22. Before the Court in 1913

[Editor's Note: While Gandhiji was leading a deputation to England, another deputation led by Mr. Polak came to India to press the question of the repeal of the £3 tax. Then followed an agitation in England and India in 1910-12 which compelled attention of the authorities. Mr. Gokhale subsequently visited South Africa and made special representation to the Union Ministers on this particular question and a definite undertaking was given to him that the tax would be repealed. For a time it appeared that settlement was possible. But General Smuts again evaded and the tension became more when in 1913 a measure was introduced into the Union Parliament exempting women only from its operation. Gandhiji wired to Mr. Gokhale asking whether the promise of repeal was limited to women only. Mr. Gokhale replied that it applied to all who were affected by the tax. Gandhiji reminded the Union Government of the promise and asked for a definite undertaking to repeal it in 1914. The Union Government declined. It was then that Gandhiji organized the great movement advising indentured Indians to suspend work till the tax was repealed. Under his lead the Indian labourers gathered in thousands and they passed mine after mine adding to their numbers. Then commenced the historic march into the Transvaal allowing themselves to be freely arrested. The Government hoping to demoralize the Indians issued a warrant to arrest Gandhiji. The following account of the proceedings in Court is taken from the Indian Opinion.]

Mr. Gandhi was on the 11th November 1913 charged on three counts before the Resident Magistrate, Mr. J. W. Cross, of Dundee, with inducing indentured immigrants to leave the Province. The Court was crowded with Indians and Europeans. Mr. W. Daizell- Turnbell was specially instructed by the Attorney- General to appear for the prosecution and Mr. J. W. Godfrey, Advocate appeared for Mr. Gandhi. Mr. Gandhi pleaded guilty to the charges.
Mr. Turnbell read the section and left the matter in the hands of the Magistrate.
Mr. Godfrey stated that he was under an obligation to the defendant not to plead in mitigation in any way whatsoever. The circumstances which had brought Mr. Gandhi before the Magistrate were well known to all persons, and he was only expressing the desire of the defendant when he stated that the Magistrate had a duty to perform and that he was expected to perform that duty fearlessly and should therefore not hesitate to impose the highest sentence upon the prisoner if he felt that the circumstances in the case justified it.
Mr. Gandhi obtained the permission of the Court and made the following statement :
"As a member of the profession and being an old resident of Natal, he thought that, in justice to himself and the public, he should state that the counts against him were of such a nature that he took the responsibility imposed upon him, for he believed that the demonstration for which these people were taken out of the Colony was one for a worthy object. He felt that he should say that he had nothing against the employers and regretted that in this campaign serious losses were being caused to them. He appealed to the employers also, and he felt that the tax was one which was heavily weighing down his countrymen and should be removed. He also felt that he was in honour bound, in view of the position of things between Mr. Smuts and Professor Gokhale, to produce a striking demonstration. He was aware of the miseries caused to the women and babes in arms. On the whole he felt he had not gone beyond the principles and honour of the profession of which he was a member. He felt that he had only done his duty in advising his countrymen and it was his duty to advise them again, that, until the tax was removed, they should leave work and subsist upon rations obtained by charity. He was certain that without suffering it was not possible for them to get their grievance remedied."
The Magistrate finally in pronouncing sentence said :
"It was a painful duty to pass a sentence upon the conduct of a gentleman like Mr. Gandhi, upon the deliberate contravention of the law, but he had a duty to perform, and Mr. Godfrey, his counsel, had asked him fearlessly to perform that duty. The accused having pleaded guilty, he (the Magistrate) accepted that plea and passed the following sentences : Count 1, £20, or three months' imprisonment with hard labour; Count 2, £ 20, or three months' imprisonment with hard labour to take effect upon the expiration of the sentence in respect to Count 1; Count 3, £20, or three month's imprisonment with hard labour, this to take effect upon the expiration of the sentence imposed in Count 2."
Mr. Gandhi, in a clear and calm voice, said :
"I elect to go to goal."

Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, 4th Ed., Natesan, Madras, pp. 63-64