THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > Deputation to England
14. Deputation to England
In the Transvaal itself we took all necessary measures for resisting the Black act such as approaching the Local Government with memorials, etc. The legislative Council deleted the clause affecting women but the rest of the ordinance was passed practically in the shape in which it was first drafted. The spirit of the community was then high and having closed its ranked ranks it was unanimous in opposition to the Ordinance. No one therefore was despondent. We however still adhered to the resolution to exhaust all appropriate constitutional remedies in the first instance. The Transvaal was yet a Crown Colony, so that the Imperial Government was responsible for its legislation as well as its administration. Therefore the royal assent to measures passed by its legislature was not a mere formality, but very often it might so happen that the King, as advised by his ministers, might withhold his assent to such measures if they were found to be in conflict with the spirit of the British Constitution. On the other hand, in the case of a Colony enjoying responsible government the royal assent to measures passed by its legislature is more often than not a matter of course.
I submitted to the community that if a deputation was to go England, it was as well that they realized their responsibility in the matter still more fully, and with this end in view I placed three suggestions before our Association. First, although we had taken pledges at the meeting in the Empire Theatre, we should once again obtain individual pledges from leading Indians, so that if they had given way to doubt or weakness, they would be found out. One of the reasons advances by me in support of this suggestion was, that if the deputation was backed up by Satyagraha, they would then have no fears and could boldly inform the Secretary of the State for the Colonies about the resolution India and the resolution of the community. Secondly, arrangements for meeting the expenses of the deputation must be made in advance. And thirdly, the maximum number of members should be fixed. I made this last suggestion in order to correct the current misapprehension that a large number of members would be able to put in more work, and to bring this idea into relief that the members should join the deputation not because it was an honour to them but with a single minded devotion to the cause. The three suggestions were accepted. Signatures were taken. Many signed the pledge, but still I saw even among those who had orally pledges themselves at the meeting, there were some who hesitated to sign it. When once a man has pledged himself he need hesitate to pledge himself a hundred times. Btu But yet it is not uncommon experience to find men weakening in regard to pledges deliberately taken and getting perplexed when asked to put down a verbal pledge in black and white. The necessary funds, too, were found. The greatest difficulty however was encountered in selecting the personnel of the deputation. I was to go, but who would go with me? The Committee took much time in arriving at a decision. Many a night passed, and we had a full experience of the bad habits which are generally prevalent in association. Some proposed to cut the Gordian knot by asking me to go alone, but I flatly declined. There was for all practical purposes no Hindu-Muslim problem in South Africa. But it could not be claimed that there were no differences between the two sections and if these differences never assumed an acute form, that may have been to some extent due to the peculiar conditions in South Africa. , But but was largely and definitely due to the leaders having worked with devotion and frankness and thus given a fine lead to the community. My advice was that there must be a Musalman gentleman going with me, and that the personnel should be limited to two. But the Hindus at once said that as I represented the Indian community as a whole, there should be a representative of Hindu interests. Some even said that there should be one Konkani Musalman, one Meman, one Patidar, and one Anavala and so on. At least, all understood the real position and only two of us, Mr H.O.Ali and myself were duly elected.
H.O. Ali could be considered semi-Malay. His father was an Indian Musalman and his mother Malay. His mother tongue, we might say, was Dutch. But he had been so well educated in English that he could speak Dutch and English equally well. He had also cultivated the art of writing to the newspapers. He was a member of the Transvaal British Indian Association and he had long been taking part in public affairs. He spoke Hindustani, too, freely.
