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

 

42. Resumption of Satyagraha

The Indians had registered voluntarily. The Government were, therefore, on their part to repeal the Black Act. But instead of repealing the Black Act, General Smuts maintained the Black Act on the statute book and introduced into the legislature a measure, ‘making further provision for the registration of Asiatics’: I was shocked when I read the Bill. An ‘Ultimatum’ was sent to the Government by the Satyagrahis. It said in effect, ”If the Asiatic Act is not repealed, the certificates collected by the Indians would be burnt, and they would humbly but firmly take the consequences.” A meeting had been called to perform the public ceremony of burning the certificates. As the business of the meeting was about to commence, a volunteer arrived on a cycle with a telegram from the Government in which they regretted the determination of the Indian community and announced their inability to change their line of action. The telegram was read to the audience which received it with cheers, as if they were glad that the auspicious opportunity of burning the certificates did not after all slip out of their hands.

Mir Alam too was present at this meeting. He announced that he had done wrong to assault me as he did, and to the great joy of the audience, handed his original certificate to be burnt, as he had not taken a voluntary certificate. I took hold of his hand, pressed it with joy, and assured him once more that I had never had in my mind any resentment against him. The Committee had already received upwards of 2,000 certificates to be burnt. These were all thrown into the fire, soaked with kerosene oil and set ablaze by Mr. Yusuf Mian. The whole assembly rose to their feet and made the place resound with the echoes of their continuous cheers during the burning process. Some of those who had still withheld their certificates brought them in numbers to the platform, and these too were thrown to the flames. The reporters of English newspapers present at the meeting were profoundly impressed with the whole scene and gave vivid descriptions of the meeting in their papers.

During the same year in which the Black Act was passed General Smuts carried through the Legislature another Bill called the Transvaal Immigrants Restriction Bill. This Act indirectly prevented the entry of a single Indian newcomer into the Transvaal.

It was absolutely essential for the Indians to resist this fresh inroad on their rights. Several Satyagrahis therefore deliberately entered the Transvaal and were imprisoned. I too was arrested again. Gokhale came to South Africa in October 1912 to mediate between the Satyagrahis and the Government. General Botha, according to Gokhale, promised him that the Black Act would be repealed in a year and the £ 3 tax abolished. But this was not done. I wrote to Gokhale about the breach of the pledge and set about making preparations for the ensuing campaign.

Till now we had dissuaded women from courting imprisonment. But at this time judgement was passed by the South African Government which made invalid all marriages that had not been celebrated according to Christian rites and registered by the Registrar of Marriages. Thus at a stroke of the pen all marriages celebrated according to Hindu, Mussalman and Zoroastrian rites became illegal, and the wives concerned were degraded to the rank of concubines and their children deprived of the right to inherit property. This was an unbearable situation for women no less than men.

Patience was impossible in the place of this insult offered to our womanhood. We decided to offer stubborn Satyagraha irrespective of the number of fighters. Not only could the women now be not prevented from joining the struggle, but we decided even to invite them to come into line along with the men.

The women’s imprisonment worked like a charm upon the labourers on the mines near Newcastle who downed their tools and entered the city in succeeding batches. As soon as I received the news, I left Phoenix for Newcastle. The labourers were not to be counted by tens but by hundreds. And their number might easily swell into thousands. How was I to house and feed this ever growing multitude? There was a huge gathering of men, which was continuously increasing. It was a dangerous if not an impossible task to keep them in one place and look after them while they had no employment. I thought out a solution of my problem. I must take this ‘army’ to the Transvaal and see them safely deposited in jail. The strength of the ‘army’ was about five thousand.