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STUDENTS' PROJECTS > THE STORY OF MY LIFE > PART VIII : IN SOUTH AFRICA AGAIN > Assault

 

41. Assault

A couple of Pathans were angry with me for consenting to the giving of finger-prints. It had been agreed that the leaders should be the first to take out certificates on the first day. When I reached my office, which was also the office of the Satyagraha Association, I found Mir Alam, a Pathan, and his companions standing outside the premises. Mir Alam was an old client of mine, and used to seek my advice in all his affairs. He was fully six feet in height and of a large and powerful build. Today for the first time I saw Mir Alam outside my office instead of inside it, and although his eyes met mine, he for the first time did not salute me. I saluted him and he saluted me in return. But he did not today wear his usual smile. I noticed his angry eyes and took a mental note of the fact. I thought that something was going to happen. The Chairman, Mr. Yusuf Mian and other friends arrived, and we set out for the Asiatic Office; Mir Alam and his companions followed us.

As we were not more than three minutes’ walk from the Registration Office, Mir Alam came up to me and asked me, “Where are you going ?”

“I propose to take out a certificate of registration, giving the ten finger-prints.” I replied. “If you will go with me, I will first get you a certificate with an impression only of the two thumbs, and then I will take one for myself, giving the finger-prints.” I had scarcely finished the last sentence when a heavy cudgel blow descended on my head from behind. I at once fainted with the words He Rama (O God !) on my lips, lay flat on the ground and had no notion of what followed. But Mir Alam and his companions gave me more blows and kicks, some of which were warded off by Yusuf Mian and Thambi Naidoo with the result that they too were beaten in their turn. The noise attracted some European passers-by to the scene. Mir Alam and his companions fled but were caught by the Europeans. The police arrived in the meanwhile and took them away. I was picked up and carried into Mr. J. C. Gibson's private office. When I regained consciousness, I saw Mr. Doke bending over me. “How do you feel ?” he asked me.
“I am all right,” I replied, “but there is pain in the teeth and the ribs. Where is Mir Alam ?”

“He has been arrested along with the rest.”

“They should be released.”

“That is all very well. But here you are in a stranger's office with your lip and cheek badly torn. The police are ready to take you to the hospital, but if you will go to my place, Mrs. Doke and I will look after you as best we can.” “Yes, please take me to your place. Thank the police for their offer but tell them that I prefer to go with you.” Mr. Chamney, the Registrar of Asiatic, too now arrived on the scene. I was taken in a carriage to this good clergy-man's residence in Smit Street and a doctor was called in. Meanwhile I said to Mr. Chamney : “I wished to come to your office, give ten finger-prints and take out the first certificate of registration, but God willed it otherwise. However I have now to request you to bring the papers and allow me to register at once. I hope that you will not let anyone else register before me.” “Where is the hurry about it ?”

asked Mr. Chamney. “The doctor will be here soon. You please rest yourself and all will be well. I will issue certificate to others but keep your name at the head of the list.” “Not so,” I replied. “I am pledged to take out the first certificate if I am alive and if it is acceptable to God. It is therefore that I insist upon the papers being brought here and now.”

Upon this Mr. Chamney went away to bring the papers. The second thing for me to do was to write to the Attorney-General that I did not hold Mir Alam and others guilty for the assault committed upon me, that in any case I did not wish them to be prosecuted and that I hoped they would be let off for my sake. But the Europeans of Johannesburg addressed a strong letter to the Attorney General saying that whatever views Gandhi might hold as regards the punishment of criminals, they could not be given effect to in South Africa. Gandhi himself might not take any steps, but the assault was committed not in a private place but on the high roads and was therefore public offence. Several Englishmen too were in a position to tender evidence and the offenders must be prosecuted. Upon this the Attorney-General rearrested Mir Alam and one of his companions who were sentenced to three months' hard labour. Only I was not summoned as a witness. I addressed a short note as follows to the community through the Chairman and sent it for publication :

“I am well in the brotherly and sisterly hands of Mr. and Mrs. Doke. I hope to take up my duty shortly.

“Those who have committed the act did not know what they were doing. They thought that I was doing what was wrong. They have had their revenge in the only manner they know. I therefore request that no steps be taken against them.”

Mr. Chamney returned with the papers and I gave my finger-prints but not without pain. I then saw that tears stood in Mr. Chamney's eyes. I had often to write bitterly against him, but this showed me how man's heart may be softened by events.