We set to work as soon as we reached England. We got printed the memorial to be submitted to the Secretary of the State which we had drafted in the steamer on our way to England. Lord Elgin was Secretary of State for the Colonies and Lord (then Mr) Moreley Secretary of State for India. We met Dadabhai and through him the British Committee of the Indian National Congress. We placed our case before it and signified our intention to seek the co-operation of all the parties, as advised by Dadabhai. The Committee approved of our policy. Similarly we met Sir Muncherjee Bhownugree, who also was of much help. He as well as Dadabhai advised us to secure the co-operation of some impartial and well known Anglo Indian who should introduce our deputation to Lord Elgin. Sir Muncherjee suggested some names, too, one of which was that of Sir Lepel Griffin. Sir W. W. Hunter was now no longer alive; or else on account of his deep knowledge of the condition of Indians in South Africa he would have led the deputation himself or induced some influential member of the House of Lords to do so.
We met Sir Lepel Griffin. He was opposed to current political movements in India, but he was much interested in this question and agreed to lead the deputation not for the sake of courtesy but for the justice and righteousness of our cause. He read all the papers and became familiar with the problem. We likewise interviewed other Anglo-Indians, Members of Parliament, and as many others of any importance as were within our reach. The deputation waited upon Lord Elgin who heard everything with attention, expressed his sympathy, referred to his own difficulties and yet promised to do for us all he could. The same deputation met Mr Morley who also declared his sympathy and whose observations in replying to the deputation I have already summarized. Sir William Wedderburn was instrumental in calling a meeting of the Committee of the House of Commons for Indian Affairs in the drawing room of the House and we placed our case before them too as best we could. We met Mr. Redmond, the then leader of the Irish Party. In short, we met as many members of Parliament as we could, irrespective of the party to which they belonged. The British Committee of the Indian National Congress was of course very helpful. But according to English customs men belonging to a certain party and holding certain views only would join it, while there were many others who had nothing to do with the Committee but yet rendered us all possible assistance. We determined to organize a standing committee upon which all these could come together and thus be even more useful in watching over our interests and men of all parties liked our idea.
The burden of carrying on the work of an institution chiefly falls upon it secretary. The secretary should be such, that not only does he have full faith in the aims and the objects of the institution, but he should be able to devote nearly all his time to the achievement of these aims and has great capacity for work. Mr. L. W. Ritch, who belonged to South Africa, was formerly articles to me and was now a student for the bar in London, satisfied all the requirements. He was there in England and was also desirous of taking up the work. We therefore ventured to form the South Africa British Indian Committee.
In England and other Western countries there is one, in my view, barbarous custom of inaugurating movements at dinners. The British Premier delivers in the Mansion House on the ninth of November an important speech in which he adumbrates his programme for the year and publishes his own forecast of the future, and which therefore attracts universal notice. Cabinet ministers among others are invited to dinner buy the Lord Mayor of London, and when the dinner is over, bottles of wine are uncorked, all present drink to the health of the host and the guest, and speeches too are made while this merry business is in progress. The toast for the British Cabinet is proposed, and the Premier makes the important speech referred to in reply to it. And as in public, so in private, the person with whom some important conversations are to be held is, as a matter of custom, invited to dinner, and the topic of the day is broached either at or after dinner. We too had to observe this custom not once but quite a number of times, although of course we never touched meat or liquor. We thus invite our principal supporters to lunch. About a hundred covers were laid. The idea was to tender our thanks t our friends, to bid them good bye and at the same item to constitute the Standing Committee. Here too, speeches were made, as usual, after dinner, and the Committee was also organized We thus obtained greater publicity for our movement.
After a stay in England of about six weeks we returned to South Africa. When we reached to South Africa. When we reached Madeira, we received a cablegram from Mr. Ritch to the effect that Lord Elgin had declared that he was unable without further consideration to advise His Majesty the King that the Transvaal Asiatic Ordinance should be brought into operation. Our joy knew no bounds. The steamer took about a fortnight to reach Cape Town from Maderia and we had quite a good time of it during these days and built many castles in the air about the coming redress of many more grievances. But the ways of Providence are inscrutable. We shall see in the next chapter how the castles we had laboriously built toppled down the passed into nothingness.
