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Few know: Gandhi’s first Satyagraha was against racist South Africa's citizenship law

By Nachiketa Desai* 

It may seem ironical to many, but it is a fact that the Modi government, while celebrating on the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi, has come up with the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which is being considered by the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues as fulfilling Gandhi’s dream of making India a safe heaven for refugees seeking asylum from being persecuted by Islamic nations of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
That CAA specifies only these three countries, conspicuously leaving out Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Tibet and China and lists only Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Buddhist and Christians, leaving out Muslim refugees as eligible for Indian citizenship. It appears to betray the intention of the Modi government: Polarise the country on communal lines.
But what is not much known to many is that, Gandhi’s first Satyagraha – nonviolent civil disobedience movement – was against the racist citizenship law of General Smutt’s government of South Africa in 1906. General Smutt had to repeal the law after thousands of people of Asian origin resorted to mass civil disobedience movement by tearing the registration papers.
To justify the new citizenship legislation, the statement of Gandhi is being misquoted. What is forgotten is that Gandhi, after the partition of India in 1947, had wanted all to enjoy equal citizenship rights both the two countries.
The protesting youth, both men and women, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christians, believe that the new citizenship law and the accompanying administrative measures are against what Gandhiji stood for. The first organized peaceful demonstration against CAA was by the students and faculty members of the Jamia Millia Islamia followed by those of the Aligarh Muslim University.
Reminiscent of the nation-wide nonviolent protest against the infamous Rowlett Act and the British Raj’s ruthless police brutalities to suppress it, the Delhi police and the police in Uttar Pradesh unleashed a reign of terror on the campuses.
While the youth had the sagacity of adopting the Gandhian path of peaceful protest, the government followed the brutal ways of the British colonial police. The difference between the behaviour of protesting youth and the repressive government could not be more stark.
While attempt was made to create a Hindu-Muslim divide with the propaganda by stating that only Muslims were leading the anti-CAA agitation, the fact is, members of all religious communities joined hands in the widespread protests. True, Muslims, largely women, held 24x7 sit-in protests in scores of cities and small towns, but they received wide support from Hindu, Sikh and Christian men.
The UP  government reportedly unleashed bands of newly recruited ‘police sahayaks’ (constabulary employed on contract) on Muslims in several towns and state capital Lucknow to beat up men and children, loot and plunder their households and even sexually brutalize boys after dragging them out from madrasas. 
Activist-cum-actor Sadaf Jafar (photo), who was opposed what she termed as the partisan police’s collusion with arsonists, streamed live the video on social media. She was arrested and is said to have been subjected to torture in police custody before sending her to jail.
The exemplary Hindu-Muslim unity seen during the anti-CAA protests had parallels with the Khilafat movement (1919-1924), a century ago, when Mahatma Gandhi had lent support to Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali brothers. The Shaheen Baug sit-in protest largely by Muslim women is also witnessing momentous unity among all religious communities. Sikhs have been running a community kitchen for the Satyagrahis of Shaheen Baug.
The glaring contrast between the anti-CAA protesters and those opposing them can also be seen in their symbols, style and statements. The Shaheen Baug satyagrahis are waving the national flag and vowing their allegiance to the Indian Constitution, hailing Mahatma Gandhi, Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh. BJP supporters are reported to have hurled pejorative slogans, slut-shaming women and threatening to shoot who they call ‘Desh ke gaddar’ (traitors of the country).
The present popular anti-CAA movement across the country, whose common war cry is ‘Hum ladh ke lenge azadi’ (we will fight to reclaim our freedom), draws inspiration from India’s nonviolent freedom struggle against the British rule led by Mahatma Gandhi. The parallels between the present and the past struggles are far too many.
---
*Senior Ahmedabad-based journalist, grandson of Mahadev Desai, Mahatma Gandhi’s personal secretary

