MAHATMA GANDHI MEDIA AND RESEARCH SERVICE

MAHATMA - Life of Gandhi, 1869-1948

Chapter 02, Birth Of Satyagraha, 1893-1914, 32min 25sec, Reel 3 - 6

The film depicts the scene of a unique struggle against racial discrimination under the leadership of Gandhi in South Africa. Satyagraha - the doctrine of soul-force - was adopted as a political weapon for the first time in the history of the world. It was a struggle between humility and love on one side and conceit and violence on the other.

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Commentary

Reel 03

 

Sequence 01 In Bombay, Gandhi came in contact with Rajchandra, a merchant and a poet absorbed in godly pursuits. He captivated Gandhi and became his guide and spiritual refuge.

 

2 To establish legal practice, gain experience of courts and study Indian Law, Gandhi applied for admission as an advocate to the Bombay High Court. Not finding enough work, dissappointed, he soon left for Rajkot.

 

3 In April 1893, Gandhi set forth for South Africa to appear in a law-suit on behalf of an Indian firm on a years' contract.

After a month's journey, he landed at Durban.

 

4 The racial discrimination in the society started him and cut him to the quick.

 

5 When the "Coolie-Barrister, "as he was called, appeared in the Durban Court, he was ordered to remove his turban. Gandhi felt insulted, demurred and left. The press described him as an "Unwelcome Visitor".

 

6 As a victim of the colour-bar, he received thrashings and suffered grave insults; yet he refused to sue the white assaillants for personal grievances.

 

7 During his stay in South Africa, the spiritual urge within him became a living force. He studied different faiths and practised self-restraint. Tolstoy's "The Kingdom of God Is Within You" overwhelmed him.

 

8 After a year's stay, while about to leave for India, at a farewell party, he learned that the South African Government was to introduce a bill to disfranchise Indians. He said, "The bill is the first nail into our coffin." He took up the cause of his disinherited countrymen. Thus began the long battle against race-prejudice.

 

9 Gandhi subordinated his legal career to public work and drew up a petition, the first ever sent by Indians to a South African Legislature, demanding the retention of the right to franchise.

The agitation infused a new life into the community.

 

10 South Africa became the land of his adoption. Along with his colleagues, Gandhi founded the "Natal Indian Congress" to remove the hardships of the Indians and to promote harmony between them and the Europeans.

Then followed years of hard work and organising, with all the force and energy at his command.

 

11 He appealed to the higher sense of his adversaries and brought home to them that their treatment of the Indians was not in comformity with justice and morality.

 

12 Gandhi's public activities went hand in hand with his spiritual progress. He read widely about eighty books which made him realise the infinite possibilities of universal love. He real the "Sayings of Zarathustra". The beauty of Hindu scriptures began to grow upon him. Irwing's "Life of Mohmmed" increased his admiration for the Prophet.

 

13 The Indians commissioned Gandhi to lay their grievances before public men and public bodies in India. On June 5, 1896, he sailed home carrying great responsibilities at the young age of twenty-six.

 

14 Gandhi visited the principal centres of political life in India. His impassioned speeches stirred the Indian mind.

The "Green Pamphlet" depicting the conditions of the Indians in South Africa aroused people's consciousness.

 

15 He met great Indian leaders. Justice Ranade listened to him with attention.

 

16 The man who could effectively guide him was Sir Phirozshah Mehta who met him as a loving father. Sir Phirozshah seemed to him like the Himalayas.

 

17 He met Lokmanya Tilak who promised him every help. The Lokmanya, he thought was like the ocean.

 

18 Gopal Krishna Gokhale invited him to his bosom like the river Ganga.

 

19 In response to an urgent cable from Natal, Gandhi left India with Kasturbai on November 28, 1896.

 

20 On reaching the port of Durban, the ship was put in quarantine because of the white residents' agitation for the repatriation of the Indians.

After twenty-three days of quarantine, when Gandhi landed, some European youngsters pelted him with stones, snatched away his turban and kicked him. Even then his heart did not arraign his assailants.

 

21 Though he declined to prosecute them, the incident fanned the flame of prejudice against the Indians.

 

22 Bills imposing stringent restrictions on Indian trade and immigration were introduced by the South African Government.

