THE MAKING OF A SOCIAL REFORMER : GANDHI IN SOUTH
Satyagraha Campaign, 1913 to 1914
The Satyagraha Campaign, 1913 to 1914
"Singly, he will be dangerous, but in conjunction with others, he will do immense good. We therefore want another leader to work with Mr. Gandhi." Leo R. Gopaul, 1913
Much happened between the second compromise in April 1911 and the resumption of the campaign exactly two years later. There was growing anti-Indianism in the form of Hertzogism, so called after Minister of Justice J. B. M. Hertzog (1910-12) declared his intention to class Indians with Africans. The Union government tightened immigration of Indians into South Africa. What was earlier confined to each of the state governments became a nationally coordinated policy after 1910. Gandhi needed issues that could galvanize the majority of Indians behind his faltering campaign. His use of cultural and religious symbols to get the support of the Indians had some success, and he would continue to use them. But he needed to go beyond such a strategy if he was going to make any headway with the campaign. In Natal, he could not get past NIC conservatives who became increasingly critical about passive resistance while the emergent non-merchant class of professionals did not trust his motives. If he was to succeed, he needed to get around them. When the campaign was resumed in April 1913, Gandhi was not sure of how things would develop. This chapter explores some of the dramatic developments that moved thousands of Indians to support Gandhi by November 1913. He could not have predicted these developments, but his creative use of opportunities as they arose reflected his boldness and maturity as a leader of the masses.
The first of the two issues that helped to revive the satyagraha campaign came in March 1913 when the Supreme Court handed down a judgment on the legal status of Indian marriages. The court’s decision came in the wake of the immigration authorities' refusal to allow Hassen Essop's wife to land in 1912 because she did not satisfy the requirements of a legal spouse. In agreeing with the decision, Justice Searle ignored the practice in India that did not require Hassen Essop to register his marriage before an officer of the law. Even as these events were unfolding, the Natal Supreme Court ruled that Hindu and Muslim marriages were not "monogamous." Smuts inflamed Indian feelings further by stating that divorce was easily achieved by Muslim men who simply had to say "voetsek" (“get lost”) to their wives.
Gandhi saw an opportunity to connect the Searle decision with the campaign when it was renewed. He argued that the legal validity of marriages conducted according to Muslim and Hindu rites was an existing right. If the imperial authorities in India accepted such marriages as valid, South Africa was unreasonable in denying their legitimacy. Gandhi used cultural and religious symbols as he requested "every Anjuman, every Association, and every Dharm Sabha" to call upon the government to make the necessary adjustment to the Immigration bill to accommodate Hindu and Muslim marriages. The Indian response was strong. Cachalia said at a BIA mass meeting that the court's decision devalued Hindu and Muslim religious institutions and struck at the heart of the Indian family. The Koran required all Muslims to protect their women, said a maulvi. The Tamil Benefit Society argued that the decision was contrary to the sanctity of marriages as enshrined in the Vedas and must be resisted to preserve Hindu honor. To show its solidarity with Muslims, the Natal Brahaman Mandal argued that polygamy was also allowed in the Hindu religion. Pragji Khandu Desai saw the decision as an attack on Hinduism, intended indirectly to promote Christianity.1 In spite of the emotional outpouring, this issue on its own was not sufficient to arouse the majority of Indians.
The second issue did. The ₤3 tax was a long-standing issue that Gandhi could have embraced as a matter of principle earlier but did not. A law passed in 1895 by the Natal legislature required all indenture-expired Indians over the age of sixteen to pay the tax with the purpose of keeping the contract laborers locked into the system. This created great hardship on freed Indian families after the law went into effect in 1901. At the same time, it drew attention to the conditions under which indentured Indians labored. Why was Gandhi slow in embracing the one issue that was of serious concern to these Indians, and then only after circumstances thrust it on him?
He favored the abolition of the tax. But he was not prepared in November 1911 to advise its non-payment. He wanted instead, as he wrote to A. H. West on November 27, 1911, the NIC to send a petition to Natal’s prime minister signed by at least 15,000 Indians. There should be a mass meeting. If parliament rejected the petition, Gandhi continued, an appeal should be made to the Imperial Government. The support of other organizations in South Africa should be procured. If all of this did not work, then only should people refuse to pay the tax. “This thing cannot be taken up haphazard,” he warned. Gandhi wrote again from Johannesburg on December 4, asking West to take the lead in initiating and organizing the £3 tax issue with people because he was then not in a “position to feel the pulse of the community there [Natal].” Gandhi warned West not to take steps that in any way “clash[ed] with what Aiyar [was] doing.” Gandhi wrote again on December 8 asking West to collect statistics “in what cases the tax had been remitted.” “It seems to me,” Gandhi concluded “that it is possible perhaps to get Europeans in Natal to sign a petition for its repeal, and, if we can get an influentially signed document, we can certainly bring about repeal during the forthcoming session without passive resistance.” Gandhi wrote on December 22 urging him to press the leaders to take up agitation regarding the tax. He continued, “Aiyar may be left to himself and he may have all the credit and all the glory. We simply do the work if the leaders are ready to do their share of it.”2
Meanwhile, he devoted additional space in Indian Opinion to the plight of the indentured Indians from about the end of 1911. The many instances of abuses against individual indentured Indians were reported, as well as the hardship caused by the tax. For example, when fifty-two Indians went on strike at the Balcomb Estate in Stanger, Indian Opinion applauded their decision to choose jail rather than pay fines. The editorial comment pointed to the "tremendous power that lies with all workers to obtain just treatment from their employers by means of passive resistance or soul force." In February 1912, the newspaper slammed as "absurd" the Supreme Court decision to uphold the law. It called upon the NIC "to defend these poor people."3 The NIC was prepared to intercede in individual cases as that of V. Naik who had received forty to fifty summonses relating the tax in 1911.4
Newly created bodies such as NIPU (f. 1908) and CBIA (f. March, 1911) made the tax an important issue. In the forefront was P.S. Aiyar who used his African Chronicle to highlight abuses against the indentured laborers. He had convened a meeting in October 1911 at Parsi Rustomjee's Field Street residence to discuss the tax. The group created a ₤3 League with Vincent Lawrence as secretary. While NIC stalwarts like Abdulla Hajee Adam and M.C. Anglia were present, most of the others in attendance were colonial-born.5 Aiyar established the South Africa Indian Committee (SAIC) in October 1911 whose sole purpose was to secure the abolition of the ₤3 tax. Gandhi showed little interest in Aiyar’s endeavors. If not much came out of such attempts, it was, as S. Chetty was to reveal in 1913, the committee had suspended possible action on the advice of “friends” in India. If this was so, Gandhi may well have been privy to this “friendly” advice which perhaps suggested to him that the tax would be abolished in due course before the slate of other issues in the campaign were resolved. In December 1911, Gandhi wanted Albert West to lead the campaign against the tax.6 He had decided possibly by the end of 1911 that Gokhale should play a leading role in the abolition of the tax. After all, his mentor had been instrumental in ending the indentured system. Indeed, if the South African government had abolished the tax after Gokhale’s visit in 1912, the issue would never have arisen.
