Mahatma Gandhi – The shy boy who became a game changer (P2)

 

This is the 2nd of a two-part series about Mahatma Gandhi.

In the 1st part we left him when, in April 1893, he boarded a boat leaving Bombay to Durban, South Africa.

THE “COOLIE BARRISTER” FROM ABROAD

As the ship arrived at the quay – in May 1893 – and I watched the people coming on board to meet their friends, I observed that the Indians were not held with much respect.” [1] Something that surprised Gandhi. His South-African contact; Abdulla Sheth, would have another surprise for him too. “Sheth was practically unlettered, but he had a rich fund of experience. (…) The Indians held him in high esteem. His firm (Dada Abudulla & Co) was then the biggest, or at any rate one of the biggest, of the Indian firms (in South Africa).” [2] More importantly, he informed Gandhi that he had no particular work to give him. Yet, Sheth thought that Mohandas could still be useful as a middle man or channel of communication between the two Dada’s branches; in India and South Africa.

At the time, the legal case for which the Indian branch had sent Gandhi was held in Transvaal, by a group of European lawyers Dada Abdulla & Co had already hired. Transvaal was one of four regions that covered the South African territory back then. Pretoria and Johannesburg were Transvaal’s most important cities. Natal – where Durban was located, Orange Free State – where people known as Boers mostly lived, and Cape Colony – where Capetown was located, were the three other regions. When Gandhi arrived in Durban (Natal), in 1893, all four regions were considered British colonies.

If there was no immediate work for Gandhi, what could he do of his time? After all, he had agreed for a full year contract. A few days after his arrival, Sheth took Gandhi to the Durban court. There, he introduced Mohandas to different people and asked him to sit next to one of Dada’s lawyers during a cause debated that day. After a small argument with the judge about his turban, Gandhi was informed of the ways and customs in South Africa. Indians weren’t treated the same as citizens of European (British) background. As Mohandas described it in his autobiography “The Indians were divided into different groups. The ‘Arabs’ (e.g. Musulman merchants), the ‘Hindu’, the ‘Parsi‘ (or Persians) and by far the largest group the ‘Indentured labourers’ – those who went to Natal on an agreement to serve for five (5) years. (…). The other three classes (Arabs, Hindu and Parsi) had none but business relations with this class (e.g. the indentured). Englishmen called them ‘coolies’ and as the majority of Indians belonged to the laboring class, all Indians were called ‘coolies’. (…) I was hence known as a ‘coolie barrister’ (e.g. coolie lawyer).” [3]

A few days after discovering that different Indian reality, Gandhi was offered to go to Pretoria (in Transvaal). The reason being that Dada’s lawyers informed Abdulla Sheth that he or a representative of his would be needed there to help with the case preparations for the trial. Mohandas accepted the offer. The case was about an alleged fraudulent use of accounting by one of Dada’s partners. Knowing he had hard times learning math as a kid, Gandhi doubled the efforts to understand the ABC’s of accounting. Once he felt ready, he told Abdulla and both agreed he should be leaving for Pretoria.

ON HIS WAY TO PRETORIA

Mohandas had been in Durban for about a month when, on June 7th 1893, he boarded the Durban-Charlestown train, with a first-class ticket in his hand. The itinerary from Durban to Pretoria was usually split in four. The first part would be spent on the Durban-Charlestown’s train. The second stretch would be made riding on the Charlestown-Standerton’s stagecoach. The third, on the Standerton-Johannesburg’s coach. As for the fourth and last one, was made on the Johannesburg-Pretoria’s train.

