We were now near Johannesburg. The reader will remember that the whole pilgrimage had been divided into eight stages. Thus far we had accomplished our marches exactly according to programme and we now had four days’ march in front of us. But if our spirits rose from day to day, Government too get more and more anxious as to how they should deal with the Indian invasion. They would be charged with weakness and want of tact if they arrested us after we had reached our destination. If we were to be arrested, we must be arrested before we reached the promised land.
Government saw that my arrest did not dishearten or frighten the pilgrims,
nor did it lead them to break the peace. If they took to rioting, Government
would have an excellent opportunity of converting them into food for gunpowder.
Our firmness was very distressing to General Smuts coupled as it was with
peacefulness, and he even said as much. How long can you harass a peaceful
man? How can you kill the voluntarily dead? There is no zest in killing
one who welcomes death and therefore soldiers are keen upon seizing the
enemy alive. If the mouse did not flee before the cat, the cat would be
driven to seek another prey. If all lambs voluntarily lay with the lion,
the lion would be compelled to give up feasting upon lambs. Great hunters
would give up lion hunting if the lion took to non-resistance. Our victory
was implicit in our combination of the two qualities of non-violence and
Gokhale desired by cable that Polak should go to India and help him in
placing the facts of the situation before the Indian and Imperial Governments.
Polak’s temperament was such that he would make himself useful whatever
he went. He would be totally absorbed in whatever task he undertook. We
were therefore preparing to send him to India. I wrote to him that he
could go. But he would not leave without meeting me in person and taking
full instructions from me. He therefore offered to come and see me during
our march. I wired to him, saying that he might come if he wished though
he would be in so doing running the risk of arrest. Fighters never hesitate
to incur necessary risks. It was a cardinal principle of the movement
that everyone should make all straightforward and moral efforts to get
arrested until he overcame the reluctance of Government to lay hands upon
him. Polak therefore preferred to come even at the risk of being arrested.
Mr. Polak joined us on the 9th at Teakworth between Standerton and Greylingstad.
We were in the midst of our consultation and had nearly done with it.
It was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Polak and I were walking
at the head of the whole body of pilgrims. Some of the co-workers were
listening to our conversation. Polak was to take the evening train from
Durban. But God does not always permit man to carry out his plans. Rama
had to retire to the forest on the very day that was fixed for his coronation.
While we were thus engaged in talking, a Cape cart came and stopped before
us from it alighted Mr. Chammey, the Principal Immigration Officer of
the Transvaal and a police officer. They took me somewhat aside and one
of them said, ‘I arrest you.’
I thus arrested thrice in four days.
‘What about the marchers?’ I asked.
‘We shall see to that’, was the answer.
I said nothing further. I asked Polak to assume charge of and go with
the pilgrims. The police officer permitted me only to inform the marchers
of my arrest. As I proceeded to ask them to keep the peace etc., the officer
interrupted me and said,
‘You are now a prisoner and cannot make any speeches.’
I understood my position, but it was needless. As soon as he stopped me
speaking, the officer ordered the driver to drive the cart away at full
speed. In a moment, the pilgrims passed out of my sight.
The officer knew that for the time being I was master of the situation,
for trusting to our non-violence, he was alone in this desolate veld confronted
by two thousand Indians. He also knew that I would have surrendered to
him even if he had sent me a summons in writing. Such being the case,
it was hardly necessary to remind me that I was a prisoner. And the advice
which I would have given the pilgrims would have served the Government’s
purpose no less than our own. But how could an officer forego an opportunity
of exercising his brief authority? I must say, however, that many officers
understood us better than this gentleman. They knew that not only had
arrest no terrors for us but on the other hand we hailed it as the gateway
of liberty. They therefore allowed us all legitimate freedom and thankfully
sought our aid in conveniently and expeditiously effected arrests. The
reader will come across apposite cases of both the kinds in these pages.
I was taken to Greylingstad, and from Greylingstad via Balfour to Heideberg
where I passed the night.
