Updated: June 7, 2018 1:01:50 pm
Today, June 7, marks 125 years of Mahatma Gandhi’s first act of civil disobedience, which eventually led to the formulation of his Satyagraha principles of peaceful resistance against the oppressive British Raj. On this very day in 1893, Gandhi was evicted from a train in South Africa’s Pietermaritzburg station because the compartment he was in was reserved for “whites only”.
This year, the Pietermaritzburg station will sport a Khadi look with trains draped in hand-spun fabric synonymous with Gandhi. The commemoration will continue over the next two days with events spearheaded by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. These include a youth workshop on Gandhi, a special train ride with an engine and coaches bedecked with 400 metres of khadi cloth brought in from India, and a banquet at which top politicians will speak at the local City Hall, which will be lit up in the colours of the Indian flag.
On the night of June 7, 1893, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a young lawyer then, was thrown off the train’s first class “whites-only” compartment at Pietermaritzburg station in South Africa for refusing to give up his seat. A white man had objected to Gandhi travelling in the first class coach in spite of the latter possessing a valid ticket. When Gandhi refused to move to the rear end of the train, he was thrown out. He had stayed at the station that night shivering in cold and the bitter incident had played a major role in Gandhi’s decision to stay on in South Africa and fight the racial discrimination being faced by Indians there. His doctrine of Satyagraha subsequently took shape during Gandhi’s stay in South Africa.
The term ‘Satyagraha’ is derived from ‘satya’ (truth) and ‘agraha’ (insistence or truth-force) with its practitioners being called Satyagrahis. It was his newspaper weekly ‘India Opinion’ through which the word Satyagraha was coined. A competition was conducted inviting readers to suggest a name for the passive resistance campaigns.
During his time in South Africa, Gandhi and other satyagrahis went on peaceful marches and presented themselves for arrest against unjust laws. This became one of the great political tools of the 20th century and even influenced civil rights movement in the United States and America.
Mahatma Gandhi was sentenced to four terms imprisonment in South Africa during his Satyagraha campaigns.
An important event in the Satyagraha movement took place on August 16, 1908, when Gandhi encouraged people to burn their identity documents. More than 2,000 documents were burned outside the Hamidia Mosque in Jennings Street, Fordsburg.
Another pivotal campaign in South Africa was initiated in 1913 to protest against a £3 tax imposed on ex-indentured Indians as the state had declared Hindu and Muslim marriages invalid.
When Gandhi was leaving South Africa in 1914, he described Satyagraha as ‘perhaps the mightiest instrument on earth’.
The year 2018 is an important year for India-South Africa relations as it marks 25 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations, the 125th anniversary of the Pietermaritzburg railway station incident and the 100th birth centenary of South African iconic leader, Nelson Mandela.
(With Inputs from PTI)
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