THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > Opposition and Assualt
22. Opposition and Assualt
I reached Johannesburg at about 9 p.m. and went direct to the Chairman Sheth Yusuf Mian. He knew that I had been taken to Pretoria, and was hence rather expecting me. Still it was a pleasant surprise for him and others to find me unaccompanied by a warder. I suggested that a meeting should be called at once with such attendance as was possible at a very short notice. The Chairman and other friends agreed with me. As most of the Indians lived in the same quarter, it was not difficult to send round notice of the proposed meeting. The Chairman’s house was near the mosque, and meetings were usually held on the grounds of the mosque. There was hence not much to be done by way of arrangement for the meeting. It was enough to have one light on the platform. The meeting was held that very night at about 11 or 12 p.m. The audience numbered nearly a thousand, in spite of the shortness of the notice and the late hour.
Before the meeting was held, I had explained the terms of the settlement to the leaders present. A few opposed the settlement. But all of them understood the situation after they had heard me. Every one of them, however, was troubled by one doubt, ‘What if General Smuts broke faith with us? The Black Act might not be enforced but it would always hang over our heads like Damocles’ sword. If in the meanwhile we registered voluntarily, we would have knowingly played in the adversary’s hands, and surrendered the most powerful weapon in our possession for resisting the Act. The right order for the settlement was, that the Act should be repealed first and then we should be called upon to register voluntarily.’
I liked this argument. I felt proud of the keen common sense and high courage of those who advanced it, and saw that such was the stuff of which Satyagrahis were made. In answer to that argument and deserves serious consideration. There would be nothing like it, if we registered voluntarily only after the Act was repealed. But then it would not be in the nature of a compromise. Compromise means that both the parties make large concessions on all points except where a principle is involved. Our principle is, that we would not submit to the Black Act, and therefore, would not, in virtue of it, do even such things as were otherwise unobjectionable; and to this principle we must adhere at all costs. The principle with the Government is, that in order to prevent the illegal entry of Indians into the Transvaal, it must get many Indians to take out non-transferable permits with marks of identification and thus set the suspicions of the Europeans at rest and allay all their fears; and the Government can never give it up on their part. We have admitted this principle of the Government by our conduct up to date, and therefore even if we feel like resisting it we may not do so until we find fresh grounds for such a departure. Our struggle aimed not at the abrogation of this principle but at removing the stigma, which the Black Act sought to attach to the community. If, therefore, we now utilize the new and powerful force which has sprung up in the community for gaining a fresh point, it would ill become us, who claim to be Satyagrahis. Consequently, we cannot justly object to the present settlement. As for the argument that we must not surrender our weapons before the Act is repealed, it is easily answered. A Satyagrahi bids good-bye to fear. He is therefore never afraid of trusting the opponent. Even if the opponent plays him false twenty times, the Satyagrahi is ready to trust him for the twenty-first time, for an implicit trust in human nature is the very essence of his creed. Again to say that in trusting the Government we play into their hands is to betray an ignorance of the principles of Satyagraha. Suppose we register voluntarily, but the Government commits a breach of faith and fails to redeem its promise to repeal the Act. Could we not then resort to Satyagraha? If we refused to show at the proper time the certificates of registration we take out, our registration would count for nothing, and the Government could not distinguish between ourselves and the Indians who might enter the Transvaal surreptitiously. Therefore, whether there is or there is not any law in force, the Government cannot exercise control over us without our co-operation. The existence of a law means, that if we refuse to accept the restriction sought to be imposed through it by the Government, we are liable to punishment, and generally it so happens, that the fear of punishment leads men to submit to the restriction. But a Satyagrahi differs from the generality of men in this, that if he submits to a restriction, he submits voluntarily, not because he is afraid of punishment, but because he thinks that such submission is essential to common weal. And such is precisely our position regarding registration, which cannot be affected by any breach of faith, however flagrant, on the part of the Government. We are the creators of this position of ours, and we alone can change it. We are fearless and free, so long as we have the weapon of Satyagraha in our hands. And if any thinks that the community may not be as not a Satyagrahi nor has he any understanding of Satyagraha. That would mean that the present strength of the community is not real strength but is in the nature of a momentary effervescences or intoxication, and if that is so, we do not deserve to win, and the fruits of victory will slip out of our hands even if we win. Suppose the Government first abrogates the act and we then register voluntarily. Suppose further that the Government afterwards enacts the same obnoxious law and compels the Indians to register. What can then prevent the Government from pursuing such a course of action? And if we are doubtful about our strength today, then too shall we be in an equally bad case. From whatever standpoint, therefore, we examine the settlement, it may be said that the community not only will not lose but will on the other hand gain by the compromise. And I am also of opinion, that when our opponents recognize our humility and sense of justice, they would give up or at least mitigate their opposition.’
