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M.K. Gandhi, Attorney at Law

M.K. Gandhi, Attorney at Law: The Man before the Mahatma

Charles R. DiSalvo
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    M.K. Gandhi, Attorney at Law
    Book Description:

    In 1888, at the age of eighteen, Mohandas Gandhi sets out from his modest home in India. Shy, timid, and soft-spoken, he embarks on what he believes will be a new life abroad. Twenty-seven years later, at the age of forty-five, he returns-this time fearless, impassioned, and ready to lead his country to freedom. What transformed him? The law. M. K. Gandhi, Attorney at Law is the first biography of the Mahatma's early years as a lawyer. It follows Gandhi as he embarks on a personal journey of self-discovery: from his education in Britain, through the failure of his first law practice in India, to his eventual migration to South Africa. Though he found initial success representing wealthy Indian merchants, events on the ground would come to change him. Relentless attacks by the white colonial establishment on Indian civil rights prompted Gandhi to give up his lucrative business in favor of representing the oppressed in court. Gandhi had originally hoped that the South African legal system could be relied upon for justice. But when the courts failed to respond, he had no choice but to shift tactics, developing what would ultimately become his lasting legacy-the philosophy and practice of nonviolent civil disobedience. As he took on the most powerful governmental, economic, and political forces of his day, Gandhi transformed himself from a modest civil rights lawyer into a tireless freedom fighter. Relying on never-before-seen archival materials, this book provides the reader with a front-row seat to the dramatic events that would alter Gandhi-and history-forever.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95662-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. [Map]
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xxviii)

    The image the world has of Mohandas Gandhi is a stark one. Say the name “Gandhi,” and the listener invariably conjures up a vision of an elderly, unassuming, bald-headed man. He peers at us through well-worn wire-rimmed glasses, notable because they constitute one of the few items owned by one who has stripped himself of virtually all material possessions. As we see him, he wears not manufactured clothing from England’s factories, but plain, white, homespun cotton from India’s fields—and a minimum of that, too. He is an ascetic man: he prays, he keeps silence, he fasts, he refrains from...

  5. ONE Dispatched to London
    (pp. 1-16)

    It would be surprising if anyone noticed him. The person who arrived on the SS Clyde on September 29, 1888, at Tilbury Station, twenty miles south of London, England, was not the ascetic, politician, and saint whose campaign for Indian independence would make his loin-clothed image instantly recognizable a century later in Richard Attenborough’s Academy-award winning film, Gandhi. Rather, the figure stepping gingerly into that inhospitably cold and foggy Saturday night was a timid, even frail, eighteen-year-old child from an obscure part of a continent thousands of miles away, dispatched from his Hindu homeland to the foreign Christian and Western...

  6. TWO The Barrister Who Couldn’t Speak
    (pp. 17-30)

    For someone who claimed to be in love with London, Gandhi’s behavior might easily be counted as strange. He received his call to the bar on June 10, was sworn in before the High Court on June 11, and on June 12 he was on a boat for India. Perhaps this was Gandhi the responsible son, one who knew that every extra day in London was an added burden on the family finances. Indeed, this might have been a Gandhi who knew that such expenses were doubly problematic: not only was he exhausting his family’s capital, but he had no...

  7. THREE An Abundant and Regular Supply of Labour
    (pp. 31-35)

    There could hardly be a stranger and more complex setting for the formative years of Gandhi’s public life than the colony of Natal, to which he sailed in 1893. At the time of his arrival, Natal had all the economic, political, and social complexity one might expect from a place populated by native Africans, come upon by the Portuguese, and developed by the Dutch, before being wholly taken over by the British.

    Natal (from the Latin natus, “birth”) was given its name by the explorer Vasco da Gama, who, on his journey from Portugal to India, passed by Natal’s verdant...

  8. FOUR Dada Abdulla’s White Elephant
    (pp. 36-48)

    Waiting for gandhi as he disembarked was Dada Abdulla, one of the richest men of any color in Durban. Owner of an international shipping line and trading houses in both Natal and Transvaal, the Porbandar expatriate had acquired a vast fortune in South Africa. In the past year Abdulla had become entangled with another Indian businessman in a bitter struggle over a commercial transaction involving a huge sum of money. Gandhi understood that he had been invited to South Africa to give routine assistance in this piece of litigation. What he did not understand as his host greeted him in...

