UPSC Exam Preparation: This Day in History – Jan 09

9 January 1915

Mahatma Gandhi returned to India from South Africa.


What happened?

On 9 January 1915, Father of the Nation, M K Gandhi reached Bombay sailing from South Africa, having lived there for more than two decades. This date was chosen in 2003 to be observed as Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (Non-Resident Indian Day).

Background

  • Mahatma Gandhi had left India for South Africa in April 1893 when he was 23 years old. He had accepted a work contract which he thought would last for a year or so. He was asked by a merchant in Kathiawar to accept the legal work for his cousin in Johannesburg.
  • Gandhi ended up living in South Africa for 21 years. South Africa was also a part of the British Empire then.
  • Although a lawyer, Gandhi faced racial discrimination in South Africa. Indians were not allowed, like any other people of colour, to walk on the footpath, sit with Europeans in the stagecoaches, etc. In a famous incident in Pietermaritzburg, he was thrown out of a first class compartment of a train because he was brown, despite having the ticket. He pondered on whether to protest or return home to India. He chose the former and the next day, he was allowed to board the train.
  • He was deeply perturbed by the discrimination faced by Indians in that country despite being ‘British subjects’ and slowly started moulding the Indian community in South Africa to protest unlawful and discriminatory practices and laws.
  • When the Natal government proposed a bill that would deny Indians and the Chinese the right to vote, he protested against it. Although unsuccessful, his campaign brought the Indian condition in South Africa to the forefront.
  • He helped establish the Natal Indian Congress in 1894. In the Boer War, he along with other Indians helped the British as stretcher-bearers and also won the Queen’s South Africa Medal for their services. He had hoped that this show of support would translate into some benefits for the Indians. But, this was not to be and he was further disillusioned with British rule.
  • In 1906, the government in Transvaal brought about a new law that made the registration of Indians and Chinese mandatory. Gandhi held a mass protest against this and it was during this time that the principle of ahimsa and satyagraha were put in use for the first time. These were still in their rudimentary form and the ideologies were still evolving in Gandhi’s mind.
  • His method of resistance asked people to defy laws and suffer punishments for it rather than cause violence. Gandhi would take all these ideas and tactics to India where he would lead the national struggle for independence.
  • It was in South Africa that a painfully shy lawyer emerged as a mass leader who could persuade millions with his oration and persona.
  • Gandhi returned to his native country at the request of Gopal Krishna Gokhale. When he returned he was already established as a great community organizer and nationalist. He was given a warm welcome by Indians at the Bombay port.
  • He joined the Indian National Congress and changed the whole landscape of India’s struggle for freedom.
  • In 2003, the Atal Behari Vajpayee government decided to celebrate Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and the date 9th January was chosen as this was the day Gandhi returned to India from his stay in South Africa.
Also on this day

1922: Birth of Hargobind Khorana, India-born biochemist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1968. 1923: Death of Satyendranath Tagore, the first Indian Civil Service (ICS) Officer. 2004: Death of Nissim Ezekiel, Indian poet and playwright.

See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.

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