Comments

Unknown said…
Muslims of India are great citizens of India. However, to feel for people who are being minimized in Pakitan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan is not doing any harm to Mulims in India. For us to expect Muslims from these same countries to be given similar benefits, one has to be out of his mind. THIS WOULD BE SIMPLY STUPID. CANNOT BE DONE, SHOULD NOT BE DONE. SHOULD NOT EVEN BE THOUGHT OF. INDIA's HISTORY ( BEFOR GANDHI) HAS TO BE KEPT IN MIND.MODI IS DOING THAT.
You increase Mulim POPULATION IN INDIA, INDIA AS WE KNOW WILL DISAPPEAR.
I SAW 1947 PARTITION. I HAVE LEARNT FROM IT. THE AUTHOR IS IGNORANT ABOUT IT. SORRY.
Anonymous said…
We are already in problem as Muslims in India are slowly getting radicalized and don't want already radicalized Muslims to increase their numbers. We want to protect our good Muslims for the secularism of our country.
Ritik Kumar said…
The writer is grandson of Gandhi's secretary.. woww
Suchandra said…
We indians Must change our mannerisms, thinking and philosophy of turning the left cheek for a slap after getting one on the right one. All the other communities have interpreted our enculturation to be our basic weaknes, so much so that they are emboldened either to convert or to eliminate us. To hell with such equation. No more of this appeasement. We don't care for THEIR certification of good, liberal, accommodating Indians.
We should be known, hence, a nation with dignity of self before dignity of the other.
Anonymous said…
Really feeling inquisitive to know Gandhiji more because, the fact that Gandhi’s first Satyagraha – nonviolent civil disobedience movement – was against the racist citizenship law of General Smutt’s government of South Africa in 1906, contradicts the fact that he allowed partition of India on religious basis. What was that force that rose above him he had to succumd to it, and act contradictory to his characteristics, what was that force? What was that power. We really need to dug history well to understand that force, was that good? was that bad? Why did he remain just a silent spectator in his own country when he was the person who stirred up such nonviolent disobedience movement in another country?
Unknown said…
You say Muslims getting radicalized. This is the problem to concentrate on. The other Muslims- no worry. They know they are safer here than in most Islamic countries.
The problem is to cut resourses that are keeping them well even when feeding on India and hating India.
This happened in Kashmir for seventy years. Congress was not going to do anything, they could govern anyway.
Here in the USA we burnt people alive in Wavo Texas years ago. These people did not obey US laws.
WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND LAW, ORDER AND PUNISHMENT
Anonymous said…
Well answeanswered, The writer must be linked with anti Modi brigade. Gandhiji accepted the partition on basis of Religions, land had already been given who wanted that for that religion people, that time Gandhi did not thought of the minorities at the other side. All minorities persecuted, we have obligation for those only that's why CAA came to an act to Help. Always appease minorities will be done injustice to Majorty
Anonymous said…
If you have read anything about Gandhi, you would know he was against partition all along. This was known to both Nehru and Patel, and is well documented. Secondly, you turn a blind eye to radicalization of Hindu kids perpetrated through acts like school plays celebrating demolition of Babri Masjid, the recent shooting at peaceful protestors by Gopal Sharma, the language of the PM and his ministers when they talk about Indian minorities. It is high time that Indians do away with the pretense of civility, just like our PM and the ruling party.
Anonymous said…
public are confused and divided. one section say, muslims will take over india by increasing their population with some statistics. If they are worried about muslims, let them drive all muslims out of the country. Then they say we are secular country, so we cannot do that. when you talk of CAA, muslims alone are not given citizenship and others can be given, they conveniently forget they belong to secular country. Then they talk about population increase due to muslims coming in, but they forget about population increase due to hindus and other people migrating into india.. Gandhi was unable to convince, Hindu group and Jinna. so he was seeing the things painfully the tricks of english people and Jinna, happening. politicians are very clear, they want their vote bank to get citizenship and vote for them
Anonymous said…
Gandhi is a converted Muslim and intelligently did not disclose it. He was bent on making India a islamic country in the lines of caliphate. Nehru was against it. Gandhi by wearing loin clothes fooled the entire Hindu community and also the world to an extent. Gandhi was ready to make Jinnah the first PM. Nehru and others resisted it. Because of the pressure from Gandhi Nehru has to bring in article 370 for Kashmir. Gandhi is majboori ka naam Mahtma Gandhi. Ambedkar clearly sid he is not a mahtma but a weird personality.
Nasim Azizi said…
The pattern of non-violent protests across the country have ensured us that the protesters irrespective of the caste, creed and community are the true citizens of India. The Shaheen Baagh is a beautiful case to study it thoroughly. The government has failed to thwart them with the help of the biased police force that unleashed brutal attack on the students of JMI on December 15. The very same force was completely failed to reveal the identities of the masked men-women 'aatankvadis' who unleashed terror on the students in JNU.
The propaganda machinery has made a section of the people blind to assess the hidden agenda of the hate-mongers. They're power seekers. The Muslim women with other non-muslim sisters have taught us a lesson of equality, liberty and fraternity that's the beauty of our lovely country, India. We have to be united to ask our rulers to seek votes only on the basis of their good works. Talk of education, homes, health, potable water,roads, employment etc. Delhi is the best example of the good governance that can be replicated across the country.
Anonymous said…
I'm constrained & shocked to note that so many people r unaware of the real history regarding partition of India, unfortunately.
Who r the persons / organisations (Muslims, RSS / Hindu Mahasabha, Congress, Muslim League, British or some other forces) responsible for partition of our greatest country ie India???
Which ideologies caused partition of our greatest nation as people & their organisations r influenced by the ideologies???

