17. A rift in the lute
The first of July 1907 arrived, and saw the opening of permit offices. The community had decided openly to picket each office, that is to say, to post volunteers on the roads leading thereto, and these volunteers were to warn weak-kneed Indians against the trap laid for them there. Volunteers were provided with badges and expressly instructed not to be impolite to any Indian taking out a permit. They must ask him his name, but if he refused to give it they must not on any account be violent or rude to him. To every Indian going to the permit office, they were to hand a printed paper detailed the injuries which submission to the Black Act would involve, and explain what was written in it. They must behave the police too with due respect. If the police abused or thrashed them, they must suffer peacefully; if the ill-treatment by the police was insufferable they should leave the place. If the police arrested them, they should gladly surrender themselves. If some such incident occurred in Johannesburg, it should be brought to my notice. At other places the local secretaries were to be informed, and asked for further instructions. Each party of pickets had a captain whose orders must be obeyed by the rest.
This was the community’s first experience of that kind. All who were above the age of twelve were taken as pickets, so that there were many young men from 12 to 18 years of age enrolled as such. But not one was taken who was unknown to the local workers. Over and above all these precautions, people were informed by announcements at every public meeting and other wise, that if any one desirous of taking out a permit was afraid of the pickets, he could ask the workers to detail a volunteer to escort him to the permit office and back. Some did avail themselves this offer.
The volunteers in every place worked with boundless enthusiasm, and were ever alert and wide-awake in the performance of their duties. Generally speaking there was not much molestation by the police. When sometimes there was such molestation, the volunteers quietly put up with it. They brought to bear upon the work quite an amount of humour, in which the police too sometimes joined. They devised various diversions in order to beguile their time. They were once arrested on a charge of obstruction the public traffic. As non-co-operation did not form a part of the Satyagraha struggle there, defence could be made in courts, though as a rule advocates for defence were not paid from public funds. The volunteers were declared innocent and acquitted by the court, which still further exalted their spirit.
Although the Indians who wanted to take out permits were thus saved from rudeness or violence from the volunteers in public, I must admit, that there arose a body of men in connection with the movement, who without becoming volunteers privately threatened those who would take out permits with violence of injury in other ways. This was a most painful development, and strong measures were adopted in order to stamp it out as soon as it was found out. The holding out of threats nearly ceased in consequence, though it was not quite rooted out. The threats left and impression behind them, and as I could see, thus far injured the cause. Those who were threatened instantly sought Government protection and got it. Poison was thus instilled into the community, and those who were weak already grew weaker still. The poison thus grew more virulent, as the weak are always apt to be revengeful.
These threats created but little impression; but the force of public opinion on the one hand, and on the other, the fear of one’s name being known to the community through the presence of volunteers acted as powerful deterrents. I do not know a single Indian who held it proper to submit to the Black Act. Those who submitted did so out of an inability to suffer ashamed of themselves. This sense of shame, as well as a fear of loss in trade following upon the displeasure of big Indian merchants, pressed heavily upon them, and some leading Indians found a way out this twofold difficulty. They arranged with the permit office, that an officer should meet them in a private house after nine or ten o’clock at night and give them permits. They thought that in this case no one would know about their submission to the law for some time at least and that as they were leaders, others would follow suit, thus lightening their burden of shame. It did not matter if they were found out afterwards.
But the volunteers were so vigilant, that the community was kept informed of what happened every moment. There would be such information to the Satyagrahis. Others again, though weak themselves, would be unable to tolerate the idea of leaders thus disgracing themselves, and would inform the Satyagrahis from an idea that they too could face the music if other s were firm. In this way the community once received information that certain men were going to take out permits in a certain shop on a certain night. The community therefore first tried to dissuade these men. The shop too was picketed. But human weakness cannot be long suppressed. Some leading men took permits in this way at ten or eleven o’clock at night, and there was a rift in the lute. The very next day their names were published by the community. But a sense of shame has its limits. Considerations of self-interest drive shame away and mislead men out of the straight and narrow path. By and by something like five hundred men took out permits. For some time permits were issued in private houses, but as the sense of shame wore out, some went publicly to the Asiatic Office and obtained certificates of registration.