When the Indians saw through the Government’s game of tiring them out by fabian tactics they felt bound to take further steps. A Satyagrahi is never tired so long as he has the capacity to suffer. The Indians were therefore in a position to upset the calculations of the Government.
There were several Indians in Natal who possessed ancient rights of domicile
in the Transvaal. They had no need to enter the Transvaal for trade, but
the community held that they had the right of entry. They also had some
knowledge of English. Again there was no breach of the principles of Satyagraha
in educated Indians like Sorabji entering the Transvaal. We therefore
decided that two classes of Indians should enter the Transvaal; first,
those who had previously been domiciled in the country, and secondly,
those who had received English education.
Of these Sheth Daud Mahomed and Parsi Rustomji were big traders, and Surendra
Medh, Pragji Khandubhai Desai, Ratansi Mulji Sodha, Harilal Gandhi and
others were ‘educated’ men. Daud Sheth came in spite of his
wife being dangerously ill.
Let me introduce Sheth Daud Mahomed to the reader. He was president of
the Natal Indian Congress and one of the oldest Indian traders that came
to South Africa. He was a Sunni Vora from Surat. I have seen but few Indians
in South Africa who equaled him intact. He had excellent powers of understanding.
He had not had much literary education but he spoke English and Dutch
well. He was skilful in his business intercourse with European traders.
His liberality was widely known. About fifty guests would dine with him
every day. He was one of the chief contributors to Indian collections.
He had the priceless jewel of a son who far surpassed him in character.
The boy’s heart was pure as crystal. Daud Sheth never came in the
way of his son’s aspirations. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration
to say, that the father almost worshipped the son. He wished that none
of his own defects should reappear in the boy and had sent him to England
for education. But Daud Sheth lost this treasure of a son in his prime.
Phthisis claimed Husen for its victim. This was a sore wound that never
healed. With Husen died the high hopes which the Indians had cherished
about him. He was a most truthful lad, and Hindu and Musalman were to
him as the left and the right eye. Even Daud Sheth is now no more with
us. Who is there upon whom Death does not lay his hands?
I have already introduced Parsi Rustomji to the reader. The names of several
other friends who joined this ‘Asiatic invasion’ have been
left out as I am writing this without consulting any papers, and I hope
they will excuse me for it. I am not writing these chapters to immortalize
names but to explain the secret of Satyagraha, and to show how it succeeded,
what obstacles beset its path and how they were removed. Even where I
have mentioned names I have done so in order to point out to the reader
how men who might be considered illiterate distinguished themselves in
South Africa, how Hindus, Musalmans, parsis and Christians there worked
harmoniously together and how traders ‘educated’ men and others
fulfilled their duty. Where a man of high merit has been mentioned, praise
has been bestowed not upon him but only upon his merit.
When Daud Sheth thus arrived on the frontiers of the Transvaal with his
Satyagrahi ‘army’, the Government was ready to meet him. The
Government would become an object of ridicule if it allowed such a large
troop to enter the Transvaal, and was therefore bound to arrest them.
So they were arrested, and on August 18, 1908 brought before the Magistrate
who ordered them to leave the Transvaal within seven days. They disobeyed
the order of course, were rearrested at Pretoria on the 28th and deported
without trial. They re-entered the Transvaal on the 31st and finally on
September 8 were sentenced at Volksrust to a fine of fifty pounds or three
months’ imprisonment with hard labour. Needless to say, they cheerfully
elected to go to goal.
The Transvaal Indians were now in high spirits. If they would not compel
the release of their Natal compatriots, they must certainly share their
imprisonment. They therefore cast about for means which would land them
in jail. There were several ways in which they could have their heart’s
desire. If a domiciled Indian did not show his registration certificate,
he would not be given a trading licence and it would be an offence on
his part if he traded without licence. Again, one must show the certificate
if one wanted to enter the Transvaal from Natal, and would be arrested
if one had none to show. The certificates had already been burnt and the
line was therefore clear. The Indians employed both these methods. Some
began to hawk without a license while others were arrested for not showing
certificates upon entering the Transvaal.