I was thus able fully to satisfy the one or two of the small company who stuck a discordant note, but I did not then even dream of the storm which was to break out at the midnight meeting. I explained all the terms of the settlement to the meeting and said:
‘The responsibility of the community is largely enhanced by this settlement. We must register voluntarily in order to show that we do not intend to bring a single Indian into the Transvaal surreptitiously or by fraud. If any one of us fails to register, he will not be punished at present; but that can only mean that the community does not accept the settlement. It is necessary, indeed, that you must here raise your hands as a mark of your agreeing to the settlement, but that is not enough. As soon as the arrangements for fresh registration are completed, every one of us who raises his hand should take out a certificate of registration at once, register, to the community why they must register. And it is only when we have thus worthily fulfilled our part that we shall reap the real fruit of our victory.’
As soon as I finished my speech a Pathan friend stood up and greeted me with a volley of questions:
‘Shall we have to give ten finger-prints under the settlement?’
‘Yes and no. My own view of the matter is, that all of us should give digit impressions without the least hesitation. But those, who have any conscientious objection to giving them or think it to be derogatory to their self-respect, will not be obliged to give those impressions.’
‘What will you do yourself?’
‘I have decided to give ten finger-prints. It may not be for me not to give them myself while advising others to do so.’ ‘You were writing a deal about ten finger-prints. Itwas you who told us that they were required only from criminals. It was you who said that the struggle centred round the finger prints. How all that fit in with your attitude today? ‘
‘Even now I fully adhere to everything that I have written before about finger-prints. Even now I say that in India finger-prints are required from criminal tribes. I have said before and say even now, that it would be a sin in virtue of the Black Act to give even our signatures not to talk of finger-prints. It is true that I have, and I believe wisely, laid great stress on this requisition of finger-prints. It was easier to rouse the community to a sense of the gravity of the situation by a reference to such a new and startling feature of the Act as the finger-prints than to minor items in which we had already yielded submission. And I saw from experience that the community grasped the situation at once. But circumstances have now changed. I say with all the force at my command, that what would have been a crime against the people yesterday is in the altered circumstances of today the hallmark of a gentleman. If you require me to salute you by force and If I submit to you, I will have demeaned myself in the eyes of the public and in your eyes as well as in my own. But if I of my own accord salute you as a brother or fellow-man, the evinces my humility and gentlemanliness, and it will be counted to me as righteousness before the Great White Throne. That is how I advise the community to give the finger-prints.’
‘We have heard that you have betrayed the community and sold it to General Smuts for 15,000 pounds. We will never give the fingerprints now allow others to do so. I swear with Allah as my witness, that I will kill the man who takes the lead in applying for registration.’
‘I can understand the feelings of Pathan friends. I am sure that no one else believes me to be capable of selling the community. I have already said that fingerprints will not be demanded from those who have sworn not to give them. I will render all possible help to any Pathan or other who wishes to register without giving fingerprints, and I assure him that he will get the certificate all right without violence being done to his conscience. I must confess, however, that I do not like the threat of death which the friend had held out. I also believe that one may not swear to kill another in the name of the Most High. I therefore take it, that it is only in a momentary fit of passion that this friend has taken oath. However that may be, whether he carries out his threat, as the principal party responsible for this settlement and as servant of the community, it is my clear duty to take the lead in giving fingerprints, and I pray God that He graciously permit me so to do. Death is the appointed end of all life. To die by the hand of a brother, rather than by disease or in such other way, cannot before me a matter for sorrow. And if even in such a case I am free form the thoughts of anger or hatred against my assailant, I know that will rebound to my eternal welfare, and even the assailant will later on realize my perfect innocence.’
