June 7th, 1893 – The Start of Gandhi’s Rebellion

Today-In-History

On June 7th, 1893 Mohandas Gandhi committed his first act of civil disobedienceGandhi was 24 when he arrived in South Africa to work as a legal representative for the Muslim Indian Traders based in the city of Pretoria. He spent 21 years in South Africa, where he developed his political views, ethics and political leadership skills.

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Born in India and educated in England, Gandhi traveled to South Africa in early 1893 to practice law under a one-year contract. Settling in Natal, he was subjected to racism and South African laws that restricted the rights of Indian laborers. Gandhi later recalled one such incident, in which he was removed from a first-class railway compartment and thrown off a train, as his moment of truth. From thereon, he decided to fight injustice and defend his rights as an Indian and a man.

mohandas-ghandi-attorney-at-law-c-1893Indians in South Africa were led by wealthy Muslims, who employed Gandhi as a lawyer, and by impoverished Hindu indentured laborers with very limited rights. Gandhi considered them all to be Indians, taking a lifetime view that “Indianness” transcended religion and caste. He believed he could bridge historic differences, especially regarding religion, and he took that belief back to India where he tried to implement it. The South African experience exposed handicaps to Gandhi that he had not known about. He realised he was out of contact with the enormous complexities of religious and cultural life in India, and believed he understood India by getting to know and leading Indians in South Africa.

In South Africa, Gandhi faced the discrimination directed at all colored people. Following the train incident at Pietermaritzburg, he protested and was allowed on first class the next day. Travelling farther on by stagecoach, he was beaten by a driver for refusing to move to make room for a European passenger. He suffered other hardships on the journey as well, including being barred from several hotels. In another incident, the magistrate of a Durban court ordered Gandhi to remove his turban, which he refused to do.

When his contract expired, he spontaneously decided to remain in South Africa and launch a campaign against legislation that would deprive Indians of the right to vote. He formed the Natal Indian Congress and drew international attention to the plight of Indians in South Africa. Gandhi extended his original period of stay in South Africa to assist Indians in opposing a bill to deny them the right to vote. He asked Joseph Chamberlain, the British Colonial Secretary, to reconsider his position on this bill. Though unable to halt the bill’s passage, his campaign was successful in drawing attention to the grievances of Indians in South Africa.

These events were a turning point in Gandhi’s life and shaped his social activism and awakened him to social injustice. After witnessing racism, prejudice and injustice against Indians in South Africa, Gandhi began to question his place in society and his people’s standing in the British Empire.


 

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