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Gandhi's Satyagraha in South Africa and the Tamils

Gandhi's newspaper, the Indian Opinion, was launched in South Africa in three languages - Gujarati, Tamil and English - in 1903 on the eve of the satyagraha struggle. Tamils constituted the largest percentage of the Indian diaspora among the indentured labour as well as the "Passenger Indians" who came in search of better opportunities. This essay situates the Tamils in South Africa and their response to Gandhi's call for satyagraha by examining the available issues of the Tamil edition between 1903 and 1914.


Gandhi’s Satyagraha in South Africa and the Tamils

Vijaya Ramaswamy

Gandhi’s newspaper, the Indian Opinion, was launched in South Africa in three languages – Gujarati, Tamil and English – in 1903 on the eve of the satyagraha struggle. Tamils constituted the largest percentage of the Indian diaspora among the indentured labour as well as the “Passenger Indians” who came in search of better opportunities. This essay situates the Tamils in South Africa and their response to Gandhi’s call for satyagraha by examining the available issues of the Tamil edition between 1903 and 1914.

I am very grateful to the Gandhi Museum and its director Varsha Das, for suggesting that I should look at the issues of the Tamil edition of Indian Opinion from 1903 to 1913-14 and present the nature of their contents before a select audience at a National Seminar held on 18 December 2006, titled “Indian Opinion, the Editor Gandhi”. The present article is a revised version of my paper, “The Indian Opinion: Voice of the Tamil Diaspora”, published by the Gandhi Museum on the occasion of the centenary year of Gandhian Satyagraha in South Africa.

Vijaya Ramaswamy ( is with the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

n his book, Satyagraha in South Africa Mahatma Gandhi says, “I believe that a struggle which chiefly relies upon internal strength cannot be wholly carried on without a newspaper – it is also my experience that we could not perhaps have educated the local Indian community, nor kept Indians all over the world in touch with the course of events in South Africa in any other way, with the same ease and success as through the Indian Opinion, which therefore was certainly a most useful and potent weapon in our struggle.”1 The first issue (which began as an E nglish weekly) was published at Gandhi’s press at Durban, Natal on 4 June 1903. The paper opens with a lengthy editorial on the need for a Tamil edition of the Indian Opinion (IO) in South Africa. It is noteworthy that the Gujarati and Hindi editions also began to come out around the same time.

The publication of the IO in three major Indian languages – Gujarati, Tamil and English – foregrounds the Gandhian satyagraha in South Africa. The lead editorials spoke of the ill-effects of imperial policy on both the Africans and the trope of Indian diaspora, in particular the Tamil community. From contemporary records, it appears that the Tamils constituted the largest contingent of the Indian diaspora among the indentured labour, and a sizeable chunk of the “Passenger Indians” who came in search of better opportunities from various parts of their homeland. This article seeks to situate the Tamils in South Africa and their response to Gandhi’s call for satyagraha, from the perspective of the available Tamil editions of the IOpublished between 1903 and 1914.

The crux of the Indian grievance in South Africa was discrimination on grounds of race. As the very first Tamil edition of IO puts it, “The whites do not consider us their equal although we both are settlers in South Africa”.

Apartheid translated itself in terms of words, gestures and acts. In a sense it turned to the advantage of the migrant I ndians that the practice of apartheid brought together the motley groups of i nden tured labour, coolies, white collar workers and prosperous professional c ate gories like merchants and lawyers u nder the umbrella of discrimination. This banding together of the Indian community paved the way for the Gandhian satyagraha.

The Tamil Edition

The very first issue of the Tamil IO provides the justification for its publication. These reasons are as follows: “(1) The Whites do not consider us their equals although both are ‘settlers in South Africa’.

