Pietermaritzburg is so far away from India, some 7700 kms. Its just 30 minutes away from Durban, South Africa. But to know that in that far away land, so far from our country, Gandhiji is revered.
This was the station where he was thrown out of the train because he travelled first class. Despite having a valid ticket, because he was brown, racists threw him out. That eviction, the waiting room where Gandhiji sat and shivered in the cold through the night is the place and event which changed India forever.
A plaque on the platform marks the approximate spot where he was pushed from the train carriage with his luggage. “This incident changed the course of his life,” it reads.
That moment on the Pietermaritzburg train platform marked the turning point, the catalyst, when Gandhiji made the momentous decision to fight the racial discrimination he experienced. “It would be cowardice to run back to India without fulfilling my obligation,” he wrote in The Story of My Experiments with Truth. “The hardship to which I was subjected was superficial – only a symptom of the deep disease of colour prejudice. I should try, if possible, to root out the disease and suffer hardships in the process.”
Today, Pietermaritzburg station is a pilgrimage site for Indians who come to pay homage to Gandhiji at the spot where he was evicted from the train. The small waiting room now houses a museum dedicated to telling the story of that night in 1893 and the two decades Gandhi spent in South Africa.
The station houses a double-sided statue of Gandhiji, titled, ‘Birth of Satyagraha’; on one side there is Gandhi as a young lawyer wearing a suit and tie on one side, and on the other, an older, bespectacled Gandhi dressed in a traditional Indian dhoti.
What a way to commemorate Gandhiji. And to think that we did not consider him worthy of ‘Bharat Ratna?’