I request my Indian & other friends to plz try to spare some of your precious time to study a book written by non other than the BJP stalwart Mr Jaswant Singh as he served as Indian foreign minister as well as defence minister under the Vajpayee Govt.
There's no shortage of good books of history written by world renowned historians of India, Europe, US etc.

The truth is that Hindu Mahasabha was formed in 1914 & it passed a unanimous resolution in its national executive in 1915 that "Muslims must be given a separate land in independent India as we the Hindu can't afford to live with them after country attain independence".

RSS was formed in 1923 & it also passed the similar & unanimous resolution in its national executive in 1924 which Hindu Mahasabha had passed in 1915.

British too were interested in keeping India a weaker nation by dividing it between Hindu & Muslims so that independent India is not able to challange them (Britain) & their other colonies like China as it (China) was under them (Britain) at the time India got independence. So, they (British) used Jinnah & his Muslim league to fall in line with the demands of RSS & Hindu Mahasabha & subsequently, Jinnah raised the issue.

Congress's Nehru, Patel, few others alike wanted absolute power. And it (absolute power) wouldn't have been possible without partition as Jinnah & few others alike of Muslim league were demanding younger brother's share in power distribution.

Therefore, our beloved & greatest country suffered irreparably at both the ends ie in the process of division as thousands of innocent people got killed & also afterwards that undivided India would have been far more stronger than the present day's India.
It's absolutely right that undivided India would have been stronger than China, UK, USA etc.
I'm so sorry to state here that some people & their political parties r trying to divide India again on communal lines. And few educated & elites too r helping those forces via their comments, posts etc on social & other media. This's most unfortunate.
Let's plan to pray & try that the divisive forces don't succeed in their gameplan.
Regards
Anonymous said…
The continuous divisive agenda, hate and fear mongering by the ruling clan is driving India to an unsecure and dangerous path. Atrocities on all weaker sections of the society including minorities continue unabated by the successive governments to ensure their power doesn't get interrupted. By doing so these animals in human skins are doing great disservice to the entire society. Hope they are identified, isolated and boycotted forever by all true cirizens before it is too late.
Anonymous said…
Anybody can be good or bad. To demonize one community is racist. Hitler demonized the Jews, Gypsies, and the Left and killed millions. Finally, the world fought against him and he lost. The fate of Indian fascism is also doomed.
Anonymous said…
Making an already weak community statelesss has happened many times. To the jews. And more recently Rohingyas and Sri Lankan hindus. It's just ugly fascism
Sukhamaya Bain said…
A pretty illogical title of an article that does not compare the citizenship law that Gandhi protested against in South Africa and the present CAA law in India!
Anonymous said…
Does anyone know how many non-muslims would get citizenship of india due to CAA? The timeline is also restricted to ones who came here before 2004. This number would not even cross a few thousand. What is the big deal?

as a country we have bigger problems to solve than worry about religion. A country which brings religions to the streets would get destroyed. Practice religion within your house and practice humanity on the streets (and at home too)
Anonymous said…
So as Gandhiji must have died more then 5lacks times when the whole Kashmiri minority Hindu pundits were forced to leave their homes by force of majority religious groups in a Hindh majority country...Editor of the post sound very much biased quoting facts..
Anonymous said…
If Gandhiji was so secular why did he support the Khilafat movement ?
Anonymous said…
Just see the percentage of Hindus in Muslim countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh ... Consider tolerance and same is what will happen to India and you wouldn't even know about it .


