The World of Law: A Treasury of Great Writing about and in the Law, Short Stories, Plays, Essays, Accounts, Letters, Opinions, Pleas, Transcripts of Testimony; from Biblical Times to the Present - Vol. 2

By Ephraim London | Go to book overview

Gandhi


A PLEA FOR THE SEVEREST PENALTY, UPON HIS CONVICTION FOR SEDITION

March 23, 1922

While the Peace Conference was getting underway in Paris early in 1919, a new kind of conflict was beginning in India, a conflict that was to hasten the dismemberment of the British Empire. For it was then that Gandhi began to take an active part in the Indian nationalist movement. Hundreds of eloquent men had preceded him in the struggle. "But this voice was somehow different from the others," Nehru afterward wrote from prison to his daughter. "It was quiet and low, and yet it could be heard above the shouting of the multitude; it was soft and gentle, and yet there seemed to be steel hidden away somewhere in it; it was courteous and full of appeal, and yet there was something grim and frightening in it; every word used was full of meaning and seemed to carry a deadly earnestness. Behind the language of peace and friendship there was power and the quivering shadow of action."

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi ( 1869- 1948) was born into a middle-class, middle-caste family. After a general education in India he studied law in London, passed the bar examination, and returned home for two years of unpromising practice. In 1893 he went to South Africa to work on a single case, but a few days after landing at Durban, Natal, he was thrown out of a first- class train compartment and thus quickly learned about discrimination against Indians in that part of the world. Instead of leaving after completing his case, he remained in South Africa almost continuously for twenty years. Although he now flourished in his profession, he gave it up entirely about 1900 to devote all his attention to fighting the unjust laws against his countrymen. But it was a new kind of fighting--Satyagraha.

"The term Satyagraha was coined by me in South Africa," said Gandhi,

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