ADVERTISEMENT

7 June 1893: Gandhi’s First Act of Civil Disobedience in S Africa

Chronicling MK Gandhi’s first act of civil disobedience.

Updated
News
3 min read


On 7 June 1893, a young practicing lawyer Gandhi was thrown off a train in South Africa. (Photo: iStock)
i

Contrary to popular belief, Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi March against salt monopoly of the British was not his first act of civil disobedience. An incident, 37 years before that, changed the course of history in both South Africa and India.

On 7 June 1893, Gandhi – a young practicing lawyer – was thrown off a train in South Africa for refusing to comply with the racial segregation rules of travel.

Gandhi was travelling from Durban to Pretoria on a first class ticket for official purposes. While he was seated in the first class compartment, a European man called the railway authorities and asked for the man looking like a ‘coolie’ to be removed from the coach.



Scene from The Making of Mahatma
Scene from The Making of Mahatma

When the Indian man refused to move out of the coach, he was thrown out by the railways authorities at the Pietermaritzburg railway station.



Scene from The Making of Mahatma
Scene from The Making of Mahatma

Why Gandhi Stayed Back to Fight

Gandhi had gone to South Africa with a one-year contract to practice law. But when his contract ended, this incident was instrumental in his decision to stay back and defend the rights of the coloured citizens.

Should I fight for my rights or go back to India, or should I go on to Pretoria without minding the insults, and return to India after finishing the case? It would be cowardice to run back to India without fulfilling my obligation.
My Experiments with Truth, MK Gandhi


Scene from The Making of Mahatma
Scene from The Making of Mahatma
ADVERTISEMENT

He remained in South Africa and launched various campaigns against the white regime. He founded the Natal Indian Congress to fight against the discrimination of Indians in South Africa and was soon regarded as their leader.

It was in South Africa that Gandhi honed his skills in satyagraha.



Scene from The Making of Mahatma
Scene from The Making of Mahatma

A Station Called Gandhi

While he left South Africa in 1914, Pietermaritzburg honoured him by renaming the railway station after Gandhi on his 142nd birth anniversary in 2011.



Scene from The Making of Mahatma
Scene from The Making of Mahatma

(This article was first published on 7 June 2021. It has been reposted from The Quint’s archives on the occasion of the 128th anniversary of the Pietermaritzburg railway station incident.)

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

ADVERTISEMENT
Published: 
ADVERTISEMENT
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!
ADVERTISEMENT