THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > When marriage is not a marriage
39. When marriage is not a marriage
As if unseen by anyone God was preparing the ingredients for the Indians’ victory and demonstrating still more clearly the injustice of the Europeans in South Africa, an event happened which none had expected. Many married men came to South Africa from India, while some Indians contracted a marriage in South Africa itself. There is no law for the registration of ordinary marriages in India, and the religious ceremony suffices to confer validity upon them. The same custom ought to apply to Indians in South Africa as well and although Indians had settled in South Africa for the last forty years, the validity of marriages solemnized according to the rites of the various religions of India had never been called in question. But at this item there was a case in which Mr. Justice Searle of the Cape Supreme Court gave judgment on March 14, 1913 to the effect that all marriages were outside in pale of legal marriages in South Africa with the exception of such as were celebrated according to Christian rites and registered by the registrar of Marriages. This terrible judgment thus nullified din South Africa at a stroke of the pen all marriages celebrated according to the Hindu Musalman and Zoroastrian rites. The many married Indian women in South Africa in terms of this judgment ceased to ranks the wives of their husbands and were degraded to the rank of concubines, while their progeny were deprived of their right to inherit the parent’s property. This was an insufferable situation for women no less than men, and the Indians in South Africa were deeply agitated.
According to my usual practice I wrote to the Government, asking them whether they agreed to the Searle judgment and whether, if the judge was right to interpreting it, they would amend the law so as to recognize the validity of Indian marriages consecrated according to the religious customs of the parties and recognized as legal in India. The Government were not then in a mood to listen and could not see their way to comply my request.
The Satyagraha Association held a meeting to consider whether they should appeal against the Searle judgment, and came to the conclusion that no appeal was possible on a question of this nature. If there was to be an appeal, it must be preferred by Government, or if they so desired, by the Indians provided that the Government openly sided with them through their Attorney General. To appeal when these conditions were not satisfied would be in a way tantamount to tolerating the invalidation of Indian marriages. Satyagraha would have to be resorted to, if such an appeal was made and of it was rejected. In these circumstances therefore it seemed best not to prefer any appeal against this unspeakable insult.
A crisis now arrived, when there could not be any waiting for an auspicious day or hour. Patience was impossible in the face of this insult offered to our womanhood. We decided to offer stubborn Satyagraha irrespective of the number of fighters. Not only could the women now be not prevented from joining the struggle, but we decided even to invite them to come into line along with the men. We first invited the sisters who had lived on Tolstoy Farm. I found that they were only too glad to enter the struggle. I gave them an idea of the risks incidental to such participation. I explained to them that they would have to put up with restraints in the matter of food, dress and personal movements. I warned them that they might to be given hard work in jail, made to wash clothes and even subjected to insult by the warders. But these sisters were all brave and feared none of these things. One of them was pregnant while six of them had young babies in arms. But one and all were eager to join and I simply could not come in their way. These sisters were with one exception all Tamilians. Here are their names:
1. Mrs. Thambi Naidoo, 2. Mrs. Pillay, 3. Mrs. K Murugasa Pillay, 4. Mrs. Perumal Naidoo, 5. Mrs. P.K. Naidoo, 6. Mrs. K. Chinnaswami Pillay, &. Mrs. N. S. Pillay, 8. Mrs. R. A. Mudalingam, 9. Mrs. Bhavani Dayal, 10. Miss Minachi Pillay, 11. Miss Baikum Murugasa Pillay.
It is easy to get into prison by committing a crime but it is difficult to get in by being innocent. As the criminal seeks to escape arrest, the police pursue and arrest him. But they lay their hands upon the innocent man who courts arrest of his own free will only when they cannot help it. The first attempts of these sisters were not crowned with success. They entered the Transvaal at Vereening without permits, but they were not arrested. They took to hawking without a licence, but still the police ignored them. It now became a problem with the women how they should get arrested. There were not many men ready to go to jail and those who were ready could not easily have their wish.