  • (2) We must take note of British ingratitude in not acknowledging the help r ender ed by the Indian soldiers in South Africa.
  • (3) We are pained at the complete ignorance of second and third generation Tamils about their own historical roots, Tamil culture and India’s relationship with Britain.
  • (4) We hope to overcome this lacuna (in their knowledge) through learned articles by Tamils on all these aspects.
  • (5) Can we expect anything at all to be done for us by the King Edward VII or by the Anglo-Saxon community? Our sole aim (in starting this Tamil edition of Indian Opinion) is to better the conditions of our people and establish ‘unity’ among the various Indian communities settled here in South Africa.”
  • Almost every edition of the weekly contains the lines “It is your paper published in your interest in order to condemn discriminatory laws against Indians”. It states, “Your paper cannot run if we do not have a minimum of 4,000 to 5,000 subscribers and advertisements for at least four to fi ve pages”. It ends by appealing to the Tamils to patronise the weekly by buying their copies. It is noteworthy that very rarely did the Tamil edition of IO even run into the second page. It often shared the page with the Gujarati edition.

    Tamil Diaspora in South Africa

    The inaugural issue devotes three long columns to an essay titled “An Account of Indians in South Africa”. It mentions that

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    the Indians in South Africa number around one lakh and reiterates loyalty to the British monarch Edward VII with the assertion that, “We are as much the subjects of the British empire as the British”.

    The first batch of Tamils arrived from Madras on 17 November 1860 to work in the sugar cane fields of South Africa. Around 1855, the white settlers in the British colony of Natal had discovered that the coastlands of Natal possessed tremendous potential for sugar farming provided reliable labour could be found. The colonists in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius had developed a thriving sugar industry using Indian indentured labour. Adopting the same pattern the white plantation owners of South Africa began to rely on Indian indentured labour which had a predominant component of Tamils (over 60%). Labour agents brought back shiploads of indentured labourers most of whom were illiterate and quite ignorant of both their destination and terms of the labour contracts.

    The early indentured labourers were followed by Tamil merchants belonging primarily to the Chettiar community. These came with their silks, spices, rice and other luxury products. Some of them were also petty traders like R Munusami Mudaliyar, the father of Tillaiyadi Valliyammai, who opened a small provision store in Johannesburg. Families like those of Murugesan Pillay, Perumal Naidu, Chinnasami Pillay, Thambi Naidu and N Pillay belonged to this second rung of the Tamil diaspora and came to be called “passenger” Indians because they had paid for their passage in the ships. Many of these merchants settled in Transvaal and Johannesburg.

    The early issues of The Tamil Opinion suggest that there was yet one more category of these early immigrants. This was of those who seem to have been brought from India under the slave trade. They were settled primarily in the Cape Province. Besides Cape Tamils there were the Cape Malays, Cape Muslims, etc. In course of time these groups came to be termed “coloured” peoples, that is neither “white” like the European masters nor “black” like the indigenous Africans but an admixture of races and colours. These groups seem to have gained voting rights in due course, something that was denied to the latter

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    waves of immigrants from the Tamil country. Anil Nauria in his book The African Element in Gandhi provides examples of “coloured” Indians like Abdur Rahman who managed to get themselves elected to the city and provincial councils.

    It was the Tamil Chettiar community as well as the coloured Tamils who produced intellectuals, teachers and professionals and a number of Tamil schools founded by them came up in Durban, Transvaal and Natal.2 One Vriddachalam Pillai, who had a small business in Durban, ran a Tamil school and published a Tamil weekly called Viveka Banu at his own printing press. Scholars like S M Pillai and G R Naidu became known for their services to Tamil language and culture. It was these Tamils who became the backbone of the Tamil edition of the IO.

    Issues Raised in the IO

    The issue of 4 June 1903 condemns the Immigration Restriction Act that required the indentured labourers who had already served for five years to either return to I ndia or serve under the same terms and conditions. Further, those among them who were illiterate or did not know any of the European languages were to be sent back, with or without their consent.

    Licence Act

    These discriminatory laws included the annual licence fee of three pounds per person if the indentured labourer and his family wanted to continue to remain in South Africa. The tax was levied even on unemployed children of the labourer. This matter comes up again and again in the subsequent issues of the weekly. It continued to be a burning issue even in 1913, the penultimate year of publication of the Tamil edition of the IO. In the issue of 26 April 1913, the paper reports that the government had gone back on its promise to repeal this despicable Licence Act (Act 17 of 1895), a solemn promise made by General Louis Botha (1862-1919), the Prime Minister of Transvaal and of the South African Union to Gopalakrishna Gokhale. The paper quoted Botha as saying in his speech of 1 November 1913 that “we shall do nothing by which your rights shall suffer”. In the IO of 26 April 1913 Gandhi had called for satyagraha in which he stated that while it

