I had not yet left the police station, when, after two days, I was taken to see Mr. Escombe. Two constables were sent to protect me, though no such precaution was then needed.
On the day of landing, as soon as the yellow flag was lowered, a
representative of The Natal Advertiser
had come to interview me. He had asked me a number of questions, and
in reply I had been able to refute everyone of the charges that had
been leveled against me. Thanks to Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, I had
delivered only written speeches in India, and I had copies of them
all, as well as of my other writings. I had given the interviewer
all this literature and showed him that in India I had said nothing
which I had not already said in South Africa in stronger language. I
had also shown him that I had had no hand in bringing the passengers
of the Courland and Naderi to South Africa.
Many of them were old residents, and most of them,
far from wanting to stay in Natal, meant to go to the Transvaal. In
those days the Transvaal offered better prospects than Natal to
those coming in search of wealth, and most Indians, therefore,
preferred to go there.
This interview and my refusal to prosecute
the assailants produced such a profound impression that the
Europeans of Durban were ashamed of their conduct. The press
declared me to be innocent and condemned the mob. Thus the lynching
ultimately proved to be a blessing for me, that is, for the cause.
It enhanced the prestige of the Indian community in South Africa and
made my work easier.
In three or four days I went to my house, and
it was not long before I settled down again. The incident added also
to my professional practice.
But if it enhanced the prestige of the
community, it also fanned the flame of prejudice against it. As soon
as it was proved that the Indian could put up a manly fight, he came
to be regarded as a danger. Two bills were introduced in the Natal
Legislative Assembly, one of them calculated to affect the Indian
trader adversely, and the other to impose a stringent restriction on
Indian immigration. Fortunately the fight for the franchise had
resulted in a decision to the effect that no enactment might be
passed against the Indians as such, that is say, that the law should
make no distinctions of colour or race. The language of the bills
above mentioned made them applicable to all, but their object
undoubtedly was to impose further restrictions on the Indian
residents of Natal.
The bills considerably increased my public work
and made the community more alive then ever to their sense of duty.
They were translated into Indian languages and fully explained, so
as to bring home to the community their subtle implications. We
appealed to the Colonial Secretary, but he refused to interfere and
the bills became law.
Public work now began to absorb most of my
time. Sjt. Mansukhlal Naazar, who, as I have said, was already in
Durban, came to stay with me, and as he gave his time to public
work, he lightened my burden to some extent.
Sheth Adamji Miyakhan had, in my absence, discharged his duty with great credit. He had
increased the membership and added about £1,000 to the coffers of
the Natal Indian Congress. The awakening caused by the bills and the
demonstration against the passengers I turned to good account by
making an appeal for membership and funds, which now amounted to
£5,000. My desire was to secure for the Congress a permanent fund,
so that it might procure property of its own and then carry on its
work out of the rent of the property. This was my first experience
of managing a public institution. I placed my proposal before my co-workers,
and they welcomed it. The property that was purchased was
leased out, and the rent was enough to meet the current expenses of
the Congress. The property was vested in a strong body of trustees
and is still there today, but it has become the source of much
internecine quarrelling with the result that the rent of the
property now accumulates in the court.
This sad situation developed after my departure from South Africa, but my idea of having
permanent funds for public institutions underwent a change long
before this difference arose. And now after considerable experience
with the many public institutions which I have managed, it has
become my firm conviction that it is not good to run public
institutions on permanent funds. A permanent fund carries in itself
the seed of the moral fall of the institution. A public institution
means an institution conducted with the approval, and from the
funds, of the public. When such an institution ceases to have public
support, it forfeits its right to exist. Institutions maintained on
permanent funds are often found to ignore public opinion, and are
frequently responsible for acts contrary to it. In our country we
experience this at every step. Some of the so-called religious
trusts have ceased to render any accounts. The trustees have become
the owners and are responsible to none. I have no doubt that the
ideal is for public institutions to live, like nature, from day to
day. The institution that fails to win public support has no right
to exist as such. The subscriptions that an institution annually
receives are a test of its popularity and the honesty of its
management; and I am of opinion that every institution should submit
to that test. But let no one misunderstand me. My remarks do not
apply to the bodies which cannot, by their very nature, be conducted
without permanent buildings. What I mean to say is that the current
expenditure should be found from subscriptions voluntarily received
from year to year.
These views were confirmed during the days of the Satyagraha
in South Africa. That magnificent campaign extending over
six years was carried on without permanent funds, though lakhs of
rupees were necessary for it. I can recollect times when I did not
know what would happen the next day if no subscriptions came in. But
I shall not anticipate future events. The reader will find the
opinion expressed above amply borne out in the coming narrative.