A statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square in London, England. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

MAHATMA Gandhi’s ejection from a train in South Africa’s Pietermaritzburg in 1893 was marked in the country on Monday (8), with speakers from across the world discussing the relevance of his messages today.

On the night of June 7, 1893, when Gandhi was on his way to Pretoria from Durban, a white man objected to his presence in a first-class carriage, and he was ordered to move to the third-class compartment. Gandhi had a valid first-class ticket and when he refused to move, he was thrown out of the train at Pietermaritzburg station. He remained at the station that night.

The incident on June 7, 1893 had strongly influenced Gandhi’s decision to fight racial discrimination in South Africa and later the freedom struggle in India.

Chairman of The Pietermaritzburg Gandhi Memorial Committee, David Gengan, said they decided some years ago that the story of June 7, 1893 and its impact on the young Gandhi would be told every year at its anniversary.

The seed for ‘Satyagraha’ (non-violent resistance) was planted in Pietermaritzburg on the night of June 7, 1893, he added.

Gandhi’s 21 years in South Africa shaped his philosophy of peace and non-violence, Gengan said. However, while the event was previously commemorated at the station where the incident occurred, they had been unable to do so since last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gandhi’s granddaughter Ela Gandhi, 80, who heads the Gandhi Development Trust which oversees the Phoenix Settlement he started during his time in Durban, spoke of his legacy.

The bust of Mahatma Gandhi at the Pietermaritzburg Railway Station in South Africa. – Gandhi was forced off a train at the station in the night of June 7, 1893, in a racially-motivated incident. (Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP) (Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP via Getty Images)

“As we struggle with the Covid-19 realities, we are becoming aware of the need for a change in our perception and behaviours to create a new normal,” she said.

Sello Hatang, chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said, “It is when we try our best to be better humans that we build a world that (Mandela and Gandhi) dreamt of – the world that cares about the downtrodden, the forgotten, those who feel that they are the outcasts.”

Call for Gandhian organisations to form association
Javie Ravjee of the Mahatma Gandhi Remembrance Organisation in Johannesburg, which has revived the Tolstoy Farm commune that Gandhi started during his stay in the city (after it had been left derelict for several decades), called for all similar organisations across the globe to form an association.

Dr Sriram Sonty from Chicago agreed with this idea.

“We should create a global association of all Gandhian networks where we can come together and make a statement and a mass protest across the globe, like they did for Black Lives Matter,” Sonty said.

When he set up the Phoenix Settlement, Gandhi spoke about self-sufficiency and self-reliance, ideas Ela said were still relevant today.

“Materialism is the cause of every issue that is taking place. The wars are because of resources. As long as wealth and money become the centre of our lives, we are not going to be able to change.

“Phoenix Settlement’s message is that there are other things much more important than wealth, and that is what we need to look at and develop. It is very relevant today, more than ever before,” Ela said.

Professor Prasad Gollanapalli from the Gandhi King Foundation in Hyderabad said there should be a deeper understanding of Gandhi that should be taken to the younger generation, especially at colleges and universities.