 

23 Gandhi sought help from leading men in India and England to create public opinion against the disabilities of the Indians in Natal.

 

Reel 04

 

Sequence 1 In this little house in Durban, a period of introspection dawned in Gandhi's life. He developed a passion for self-help and simplicity.

 

2 He studied the book "Advice to a Mother'', equipped himself with the knowledge necessary for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of his children ...

 

3 ... and infused a spirit of service and self-respect in them.

 

4 He longed for humanitarian service and worked in a hospital. When a leper came to his door, Gandhi offered him shelter, dressed his wounds and looked after him.

 

5 On the outbreak of the Boer War between the Dutch settlers and the British in 1899, Gandhi's loyalty to the Empire drove him to side with the British, though his sympathies were with the Boers.

He organised an Indian Ambulance Corps and left for the front. They worked under the fire of enemy guns and carried wounded soldiers to hospitals through heat and dust.

 

6 The humble work of the "Sons of the Empire" was applauded and they were awarded the 'War Medal'.

 

7 On the eve of Gandhi's departure for India after six years' stay in South Africa, the Indians bathed him with the nectar of love and presented him with an address and costly gifts.

 

8 The gifts agitated him deeply. Having accepted a life of service and conquered infatuation for jewellery, Gandhi created a trust of the gifts in favour of the community.

 

9 On his return to India in 1901, Gandhi reached Calcutta to pay his first visit to the Indian National Congress, moved a resolution on the conditions of the Indians in South Africa and pleaded for India's active sympathy. There was no limit to insanitation in the Congress camp. He gave the volunteers object lessons in sweeping and scavenging.

 

10 Before settling down, Gandhi made an extensive tour of India. To acquaint himself with the hardships of the passenge-s he travelled third-class. Gandhi informed Gokhale that he had opened an office in Bombay. Just when he seemed to be settling down, he received an unexpected cable from South Africa and returned to Natal at the call of his countrymen.

 

11 Realising that he must remain in Transvaal and fight the battle through, he set up his office in Johannesburg. He was enrolled as an attorney of the Supreme Court.

 

12 The spirit of sacrifice gradually grew stronger and changed his mode of life.

The Gita became an infallible guide of conduct. 'Aparigraha' - non-possession - and 'Sambhava'Equability presupposed a change of heart, a change of attitude for Gandhi.

 

13 In a letter to his brother he explained how his life was becoming truth-intoxicated and declared his intention to renounce his worldly possessions and to utilise his savings for the community.

 

14 Seeking to purify his physical self, he read treatises on nature cure. His dislike for medicines steadily increased and he fasted and experimented in dietetics. He had great faith in earth treatment and applied the mud-poultice to ailing patients.

He wrote "Guide to Health" to help the people to keep the temple of the spirit-the human body-in a fit condition. He believed that perfect health can be attained by living in obedience to the laws of God.

 

15 Gandhi felt the need of a journal specially devoted to the cause of the Indians. In June, 1903, the weekly "Indian Opinion" was launched in four languages. Week after week, Gandhi poured out his soul In its columns. For him the single aim of journalism was service of Truth.

 

16 During a journey, he became absorbed in the perusal of Ruskin's "Unto this Last" which teaches that men can be happy only if they obey the moral law. He discovered some of his deepest convictions reflected in the book which brought about an instantaneous and practical transformation in his life.

Later he paraphrased the book entitling it "Sarvodaya"-the welfare of all, and maintained that if every Indian stuck to truth, Swaraj will come of its own accord.

 

17 Convinced that the life of labour is a life worth living, Gandhi bought a fruit orchard at Phoenix. He formed a nucleus of settlement which led a Spartan life. The colony was self-supporting and the material requirements of life were reduced to a minimum ...

"Indian Opinion" was printed at the farm. Settlers learned all aspects of press-work. Hand power was preferred to mechanical power. This paved the way for the highest moral uplift of the settlers.

 

18 Gandhi kept a close track of events in India. He advocated the abolition of the salt tax ... called for united opposition to Bengal's partition ... supported the boycott of British goods and hailed the Swadeshi movement.

He emphasised the need for communal harmony ... commended the adoption of Vande Matram' as India's national anthem ... and of Hindustani as a common language for achieving nationhood.

