“You’ll have to shift to a third class!" ordered a railway official.
“But why should I? I am holding a valid ticket!" Mohandas retorted.
As a punishment, he was thrown out of the train.
Mohandas had to spend the chilly winter night in the waiting-room. It was during this personal experience that his sense of social justice was aroused. That whole night, he thought, “It’s cowardice to run away from here. I should fight for my rights." And then on, he started protesting and demanding basic rights for Indians and other non-whites in the country. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi now stood for a social cause.
He made the necessary preliminary contacts and called a meeting of the Indian community in Pretoria. This was his first public speech successfully delivered. “We should observe truthfulness, even in business!" he said. “Remember, our responsibility is all the greater since our country would be judged by our conduct in a foreign land. "
He suggested that an association be formed to look after the Indian settlers. Hereafter, Gandhi offered his free time and services to the mission he had initiated.
His well wishers would often say, “Return to your motherland, Mohan! And lead an easy life."
“No, I want to make a difference for the Indian community that is suffering oppression
in the hands of the British imperials ruling the country!" he would reply.
And he stayed on in South Africa for a period of 20 years. This period was marred by physical and mental abuse and imprisonment. Gandhi chose the weapon of non-violence
and non co-operation against the whites. He was never hostile. He drew inspiration
from the writings of Count Leo Tolstoy. He was also influenced by the teachings
of Jesus Christ and an American writer called Henry David Thoreau whose most
noteworthy book was CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE.
Gandhi described his struggle as SATYAGRAHA (which means Truth and Firmness). He participated in the Boer War where he formed an ambulance unit to aid the wounded soldiers of the British Army. Gandhi’s constant efforts were partly fruitful when in 1914 the Government of South Africa allowed recognition of Indian marriages and abolished poll tax.
Gandhi was 45 now. By this time, the Indian freedom struggle had gained momentum. So, in January 1915 he finally returned to India as a Mahatma with no possessions and with only one ambition - to serve his people.