We have seen that the two ships cast anchor in the port of Durban on or about the 18th of December. No passengers are allowed to land at any of the South African ports before being subjected to a thorough medical examination. If the ship has any passenger suffering from a contagious disease, she has to undergo a period of quarantine. As there had been plague in Bombay when we met sail, we feared that we might have to go through a brief quarantine. Before the examination every ship has to fly a yellow flag, which is lowered only when the doctor has certified her to be healthy. Relatives and friends of passengers are allowed to come on board only after the yellow flag has been lowered.
Accordingly our ship was flying the yellow flag, when the doctor came
and examined us. He ordered a five days' quarantine because, in his
opinion, plague germs took twenty-three days at the most to develop.
Our ship was therefore ordered to be put in quarantine until the
twenty-third day of our sailing from Bombay. But this quarantine
order had more than health reasons behind it.
The white residents of Durban had been agitating for our
repatriation, and the agitation was one of the reasons for the
order. Dada Abdulla and Co. kept us regularly informed about the
daily happenings in the town. The whites were holding monster
meetings every day. They were addressing all kinds of threats and at
times offering even inducements to Dada Abdulla and Co. They were
ready to indemnify the Company if both the ships should be sent
back. But Dada Abdulla and Co. were not the people to be afraid of
threats. Sheth Abdul Karim Haji Adam was then the managing partner
of the firm. He was determined to moor the ships at the wharf and
disembark the passengers at any cost. He was daily sending me
detailed letters. Fortunately the Sjt. Mansukhlal Naazar was then in
Durban, having gone there to meet me. He was capable and fearless and
guided the Indian community. Their advocate Mr. Laughton was an
equally fearless man. He condemned the conduct of the white
residents and advised the community, not merely as their paid
advocate, but also as their true friend.
Thus Durban had become the scene of an unequal duel. On one side
there was a handful of poor Indians and a few of their English
friends, and on the other were ranged the white men, strong in arms,
in numbers, in education and in wealth. They had also the backing of
the State, for the Natal Government openly helped them. Mr.Harry
Escombe, who was the most influential of the members of the Cabinet,
openly took part in their meetings.
The real object of the quarantine was thus to coerce the passengers
into returning to India by somehow intimidating them or the Agent
Company. For now threats began to be addressed to us also: 'If you
do not go back, you will surely be pushed into the sea. But if you
consent to return, you may even get your passage money back.' I
constantly moved amongst my fellow-passengers cheering them up. I
also sent messages of comfort to the passengers of the s.s.Naderi.
All of them kept calm and courageous.
We arranged all sorts of games on the ship for the entertainment of
the passengers. On Christmas Day the captain invited the saloon
passengers to dinner. The principal among these were my family and
I. In the speeches after dinner I spoke on Western civilization. I
knew that this was not an occasion for a serious speech. But mine
could not be otherwise. I took part in the merriment, but my heart
was in the combat that was going on in Durban. For I was the real
target. There were two charges against me:
(1) that whilst in India I had indulged in unmerited condemnation of
the Natal whites;
(2) that with a view to swamping Natal with Indians I had specially
brought the two shiploads of passengers to settle there.
I was conscious of my responsibility. I knew that Dada Abdulla and Co. had
incurred grave risks on my account, the lives of the passengers were
in danger, and by bringing my family with me I had put them likewise
But I was absolutely innocent. I had induced no one to go to Natal.
I did not know the passengers when they embarked. And with the
exception of a couple of relatives, I did not know the name and
address of even one of the hundreds of passengers on board. Neither
had I said, whilst in India, a word about the whites in Natal that I
had not already said in Natal itself. And I had ample evidence in
support of all that I had said.
I therefore deplored the civilization of which the Natal whites were
the fruit, and which they represented and championed. This
civilization had all along been on my mind, and I therefore offered
my views concerning it in my speech before that little meeting. The
captain and other friends gave me a patient hearing, and received my
speech in the spirit in which it was made. I do not know that it in
any way affected the course of their lives, but afterwards I had
long talks with the captain and other officers regarding the
civilization of the West. I had in my speech described Western
civilization as being, unlike the Eastern, predominantly based on
force. The questioners pinned me to my faith, and one of them the
captain, so far as I can recollect – said to me:
'Supposing the whites carry out their threats, how will you stand by
your principle of non-violence?' To which I replied: 'I hope God
will give me the courage and the sense to forgive them and to
refrain from bringing them to law. I have no anger against them. I
am only sorry for their ignorance and their narrowness. I know that
they sincerely believe that what they are doing today is right and
proper. I have no reason therefore to be angry with them.'
The questioner smiled, possibly distrustfully.
Thus the days dragged on their weary length. When the quarantine
would terminate was still uncertain. The Quarantine Officer said
that the matter had passed out of his hands and that, as soon as he
had orders from the Government, he would permit us to land.
At last ultimatums were served on the passengers and me. We were asked to
submit, if we would escape with our lives. In our reply the
passengers and I both maintained our right to land at Port Natal,
and intimated our determination to enter Natal at any risk.
At the end of twenty-three days the ships were permitted to enter
the harbour, and orders permitting the passengers to land were