Founding of the Weekly Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Mohandas Gandhi’s work at the newspaper Indian Opinion is part of the contribution of a generation of anticolonial journalists committed to improving the position of people of color in South Africa. Gandhi’s apprenticeship as a journalist marked the emergence of his early activism, and the newspaper itself played a significant role in postcolonial India by fostering senses of national identity and of an Indian community united across national boundaries.

Summary of Event

Many Indians migrated to Africa while the British Empire was expanding, but those who settled in South Africa endured economic and social uncertainty. Most were very poor and had come to the country as indentured laborers under a brutal system similar to slavery. When their terms of indenture expired, many stayed as laborers or small farmers. A smaller but more prominent group of Indians came, however, to engage in trade. They opened shops and warehouses, several of which became quite successful. One of these traders engaged Mohandas Gandhi as his attorney and asked him to come to South Africa on a temporary assignment in 1893. Newspapers;Indian Opinion Indian Opinion (newspaper) [kw]Founding of the Weekly Indian Opinion (June 6, 1903) [kw]Weekly Indian Opinion, Founding of the (June 6, 1903) [kw]Indian Opinion, Founding of the Weekly (June 6, 1903) Newspapers;Indian Opinion Indian Opinion (newspaper) [g]Africa;June 6, 1903: Founding of the Weekly Indian Opinion[00740] [g]South Africa;June 6, 1903: Founding of the Weekly Indian Opinion[00740] [c]Publishing and journalism;June 6, 1903: Founding of the Weekly Indian Opinion[00740] [c]Colonialism and occupation;June 6, 1903: Founding of the Weekly Indian Opinion[00740] [c]Government and politics;June 6, 1903: Founding of the Weekly Indian Opinion[00740] [c]Social issues and reform;June 6, 1903: Founding of the Weekly Indian Opinion[00740] Gandhi, Mahatma Nazar, Mansukhlal Hiralal Viyavaharik, Madanjit

In his first thirteen years in South Africa, Gandhi represented Indian business interests and worked to reform Indians’ living conditions. In addition to his work on Indian Opinion, he helped form community organizations, including a hospital, and participated in other efforts to improve relations with the British, whose prejudicial policies limited Indians’ economic potential and general status in society. Gandhi was evicted from train carriages, barred from hotels, and beaten up as a result of racial intolerance, but he became increasingly vocal and began educating other Indians in South Africa about their rights. In 1894, he opposed a bill designed to deprive Indians of their right to vote and rapidly became a skilled political activist. Although he did not defeat the bill, he succeeded in attracting widespread attention to the Indian cause.

Indians’ first political mobilization came as a response to this attack on voting rights. In the South African province of Natal, nearly four hundred landowning Indians had the right to vote, but as soon as self-government was granted to the settlers in 1893, the British sought to disenfranchise these voters. The Franchise Amendment Bill of 1896 Franchise Amendment Bill (1896) prohibited any future registration by Indians, although it did allow those already on the rolls to remain. The effect, however, was that the Indian vote was entirely eliminated within a few years. In response to this plan, a group of merchants asked Gandhi, their attorney, to stay. He did, and the Natal Indian Congress Natal Indian Congress —the first Indian political organization—was established to counter this threat to voting.

This conflict fueled the founding of Indian Opinion, and on June 6, 1903, after two months of planning, the first issue of the weekly newspaper appeared in the central business district of Durban, Natal. Founded by a small group of Indians living in South Africa, including Gandhi, the paper began by advocating Indian rights, although it also focused on the economic and social situation of other people of color in South Africa. Undeterred by a lack of equipment, Indian Opinion’s staff was determined to voice opposition to colonial discrimination.

The first editor of Indian Opinion, Mansukhlal Hiralal Nazar, established the notion of voluntary service to the paper, an idea that proved to be vital. Another individual key to the paper’s production was Madanjit Viyavaharik, the owner of the International Printing Press. However, it was thirty-four-year-old Gandhi, then working as a lawyer in Johannesburg, who proved the main figure in the paper’s genesis. Gandhi directed the policy of Indian Opinion from his Rissik Street office, writing articles, providing leadership, and diverting earnings from his prospering law practice to support the paper.

