Now as Satyagraha was made to embrace the Immigration act as well, Satyagrahis had to test the right of educated Indians to enter the Transvaal. The Committee decided that the test should not be made through any ordinary Indian. The idea was that some Indian, who did not come within the four corners of the definition of a prohibited immigrant in the new Act in so far as the definition was acceptable to the community, should enter the Transvaal and go to jail. We had thus to show that Satyagraha is a force containing within itself seeds of progressive self-restraint. There was a section in the Act to the effect that any person who was not conversant with a European language should be treated as a prohibited immigrant. The Committee therefore proposed that some Indian, who knew English but who had not been to the Transvaal before should enter the country. Several young Indians volunteered for the purpose, out of whom Sorabji Shapurji Adajania was selected.
Sorabji was a Parsi. There were not perhaps more than a hundred Parsis
in the whole of South Africa. I held in South Africa the same views about
Parsis as I have expressed in India. There are not more than a hundred
thousand Parses in the world, and this alone speaks volumes for their
high character that such a small community has long preserved its prestige,
clung to its religion and proved itself second to none in the world in
point of charity. But Sorabji turned out to be pure gold. I was but slightly
acquainted with him when he joined the struggle. His letters as regards
participation in Satyagraha left a good impression on me. As I am a lover
of the great qualities of the Parsis, I was not and I am not unaware of
some of their defects as a community. I was therefore doubtful whether
Sorabji would be able to stand to his guns in critical times. But it was
a rule with me not to attach any weight to my own doubts where the party
concerned himself asserted the contrary. I therefore recommended to the
Committee that they should take Sorabji at his word, and eventually Sorabji
proved himself a first class Satyagrahi. He not only was one of the Satyagrahis
who suffered the longest terms of imprisonment, but also made such deep
study of the struggle that his views commanded respectful hearing from
all. His advise always betrayed firmness, wisdom, charity and deliberation.
He was slow to form an opinion as well as to change an opinion once formed.
He was as much of an Indian as of a Parsi, and was quite free from the
ban of narrow communalism. After the struggle was over Doctor Mehta offered
a scholarship in order to enable some good Satyagrahi to proceed to England
for bar. I was charged with the selection. There were two or three deserving
candidates, but all the friends felt that there was none who could approach
Sorabji in maturity of judgement and ripeness of wisdom, and he was selected
accordingly. The idea was, that on his return to South Africa he should
take my place and serve the community. Sorabji went to England with the
blessings of the community, and was duly called to the bar. He had already
come in contact with Gokhale in South Africa, and his relations with him
became closer in England. Sorabji captivated Gokhale who asked him to
join the Servants of India Society when he returned to India. Sorabji
became extremely popular among the students. He would share the sorrows
of all, and his soul was not tarnished by the luxury and the artificiality
in England. When he went to England, he was above thirty, and he had only
a working knowledge of English. But difficulties vanish at the touch of
man’s perseverance. Sorabji lived the pure life of a student and
passed his examinations. The bar examinations in my time were easy. Barristers
nowadays have to study comparatively very much harder. But Sorabji knew
not what it was to be defeated. When the ambulance corps was established
in England, he was one of the pioneers as also one of those who remained
in it till the last. This corps too had to offer Satyagraha in which many
members fell back but Sorabji was at the head of those who would not give
in. Let me state in passing that this Satyagraha of the ambulance corps
was also crowned with victory.
After being called to the bar in England Sorabji returned to Johannesburg
where he began to practice law as well as to serve the community. Every
letter I received from South Africa was full of praise for Sorabji: ‘He
is as simple in habits as ever, and free from the slightest trace of vanity.
