On this date, Mohandas K. Gandhi, a young Indian lawyer working in South Africa, refused to comply with racial segregation rules on a South African train and was forcibly ejected at Pietermaritzburg.
Gandhi was born in Porbandar in the present state of Gujarat on October 2, 1869, and educated in law at University College, London. In 1891, after having been admitted to the British bar, Gandhi returned to India and attempted to establish a law practice in Bombay, with little success. Two years later an Indian firm with interests in South Africa retained him as legal adviser under a one-year contract in its office in Durban, SA. Here he was subjected to racism and South African laws that restricted the rights of Indian laborers.
Gandhi later recalled one such incident as his moment of truth. While traveling by train to Pretoria, a white man objected to Gandhi’s presence in a first-class carriage. Despite having a first-class ticket, Gandhi was asked to move to the van compartment at the end of the train. He refused and was thrown off the train at Pietermaritzburg station. There he spent the night in the waiting room and it is there he decided he would stay in South Africa to fight against racial discrimination. It was Gandhi’s first act of civil disobedience. From thereon, he decided to fight injustice and defend his rights as an Indian and a man.
Known as Mahatma, or “the great soul,” during his lifetime, Gandhi’s persuasive methods of civil disobedience influenced leaders of civil rights movements around the world, especially Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States.
[My favorite Gandhi quote – Ed.:]
A time is coming when those, who are in the mad rush today of multiplying their wants, vainly thinking that they add to the real substance, real knowledge of the world, will retrace their steps and say: ‘What have we done?’
Civilizations have come and gone, and in spite of all our vaunted progress, I am tempted to ask again and again, ‘To what purpose?’ Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin, has said the same thing. Fifty years of brilliant inventions and discoveries, he has said, have not added one inch to the moral height of mankind. So said a dreamer and visionary if you will–Tolstoy. So said Jesus, and the Buddha, and Mahomed, whose religion is being denied and falsified in my own country today.
[Source: Mahatma (D.G. Tendulkar) Vol. 2; 2nd edn.(1960), Publications Division; p. 29.]