Gandhi began his political activism in South Africa
When Gandhi returned from London to India after the completion of his studies, he found entry into the Indian legal profession extremely difficult. It was highly competitive, and unfortunately, his modest academic achievements meant that he was somewhat disadvantaged. For quite some time, as he describes it, he languished on the steps of the Bombay High Court, waiting in vain for briefs. Then a seminal event took place that would wholly change the direction of his life, and establish the personality that we all know today as Mahatma Gandhi.
In the British colony of Natal, South Africa, a large Indian community had developed as a consequence of the movement of indentured labor from India to the sugar plantations of South Africa. Among these were a great many wealthy and influential Gujarati merchants, engaged in trade, and making fortunes in the gold-rich economy of the age. Gandhi was offered the opportunity to assist in a litigation between two Indian cousins embroiled in a business dispute. The contract was for a year, and Gandhi would essentially serve as a research assistant to an English lawyer leading the litigation.
While in South Africa, Gandhi encountered a type of Englishman he had never happened upon before. The metropolitan English had on the whole treated him with due respect and regard, while colonial Britons seemed to regard the Indians as filthy and invasive, and did what they could under the limitations of British law to keep them out of the colony.
Matters came to a head one day when Gandhi was sent from the port city of Durban to the future capital of South Africa, Pretoria. Travelling first class by train, he was challenged by a white fellow passenger, and told that he would be required to travel third class. He protested, because he had purchased, and been issued a first class ticket, and he intended to complete his journey in first class, or not at all.
Not at all was how it ended, and Gandhi was soon after thrown off the train, and it was at that point that he made the decision that he would stand up for the rights of Indians living in South Africa.