A superb bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi, sculpted in India and donated to the museum by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, New Delhi, commemorates his involvement in this area in the early 20th C. This memorial, adjacent to a pond, in the parklike grounds of the museum, offers a place of quiet contemplation and reflection of a great man and his contribution to humanity.
The memorial incorporates many of Gandhi's sayings and words of wisdom on the central plinth, on which the bronze bust has been mounted.
Gandhi had links with Dundee, as the first battle of the Anglo Boer war was fought on the outskirts of the town. Although he was not present at this battle, many of the local Indian businessmen carried wounded British soldiers off the battlefield and into the temporary hospitals set up in the town. On a number of occasions spent the night in the town as a guest of the Soni family. He was tried in the Dundee courthouse for civil disobedience and imprisoned in the Dundee jail.
The 21 years that Gandhi spent in South Africa shaped his beliefs and the future path of his life. The principle of non violent resistance, which he developed and honed to a fine instrument in South Africa in his struggle for civil rights for Indian immigrants, was to become an international instrument which he used to great effect throughout his life.
He arrived in Natal in 1893 as a young lawyer. As a result of being removed from a first class compartment on a train at Pietermaritzburg and the realisation of the deprivation of civil rights suffered by the Indian population in South Africa he began a campaign to address this.
Although ready to leave South Africa he agreed to remain and fight the proposed bill being introduced into the Natal Legislature to disenfranchise Indian settlers. He pointed out that this "would be the first nail in our coffin."¬ He believed that a petition against the disenfranchising bill would not be sufficient and recommended the founding of a permanent body to bring to the attention of governing bodies the plight of the Indians. Thus in 1894 the Natal Indian Congress was established.
In 1899, at the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War he helped raise a corps of Stretcher Bearers who offered their services to the British military authorities. The costs of this service was borne by Indian businessmen in the province. Gandhi, himself, for some time helped out with carrying wounded soldiers from the battlefields to field hospitals. In 1906 with the Bambatha Rebellion he again raised a corps of men as stretcher bearers to assist on the battlefields. This rebellion brought home to him the horrors of war in a way that the Anglo Boer War had not done. He believed that the work of his corps, in nursing the wounded Zulus was providing a service that no one else was providing.
However, despite these services the grievances of the Indian population were not addressed. In 1907 the Asiatic Registration Bill introduced into the Transvaal convinced him that protest, prayer and petition were not achieving their aims, and so he evolved the technique which became known as Passive Resistance.
In 1903 he founded the Transvaal British Association to look after the welfare of Indians residing in that province and in 1904 founded and edited the "Indian Opinion", the first Indian newspaper, to keep Indians informed of events that effected them. He also purchased land known as the "Phoenix¬ Settlement" just outside Durban and later the Tolstoy Farm outside Johannesburg. These tracts were where his colleagues and their families, involved in the Satyagraha campaign could live.
This Satyagraha struggle which he led until his departure from South Africa in 1914, required great courage, patience and organising ability.
On a number of occasions he was arrested and imprisoned, but this furthered his determination and promotion of the struggle.
Despite many agreements with the governing powers that Indian rights would be addressed, they did materialise. In 1912 in protest against the non abolition of the Asiatic Registration Act, the ¬£3 tax on ex-indentured Indians and the invalidation of marriages on non-Christians, 11 women, including Gandhi's wife crossed from Natal into the Transvaal without a permit. In Newcastle the Indian labourers on the coal mines went on sympathetic strike. The coal owners retaliated by cutting off water and electrical services. Gandhi took charge of the miners and their families and decided to walk them to the Tolstoy Farm, but was arrested and jailed in Volksrust and then transferred to Pretoria.
The miners were sent back to Newcastle.
As a result of these actions by the South African government, the Indian government started to apply pressure that led to negotiations between Gandhi, the South African government, the British and Indian governments. Eventually agreement was reached and some of the major points on which the Satyagraha struggle had been waged were conceded.
After twenty one years Gandhi left South Africa and returned to India where he continued his struggle for the rights of his people. In 1947 India achieved independence from Britain, but Gandhi did not live long to enjoy this as he was assassinated in 1948.
His was a life that worked for the preservation of human dignity, human rights and a sense of self worth for all peoples, irrespective of race, colour or creed.