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India, South Africa to Remember Mahatma Gandhi’s Eviction from Train 125 Years Ago

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

The incident when Mahatma Gandhi was taken off a train in South Africa for his refusal to give up his seat in the “whites only” compartment, 125 years ago in 1893, will be remembered with a two-day celebration in June at the  Pietermaritzburg railway station, Ruchira Kamboj, the Indian High Commissioner to South Africa, said in Durban on May 16.

The compartments and engine of a replica train will be draped in khadi, the Indian hand-woven fabric that is synonymous with the Indian freedom movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi, on the occasion on June 6 and 7, Times Live reported.

Some parts of the commemoration program will be broadcast on television in both South Africa and India. “125 years ago Mahatma Gandhi‚ who was as much South African as he was Indian, was removed from a first-class rail compartment and from there began a new journey that was to transform India and indeed the entire world,” Kamboj was quoted as saying by the publication.

The event, which is the vision of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, would help in bringing South Africa and India closer as both countries share an incredible legacy, Kamboj added.

Recently, the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) received orders for 400 meters of khadi cloth in 40-50 meters length from the High Commission of India in South Africa in association with the Consulate General of India, Durban, the Financial Express reported.

The fabric will be used to adorn and drape the train compartments, some parts of the platform as well as the main stage.

The celebrations will be inaugurated by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on June 6. Swaraj will address around 500 guests, the report added. The following day, about 300 dignitaries, including Indian and South African politicians, will travel on a train from Pentrich station to Pietermaritzburg station. This train will be very similar to the train from which Gandhi was thrown out.

“Once the train arrives in Pietermaritzburg there is going to be an enactment of that famous incident. One side will be Mahatma Gandhi the lawyer in western attire as he came to South Africa. The other side will be Mahatma Gandhi in his Indian dress as he left South Africa after 21 years returning to transform India‚” Kamboj was quoted as saying.

An interactive digital museum sponsored by the Indian government will also be launched at the station on that day, and a two-sided bust of Gandhi will be unveiled on the station platform.

“External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will be witnessing the event there – which is also a significant one in South African history, being the birth centenary of Nelson Mandela alias Madiba,” a KVIC spokesperson was quoted as saying by the Financial Express.

The 125th commemoration is only an antecedent to India commemorating Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, with celebrations spanning for an entire year, Kamboj added. The year-long celebration will commence on Oct. 2 this year.

“In the meantime, all eyes are turned to South Africa‚ because this is the precursor to the 150th celebration‚” Kamboj said.