Gandhi and the Indian Indentured Servants in South Africa

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Mohandas K. Gandhi practiced journalism for more than four decades. He began his journalism career in South Africa. He frequently wrote about the Indian indentured servants in South Africa during his 21-years stay in that country. One of his first public mentions of the indentured servants came in the 1896 document titled The Grievances of the British Indians in South Africa, also known as the Green Pamphlet. It was published in India during a visit home, and widely distributed in the subcontinent. Its first edition came to 10, 000 copies. Those sold out, and Gandhi printed several thousand more before he returned to Durban in January 1897-when he was nearly lynched by a mob of angry Europeans. The pamphlet is an extended grievance letter that prefigures his South African newspaper, Indian Opinion. The pamphlet’s main aim was to set down in a systematic fashion an argument against oppression of the Indian work force in South Africa. The Green Pamphlet mentions indentured servants eighteen times in its text, which runs to 15, 000 words. Gandhi noted that the biggest grievance by indentured Indians was that when their contracts ran out after five years, they had to return to India-or each had to pay a tax of £3, a sum that would bankrupt most of them. While Gandhi was taking up the general grievances of Indians living and working in South Africa at the turn of the century, he would make equality a key theme in his political activism, first in South Africa and then in India (where eventually he would advocate better treatment for the untouchables). Seven years after publication of the pamphlet, Gandhi began publishing Indian Opinion at the International Printing Press in Durban. A major theme would be the living and working conditions of the Indian indentured servants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSlavery Past, Present and Future
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781848883994
ISBN (Print)9789004374638
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Green Pamphlet
  • indentured labourers
  • Indian Opinion
  • journalism
  • Mohandas K. Gandhi
  • satyagraha in South Africa
  • slavery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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