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

Missed call drive for VVPAT verification follows online plea to "pressure" poll panel

By Our Representative
Several political activists have begun a new campaign, asking concerned citizens to give a missed call on 9667655855 to “support the demand that 2019 Loksabha elections must be declared only after verification of 50% electronic voting machines (EVMs) with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) receipts.” The effort, supported by civil society networks across India, is meant to "further pressure" India's election machinery to ensure that the poll outcome becomes more transparent.

Now, top Gujarat "litterateur" close to Modi says: Godse was patriot, so was Gandhi

By Rajiv Shah
A little over a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticized BJP candidate from Bhopal Pragya Thakur for calling Nathuram Godse a patriot saying he would never forgive her for the remark, a top Sangh Parivar ideologue, known to close to Modi in Gujarat, has supported her, saying her statement should be seen “within a context.” Thakur won from Bhopal by more than 3.5 lakh votes defeating her nearest rival, veteran Congressman and ex-Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh.

Opposition refuses to legally challenge EVMs amidst plans of "back to ballot" protest

Counterview Desk
Even as opposition to the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) allegedly to rig polls is growing, a group of prominent citizens who have come together to form the EVM Virodhi Rashtriya Jan Andolan has controversially called for a national protest against EVMs on May 30, demanding future elections should be held only on ballot paper.

When a Pak scribe said Modi has 'proved' Jinnah’s two nation theory right...

By Zafar Agha*
It was around nine in the morning on May 24, 2019, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi stormed the Lok Sabha with 300-plus MPs. It was a call from a journalist friend, Muzamal Suhrawardy, from Lahore, Pakistan. I ignored the call. We liberals had a depressing day the previous evening as the opposition to Modi and BJP collapsed. The results belied reports from the ground and even assessments made by colleagues.

It's now official: Akshay Kumar has not been conferred honorary Canadian citizenship

By Our Representative
It is now official. Super-star Akshay Kumar has not been conferred any honorary citizenship by Canadian authorities, as claimed by him ahead of the 2019 elections. In reply to a query by Roshan Shah, who is a Canadian citizen living in Waterloo, Ontario, and belongs to Ahmedabad, the country’s authorities dealing with issues related with immigration, refugees and citizenship in Canada have said that only six persons have so far been granted honorary citizenship.

If EC's credibility is under question, shouldn't one "assume" EVMs might be tampered?

Counterview Desk
Gauhar Raza, scientist, documentary film maker and poet; senior human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi of the Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD); military veteran Major Priyadarshi Chowdhury (retd); and Sucheta De and Sandeep Saurav of the All India Students' Association (AISA), have asked “individuals, organisations and people's movements” to send their endorsement to an appeal they have prepared on Electronic Voting Machine (EVM).

Common thread of Modi, political Hinduism, nationalism? 'Contest' of ideas isn't over

By Salman Khurshid*
Losing the 2019 election and that too in a somewhat extreme manner has confronted us with unexpected challenges: Our leadership has naturally taken it very hard and to heart but with suggested options that we cannot imagine or contemplate. Hopefully the emotions will settle soon and give us the direction to pick up the pieces and march again.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad "declared support" to two-nation theory in 1937, followed by Jinnah three years later

By Our Representative
One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

Govt of India overestimated GDP by 2.5%, must restore reputational damage: Ex-CEA

By Rajiv Shah
Top economist Arvind Subramanian has said that changes brought about by the Government of India in data sources and methodology for estimating the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) since 2011-12 “has led to a significant overestimation of growth”. While official estimates place annual average GDP growth between 2011-12 and 2016-17 at about 7 percent, the actual growth may have been 4½ percent, ranging from 3 ½ to 5 ½ percent during the period, he adds.

Will minorities in India be 2nd class citizens? Wake up call: Be a 'communicating' Church

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
India today is at a defining moment of her history. There is so much that has taken place in the past five years (and particularly in the last ten days)- that several citizens of the country are genuinely concerned about the future of the country! Will democracy survive? Will key elements of the Constitution be changed?