That night (of June 7th), the train reached Pietermaritzburg; the capital of Natal and a stop along the way to Charlestown. As usual, all first class passengers were asked if they wanted a bed for the night. Gandhi told a train servant that he didn’t need one but during all that moving-around, a passenger saw Mohandas and realized he was a “colored man”. Sometime after, the same passenger came back with two railways officials. They wanted Gandhi to move back to the third compartment, where all the “colored passengers” were seated. Even if he protested and shown them his first-class ticket, the officials refused to let him stay where he was. “You must leave this compartment, or else I shall have to call a police constable to push you out” said one of the officials. Gandhi answered back, “Yes you may. I refuse to get out voluntarily.” A police officer came. He took Mohandas by the hand and pushed him out of the train. His luggages were taken out too. [4] Soon after, the train left the station, leaving Gandhi on the dock.

The problem wasn’t that Mohandas sat in a first-class compartment with a second-class ticket. It wasn’t that he didn’t wear the proper clothes – as his usual attire at the time was an English suit, shirt and tie. It wasn’t because he had been disrespectful in any manners with the other passengers – nobody had made a complaint about him on that. Gandhi was prevented to go where he wanted – on terms that were good for anyone else in that train compartment – because of his skin color.

What had just happened didn’t leave Mohandas indifferent. Seated in the train station, he began to think about it. “Should I fight for my rights or go back to India, or should I go on to Pretoria without minding the insults, and return to India after finishing the case? [5] The next morning (on June 8th), Gandhi had made his mind, and sent a long telegram to let Abdullah Sheth and the general manager of the railway. He wanted them to know what took place on the train.

Mohandas clearly understood that his train ejection was actually “only a symptom of the deep disease of color prejudice”, as he later wrote. [6] That event and realizing what it was about would prove to be a defining moment in Gandhi’s life. Even more after what was to come.

After spending the day in Pietermaritzburg, meeting with local Indian merchants and listening to their own hardships with the authorities, Mohandas boarded the next train to Charlestown. Among other things, the merchants told Gandhi that “Indians travelling first or second class had to expect trouble from railway officials and white passengers.” [7] He had experienced that first hand the night before, but nothing happened this time.

Charlestown was reached the next morning, June 9th. Gandhi had his stagecoach ticket at hand. When the coach agent saw him, though, he said “Your ticket is cancelled.” Mohandas replied but as he discovered, the reason behind the refusal was that “passengers had to be accommodated inside the coach, but as I was regarded as a “coolie” and looked like a stranger, it would be proper, thought the leader; as the white man in charge of the coach was called, not to seat me with the white passengers.” [8] So, instead of being given a seat inside the coach, as the ticket allowed him to, Mohandas was told to sit beside the coach’s driver. The leader usually sat there during a trip but this time, he’d sit inside the coach with the other white passengers. It wouldn’t stop there. As Gandhi recalls in his autobiography, “at about three o’clock (in the afternoon) the coach reached Parderkop. Now the leader desired to sit where I was seated, as he wanted to smoke and possibly to have some fresh air. So he took a piece of dirty sackcloth from the driver, spread it on the footboard and, addressing me said, ‘Sami, you sit on this, I want to sit near the driver.’ The insult was more than I could bear.“ [9] In fear and trembling, Gandhi voiced his disbelief and frustration. The leader then came onto him and physically tried to get him off the coach. As some passengers started to shout their disapproval, the leader finally let go of Mohandas. The coach finally took the road back to Standerton after Gandhi took a seat inside. When it got to its destination for the night, Gandhi was able to meet with some India contacts of Adbulla Sheth. Again, Mohandas sent a letter to the coach company’s agent to complaint about what had happened. In his reply, the agent assured Gandhi that he shouldn’t expect any trouble the next morning, as different staff would be in charge of the Standerton-Johannesburg coach.

When Mohandas finally reached Johannesburg, on June 10th, he couldn’t immediately meet with his contact there. So he went to get a hotel room for the night. Room he was denied. “How ever did you expect to be admitted to a hotel?” an Indian man asked Gandhi, later that night. “Why not?” answered back Mohandas. “You will come to know after you stayed here a few days’ said he, ‘only we can live in a land like this, because for making money, we do not mind pocketing insults, and here we are.” [10] Gandhi’s new friend then narrated him the story and different hardships of Indians in South Africa. Being told that he couldn’t expect to make it to Pretoria in the 1st class compartment – as the situation for Indians was worst in Transvaal than Natal – Mohandas got a copy of the railway company’s regulations. There was a loophole in it. “The language of the old Transvaal enactments was not very exact or precise; that of the railway regulations was even less.” [11] It wouldn’t be the last time that Gandhi used his analytical talent and legal background to find loopholes or flaws in regulations or laws. It actually became very helpful.