The pilgrims with Polak as leader resumed their march and halted for the
night at Greylingstad where they were met by Sheth Ahmad Muhammad Kachhalia
and Sheth Amad Bhayat who had come to know that arrangements were complete
for arresting the whole body of marchers. Polak therefore thought that
when this responsibility ceased in respect of the pilgrims upon their
arrest, he could reach Durban even if a day later and take the steamer
for India after all. But God had willed otherwise. At about 9’o’clock
in the morning on the 10th the pilgrims reached Balour where three special
trains were drawn up at the station to take them and deport then to Natal.
The pilgrims were there rather obstinate. They asked for me to be called
and promised to be arrested and to board the trains if I advised them
to that effect. This was a wrong attitude. And the whole game must be
spoiled and the movement must receive a set-back unless it was give up.
Why should the pilgrims want me for going to jail? It would ill become
soldiers to claim to elect their commanders or to insist upon their obeying
only one of them. Mr. Chamney approached Mr. Polk and Kachhaila Sheth
to help in arresting them. These friends encountered difficulty in explaining
the situation to the marchers. They told them that jail was the pilgrims’
goal and they should therefore appreciate the Government’s action
when they were ready to arrest them. Only thus could the Satyagrahis show
their quality and bring their struggle to a triumphant end. They must
realize that no other procedure could have my approval. The pilgrims were
brought round all entrained peacefully.
I, on my part, was again hauled up before the Magistrate. I knew nothing
of what transpired after I was separated from the pilgrims. I asked for
a remand once again. I said that a remand had been granted by two courts,
and that we had not now much to go to reach our destination. I therefore
requested that either the Government should arrest the pilgrims or else
I should be permitted to see them safe in Tolstoy Farm. The Magistrate
did not comply with my request, but promised to forward it at once to
the Government. This time I was arrested on a warrant from Dundee where
I was to be prosecuted on the principal charge of including indentured
labourers to leave the province of Natal. I was therefore taken to Dundee
by rail the same day.
Mr. Polak was not only not arrested at Balfour but he was even thanked
for the assistance he had rendered to the authorities. Mr. Chamney even
said that the Government had no intention of arresting him. But these
were Mr. Chamney’s own views or the views of the Government in far
as they were known to that officer. Government in fact would be changing
their mind every now then. And finally they reached the decision that
Mr. Polak should not be allowed to sail for India and should be arrested
along with Mr. Kalllenbach who was working most energetically on behalf
of the Indians. Mr. Polak therefore was arrested in Charlestown whilst
waiting for the corridor train. Mr. Kallenbach was also arrested and both
these friends were confined in Volksrust jail.
I was tried in Dundee on the 11th and sentenced to nine months’
imprisonment with hard labour. I had still to take my second trial at
Volksrust on the charge of aiding and abetting prohibited persons to enter
the Transvaal. From Dundee I was therefore taken on the 13th to Volksrust
where I was glad to meet Kallenbach and Polak in the jail.
I appeared before the Volksrust court on the 14 th. The beauty of it was
that the charge was proved against me only by witnesses furnished by myself
at Kromdraai. The police could have secured witnesses but with difficulty.
They had therefore sought my aid in the matter. The courts here would
not convict a prisoner merely upon his pleading guilty.
This was arranged as regards me, but who would testify against Mr. Kallenbach
and Mr. Polak? It was impossible to convict them in the absence of evidence,
and it was also difficult at once to secure witnesses against them. Mr.
Kallenbach intended to plead guilty as he wished to be with the pilgrims.
But Mr. Polak was bound for India, and was not deliberately courting jail
at his moment. After a joint consultation, therefore we three resolved
that we should say neither yes nor no in case we were asked whether Mr.
Polak was guilty of the offence with which he was charged.