Gandhi’s hesitation may have reflected his doubts about his ability to control the masses that could be easily misled. Indeed, he thought the £3 tax cause was “the cause of the helpless and the dumb,” as he wrote to Millie Graham Polak. He thought of Aiyar as an opportunist capable of misleading people. Gandhi knew him from the 1890s. In 1898, Aiyar introduced himself as editor of Indian World and distanced himself and the newspaper from Gandhi's controversial Green Pamphlet.7 Some seven months later, however, he was prepared to consult with Gandhi as NIC secretary for possible financial aid to run a school he had started in Verulam.8 Aiyar started the African Chronicle around 1908, and used its columns regularly to air his views. He was an ambitions person who saw himself as a champion of indentured and free Indian interests. Thus he communicated with Gokhale in the hope of influencing the Indian nationalist. On March 19, 1911, Aiyar wrote to Gokhale about inter-provincial travel restrictions since Gandhi would not. He hoped Gokhale would raise the issue with the South African government since public opinion in Natal demanded it.9 Aiyar wrote again to Gokhale on February 8, 1912, this time on behalf of the SAIC requesting him to address the ₤3 tax issue. Although the committee had not authorized him to talk about other issues, he nevertheless enclosed the text of Immigration Restriction Bill and hoped Gokhale would examine it before he came to South Africa.10
Gandhi thought of Aiyar as a “man of the moment” who could not be trusted and who was given to misrepresenting issues in African Chronicle. In a letter he wrote to Chhaganlal Gandhi in September 1911, he said that Aiyar was "innocent of what he had written..." During Gokhale’s visit, he accused him of writing "violent articles.” Gandhi believed that the colonial-born were easily misled, and therefore, one presumes, open to manipulation by Aiyar.11 While we do not have a clear idea of where Aiyar stood on the larger issues, one incident suggests that he was likely open to the militant ideas of expatriate Indians regarding British rule in India. When Gandhi refused to reproduce V. Chattopadhyaya’s response to Tolstoy’s “Letter to a Hindoo,” Aiyar published it in African Chronicle in an action clearly aimed at the former.12
There is some ambivalence in the way Gandhi reacted generally to the political endeavors of colonial-born Indians. When the Colonial-Born Indian Association submitted a petition in April 1912 for trade licenses as a matter of “first claim,” Gandhi criticized the body for seeking preferential treatment for colonial-born Indian because they were educated in English and observed "European" standards. Why seek a privilege denied the parents of the colonial-born? Gandhi said nothing about the "Arab" traders who had elbowed them out of competition, and about the NIC which mainly represented these "self-selected settlers."13 Some of the differences between him and the colonial-born would resurface toward the end of 1913.
While Gandhi found people like Aiyar too independent for his movement, he worked with many colonial-born Indians who supported the campaign under his guidance. One such individual was Cambridge-educated Joseph Royeppen who was also engaged in promoting the interests of the colonial-born. An attorney by profession, he led a deputation to the Durban Town Council over trade licenses for colonial-born Indians, racially motivated tramcar incidents, beach segregation, and other matters. The Town Council's attention was drawn to the fact the "localities inhabited by Indians [were] much neglected in respect of roads, paths, streets, lighting, and general clearance..." In 1911, Royeppen was also a voluntary chairman of the group of about forty Indians, most of them colonial-born, who sought to combat T.B. in Durban. He questioned the need for the city to appoint a special NIC committee when he and his group were already running the Indian Volunteer Health Committee.14 Another individual who had Gandhi’s confidence was Albert Christopher, who would take a leading part in the campaign as it unfolded in 1913. Yet Christopher, like Royeppen, was critical of the NIC, and accused it early in 1912 of high-handedness in the way it conducted its meetings. Indeed, Gandhi thought Royeppen was on the “wrong track” about the ₤3 tax issue, and hoped that Polak, who was in India at the time, would “restrain” him if he should come to India.15
As we examine the course of the campaign after it was resumed, it is clear that Gandhi made creative use of opportunities as they arose. He did not necessarily have a blueprint from which he proceeded. The campaign was re-launched on April 28, 1913, at a BIA mass meeting. Various individuals and organizations made known their opposition to the bill.16 The Immigrant Regulation Act went into effect on August 1, 1913, and was opposed on four grounds: those with indentured background after 1895 appeared to lose the right to settle in South Africa; the right of entry into the Cape of South African born Indians was being curtailed; Indian marriages celebrated according Hindu and Muslims rites were not being recognized, and the narrow definition of "monogamous" would disallow a wife in India from joining her husband who was legally resident in South Africa; and lastly, Indians traveling through the Orange Free State (OFS) were required to sign a declaration that they would not settle in the province. The law also provided for the creation of judicial review through Appeal Boards, and Indians pointed out that the participation of immigration officials on the panels compromised the judicial integrity of the process.17
The law imposing a tax of ₤3 became an issue only after the South African Parliament, influenced by interest groups such as the Natal Agricultural Union, failed to repeal it. Gandhi had been thinking about its importance to the campaign from early 1913, which is why, as he explains in Satyagraha in South Africa, he moved from Tolstoy to Phoenix in Natal where the law affected the indentured and ex-indentured Indians.18 Besides, the fact that the government had promised Gokhale to abolish the tax gave him further opportunity to play up the imperial angle. The Government of India and Whitehall would surely be drawn into the issue. It was also a matter of honor to support his mentor, who, after all, had staked his personal reputation in the matter. Gokhale came to symbolize a leader of mythical proportions to Indians he had addressed on his recent visit. Many of them may well have felt the need to respond to the perceived “insult” to Gokhale. Gandhi wasted no time in arguing that the government’s failure to abolish the tax was a breach of promise that had been made to Gokhale. Organizations such as CBIA, Shri Hindi Jigyasa Sabha, Zoroastrian Anjuman, Kathiawad Arya Mandal, Anjuman Islam, and Gujarati Hindus all agreed with him. The NIC was not among the organizations.19