It is perhaps necessary to explain why these questions were asked. Although there were not entertained and feelings of hatred against those who had submitted to the Black Act, their action had been condemned in plain and strong terms on the public platform as well as in Indian Life with them therefore was anything but pleasant. They never imagined that the bulk of the community would stand to their guns and make such a display of strength as to bring the Government to terms of compromise. But when over 150 Satyagrahis were already in prison and there was a talk about settlement, it was almost too much for the ‘blacklegs’ to bear, and there were among them some who even wished that there should be no settlement and would try to wreck it if it was effected.
There were only a few Pathans living in the Transvaal, their total number hardly exceeding fifty. Some of them had come over as soldiers during the Boer War and they had settled in the country like many other Indian as well as European soldiers. Some of them were even my clients, and I was familiar with them otherwise too. The Pathans are an unsophisticated and credulous race. Brave they are as a matter of course. To kill and get killed is an ordinary thing in their in their eyes, and if they are angry with anyone, they will thrash him and sometimes even kill him. And in the matter they are no respecters of persons. They will behave even to a blood brother in an identical manner. Even though there were so few of them in the Transvaal, there would be a free fight whenever they quarreled among themselves, and in such cases I had often to play the part of a peace maker. A Pathan’s anger becomes particularly uncontrollable when he has to deal with anyone whom he takes to be a traitor. When he seeks justice he seeks it only through personal violence. These Pathans fully participated in the Satyagraha struggle; none of them had submitted to the Black Act. It was an easy thing to mislead them. It was quite possible to create a misunderstanding in their minds about the fingerprints and thus to inflame them. This single suggestion, viz., why should I ask them to give fingerprints if I was not corrupt? was enough to poison the Pathans’ ears.
Again there was another party in the Transvaal which comprised such Indians as had entered the Transvaal surreptitiously without a permit or were interested in bringing others there secretly either without a permit at all or with a false permit. This party too knew that the settlement would be detrimental to their interest. None had to produce his permit so long as the struggle lasted, and therefore this group could carry on their trade without fear and easily avoid going to jail during the struggle. The longer the struggle was protracted, the better for them. Thus this clique also could have instigated the Pathans. The reader will now see how the Pathans got thus excited all of a sudden.
The Pathan’s questions, however, did not have any impression on the meeting. I had asked the meeting to vote on the settlement. The President and other leaders were firm. After this passage at arms with the Pathan, the president made a speech explaining the nature of the settlement and dwelling upon the necessity for endorsing it, and then proceeded to ascertain the sense of the meeting, which unanimously ratified the settlement with the exception of a couple of Pathans present.
I reached home at 2 or 3 a.m. Sleep was out of the question, as I had to rise early and go to jail to get the others released. I reached the jail at 7 a.m. The superintendent had received the necessary orders on the phone, and he was waiting for me. All the Satyagrahi prisoners were released in the course of one hour. The Chairman and other Indians were present to welcome them, and from jail all of us proceeded to the place of meeting where a second meeting was now held. That day a couple of subsequent days were passed in feasting and educating the community on the settlement. With the lapse of time, if on the one had the implications of the settlement became clearer misunderstandings on the other had also began to thicken. We have already discussed the chief causes of misunderstanding. Then again the letter we had written to General Smuts was open to misrepresentation. The difficulty I experienced in meeting the various objections which were thus raised was infinitely greater than what I had felt while the struggle, the only difficulties felt crop up in our relations with the adversary, and these are always easily overcome, for then all internecine strife and internal discord are either suspended altogether or at least they lose their prominence in face of the common danger. But when the fight is over, internal jealousies are again fully in play, and if the differences with the adversary have been amicably settled, many take to the easy and grateful task of picking holes in the settlement. And in a democratic body it is only in the fitness of things that one has to provide satisfactory answers for the questions of everyone, big and small. Even in offering battle of the adversary one does not learn the valuable battle of the adversary one does not learn the valuable lessons which come home to oneself while thus dealing with misunderstandings and strivings between friends. There is a sort of intoxication and exultation in fighting the adversary. But misunderstandings and differences between friends are rare phenomena and are therefore all the more painful. Yet it is only on such occasions that one’s mettle is put to a real test. Such has been my experience without any exception, and I believe as it is only when passing through such ordeals that I have made the largest gain in things of the spirit. Many, who had not understood the real nature of the struggle while it was still going on, understood it fully in course of and after the settlement. Serious opposition was confined to the Pathans and did not travel beyond them.