But I must place one or two sacred reminiscences on record before closing this chapter. We had utilized every single minute of our time in England. The sending of a large number of circulars etc., could not be done singlehanded, and we were sorely in need of outside help. Money indeed does bring us this kind of help, but my experience ranging over forty years has taught me that assistance thus purchased can never compare with purely voluntary service. Fortunately for us we had many volunteer helpers. Many and Indian youth who was in England for study surrounded us and some of them helped us day and night without any hope of reward or fame. I do not remember that any of them ever refused to do anything as being beneath his dignity, be it the writing of addresses or fixing of stamps or the posting of letters. But there was an English friend named Symonds who cast all these into the shade. Whom the Gods love die young and so did this benevolent Englishman. I met first him in South Africa. He had been in India. When he was in Bombay in 1897, he moved fearlessly among the Indians affected by the plague and nursed them. It had become a second nature with him not to be daunted by death when ministering to sufferers from infectious diseases. He was perfectly free from any race or colour prejudice. He was independent in temperament. He believed that truth is always with the minority. It was this belief of his which first drew him to me in Johannesburg, and he often humorously assured me that he would withdraw his support of me if he ever found me in a majority, as he was of opinion that truth itself is corrupted in the hands of majority. He had read very widely. He was private secretary to Sir George Farrar, one of millionaires of Johannesburg. He was an expert stenographer. He happened to be in England when we were there. I did not know where he was, but the noble Englishman found us out as our public work had secured for us newspaper advertisement. He expressed his willingness to do for us anything he could. ‘I will work as a servant if you like,’ he said, ‘and if you need a stenographer, you know you can scarcely come across the like of me.’ we were in need of both these kinds of help, and I am not exaggerating when I say that this Englishman toiled for us day and night without any payment. He was always on the typewriter till twelve or one o’clock at night. Symonds would carry messages and post letters, always with smile curling round his lips. His monthly income was about forty-five pounds, but he spent it all in helping his friends and others. He was about thirty years of age. He was unmarried and wanted to remain so all his life. I pressed him hard to accept some payment but he flatly refused and said, ‘I would be failing in my duty if accepted any remuneration for this service.’ I remember that on the last night he was awake till three o’clock while we were winding up our business and packing our things. He parted with us the next day after seeing us off on the steamer, and a sad parting it was. I have often experienced that benevolence is by no means peculiar to the brown skin.
For the benefit of young aspirants after public work, I note down the fact that we were so punctilious in keeping the accounts of the deputation that we preserved even such trifling vouchers as the receipts for the money spent in the steamers upon, say, soda water. Similarly we preserved the receipts for telegrams. I do not remember to have entered a single item under sundries did not figure in our accounts at all, and if they did they were intended to cover a few pennies or shillings the manner of whose spending we could not recall at the time of writing the accounts at the end of the day.
I have clearly observed in this life the fact that we become trustees or responsible agents from the time that we reach years of discretion. So long as we are with our parents, we must account to them for moneys or business they entrust to us. They may be sure of our rectitude and may not ask us for accounts, but that does not affect our responsibility. When we become independent householders, there arises the responsibility to our family. We are not the sole proprietors of our acquisitions; our family is a co-sharer of them along with ourselves. We must account for every single pie for their sake. If such is our responsibility in private life, in public life it is all the greater. I have observed that voluntary workers are apt to behave as if they were not bound to render a detailed account of the business or money’s with which they are entrusted because like Caesar’s wife they are above suspicion. This is sheer nonsense, as the keeping of accounts has nothing whatever to do with trustworthiness or the reverse. Keeping accounts is an independent duty, the performance of which is essential to clean work, and if the leading workers of the institution which we voluntarily serve do not ask us for accounts out of a sense of false courtesy or fear, they too are equally to blame. If a paid servant is bound to account for work done and money spent by him, the volunteer is doubly bound to do so, for his very work is a reward to him. This is a very important matter, and as I know that this is generally not sufficiently attended to in many institutions, I have ventured to take up so much space here in adverting to the subject.