The passive resistance campaign was launched in September 1913, under these circumstances. The letter by BIA's Cachalia dated September 12, 1913, became an official declaration of the campaign. It told the Minister of Interior that the Immigrant Regulation Act had placed new obstacles on Indian immigration and domicile, and that the government had failed to repeal the ₤3 tax as promised to Gokhale. An "unrepresented and voiceless community ... which is labouring under a curious but strong race prejudice ... can defend its honour and status by a process of sacrifice and self-suffering."20
Gandhi had already been preparing the Indians for the battle.21 There would be no shame this time, he said, for those who did not step forward to participate actively. "He alone can be a satyagrahi whose soul is possessed of satyagraha." In an article under the heading "Death Alone Can Raise Us," he argued that with satyagraha even the most "hard-hearted man [would] melt as he sees the enemy suffering in innocence." Theirs was a just cause. Remembering how vulnerable traders had been to government reprisals earlier, he said that only hawkers should engage because they had few goods that could be auctioned. Anticipating resistance by some, Gandhi stressed that those who could not join, need not do so. If they did not want to go to jail, they could support in other ways by looking after the business of those in prison, helping with the maintenance of the families of the passive resisters, giving cash donations or sending food grains, organizing meetings in every town to approve the resolutions contained in the Cachalia letter, sending telegrams to the government through public bodies, and contributing to the London Committee. This time, he did not want to ask for money from India.22
The first party of sixteen resisters left Durban for the Transvaal border in September 1913.23 When they failed to get arrested, they recrossed. They were arrested, sentenced to three months jail hard labor, first in Pietermaritzburg and later in Durban. Fatima Sheik Mehtab, wife of Sheik Mehtab who was Gandhi’s childhood friend, her seven-years-old son, and her mother Hanifa, protested the marriage issue by crossing into the Transvaal illegally. They too were jailed.24 Groups of individuals courted arrested by hawking in Johannesburg.25 Bodies such as HIS, TBS, UPS, Transvaal Hindus, CBIA, Anjuman Islam, Zoroastrian Anjuman, KAM, the Brahman Mandal, Newcastle Indian Organization, Awakened Indian Society in the Cape, and various organizations or groups of individuals in Pietermaritzburg, Tongaat, Verulam, East London, and Germiston endorsed the Cachalia letter, passed resolutions which were forwarded to the government, and collected funds.26
But even as all these individuals and organizations came forward to support passive resistance, there were reports of dissension. An article in the Transvaal Leader reported merchants who refused to support the campaign. A Parsi merchant said, "We can't do anything. I might as well run my head against the brick wall. Trade is not good, and we suffer much in the past." A Muslim trader asked, "What have we got as the fruits of this sort of thing? Nothing at all. The government has been fair to us. They have treated us with justice. I have faith in our Empire. Full justice will come, must come, without these methods. I am all against this agitation..." The government had spent ₤800 giving them a Gujarati school, hired teachers, and a physical culture instructor, he added. Other merchants said that they were "tired" of Gandhi.27
It was in Natal that a serious rift occurred. Gandhi had been avoiding the NIC because of Anglia. Trouble had been brewing from 1911, at least. Polak, writing to Ritch on April 11, 1911, said that the "situation here [Natal] is very bad. Anglia is doing his best to prevent his resignation and I don't know what is going to happen. So long as he is the secretary, no good work can be done."28 In his reply, Ritch echoed the sentiments. "I quite understand," he said to Polak, "how ugly the situation in Natal is, or rather, that it must be very ugly. Any satisfactory solution of Indian difficulties is impossible so long as these personal ambitions and disputes bulk so prominently among those who ought to be guides and servants of the community." He said that the situation in Cape Town was the same except there it had "become somewhat better than it was." In Kimberly, the Konkani community was "holding aloof."29 Three days later Polak wrote to say that in Natal things seemed to be going "from bad to worse." Then in a pointed reference to the person behind it, he said, "The only dangerous man is Anglia, and he is a snake. For the sake of his damnable self-esteem I foresee a feud that may split the community for years."30
Gandhi’s relationship with M. C. Anglia dated back to the 1890s. In 1897, Anglia announced his presence by berating somebody who had made fun of his name by calling him “Angliere.”31 Three years later he wrote to Gandhi, who was then secretary of the NIC, seeking clarity on a series of questions before he decided to join the organization. The questions were not clearly defined so that it was hard to separate them, but they can be reduced to an issue of central concern to Anglia, namely, would the authorities not have allowed a qualified form of franchise in 1894 if the NIC had limited its request to include only the Indian upper classes. After all, Anglia went on to point out, distinction had already been made between the merchants and the indentured on passes. Anglia's questions were not neutral. If anything, they were plainly provocative and intended to be critical. For example, he asked if the votes had been given to the Indians "wholesale," how many MPs would they have been able to send to parliament. Or again, if Indians were not interested in political power, why was all the agitation necessary. Was the NIC not engaged in testing principles thus to have aroused such opposition among Whites? Finally, was the NIC having a "bad effect" on Whites?32
We have no record of Gandhi's response. In any event, Anglia went on to become the secretary of the NIC in the mid-1900s. If the 1900 letter was any indication of his later thinking, he had hoped to steer the NIC onto a more conservative path. While in London, he wrote in the Times on August 27, 1909, that while Indians did not seek political franchise then, he did not discount it as a grievance in future. Anglia did become actively involved in the Transvaal campaign by going to jail in 1908, but he seemed to oppose an extension of this form of action to Natal. For example, he did not like Gandhi’s advice to use passive resistance against the Permit Office.
