For the first two weeks the mill-hands exhibited great courage and self-restraint and daily held monster meetings. On these occasions I used to remind them of their pledge, and they would shout back to me the assurance that they would rather die than break their word.
But at last they began to show signs of flagging. Just as physical
weakness in men manifests itself in irascibility, their attitude
towards the blacklegs became more and more menacing as the strike
seemed to weaken, and I began to fear an outbreak of rowdyism on
their part. The attendance at their daily meetings began to
dwindle by degrees, and despondency and despair were writ large on
the faces of those who did attend. Finally the information was
brought to me that the strikers had begun to totter. I felt deeply
troubled and set to thinking furiously as to what my duty was in the
circumstances. I had had experience of a gigantic strike in South
Africa, but the situation that confronted me here was different. The
mill-hands had taken the pledge at my suggestion. They had repeated
it before me day after day, and the very idea that they might now go
back upon it was to me inconceivable. Was it pride or was it my love
for the labourers and my passionate regard for truth that was at the
back of this feeling who can say?
One morning it was at a mill-hands' meeting while I was still
groping and unable to see my way clearly, the light came to me.
Unbidden and all by themselves the words came to my lips: 'Unless
the strikers rally,' I declared to the meeting, 'and continue the
strike till a settlement is reached, or till they leave the mills
altogether, I will not touch any food.'
The labourers were thunderstruck. Tears began to course down
Anasuyabehn's cheeks. The labourers broke out, 'Not you but we shall
fast. It would be monstrous if you were to fast. Please forgive us
for our lapse, we will now remain faithful to our pledge to the
'There is no need for you to fast,' I replied. 'It would be enough
if you could remain true to your pledge. As you know we are without
funds, and we do not want to continue our strike by living on public
charity. You should therefore try to eke out a bare existence by
some kind of labour, so that you may be able to remain unconcerned,
no matter how long the strike may continue. As for my fast, it will
be broken only after the strike is settled.'
In the meantime Vallabhbhai was trying to find some employment for
the strikers under the Municipality, but there was not much hope of
success there. Maganlal Gandhi suggested that, as we needed sand for
filling the foundation of our weaving school in the Ashram, a number
of them might be employed for that purpose. The labourers welcomed
the proposal. Anasuyabehn led the way with a basket on her head and
soon an endless stream of labourers carrying baskets of sand on
their heads could be seen issuing out of the hollow of the
river-bed. It was a sight worth seeing. The labourers felt
themselves infused with a new strength, and it became difficult to
cope with the task of paying out wages to them.
My fast was not free from a grave defect. For as I have already
mentioned in a previous chapter. I enjoyed very close and cordial
relations with the mill-owners, and my fast could not but affect
their decision. As a Satyagrahi I knew that I might not fast against
them, but ought to leave them free to be influenced by the
mill-hands' strike alone. My fast was undertaken not on account of
lapse of the mill-owners, but on account of that of the labourers in which,
as their representative, I felt I had a share. With
the mill-owners, I could only plead; to fast against them would
amount to coercion. Yet in spite of my knowledge that my fast was
bound to put pressure upon them, as in fact it did, I felt I could
not help it. The duty to undertake it seemed to me to be clear.
I tried to set the mill-owners at ease. 'There is not the slightest
necessity for you to withdraw from your position,' I said to them.
But they received my words coldly and even flung keen, delicate bits
of sarcasm at me, as indeed they had a perfect right to do.
The principal man at the back of the mill-owners' unbending attitude
towards the strike was Sheth Ambalal. His resolute will and
transparent sincerity were wonderful and captured my heart. It was a
pleasure to be pitched against him. The strain produced by my fast
upon the opposition, of which he was the head, cut me, therefore, to
the quick. And then, Sarladevi, his wife, was attached to me with
the affection of a blood-sister, and I could not bear to see her
anguish on account of my action.
Anasuyabhen and a number of other friends and labourers shared the
fast with me on the first day. But after some difficulty I was able
to dissuade them from continuing it further.
The net result of it was that an atmosphere of goodwill was created
all round. The hearts of the mill-owners were touched, and they set
about discovering some means for a settlement. Anasuyabehn's house
became the venue of their discussions. Sjt. Anandshankar Dhruva
intervened and was in the end appointed arbitrator, and the strike
was called off after I had fasted only for three days. The
mill-owners commemorated the event by distributing sweets among the
labourers, and thus a settlement was reached after twenty-one days' strike.
At the meeting held to celebrate the settlement, both the
mill-owners and the Commissioner were present. The advice which the
latter gave to the mill-hands on this occasion was: 'You should
always act as Mr. Gandhi advises you.' Almost immediately after
these events I had to engage in a tussle with this very gentleman.
But circumstances were changed, and he had changed with the
circumstances. He then set about warning the Patidars of Kheda
against following my advice!
I must not close this chapter without noting here an incident, as
amusing as it was pathetic. It happened in connection with the
distribution of sweets. The mill-owners had ordered a very large
quantity, and it was a problem how to distribute it among the
thousands of labourers. It was decided that it would be the fittest
thing to distribute it in the open, beneath the very tree under
which the pledge had been taken, especially as it would have been
extremely inconvenient to assemble them all together in any other
I had taken it for granted that the men who had observed strict
discipline for full twenty-one days would without any difficulty be able to
remain standing in an orderly manner while the sweets were being
distributed, and not make an impatient scramble for them. But when
it came to the test, all the methods that were tried for making the
distribution failed. Again and again their ranks would break into
confusion after distribution had proceeded for a couple of minutes.
The leaders of the mill-hands tried their best to restore order, but
in vain. The confusion, the crush and the scramble at last became so
great that quite a number of the sweets were spoiled by being
trampled under foot, and the attempt to distribute them in the open
had finally to be given up. With difficulty we succeeded in taking
the remaining sweets to Sheth Ambalal's bungalow in Mirzapur.
Sweets were distributed comfortably the next day within the compound
of that bungalow.
The comic side of this incident is obvious, but the pathetic side
bears mention. Subsequent inquiry revealed the fact that the beggar
population of Ahmedabad, having got scent of the fact that sweets
were to be distributed under the Ek-Tek tree, had gone there in
large numbers, and it was their hungry scramble for the sweets that
had created all the confusion and disorder.
The grinding poverty and starvation with which our country is
afflicted is such that it drives more and more men every year into
the ranks of the beggars, whose desperate struggle for bread renders
them insensible to all feelings of decency and self-respect. And our
philanthropists, instead of providing work for them and insisting on
their working for bread, give them alms.