THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > The beginnign of the end
47. The beginnign of the end
The reader has seen that the Indians exerted as much quite strength as they could and more than could b expected of them. He has also seen that the very large majority of these passive resisters were poor downtrodden men of whom no hope could possibly be entertained. He will recall too, that all the responsible workers of the Phoenix settlement with the exception of two or three were now in jail. Of the workers outside Phoenix the late Sheth Ahmed Muhammad Kachhalia was still at large, and so were Mr. West, Miss West and Maganlal Gandhi in Phoenix. Kachhalia Sheth exercised general supervision. Miss Schlesin kept all the Transvaal accounts and looked after the Indians who crossed the border. Mr. West was in charge of the English section of Indian Opinion and of the cable correspondence with Gokhale. At a time like the present, when the situation assumed a new aspect every moment, correspondence by post was out of the question. Cablegrams had to be dispatched, no shorter in length than letters, and the delicate responsibility regarding them was shoulders by Mr. West.
Like Newcastle in the mine area, Phoenix now became the centre of the strikers on the north coast, and was visited by hundreds of them who came there to seek advice as well as shelter. It therefore naturally attracted the attention of the Government, and the angry looks of the Europeans thereabouts. It became somewhat risky to live in Phoenix, and yet even children there accomplished dangerous tasks with courage. West was arrested in the meanwhile, though as a matter of fact there was no reason for arrested him. Our understanding was, that West and Maganlal Gandhi should not only not try to be arrested, but on the other hand should, as far as possible, avoid any occasion for arrest. West had not therefore allowed any ground to arise for the Government to arrest him. But the Government could scarcely be expected to consult the convenience of the Satyagrahis, nor did they need to wait for some occasion to arise for arresting anyone whose freedom jarred upon their nerves. The authority’s very desire to take a step amply suffices as a reason for adopting it. As soon as the news of the arrest of West was cabled to Gokhale, he initiated the policy of sending out able men from India. When a meeting was held in Lahore in support of the Satyagrahis of South Africa, Mr. C.F. Andrews gave away in their interest all money in his possession, and ever since then Gokhale had had his eye upon him. No sooner, therefore, did he hear about West’s arrest, than he inquired of Andrews by wire if he was ready to proceed to South Africa at once. Andrews replied in the affirmative. His beloved friend Pearson also got ready to go the same moment, and the two friends left India for South Africa by the first available steamer.
But the struggle was now about the close. The Union Government had not the power to keep thousands of innocent men in jail. The Viceroy would not tolerate it, and all the world was waiting to see what General Smuts would do. The Union Government now did what all governments similarly situated generally do. No inquiry was really needed. The wrong perpetrated was well known on all hands, and everyone realized that it must be redressed. General Smuts too saw that there had been injustice which called for remedy, but he was in the same predicament as a snake which has taken a rat in its mouth but can neither gulp it down nor cast it out. He must do justice, but he had lost the power of doing justice, as he had given the Europeans in South Africa to understand, that he would not repeal the three-pound tax nor carry out any other reform. And now he felt compelled to abolish the tax as well as to undertake other remedial legislation. States amenable to public opinion get out such awkward positions by appointing a commission which conducts only a nominal inquiry, as its recommendations are a foregone conclusion. It is a general practice that the recommendations of such a commission should be accepted by the State, and therefore under the guise of carrying out the recommendations, governments give the justice, which they have first refused. General Smuts appointed a commission of three members, with which the Indians pledged themselves to have nothing to do so long as certain demands of theirs in respect of the commission were not granted by the government. One of these demands was, that the Satyagrahi prisoners should be released, and another that the Indians should be represented on the commission by at least one member. To a certain extent the first demand was accepted by the commission itself, which recommended to the Government ‘with a view to enabling the enquiry to be made as thorough as possible’ that Mr. Kallenbach, Mr. Polak and I should be released unconditionally. The Government accepted this recommendation and released all three of us simultaneously (December 18, 1913) after an imprisonment of hardly six weeks. West who had been arrested was also released as Government had no case against him.
All these events transpired before the arrival of Andrews and Pearson whom I was thus able to welcome as they landed at Durban. They were agreeably surprised to see me, as they knew nothing of the events which happened during their voyage. This was my first meeting with these noble Englishmen.
All three of us were disappointed upon our release. We knew nothing of the events outside. The news of the commission came to us as a surprise, but we saw that we could not co-operate with the commission in any shape or form. We felt that the Indians should be certainly allowed to nominate at least one representative on the commission. We there, therefore, upon reaching Durban, addressed a letter to General Smuts on December 21, 1913 to this effect:
‘We welcome the appointment of the commission, but we strongly object to the inclusion in it of Messers Esselen and Wylie. We have nothing against them personally. They are well-known and able citizens. But as both of them have often expressed their dislike for the Indians, there is likelihood of their doing injustice without being conscious of it. Man cannot change his temperament all at once. It is against the laws of nature to suppose, that these gentlemen will suddenly become different from what they are. However we do not ask for their removal from the commission. We only suggest that some impartial men should be appointed in addition to them, and in this connection, we would mention Sir James Rose Innes and the Hon. Mr. W.P. Schreiner, both of them well-known men noted for their sense of justice. Secondly, we request that all the Satyagrahi prisoners should be released. If this is not done, it would be difficult for us to remain outside the jail. There is no reason now for keeping the Satyagrahis in jail any longer. Thirdly, if we tender evidence before the commission, we should be allowed to go to the mines and factories where the indentured labourers are at work. If these requests are not complied with, we are sorry that we shall have to explore fresh avenues for going to jail.’