I provided the evidence for the Crown against Mr. Kallenbach and I appeared
as witness against Mr. Polak. We did not wish that the cases should be
protracted, and we therefore did our best to see that each case was disposed
of within a day. The proceedings against me were complete on the 14th,
against Kallenbach on the 15th and against Polak on the 17th, and the
Magistrate passed sentence of three months’ imprisonment on all
three of us. We now thought we could live together in Volksrust jail for
these three months. But the Government could not afford to allow it.
Meanwhile, we passed a few happy days in Volksrust jail, where new prisoners
came every day and brought us news of what was happening outside. Among
these Satyagrahi prisoners there was one old man named Harbatsinh who
was about 75 years of age. Harbatsinh was not working on the mines. He
had completed his indenture years ago and he was not therefore a striker.
The Indians grew far more enthusiastic after my arrest, and many of them
got arrested by crossing over from Natal into the Transvaal. Harbatsinh
was one of these enthusiasts.
‘Why are you in jail?’ I asked Harbatsinh. ‘I have not
invited old men like yourself to court jail.’
‘How could I help it,’ replied Harbatsinh, ‘when you
your wife and even your boys went to jail for our sake?
‘But you will not be able to endure the hardships of jail life.
I would advise you to leave jail. Shall I arrange for your release?’
‘No, please. I will never leave jail. I must die one of these days,
and how happy should I be to die in jail!’
It was not for me to try to shake such determination, which would not
have been shaken even if I had tried. My head bent in reverence before
this illiterate sage. Harbatsinh has his wish and he died in Durban jail
on January 5, 1914. His body was with great honour cremated according
to Hindu rites in the presence of hundreds of Indians. There was not one
but there were many like Harbatsinh in the Satyagraha reserved for him
alone and hence he becomes entitled to honourable mention in the history
of Satyagraha South Africa.
Government would not like that men should thus be attracted to jail, nor
did they appreciate the fact that prisoners upon their release should
carry my messages outside. They therefore decided to separate Kaencach,
Polak and me, sent us away from Volksrust, and take me in particular to
a place where no Indian could go and see me. I was sent accordingly to
the jail in Bloemfontein, the capital of Orangia, where there were not
more than 50 Indians, all of them serving as waiters in hotels. I was
the only Indian prisoner there, the rest being Europeans and Negroes.
I was not troubled at this isolation but hailed it as a blessing. There
was no need now for me to keep my eyes or ears open, and I was glad that
a novel experience was in store for me. Again, I never had had time for
study for years together, particularly since 1893, and the prospect of
uninterrupted study for a year filled me with joy.
I reached Bloemfontein jail where I had as much solitude as I could wish.
There were many discomforts but they were all bearable, and I will not
inflict a description of them upon the reader. But I must state that the
medical officer of the jail became my friend. The jailer could think only
of his own powers while the doctor was anxious to maintain the prisoners
in their rights. In those days I was purely a fruitarian. I took neither
milk nor ghi nor foodgrains. I lived upon a diet of bananas, tomatoes,
raw groundnuts, limes and olive oil. It meant starvation for me if the
supply of any one of these things was bad in quality. The doctor was therefore
very careful in ordering them out, and he added almonds, Walnuts and Brazil
nuts to my diet. He inspected everything indented for me in person. There
was not sufficient ventilation in the cell which was assigned to me. The
doctor tried his best to have the cell doors kept open but in vain. The
jailer threatened to resign if the doors were kept open. He was not a
bad man, but he had been moving in a single rut from which he could not
deviate. He had to deal with refractory prisoners, and if he discriminated
in favour of a mild prisoner like myself, he would run the real risk of
the turbulent prisoners getting the upper hand of him. I fully understood
the jailer’s standpoint, and in the disputes between the doctor
and the jailer in respect of me, my sympathies were always with the jailer
who was an experienced, straightforward man, seeing the way clear before
Mr. Kallenbach was taken to Pretoria jail and Mr. Polak to Germiston in
But the Government might have saved all this trouble. They were like Mrs.
Partington trying to stem the rising tide of the ocean broom in hand.
The Indian labourers of Natal were wide awake, and no power on earth could
hold them in check.