He supported the demand for 'Home Rule' in the name of justice and humanity.

 

Reel 05

 

Sequence 1 During the Zulu rebellion in 1906 Gandhi was appointed Sergeant-Major in the Indian Stretcher Bearer Corps. He and his men did hard self-sacrificing work, carrying the injured up and down the hills and nursing the wounded Zulu rebels. This mission of mercy eased Gandhi's conscience.

 

2 Long tracks to the hamlets of the suffering tribesmen afforded ample opportunity to Gandhi for self-analysis.

He clearly saw that an aspirant after a life devoted to service must accept poverty as a constant companion and observe celibacy for one cannot follow both the flesh and the spirit. He sealed his 'Brahmacharya' with a vow for life.

 

3 On return from the war, Gandhi was dismayed to find that the Transvaal Government had introduced an ordinance compelling all Asians to take out a certificate of registration. Condemning this 'Black Act', Gandhi observed that it was not merely abominable but a crime against humanity.

 

4 The Indian community was fiercely indignant. On September 11, 1906 Gandhi took the pledge at a mass meeting with God as witness, "I shall die but not submit to the Anti-Asiatic Law". Since that day, Gandhi's Life story has mainly been the history of Satyagraha.

 

5 Emphasising the moral basis of the impending struggle, Gandhi gave a signal for the passive resistance movement.

Attorney Gandhi, Honorary Secretary of British Indian Association of Transvaal, stood in the dock, considering the role of a political prisoner far more honourable than that of a lawyer.

 

6 On January 10, 1908, Gandhi entered the prisongate for the first time for civil disobedience. He donned the convict's clothes and ate jail rations. Believing that whoever has a taste for reading good books is able to bear loneliness in any place with great ease, he spent his time in reading. On reading Socrates, he felt that Indians should learn to live and die like Socrates, the great Satyagrahi.

 

7 After about a fortnight, the prison gates were opened for Gandhi and his colleagues, consequent upon the Smuts-Gandhi settlement, which proposed the acceptance of voluntary registration by the Indians and the repeal of the Black Act by the Government.

 

8 The commencement of voluntary registration was signalised by a murderous attack upon Gandhi by a misguided countryman. To die by the hand of a brother was not a matter of sorrow for Gandhi, since death, he thought, was the appointed end of all life.

True to his pledge to take out the first certificate. Gandhi gave his fingerprints from the sick bed.

 

9 General Smuts played foul and did not repeal the Black Act. The Indian community was thrown into a turmoil. The struggle was resumed with a bon-fire of certificates, and the resolve to court wholesale imprisonment was a challenge to the Government. The fearless fighters had full faith in the righteousness of their cause and in God.

 

10 The movement was in full swing. Gandhi was sentenced to two months' hard labour. "Suffering is our remedy, victory is certain", was his message for the people. In prison, he volunteered to do scavenging.

 

11 On hearing the news of his wife's illness, Gandhi wrote to her "I am very much grieved but I am not in a position to nurse you. I have offered my all to the 'Satyagraha' struggle.

"If death comes to you, you should depart with faith in God as in 'Satyagraha' life or death does not make any difference".

 

12 The struggle continued with unabated vigour. The passive resisters showed magnificent courage by seeking imprisonment again and again. On February 25, 1909 Gandhi was reimprisoned. He read a great deal in prison. Like Thoreau, Gandhi did not feel for a moment confined and the prison walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar. He was convinced that a government which is evil has no room for good men and women except in its prisons, for the real road to ultimate happiness and freedom lay in resisting unjust laws and undergoing suffering in the interest of one's country.

 

13 In a letter from prison to his son, Gandhi emphasised the importance of chastity, poverty and hard work, for education to him, did not mean knowledge of letters but character-building and knowledge of duty.

 

14 While on deputation in England, Gandhi acquainted Count Leo Tolstoy who had long been interested in India with the civil disobedience movement in Transvaal which, if successful, was likely to serve as an example to the down-trodden millions in India and the world.

He also sent him a copy of the first biography of him written by Rev. Doke.

 

15 In his reply to Gandhi, Tolstoy expressed the liveliest sympathy for the fight between gentleness and brutality, between humility and love on one side and conceit and violence on the other.

