THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > Letters Exchanged
49. Letters Exchanged
Correspondence passed between General Smuts and myself, placing on record the agreement arrived at as the result of a number of interviews. My letter dated January 21, 1914 may be thus summarized:
‘We have conscientious scruples with regard to leading evidence before the commission as constituted at present. You appreciate these scruples and regard them as honourable, but are unable to alter your decision. As however, you have accepted the principle of consultation with the Indians, I will advise my countrymen not to hamper the labours of the commission by any active propaganda, and not to render the position of the Government difficult by reviving passive resistance, pending the result of the commission and the introduction of legisllation during the forthcoming session. It will further be possible for us to assist Sir Benjamin Roberston who has been deputed by the Viceroy.
‘As to our allegations of ill-treatment during the progress of the Indian strike in Natal, the avenue of proving them through the commission is closed to us by our solemn declaration to have nothing to do with it. As Satyagrahis we endeavour to avoid, as far as possible, any resentment of personal wrongs. But in order that our silence may not be mistaken, may I ask you to recognize our motive and reciprocate by not leading evidence of a negative character before the commission on the allegations in question?
‘Suspension of Satyagraha, moreover, carries with it a prayer for the release of Satyagrahi prisoners.
‘It might not be out of place here to recapitulate the points on which relief has been sought:
1. Repeal of the $ 3 tax;
2. Legalization of the marriages celebrated according to the rite of Hinduism, Islam, etc;
3. The entry of educated Indians;
4. Alternation in the assurance as regards the Orange Free State;
5. An assurance that the existing laws especially affected Indians will be administered justly, with the regard to vested rights.
‘If you view my submission with favour, I shall be prepared to advise my countrymen in accordance with the tenor of this letter.’
General Smuts’ reply of the same date was to this effect:
‘I regret but understand your inability to appear before the commission. I also recognize the motive which makes your you unwilling to revive old sores by courting libel proceeding before another tribunal. The Government repudiates the charges of harsh action against the Indian strikers. But as you will not lead evidence in support of those allegations, it would be futile for the Government to lead rebutting evidence in vindication of the conduct of its officers. As regards the release of Satyagrahi prisoners, the Government had already issued the necessary orders before your letter arrived. In regard to the grievances summarized at the end of your letter, the Government will await the recommendations of the commission before any action is taken.’
Mr. Andrews and I had frequent interviews with General Smuts before these letters were exchanged. But Meanwhile Sir Benjamin Robertson too arrived at Pretoria. Sir Benjamin Robertson too arrived at Pretoria. Sir Benjamin was looked upon as a popular official, and he brought a letter of recommendation from Gokhale, but I observed that he was not entirely free from the usual weakness of the English official. He had no sooner come than he began to create factions among the Indians and to bully the Satyagrahis. My first meeting with him in Pretoria did not prepossess me in his favour. I told him about the telegrams I had received informing me of his bullying procedure. I dealt with him, as indeed with everyone else, in a frank and straightforward manner, and we therefore became friends. But I have often seen that officials are apt to bully those who will tamely submit to them, and will be correct with those who are correct themselves and will not be cowed down.
We thus reached a provisional argument, and Satyagraha was suspended for the last time. Many English friends were glad of this, and promised their assistance in the final settlement. It was rather difficult to get the Indians to endorse this agreement. No one would wish that enthusiasm which had arisen should be allowed to subside. Again, whoever would trust General Smuts? Some reminded me of the fiasco in 1908, and said, ‘General Smuts once played us false, often charged you with forcing fresh issues, and subjected the community to endless suffering. And yet what a pity that you have not learnt the necessary lesson of declining to trust him! This man will betray you once again, and you will again propose to revive Satyagraha. But who will then to you? Is it possible that men should every now and then go to jail, and be ready to be faced with failure each time? With a man like General Smuts settlement is possible only if he actually delivers the goods. It is no use having his assurances. How can we any further trust a man who pledges his word and then breaks it?
I knew that such arguments would be brought forward, and was not therefore surprised when they were. No matter how often a Satyagrahi is betrayed, he will repose his trust in the adversary so long as there are not cogent grounds for distrust. Pain to a Satyagrahi is the same as pleasure. He will not therefore be misled by the mere fear of suffering into groundless distrust. On the other hand, relying as he does upon his own strength, he will not mind being betrayed by the adversary, will continue to trust in spite of frequent betrayals, and will believe that he thereby strengthens the forces of truth and brings victory nearer. Meetings were therefore held in various places, and I was able at last to persuade the Indians to approve of the terms of the agreement. The Indians now came to a better understanding of the spirit of Satyagraha. Mr. Andrews was the mediator in the witness in the present agreement, and then there was Sir Benjamin Robertson as representing the Government of India. There was therefore the least possible likelihood of the agreement being subsequently repudiated. If I had obstinately refused to accept the agreement, it would have become a count of indictment against the Indians, and the victory which was achieved in the next six months would have been best with various obstacles. The author of the Sanskrit saying, ‘Forgiveness is an ornament to the brave’, drew upon his rich experience of Satyagrahis never giving anyone the least opportunity of finding fault with them. Distrust is a sign of weakness and Satyagraha implies the banishment of all weakness and therefore of distrust, which is clearly out of place when the adversary is not to be destroyed but to be won over.
When the Indians thus endorsed the agreement, we had only to wait for the next session of the Union Parliament. Meanwhile the commission set to work. Only a very few witnesses appeared before it on behalf of the Indians, furnishing striking evidence of the great hold which the Satyagrahis had acquired over the community. Sir Benjamin Robertson tried to induce many to tender evidence but failed except in the case of a few who were strongly opposed to Satyagraha. The boycott of the commission did not produce any bad effect. Its work was shortened and its report was published at once. The commission strongly criticized the Indians for withholding their assistance and dismissed the charges of misbehavior against the soldiers, but recommended compliance without delay with all the demands of the Indian community, such as for instance the repeal of the three pound tax and the validation of Indian marriages, and the grant some trifling concessions in addition. Thus the report of the commission was favourable to the Indians as predicated by General Smuts. Mr. Andrews left for England and Sir Benjamin Robertson for India. We had received an assurance that the requisite legislation would be undertaken with a view to implement the recommendations of the commission. What this legislation was and how it was brought forward will be considered in the next chapter.