THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > The Great March
44. The Great March
The caravan of pilgrims thus started punctually at the appointed hour. There is a small spruit one mile from Charlestown, and as soon as one crosses it, one has entered Volksrust or the Transvaal. A small patrol of mounted policemen was on duty at the border gate. I went up to them, leaving instructions with the ‘army’ to cross over when I signalled to them. But while I was still talking with the police, the pilgrims made a sudden rush and crossed the border. The police surrounded them, but the surging multitude was not easy of control. The police had no intention of arresting us. I pacified the pilgrims and got them to arrange themselves in regular rows. Everything was in order in a few minutes and the march into the Transvaal began.
Two days before this, the Europeans of Volksrust held a meeting where they offered all manner of threats to the Indians. Some said that they would shoot the Indians if they entered the Transvaal. Mr. Kallenbach attended this meeting to reason with the Europeans who were however not prepared to listen to him. Indeed some of them even stood up to assault him. Indeed some of them even stood up to assault him. Mr. Kallenbach is an athlete, having received physical training at the hands of Sandow, and it was not easy to frighten him. One European challenged him to a duel. Mr. Kallenbach replied, ‘As I have accepted the religion of peace, I am not accept the challenge. Let him who will come and do his worst with me. But I will continue to claim a hearing at this meeting. You have publicly invited all Europeans to attend, and I am here to inform you that not all Europeans are ready as you are to lay violent hands upon innocent men. There is one Europeans who would like to inform you that the charges you level at the Indians are false. The Indians do not want what you imagine them to do. The Indians are not out to challenge your position as rulers. They do not wish to fight with you or to fill the country. They only seek justice pure and simple. They propose to enter the Transvaal not with a view to settle there, but only as an effective demonstration against the unjust tax, which is levied upon them. They are brave men. They will not injure you in person or in property, they will not fight with you, but enter the Transvaal they will, even in the face of your gunfire. They are not the men to beat a retreat from the fear of your bullets or your spears. They propose to melt, and I know they will melt, your hearts by self-suffering. This is all I have to say. I have had my say and I believe that I have thus rendered you a service. Beware and save yourselves from perpetrating a wrong.’ With these words, Mr. Kallenbach resumed his seat. The audience was rather abashed. The pugilist who had invited Mr. Kallenbach to single combat became his friends.
We had heard about this meeting and were prepared for any mischief by the Europeans in Volksrust. It was possible that the large number of policemen massed at the border was intended as a check upon them. However that may be, our procession passed through the place in peace. I do not remember that any Europeans attempted even a jest. All were out to witness this novel sight, while there was even a friendly twinkle in the eyes of some of them.
On the first day we were to stop for the night at Palmford about eight miles from Volksrust, and we reached the place at about five p.m. The pilgrims took their ration of bread and sugar, and spread themselves in the open air. Some of the women were talking while others were singing bhajans. Some of the women were thoroughly exhausted by the march. They had dared to carry their children in their arms, but it was impossible for them to proceed further. I, therefore, according to my previous warning, kept them as lodgers with a good Indian shopkeeper who promised to send them to Tolstoy Farm if were permitted to go there, and to their homes if we were arrested.
As the night advanced, all noises ceased and too was preparing to retire when I heard a tread. I saw a Europeans coming lantern in hand. I understood what it meant, but had no preparations to make. The police officer said,
‘I have a warrant of arrest for you. I want to arrest you.’
‘When?’ I asked.
‘Immediately.’
‘Where will you take me?’
To the adjoining railway station now, and to Volksrust when we get a train for it.’
‘I will go with you without informing anyone, but I will leave some instructions with one of my coworkers.’
‘You may do so.’
I roused P. K. Naidoo who was sleeping near me. I informed him about my arrest and asked him not to awake the pilgrims before morning. At daybreak they must regularly resume the march. The march would commence before sunrise, and when it was time for them to halt and get their rations, he must break to them the news of my arrest. He might inform anyone who inquired about me in the interval. If the pilgrims were arrested, they must allow themselves to be arrested. Otherwise, they must continue the march according to the programme. Naidoo had no fears at all. I also told him what was to be done in case he was arrested. Mr. Kallenbach too was in Volksrust at the time.
I went with the police officer, and we took the train for Volksrust the next morning. I appeared before the Court in Volksrust, but the Public Prosecutor himself asked for a remand until the 14th as he was not ready with the evidence. The case was postponed accordingly. I applied for bail as I had over 2,000 men, 122 women and 50 children in my charge whom I should like to take on to their destination within the period my application. But the magistrate was helpless in the matter, as every prisoner not charged with a capital offence is in law entitled to be allowed to give bail for his appearance, and I could not be deprived of that right. He therefore released me on bail of fifty pound. Mr. Kallenbach had a car ready for me, and he took me at once to rejoin the ‘invaders’. The special reporter of the Transvaal Leader wanted to go with us. We took him in the car, and he published at the time a vivid description of the case, the journey, and the meeting with the pilgrims, who received me with enthusiasm and were transported with joy. Mr. Kallenbach at once returned to Volksrust, as he had to look after the Indians stopping at Charlestown as well as fresh arrivals there.
We continued the march, but it did not suit the Government to leave me in a state of freedom. I was therefore rearrested at Standerton on the 8th. Standerton is comparatively a bigger place. There was something rather strange about the manner of my arrest here. I was distributing bread to the pilgrims. The Indian store-keepers at Standerton presented us with some tins of marmalade, and the distribution therefore took more time than usual. Meanwhile the Magistrate came and stood by my side. He waited till the distribution of rations was over, and then called me aside. I knew the gentleman, who, I thought, perhaps wanted to talk with me. He laughed and said,
‘You are my prisoner.’
‘It would seem I have received promotion in rank,’ I said, ‘as magistrates take the trouble to arrest me instead of mere police officials. But you will try me just now.’
‘Go with me,’ replied the Magistrate, ‘the Courts are still in session.’
I asked the pilgrims to continue their march, and then left with the Magistrate. As soon as I reached the Court room, I found some of my co-workers had also been arrested. There were five of them there, P. K. Naidoo, Biharilal Maharaj, Ramnarayan Sinha, Raghu Narasu and Rahimkhan.
I was at once brought before the court and applied for remand and bail on the same grounds as in Volksrust. Here too the application was strongly opposed by the Public Prosecutor and here too I was released on my own recognizance of fifty pound and the case was remained till the 21st. The Indian traders had kept a carriage ready for me and I rejoined the pilgrims again when they had hardly proceeded three miles further. The pilgrims thought, and I thought too, that we might now perhaps reach Tolstoy Farm. But that was not to be. It was no small thing however that the invaders got accustomed to my being arrested. The five co-workers remained in jail.