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    was but natural that Transvaal and Johannesburg should lead the way in the struggle as the worst hit by the Licence Act, other areas like Cape Province and Natal should show solidarity with the others. Gandhi is quoted as saying, “The government may treat us as if we are separate but we can demonstrate our union by our action”. The supplement to the Tamil edition of 29 October 1913 proudly published the photographs of women satyagrahis like Mrs K Murugesan Pillay, Mrs P K Naidu and Mrs Perumal Naidu.

    The angry responses to the Licence Act continued into the 1914 issues of the Tamil edition. A very important aspect of the Tamil IOis that it not only made the Tamil community aware of the issues before it but also served as an information bulletin for further action on the satyagraha front. The editorial of the issue of 7 January 1914 says that no one should proceed towards Pretoria since Gandhiji had asked everyone to wait until the outcome of negotiations was known. It adds that people would be informed about the further course of action through their respective English, Tamil and Hindi editions. The issue of 21 January carries a direct appeal signed by M K Gandhi in which indentured labourers are requested not to pay the 3-pound licence fee (which was being negotiated) or to enter into new contractual agreements with potential employers.

    The children of these indentured worker migrants wanted to acquire an education and began to seek white-collar occupation as schoolteachers and clerks. The subscribers of the IO came from the educated section of the Tamils.

    Education for Tamil Children

    The lead article in the 4 June 1903 issue of IO expresses anxiety about the denial of education to the children of the Tamils. Indian children were not allowed to a ttend government schools but separate ones were established for them at Durban and Pietermaritzburg where only elementary education was imparted. The Tamils responded by running their own schools in defiance of government orders.

    IOnot only established schools for these children but also appealed for donations. One of the news items says that at Pietermaritzburg P Narayanasami Naidu gave


    Rs 225 as donation to the Tiruvannamalai Act. The act places the Tamil merchants Victoria Hindu Primary School while among others at the mercy of the licence MANOHAR

    M Ponnusami gave Rs 105.

    Two lead articles in the 3 March 1904 issue focus particularly on the education of the girl child. Titled “Higher Education for Women” the first article examines the reasons for education being denied to girls. It points out the patriarchal set-up in which marriage and housework takes the place of education and employment in the case of women. The editor advocates women’s education on the grounds that educated women will not only be able to fi ght marital ill-treatment but also act against social abuses like child marriage and dowry. The second lead article is the reproduction of a long speech by Achalambikai Ammaiyar, the well known educationist of Chennai who belonged to the group dubbed as “Adayar feminists”. The article has been taken verbatim from the Chennai-based women’s journal Madar Manoranjani.

    A somewhat unusual story figures in the 30 August 1904 issue. A news item informs that two students of a Durban school were found brawling on the street using abusive words in English. They were about to be handed over to the police by an Englishman when a wealthy merchant intervened and saved the children. The reporter points out that unless the Tamils improved their own education system and imparted the right values to their children, the latter would forget their cultural roots and imbibe all that is worst in society.3

    The Chettiar community, which is a trading caste clearly came in search of business opportunities. They brought with them silks, spices and other luxury items for which they hoped to find an African market. The Pillais and Mudaliyars (the caste group to which Tillaiyadi Valliyammai belonged) also came in quest of b usiness

    o pportunities. Those who had very little capital ended up as white collar workers.

    These groups represented the articulate face of the Tamil diaspora and therefore many of their anxieties get sharply focused in the issues of IO. It is noteworthy that women’s involvement in the anti- imperial struggle was again more clearly perceived in the families of these upper caste Tamil groups.

    The inaugural issue of 4 June 1903 raises the contentious issue of the Trade Licence granting authorities. The licence had to be renewed on a yearly basis. The report bitterly complains that the granting or rejection of application to trade d epended entirely upon the whims and fancies of the authorities and there could be no appeal against their verdict. The laws were most stringent in Transvaal and the Orange River Free State while the diaspora situation was marginally better in areas like Cape Province where the first wave of Tamils settled.