The movement was now in full swing. Everyone was on his trial. Other Natal
Indians followed Sheth Daud Mahomed’s example. There were many arrests
in Johannesburg also. Things came to such a pass that anyone who wished
could get himself arrested. Jails began to be filled ‘invaders’
from Natal getting three months and the Transvaal hawkers anything from
four days to three months and the Transvaal hawkers anything from four
days to three months.
Among those who thus courted arrest was our ‘Imam Saheb’,
Imam Abdul Kadar Bavazir, who was arrested for hawking without a licence
and sentenced on July 21, 1908 to imprisonment for four days with hard
labour. Imam Saheb’s health was so delicate that people laughed
when they heard of his courting arrest. Some people came to me and asked
me not to take Imam Saheb for fear he might bring discredit upon the community.
I disregarded this warning. It was none of my business to gauge the strength
or weakness of Imam Saheb. Imam Saheb never walked barefooted, was fond
of the good things of the earth, had a Malay wife, kept a well-furnished
house and went about in a horse carriage. Very true, but who could read
the depths of his mind? After he was released, Imam Saheb went to jail
again, lived there as an ideal prisoner and took his meals after a spell
of hard labour. At home he would have new dishes and delicacies every
day; in jail he took mealie pap and thanked God for it. Not only was he
not defeated, but he became simple in habits. As a prisoner he broke stones,
worked as a sweeper and stood in a line with other prisoners. At Phoenix
he fetched water and even set types in the press. Everyone at the Phoenix
ashram was bound to acquire the art of typesetting. Imam Sahib learnt
typesetting to the best of his ability. Nowadays he is doing his bit in
But there were many such who experienced self-purification in jail.
Joseph Royeppen barrister-at-law, a graduate of Cambridge University had
been born in Natal of parents who were indentured labourers, but had fully
adopted the European style of living. He would not go barefooted even
in his house, unlike Imam Sahib who must wash his feet before prayers
and must also pray barefooted. Royeppen left his law books, took up a
basket of vegetable and was arrested as an unlicensed hawker. He too suffered
prisonment. ‘But should I travel third class? asked Royeppen. ‘If
you travel first or second how can I ask any of the rest to travel third?
Who in jail is going to recognize the barrister in you?’ I replied,
and that was enough to satisfy Royeppen.
Many lads sixteen years old went to jail. One Mohanlal Manji Ghelani was
The jail authorities left no stone unturned to harass the Indians, who
were given scavenger’s work, but they did it with a smile on their
face. They were asked to break stones, and they broke stones with the
name of Allah or Rama on their lips. They were made to dig tanks and put
upon pickaxe work in stony ground. Their hands became hardened with the
work. Some of them even fainted under unbearable hardships, but they did
not know what it was to be beaten.
One must not suppose, that there were no internal jealousies or quarrels
in jail. Food constitutes the eternal apple of discord, but we avoided
bickerings even over food.
I too was arrested again. At one time there were as many as seventy-five
Indian prisoners in Volksrust jails. We cooked our own food. I became
the cook as only I could adjudicate on the conflicting claims to the ration
supplied. Thanks to their love for me my companions took without a murmur
the half-cooked porridge I prepared without sugar.
Government thought that if they separated me from the other prisoners
it might perhaps chasten me as well as the others. They therefore took
me to Pretoria jail where I was confined in a solitary cell reserved for
dangerous prisoners. I was taken out only twice a day for exercise. In
Pretoria jail no ghi was provided to the Indians, unlike as in Volksrust.
But I do not propose here to deal with our hardships in jail, for which
the curious may turn to the account of my experiences of jail life in
But yet the Indians would not take a defeat. Government was in a quandary.
How many Indians could be sent to jail after all? Then it meant additional
expenditure. The Government began to cast about for other means of dealing
with the situation.