The Registrar of Asiatic was soon ready to issue registration certificates under the new voluntary arrangement. The form of the certificates was altogether changed, and had been settled in consultation with the Satyagrahis.
On the morning of February 10, 1908, some of us got ready to go and take out certificates of registration. The supreme necessity of getting through the registration business with all possible expending had been fully impressed on the community, and it had been agreed, that the leaders should be the first to take out certificates on the first day, with a view to break down shyness, to see if the officers concerned discharged their duties with courtesy and generally to have an eye over all the arrangements.
When I reached my office, which was also the office of the Satyagraha Association, I found Mir Alam and his companions standing outside the premises. Mir Alam was an old client of mine, and used to seek my advice in all his affairs. Many Pathans in the Transvaal employed labourers to manufacture straw or coir mattresses, which they sold at a good profit, and Mir Alam did the same. He was fully six feet in height and of a large and powerful build. Today for the first time I saw Mir Alam outside my office instead of inside it, and although his eyes met mine, he for the first time refrained from saluting me. I saluted him and he saluted me in return. As usual I asked him, ‘How do you do?’ and my impression is that he said he was all right. But he did not today wear his usual smile on the face. I noticed his angry eyes and took a mental not of the fact. I thought that something was going to happen. I entered the office. The Chairman Mr. Yusuf Mian and other friend arrived and we set out for the Asiatic Office. Mir Alam and his companions followed us.
The registration Office was at Von Brandis Square, less than a mile away from my office. On our way to it we had to pass through high roads. As we were going along Von Brandis Street, outside the premises of Messers Arnot and Gibson, not more three minutes’ walk from the Registration Office, Mir Alam accosted me and asked me, ‘Where are you going?’
‘I propose to take out a certificate of registration, giving the ten finger-prints,’ I replied. ‘If you will go with me, I will first get you a certificate, with an impression only of the two thumbs, and then I will take one for myself, giving the finger-prints.’
I had scarcely finished the last sentence when a heavy cudgel blow descended on my head from behind. I at once fainted with the words He Rama (O God!) on my lips, lay prostrate on the ground and had no notion of what followed. But Mir Alam and his companions gave more blows and kicks, some which were warded off by Yusuf Mian and Thambi Naidoo with the result that they too became a target for attack in their turn. The noise attracted some European passers-by to the scene. Mir Alam and his companions fled but were caught by the Europeans. The police arrived in the meanwhile and took them in custody. I was picked up and carried into Mr.J.C. Gibson’s private office. When I regained consciousness, I saw Mr. Doke bending over me. ‘How do you feel?’ he asked me.
‘I am all right,’ I replied, ‘but there is pain in the teeth and the ribs. Where is Mir Alam?’
‘He has been arrested along with the rest.’
‘They should be released.’
‘That is all very well. But here you are in a stranger’s office with your lip and cheek badly lacerated. The police are ready to take you to the hospital, but if you will go to my place, Mrs. Doke and I will minister to your comforts as west we can.’
‘Yes, please take me to your place. Thank the police for their offer but tell them that I prefer to go with you.’
