THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > Breach of Pledge
38. Breach of Pledge
In prosecuting the Satyagraha struggle the Indians were very careful not to take a single step not warranted by their principles, and they always remembered that they should not take any illegitimate advantage over the Government. For instance, as the Black Act was restricted in its application to Indians in the Transvaal, only the Transvaal Indians were admitted as recruits in the struggle. Not only was there no attempt made to obtain recruits from Natal, the Cape Colony etc., but offers from outside the Transvaal were politely refused. The struggle also was limited to a repeal of the Act in question. This limitation was understood neither by the Europeans nor by Indians. In the early stages, the Indians were every now and then asking for the grievances besides the Black Act to be covered by the struggle. I patiently explained to them that such extension would be a violation of the truth, which could not be so much as thought of in a movement professing to abide by truth and truth alone. In a pure fight the fighters would never go beyond the objective fixed when the fight began even if they received as accession to their strength in the course of fighting, and on the hand, they could not give up their objective if they found their strength dwindling away. This twofold principle was fully observed in South Africa. The strength of the community, upon which we counted in determining our goal at the commencement of the struggle, did not answer our expectations as we have already seen, and yet the handful of Satyagrahis who remained stuck to their posts. Fighting thus singlehanded in the face of odds was comparatively easy, but it was more difficult, and called for the exercise of greater self-restraint, not to enlarge one’s objective when one had received large reinforcement. Such temptations often faced us in South Africa but, I can emphatically declare that we did not succumb to them in any single case. And therefore I have often said that a Satyagrahi has a single objective from which he cannot recede and beyond which he cannot advance, which can in fact be neither augmented nor abridged. The world learns to apply to a man the standards, which he applies to himself. When the Government saw, that the Satyagrahis claimed to follow these fine principles, they began to judge the conduct of the Satyagrahis in the light of those principles, although they themselves were apparently not bound by any principle whatever, several times charged the Satyagrahis with a violation of their principles. Even a child can see that if fresh anti-Indian legislation was enacted after the Black Act, it must be included in the Satyagraha programme. And yet when fresh restrictions were imposed on Indian immigration and necessitated an extension on our programme, the Government leveled against us the totally underserved charge of raising fresh issues. If new restraints were placed on Indian new comers, we must have the right to recruit them for the movement, and hence Sorabji and other entered the Transvaal, as we have already seen. Government could not tolerate this at all, but I had no difficulty in persuading impartial people about the propriety of the step. Another such occasion arose after Gokhale’s departure. Gokhale supposed that the three pound tax would be taken off in a year and the necessary legislation would be introduced in the next ensuing session of the Union Parliament. Instead of this, General Smuts from his seat in the House of Assembly said that as the Europeans in Natal objected to the repeal of the tax, the Union Government were unable to pass legislation directing its removal, which however was not the case. The members from Natal by themselves could do nothing in a body upon which the four Colonies were represented. Again General smuts ought to have brought forward the necessary Bill in the Assembly on behalf of the Cabinet and then left the measure to its fate. But he did nothing of the kind, and provided us with the welcome opportunity of including the despicable impost as a cause of the struggle the Government made a promise and then went back upon it, the programme would naturally be extended so as to embrace such repudiation as well, and secondly, the breach of a promise, made such a representative of India as Gokhale was, was not only a personal insult to him but also to the whole of India, and as such could not be taken lying down. If there had been only one reason, namely the first by itself, the Satyagrahis, in case they felt themselves unequal to the task, could have been excused if they did not offer Satyagraha against the three pound tax. But it was impossible to pocket an insult offered to the mother country, and therefore we felt the Satyagrahis were bound to include the three pound tax in their programme, and when this tax thus fell within the scope of the struggle, the indentured Indians had an opportunity of participating in it. The reader must note that thus far this class had been kept out of the fray. This new orientation of our policy increased our burden of responsibility on the one hand, and on the other opened up afresh field of recruitment for our ‘army’.
Thus far Satyagraha had not been so much as mentioned among the indentured labourers; still less had they been educated to take part in it. Being illiterate, they could not read Indian Opinion or other newspapers. Yet I found that these poor folk were keen observers of the struggle and understood the movement, while some of them regretted their inability to join it. But when the Union ministers broke their pledged word, and repeal of the three pound tax was also included in our programme, I was not at all aware as to which of them would participate in the struggle.
I wrote to Gokhale about the breach of pledge, and he was deeply pained to hear of it. I asked him not to be anxious and assured him that we would fight unto death and wring a repeal of the tax out of the unwilling hands of the Transvaal Government. The idea, however, of my returning to India in a year had to be abandoned, and it was impossible to say when I would be able to go. Gokhale was nothing if not a man of figures. He asked me to let him know the maximum and the minimum strength of our army of peace, along with the names of the fighters. As far as I can now remember, I sent 65 or 66 names as the highest and 16 as the lowest number, and also informed Gokhale that I would not expect monetary assistance from India for such small numbers. I besought him to have no fears and not to put an undue strain upon his physical resources. I had learnt from newspapers and other wise that after Gokhale returned to Bombay from South Africa, charges of weakness, etc, had been laid at his door. I therefore wished that Gokhale should not try to raise any funds for us in India. But this was his stern answer: ‘We in India have some idea of our duty even as you understand your obligations in South Africa. We will not permit you to tell us what is or is not proper for us to do. I only desired to know the position of South Africa, but did not seek your advise as to what we may do.’ I grasped Gokhale’s meaning, and never afterwards said or wrote a word on the subject. In the same letter, he gave me consolation and caution. He was afraid in view of the breach of pledge that it would be a long protected struggle, and he doubted how long a handful of men could continue to give battle to the insolent brute force of the Union Government. In South Africa, we set about making our preparations. There could be no sitting at ease in the ensuing campaign. It was realized that we would be imprisoned for long terms. It was decided to close Tolstoy Farm. Some families returned to their homes upon the release of the breadwinners. The rest mostly belonged to Phoenix, which therefore was pitched upon as the future base of operations for the Satyagrahis. Another reason for preferring Phoenix was that if the indentured labourers joined the struggle against the three pounds tax, it would be more convenient to meet them from a place in Natal.
While preparations were still being made for resuming the struggle, a fresh grievance came into being, which afforded an opportunity even to women to do their bit in the struggle. Some brave women had already offered to participate, and when Satyagrahis went to jail for hawking without a licence, their wives had expressed a desire to follow suit. But we did not then think it proper to send women to jail in a foreign land. There seemed to be no adequate reason for sending them into the firing line, and I for my part could not summon courage enough to take them to the front. Another argument was, that it would be derogatory to our manhood if we sacrificed our women in resisting a law, which was directed only against men. But an event now happened, which involved a special affront to women, and which therefore left no doubt in our minds as to the propriety of sacrificing them.