Gandhiji and His South African Ordeal – Essay
Gandhi refused to do so. This act of defiance got good publicity in newspapers. After a week, Gandhi was asked to go to Pretoria to represent his client in the court.
He was booked in the first class compartment. At Maritzburg, the capital of Natal, he was asked to change the compartment and on refusal to do so, he was forcibly ejected and thrown out on the platform.
But more insults were in store for Gandhi. He left Maritzburg by the evening train in a reserved berth for Charlestown from where he had to go by a stagecoach to Standerton by evening.
Gandhi was asked to sit besides the coachman and the leader of the coach sat inside with white passengers.
After some time, he was asked to sit on the footboard so that the leader could sit besides the coachman and smoke. Gandhi refused.
The leader beat him and tried to pull him down. The co-passengers intervened and Gandhi remained where he was.
Next day, he reached Johannesburg in another coach. On reaching Johannesburg, he went straight to Grand Hotel, but there was no vacancy apparently because he was a coolie.
The bitter experience changed the life of Gandhi for he had resolved to fight injustice with all his might.
At Pretoria he took the help of an influential businessman Tyeb Haji Khan Muhammad and called a meeting of the Indians to discuss their problems and suggested the formation of an association to make representations to the authorities concerned.
He offered to teach English to all those who so wanted and to devote time for the association.
The association so formed used to hold monthly meetings. Gandhi became more closely associated with Indians and their problems.
Gandhi succeeded in convincing Dada Abdulla (Gandhi’s client who brought him to South Africa) and his adversary Type Seth to settle their case through arbitration.
This proved to be a great success for Gandhi and his stock as a lawyer went up. In the meantime, he emerged as a leading figure among the Indians to fight for their legitimate rights.
By the end of 1893, Gandhi went back to Durban en route to India. He had come to know of a law that was likely to be introduced to disfranchise Indians. He urged the Indians to protest.
He was persuaded to cancel his return to India, to which he agreed and promised to fight against this Bill without any professional fee.
A petition was drafted and sent to the South African legislature on June 28, 1894. A large number of copies of the petition were distributed.
Newspapers also gave wide publicity, and a large number of Indians participated in the movement. The Bill was however passed and became a law.
Gandhi sent another petition to Lord Ripon, Secretary of Colonies in London. 10,000 Indians signed this petition.
Gandhi kept in touch with what was going on in India. He kept in touch with Naoroji who presided over the Lahore Congress in 1893 and regularly informed him of the situation in South Africa and the work he was doing.
On August 22, 1894, the Natal Congress was formed. Natal Congress met every month. In India, Gandhi’s work got wide publicity and the Indian National Congress held in Madras in 1894 under Alfred Webb as its President, resolved:
This Congress earnestly entreats Her Majesty’s Government to grant the prayer of Her Majesty’s Indian subjects, residents in South African Colonies, by vetoing the bill of the colonial government to defranchise them.
Lord Ripon disallowed the Defranchising bill. Thus the petitioner Gandhi succeeded.