Gandhi Developed Satyagraha in a South African Tax Resistance Campaign

Some dispatches about tax resistance by Indians in South Africa in 1913, in one of Gandhi’s early experiments with satyagraha.

Indians in South Africa.

Passive Resistance Movement

 — Eight Indians have been sentenced at Newcastle to imprisonment for two months for having taken part in the Indian miners’ strike against the tax of £3.

 — Mr. [Gopal Krishna] Gokhale is arranging to send £2000 a month for the relief of the Indian “passive resisters” in South Africa. He hopes that ultimately the Imperial Government will intervene, and effect a compromise.

Indians in South Africa

Resistance Against Poll Tax.

Five Hundred Arrested.

(Reuter’s Cablegram.)

Three thousand Indian miners, who are striking against the £3 poll tax, crossed the border into the Transvaal at Charlestown, , and thus courted arrest for contravening the Alien Immigration Act.

Indians in South Africa

Passive Resistance Campaign.

Three thousand Indian miners who have struck against the payment of the poll tax crossed the Transvaal border at Charlestown. Five hundred others were previously arrested as deserters from a colliery.

African Indians.

Poll Tax Strike.

Situation Alarming.

A Reign of Terror.

The strike of Indian miners in Natal as a protest against the £3 poll-tax imposed upon them is developing alarmingly.

A reign of terror prevails on the north coast of Natal, the planters fearing that if the strikers get the upper hand the sugar cane fields and sugar mills, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, are likely to be wiped out, as the sugar season is now right at its height. On one plantation yesterday 150 acres of cane were burned, the Indians standing by and cheering as the flames swept along. The sugar settlements resemble military encampments. The coolies are becoming more and more pugnacious, and, armed with cane-cutting knives, they refuse the advances made by the employers and remain sullen and implacable.

The strikers yesterday besieged the Edgcombe estate with a view of inducing the workers there to strike. The European women and children were placed in the factories for safety, and the police were summoned. When the police arrived the strikers assailed them with sticks and stones, and in the encounter one trooper and 30 Indians were injured. The Indians on other plantations set fire to the cane and caused serious damage.

The situation in Durban itself is extremely serious, as the strike is rapidly becoming general. The harbour, corporation, and railway employees, as well as the drivers, cooks, waiters, and messengers, have struck, and the work of scavenging the city has had to be suspended.

It is officially stated that the men who have been sentenced will for the most part work out their sentences in the compounds on the mines to which they belong, as the gaol accommodation is insufficient. The flogging of prisoners will not be allowed, and no arrests will be effected unless violence is committed. The shooting of the Indians is prohibited unless it becomes absolutely necessary for the maintenance of order.

A meeting of 4,000 Indians in Durban yesterday resolved to send to the Indian and the Imperial Governments cable messages pointing out that there is no organisation for the feeding of prisoners, and that if the Government does not intervene many lives may be lost.

The Natal Indian Association, in a cable message to Lord Ampthill, a former Viceroy of India, states: “Indians here are being sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour for having absented themselves from the roll call. Two magistrates have warned the Indians that if they refuse to work they will be starved, mercilessly flogged, and driven underground with the lash.”

The “Cape Times” and the “Natal Mercury” have throughout supported the demand for the repeal of the 60s. poll-tax imposed upon the Indians.

Assistance From India.

Mr. G.K. Gokhale, a member of the Viceroy’s Legislative Council, is organising a monster campaign to support the South African Indians in their resistance of the poll-tax. Both Hindus and Mohammedans are taking part in the meetings, which are being held in all the important towns in India.

The Asiatic Problem.

Indians in Africa

An Improved Outlook.

Agreement with the Government.

The correspondence between the Secretary for the Interior (Mr. E.H.L. Gorges) and Mr. Ghandi, the Indian solicitor, who has been advising the Indians in their policy of passive resistance against the poll tax of the Union Government, has been published. The net result of the negotiations is that Mr. Ghandi promises to await the report of the Royal Commission appointed recently by the Government before reviving the passive resistance movement. Although Mr. Ghandi will not appear before the Commission as a witness, he is willing that Sir Benjamin Robertson, the envoy from the Indian Government, should do so on his behalf.

As the outcome of the correspondence, the Department for the Interior has agreed to liberate all those Indians who were arrested for passive resistance to the law, and to await the recommendations of the Commission. The Government will then legislate to overcome the existing difficulty concerning the 60/ poll tax. The Indians will not press their charges of ill-treatment and brutality towards the strikers, while the Government agree not to produce negative evidence on that phase of the trouble, but reserve the right to investigate the occurrences resulting in loss of life in the two affrays , when, as the outcome of an attack by the Indians on the Premier mine, near Pretoria, three Indians were killed and 22 injured.

During the negotiations, the government agreed to drop the £3 (60 shilling) tax on ex-indentured Indian workers that was the initial focus of the resistance campaign.

On representatives from the IRS testified before a Congressional committee about their efforts to improve taxpayer compliance, and specifically to get non-filers back in the system. Two non-filers testified in person — neither of them conscientious tax resisters, though one went on at length about wasteful government spending, and although he blamed his own nonfiling on negligence and wastefulness, it was hard not to believe that resentment didn’t also play a role.

Conscientious objectors to taxation were more or less ignored by the committee and by those witnesses who appeared before it. Representative Andy Jacobs, Jr. submitted a statement in support of legislation he introduced that would have created the United States Peace Tax Fund and permitted conscientious objectors to military spending to direct their taxes there. Here is the way he described the bill:

In some real ways, the legislation probably ought to be called The Federal Revenue Collection Enhancement Act.

Conscientious objectors in many cases are refusing to pay their full tax obligations because to pay the military portion would violate deeply held religious or ethical beliefs. Most of us believe that our taxes should cover national defense. And most of us believe that in time of American war we should serve in the military if we are capable of doing so. But conscientious objection has been recognized since before George Washington’s time. He favored accommodation of the consciences of sincere objectors and recognized that for the citizens of sincere conscience in opposition to war, there is no choice.

This bill is a win-win proposition. It would simply allow a bona fide conscientious objector to be assured that none of his or her taxes would go to military purposes. Instead those taxes would be earmarked for WIC, Head Start, the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Peace Corps.

In no way would the bill change the priorities voted by the Congress. The Defense Department would get exactly as much money as the Congress and the President determined to be appropriate and the WIC Program and others listed in the bill would get no more than the Congress and the President decided. The bill would simply allow the conscientious objectors to pay their full taxes in good conscience.

Statements in support of the bill were also submitted by

  • Church of the Brethren
  • Jewish Peace Fellowship
  • National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund
  • John K. Stoner
  • Patricia A. Washburn

and are part of the record.