    The Tamil edition of 29 October 1904, addresses the issue of the commercial ban on Indian merchants. A number of European merchants’ associations in Pietermaritzburg got together to resolve that they would not allow Indians, in this case primarily Tamil merchants, to trade in the region. They also warned the local people not to buy any goods from the Tamil shops. The paper says that the European traders took this step because they feared competition and believed that the Trade Licence Act of the imperial regime did not go far enough in protecting their interests. The report concludes on an optimistic even defi ant note stating “provided we stand united nobody can stop us from trading in these parts”.

    Common Issues of Apartheid

    The crux of the Indian struggle was discrimination on grounds of race. As the very first Tamil edition puts it “The whites do not consider us their equals although we are both settlers in South Africa”.

    The Indian community as a whole and certainly the Tamils are referred to as “coolies” by the Europeans. The term “coolie” is a Tamil word, meaning labourer or worker and occurs in early Tamil inscriptions. It is obvious that a word that was used to characterise Tamil indentured labour was being used as a generic term for Tamils including the educated and fairly affl uent Tamils like the Mudaliyars, Pillais and Chettis. Indians were clubbed with the “Kabiris” by the lawmakers of the Municipal Corporation of Transvaal. To quote the report: “In society and in social practice, Indians are regarded as Paraiahs.”

    Ironically the report in the IO also becomes a reflection of caste discrimination back home in the Tamil country

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    because the Paraiah is regarded as an untouchable and not allowed to move freely in society, or to drink water from the same well as the upper castes and to enter Hindu temples.

    Verbal discrimination was accompanied by physical discrimination as well. Many of these unequal Acts were incorporated in the Immigration Control Act passed in February 1903. These were particularly applicable in Transvaal, Johannesburg, Natal and Pietermaritzburg although their application extended beyond these.

  • (1) No Indian who did not own minimum property worth at least 75 pounds could walk on the same pavement as the whites.
  • (2) Indians were not allowed to walk outside after 9 p m.
  • (3) Indians could not live in the same locality as the whites but were forced to inhabit particular areas of the town.
  • It was however the rule about carrying a “pass” at all times that became a burning issue, both literally and figuratively, in the South African struggle. It became the symbolic issue of Gandhi’s satyagraha movement. As the IOissue of 4 June 1903 indignantly put it, “whether old or young, whether man or woman, whether at daytime or at night, anyone found without a pass can be arbitrarily arrested and detained”. It also talks about a protest meeting of the Cape Town British India League. This was held under the leadership of H G Muhammad on 24 May to seek the withdrawal of the Immigration Control Act and demand reservation for Indians in the Cape Town Council.

    The burning of these hated passes became a signifier of the Gandhian satyagraha in South Africa.

    The Indian community was not allowed to purchase land in Transvaal and non- Indians were advised by the government not to rent out their houses to Indians who could not settle anywhere in Transvaal except in the quarters allotted to them.

    IO and the Tamil Cultural Identity

    On most of the issues listed above, the Tamil edition of IO shared common ground as well as common space with the Gujarati and Hindi editions. This is literally true as can be seen in the 16 April 1904 issue in which Hindi, Tamil and Gujarati articles appear on the same page. However the Tamil edition also had

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    distinctive features, which cannot be found in the other two. A number of reports were devoted to happenings in Tamil temples, musical evenings and cultural events. For example the 4 June issue reported that on 23 April 1903, Guru pujai and Mahesvara pujai was performed for Vaidyanatha Svami (Siva) and Appar Svamigal (one of the Nayanar trinity). Appar is an important saint in the Nayanar Saivite pantheon for whom annual worship is offered in the temples of Tamil Nadu. The performance of this worship in a local temple in Transvaal is clearly addressing an exclusively Tamil audience. The names of the patrons of this religious festival are given as Thyagaraja Pathar and Chappani Naidu. In the same issue is a news item on the Harikatha Kalakshepam or Divya Charitai of Arangan (the Tamil term for Vishnu) by Vriddachala Pillai.