Mr. Chamney the Registrar of Asiatics too now arrived on the scene. I was taken in a carriage to this good clergyman’s residence in Smith Street and a doctor was called in. Meanwhile I said to Mr. Chamney : ‘I wished to come to your office, give ten finger-prints and take out the first certificate of registration, but God willed it otherwise. However I have now to request you to bring the papers and allow me to register at once. I hope that you will not let anyone else register before me.’
‘Where is the hurry about it?’ asked Mr. Chamney. ‘The doctor will be here soon. You please rest yourself and all will be well. I will issue certificates to others but keep your name at the head of the list.’
‘Not so,’ I replied.’ ‘I am pledged to take out the first certificate if I am alive and if it is acceptable to God. It is therefore that I insist upon the papers being brought here and now.’
Upon this Mr. Chamney went away to bring the papers.
The second thing for me to do was to wire to the Attorney-General that I did not hold Mir Alam and others guilty for the assault committed upon me, that in any case I did not wish them to be prosecuted and that I hoped they would be discharged for my sake. But the Europeans of Johannesburg addressed a saying that whatever views Gandhi might hold as regards the punishment of criminals, they could not be given effect to in South Africa. Gandhi himself might not take any steps, but the assault was committed not in a private place but on the high roads and was therefore a public offence. Several Englishmen too were in a position to tender evidence and the offenders must be prosecuted. Upon this the Attorney-general rearrested Mir Alam and one of his companions who were sentenced to three months’ hard labour. Only I was not summoned as a witness.
But let us return to the sick room. Dr. Thwaites came in while Mr. Chamney was still away. He examined me and stitched up the wounds in the cheek and on the upper lip. He prescribed some medicine to be applied to the ribs and enjoined silence upon me so long as the stitches were not removed. He restricted my diet to liquids only. He said that none of the injuries was serious, that I should be able to leave my bed and take up my ordinary activities in a week, but that I should be careful not to undertake much physical strain for two months more. So saying he left.
Thus speech was forbidden me, but I was still master of my hands. I addressed a short note as follows to the community through the Chairman and sent it for publication:
‘I am well in the brotherly and sisterly hands of Mr. and Mrs. Doke. I hope to take up my duty shortly.
‘Those who have committed the act did not know what they were doing. They thought that I was doing what was wrong. They have their redress in the only manner they know. I therefore request that no steps be taken against them.
‘’Seeing that the assault was committed by a Musalman or Musalmans, the Hindus might probably feel hurt. If so, they would put themselves in the wrong before the world and their Maker. Rather let the blood spilt today cement the two communities indissolubly such is my heartfelt prayer. May God grant it.
‘Assault or no assault, my advice remains the same. The large majority of Asiatics ought to give finger prints. Those who have real conscientious scruples will be exempted by the Government. To ask for more would be to show ourselves as children.
‘The spirit of Satyagraha rightly understood should make the people fear none and nothing but God. No cowardly fear therefore should deter the vast majority of sober-minded Indians from doing their duty. The promise of repeal of the Act against voluntary registration having been given, it is the sacred duty of every good Indian to help the government and the Colony to the uttermost.’
Mr. Chamney returned with the papers and I gave my finger-prints but not without pain. I then saw that tears stood in Mr. Chamney’s eyes. I had often to write bitterly against him, but this showed me how man’s heart may be softened by events.
The reader will easily imagine that all this did not take more than a few minutes. Mr. Doke and his good wife were anxious that I should be perfectly at rest and peaceful, and were therefore pained to witness my mental activity after the assault. They were afraid that it might react in a manner prejudicial to my health. They, therefore, by making signs and similar devices, removed all persons from near my bed, and asked me not to write or do anything. I made a request in writing, that before and in order that I might lie down quietly, their daughter Olive, who was then only a little girl, should sing for me my favourite English hymn, ‘Lead kindly light.’ Mr. Doke liked this very much and acceded to my request with a sweet smile. He called Olive by signs and asked her to stand at the door and sing the hymn in a low tone. The whole scene passes before my eyes as I dictate this, and the melodious voice of little Olive reverberates in my ears.
