Bourke-White travelled several times to India between 1946 and 1948. There she befriended Gandhi, Nehru, and other anti-colonial activists, including Communist Party members Freda and Baba Pyare Lal Bedi, and Gandhi’s close associate, N.G. Ranga. While there she witnessed the communal riots that broke out on the eve of
Indian independence, the population transfers occasioned by Partition in 1947,
and Gandhi’s final fast for peace.She was one of the last people to meet with Gandhi shortly before his assassination in January 1948, and she photographed his funeral. Her book on the struggle for Indian independence and its aftermath appeared in 1949, shortly before her South African assignment.
Between 1860 and 1911, 150,000 Indians came to the South Africa as indentured laborers, most of them to cut sugar cane in Natal. They were joined by a small group of Indian merchants and professionals, including a lawyer named Mohandas K. Gandhi, who lived in South Africa between 1893 and 1914.
Concentrated in and around the city of Durban, in Natal, Indians faced restrictions on where they could live and travel. Gandhi pioneered his theory of nonviolent resistance, satyagraha, in leading a protest movement in favor of Indian rights in South Africa. Nevertheless, these restrictions tightened under the Afrikaner nationalist government elected in 1948, and many Indians began to join with Africans to protest apartheid.
The Indian community played a significant role in resistance to apartheid, drawing on the legacy of Gandhian non-violence. Although she did not photograph Indian daily life, Bourke-White made portraits of some important Indian figures in the “non-racial” anti-apartheid movement.
Indian Opinion approached the question of African rights with some ambiguity. On the one hand, the newspaper detested apartheid and counseled Africans to use the weapon of non-violence to overturn it. Yet, as this editorial from April 1950 suggests, the newspaper also paternalistically urged Africans to “first concentrate not on criticisng the Government or the oppressors but on changing their way of life.”