External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj (Express Photo by Anil Sharma/File)
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will next month lead in commemorating the 125th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s eviction from a train’s “whites-only” compartment, which inspired him to launch the Satyagraha movement against the British in South Africa and in India.
On the night of June 7, 1893, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a young lawyer, was thrown off the train’s first class compartment at Pietermaritzburg station for refusing to give up his seat. The incident led him to develop his Satyagraha principles of peaceful resistance and mobilise people in South Africa and in India against the discriminatory rules of the British.
The two-day commemoration will commence with a dinner and address by Swaraj and other dignitaries to about 500 guests on June 6, Indian High Commissioner to South Africa, Ruchira Kamboj, said. The following day about 300 dignitaries, including leading South African politicians, will join Swaraj in a symbolic train ride from Pentrich station to Pietermaritzburg station.
For the event, train coaches and engine will be draped with khadi, a hand-woven fabric synonymous with Mahatma Gandhi, she said. Making an announcement about the event in Pietermaritzburg yesterday, Kamboj said khadi, which became the symbol of resistance by Gandhi against the British rule, would be specially imported from India for the occasion.
The event – the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – would bind South Africa and India‚ which shared the legacy of Gandhi. “125 years ago Mahatma Gandhi‚ who was as much South African as he was Indian, was removed from a first-class rail compartment and from there began a new journey that was to transform India and indeed the entire world,” Kamboj said, reminding the influence Gandhi had on other great leaders like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.
She said the 125th commemoration was a precursor to Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, for which year-long celebrations were being planned in India from October 2. She also said the event would be broadcast live in both India and South Africa by countries national public broadcasters, the Doordarshan and the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
Apart from these, the incident of Gandhi being thrown off the train on a cold winter evening would be re-enacted, and his a two-sided bust would be installed on the station platform. “One side of the bust will feature Mahatma Gandhi as a lawyer in the Western attire he wore when he came to South Africa, while the other side will show Mahatma Gandhi in his Indian dress in which he left South Africa after 21 years, returning to transform India‚” Kamboj said.
An interactive digital museum, sponsored by the Indian government, will also be launched at the station on the day, she added.