 

Reel 06

 

Sequence 1 On his return voyage on board the "Kildonan Castle", Gandhi worked day and night on his 30,000-word book "Hind Swaraj"-Indian Home Rule-containing the quintessence of his ideas. When the right hand was exhausted, he wrote with his left hand.

Condemning modern civilization which is purely material, he wrote that East and West can really meet when the West has thrown overboard modern civilization almost in its entirety.

He observed that there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the ends as there is between the seed and the tree. Advocating the use of truth-force against brute-force for the attainment of Swaraj which meant self-rule or self-control, he declared that his life henceforth would be dedicated to its attainment.

 

2 Sending the book-let to Tolstoy, Gandhi asked for his criticism. Tolstoy thought the question treated in the book was of the greatest importance for the whole of humanity. Rev. Doke's biography of Gandhi gave Tolstoy an opportunity to understand him better.

 

3 Two months before his death, the Russian sage wrote to Gandhi that non-resistance is nothing else but the discipline of love undeformed by false interpretations.

Passive-resistance in Transvaal seemed to him the most fundamental work in which not only the Christians but all the people of the world must participate.

 

4 Gandhi's dream of developing a community of Satyagrahis living a new and simple life in rural surroundings took final shape on a farm near Johannesburg named after Tolstoy.

Gandhi espoused poverty, made further changes in his mode of living and maintained a regular diary of his daily activities and expenses. Every little experiment-from dietetics to the discipline of the inmates, to meet their economic, educational, moral and spiritual problems was conducted on the farm.

The inmates imbibed the lessons of mutual service, courtsey and industry. The weak became strong and labour proved to be a tonic for all. Gandhi's faith and courage were at their highest in Tolstoy-farm which proved to be a centre of spiritual purification and penance for the final campaign.

 

5 Gopal Krishna Gokhale came to South Africa in October, 1912 in response to Gandhi's request. He received a tumultous welcome. From the moment of his landing, Gandhi acted as his secretary and personal attendant. Gokhale came to assess the condition of the Indian and assist Gandhi in ameliorating it. His message to the Indians was : "If you have to resume your struggle, the civilized world will wish you success. But the issue will largely turn on your readiness to suffer and sacrifice in a just cause."

Gandhi seemed to Gokhale to have, in him the marvellous spiritual power to turn ordinary men around him into heroes and martyrs.

 

6 On the passing of the Immigration Bill, a fresh grievance arose and Gandhi said, "Once more into the breach my friends". In October, 1913 hundreds of Indians-men and women with children in their arms, thronged Newcastle to march to Transvaal as a protest against the 3E tax levied on their freedom. They possessed no worldly goods. They had only the sky as their roof but they had great faith in their leader who shared their daily hardships, nursed the sick and fed the hungry.

The soldiers of 'Satyagraha' offered prayers and began the epic march in the name of God. Gandhi was arrested three times in four days but the march continued proclaiming the grim tenacity and stern determination of the marchers.

Gandhi appealed to the Government in the name of humanity not to tear him away from the marchers and leave them leaderless as it was a violation of all considerations of justice. Gandhi was sentenced to twelve months' rigorous imprisonment on four counts.

 

7 After an incarceration of hardly six weeks, he was released unconditionally. Consequent upon a truce with Government, the Indian Relief Bill vindicating the principle of civil resistance and racial equality was passed.

 

8 As a penance for the loss of lives in the struggle, imposing a vow of self-suffering on himself, Gandhi adopted an ascetic mode of life.

 

9 On the triumphant end of the Satyagraha struggle Gandhi observed, "Satyagraha is a priceless weapon and those who wield it are strangers to disappointment or defeat".

 

10 Gandhi felt that his mission in South Africa was over; he had spent twenty-one years there sharing to the full the joys and sorrows of human experience and had realised his vocation in life.

 

11 He sailed for England on July 18, 1914 along with Kasturbai on his way back to India.

 

12 War was declared on August 4; Gandhi reached London on August 6. Instead of turning England's need into an opportunity for pressing Indian demands, Gandhi offered his services to the Empire and once again organised an Ambulance Corps.

 

 

13 Owing to a deterioration in his health, Gandhi sailed for India on December 19, with the hope that the connection between India and England might be a source of spiritual comfort to the whole world.