Gandhi Writes About His Return to India
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Porbandar, Kathiawar Agency, British India in October 1869. The son of a senior government official, Gandhi was raised in a Hindu Bania community in coastal Gujarat. In May 1883 13-year-old Gandhi married in an arranged child marriage. In 1888 Gandhi traveled to London, England to study law at University College. Gandhi was called to the bar in June 1891 and then left London for India. His attempts at establishing a law practice in Bombay failed because he was too shy to speak up in court. In 1893 he accepted a year-long contract to a post in the Colony of Natal, South Africa then part of the British Empire.
Gandhi has spent the last 19 years in South Africa representing Indian clients in the colony where he also experienced the severe discrimination of being colored in a British colonial society. He was thrown off a train after refusing to move from the first-class. Travelling farther on by stagecoach he was beaten by a driver for refusing to move to make room for a European passenger. He was barred from several hotels and the magistrate of a Durban court ordered Gandhi to remove his turban, which he refused to do.
These experiences awakened Gandhi’s awareness of social injustice and started him on a path of social activism. He helped the South African Indian community unite into a political force that fought for the right to vote and against mandatory alien registration cards. He urged Indians to defy the registration law and to suffer the punishments for doing so. Gandhi has been evolving a plan of non-violent protest Satyagraha (devotion to the truth),The community adopted this plan, and during the ensuing seven-year struggle thousands of Indians were jailed, flogged, or shot for striking, refusing to register, for burning their registration cards or engaging in other forms of non-violent resistance.
Gopal Krishna Gokhale is one of the founding leaders working for Indian Independence. College educated he has great respect for English politics and believes strongly in non-violence and reform within existing government institutions. In 1912 Gokhale visited South Africa at Gandhi’s invitation. As a young barrister, Gandhi received personal guidance from Gokhale including a knowledge and understanding of India and the issues confronting common Indians. Gandhi describes Gokhale as “pure as crystal, gentle as a lamb, brave as a lion and chivalrous to a fault and the most perfect man in the political field.” Gandhi also realizes how separated he is from his Indian identity. In December 1912 Mohandas Gandhi began the practice of wearing traditional clothing from India. Gandhi had worn traditional Western clothing fitting an attorney but for now will wear Indian attire at all times.
After over 20 years in South Africa, Gandhi decided to return to India to fight for the rights of Indian people. He had led successful campaigns of Passive Resistance that has resulted in the passing of the Indian Relief Act, by which the £3 tax on ex-indentured Indians was abolished, the validity of Hindu and Muslim marriages recognized and children of Indians living in South Africa were enabled to join their parents in South Africa. He left from Cape Town in July 1914 by ship for England, from where he would return to India.
On January 9, 1915 Gandhi has reached his goal of returning to his homeland when he reaches the shores of Bombay. He records his thought on January 11, 1915.
Monday (January 11, 1915)
I have your letter. I was filled with tears of joy when, nearing Bombay, I sighted the coast. I am still beside myself with joy. I don’t like Bombay, though. It looks as if it were the scum of London. I see here all the shortcomings of London but find none of its amenities,…it would seem that Lady India had resolved to exhibit nothing but the scum of London lest we should be thrown off our balance by the amenities. I feel suffocated by all this public honoring. I have not known a moment’s peace. There is an endless stream of visitors. Neither they nor I gain anything.
I think all of us should know the Hindi, Urdu, Tamil and Bengali scripts. It would be good if the children could be taught all these. I gave much thought to this matter while on board the ship. I have made considerable progress in the study of Bengali….I am glad that your difficulties about food are over. I have been living entirely on fruit, subsisting mostly on bananas, groundnuts and lime.
[PS.] Tell me if I should bring anything. I have not been able to bring any books from England. We may get them here, if you send me the names. Mr. Kallenbach has not been able to come, since he did not get the permission.