THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > All In Prison
45. All In Prison
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 determination.
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 him.
Mr. Kallenbach was taken to Pretoria jail and Mr. Polak to Germiston in jail.
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.