WHILE having a discussion with a close friend of mine, “I told him, “There’s so much of anger, about rapes, potholes, economy mismanagement and poverty in the country! But I don’t see any change!” “Bob,” he said, “No change comes with armchair anger!” “What’s that?” I asked.
“Anger which runs itself out, once we’ve finished discussing and yelling about it from our armchairs!” he said with a grim smile. I realize today, how true it is. There’s no doubt, people are furious with what is happening all around; the rapes, petrol hike, lynching episodes, imposition of restrictions on eating habits and more, but what do we do, once we stop cursing the government or bishop, or municipality, from our armchairs? Nothing! On 7 June 1893, a young practicing lawyer, was thrown off a train in South Africa for refusing to comply with the racial segregation rules of travel. He was travelling from Durban to Pretoria on a first-class ticket for official purposes.
While he was seated in the first-class compartment, a European man called the railway authorities and asked for the man looking like a ‘coolie’ to be removed from the coach.
He had gone to South Africa with a one-year contract to practice law. But when his contract ended, this incident was instrumental in his decision to stay back and defend the rights of coloured citizens.
‘Should I fight for my rights or go back to India, or should I go on to Pretoria without minding the insults, and return to India after finishing the case?’ And then he realized, ‘It would be cowardice to run back to India without fulfilling my obligation.”
He remained in South Africa and launched various campaigns against the white regime. He founded the Natal Indian Congress to fight against the discrimination of Indians in South Africa and was soon regarded as their leader.
It was in South Africa that Gandhi honed his skills in satyagraha. Pietermaritzburg honoured him by renaming the railway station after Gandhi on his 142nd birth anniversary in 2011!
But it didn’t end with just a station being named after him did it? No, it went on from that town in South Africa, to the whole of India.
His armchair was neither, the first-class compartment, nor Pietermaritzburg. It was a movement called, ‘non-violence’ that encompassed the world.
What about you and me? Did we spend yesterday talking of the horrible Mumbai rape? Or did we feel it was an ‘obligation’, yes ‘obligation’ as Gandhiji said, to implement measures within our areas of authority where women were safe? Or did you just go through a violent bout of severe armchair anger?