This new train ride from Johannesburg to Pretoria was similar as the Durban-Charlestown one. His first-class ticket at hand, Mohandas was again asked by a railway guard to move to the third compartment. This time, a white first-class passenger came to Gandhi’s defense. It worked.

Initially, Dada Abdulla & Co sent a request to Abdulla Sheth to either come to Pretoria personally or send a representative. Now that Mohandas was there – on behalf of Sheth, he was told there was no work for him. “For we have engaged the best counsel” then told him Dada’s legal counselor, A-W Baker. [12] It was the second time he was told such since he arrived in South Africa. As he did once in Durban, Mohandas used is “free time”. To a few key people he met, Gandhi made is intention clear: “my intention to get in touch with every Indian in Pretoria. I expressed a desire to study the conditions of Indians there.” [13] During the following days, Mohandas will organize a public meeting where he will give his first public speech. Among other things, he will also be introduced to different people whom will all bring him different information and documents. For instance, that in the Orange Free State, all Indians were deprived of their rights by a special law since 1888. That in Transvaal (where Pretoria was located), all Indians had to pay a fee to enter the region, they couldn’t own any land (except in parts specifically identified for Indians), they didn’t have the right to vote neither. Again, all that based on a law enacted in 1885; the Law no 3. [14] So this discrimination or segregation against the Indians wasn’t just a cultural matter. It was reinforced by law; a legal matter. All this broadened and deepened Mohandas’ knowledge of the Indians situation in the British’s South Africa. After that, Gandhi realized that “I saw that South Africa was no country for self-respecting Indian, and my mind became more and more occupied with the question as to how this state of things might be improved.” [15]

WHEN FACTS MEAN TRUTH

The Dada’s case still had to be settled. In the Spring of 1894, through circumstances that played in his favor, Mohandas was able to convince the two parties to agree on a financial compromise over their dispute. Two things really helped out Gandhi then, and would serve him even better later. The first one was a vision of the law he’d learned when he met Frederic Pincutt – back in London, in 1891: “Facts are three-fourths of the law.” The other thing was about how to prepare and plead a case: “If we take care of the facts of a case, the law will take care of itself.” Something he’d learned from Mr Leonard; a famous South African barrister, during a case Gandhi had to handle. It’s with that combo in mind that Mohandas found the facts he needed to solve Dada’s case. As he later recalled, “When I was making preparation for Dada Abdulla’s case, I had not fully realized this paramount importance of facts. Facts mean truth, and once we adhere to truth, the law comes to our aid naturally.” [16] It would be a very useful lesson in the months and years ahead.

THE SEED OF A LONG FIGHT

Mohandas had completed his mandate for Dada’s firm. He was back in Durban and getting ready to sail back to India when he read in a newspaper that Natal’s government was to pass the ‘Indians Franchise Bill’. Simply put, that bill was to take away from the Indians their right to vote in the Natal elections. After talking to Abdulla Sheth about this situation and being informed no one was really defending the Indian community’s interests, Mohandas called in a public meeting. For Gandhi “This Bill, if it passes into law, will make our lot extremely difficult. It is the first nail into our coffin. It strikes at the root of our self-respect.” [17] Many of those who attended that meeting agreed with him. Some even asked him not to leave South Africa in such situation. Answering Abdulla Sheth’s proposal, Mohandas replied: “fees are out of the question. There can be no fees for public work. I can stay, if at all, as a servant.” [18] To serve others. Something that had its roots in his childhood but had also found its echo in nursing his father. It was now taking a different shape. As it was approved by the assembly then, Gandhi would be the legal counselor of the Indian community. “Thus God laid the foundations of my life in South Africa and sowed the seed of the fight for national self-respect.” [19] A fight that would last for twenty years. Until the Indians Relief act would be signed in 1914, in South Africa.