I have included in this chapter much that, I think and the reader too will think, is irrelevant to my subject. Yet I cannot close this chapter without adding one reminiscence, too sacred to be omitted. How shall I describe the service rendered to me by the Doke family?
Mr. Joseph Doke was a Baptist minister then 46 years old and had been in New Zealand before he came to South Africa. Some six months before this assault, he came to my office and sent in his card. On seeing the word ‘Reverend’ before his name, I wrongly imagined that he had come, as some other clergymen did, to convert me to Christianity or to advise me to give up the struggle or perhaps to express patronizing sympathy with the movement. Mr. Doke entered, and we had not talked many minutes before I saw how sadly I had misjudged him and mentally apologized to him. I found him familiar with all the facts of the struggle which were published in newspapers. He said, ‘Please consider me as your friend in this struggle. I consider it my religious duty to render you such help as I can. If I learnt any lesson from the life of Jesus, it is this that one should share and lighten the load of those who are heavily laden.’ We thus got acquainted with each other, and every day marked an advance in our mutual affection and intimacy. The name of Mr. Doke will often recur in course of the present volume, but it was necessary to say a few words by way of introducing him to the reader before I describe the delicate attention I received at the hands of the Dokes.
Day and night one or other member of the family would be waiting upon me. The house became a sort of caravanserai so long as I stayed there. All classes of Indians flocked to the place to inquire after my health and, when later permitted by the doctor, to see me, from the humble hawker basket in hand with dirty clothes and dusty boots right up to the Chairman of the Transvaal British Indian Association. Mr. Doke would receive all of them in his drawing room with uniform courtesy and consideration, and so long as I lived with the Dokes, all their time was occupied either with nursing me or with receiving the hundreds of people who looked in to see me. Even at night Mr. Doke would quietly peep twice or thrice into my room. While living under his hospitable roof, I never so much as felt that it was not my home, or that my nearest and dearest could have looked after me better than the Dokes.
And it must not be supposed that Mr. Doke had not to suffer for according public support to the Indians in their struggle and for harbouring me under his roof. Mr. Doke was in charge of a Baptist church, and depended for his livelihood upon a congregation of Europeans, not all of whom entertained liberal views and among whom dislike of the Indians was perhaps as general as among other Europeans. But Mr. Doke was unmoved by it. I had discussed this delicate subject with him in the very beginning of our acquaintance. And he said, ‘My dear friend, what do you think of the religion of Jesus? I claim to be a humble follower of Him, who cheerfully mounted the cross for the faith that was in Him, and whose love was as wide as the world. I must take a public part in your struggle if I am at all desirous of representing Christ to the Europeans who, you are afraid, will give me up as punishment for it. And I must not complain if they do thus give me up. My livelihood is indeed derived from them, but you certainly do not think that I am associated with them for living’s sake, or that they are my cherishers. My cherisher is God; they are but the instruments of His almighty will. It is one of the unwritten conditions of my connection with them, that none of them may interfere with my religious liberty. Please therefore stop worrying on my account. I am taking my place beside you in this struggle not to oblige the Indians but as a matter of duty. The fact, however, is that I have fully discussed this question with my dean. I gently informed him, that if he did not approve of my relations with the Indians, he might permit me to retire and engage another minister instead. But he not only asked me not to trouble myself about it but even spoke some words of encouragement. Again you must not imagine, your people. You can have no idea of the silent sympathy of many with you tribulations, and you will agree with me that I must know about it situated as I am.’
After this dear explanation, I never referred to the subject again. And later on when Mr. Doke died in the pursuit of his holy calling in Rhodesia, at a time when the Satyagraha struggle was still in progress, the Baptists called a meeting in their church, to which they invited the late Mr. Kachhalia and other Indians as well as myself, and which they asked me to address.
About ten days afterwards I had recovered enough strength to move about fairly well, and I then took my leave of this godly family. The parting was a great wrench to me no less than to the Dokes.