38. Backlash from a Friend

A Pathan named Mir Alam used to live in Africa. He used to make and sell mattresses for a livelihood.

He knew Gandhiji. He respected Gandhiji and sought his advice when needed. When Gandhiji started Satyagraha movement in South Africa, he took part in it.

Once it so happened, that Gandhiji and many other Indians were sent to jail for taking part in this movement. After some time the government and the satyagrahis agreed to compromise. There were many who did not like this. Mir Alam too did not prefer this. He was quite angry with Gandhiji.

There was a very inhuman and insulting rule in that country. Our people had to seek permission of the government to stay there and had to register their fingerprints. They also had to carry them wherever they went.

Anyone who did not carry those prints was punished. Such was the law. The Indian there had launched satyagraha against this law. The compromise offered these people an option. It said that, those who were willing to have the fingerprints registered at their will, could do so; those who did not want could be excused.

The satyagraha was successful and Gandhiji was released from jail. The other satyagrahis were also released. A meeting was called to celebrate the success.

During the meeting Mir Alam stood up and said, "How can we call it a success? In any case we will have to seek the permission to stay!"

Gandhiji tried to explain, "People who don't wish to do so would be excused. You don't have to go for it."

"And what about you?" he asked.

"I will be the first one to do so and I will have the fingerprints taken" Gandhiji said.

"People have a doubt that you were bribed by the government," he said.

Gandhiji said, "No one will believe it."

"It's all right but now I take an oath that I will kill the person whoever goes to seek the permission."

Gandhiji said, "I would happily die at the hands of a friend but in no case I would leave the path of truth."

Three months passed by after this incident. The date for seeking the permission was fixed. Gandhiji and other leaders decided to go there ahead of others.

Mir Alam had not forgotten his oath. He thought, "I will see how does he seek the permission!" Then taking a few friends along with him he blocked the road.

The Pathans did not greet Gandhiji when he came there so he greeted them. He asked Mir Alam, "How do you do?"

"I am fine!" he replied angrily.

On scheduled time the group started out to seek the permission. Mir Alam and his friends followed them. When the office was at a short distance, Mir Alam came to Gandhiji and asked, "Where are you going?"

"To register my fingerprints and get the permission. You too can come along if you wish. Although you need not have your fingerprints registered."

Gandhiji was about to finish his sentence when someone struck his head with a stick. Gandhiji lost consciousness at the very first stroke but the Pathans kept on beating him.

The other leaders accompanying Gandhiji tried to save him but they were also beaten up by the Pathans.

The Pathans tried to run away after beating these people but the people around caught them and handed them over to the police.

Gandhiji was unconscious when people carried him to a neighbouring house. There they treated him for the wounds. His lips had ruptured, the teeth were shaken and his ribs were aching.

When he regained consciousness, the first thing Gandhiji asked was, "Where is Mir Alam?"

The people taking care of him asked him to rest and told that the police had caught him and his friends.

He said, "No, no! I must get them out!" Then he wrote a letter to the senior Police officer that he did not wish that his Pathan friends be punished and requested him to release them.

Accepting this request the police released them. But many Britishers objected to it so they had to arrest them again.  Then they were sentenced to six months of custody.

Gandhiji lost his front teeth because of this beating. The gap is like an adornment to his face, which he received for his truthfulness. This gift from a friend was received lovingly.