TO INSTILL SELF-RESPECT

Much was to happen during the twenty-years ahead. One thing gained clarity and strength from that Spring meeting of 1894 though; the reason why Gandhi was ready to stand up for the Indians in South Africa. He wanted to instill self-respect in people, through striving for “truth” (e.g. facts), as a legal counsel. That had become his life purpose. Knowing about the ‘Indians Franchise Bill’ had made it clear.

The color prejudice Mohandas had witnessed, learned about and experienced first-hand might have been “only a symptom of the deep disease”, as he realized after the Pietermaritzburg’s incident. However, in Gandhi’s mind, the segregation that supported such prejudice was the disease. Because it prevented the Indians of South Africa to have the same freedom, rights and opportunities (of work, movement and action) as any other Europeans (e.g. white) citizens living on the same territory. Which was opposite to what Mohandas deeply believed.

How could he help cure the Indian community from such disease? Being a lawyer by trade, his means would then be the facts (or truth as he called it), and the law. Just like he’d used to solve Dada Abdulla & Co’s case, for instance.

MORE BARRIERS TO OVERCOME

Natal’s government wouldn’t limit its actions to try imposing restrictions on its Indian citizens or take away rights from them. Indian merchants and workers would also be a target. As they were seen as a threat by Europeans merchants established in South Africa. Even more since Indian indentured workers were becoming farmers or merchants once their “work contract” – for which they first came to South Africa – had expired. So, on top of the ‘Indians Franchise Bill’, Natal’s authorities also tried to impose in 1894 a yearly tax of 25 pounds (the local currency) to every indentured worker. Based on their average wage, the workers couldn’t afford to pay such tax and support themselves or their family as well. The Indian community and Gandhi did put much effort against the tax. In the end, it was brought down to three pounds. Still, there was a regret that the community – through the Natal Indian Congress; an organization Gandhi helped put in place to fight discrimination against Indians in South Africa – hadn’t been able to somehow safeguard the indentured workers from the government. As for the ‘Indians Franchise Bill’, it took about two years for Natal’s government to pass it, in 1896. Such delay was due to the fierce campaign the Indian community made against it. Not just locally but in England and India too. Something Natal’s government didn’t appreciate. Still, the Bill passed in 1896.

The new Transvaal’s government too had its share of anti-Indians laws and regulations. As they took over the Boers after the war in 1902, the British authorities somehow wanted to restrict entrance in Transvaal. As a justification, they said that if too many people were to come back to Transvaal, there might not be enough resources and goods available to support them all. To control the number of entrance, the government then applied a permit system to both Europeans and Indians. Applications weren’t handled the same way though. Europeans could their authorization in any Transvaal Permit offices. Indians all had to go through the Asiatic Affairs Department (AAD). An organization specifically put in place by the authorities to handle all applications made by Indians who used to live in Transvaal, elsewhere in South Africa or were arriving from India. [20] It soon became obvious that this process was in fact based on segregation – to restrict all Indians to settle in Transvaal. From now on, whoever was Indian and wanted to live in Transvaal was required to register at the AAD. From the new Indian immigrant who just got off the boat, to the past Indian resident of Transvaal. Even children had to comply. If someone was found without a registration, he could be expelled from Transvaal.