    It is well known that the goddess of small pox, Mariamman, is worshipped as a deity in the Tamil country. Her visit to a house is indicated by the tying of the margossa (neem) leaves in the front arch representing a welcome to the goddess and a warning to unwary visitors. A curious news item in the 3 September 1904 issue testifies to the cultural specificity of the Tamil edition. It reports that one Karappa Pillai was arrested by the police and fi ned a hefty sum of 50 pounds (which of course he was unable to pay) failing which he would have to face a three-month jail term for hiding his smallpox-affected parent under the cot, away from the gaze of the health authorities. The cultural implications of his action that was beyond the comprehension of the South African health offi cers would however be crystal clear to the Tamil community, which had built multiple temples to Mariamman and Karumariamman in South Africa.4 In the present South Africa, the Mariamman temple in Pretoria has been given the status of a national monument by the government.

    Pages from the Past

    What would the Tamils sitting in Natal, Transvaal, Johannesburg or elsewhere in Africa in the 1900s have read in their editions of IO? Here are some samples from the year 1904, soon after the Tamil edition had started. It must be noted that the paper came out irregularly.

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    3 March 1904: The single page issue shares space with the Hindi edition. It consists primarily of a two-part lead article on women’s education and higher education for Indian women. Interestingly, both the articles are based on speeches made by Achalambikai Ammaiyar.

    The only other news item in the issue is a detailed account of the fi rst anniversary of the Saiva Matam celebrating the 63 Nayanmars of the Tamil Saiva bhakti tradition. The main patrons were C K D Pillay and S Duraisami Pillay and a number of members from the merchant community such as Kandasami Chettiar, Saiyappa Chettiar, etc. The events included Tevaram reciting competition for children, Tevaram constituting the most important body of medieval Saivite literature. There were Kathakalakshepam (musical discourses) by renowned scholars and nadasvaram (an ancient Tamil wind instrument associated with musical rituals in temples) performances by artists from Nagapattinam. Does this mean that the performing artists were actually paid to come all the way from Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu?

    9 April 1904: This issue once again shares space with the Hindi edition. The thrust of the articles seems once again to be on women and religion, in that order. They are written by “lokopakari” literally “universal well wisher”. The lead piece is titled “Good Advice to Women”. It centres around how women should serve as role models for society through their obedience to their husbands, selfless care of their children and practice of patience and restraint. The article compares angry women to asuras who wreck their homes. The piece is pedantic in style and patriarchal in tone. The second piece in the same issue stresses the importance of walking as an exercise for women.

    The next piece is a religious story from the Mahabharata on the power of surrender and devotion. In the middle of the war at Kurukshetra, the horses need to be watered. Arjuna is enjoined by Krishna to create a pond and construct steps, etc, through an act of faith. Krishna’s compassionate glance produces blue lotuses in the pond. The moral is the importance of faith and surrender to the supreme, not dissimilar from the didactic tone of the


    advice to women stressing once again faith and surrender.

    The last piece is an unusual advertisement for “Dr William’s Pink tablets” which seem to be a cure for many ailments including headaches, stomach disorders, etc. It is noteworthy that at least two of the pieces in this issue – the essays on women and the news cum advertisement by William Pink

    – are replicated in the other editions of the IO.

    16 April 1904: One single sheet encompasses the Hindi, Tamil and Gujarati editions. The Hindi issue talks about the Russo-Japanese war in 1904 (which eventually got linked to a second Sino-Japanese confrontation). The Tamil issue does not concern itself with this major war but continues to talk about women’s education in its lead issue, followed by a repeat of William Pink’s elaborate two column advertisement recommending his pills as the ultimate panacea for all ills. It seems likely that the advertisement fetched a tidy and much needed sum.

    28 May 1904: Two lead articles deal with the steps taken to oppose the hated Licence Act aimed at destabilising the Indian community in South Africa. One of the other lead articles deals with the plague outbreak around Natal and Johannesburg followed by general advice to Indians to sanitise their homes and surroundings in order to escape the dread epidemic. The last item is in the form of a lengthy letter addressing “The deeply felt absence of a Hindu temple in Johannesburg”.

