From AndhraVision.com, Sept. 11:
Satyagraha movement completes 100 years
A hundred years ago today, Mahatma Gandhi launched the historic Satyagraha movement in South Africa to fight racism and colonial oppression in that country. Later, he used the same principles of non violence and mass civil disobedience in India, which eventually paved the way for the country’s independence. The first seeds of Satyagraha were sown in 1893 when a young struggling lawyer Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi came to South Africa. He arrived to serve as a legal advisor for an Indian merchant. But this was a country where the colour of one’s skin mattered more than anything else.
Just a week later, Barrister M K Gandhi found himself thrown off a train for sitting in a first class compartment reserved for whites. This happened despite his having a valid ticket. That night struggling in the cold, battling anger and humiliation, was according to him, “the most creative night of his life”. It changed the course of his life and history. Turning his anger into determination to fight racial prejudice, Gandhiji began a step-by-step campaign to protect the dignity of the 1,00,000 Indians in South Africa. The Natal Indian Congress was set up and the first ever petition by Indians against racism was submitted to a South African parliament. Indian Opinion, the first of several newspapers, was launched and it grew to be the community’s voice in its fight against racism.
The small protests swelled into a mass movement when in the first week of September 1906, the Asiatic law amendment ordinance was introduced to reduce Indians and Chinese to a semi-criminal status. On September 11, 1906, 3,000 Indians, including Hindus and Muslims, led by Gandhiji gathered at the Empire Theatre in Johannesburg to voice their outrage. Years later, Gandhiji recalled that memorable moment which gave the struggle against violence a whole new definition. “All present, standing with upraised hands, took an oath with God as witness not to submit to the Ordinance if it became law. I can never forget the scene, which is present before my mind’s eye as I write. The community’s enthusiasm knew no bounds.” And Satyagraha was born.
The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Reserach has more:
On August 22, 1906, the Transvaal government in South Africa under the British Empire gave notice of a new legislation requiring all Indians, Arabs and Turks to register with the government. Fingerprints and identification marks on the person’s body were to be recorded in order to obtain a certificate of registration. Those who failed to register could be fined, sent to prison or deported. Even children had to be brought to the Registrar from their fingerprint impressions. At the time, there were less than 100,000 Indians in South Africa. But in Transvaal, there was an Indian lawyer working with a Muslim company, and his name was Mohandas K. Gandhi.
On September 11, 1906, Gandhi called a mass meeting of some 3,000 Transvaal Indians to find ways to resist the Registration Act. He felt the Act was the embodiment of “hatred of Indians” which if accepted would “spell absolute ruin for the Indians in South Africa”, and therefore resisting it is a “question of life and death.”
Among these 3,000 people attending the meeting was one Sheth haji Habib, an old Muslim resident of South Africa. Deeply moved after listening to Gandhi’s speech, Sheth Habib said to the congregation that the Indians had to pass this resolution with God as witness and could never yield a cowardly submission to such a degrading legislation. Gandhi wrote in his Satyagraha in Africa (1928), that ” He then went on solemnly to declare in the name of God that he would never submit to that law and advised all present to do likewise.” Though Sheth Habib was known to be a man of temper, his action on September 11 was significant because of his decision to act in defiance of an unjust law and willingness to suffer the consequences in a spiritually-endowed fight for justice in the name of God.
Gandhi was taken aback by the Muslim’s suggestion. He wrote, ” I did not come to the meeting with a view to getting the resolution passed in that manner, which redounds to the credit of Sheth haji Habib as well as it lays a burden of responsibility upon him. I tender my congratulations to him. I deeply appreciate his suggestion, but if you adopt it you too will share his responsibility.
On that day, September 11, 1906, in South Africa, the Indian nonviolent movement was born. Gandhi later called his Indian movement: “Satyagraha” or ” the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence.” This movement went on to free 300 million people from the power of the British Empire and gave the twentieth century a most remarkable demonstration of the power of nonviolent struggle.
The Hindustan Times quoted Indian parliamentarian and Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande saying of the Satyagraha centenary: “The day is a sweet reminder of a great movement that is still relevant for any civilisation. I think the 21st century belongs to this ideology, and people especially youngsters must follow the path of the Mahatma to fight corruption and injustice.”
We sure hope this optimism is warranted, given the current resurgence of sectarian terror in India.