As Gandhi found out, when he enrolled as an attorney to Transvaal Supreme Court (in 1903), “Loopholes, whether they existed (in past and new regulations), were carefully closed. We have already seen that the Asiatic (Affairs) Department was bound to be harsh in its operations. The repeal of the old laws was therefore out of the question. It only remained for the Indians to try and see how their rigors might be mitigated in practice.” [21] Still, the Natal Indian Congress was able to negotiate with Transvaal’s government that such registration went from mandatory to voluntary. As Mohandas later wrote, “The Indians believed that if they behaved towards the Government with such courtesy, it would treat them well, show regard to them and confer fresh rights upon them.” [22] In 1906, a member of the Asiatic Affairs Department; Lionel Curtis, thought the Europeans hadn’t reach their objective through asking the Indians to register. “He would not consider the Transvaal to be safe so long as even a single point in South Africa was open to Indians.” [23] Based on that belief, he advised the government to adopt a more coercive approach. The recent years had shown that the Indian community was able to put on a fight, in both Natal and Transvaal. Indians were now seen more than ever as a threat and Transvaal’s authorities wanted to act on it.

THE CATALYST: THE “BLACK ACT

In August 22nd, 1906, following Lionel Curtis’s advice, Transvaal’s government brought to the parliament the ‘Asiatic Registration Act’. If adopted, it would required from all Asiatic people (including Indians) not just to re-register to the Asiatic Affairs Department, but to somehow submit themselves to an internal passport system. “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 the important marks of identification upon the applicant’s person, and take his finger and thumb impressions. Every Indian who failed thus to forfeit his right of residence in the Transvaal. Failure to apply would be held to be an offence in law for which the defaulter could be fined, sent to prison or even deported within the discretion of the court. Parents must apply on behalf of their minor children and bring them to the Registrar in order to give their finger impressions, etc.” [24] Among the arguments used to justify such Bill, General Smuts; a war veteran and soon to be Transvaal’s Colonial Secretary, had these words a few months later: “Western civilization may or may not be good, but Westerners wish to stick to it. They have made tireless endeavors to save that civilization. They have shed rivers of blood for its sake. They have suffered great hardships in its cause. It is therefore too late for them now to chalk out a new path for themselves. Thus considered, the Indian question cannot be resolved into one trade jealously or race hatred. The problem is simply one of preserving one’s own civilization, that is of enjoying the supreme right of self-preservation and discharging the corresponding duty.” [25] If all forms of color prejudice were the symptoms of a deeper disease. Segregation was the disease, and somehow believing that “not all men or women have a right to self-realization” was its root-cause.

Accepting Western civilization, as some politicians suggested in their discourse, wouldn’t solve the problem. As Mohandas argued, “The Negroes of the United States have accepted Western civilization. They have embraced Christianity. But the black pigment of their skin constitutes their crime.” [26] They had not yet been considered “fit” to be granted the same rights as the American white citizens.

In wasn’t the first anti-Indians law or regulation Gandhi had seen. This one though, the “Black Act” as he will call it, would serve as a catalyst to his actions. Enough for him to say “Better die than summit to such law.” [27] Even more when whoever refused to register under the new ‘Asiatic Registration Act’ could be fined, sent to prison or even deported, as mentioned above. Yet, a question remained in Gandhi’s mind: “What should we dare and do so that there would be nothing before us except a choice of victory or death? An impenetrable wall was before me, as it were, and I could not see my way through it.” [28]

Put in perspective, this will of the Transvaal’s government to enact such Bill was the prelude to the birth of Satyagraha; the non-violent resistance movement.

THE BIRTH OF SATYAGRAHA

The day following the deposit of the ‘Asiatic Registration Act’ at Transvaal’s parliament, Mohandas organized a small meeting with leaders of the Transvaal Indian community. A few leaders voiced their frustration. Among other things, Gandhi told the assembly that “this is a very serious crisis. If the Ordinance were passed and if we acquiesced in it, it would be imitated all over South Africa. As it seems to me, it is designed to strike at the very root of our existence in South Africa.” [29] The leaders agreed a larger meeting with the Indian community was necessary to discuss what strategy should be taken. It was set to happen on September 11th, 1906. The most important resolution was asking the Indians not to submit to the ‘Asiatic Act’, and “in the event of its becoming law in the teeth of their opposition and to suffer all the penalties attaching to such non-submission.” [30] All present at the meeting swore not to submit to such Act, if it became law. In the following days, other smaller information meeting would be held in the community. More and more people agreed not to submit to the ‘Asiatic Act’. Informed of the growing opposition to its Bill, Transvaal then tried to negotiate an agreement to it by saying the children and women wouldn’t be targeted by the registration. It wasn’t satisfactory to the Indians’ leadership. The community understood that its agitation of the past weeks was had motivation the government sudden offer of exemption (for women and children). The offer was refused. Still, how the Indian community was to name this new protest movement?