Anonymous said…
I don't understand if Gandhi created Pakistan for Muslims why the hell he considered India as a home for both ... People blame Jinnah ... It was Gandhi who started it all
Anonymous said…
As I understand the hidden agenda of the writer is to simply dissolve INDIA and let it go to dogs without even a slightest of protest. Doesn’t matter how many statues, institutes you name after Gandhi the reality is that he was a sexist fraud who didn’t spare his own nieces in the name of ‘experiments’. He let Nehru, also a cultural Muslim, have his way meekly and do injustices to Subhash and Patel. He can be credited with making two Islamic countries in 1947 one being Pakistan and other by forcing those Muslims back who violently voted for separation. So that a future Pakistan stay in process. The continuing fraud being played by our politicians is to create a false ‘father of the nation’ along with a Chacha who destroyed the aspirations of Hindus who not only lost their ancient lands but right to live peacefully.
the real gems said…
as i know that the political agenda in the politice all are here to pramote our self, business and support his/her family financially but the one leader i saw and hear all about them soften words was Mr. Atal Bihari Bajpayee. here at the comment section i cant describe him. to read all about visit Atal Bihari Bajpayee
Anonymous said…
Replying anonymously to an Anonymous guy who does not have the courage to stand up to his beliefs ! I have sent this chain of messages to locate the IP address and take action ............Surprisingly the Anonymous guy and the Congress were completely blind when half a million Kashmiri Pandits/ Hindus were vacated of their homes in Kashmir! Sorry such agendas will not succeed under Modi ji ! By "children: continuously crying in order to get more attention and to claim more benefits is the strategy of today's minorities --worked under Congress but no longer please ! GOOD NEWS : All foreign funds supporting your cause will also stop !
Anonymous said…
So its ok for Muslims to openly say and threaten that they will get radicalised but not OK for Hindus to get united when half a million Kashmiri Pandits are driven out of Kashmir and when a Muslim leader talks of 15% taking care of the 85% Hindus ?!! JOKE OF THE CENTURY !! Choose your MUslim country and go there --I know nobody will because they know India is the BEST !!
Anonymous said…
If Gandhiji was so non racist and non religion minded why did he always ask Hindus to control themselves, and went on hunger fast, whenever Muslims were the affected parties in the riots and then keep absolutely quiet when Hindus were being butchered in Pakistan and also in the border towns of India ? Any clarity ? This does not seem to be the hallmark of a true impartial National leader --the fact is that Nehru's family history and lineage will speak, if enquired into, and he was the one who controlled poor Gandhiji !!
Anonymous said…
It shows that Gandhi was not a perfect ma, actually far less. However, we cannot depend on Gandhi only. We must do everything possible to have PEACE. Between Hindus (and Hindu is not a right word to use, I hate it because the word came from invaders who had pronunciation problem) and Muslims, both parties have to common to peace. It is no easy as there are lots of terrorists in Isla in particular. The governments must get involved. For example, knowing the environment in Afghans the India embers sun should have protected Gurdwara against possible terrorists that are always going to be there. Afghans are the most inhuman people on earth. Of course there are great Afghan people too. Statistically speaking you do not want to be in Afghanistan if you want to be live. Pakistan is not any better. I am from 1940 's time and know that Muslims almost never cared about the rights of others, property or something else. This is my personal experience and I have numerous great faithful Mulim friends too. GANDHI WAS NIT MY FAVOURITE ALTHOUGH I APPRECIATE HIS EFFORTS TO FORE ENGIPLISH OUT OF INDIA.
Abdul Wahid S. said…
India belongs to Indians, not Hindus not Muslims, but Indians.
Anonymous said…
Abdul, this religion concept is dividing people. It must disappear, simply do not know if it ever will. We must think ourselves as humans and not religious entities. If it ever happens there will be PEACE
on earth. Do you know that things on earth are so bad that life in other parts of universe have shielded themselves so that people can never get close to them. THIS IS THE PROBLEM TO SOLVE AND THIS EGO RELIGIOUS THINKING NEEDS TO BE ABANDONED.
Anonymous said…
Abdul Wahid that issue was decided in 1947, when Muslims asked for separate nation and got one. Hindus are dim witted and stupid so it took this long for them to realize the fact. Nehru & other assorted leaders had kept India under the influence of opium called " secularism". This resulted in Hindus being kicked out of Present day Pakistan where they have lived since time immortal. Hindus are finally waking up from this opium induced sleep.
Anonymous said…
I I subscribed after reading an Islamist person's note almost using abusing language about original residents of India. It was as if I am in a black hole of ignorance. We are all human and should act as humans, treat others with respect even if you do not agree with their views. I came back to write. I think some writers need to learn to be respectful to others. If you cannot do good to others, it is O K. But stay at a respectful level, please. Thank you.

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