While there were no serious differences until 1912 or 1913, it does appear as if Anglia was at variance with Gandhi on broadening the campaign to include issues that affected lower classes of Indians. The split was brewing from April 1913 at least. In an article entitled "Gandhites thoroughly beaten,” African Chronicle reported an NIC mass meeting in Durban on April 26, 1913 with 500 in attendance when the two secretaries, Anglia and Dada Osman, submitted their resignations over the way money was being handled. Supporting Anglia and Osman were people like J.L. Roberts, Mahomed Jeewa, and S.R. Pather while others like H.I. Joshi and V. Lawrence opposed them. The decision to accept the resignations was deferred.33
The breach between Anglia and Gandhi was aired again at a public meeting in Durban on Sunday, October 12, 1913, under the auspices of Anjuman Islam with NIC's Dawad Mahomed presiding. Gandhi wanted the NIC to support the struggle. It was a stormy meeting that went from two o' clock in the afternoon until ten at night. Anglia and Dada Osman showed their displeasure with Gandhi by tendering their resignation. They charged Gandhi of having misled Indians. His role was characterized as being “not only worthless but highly injurious,” and he was accused of enticing Indians “into slavery.” A sticking point with some including Anglia was Gandhi’s heavy reliance on Polak, Ritch, Kallenbach, Albert West, and other Whites. Gandhi’s response was that the resignations should be accepted, but it was shouted down. Albert Christopher who rose to speak in support of Gandhi failed to get heard in the midst of all the commotion. Under these circumstances, it was decided to call an NIC meeting the following Sunday, October 19, to decide whether to accept the resignation of the two secretaries.34
At the meeting, Aiyar suggested a South Africa-wide conference to gauge the strength of the action to be taken. Gandhi, according to Aiyar, was evasive as he indicated he would abide by a decision by the people if it was not in conflict with his conscience. The African Chronicle said in response, “We are not aware of any responsible politician in any part of the globe making such a stupid reply as the one that Mr. Gandhi made the other day.” “Mr. Gandhi’s superior conscience is pervading everything,” said the newspaper sarcastically. Gandhi was accused of showing “passive” not “active” love for his opponents. What hurt Aiyar most was when Gandhi, in reply to Dada Osman’s question as to why he had not supported Aiyar’s ₤3 campaign, argued that Aiyar and three other Indians he named did not compare with Polak in “purity, talents, ability, and ideals.” Gandhi thought of Polak as the “purest ray serene”. Well, said Aiyar snidely in his columns, Gandhi, Polak, Kallenbach, and Ritch had failed to “unearth the secrecy of the immigration law.” He referred to Gandhi's supporters as the local Indian "aristocracy" and his “trusted prime ministers,” Kallenbach and Polak.35
The differences could not be patched over at the NIC meeting on October 19, 1913. Anglia presented a four-page closely typed document in support of his argument.36 The NIC decided not to accept the resignations of the two secretaries. Its endorsement of their views meant a vote of no confidence in Gandhi and forced him and his supporters to withdraw from the organization. They marched in a procession to Parsi Rustomjee’s residence where they formed a new body called the Natal Indian Association (NIA), with Dawad Mahomed as president and Omar Haji Amod Jhaveri the secretary. The NIA passed a resolution to support the movement.37
Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach on two occasions in October 1913 to speak about the differences in the NIC. In a letter possibly dated October 20, 1913, Gandhi referred to "two nice but stormy meetings yesterday."38 He was more specific on October 27, 1913, when he wrote that Anglia and Osman were "making much mischief." He said that he had requested Cachalia and other Muslims like Imam Abdul Kader Bawazeer “to counteract the mischief." In a subsequent letter he referred to an "interview" with Osman. It was "a study...but otherwise it was not of any use," he concluded.39
Even as these events were unfolding, Gandhi had decided to organize a strike among the indentured Indians. With the NIA in place, he did not have to worry about opposition from NIC members. His trusted supporters were able to persuade the coal-mining indentured Indians in the Newcastle area to come out on strike. On October 14, 1913, those in the Railway barracks also went on strike; a day later, 36 of the coal miners at Farleigh Colliery joined them. By the end of October, about 4000 indentured Indians working in nine coal mines in and around Newcastle had joined the strike.40
Gandhi, together with Kallenbach and Polak, visited the areas to speak to the passive resisters. He also met representatives of coal, sugar, and agriculture in Durban and assured them that the passive resisters would return to work if the government promised to repeal the ₤3 tax. “It is not the intention to ask them to join the general struggle at all,” he said. There were other issues, so that even if the tax were repealed, the campaign would continue. He said that they did not intend African workers to join them. "We do not believe in such methods." He denied that any intimidation was used against non-strikers.41
By the middle of November over 5000 Indians were on strike, about one-fifth of whom were women and children. Organizations such as the NIA called upon the government to honor the promise it had made in 1912 to Gokhale to repeal the ₤3 tax. Smuts denied that he had given any such pledge. The Union government had indeed increased Natal’s subsidy in 1913 by ₤10,000 to compensate for the possible repeal of the tax, but there was substantial opposition to its blanket repeal among groups that used indentured labor.42
The NIA distributed food with some difficulty in the face of hostile employers and the corps of special police called essentially to force the strikers back to work. As the strike spread to other parts of Natal, incidents between strikers and the police increased.43 NIA members and sympathizers in Durban like Bhana Parshotam, Odhav Kanjee, Sorabjee Rustomjee, T.J. Sandhvi, Odhav Ragha, Parshotam Patel, M.M. Diwan, and J.M. Lazarus collected money and provisions and often went to the estates to speak to the strikers. Indians in Pietermaritzburg raised money. Support also came from Johannesburg's Hindus, Pretoria's dhobis, and from others in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Cradock, and Volkstroom.44
