Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

131 years of Gandhiji’s Natal Satyagraha


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Natal Satyagraha, Beginning of non-violent protest

Why in the News?

  • On June 7, 1893, Mahatma Gandhi faced racial discrimination when he was forced off a first-class train compartment at “Pietermaritzburg railway station” in South Africa.
    • This event ignited the spirit of civil disobedience in him through his first non-violent protest in the “Natal Satyagraha”.

History of ‘Satyagraha’

  • The terms originated in a competition in the news-sheet Indian Opinion in South Africa in 1906.
  • Mr. Maganlal Gandhi, grandson of an uncle of Mahatma Gandhi, came up with the word “Sadagraha” and won the prize.
  • Subsequently, to make it clearer, Gandhi changed it to Satyagraha.

About the Pietermaritzburg Incident 

  • Gandhi’s forced removal from a first-class train compartment in 1893 served as a catalyst for his commitment to resisting racial discrimination.
  • This event inspired him to pursue nonviolent resistance, planting the seeds for his philosophy of Satyagraha.

Its’ Aftermath

  • Formation of Natal Indian Congress and Advocacy
    • Establishment: Gandhi organized the Indian community and founded the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) in 1894 at Durban to advocate for their rights.
    • Campaigns: He initiated various campaigns, including petitions and boycotts, challenging discriminatory laws and policies in South Africa.
  • Natal Satyagraha
    • The passage of the Asiatic Registration Act in 1906 sparked the Natal Satyagraha, protesting against this discriminatory law.
    • Gandhi emerged as the leader of the movement, advocating for nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience.
    • Satyagraha emphasized confronting oppression with moral courage and integrity, without resorting to violence.

Gandhiji’s South Africa Settlements:

  • Phoenix Settlement in Natal: Founded in 1904, the Phoenix Settlement was established by Gandhi as a communal living space and centre for social and political activism. It served as a hub for his Satyagraha campaigns against racial discrimination and injustice in South Africa.
  • Tolstoy Farm outside Johannesburg: Gandhi established Tolstoy Farm in 1910 as a self-sustaining community inspired by the teachings of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. It served as a refuge for Indian immigrants and a base for organizing resistance against discriminatory laws.

Characteristics and Impact of Natal Satyagraha

  • Mass Participation: The movement garnered widespread support from the Indian community, involving thousands in nonviolent protests.
    • He mobilized support for the welfare of Indians and established the Transvaal British Indian Association in Johannesburg in 1903.
  • Arrests and Imprisonment: Gandhi and many others faced arrests and imprisonment for their acts of civil disobedience. He faced imprisonment multiple times for his nonviolent protests, including the Volkrust Satyagraha in 1913.
  • Attracted International attention: The Satyagraha attracted international attention and led to negotiations, culminating in the Indian Relief Act in 1914.


[2019] With reference to the British colonial rule in India, consider the following statements

  1. Mahatma Gandhi was instrumental in the abolition of the system of ‘indentured labour’.
  2. In Lord Chelmsford’s ‘War Conference’, Mahatma Gandhi did not support the resolution on recruiting Indians for World War.
  3. Consequent upon the breaking of Salt Law by Indian people, the Indian National Congress was declared illegal by the colonial rulers.

Which of the statements given above are correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 1 and 3 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

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