Skip to main content

In late 19th century, traders left India because of colonial oppression, "weren't aware" of racist South Africa

Keshavjee
By Our Representative
Mohamed M Keshavjee’s book, “Into that Heaven of Freedom”, to be launched in Ahmedabad on Saturday, captures some of the rare historical moments of how Indians were discriminated against in South Africa around the time when Mohandas  Karamchand Gandhi, as Gujarati lawyer, arrived in the country in 1893.
Pointing out that his forebears arrived in South Africa a year after Gandhi unaware of the apartheid system, the book, running into 23 chapters, admits that his great uncle, like the majority of other Indians, “had no idea of the racist nature of the system when he first arrived” in South Africa.
Touring through Kathiawad in Gujarat, to which Keshavjee’s ancestors belong, the book inquires into what made his family leave India in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and why did they choose Africa. According to him, the reasons lay in the colonial situation in which the traders India found themselves at that time.
Set against the backdrop of Gandhi’s early struggle against racism in South Africa, the book focuses on how awareness spread in an urban location near Pretoria called Marabastad, to which Indians, many of them traders, were relegated under the racist legislation.
The  book describes how the Ismaili community, from which Keshavjee hails, organized itself mainly around their community centre, where its members set up institutions of social development as a bulwark against the detrimental effects of a political system that was bent on destroying the fibre of the lives of all non-whites.
A South African and a Canadian, Keshavjee did his doctorate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. After leaving South Africa in 1962, Keshavjee lived in Kenya, where he went to school and later practised law before going to Canada. For 30 years he lived in France working for the Aga Khan Development Network. Currently he lives in UK, lecturing in various universities.
In Marabastad, says the author, there was utter lack of security in respect of their homes, yet people went about their daily lives with a degree of resignation, as they confronted a maze of laws designed to stifle their economic survival, particularly the Group Areas Act, which gave the government powers to forcibly evict them to other areas far away from town.
It is at this point, says Kesavjee, that Gandhi became involved in fighting for the rights of the Indian people, primarily on the basis that they are British subjects, and, as such, are entitled to the same rights and privileges as all British subjects.
Launching satyagraha, the book, based on interviews, gives a description of Gandhi’s struggle against the anti-Indian legislation in the Transvaal, the school for the children of satyagrahis called Tolstoy Farm, and how, within the first week of his arrival, he experienced racial prejudice and was thrown out of a train for travelling in a first class compartment.
The book describes the encounters the author’s family had with petty apartheid, which over time became so mind-bogglingly ludicrous that the system was bound to implode under its own weight. He describes a funny incident involving a cousin’s haircut when the barber felt compelled to shut the shop as he had reached the closing time imposed by the City Council. This entailed the cousin walking around the town having had a half a haircut!

The book describes how the small enclave in which his ancestors lived produced individuals of great moral courage, who gave of themselves to help society withstand the ravages of apartheid - individuals who fought the Group Areas Act, such as the Gandhian non- violent  resister, Nana Sita, Thayanayagee Pillay,  daughter of Thambi Naidoo who worked very closely with Mahatma Gandhi, and Ismail Mahomed, a leading jurist who became multi- racial South Africa’s first non-white chief Justice.  

Comments

TRENDING

Congress 'promises' cancellation of Adani power project: Jharkhand elections

Counterview Desk
Pointing out that people's issues take a backseat in Jharkhand's 2019 assembly elections, the state's civil rights organization, the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a coalition of activists and people’s organisations, has said that political parties have largely ignored in their electoral manifestos the need to implement the fifth schedule of the Constitution in a predominantly tribal district.

Gujarat refusal to observe Maulana Azad's birthday as Education Day 'discriminatory'

By Our Representative
The Gujarat government decision not to celebrate the National Education Day on !monday has gone controversial. Civil society organizations have particularly wondered whether the state government is shying away from the occasion, especially against the backdrop of "deteriorating" level of education in Gujarat.

Hindutva founders 'borrowed' Nazi, fascist idea of one flag, one leader, one ideology

By Shamsul Islam*
With the unleashing of the reign of terror by the RSS/BJP rulers against working-class, peasant organizations, women organizations, student movements, intellectuals, writers, poets and progressive social/political activists, India also witnessed a series of resistance programmes organized by the pro-people cultural organizations in different parts of the country. My address in some of these programmes is reproduced here... 
***  Before sharing my views on the tasks of artists-writers-intellectuals in the times of fascism, let me briefly define fascism and how it is different from totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is political concept, a dictatorship of an individual, family or group which prohibits opposition in any form, and exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life. It is also described as authoritarianism.
Whereas fascism, while retaining all these repressive characteristics, also believes in god-ordained superiority of race, cultur…

Ex-World Bank chief economist doubts spurt in India's ease of doing business rank

By Rajiv Shah
This is in continuation of my previous blog where I had quoted from a commentary which top economist Prof Kaushik Basu had written in the New York Times (NYT) a little less than a month ago, on November 6, to be exact. He recalled this article through a tweet on November 29, soon after it was made known that India's growth rate had slumped (officially!) to 4.5%.

With RSS around, does India need foreign enemy to undo its democratic-secular fabric?

By Shamsul Islam*
Many well-meaning liberal and secular political analysts are highly perturbed by sectarian policy decisions of RSS/BJP rulers led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, especially after starting his second inning. They are vocal in red-flagging lynching incidents, policies of the Modi government on Kashmir, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the demand for 'Bharat Ratna' to Savarkar who submitted 6-7 mercy petitions to the British masters (getting remission of 40 years out of 50 years' sentence), and the murder of constitutional norms in Goa, Karnataka and now in Maharashtra.

Rushdie, Pamuk, 260 writers tell Modi: Aatish episode casts chill on public discourse

Counterview Desk
As many as 260 writers, journalists, artists, academics and activists across the world, including Salman Rushdie, British Indian novelist, Orhan Pamuk, Turkish novelist and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in literature, and Margaret Atwood, Canadian poet and novelist, have called upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi to review the decision to strip British Indian writer Aatish Taseer of his overseas Indian citizenship.

Girl child education: 20 major states 'score' better than Gujarat, says GoI report

By Rajiv Shah
A Government of India report, released last month, has suggested that “model” Gujarat has failed to make any progress vis-à-vis other states in ensuring that girls continue to remain enrolled after they leave primary schools. The report finds that, in the age group 14-17, Gujarat’s 71% girls are enrolled at the secondary and higher secondary level, which is worse than 20 out of 22 major states for which data have been made available.

Worrying signs in BJP: Modi, Shah begin 'cold-shouldering' Gujarat CM, party chief

By RK Misra*
The political developments in neighbouring Maharashtra where a Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government assumed office has had a trickle down effect in Gujarat with both the ruling BJP and the Congress opposition going into revamp mode.

Post-Balakot, danger that events might spiral out of control is 'greater, not less'

By Tapan Bose*
The fear of war in South Asia is increasing. Tensions are escalating between India and Pakistan after the Indian defence minister's announcement in August this year that India may revoke its current commitment to only use nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear attack, known as ‘no first use’. According to some experts who are watching the situation the risk of a conflict between the two countries has never been greater since they both tested nuclear weapons in 1998.

'Favouring' tribals and ignoring Adivasis? Behind coercion of India's aborigines

By Mohan Guruswamy*
Tribal people account for 8.2% of India’s population. They are spread over all of India’s States and Union Territories. Even so they can be broadly classified into three groupings. The first grouping consists of populations who predate the Indo-Aryan migrations. These are termed by many anthropologists as the Austro-Asiatic-speaking Australoid people.