Beside Anglia and Osman there were, however, other Indians who were opposed to the strike. Many of them believed that Gandhi's strategy was bound to create ill feelings among the Whites. All of them supported the repeal of the ₤3 tax, but stressed different reasons for their opposition to the strike. Aiyar called it disrespectful and disloyal to the king. African Chronicle reported violent action by strikers such as the burning of cane. After the appointment of a commission was announced, Aiyar wrote, “While we are one with him [Gandhi] in our demands for respecting Indian sentiments…we have reason to believe that the Indian community could have achieved this object long ago, if he had adopted an attitude milder than that which he has now adopted.” Gandhi, Aiyar felt, surely saw his mistake after the death of some strikers. Aiyar hoped that Gandhi would give their families money from the funds he received from India.45
Others like Bernard Gabriel and K.R. Nayanah were not only peeved that Gandhi should have upstaged them on the tax issue, but seemed to imply that Gandhi had an ulterior motive. How was it, asked Gabriel, that the tax was taking up so much of his time when he had paid no attention to the ₤3 Tax Committee when it was first created?46 "The fact is," said Nayanah, "that during the last twenty years of Mr. Gandhi's political career in this country, I am not aware of any systematic and organized effort made by him to give due prominence to the question of this ₤3 tax." When the African Chronicle started this movement, Gandhi did not raise "a single finger to help," he stated.47 John L. Roberts simply thought of passive resistance to be a "Hydra-headed blunder" that would have serious consequences.48 Leo R. Gopaul argued that the strike was neither justified nor spontaneous. But he expressed qualified support for Gandhi. Gopaul's assessment was that Gandhi was "an acute observer, but a poor reasoner." He continued, "Singly, he will be dangerous, but in conjunction with others, he will do immense good. We therefore want another leader to work with Mr. Gandhi."49 Did any of them encourage the strikers to return to work? Gabriel, Nayanah, Aiyar, and S.R. Pather did go to Verulam to speak to the strikers, but it is not clear from the reports what their intentions were.50
Whites who lived in constant dread of an African uprising, disapproved of the campaign because it had set a “bad example.” The labor shortage caused by the strike prompted the Natal Sugar Association to request the help of the Chief Native Commissioner in securing African replacements. The association believed that the “moral effect upon the Indians would be enormous and would do much towards breaking the present strike.” It also hoped that African laborers would be available to the planters on a permanent basis.51 A leading planter like Marshall Campbell opposed the ₤3 tax but disapproved of Gandhi’s action. He said that agents had provoked violence even if Gandhi did not approve of it and that Gandhi had lost control of the movement. As he wrote to Gandhi, "... many of those you lead are realizing the weakness of your policy more and more everyday..." He described indentured Indians as "contented but ignorant." Gandhi's "high words and false hope [were] incapable of realization."52
By the end of November 1913, the strike had spread to the north and south coasts of Natal. Durban Corporation and Railway workers downed tools while hundreds of Indians at the South African Refineries, Hulett's Refinery, Chemical Works, Wright's Cement and Pottery Works, and African Boating joined. Laundrymen, hospital, and bakery workers stopped working. Even Indian bars closed. Extra police were brought in from Johannesburg and Pretoria essentially to break the strike. Confrontations occurred between the authorities and strikers. Indeed, there were several serious instances when sporadic violence caused death and injury. At Mt. Edgecombe, four Indians were killed and two were seriously wounded; at Umzinto, two Indians were shot dead, and among those injured nine required hospitalization; at Reunion, Indians were severely beaten. Arrests and detentions did not seem to deter the strikers.
Over 16,000 indentured Indians working for sixty-six employers had gone on strike.53 Newspaper reports rarely probed working conditions that underpinned the action of such a large numbers of laborers. Rather they opted for anecdotal stories that focused on how a “rajah” had instructed the strikers to do so, and that the tax was not really the main cause of their action. Some believed that Gokhale would send a regiment to defend the strikers; others addressed Gandhi as rajah, Kasturbai as rani, and their sons as princes. Those strikers who came to Phoenix Settlement called it Gandhi Baba=s home. There was a cultural and religious dimension to their reactions. Those who marched with Gandhi from Newcastle to Charlestown used religious slogans such as, “Dwarakanath ki jai,” “Ramchandra ki jai,” and “Vande Materam.” Many sang bhajans as they marched.54
The condition of work under which indentured Indians labored became generalized into grievances. If they responded to Gandhi’s call to strike, it was because they saw the ₤3 tax as part of the same set of grievances they felt against employers who were seen to be working closely with the government. There are numerous instances of complaints by indentured Indians against their employers. The Indian immigration files in the Natal Archives Repository contain case after case from the 1880s to the 1900s about abuse by overbearing Indian sirdars or owners, overwork, inadequate rations, Sunday work, withheld wages, and late payment, to mention a few.
Indentured workers found it difficult to lodge complaints. They could not easily come forward with complaints in the presence of the employer when the Protector or his deputy made their regular visits of the estates. The Indians required passes to leave the estates to make complaints to the Protector, and in many cases they simply left without permission. But in doing so, they violated the law and were prosecuted. Requests for transfer to other employers were generally refused except in special cases where the punishment was cruel and unusual.55 This must account for the large number of desertions. On the other hand, there are many letters by owners who requested transfers and even deportations of Indians who were “troublesome.”