    2 July 1904: The strong political overtones of the newspaper become more clear in this issue which is entirely devoted to the Tamil edition and with three lengthy columns on the politics of discrimination in South Africa including the burning issues of licences and racial apartheid. The only other column is a historical piece on the maharaja Ramavarma of Travancore. This issue makes it clear that the political situation was building up towards a crisis. The political protests by the Indian community and by the Tamils would foreground the satyagraha struggle in South Africa.

    This brief glimpse of the pages from the Tamil edition of the IOwould suggest that not every issue was keyed into a narrow political framework. The edition had a somewhat wider canvas which included reproduction of articles from Chennai-based periodicals (Madar Manoranjani, etc) such as the ones by Achalambikai Ammaiyar on issues which exercised the cultural imagination of the diasporic Tamils at that particular time. Therefore the Tamil editions of the IO should be read as much as vestiges of Tamil cultural history as of the political history of that period against the specific background of the Gandhian satyagraha movement. Satyagraha and the political modes of protest were clearly its raison d’etre but it also served the larger purpose as well, that of raising other matters pertaining to the Tamil diaspora.

    Role of Tamil Women

    The issues of the Tamil edition of IO, between 1913 and 1914 deal almost exclusively with the commencement of the Gandhian struggle in South Africa and its implementation in three phases. As South African Indians geared up for the long march to Pretoria, the editions of the IO in Gujarati, Tamil and Hindi, provided information and directives through advertisements regarding Gandhi’s plans.

    For example, the Tamil IOdated 7 January 1914, states

    The Indian Enquiry Commission, set up by the Indian National Congress, has urged the South African imperial regime to concede to our demands for autonomy. Pending negotiations, the long march to Pretoria which had been planned for 1 January, stands suspended. This decision is being duly advertised in the English, Tamil and Hindi issues. A decision will be arrived at by the end of this month and conveyed to all (Satyagrahis) through these editions.

    Gandhi evinces much hope in the Viceroy’s emissary, Chief Commissioner Benjamin Robertson. Only if his efforts failed would the non-violent struggle be renewed.

    The same editorial dated 7 January 1914 enjoins every satyagrahi to prepare for the arduous struggle ahead. Gandhi writes:

    This struggle will not only confer honour upon us, it is also a spiritual struggle. In this, we need to fear only god. On no account should be consent to pay the cruel three pound tax which which will take a toll on the poor and downtrodden Indian community. Those who join this struggle, unmindful of

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    the blows and the gunshots and long, gruelling imprisonments, would have earned ‘self-respect’ for themselves and the community of Indians. Let’s think of those Indians who do not need to pay this tax or of those women with young infants who are suffering in South African Jails.

    The best historical representation of the satyagraha movement in South Africa is the publication of the Golden Number of the Indian Opinion – 1906-14 published at the press in Phoenix, Natal. The Tamil edition was now in its waning phase and the information it provides is more in terms of action plans for the various passive resistance groups as well as for conveying Gandhi’s directives which were issued from time to time.

    In this fi nal section therefore I propose to piece together the story of these closing years of the Tamil edition by supplementing the scattered information provided in the issues with the more consistent information provided through other sources.

    The response to Gandhi’s call for passive resistance against the unjust and unequal laws of the British in South Africa, met with an overwhelming response from the Indian communities. In his essay of 23 July 1913 in the IO, Gandhi observed,

    I never dreamt that 20,000 poor Indians would arise and make their own and their country’s name immortal. …This fi ght was joined by women and by many young boys of 16, so that the campaign became much more of a moral struggle. South African Indians became the talk of the world.

    A reporter sought from Gandhi an account of the atrocities being perpetrated on the political prisoners at the Durban jails. Two Christian priests named Andrew and Pearson also flew to South Africa at their own expense with the support of Gokhale to understand the course of the Indian struggle in South Africa. The prisoners reported the filthy conditions in which they were housed and how the warders who were Kabiris, never hestated to use the whip on them. On 29 May, a few prisoners including Bhadri (a Tamil), Padam Singh and Bhavani (a Tamil woman) were released due to ill health and they reported the large-scale prevalence of diarrhoea among the prisoners (7 January 1914). The Tamil editions of 1913-14 provide regular lists of Tamils imprisoned for their passive resistance and occasionally

