The scene is the Empire Theater in Johannesburg, South Africa, nearly 3000 people gathered to discuss a government ordinance that would affect the 12,000 British Indians residing in the Transvaal state at the time. The database of Gandhi’s writings is huge, including memories of the evening. They chronicle the birth of the use of truth-force in economic, political and social movements, called satyagraha.

The government ordinance required:

  • All Indians over the age of eight to create a certificate of registration with important marks of identification, including fingerprints
  • Presentation of the certificate at any police officer’s request, whenever and wherever, including private houses
  • Fines, imprisonment or deportation in the case of non-compliance

Discussions among the local Indians soon turned to “a fit of passion: ‘If anyone came forward to demand a certificate from my wife, I would shoot him on the spot and take the consequences.’”

At the Sept. 11 public meeting, the gathered citizens discussed the Fourth Resolution which states:

Should the Legislative Council, the local and the Imperial Governments reject the humble prayer of the Indian community against the Asiatic Ordinance, every Indian present at this meeting solemnly and sincerely resolves that, rather than submit to this tyrannical law and abide by its un-British provisions, he will prefer to go to gaol and will continue to do so until it pleases His Majesty the King-Emperor to grant relief.

As discussion continued as to a proper response, Gandhi describes his thought as an elder, Sheth Haji Habib, invoked God’s name in his refusal to submit to the proposed law.

Amendments inresolutions and failure to observe resolutions on the part of persons agreeing thereto are ordinary experiences of public life all the world over. But no one ever imports the name of God into such resolutions. In the abstract there should not be any distinction between a resolution and an oath taken in the name of God. When an intelligent man makes a resolution deliberately he never swerves from it by a hair’s breadth. With him his resolution carries as much weight as a declaration made with God as witness does. But the world takes no note of abstract principles and imagines an ordinary resolution and an oath in the name of God to be poles asunder. A man who makes an ordinary resolution is not ashamed of himself when he deviates from it, but a man who violates an oath administered to him is not only ashamed of himself but is also looked upon by society as a sinner. This imaginary distinction has struck such a deep root in the human mind that a person making a statement on oath before a judge is held to have committed an offence in law if the statement is proved to be false and receives drastic punishment.

Given the opportunity to explain his thoughts to the gathered, he provided a glimpse into the struggle ahead and the goal of resistance. One gets a glimpse into Gandhi’s intellectual strength and can imagine 

“We may be deported. Suffering from starvation and similar hardships in jail, some of us may fall ill and even die. In short, therefore, it is not at all impossible that we may have to endure every hardship that we can imagine, and wisdom lies in pledging ourselves on the understanding that we shall have to suffer all that and worse. If someone asks me when and how the struggle may end, I may say that if the entire community manfully stands the test, the end will be near. If many of us fall back under storm and stress, the struggle will be prolonged. But I can boldly declare, and with certainty, that so long as there is even a handful of men true to their pledge, there can only be one end to the struggle, and that is victory.”

This evening represented a single step a long struggle that eventually took Gandhi to India. Since then, citizens the world over have carried out various forms of nonviolent protest and persuasion, social noncooperation, economic boycott and strikes and other interventions using the application of truth and love.

SOURCE (block quotes): http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL034.PDF