gandhi had his first brush with British Govt when one day Seth Abdullah  took him to a court in Durban to get a feel of legal system in South Africa .  Gandhi was excited; he hoped to join the mainstream from now onwards. He put on English dress-  coat , trouser , a bow but put Pheta ( Gujrati turban ) instead of English hat so as to give an indication that he was basically an Indian and he had no intention to merge his personality with the white people  . On reaching the court , Gandhi and Seth Abdullah sat on some vacant chairs and were listening the court proceedings . Magistrate was not comfortable with the Pheta of Gandhi ; he was intermittently  looking at him . Finally magistrate momentarily stopped the proceedings and directed  Gandhi to remove the Pheta as per the court  norms . Gandhi was very clear in his mind that he would protect his identity at any cost .  He  addressed the  Magistrate that “This is  Pheta , my  identity , my honor and I would not like to remove it “ and hurriedly  came out of the court .

Gandhi could not digest this insult by the white magistrate ; that night he could not sleep ; he got up in mid of night and prepared a note on the court incident emphasizing his right to retain his personal and national identity ; next day he sent the news item to all leading newspapers . To his utter surprise , it was received well by the press and it appeared in almost all leading papers , giving both favorable and unfavorable comments . One newspaper gave the heading “ Unwelcomed Visitor “ which was very catchy and the news item became a topic of public discussion in Durban .  Gandhi’s joy knew  no bounds ; his purpose was served . He got the desired publicity .  Overnight he had become a hero ; the  “Unwelcomed  Visitor”  had stirred the black and white society . This was a pebble – “  Kankar “ in the ocean which would turn in to a storm against Britishers in due course of time .



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