Mr. Chamberlain had come to get a gift of 35 million pounds from South Africa, and to win the hearts of Englishmen and Boers. So he gave a cold shoulder to the Indian deputation.
'You know,' he said 'that the Imperial Government has little control
over self-governing Colonies. Your grievances seem to be genuine. I
shall do what I can, but you must try your best to placate the
Europeans, if you wish to live in their midst.'
The reply cast a chill over the members of the deputation. I was
also disappointed. It was an eye-opener for us all, and I saw that
we should start with our work de novo.
I explained the situation to my colleagues.
As a matter of fact there was nothing wrong about Mr. Chamberlain's
reply. It was well that he did not mince matters. He had brought
home to us in a rather gentle way the rule of might being right or
the law of the sword.
But sword we had none. We scarcely had the nerve and the muscle even
to receive sword-cuts.
Mr. Chamberlain had given only a short time to the sub-continent. If
Shrinagar to Cape Comorin is 1,900 miles, Durban to Capetown is not
less than 1,100 miles, and Mr. Chamberlain had to cover the long
distance at hurricane speed.
From Natal he hastened to the Transvaal. I had to prepare the case
for the Indians there as well and submit it to him. But how was I
to get to Pretoria? Our people there were not in a position to procure
the necessary legal facilities for my getting to them in time. The
War had reduced the Transvaal to a howling wilderness. There were
neither provisions nor clothing available. Empty or closed shops
were there, waiting to be replenished or opened, but that was a
matter of time. Even refugees could not be allowed to return until
the shops were ready with provisions. Every Transvaaller had
therefore to obtain a permit. The European had no difficulty in
getting one, but the Indian found it very hard.
During the War many officers and soldiers had come to South Africa
from India and Ceylon, and it was considered to be the duty of the
British authorities to provide for such of them as decided to settle
there. They had in any event to appoint new officers, and these
experienced men came in quite handy. The quick ingenuity of some of
them created a new department. It showed their resourcefulness.
There was a special department for the negroes. Why then should
there not be one for the Asiatics? The argument seemed to be quite
plausible. When I reached the Transvaal, this new department had
already been opened and was gradually spreading its tentacles. The
officers who issued permits to the returning refugees might issue
them to all, but how could they do so in respect of the Asiatics
without the intervention of the new department? And if the permits
were to be issued on the recommendation of the new department, some
of the responsibility and burden of the permit officers could thus
be lessened. This was how they had argued. The fact, however, was
that the new department wanted some apology for work, and the men
wanted money. If there had been no work, the department would have
been unnecessary and would have been discontinued. So they found
this work for themselves.
The Indians had to apply to this department. A reply would be
vouchsafed many days after. And as there were large numbers wishing
to return to the Transvaal, there grew up an army of intermediaries
or touts, who with the officers, looted the poor Indians to the tune
of thousands. I was told that no permit could be had without
influence, and that in some cases one had to pay up to a hundred pounds
in spite of the influence which one might bring to
bear. Thus there seemed to me no way open to me. I went to my old friend,
the Police Superintendent of Durban, and said to him: 'Please
introduce me to the Permit Officer and help me to obtain a permit.
You know that I have been a resident of the Transvaal.' He
immediately put on his hat, came out and secured me a permit. There
was hardly an hour left before my train was to start. I had kept my
luggage ready. I thanked Superintendent Alexander and started for
I now had a fair idea of the difficulties ahead. On reaching
Pretoria I drafted the memorial. In Durban I do not recollect the
Indians having been asked to submit in advance the names of their
representatives, but here there was the new department and it asked
to do so. The Pretoria Indians had already come to know that the
officers wanted to exclude me.
But another chapter is necessary for this painful though amusing