  9. FIVE Not a White Barrister
    (pp. 49-66)

    With a rising indian population in Natal continuing to alarm many of the European colonists,¹ the Natal Parliament undertook to limit Indian influence by prohibiting Indians from registering as voters.² When in the late South African fall of 1894 Gandhi agreed to stay in Natal and fight the legislature on this issue, the process of enacting legislation was well under way. The Franchise Law Amendment Bill had already received its second reading and was poised for its third and final reading in early July. Against insuperable odds—the bill enjoyed the unanimous support of the legislature—Gandhi began his public...

  10. SIX Formation Lessons
    (pp. 67-83)

    In 1894 gandhi tried his first criminal cases in South Africa. We have no record of his having reflected on the moral questions that work raised. He also performed compassionate work for Balasundaram and uncompassionate work against Scheurmann. We have no record of his having reflected on the contrast. One might conclude, however, that Gandhi, with his strong conscience, turned these matters over in his mind.

    What Gandhi likely did not appreciate—almost no young lawyer does—is that the experiences a lawyer undergoes in the first few years of practice help form, in a disproportionately influential way, the character...

  11. SEVEN Waller’s Question
    (pp. 84-94)

    In september of 1895, at a Natal Indian Congress meeting attended by upwards of one thousand people, Gandhi announced his intention to make a trip to India to promote the South African Indian cause and to bring back more Indian barristers to Natal to assist in the effort. It was also his desire, now that he “had established a fairly good practice,” to “go home, fetch [his] wife and children, and then return and settle out.”¹

    Gandhi could take his temporary leave from Natal in mid-1896 knowing his movement for Indian rights had recently achieved some limited satisfaction from the...

  12. EIGHT A Public Man
    (pp. 95-103)

    Gandhi went to india in 1896 to promote the South African Indian cause, to recruit Indian barristers to assist in the Indian rights movement in Natal, and to relocate his family to South Africa. An unintended consequence of the Indian experience, however, was that it would shock Gandhi into an accurate understanding of how far he still had to go before he could count himself an accomplished public person.

    While in India Gandhi made it his business to visit Bombay and several of its leading legal figures, among them Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, a distinguished lawyer whose advocacy skills had earned...

  13. NINE To Maritzburg
    (pp. 104-125)

    Harry escombe had made a deal with the devil.

    He had succeeded in convincing the anti-Indian mob to go home. He had prevented a violent attack. He had defused a certain amount of palpable racial tension.

    But it cost Escombe. In return for peace, he had pledged to the demonstrators that, if they would leave the Indians on the Courland and Naderi alone, the government would address their concerns through legislation.¹ Gandhi looked on as the threat of violence purchased new laws. He himself would use the threat of nonviolence to defend Indian rights.

    When the Natal Legislative Assembly convened...

  14. TEN Moth and Flame
    (pp. 126-137)

    In late 1898 word came from London that the Privy Council had handed down its decision in the case of Vanda v. Newcastle.¹ Laughton’s argument that an applicant for a dealer’s licence should be permitted to appeal an adverse town council decision to the Natal Supreme Court had been rejected. There would be no appeals of licence denials to the courts.

    The fight against the DLA was now limited not only by the conservatism of the Natal Supreme Court but by this devastating Privy Council ruling as well.² The cause of Indian civil rights in South Africa was stymied. As...

  15. ELEVEN Sacrifice
    (pp. 138-145)

    The natal in which gandhi practiced law was a backwater colony with a backwater legal arena. Gandhi achieved material success there not only because of his hard work and the loyalty of the Indian community to one of its own, but also because his competition at the bar for business and prestige was limited both in number and in intellectual sophistication.

    Things were different in India. Rajkot and Bombay, the two places Gandhi would eventually attempt to set up law practices, were thick with all manner of practitioners, with many of the country’s leading attorneys practicing in Bombay. Aside from...

