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142. An Early Example of Bapu's Ahimsa

Mahatma Gandhi set a shining example of Ahimsa to the public world when in 1897 he refused, to prosecute his assailants among the whites of South Africa who had mobbed him and brutally assaulted him in Durban. The story of the assault has been narrated by himself in the following manner :

"A mob followed us. With every step we advanced, it grew larger and larger. The gathering was enormous when we reached West Street. A man of powerful build took hold of Mr. Laughton and tore him away from me. He was not therefore in a position to come up with me. The .crowd began to abuse me and. shower upon me stones and whatever else they could lay their hands on. They, threw down my turban. Meanwhile a burly fellow came up. to me, slapped me in the face and then kicked me. I was about to fall down unconscious when I held on to the railings of a house nearby. I took breath for a while and when the fainting was over proceeded on my way. I had almost given up the hope of reaching home alive. But I remember well that even then my heart did not arraign my assailants...."

On Mr. Escombe, Attorney-General with the Government of Natal, telling Gandhiji, "We desire that the offend­ers should be brought to book. Can you identify any of your assailants ?" Gandhiji replied : "I might perhaps be able to identify one or two of them. But I must say at once before this conversation proceeds that I have already made up my mind not to prosecute my assailants. I cannot see that they are at fault. What information they had they had obtained from their leaders. It is too much to expect them to judge whether it was correct or otherwise. If all that they heard about me was true, it was natural for them to be excited and do something wrong in a fit of indignation. I would not blame them for it. Excited crowds have always tried to deal out justice in that manner. If anyone is to blame it is the Committee of Whites, you yourself and, therefore, the Government of Natal. Renter might have cabled any distorted account. But when you knew that I was coming to Natal, it was your duty and the duty of the Committee to question me about the suspicions you enter­tained with regard to my activities in India, to hear what I had to say and then do what might appear proper in the circumstances. Now I cannot prosecute you or the Com­mittee for the assault. And even if I could, I would not seek redress in a court of law. You took such steps as seemed advisable to you for safeguarding the interests of the whites of Natal. That is a political matter, and it remains for me to fight with you in the political field to convince you and the whites that the Indians who constitute a large proportion of the population of the. British Empire wish to preserve their self-respect and safeguard their rights without injuring the whites in the least."