Gandhi, Kipling and Magna Carta

Very few people take the trouble to read Magna Carta (the ‘Great Charter’), either in medieval Latin or in translation, but someone who probably did read the text, perhaps even in the Latin, was Gandhi, who was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple during his years in London. Gandhi referred to Magna Carta explicitly in a ‘farewell letter’ which he composed just before he left South Africa and which was published in Indian Opinion in July 1914. He said he was referring to the Indian Relief Act as ‘Magna Charta’ (he used a popular variant spelling) on the grounds that the Act gave the Indian community in South Africa the right ‘to have our reasonable wishes respected’, that it ‘vindicated Passive Resistance as a lawful clean weapon’, and that it confirmed ‘the theory of the British Constitution that there should be no legal racial inequality between different subjects of the Crown’.

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