An Indian martyr who died for South Africa

2014-02-22 00:00

TODAY marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Valliammai, the 16-year-old martyr who died soon after being released from the Pietermaritzburg Prison during Mahatma Gandhi’s 1913 Satyagraha campaign.

Valliammai joined her mother in the march by women from the Transvaal to Natal to protest the imposition of a tax that bound Indian indentured labourers to their employers. More importantly they were part of the campaign to protest the non-recognition of Indian marriages as legal.

Valliammai and her mother Mangalam joined the second batch of Transvaal women who came to Natal in October 1913. They visited mines and persuaded the men to join the strike. They were arrested and sentenced in December to three months with hard labour and sent to the Maritzburg Prison. Valliamai fell ill soon after her conviction, but refused an offer by the authorities for early release and died on February 22, 1914, shortly after she was set free.

Memorial services have been organised to commemorate the anniversary in Johannesburg, Pietermaritzburg and in Thillaiyadi in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which was where Valliammai’s mother was born.

“Gandhi had asked her why she was making the sacrifice and what if it resulted in her death. She told him that she was doing it for South Africa, her motherland,” said Umgungundlovu mayor Yusuf Bhamjee, and that Gandhi had written in his book, Satyagraha in South Africa that Valliamai went on to say, “Who would not love to die for one’s motherland?”

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