  16. TWELVE Transition and the Transvaal
    (pp. 146-158)

    When gandhi opened his law office in Johannesburg in 1903, it was a time of new beginnings for the thirty-three-year-old lawyer. His Durban practice was behind him, as was his struggle to establish himself in India. It was also a time of new beginnings for the Transvaal. The last armed elements of a stubborn Afrikaner resistance had been extinguished and the South African Republic with it. The Transvaal was a British colony.

    Before, during, and after the British, there were the Afrikaners, the descendants of the Dutch who settled South Africa beginning in 1652. Having migrated to the interior from...

  17. THIRTEEN No Bed of Roses
    (pp. 159-179)

    Is history the product of strong-minded individuals who impose their will on the forces of society? Or is it the product of the forces of society that impose themselves on individuals? Or, as many think, are there no clear lines?¹

    It is easy enough to divide Mohandas Gandhi’s career at the bar into two seemingly distinct phases—the Natal phase and the Transvaal phase. This division has the look of intentionality. When Gandhi returned to South Africa at the very end of 1902, however, it was not for the purpose of resuming his profession. Rather, he was there to lead...

  18. FOURTEEN Disobedience
    (pp. 180-196)

    1906 would be a year of turning points.

    Casting aside his past indecision and finding new resolve, Gandhi would volunteer to aid the British in the Zulu Rebellion, embrace a life of celibacy, and undertake a difficult political mission to London. Meanwhile, in a dramatic and historic development, Gandhi and the Transvaal Indian community would openly and solemnly pledge themselves to resist governmental oppression, by civil disobedience if all else failed.

    Amidst all this change—indeed as part of it—Gandhi transformed the shape and nature of his life as a lawyer. When he had first agreed to stay in...

  19. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  20. FIFTEEN Courthouse to Jailhouse
    (pp. 197-215)

    The ramsundar case, which unfolded in the closing months of 1907, foreshadowed the mass arrests of the leaders of the Indian resistance movement that would occur shortly afterward. After threatening action for months, the government moved decisively at the end of 1907 to enforce the Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance by prosecuting Gandhi and many of his colleagues for their refusal to comply with the Act’s registration scheme. To understand how his part in this resistance changed Gandhi’s life, some background concerning the Act, and Indian opposition to it, is in order.

    The timing of the introduction of the Act in...

  21. SIXTEEN Malpractice
    (pp. 216-226)

    As gandhi entered the johannesburg jail, he did not know that another troublesome South African lawyer—this one named Nelson Mandela—would follow his footsteps into that same jail some fifty-four years later. Nor did he know that a free South Africa would someday honor their presence there by choosing the site of the jail for its new Constitutional Court.

    What Gandhi did know on January 10, 1908, is that he had to make his peace with imprisonment. He quickly set about regaining his composure, and, indeed, he vigorously embraced his jail experience, declaring himself “content to be in jail”...

  22. SEVENTEEN Courtroom as Laboratory
    (pp. 227-248)

    Looking back from the vantage point of the twenty-first century, it is relatively easy to see how civil disobedience leads to social change. Students of civil disobedience understand the chain reaction a civilly disobedient act has the potential to ignite—disobedience, self-suffering, sympathy from the public, pressure on decision-makers, and curative institutional action. They also understand the power of civil disobedience to cripple and even overthrow governments through the withdrawal of consent. They have the benefit of the lessons taught by the Freedom Rides and the Dandi Salt March. For Gandhi, the Salt March was still ahead of him; the...

  23. EIGHTEEN Closing Arguments
    (pp. 249-268)

    By the time gandhi entered the Volksrust jail on October 14, 1908—twelve days after his thirty-ninth birthday—he had spent more than half his life in the study and practice of law. In some ways the law had been very good to Gandhi, his family, and the movement for Indian rights in South Africa. Gandhi’s status as a lawyer had given him credibility with the authorities and with his own community. His practice had provided his immediate family and, at times, his extended family, too, with income. Indeed, Gandhi’s practice was so financially successful that he was able to...

    (pp. 269-272)
    (pp. 273-274)
  26. NOTES
    (pp. 275-310)
    (pp. 311-322)
    (pp. 323-326)
  29. INDEX
    (pp. 327-350)