04 June 1903
Mahatma Gandhi launches his newspaper ‘Indian Opinion’
On 4th June 1903, Mahatma Gandhi released his newspaper ‘Indian Opinion’ in South Africa to fight against racial discrimination and demand civil rights for Indians in that country.
- Mahatma Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893 as a young lawyer. Although he had arrived on a year-long assignment, he ended up staying there for 21 years.
- It was in South Africa that he evolved from being a shy lawyer into a persistent civil rights activist. After witnessing and experiencing first-hand racial discrimination in that country (he was once thrown out of a first-class compartment of a train for not being white), he decided to stay on and fight for the rights of Indians. South Africa was home to a large number of Indians ever since the British had been taking them to its African colony as indentured labourers throughout the nineteenth century.
- In 1903, Gandhi settled in Johannesburg and helped in the establishment of the British Indian Association.
- Gandhi, along with other Indians demanded for civil rights and fought against discriminatory laws and rules, particularly in Transvaal. He was developing the idea of Satyagraha and passive resistance during these times.
- It was decided that a newspaper was essential to voice the concerns of the people and to bring about awareness about the conditions of Indians under the racially intolerant white regime.
- In his book, ‘Satyagraha in South Africa’, Gandhi writes, “I believe that a struggle which chiefly relies upon internal strength cannot be wholly carried on without a newspaper…”
- He arranged a printing press and hired a few people as staff with the support of the Natal Indian Congress and a few other prominent Indians in South Africa.
- Gandhi did most of the writing and the first editor was Mansukhlal Hiralal Nazar.
- The first issue was released on 4th June 1903.
- The initial tone of the newspaper was moderate. It reiterated Indians as ‘loyal subjects of the King Emperor’ and reiterated faith in the British system.
- But it also brought to light the oppressive conditions under which Indians in South Africa lived and worked.
- It was a weekly newspaper and was published in English, Hindi, Tamil and Gujarati.
- The newspaper sought to unify Indians of all hues and declared in an editorial, “We are not, and ought not to be, Tamils or Calcutta men, and Mohamedans or Hindus, Brahmans or Banyas, but simply and solely British Indians.” It must be remembered that Gandhi, at that time, believed in the justness of the British Empire.
- After Gandhi left South Africa for good in 1914, the newspaper was managed and brought out by his son Manilal. Manilal was its editor for 36 years. After his death in 1956, the newspaper was run by others. Its name was also changed to ‘The Opinion’.
- But the ‘Indian Opinion’ practically ceased to exist on 4th August 1961 owing to financial problems. 39 years later, it was revived in October 2000. Now, a trust runs it and publishes in English and Zulu.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.