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    the release of some political prisoners and the warm welcome accorded to them. For example, the Tamil IOdated 28 January 1914, in a small news item “Release of Our Brave Indian Sisters” appearing at the bottom of the page, records the release of some of these women:

    The women passive resisters, 11 in number who had been sentenced to three months hard labour (which they spent with their children) by the Newcastle court were released on the 13th from Durban jail. They were: Mrs Thambi Naidu, Mrs Pillai, Mrs P K Naidu, Mrs K Murugesa Pillai, Mrs Perumal Naidu, Mrs Chinnasami Pillai, Mrs Bhavani Dayal, Miss Bhagyam Murugesu Pillai, Miss Meenakshi and Mrs Tommy. They were accorded a warm welcome by the Tamil community of Natal.

    The Tamils forming as they did a sizeable component of the Indian diaspora, were in the forefront of passive resistance. Here I shall focus on the role of Tamil women in this struggle with special reference to Taillaiyadi Valliammai. The supplement in the Tamil edition dated 29 October 1913 carries a picture of some of these passive resisters, the majority of them being Tamil women – K Murugesa Pillay, P K Naidu and others listed in the notification. The only non-Tamilian in this group, going by the surname, appears to be Bhawani Dayal although the name Bhawani is a common Tamil name.

    Another photograph in the IO fi les is of Tamil women resisters who spent three months in the Pietermaritzburg jail. This list includes the name of Valliamma Munusamy, Veerasamy, V Naidu, Moonusamy (Valliamma’s mother Mangalathammal also called Janaki), Bhavani Dayal and V S Pillay. The IO mentions many other names whose presence is not recorded.

    The 17-year-old resister Tillaiyadi Valliammai came from a traditional Tamil weaving caste called Senguntha Mudaliyar. I have been able to piece together something of her personal life because of the article in the community journal of the Sengunthars published in 1953 titled “Tillaiyadi Valliammai” and written by Akkur S Ramalingam. Her father belonged to Puducheri (Pondicherry) while her mother was from Tillaiyadi in Tanjavur district. The family came to Johannesburg (the year is not mentioned) where her father Munusami Mudaliyar opened a small shop selling provisions and South Indian sweets. Valliammai was born in 1898 into this fairly well-off family. The first impact of the apartheid in South Africa on Valliyamma was when marriages performed in the traditional Indian style were declared illegal, rendering her an illegitimate child in the eyes of the law. Her political awareness was widened by what she read in the Indian Opinion about the growing Indian resistance to the Licence Act, the Pass system, etc.

    On 19 April 1913, Gandhi wrote:

    Most of the settlers here including the womenfolk will join the struggle. The latter feel that they can no longer refrain from facing goal, no matter what it may mean in a place like this. Mrs Gandhi made the offer on her own initiative and I do not want to debar her.

    On 23 October 1913, when a women’s rally started out from Johannesburg to Newscastle, both Valliamma and her mother Mangalathammal were a part of it. Gandhi had instructed the group that it was incumbent upon them to make the indentured labourers and their families aware of the discriminatory laws and enlist them in the struggle. As the frail but brave women’s brigade marched through Charlestown, Ladysmith and Maritzburg the women courted arrest in batches. Finally at Volkrust, Valliyammai and her mother were both arrested and were interned at the Maritzburg prison which also housed Kasturba Gandhi. Gandhi himself was at the Bloemfontein prison.

    Valliyamma along with Nagappan fell ill and at a time when Gandhi was negotiating with General Smuts, in February 1914. The South African government was induced to release Valliyamma before the end of her prison term in February 1914. Gandhi in his letter (15 July) from Bloemfontein refers to his visit to her in prison at the time of her release and his sense of guilt at her pathetic condition. She died the same month.

    The Tamil edition also ceased publication a few months later. The last issue of 3 April 1914 announced its closure. It said that the struggle will ensure the repeal of the hated licence act. The Hindi and Tamil editions would also cease publication forthwith and resume publication only if the passive resistance struggle failed. The Gujarati edition which continued to be published refers to the unveiling of two memorial tablets in memory of Valliyamma and Nagappan at the Braamfontein cemetery by Gandhi and his moving tribute to them. It is worth noting here that memorial stones are cultural signifiers of the Tamils going back to the Sangam age in the pre-Christian era where such “hero stones” are referred to as Virakkal or Nadukkal.

