During a visit to South Africa in 2004, I boarded a train at Penrich railway station near Durban for a journey to Pietermatrizburg, tracing the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi. It was at this station that Mahatma Gandhi embarked on the fateful journey that in later years was regarded as having changed the course of his life.
He boarded the train on 7th June 1893 to travel to Pretoria, where he was due to meet his legal clients. A first-class seat was booked for him. The train reached Pietermatrizburg station at about 9 pm where a white passenger entered the compartment. Seeing that a colored person was travelling in the same first class compartment he got furious. He immediately went out and returned with two officials who ordered Gandhi to move to the van compartment. When Gandhi refused and resisted, a constable pushed him out of the train and also threw his luggage out after him, and the train continued its journey without Gandhi.
Gandhi spent the night in the waiting room. It was winter and bitterly cold. Although his overcoat was in the luggage, Gandhi did not ask for further insults. Gandhi contemplated returning to India but decided that such a course would be cowardice. He vowed to stay on and fight the disease of racial prejudice. This event changed the course of Gandhiji’s life and he said: ‘‘My active non-violence began from that date.’’
The train and the compartment in which we traveled were exactly similar to the compartment in which Mahatma Gandhi had traveled. When I got down at the Preitermatrizburg station, I saw the plaque in whose vicinity the Mahatma was thrown out. The plaque had the following inscription:
‘‘In the vicinity of this plaque M.K.Gandhi was evicted from a first class compartment on the night of 7 June1893. This incident changed the course of his life. He took up the fight against the racial oppression. His active non-violence started from that date.’’
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