Commemoration of Gandhi’s Return from South Africa to India

Every January the Government of India organises the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas/PBD (Overseas Indians’ Day) to celebrate the homecoming of global Indians. The first session was held in New Delhi on 9 January 2003, with over 2,000 delegates from 61 countries. It marked the anniversary of the Non-Resident Indian (NRI) Mahatma Gandhi’s return-to-India. He was the first NRI, having spent 21 years (between 1993 and 1914) in South Africa where he had championed the Indians’ cause. Mauritian Prime Minister, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, who now again leads the government, as well as Nobel laureate writers, Sir V. S. Naipaul and Prof. Amartya Sen, were among the eminent guests in 2003. To mark the Centenary of Gandhi’s return from South Africa, a special PBD has been celebrated at Gandhinagar, Gujarat, in 2015 (7-9 January).
Gandhi, the first non-White lawyer in South Africa, decided to fight for the downtrodden against the racist and tyrannical authorities through passive resistance. On 7 June 1893 he was a victim of violent racism as passenger by  rail and road. He was flung out of train in Pietermaritzburg for travelling first class, although in possession of the required ticket. On 22 August 1894 he set up the National Indian Congress (NIC), the first political party in South Africa. Revived in the 1970s, the NIC contributed to the South African liberation. At first ignorant of indenture, Gandhi later showed compassion for the engaged labourers. He contributed his utmost to avoid litigation, thus saving time, energy and money for both parties. In 1930 he used this unprecedented tactic during his decisive Salt March in India, which eventually led to its Independence in 1947.
Gandhi’s non-violent struggle (satyagraha) in South Africa united the Indians into a mass movement. He later resorted to his non-violent emancipatory initiatives there in his native India to have it decolonised by 1947. Upon leaving South Africa, where he had been self-groomed in various fields, Gandhi offered to General Smuts, through his secretary, Sonja Schlesin, and his collaborator, Henry Polak, a pair of sandals he had handmade while in prison. Smuts wore them until 1939 when he gifted them back to Gandhi for his 70th birthday. While conceding that many problems of South African Indians remained unsolved, Gandhi thus wrote in his paper Indian Opinion of 8 July 1914: “the struggle that went on for eight years has come to an end, and such an end as (…) hardly any other movement in modern times has been crowned with.”
The Indian barrister Gandhi, who had been called to the bar in London and hosted in South Africa by wealthy Muslim traders at first, was now, when returning home for good, groomed in socio-political affairs. He was at home with the Indian masses with whom he easily identified himself in culture including dress. The physical and spiritual training, besides in journalism, he gave to the inmates and others at the Phoenix Settlement in Natal and the Tolstoy Farm in Transvaal had proved useful in the success of his peaceful but defiant march. His European friends like Polak, Kallenbach, Revd Doke and Revd C. F. Andrews had given Gandhi all their support in his struggle in South Africa.
Gandhi explained all his acts including the expenses incurred for public cause at meetings or receptions organised throughout the country before his definite departure. Yet, a number of the Indians, especially from the trading sector, queried him about the funds. He told his critics that he had left all the related documents and books with Polak who would obligingly furnish particulars to those interested. As he had decided in or around March 1911, a public trust was created for the Phoenix Farm which, including the machinery and the other assets of the Indian Opinion, was valued at £5000. The Tolstoy Farm had been wound up in January 1913. On 18 July 1914, Gandhi definitely left South Africa, where he had self-groomed, for India. Here  he pursued even more passionately his outstanding and successful battle for its Independence. Inspired by truth and ahimsa (non-violence), he attached special attention to the use of just and fair means against the oppressive British Empire which lost India by 1947.