    I would like to close this narrative with Gandhi’s return to India. Gandhi left for India on 18 July 1914 and reached in January 1914. In his speech at Triplicane in Chennai he praised the role of the Tamils in South Africa and followed it up with a visit to Tillaiyadi to pay his personal tribute to Valliyamma and acknowledge her sacrifi ce.


    1 Collected Works of Gandhi, The Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Navjeevan Trust, Ahmedabad, 1969, Vol 29, p 117. A good general history of the Indian Opinion is to be found in Y P Anand’s presentation “History of Indian Opinion” at the seminar on “The Indian Opinion: Editor Gandhi”, 18 December 2006.

    2 According to recent figures Natal has the largest concentration of Indians in the country, 600,000 out of a total of 8,00,000 South African Indians.

    3 It is noteworthy that today South African educational institutions have a separate Tamil department. The Tamil departments in government schools all over South Africa as well as the Tamil department at the University of Durban-Westville are now supplementing the private schools run by the Tamils themselves and are fostering the dissemination of Tamil language and literature.

    4 Today the re-assertion of Tamil identity by the South African Tamils is being done by various local associations such as: The Natal Tamil Vedic Society; South African Tamil Federation; Tamil Advancement Society, etc. The Saiva Siddanta Sangam and Arutpa Kazhagam are doing the teaching and singing of Tamil religious music such as Tiruppugazh and Tevaram.

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    september 25, 2010 vol xlv no 39

    • Structure of research papers • Plagiarism and ethics of research • Journal selection: Writing for an audience • Citation styles, using footnotes and endnotes • Organising the argument • On use/abuse of language • Literature review • Results and data presentation • Writing the introduction and conclusion • How to critique and revise a manuscript • Publication process/formatting for submission • Draft research papers: Feedback and revision Resource Persons: This workshop will be conducted by resource persons from EPW and external resource persons who have experience in writing, editing and publishing research papers. The workshop will be structured as an intensive mix of lectures and discussions. The focus will be on interactive participation. Who Is Eligible? Teachers in colleges and universities who have completed their PhDs from any of the social sciences. Applicants must submit one draft research paper of a total of 6,000 to 8,000 words (including footnotes/endnotes and references) that they have written along with their applications. Applications without the draft paper will not be considered. Travel and Accommodation: Travel costs of selected participants will be covered as per UGC-Academic Staff College, Jamia Millia Islamia regulations. Participants will be provided accommodation and will be eligible for TA and DA as per UGC rules. Application Forms and Registration Fee: The application form can be downloaded from Please submit a demand draft of Rs 150 as processing fee in favour of “Registrar, Jamia Millia Islamia”, payable at New Delhi, along with the application form. Selected candidates will have to pay an additional Rs 500 as registration fee after they are informed about their selection. Important Dates: Last date for Receipt of Applications: 15 October 2010 Date for informing applicants of selection: 1 November 2010 Address for Correspondence: The Director UGC-Academic Staff College Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi - 110025 Tel No: 011-26926049 Fax: 011-26926051 Email:; All correspondence to be sent only to the above address. Research papers are only for discussion at the workshop and not for publication in EPW. Third WorkshopThird Workshop on Research Writing and Publication in the Social Sciences 22-27 November 2010 Organised by UGC-Academic Staff College, Jamia Millia Islamia and conducted by Economic and Political Weekly Applications are invited for the third Research Writing and Publication Workshop that will be held in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi between 22 and 27 November 2010. The workshop, organised by the UGC-Academic Staff College, Jamia Millia Islamia, and conducted by EPW will offer teachers in colleges and universities an opportunity to learn and discuss the techniques of research writing and publication. The workshop will (i) help participants understand how to structure research papers effectively, (ii) enhance their ability to critique, edit and review their own work, and (iii) familiarise them with the academic publication process. An important component of the workshop will be a discussion and revision of draft research papers prepared by participants. The workshop is being conducted as part of a project funded by the University Grants Commission and executed by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and the Economic and Political Weekly. The modules in the workshop include:

    september 25, 2010 vol xlv no 39

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