Conditions for indentured workers in the coal mines were particularly hard. Over 2500 worked in six of the main coal mines in 1908 and 1909. Those infected with pthisis—and 95 per cent came from the coal mines—were repatriated.56 Indians complained about the tedious nature of the work, besides having to do excessive amounts of it even over the weekend. They disliked “golvan” (underground) work.57 Subbaraya Mudaly, aged 18, committed suicide in August 1909 when forced to do underground work.58
There is sufficient evidence to suggest that Indians acted individually and collectively to improve their lot. Whatever the nature of their political awareness, they defended their self-interests.59 There are many documents that show that despite all the obstacles, they were able to make their voices heard. They banded together to create communities for social and religious interactions. We know of numerous pools that were formed, known as the “chitti,” to share among them its benefits even if their earnings were modest. Sometimes Indians who wanted to return to India sought the advice of the Protector. In cases involving marriages, they took the initiative in finding out circumstances under which the union of two individuals could take place, or as was also the case, when marriages should be annulled in an abusive relationship. Indentured Indians showed leadership and judgment in many such informal occasions.
There are also many formal instances when Indians exercised leadership to confront owners about their rights. They knew enough about the systems to do so. Such was the case when five individuals emerged as ringleaders on the Reunion Estate in October 1910. Their employer Reuben A. Swales wanted them transferred.60 In another case, forty-two men and three women marched to Durban to complain against H. Lavoipierre of Bellamonte estate. The five “ringleaders” were Nagadu, Byagadu, Nayayen, Runga Pillay, and Lutchman.61
Gandhi had not anticipated the overwhelming response to his call for strike, and his close associates could not keep control of such large numbers of strikers. The NIA responded as best it could with rations and the like, but it really had no access to the strikers or those who were their immediate leaders. Eight of them—I.A.H. Moosa, Addool Haq Kazi, S. Emamally, J.M. Lazarus, M.B. Lazarus, Sorabjee Rustomjee, Arjoon Singh, A. Christopher, R. Bhugwan, C.V. Pillay, and Thumbi Naidoo—were charged for inciting violence. In their letter of November 25, 1913, to the attorney general in Pietermaritzburg, they pointed to the police’s refusal to allow them perusal of the affidavits. By December 1913, the attorney general had decided to drop charges against them since by then Gandhi, Polak, and Kallenbach had already been released. Charges against the NIA’s C.R. Naidu were also dropped.62
The commission that investigated the strike focused on "ringleaders" who were generally seen as the culprits by employers and police alike. Beyond the NIA members who were politically motivated and thus likely had some information about the conditions of work, there were others who came primarily from among indentured Indians.63 The attorney general in Natal wrote to public prosecutors in Durban, Verulam, Stanger, Umzinto, Port Shepstone, Greytown, Camperdown, New Hanover, Mtunzini, and Empangeni in November 1913 requesting them to take steps “to ascertain who the ringleaders [were] and have them arrested.”64 One such individual arrested was Peter Jackson at the Elands Laagte Collieries near Ladysmith. When the resident magistrate learned that he had been supported by about 1300 strikers, he thought it prudent to drop the charges since his prosecution could lead to "bloodshed.”65 The Pietermaritzburg corporation workers were organized by headman Gunpat Singh.66
Events at the Ballengeich Colliery compound near Estcourt offer insights into how free and indentured Indians collaborated. Some 195 Indians were involved, most of whom were apparently free. From the various depositions filed, it seems that Indians were determined to take part in the strike over the ₤3 tax. They proceeded to the Transvaal but were brought back to be confined in a make-shift jail. When the Indians were told they would serve for six months in the mine as part of their jail sentence, they rebelled. They disliked having to spend time behind the barbed wire they saw before them. Instead, they chose to leave for the Newcastle jail. As Sayed Batsha said in his deposition, they were being fenced in just like the “Bambatta Natives.” An altercation broke out. White managers, African constables, Wartskis butchers, and others attacked the Indians with knobkerries, sjamboks, rifle butts, and even fired with their guns in the air in effort to drive them back into the compound. Eight of the Indians were bundled into a separate room where one or more attackers assaulted them and taunted them for having followed Gandhi. The next day all the dissidents were tried in the Estcourt courts and found guilty, and sentenced to six months jail or ₤5 fine. In a separate incident, one Nagadu died on November 17 after being assaulted.67
In another strike-related incident, Madhar Sahib, an indentured Indian, was severely assaulted by Robert Johnson at the South African Colliery on November 11. It was not merely his absence from work that triggered the abuse; he was thought to be involved in the strike since he was accused of intimidating the workers. But the attorney general filed no charges against him.68 At Reunion Estate, eleven Indians were charged with “unlawfully gathering to disturb the public peace and security of or to interfere with the rights” to cause a riot by using sticks and other blunt instruments. They were all freed because they had no weapons on them before they assembled, and there was some hesitancy to re-indict them.69
A batch of Noodsberg Indians came to Tongaat and insisted on being allowed to proceed to Durban to see Gandhi or the Protector in December 1913. When they were ordered to return, the women put their babies in front of the horses, and they themselves lay down on the ground. The police tried to disarm them, but they defended themselves by using sticks and by lining up back-to-back. Nobody was seriously hurt.70 Two "recalcitrant" Indians were turned over to the Protector for deportation. At Hawksworth Estate near Esperanza, a solicitor’s clerk was accused of having incited Indians, and another described as an "absolute fanatic" had worked 400 persons into a "howling mob." At Blackburn Estate on the North Coast 12 Indian "ringleaders" were arrested, some of them with wounds. In Avoca, “ringleaders” destroyed or seized milk and vegetables that non-striking Indians were selling.71
Gandhi’s decision to open another front was intended to take some control over the movement. He had access to hundreds of indentured Indians who had walked away from their jobs. If, therefore, he could use them under his supervision, he might have some leverage in dealing with the government. He had already organized a party of sixteen in September 1913 to cross illegally into the Transvaal. In November he decided to implement this idea on a grand scale for it was sure, he thought, to capture the government's attention. Besides, he was afraid that the strike might collapse, as he wrote to Kallenbach on October 23, 1913. He decided to take about 2000 of the strikers across the Natal border into the Transvaal. It was a daring idea, brilliant in its conception, and creative in its implementation. As Parel says, this padayatra, “slow motion by foot,” was an effective way to raise consciousness and build unity. In India, it would be used in nation-building.72
The plan was to take the marchers into the Transvaal through Charleston and thus invite arrest. The march was divided into eighteen stages from November 6 to 13. In the event that they were not arrested, they planned to walk to Tolstoy Farm near Johannesburg at the rate of twenty to twenty-five miles a day. The government had no desire to ease the organizational problems that Gandhi faced, nor did it wish to make martyrs of the marching passive resisters. It was rather hoping that the movement would falter before arrests became necessary.
