M. K. Gandhi: Indian Patriot in South Africa/Chapter 19

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CHAPTER XIX

THE OTHER SIDE

That there is another side to the Asiatic Question may be accepted as certain. The opposition is not all injustice, nor is it due, with many, to race-prejudice or greed. There is a profound conviction, with great numbers of thoughtful Colonists, that South Africa should be a "white man's country," and that the free admission of Asiatics would mean a large influx of Easterns who would frustrate that desire. The bugbear of the Colonists is that vast, waiting multitude in India, ever supposed to be pressing against their gate, and ready to flood the country, should resistance cease for a moment.

This fear has been created chiefly by the conditions of Indian trade. Men argue that these strangers can live on such a trifling pittance, their wants are so few, that they are able to undersell the white man and oust him from the market, and that, in fact, in some townships, they have done so. No one can help feeling great sympathy with these fears. British Colonists have burdens to bear, of which the lightly-accoutred Indian to-day feels nothing, owing to enforced circumstances.

One of our prominent citizens, speaking a while since at a meeting of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce, put these views into forcible, if homely, words:— "He believed Mr. Gandhi," he said, "to be a thorough gentleman, cultured, conscientious, and thoroughly educated, and a firm believer in the position he had taken up. But, all the same, he believed Mr. Gandhi to be wrong; but, whether he was right or wrong, the fact remained that this question had become one of self-preservation. If the action of the Government ruined the Empire in one hundred years or so, it would be extremely regrettable. When a people tried to crash others weaker than themselves, it was a sure indication that they would fall. It was so with the Roman Empire, but they in this country had something more to think of to-day. They had to think of their bread-and-butter, and of their children's bread-and-butter." This, perhaps, expresses the thoughts of the majority.

There is a feeling, too, that the white man, who has fought for the country, and has spent blood and treasure to maintain his ascendency, is engaged in buying the foundation of a great Empire, and there is no intention, so far as these colonists are concerned, of putting a faulty brick into the building. They have no wish to turn out the Indians who are at present domiciled here, but they think it wise to make it impossible for the children of the East to reap the benefits of their travail. These are the thoughts which influence a large proportion of our people.

Mr. Gandhi's reply completely recognises the moderate temper of these views. He points out that the white colonist and the resident Indians are practically at one. Neither has any intention of throwing open the gates of South Africa to an unrestricted immigration from the East. "The East is not waiting," he says, "to flood South Africa with Indians; the resident Indians do not wish an influx of their brethen." On that point both are agreed.

They are agreed also on another point. Those Asiatics who have a right to be here should be allowed to remain. A rabid, irresponsible party of white Colonits undoubtedly do desire to turn out the Asiatics, but they are not the majority. The majority say: "We do not wish to turn out those who have interests already in the country, and the right to be here; we only desire to prevent others from coming." So far both are at one.

Then Mr. Gandhi points out, further, that, since the Asiatics who are here by right are to remain, and as immigration is to be severely restricted, it becomes a matter of justice and political wisdom to permit the provision of means for the uplifting of these citizens, so that they may become an asset of value to South Africa. "Let us have," he urges, a few of our best men to teach us, to bring the highest ideals with them, to advise and shepherd us, and to minister to our spiritual needs, that we may not sink to the level of the aboriginal natives, but rise to be, in every sense, worthy citizens of the Empire. Yet the municipal officers work with us and insist on proper sanitation, on better houses, on a process of dwelling up, so that Indian and European may not compete on such unequal terms. Do not encourage the idea that your Indian fellow-citizens are dogs. Yet the Indian have some incentive to rise, by allowing him to acquire a piece of ground on which to build a decent house; stimulate him to think of the interests of the country, by giving him some voice in the settlement of those great concerns which affect the welfare of all; treat him as a man and a citizen, and he will become one." It is to the moderate, just, and thoughtful Colonist that Mr. Gandhi appeals, and such, we may hope, will rule the destiny of South Africa. These recognise the justice of his claim, but, at present, they either form the minority, or are borne down and silenced by those who clamour that it is inexpedient to make any concession to the Indians.

In these Colonies, our eyes are too much centred on that little circle in which we live, and on the immediate difficulties which face us. We are too parochial. We leave too much out of view the larger interests of the Empire, and those great Imperial concerns which have their home in India. We need a statesman of wide experience and of far-reaching gaze, who will arouse us to look beyond our orders, teach us how to legislate greatly, and shame us from our selfishness. Nay, more. No country can afford to build injustice into its walls. Such material is worthless, and will bring disaster. Amidst all the conflicting interests of the day, this, at any rate, should be clear: "Righteousness exalteth a nation."