The protest that changed the world

2013-11-29 00:00

WHEN Mahatma Gandhi embarked on what has become known as the great march of 1913, the anniversary of which is being commemorated tomorrow, his wife Kasturba and a group of other Indian women were incarcerated in the Pietermaritzburg prison.

By 1913, Gandhi had been in South Africa for 20 years. There was a burning issue that preoccupied much of his time — the Natal colonial government’s refusal to scrap a £3 tax, which was required to be paid annually by every Indian over the age of 16 who was freed from indenture. The tax was still in effect two years after the indentured labour system was abolished in 1911. Guha said Gandhi had written hundreds of letters, printed dozens of appeals and sought audiences with government ministers. All of this had gotten nowhere and so he and his followers were preparing to launch a passive-resistance campaign (satyagraha). This decision was reinforced by a court ruling that Hindu and Muslim marriages would not be recognised in South Africa. This ruling meant that married Indian women would have been reduced legally to the status of concubines and their children treated as illegitimate. The women and children would also lose the right of inheritance.

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