Early Years of Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Porbandar Town of the Bombay Presidency on 2 October 1869, the year in which Lord Mayo took office as Governor General of India. His father Karamchand Gandhi was a Diwan of the Porbandar State, which was a small princely state under the Kathiawar Agency. His mother Putli Bai was the fourth wife of his father, the earlier three died during child birth.

The impression of stories of Raja Harishchandra gave this young boy, the first introduction to truth. At the age of 13 year, he was married to 14 year old Kasturbai. At the age of 15 years this couple gave birth to first child, who died in a few days.

He passed Metric from the Samaldas College of Bhavnagar, with difficulty because he was not so good in education, but his family wanted him to become a Barrister.

His father died in 1885 and in 1888, the year in which his eldest son Harilal was born, he went to London to study law and get training as a barrister.

Before this journey to “vilayat” he had given a pledge to his mother to not indulge in meat, alcohol and promiscuousness. He enrolled in the Inner Temple London in the same year (1888) and in kept fasting due to non availability of Vegetarian eateries around till he joined the London Vegetarian Society. In 1891 he was called to Bar at the age of 22 years and in the same year he returned to India.

But he was not a good lawyer at all and thus, could not establish himself in the court. In 1893, when got a one year contract with the Dada Abdulah & Company in South Africa, he left for the job in the Colony of Natal, South Africa, part of British Empire.

The young man of 24 years when was in South Africa saw the discrimination with the Black South Africans and Indians. The Indian Indenture Act was in place and the Indians were indentured to South Africa. Most of the Indians were of low castes.

In months of arriving to South Africa, Gandhi was sent by his firm to handle a case at Pretoria. On this train ride, while still new to South Africa, he encountered the brutal reality of racial prejudice.

It was in May 1893, while Gandhi was on his way to Pretoria, a white man objected to Gandhi’s presence in a first-class carriage, and he was ordered to move to the van compartment at the end of the train. Gandhi, had a first-class ticket, refused, and was thrown off the train at Pietermaritzburg. Shivering through the winter, during that long, bitterly cold night in the maritzburg station he came to a decision that set the course of his life.

He writes:

” The hardship to which I was subjected was superficial—–only a symptom of hate deep disease of colour prejudice. I should try, if possible, to root out the disease ….suffer hardships in this process. Redress for wrongs I should seek only to the extent that would be necessary for the removal of the colour prejudice ”

Gandhi was on a one year contract, but the events in South Africa inspired and strengthened his resolve to fight the degrading racism. He stayed not one but twenty-one-years——-from 1893 through 1914.

Shortly afterwards he called upon a general meeting of the Indians to discuss the prejudice. He pledged them to help him to overcome it. He was shy but he was able to deliver a powerful speech in this meeting and tried to admonish the audience to improve themselves as much as possible by practicing truthfulness and fairness in their business dealings, transcending caste and religious differences, learning English, and maintaining cleanliness. He urged them to replace passivity with self-esteem, industriousness and visible civic practices.

We should also know that in South Africa, whether it was a rich or poor, educated or illiterate, laborer or professional Indian, he was considered a coolly. They were not allowed to vote. They had to keep a pass after dark and the Whites could push them off a sidewalk to make way.

He was asked to remove his hat while in the court, a common practice prevalent. The Blacks had to pay an annual tax to stay there. They used to live in separate, segregated neighborhoods. They were not entitled to have any property out there.

In the speeches he was able to charm the Indian audiences and was able to clearly define the situation as well as ways to deal with the situations.

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