Mohandas first called it “passive resistance” but, as days passed, some sort of confusion grew it in the community about what this English expression meant. It wasn’t clear. A contest was then organized and asked for suggestions to best describe the struggle. As he wrote in his autobiography, one proposal caught Gandhi’s attention. It was “‘Sadagraha’, meaning ‘firmness in a good cause’. I liked the word, but it did not fully represent the whole idea I wished it to connote. I therefore corrected it to ‘Satyagraha’. (A Sanskrit expression that combines two words) Truth (Satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders 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’.” [31] Fifty years later, Sayagraha inspired the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr, and would be known as “non-violent resistance”. (You can read more about it: P1, P2)

THE INSPIRATIONS

From what I was able to gather, there doesn’t seem to be only one source that inspired Gandhi to come up with the “passive resistance” expression when he tried to describe the protest movement. He refers to Non-conformists; a group of Protestant Christians who opposed a 1902 reform of the school funding system led by the British government. Mohandas also refers to the first Suffragettes movement in England (which began in 1897), even to the Christians in the early days of Christianities. [32] Different groups that, interestingly, all had something in common: weak in numbers as well as in physical force, they had no hope of succeeding in changing a situation by force of arms. Something the Indians of South Africa could relate to. The difference being in the way they would express their opposition.

As Gandhi once described it, “In passive resistance there is always present an idea of harassing the other party and there is a simultaneous readiness to undergo and hardships entailed upon us by such activity, while in Satyagraha there is not the remotest idea of injuring the opponent. Satyagraha postulates the conquest of the adversary by suffering in one’s own person.” [33] In a way, by accepting to suffer “in the hands of your opponent”, you take away from him the power of submission he might have had over you – through the use of brute force, arms, money or maybe even the law. In doing so, he gets weaker, and you stronger. This allowing you to somehow “conquer” your opponent collaboration and overcome the problem you were facing.

One thing is clear though. Satyagraha was in direct line with what Mohandas wanted to achieve, with his life purpose; to instill self-respect in people, through striving for “truth” (e.g. facts), as a legal counsel.

The determination of the Indian community would be tested more than once in the coming months.

THE STRENGHT OF THE NON VIOLENT

In the Fall of 1907, Transvaal’s government thought the Indian protest movement couldn’t be broke until its leaders were active. For not having registered under the ‘Asiatic Registration Act’ and respected an order of the court to do so in a set period of time, key leaders were arrested and sent to prison in January 1908. [34] Gandhi was among them. So was Mr. Quinn; the leader of a Chinese community living in Johannesburg. Mohandas, like the others, all pleaded guilty. The reason being that “non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good”; as Gandhi would use to say about the Satyagraha’s approach.

The more days past, the greater was the number of Indians protesters arrested and sent to prison. About that period, Gandhi later wrote “every one of us was firm in his resolution of passing his term in jail in perfect happiness and peace.” [35] Even if in some cases, protesters were sent to hard labors. It wouldn’t be Mohandas’ last stay in prison.

Through General Smuts, Transvaal’s new Colony Secretary, the government tried to reach an agreement with the Indian community. The ‘Asiatic Act’ would be withdrawn if a majority of Indians voluntarily registered. Using his legal knowledge, Mohandas found that the conditions under which the ‘Act’ was to be cancelled weren’t clear enough. He then suggested a modification that was refused.

