6 November 1913
Mahatma Gandhi arrested in South Africa
On 6 November 1913, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was arrested by the South African authorities for leading a workers’ march.
Arrest of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa
- Mahatma Gandhi had arrived in the port city of Durban, South Africa in 1893 to work as a lawyer.
- He was a shy 23-year old when he arrived. He was, however, shocked to see the rampant racial discrimination and ill-treatment of Indian origin persons in that country which followed systematic racial segregation. He had studied in England to become a lawyer, and although racism existed in that era, Indian professionals did not face such blatant racism in England.
- The famous incident at the Pietermaritzburg railway station occurred in 1893 when Gandhi was thrown off a first-class train compartment despite having bought the ticket. He was told that it was for ‘whites-only’. He also learnt the hard way that Indians were not allowed to tread on public footpaths.
- Gandhi was pained to see the humiliation of his fellow Indians and he then decided to embark on a journey that would change the face of both South Africa and India forever.
- Gandhi was supposed to return to India in 1894 when the case for which he had come to South Africa was over. But a new law that denied Indians the right to vote made him stay back. He chose to protest against this injustice and discrimination. This stay would last for 21 years.
- He became a political leader of the Indian community there and it was in South Africa that he honed his skills as a leader of the masses, skills that would help him in his struggle for freedom in India.
- He even served in and formed the Natal Indian Ambulance Corps in 1900 during the Boer War in order to impress upon the British that Indians were fit enough to do hard labour in war. For his services, he received the Queen’s South Africa Medal.
- In 1906, the Transvaal government enacted a new law that required Indians and Chinese to register themselves. It was during the protest against this law that Gandhi adopted Satyagraha as a means for political struggle for the first time. During this time, Gandhi worked on his ideas of non-violent protest and willingly suffering arrest and punishment for defying the law. He also polished his public speaking abilities. The shy lawyer was transforming into a powerful leader of the people.
- In 1913, new laws were passed by the government which imposed a £3 tax on Indians who had not renewed their indentures (most Indians in South Africa were indentured labourers or descendants of indentured labourers). It also removed the validity of marriages that were held as per Indian customs. Gandhi led his followers in non-violent protest. He was arrested by the government on November 6, 1913.
- The protest was quite intense and even women were involved in the marches. Across many areas, workers resorted to strikes. Gandhi had thousands of people in his support. The government made mass arrests.
- The government appointed a commission to enquire and negotiations were made between Gandhi and Jan Smuts of the South African government which led to the passing of the Indian Relief Act of 1914. This led to the tax being abolished and Hindu and Muslim marriages being recognised. The act was passed in July and in the same month, Gandhi left South Africa forever to return to his native land. Gandhi returned to India at the behest of his mentor Gopal Krishna Gokhale. He landed in Bombay on 9 January 1915 and a huge crowd was gathered in the port to give him a hero’s welcome.
- The years Gandhi spent in South Africa truly helped him in becoming a Mahatma to his people in India in their struggle for independence from the British.
Also on This Day
1860: Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the USA.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.