Gandhi and King: The Power of Nonviolent Resistance

By Michael J. Nojeim | Go to book overview

Introduction:
A Brief Background of India

THE BRITISH RAJ: INDIA AS A BRITISH COLONY

To better understand Gandhi, the social and political setting in which Gandhi found himself must first be discussed. Upon his birth in 1869, India was considered the "Jewel in the Crown" of Britain's vast empire. Given its massive size and rich resource base, India was Britain's prized colonial possession. The land was exploited for its silk, gold, and other precious resources. Moreover, with its teeming millions, India provided a sizable market for Britain's exports, such as textiles. More important, India provided an excellent source of cheap labor, which was used in all manner of Britain's imperial economic enterprises. Indians were employed as indentured servants throughout the British Empire, from the cane fields of the Caribbean Islands to the gold mines of South Africa, where Gandhi lived and practiced law for more than 20 years.

Despite being members of the empire, Indians usually did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as European, or white, citizens of the empire. This was especially so for those working in South Africa, whose white government imposed particularly harsh restrictions on nonwhites (Asian immigrants and indigenous black Africans), all of whom were referred to disparagingly as "kafirs," "coons," or "samis." Despite the fact that Gandhi had attended law school in London, where he was treated as an equal, he and other Indians in South Africa were denigrated and denied basic rights enjoyed by their white counterparts. Gandhi first

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