Whether Gandhi was in or out of prison, it didn’t stop other influent members of the Indian community to organize information meetings or walks in different cities, or sending letters to different newspapers in India or England. Soon, that groundwork brought in more supporters to the cause – both in Transvaal, Natal, in the other regions as well than abroad. Even officials were beginning to voice their support to the South African Indians. When he wasn’t in prison, Gandhi also used his time to plead different causes involving Indians. He still had to make a living, and being a lawyer was his way to do so. Mohandas also did put much effort in building partnership with other non-European communities in South Africa; Chinese and Muslims for instance.

In the eyes of the Indian leadership, if the conflict was to be settled, “the right order for the settlement was that the (Asiatic Registration) Act should be repealed (e.g. withdrawn) first and then we should be called upon to register voluntarily.” [36] Gandhi agreed with such approach. Not the government. At least, not yet.

Eventually, both parties agreed to a settlement. One that came almost out of necessity when the government, through General Smuts, somehow realized the coercive approach had failed. Reinforcing the regulations in place or using the force of arms only led to more arrests and a growing support to the Indian cause. Both from the South African population and governments abroad – like the British and Indian ones, for instance. As time past, the Satyagraha movement spread not just through the Indian community of the four South African regions, but to the Muslims and Chinese communities as well. Even to the South African Europeans, at one point. The trigger being the Great March Mohandas organized with some of his supporters. The goal was to walk from Gandhi’s farm in Phoenix (Natal) up to Transvaal’s boarder and cross it. At a time where the movement had used many different tactics, it would be a new way to challenge to Transvaal’s immigration policy. Somehow relating to the Indians desire of freedom and equal rights, the Europeans workers in the mines and the railway company joined the movement by going on strike. Both groups asking for better work conditions. The march that had started with only 16 people on October 15th 1913 was now gathering thousands at Transvaal’s border three weeks later. [37]

Even though it had its moments of “fatigue”, the movement was now regaining strength and reaching new people. On top of this social power, its influence could also be felt on the political and economical levels as well. Transvaal’s government was aware of that – since it stock of legal, economical and political options (to break the movement) were running out.

In an effort to defuse the situation, General Smuts offered in December 1913 to put in place a Commission to inquire on the cause of the strike – that had begun when the ‘Asiatic Registration Act’ was first presented in 1906. After weeks of hard negotiations and compromises, both parties finally reached an agreement. It would be known as the ‘Indian Relief Bill’ and become law on July 1st 1914.

Among other things, the new Bill was 1) removing the 3 pounds yearly tax put in place by Natal’s government in 1894, 2) implied the release of all Satyagrahi protesters that had been imprisoned in the past weeks or months, and 3) insuring a reasonable administration of the laws in place – especially those affecting Indians – with due regard to existing rights. [38] This making it possible for the Indian community to obtain redress in every case of proved injustice. That third part being maybe the most important change the community had been expected.

The deal wasn’t perfect but it was good enough for both parties to agree on it. It also helped improving a situation that had become unbearable for everyone. It was now possible for the Indian community to look forward.

GAINING A SURNAME; MAHATMA

Once the ‘Indian Relief Bill’ enacted, Mohandas was invited to both England and India to meet with public officials. It was once he got to India that someone greeted him for the first a Mahatma or “great soul” in Sanskrit. A surname he would become known by from now on; Mahatma Gandhi.

When you think back about Mohandas story, it becomes easy to realize that even a shy person can accomplish a great deal, find his or her life purpose and even change a game when given the right problem to help solve.

For Gandhi, segregation (and the lack of self-respect it created) was the right problem to solve. Based on your personal story, what problem is the one that strikes you the deepest in your guts and beliefs?

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_ _ _ Sources _ _ _ _ _ _

– “Gandhi, An Autobiography. The Story of My Experiments With Truth” by Mahatma Gandhi (Fitzhenry & Whiteside Publication, 2011)

– “Satyagraha in South Africa – The Selected Work of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 2” by Mahatma Gandhi (Navajivan Trust, 1968)