This Day in the Law
September 11

Ghandi Creates Term Satyagraha to Promote Non-Violence Movement in South Africa (1906)

On September 11, 1906, Mahatma Gandhi launched the modern nonviolent resistance movement and coined the term Satyagraha to promote non-violent war against tyranny, oppression, and perpetrators of crime in South Africa. Ironically, September 11th marks the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and Washington D.C. – which changed the modern world forever.

For years in South Africa, Indians were subject to unfair treatment by the British. Eventually, Mahatma Gandhi, a native Indian and British taught lawyer, traveled to South America to protest against the unjustness. In particular, Gandhi stood up against proposed legislation in South Africa that would require Indians to give their thumb impressions on registration cards, or they would be deported as criminals.

On this day, September 11, 1906, Mahatma Gandhi coined the term Satyagraha in Johanesburg, South Africa. Satyagraha literally means “truth” and “force.” And for Gandhi, Satyagraha meant far more than mere "passive resistance." It implies taking part in pro-active non-violent methods. For example, Gandhi's said: “I coined the word ‘satyagraha’ in South Africa in order to give a name to the power with which the Indians there fought for a full 8 years (1906 - 1914). I spoke of ‘satyagraha’ in order to force a wedge between this power and the movement which was referred to in Great Britain and South Africa as “‘passive resistance.”’

Gandhi also called Satyagraha a “war” and he warned his followers that there would be a price to pay like any other war. Eventually, Gandhi’s efforts resulted in South Africa rejecting the proposed legislation against Indians, led to India’s independence in 1947, and served as a model for many other countries and leaders. For example, world leaders like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, and the Dalai Lama used Gandhi’s methods in their struggles to overcome oppression.

Today, we remember those fallen in the terrorist attacks of the World Trade Center and elsewhere. But we also remember a bright, strong, and hopeful message called Satyagraha – termed on this day over 100 years ago by one Indian man, Mahatma Gandhi, who changed the face of the world through his pro-active non-violent struggle against evil.