General Smuts declined to appoint any more members on the commission and stated that the commission was appointed not for the sake of any party but merely for the satisfaction of the government. Upon receiving this reply on December 24, we had no alternative but to prepare to go to jail. We therefore published a notification to the Indians that a party of Indians courting jail would commence their march from Durban on January 1, 1914.
But there was one sentence in General Smuts’ reply, which prompted me to write to him again, and it was this: ‘We have appointed an impartial and judicial commission, and if while appointed it, we have not consulted the Indians, neither have we consulted the coal-owners or the sugar-planters.’ I wrote privately to the General, requesting to see him and place some facts before him if the Government were out to do justice. General Smuts granted my request for an interview, and the march was postponed for a few days accordingly.
When Gokhale heard that a fresh march was under contemplation, he sent a long cablegram, saying that such a step on our part would land Lord Hardinge and himself in an awkward position and strongly advising us to give up the march, and assist the commission by tendering evidence before it.
We were on the horns of a dilemma. The Indians were pledged to a boycott of the commission if their personnel was not enlarged to their satisfaction. Lord Hardinge might be displeased, Gokhale might be pained, but how could we go back upon our pledged word? Mr. Andrews suggested to us the considerations of Gokhale’s feelings, his delicate health and the shock, which our decision was calculated to impart to him. But in fact these considerations were never absent from my mind. The leaders held a conference and finally reached the decision that boycott must stand at any cost if more members were not coopted to the commission. We therefore sent a long cablegram to Gokhale, at an expense of about a hundred pounds. Andrews too concurred with the gist of our message which was to the following effect:
‘We realize how you are pained, and would like to follow your advice at considerable sacrifice. Lord Hardinge has rendered priceless aid, which we wish we would continue to receive till the end. But we are would continue to receive till the end. But we are anxious that you should understand our position. It is a question of thousands of men having taken a pledge to which no exception can be taken. Our entire struggle has been built upon a foundation of pledges. Many of us would have fallen back today had it not been for the compelling force of our pledges. All moral bonds would be relaxed at once if thousands of men once proved false to their plighted word. The pledge was taken after full and mature deliberation, and there is nothing immoral about it. The community has an unquestionable right to pledge itself to boycott. We wish that even you should advise that a pledge of this nature should not be broken but be observed inviolate by all, come what might. Please show this cable to Lord Hardinge. We wish you might not be placed in a false position. We have commenced this struggle with god as our witness and His help as our sole support. We desire and bespeak the assistance of elders as well as big men, and are glad when we get it. But whether or not such assistance is forthcoming, we are humbly of opinion that pledges must ever be scrupulously kept. We desire your support and your blessing in such observance.’
This cable, when it reached Gokhale, had an adverse effect upon his health, but he continued to help us with unabated or even greater zeal than before. He wired to Lord Hardinge on the matter but not only did he not throw us overboard, but he on the other hand defended our standpoint. Lord Hardinge too remained unmoved.
I went to Pretoria with Andrews. Just at this time, there was a great strike of the Europeans employees of the Union railways, which made the position of the Government extremely delicate. I was called upon to commence the Indian march at such a fortunate juncture. But I declared that the Indians could not thus assist the railway strikers, as they were not out to harass the Government their struggle being entirely different and differently conceived. Even if we undertook the march, we would begin it at some other time when the railway trouble had ended. This decision of ours created a deep impression, and was cabled to England by Reuter. Lord Ampthill cabled his congratulations from England. English friends in South Africa too appreciated our decision. One of the secretaries of General Smuts jocularly said: ‘I do not like your people, and do not care to assist them at all. But what I am I to do? You help us in our days of need. How can we lay hands upon you? I often wish you took to violence like the English strikers, and then we would know at once how to dispose of you. But you will not injure even the enemy. You desire victory by self-suffering alone and never transgress your self-imposed limits of courtesy and chivalry. And that is what reduces us to sheer helplessness.’ General Smuts also gave expression to similar sentiments.
I need scarcely suggest to the reader that this was not the first incident of chivalrous consideration for others being shown by the Satyagrahis. When the Indian labourers on the north coast went on strike, the planters at Mount Edgecombe would have been put to great losses if all the cane that had been cut was not brought to the mill and crushed. Twelve hundred Indians therefore returned to work solely with a view to finish this part of the work, and joined their compatriots only when it was finished. Again when the Indian employees of the Durban Municipality struck work, those who were engaged in the sanitary services of the borough or as attendants upon the patients in hospitals were sent back, and they willingly returned to their duties. If the sanitary service were dislocated, and if there was no one attend upon the patients in hospitals, there might be an outbreak of disease in the city and the sick would be deprived of medical aid, and no Satyagrahi would wish for such consequences to ensue. Employees of this description were therefore exempted from the strike. In every step that he takes, the Satyagrahis is bound to consider the position of his adversary.
I could see that the numerous cases of such chivalry left their invisible yet potent impress everywhere, enhanced the prestige of the Indians, and prepared a suitable atmosphere for a settlement.