Page:MKGandhi patriot.djvu/74

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59
IN SOUTH AFRICA

novel, that it aroused keen interest in Natal. The petition which was largely signed, the telegrams to Government requesting a delay of proceedings, the deputation to Members of Parliament in Pietermaritzburg, all marked a new self-consciousness in the hitherto apathetic Indian community, which even the Government could not note without concern. It failed to defeat the Bill, but taught the Indians that they were not ciphers, and it taught the Europeans that a new force had been born into Colonial life. The Bill passed, Sir John Robinson, who was then Prime Minister, making several useful admissions, while the petition was sympathetically reviewed by the Natal Press. This was much. To the leader himself it was a glorious beginning, the prophecy of a harvest of rich fruits. With the sympathies of a cultured Indian, coupled with the instinct of an exceptional mind, Mr. Gandhi held that it needed but an awakening of such a nature to uplift his people from the servile condition to which they appeared to have sunk. The system of indentured labour, which imported Indians to work in the sugar fields, meant a system of servitude little better than slavery. Even the free Indians felt its degrading effects. Save in some outstanding cases, there