The organizers had a difficult time controlling, feeding, and otherwise managing large numbers of men, women, and children on the move. Gandhi had the support of people like Kallenbach, Thambi Naidoo, P.K. Naidoo, Polak, and others. The cost was ₤250 a day. The daily ration of bread and sugar needed to be provided; and even though many Indians en route helped, local funds were not adequate to cover the expenses. Much as Gandhi had hoped otherwise, the funds had to come from India. Close to ₤1500 was received by December 1913, the largest donation of ₤660 coming from the Aga Khan.73
The details of the dramatic march are given by Gandhi in his Satyagraha in South Africa and by Kallenbach in his diary. It was not until November 10 that the government decided to arrest the marchers by which time they had reached Balfour, some fifty miles from Johannesburg, or about seventy miles from their final destination, Tolstoy Farm in Lawley. They were placed on three special trains and deported to Natal. Meanwhile, Gandhi was sentenced in Dundee on November 11 to nine months' jail with hard labor. From Dundee, he was taken to Volksrust on November 13 to face the charge of aiding and abetting prohibited persons from entering the Transvaal. In the next few days, Gandhi, Kallenbach, and Polak were all found guilty and sentenced to three months' jail in the Volksrust prison.74
As the authorities in Natal dealt with leading NIA members and other supporters of the strike, there were signs by the end of November that the strike was coming to an end. Some were charged with inciting violence and others with desertion. Since employers did not continue to provide rations for the strikers, this too must have been a factor in spite of the action taken by the NIA to step into the breach. Newspaper accounts reported indentured Indians in almost all sectors returning to work.75
As Gandhi had expected, the increased tempo of the passive resistance campaign was bound to attract the attention of India. Viceroy Harding expressed strong support for the movement in a speech he made in Chennai on November 26, 1913. Gokhale who had just returned from England got busy organizing another round of meetings and collecting money for the passive resisters. He was responsible for sending Charles Andrews and W.W. Pearson who traveled to major South African towns and cities to appear at many public meetings and churches and to talk to many influential Whites. The INC, meeting at Karachi on December 26, strongly objected to the treatment of Indians in South Africa. London newspapers talked about government blunders that had put the empire at risk.76
The government responded to these pressures by announcing the appointment of a commission. Even though Gandhi, who was in jail at the time, found two of the three commissioners unacceptable because of their known anti-Indian bias, he believed that the government had shown sufficient good faith.77 He deemed the government’s regular communication with him as being “consultation.” But Gandhi did not back down from his demand for the removal of two commissioners after he and the other passive resisters were released unconditionally. Indians repeated their demands at an NIA meeting in Durban attended by 6000 to 7000, and endorsed Gandhi’s decision to boycott the commission.78
In an interview Gandhi gave to Pretoria News on January 9, 1914, he said that he did not want to take advantage of the trouble that the government was then facing with a general railway strike. In his letter to the secretary of the Interior Minister, he virtually outlined what was to become the settlement five months later. He agreed that the passive resisters would forgo filing lawsuits; that all passive resisters would be released in due course; that the ₤3 tax would be repealed; that the marriage question would be fixed legislatively; that the Cape entry issue would be settled by administrative relief; that there would be verbal assurances with regard to the OFS restrictions; and, finally, that there would be a just administration of laws toward Indians. Gandhi explained his conditional agreement at an NIA mass meeting in Durban on January 25, 1914, at which 3000 were present.79
Meanwhile, Sir Benjamin Robertson, Chief Commissioner for the Central Provinces in India, was specially sent by the Viceroy to speak to the commission. The importance of the testimony was not what he said—it was ambivalent and paternalistic—but that he spoke with the authority of the Government of India.80 While the NIA boycotted the commission, the NIC resolved at its meeting on January 28, 1914, to appear before it. This meeting was not without procedural difficulties. Sixty-nine individuals later claimed that the majority was against testifying.81 Others also denounced the NIC decision.82
In any event, Anglia and Osman, who appeared before the commission for the NIC argued for polygamous marriages in addition to raising immigration and license issues. Indian Opinion said that their testimonies had “done harm” to the community by setting limits to Indian demands. They should have consulted a “reliable lawyer” before presenting their material. It was thankful that the two had refrained from “washing the dirty linen of the community” in public, but on whose behalf had Anglia spoken? Anglia reacted angrily to the comment about his testimony, and challenged Indian Opinion to reproduce in Gujarati his entire testimony. The editor promised to do this, but it was not published. S.B. Sooker also spoke, but he was “carried away by his pride” according to Indian Opinion. He had named individuals who would give evidence about ill treatment by employers; and as for P.S. Aiyar, Indian Opinion commented: “What can we say? He has given evidence without thinking,” and he only spoke for himself. Aiyar himself had a different take and reproduced his entire testimony in African Chronicle.83 The commission contacted at least one person, namely D. Lazarus, requesting his help to identify witnesses named by Sooker, but he declined to assist.84