Initially, the task of producing the newspaper in four languages (English, Hindi, Gujerati, and Tamil) was one of the many challenges faced by Nazar and Viyavaharik, and Nazar had difficulty obtaining reliable, capable translators. Furthermore, materials were scarce, and at a time when newspaper type was still being set by hand, the paper had a shortage of type. At one point, Virji Damodar Mehta (who would one day found Universal Printing Press) asked Nazar to limit his use of the Gujerati letter a. In addition, although he was the editor, Nazar did not know Tamil, so he had to trust the judgment of translators who spoke little English. Viyavaharik, the paper’s owner, handled the paper’s business concerns, which included obtaining a license to operate and handling relations with advertisers and subscribers.

Indian Opinion began by adopting a moderate tone that asserted faith in British justice. The editors were fully aware that the paper could be closed (as others had been) for speaking against British rule. To avoid that fate, Nazar and Gandhi vowed that Indians would seek redress via a temperate, constitution-based effort. In the beginning, Gandhi was anxious to avoid offending white officials and hoped to secure their support, but the content of Indian Opinion still accurately reflected the hardships that Indians suffered under colonial rule. The paper provided an alternative to newspapers such as the Natal Mercury, which were often hostile to Indian interests. Gradually, as Gandhi moved from political petitioning to active resistance, Indian Opinion became a valuable mobilization tool. After the paper’s inception, a campaign to end discrimination was launched, and Gandhi later sent his friend Henry Polak (editor of the paper from 1906 to 1916) to India to mobilize support. The paper became a means of bringing news about Indians in the colonies to the public in India while simultaneously unifying Indians at home and abroad.

In 1904, Gandhi moved production of Indian Opinion to a one-hundred-acre farm named Phoenix just outside Durban. In his design for this experimental community, Gandhi drew on Leo Tolstoy’s distaste for city life, praise of agricultural labor, and renunciation of wealth, and on John Ruskin’s ideas on the equality of all labor, whether that of the professional or that of the manual laborer. At Phoenix, the press workers were governed by a new work ethic: They would all have a share in the land and any profits, they would grow crops to sustain themselves, and they would work jointly to produce Indian Opinion. As a result, the history of Indian Opinion became intertwined with that of Phoenix.

Significance

By its second year, Indian Opinion had 887 subscribers. Over its entire fifty-eight-year existence, it averaged about 2,000 subscribers annually; the highest number in any one year was 3,500. The significance of Indian Opinion, however, lay not in its size (which may be explained only partly in terms of the size of the Indian population) but in its content and its timing. In their quest for Indian rights, Gandhi and his colleagues established a long-lasting forum for civil discourse on social injustice, publicized the discrimination practiced against people of color in South Africa, and began laying the groundwork for an independent India.

Indian Opinion and its editors’ political activism became an established tradition, one that distinguished Indian Opinion from other newspapers that would arrive on the scene during the twentieth century. All but one of its editors spent some time in jail, a tradition that began during the satyagraha (active, nonviolent resistance) campaign from 1906 to 1913. In 1904 the newspaper’s aims had been to educate whites in South Africa about Indian needs and wants, but from1906 onward it became a vehicle for challenging state laws and urging defiance of these laws when they were clearly unjust. Its history of social activism elevates Indian Opinion from a small newspaper produced on a farm to one of world significance. The paper’s prestige only grew as it became irrevocably linked with Gandhi’s transformation from attorney to leader of a mass movement and his philosophy of satyagraha, which Gandhi said would never have developed without Indian Opinion. Newspapers;Indian Opinion Indian Opinion (newspaper)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Judith. Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991. Brown, an Oxford historian, investigates Gandhi’s education in law and Hindu theology, his immersion in religion and politics, his manipulation of the media, and his policy of nonviolence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dalton, Dennis. Mahatma Gandhi. 2d ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. Presents an analysis of the Gandhian concepts of satyagraha (passive resistance) and swaraj (Indian self-government), the connection between the two, and their use as tools for achieving Indian independence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dhuphelia-Mesthrie, Uma. Gandhi’s Prisoner? The Life of Gandhi’s Son, Manilal. Cape Town, South Africa: Kwela Books, 2005. Gandhi’s great-granddaughter, an associate professor of history in South Africa, draws on family memories and letters between father and son to explore their relationship.

Gandhi Leads a Noncooperation Movement

Moplah Rebellion

Women’s Rights in India Undergo a Decade of Change

Gandhi Leads the Salt March

India Signs the Delhi Pact

Poona Pact Grants Representation to India’s Untouchables

Categories: History Content