Saturday, September 09, 2006

11 September 1906

[forward via Mamma. thanks!]

On 11 September 1906, nearly three thousand people (out of the Indian population of 18000 resident in Transvaal) filled the Imperial Theatre in Johannesburg.There were a few women too.There were Hindus and Muslims. There were Tamils,Telugus, Gujaratis and Hindi-speaking people. There were merchants, miners and lawyers as well as indentured labourers, rickshaw wallahs and pettyshopkeepers.

The meeting had been convened by Gandhi. The Transvaal government had proposed an ordinance requiring all Indians over the age of eight - women included - to register with the authorities, submit to finger-printing and accept a certificate which they were to carry with them at all times. Violators could be imprisoned, fined or deported, even if they had to leave their property or their business behind.

Sheth Haji Habib read out the resolution demanding non-compliance with the laws. Everyone was to consider taking a pledge with God as witness. Gandhi warned the audience. "To pledge ourselves or to take an oath in the name of God or with Him as a witness is not something to be trifled with." It was for each one to decide whether he had the inner strength to keep the pledge.
Gandhi warned the audience that they might be jailed. They might be beaten and insulted. They might go hungry. They might lose their jobs, and wealth. They might be deported. And the struggle might last years.

But Gandhi was certain that "so long as there is even a handful of men true to their pledge, there can be only one end to the struggle - and that is victory."

Everyone present rose, raised his hand and swore to God not to obey the proposed law.

The struggle took eight long years. As Gandhi had warned thousands filled the jails, many of them offering themselves for arrest immediately on release by leaving Transvaal and re-entering it. Striking miners were often whipped and beaten with sticks. But in eight years the masses obeyed Gandhi's call for complete non-violence. When the Government faced a railway strike, Gandhi withdrew the movement for that time.

Gandhi named the movement Satyagraha, or Truth-force, which to him was the same as "Love-force".

It was finally on 30 June, 1914, that Gandhi and General Smuts reached agreement, which in effect withdrew the odious law.

Gandhi himself had spent a total of 249 days in South African jails.

True to his character, Gandhi was neither resentful, nor did he embitter his adversary General Smuts. Before returning to India, Gandhi sent a gift toGeneral Smuts - a pair of sandals Gandhi had made in prison. In 1939, Smuts returned them to Gandhi as a gesture of friendship. He said: "I have worn these sandals for many a summer...even though I may feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man. It was my fate to be the antagonist of a man for whom even then I had the greatest respect..."

Though Gandhi had done much in South Africa since 1893, this 9/11 was the true beginning of Civil Resistance applied practically and successfully. It was a 9/11 that stood for peace, non-violence and love. It was a method that won over adversaries. It won India its independence some three decades later.

Let us commemorate this centenary!

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