The commission produced a thirty-eight-page report in March 1914, which highlighted disturbances at Mount Edgecombe and Esperanza estates. Four Indians were killed at the first, and two at the second. In both instances, the commission cleared the police of any wrong-doing, even though Indians claimed that they had acted under severe provocation. At La Mercy estate near Verulam, three Indians were injured after African constables attacked them with knobkerries. The commission recommended the repeal of the ₤3 tax, and changes in the law to allow for the legitimacy of marriages celebrated according to Muslim or Hindu rites.85 Gandhi was pleased generally. He had been preparing Indians not to overreach since they could “eat” only according to their capacity, that is, that they should not ask for anything for which they would not be able to mount a campaign. Be patient, he had said a month before the report was published, because the opportunity of the future would “far exceed the present one.”86 Most of the English newspapers were positive about the recommendations by the commission, and were glad to see that it offered an opportunity to end the campaign. The Natal Agricultural Union, on the other hand, was opposed to the repeal of the ₤3 tax.87 Meanwhile, Indian strikers were charged with unlawfully striking, and official inquiries were instituted in instances where death had occurred. These trials highlighted how brutally the indentured system operated.88
The commission’s report culminated in the Indian Relief Act. On the marriage question, it restored the status before the Searle judgment; it repealed the ₤3 tax; and validated domicile certificates in Natal. In addition, the Act provided for free passage to any Indian who was willing to renounce all claim to domicile in South Africa. The Natal government had used the tax to ensure indirectly the return of Indians who terminated their indentures. The free passage provision was similarly aimed at securing the repatriation of those Indians who selected it. As far as Gandhi was concerned, the goals he had set out for himself had been reached. He refused to allow the Gold Law, location trading restrictions, trade license difficulties, inter-provincial travel restrictions, and restrictions on ownership of land as part of the campaign. These outstanding matters, he said, would require “further and sympathetic consideration by the Government” some day in the future. The settlement was agreed to, and for Gandhi eight years of struggle had “finally closed.”89 In his farewell, Gandhi advised Indians not to succumb to provincialism. “All ideas of high and low which divide men into Brahmans, Kshtriyas, Vaishhyas, and Sudras should be abandoned.” Get rid of dirty ways, cease gold smuggling, drop addiction to alcohol, and stop calling indentured Indians “colcha.”90
But there were critics. Indian Views, established by Anglia and others in 1914, called the settlement “farcical” and questioned Gandhi’s claim to be speaking for all Indians. They pointed to the large numbers who opposed passive resistance, and they reproduced the names of people who sent telegrams opposing the settlement. Its July 24, 1914, issue stated that the one lesson that Indians could learn from Gandhi’s twenty-one years was to resolve issues “in a calm and constitutional manner and not to resort to passive resistance, strikes and other cut-your-nose-off-to-spite-your-face method.” It referred to the NIA as a “relic of Gandhism.”91
In March, after the settlement was announced, Aiyar commented, “…Gandhi can boast as much as he pleases about his achievements, and the blunt truth of the matter is that others made a case for him while his crew condemned, vilified, and victimised these very same people, simply because they won’t pay homage to his saintly honour, and blow trumpet for Mr. Gandhi’s glorification.”92 After the Indian Relief Act was passed, Aiyar derided Gandhi’s role in an imaginary dialogue. He accused Gandhi of being arrogant and a false patriot who did not interest himself in the welfare of the people. Gandhi was quick to attribute failure to the government, according to Aiyar, a "slippery customer" who “unblushingly” called the settlement a Magna Charta when it was simply a “farce”. Gandhi said that only a “minority” opposed the settlement. Aiyar commented bitterly that the “minority” did not get money from India, or organize crowds for shouting down opponents, or have the support of the "Junta” at Field Street.93
H.O. Ally who had accompanied Gandhi to London in 1906 was the severest of his critics. The Rand Daily Mail reported a meeting of Muslims who were concerned about a variety of issues: on whose authority had Gandhi acted in signing the settlement? What had Indians gained in the previous eight years? Why had he taken money set aside for a hospital during the plague scare in Johannesburg? Gandhi replied to each of the points raised by his critics. He had acted on behalf of all Indians; he believed that Indians had made definite gains, most particularly in the respect that they had won; and he had taken money in 1904 that was due to him for his legal services. He had hoped to use the money to train himself as a doctor in England.
Early in 1914, HIS had indeed written to Sir Benjamin Robertson saying that the Indians wanted, among other things, the removal of travel restrictions, a privilege then enjoyed by the “Cape Coloureds, the Kaffirs, and the Hottentots,” property rights, and township trading.94 HIS had taken a resolution at a meeting in March 1914 at which it declared that “Messrs Gandhi, Polak and their associates [had] no right or authority to act for the Muslim community or any matter concerning them.” V.M. Khamissa’s tone was communal: since Gandhi was a Hindu, he had no business interfering in Muslim matters.95
At a meeting called by HIS in Johannesburg, Gandhi responded to some of the charges leveled against him. He said he had given full accounting to the BIA of the Anti-Indian Law Fund, the Passive Resistance Fund, and funds from Mumbai. Ally persisted in his criticism. How could Gandhi call it a final settlement when there were "certain disabilities and grievances that were killing the people,” he wanted to know. Gokhale had not forbidden anyone to submit evidence to the commission, he continued; instead Gandhi spent ₤200 sending a long cable to Gokhale in Mumbai about the need to honor the oath to proceed with passive resistance until all contested issues were settled. Had Gandhi bound Muslims to only one wife? If so, this was a violation of law of God. Gandhi should have called a public meeting before talking about “an honorable settlement.” Had not Gandhi said in 1909 that he would continue until all the children were free? How could he claim to be speaking for all when HIS and the Hamdard Society had passed a resolution on March 31, 1914, insisting that he and his friends had no authority to act for them. Habib Motan raised a question about ₤1200 Gandhi had taken for Indian Opinion. These questions showed how serious the disagreement was between Gandhi and some of the Indians.96