Review of A. Annamalai’s Gandhi The Lawyer: Field trial

Gandhi’s empathetic career as a lawyer in India and South Africa foreshadows his role in the freedom struggle

September 22, 2023 09:01 am | Updated 09:01 am IST

A statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Johannesburg.

A statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Johannesburg. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Mahatma Gandhi’s life was full of momentous events but not all of them, especially his days as a lawyer, get adequate attention. His career as a lawyer lasted nearly 20 years, both in India and South Africa. The experiences he gained were amply put to use when Gandhi became the central figure of the freedom struggle.

Gandhi The Lawyer essentially captures the phase of Gandhi when he was practising law with photographs of all the key players and scanned images of important documents. An account of an indentured labourer, Balasundaram, who had approached Gandhi for ending his indenture by prosecuting his master for having beaten him badly, is an illustration to demonstrate that Gandhi, perhaps even in his 30s, had preferred moderation to radicalism. It was no wonder that this subsequently became the credo of his public life.

Mahatma Gandhi (centre) with colleagues Sonia Schlesin, his secretary, and Dr. Hermann Kallenbach, in South Africa.

Mahatma Gandhi (centre) with colleagues Sonia Schlesin, his secretary, and Dr. Hermann Kallenbach, in South Africa. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

His identification with the weak and vulnerable sections of society was amply evident in the 1907 case in Pretoria concerning Registration Law wherein four Indian picketers were accused of having assaulted and inciting the commission of an offence. A chapter dealing with the birth of his concept of ‘satyagraha’ in South Africa is noteworthy. It is but appropriate that such a book ends with a chapter regarding Gandhi getting disbarred as a lawyer in November 1922 following his sentence and was reinstated to the Inner Temple posthumously more than 60 years later. 

Leading India to freedom

Though the title of the book gives an impression that it is all about Gandhi’s life as a lawyer, the author has also given an account of Gandhi’s leadership in agitations such as the Champaran satyagraha, the Civil Disobedience Movement, the trial of 1922 against him for his articles in Young India, the 1930 Salt Satyagraha and the 1942 Quit India movement. Be it the events in South Africa or in India, the publication, produced as a coffee table book, brings out effectively how morality characterised Gandhi’s personality. It would have been more complete had consistency been maintained with regard to providing the details of years in all the chapters — either in the title or in the content. However, it will serve as an important reference material.

Gandhi The Lawyer; A. Annamalai, National Gandhi Museum, Price not mentioned.

ramakrishnan.t@thehindu.co.in

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