We now decided to take a step which we had reserved till the last, and which in the event fully answered our expectations. I had contemplated sacrificing all the settlers in Phoenix at a critical period. That was to be my final offering to the God of Truth. The settlers at Phoenix were mostly my close co-workers and relations. The idea was to send all of them to jail with the exception of a few who would be required for the conduct of Indian Opinion and of children below sixteen. This was the maximum of sacrifice open to me in the circumstances. The sixteen stalwarts to whom I had referred in writing to Gokahale were among the pioneers of the Phoenix settlement. It was proposed that these friend should cross over in to Transvaal and as the crossed over, get arrested for entering the country without permits. We were afraid that Government would not arrest them if we made a previous announcement of our intention, and therefore we guarded it as a secret except from a couple of friends. When the pioneers entered the Transvaal, the police officer would ask them their names and addresses, and it was part of the programme not to supply this information as there was an apprehension that if their identity was disclosed, the police would come to know that they were my relations and therefore would not arrest them. Refusal to give name and address to an officer was also held to be a separate offence. While the Phoenix group entered the Transvaal, the sisters who had courted arrest in the Transvaal in vain were to enter the Natal. As it was an offence to enter the Transvaal from Natal without a permit it was equally an offence to enter Natal from the Transvaal. If the sisters were arrested upon entering Natal, well and good. But if they were not arrested, it was arranged that they should proceed to and post themselves at Newcastle, the great coal mining centre in Natal, and advice the indentured Indian labourers there to go on strike. The mother tongue of the sisters was Tamil, and they could speak a little Hindustani besides. The majority of labouers on the coal mines hailed from Madras State and spoke Tamil or Telugu, though there were many from North India as well. If the laboures struck in response to the sisters’ appeal, Government was bound to arrest them along with still greater enthusiasm. This was the strategy I thought out and unfolded before the Transvaal sisters.
I went to Phoenix, and talked to the settlers about my plans. First of all, I held a consultation with the sisters living there. I knew that the step of sending women to jail was fraught with serious risk. Most of the sisters in Phoenix spoke Gujarati. They had not had the training or experience of the Transvaal sisters. Moreover, most of them were related to me, and might think of going to jail only on account of my influence with them. If afterwards they flinched at the time of actual trial or could not stand the jail, they might be led to apologize, that not only giving me a deep shock but also causing serious damage to the movement. I decided not to broach the subject to my wife, as she could not to say no to any proposal I made, and if she said yes, I would not know what value to attach to her assent, and as I knew that in a serious matter like this the husband should leave the wife to take what step she liked on her own initiative, and should not be offended at all even if she did not take any step whatever. I talked to the other sisters who readily fell in with my proposal and expressed their readiness to go to jail. They assured me that they would complete their term in jail, come what might. My wife overheard my conversation with the sisters, and addressing me said, “I am sorry that you are not telling me about this. What defect is there in me which disqualifies me for jail? I also wish to take the path which you are inviting the others.” “You know I am the last person to cause you pain, “I replied. “There is no question of my distrust in you. I would be only too glad if you went at my instance. In matters like this everyone should act relying solely upon one’s own strength and courage. If I asked you, you might be inclined to go just for the sake of complying with my request. And then if you began to tremble in the law court or were terrified by hardships in jail, I could not find fault with you, but how would it stand with me? How could I then harbour you or look the world in the face? It is fears like these which have prevented me from asking you too to court jail.” “You may have nothing to do with me,” she said, “If being unable to stand jail I secure my release by an apology. If you can endure hardships and so can my boys, why cannot I? I am bound to join the struggle.” “Then I am bound to admit you to it,” said I. “You know my conditions and you know my temperament. Even now reconsider the matter if you like, and if after mature thought you deliberately come to the conclusion not to join the movement, you are free to withdraw. And you must understand that there is nothing to be ashamed of in changing your decision even now.”
“I have nothing to think about, I am fully determined,” she said.
I suggested to the other settlers also that each should take his or her decision independently of all others. Again and again, and in a variety of ways I pressed this condition on their attention that none should fall away whether the struggle was short or long, whether the Phoenix settlement flourished or faded, and whether he or she kept good health or fell ill in jail. All were ready. The only member of the party from outside Phoenix was Rustomji Jivanji Ghorkhodu, from whom these conferences could not be concealed, and Kakaji, as he was affectionately called, was not the man to lag behind on an occasion like the present. He had already been to jail, but he insisted upon paying it another visit. The ‘invading’ party was composed of the following members:
1. Mrs. Kasturbai Gandhi, 2. Mrs Jayakunvar Manilal Doctor, 3. Mrs. Kashi Chaganlal Gandhi, 4. Mrs. Santok Maganlal Gandhi, 5. Parsi Rustomji Jivanji Ghorkhodu, 6. Chhaganlal Khushalchand Gandhi, 7. Ravjibhai Manilal Patel, 8. Maganlal Haribhai Patel. 9. Solomon Royeppen, 10. Raju Govindu, 11. ramdas Mohandas Gandhi, 12. Shivpujan Badari, 13. V. Govindarajulu, 14. Kuppuswami Moonlight Mudalidar, 15. gokuldas Hansraj and 16. Revashankar Ratansi Sodha.
The sequel must be taken up in a fresh chapter.