He mixes with all, rich as well as poor.’ But God seems to be as
cruel as He is merciful Sorabji caught galloping phthisis and died in
a few months, leaving the Indians whose love he had freshly acquired to
mourn his loss. Thus within a very short period God bereft the community
of two outstanding personalities, Kachhalia and Sorabji. If I were asked
to choose between the two, I would be at a loss to decide. In fact, each
was supreme in his own field. And Sorabji was as good an Indian as he
was a good Parsi, even as Kachhalia was as good an Indian as he was a
Thus Sorabji entered the Transvaal, having previously informed the Government
of his intention to test his right to remain in the country under the
Immigrants Registration Act. The Government were not at all prepared for
this and could not at once decide what to do with Sorabji, who publicly
crossed the border and entered the country. The Immigration Restriction
Officer knew him. Sorabji told him that he was deliberately entering the
Transvaal for a test case and asked him to examine him in English or to
arrest him just as he pleased. The officer replied that there was no question
of examining him as he was aware of his knowledge of English. He had no
orders to arrest him. Sorabji might enter the country and the Government,
if they wished, would arrest him where he went.
Thus contrary to our expectation Sorabji reached Johannesburg and we welcomed
him in our midst. No one had hoped that the Government would permit him
to proceed even an inch beyond the frontier station of to Volksrust. Very
often, it so happens that when we take our steps deliberately and fearlessly,
the government is not ready to oppose us. The reason for this lies in
the very nature of government. A government officer does not ordinarily
make his department so much his own as to arrange his ideas on every subject
beforehand and make preparations accordingly. Again, the officer has not
one but many things to attend to, and his mind is divided between them.
Thirdly, the official suffers from the intoxication of power, is thus
apt to be careless and believes that it is child’s play for the
authorities to deal with any movement whatever. On the other hand, the
public worker knows his ideal as well as the means to achieve his end,
and if he has definite plans, he is perfectly ready to carry them out,
and his work is the only subject of his thoughts day and night. If therefore
he takes the right steps with decision, he is always in advance of the
government. Many movements fail, not because governments are endowed with
extraordinary power but because the leaders are lacking in the qualities
just referred to.
In short, whether through the negligence or the set design of the Government
Sorabji reached as far as Johannesburg, and the local officer had neither
any idea of his duty in a case like this nor any instructions from his
duty in a case like this nor any instructions from his superiors on the
point. Sorabji’s arrival increased our enthusiasm, and some young
men thought that the government were defeated and would soon come to terms.
They saw their mistake very soon, however. They even realized that a settlement
could perhaps be purchased only by the self-devotion of many a young man.
Sorabji informed the Police Superintendent, Johnnesburg, about his arrival
and let him know that he believed himself entitled to remain in the Transvaal
in terms of the new Immigration Act, as he had ordinary knowledge of English,
in respect of which he was ready to submit to an examination by the officer
if he so desired. No reply to this letter was received, or rather the
reply came after some days in the form of summons.
Sorabji’s case came before the Court on July 8, 1908. The court
house was packed full of Indian spectators. Before the case began, we
held meeting of the Indians present on the grounds of the Court and Sorabji
made a fighting speech, in which he announced his readiness to go to jail
as often as necessary for victory and to brave all dangers and risks.
In the meanwhile, I had got fairly familiar with Sorabji and assured myself
that he would do credit to the community. The Magistrate took up the case
in due course. I defended Sorabji, and at once asked for his discharge
on the ground of the summons being defective. The public Prosecutor also
made an argument, but on the 9th the Court upheld my contention and discharged
Sorabji who, however, immediately received warning to appear before the
Court next day, Friday, July 10, 1908.
On the 10th, the Magistrate ordered Sorabji to leave the ordered Sorabji
to leave the Transvaal within seven days. After the Court’s order
was served upon him, Sorabji informed Superintendent J. A. G. Vernon that
it was not his desire to leave. He was accordingly brought to the Court
once more, on the 20th, charged with failing to obey the Magistrate’s
order, and sentenced to a month’s imprisonment with hard labour.
The Government, however, did not arrest the local Indians as they saw
that the more arrests were the higher did the Indians’ spirit rise.
Again Indians were sometimes discharged thanks to legal technicalities
in the cases instituted against them and this also served to redouble
the ardour of the community. Government had carried through the Legislature
all the laws they wanted. Many Indians had indeed burnt the certificates
but they had proved their right to remain in the country by their registration.
Government therefore saw no sense in prosecuting them simply to send them
to jail, and thought that the workers would cool down finding no outlet
for their energies in view of the masterly inactivity of the Government.
But they were reckoning without their host. The Indians took fresh steps
to test the Government’s patience, which was soon exhausted.