Heroes of the hour: Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak Maharaj, Sir Subramanya Iyer/Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
HEROES OF THE HOUR
MOHANDAS KARAMCHAND GANDHI
A SKETCH OF HIS LIFE AND CAREER
The figure of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is to-day a transfigured presence in the eyes of his countrymen. Like the unveiling of some sanctuary, where the high gods sit in session, or like some romance of the soul, is his career. The loftiest ideals of conduct of which man has dreamed are in him translated into actuality. He is the latest, though not the least, of the world's apostles. He seems for ever robed in vestments of shining white. Infinitely gentle, to the inner ear, is his footfall upon earth. His accents have the dewy freshness of the dawn. His brows are steeped in serenity and calm. His head is crowned with the martyr's crown. The radiance of the light spiritual encircles his whole being.
What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul! Return good for evil. Hatred ceases not by hatred but by love. How often has humanity in its long story listened to such exhortations! And yet how few are the souls to whom they have ever carried the waters of life! To all men, surely, come glimpses of the highest. At the moment they touch our being with ecstasy and fade even before they are recognised. Not so with the great Ones of earth, the elect of God. They live their lives as ever before the altar. A divine inebriation is upon them and they can know no rest till they have drained the immortal cup to the dregs. The steeps they sight they needs must climb: and far down in the valley there kneels before them an adoring host of mortals.
The spontaneous and heartfelt reverence which Mr. Gandhi's name inspires to-day is a token that in him also India has recognised one such born priest of the ideal. The Sermon on the Mount may appear to many as gloriously impractical, but to Mr. Gandhi at least nothing is or ought to be more practical. To turn the left cheek when the right is beaten; to bless those that curse; to suffer for righteousness' sake; these are the very ideals to which he has surrendered his whole being. And by impassioned devotion to them he has developed a character before which men stand in awe. To the self-discipline of the ascetic he adds the sweetness and simplicity of a saint. The hero's will is in him wedded to the heart of a child. The service of man answers to the love of God. It was of such that it was said: Ye are the salt of the earth.
But how to write the life of such a man? How to tell the story of the soul's development? The task is impossible. The hopes and strivings of millions fulfil themselves in a single perfected character and to that extent the common man makes the hero and the apostle. The events of the personal drama simply register the rise and fall of consciousness; their explanation is outside them. In Mr. Gandhi's case, such a revelation came in the shape of the South African struggle. It was then that he burst upon the world as a moral force of the first order. That force itself had been long in preparing: how long who shall say? The story of that struggle with its shining roll of martyrs, both men and women, its thrilling incidents, marvellous pathos, and divine inspiration still waits for its destined chronicler. When he comes and throws it into terms of immortal literature it will assuredly take rank with the most memorable and resplendent chapters of its kind in history. It was an example and a demonstration of what one man can do by the sheer force of his character. It was likewise a demonstration of how masses of men and women, apparently lifeless and own-trodden, can develop astounding heroism under the impulsion of a truly great and selfless leader. The work done by Mr. Gandhi in South Africa must ever be reckoned amongst the greatest things accomplished by any single man. His life prior to his emergence on the South African stage was comparatively uneventful except for one or two glimpses of the coming greatness.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on the 2nd of October 1869, the youngest of three children in a Vaishya family, at Porbander, a city of Kathiawar in Guzerat. Courage, administrative capacity, and piety were hereditary in the family. His immediate ancestors were in their way quite remarkable. His grand-father was Dewan of the Ran a of Porbander, and an incident recorded of him, shows what a fearless nature he had. Incurring the displeasure of the Queen who was acting as Regent for her son, he had actually to flee the Court of Porbander and take refuge with the Nawab of Junagadh who received him with great kindness. The courtiers of the Nawab observed and remarked that the ex-Dewan of Porbander gave his salute to the Nawab with his left hand in outrage of all convention. But the intrepid man replied, "Inspite of all that I have suffered I keep my right hand for Porbander still." Mr Gandhi's father was no less distinguished. Succeeding his father as Dewan of Porbander and losing like him the favour of the Ruling Chief, he repaired to Rajkot where he was entertained as Dewan. Here he rose rapidly in favour and such was the high regard which the Thakore Saheb of Rajkot came to have for him that he (the Thakore Saheb) pressed his minister to accept a large grant of land in token of his esteem. But wealth had no attractions for him, and at first he declined the generous offer. Even when the entreaties of friends and relatives prevailed at last it was only a fraction of what was offered that he could be persuaded to accept. Even more interesting is another incident told of him. Happening to hear one day the Assistant Political Agent hold abusive language regarding the Thakore Sahib, he indignantly repudiated it. His Omnipotence the Political Agent demanded an apology which was stoutly refused. To rehabilitate his dignity the Assistant Political Agent thereupon ordered the offending Dewan to be arrested and detained under a tree for some hours! The apology was eventually waived and a reconciliation effected. Comment is needless. Mr. Gandhi's father was also a man of severe piety and could repeat the Baghavad Gita from end to end. His mother, however, was the most remarkable of all. Her influence on the character of her son has been profound and ineffaceable. Religion was the breath of her life. Long and rigorous were her fasts; many and lavish were her charities; and never could she brook to see a starving soul in her neighbourhood. Though in these respects she was typical of the Hindu woman, yet one feels that there must have been something unique about her. How else could she have been the mother of a Gandhi? In a home presided over by such a mother was his childhood passed. He was duly put to school at Porbander but a change occurring in its fortunes the whole family removed to Rajkot. Here the boy studied at first in a Vernacular school, and afterwards in the Kathiawar High School, whence he passed the matriculation examination at the age of seventeen. It may here be said that Mr. Gandhi was married as a boy of twelve to the noble soul who is now his partner in life and the glorified participator in all his sufferings and struggles.
An incident in his school life deserves more than ordinary mention. Born and bred in an atmosphere of uncompromising Vaishnavism, he had learned to perfection its ritual and worship, if not also to some extent, its rationale and doctrine. The principle of Ahimsa, non-killing (non-resistance to evil generally), is one of the keynotes of this teaching and Vaishnavas are, as a rule, strict vegetarians. But those were the days when even a schoolboy unconsciously imbibed a contempt for religion in general and for the ways of his forefathers in particular. Mr. Gandhi seems to have been no exception to this rule. Truth to say, the young Gandhi became a veritable sceptic even at the stage of his school career. This wreck of faith brought one disastrous consequence in its train. He and some school-companions of his came sincerely to believe that vegetarianism was a folly and superstition, arid that to be civilised, the eating of flesh was essential. Nor were the boys slow to put their belief into action. Buying some flesh in secret every evening, they went to a secluded spot on the bank of a stream, cooked it and made a convivial meal. But Mr. Gandhi's conscience was all the while never at peace. At home he had to tell lies to excuse his lack of appetite and one subterfuge led to another. The boy loved truth and hated falsehood, and simply to avoid telling lies he abjured flesh-eating for ever. Truly the boy is father of the man!
After he passed the matriculation examination he was advised by a friend of the family to go to England and qualify himself for the Bar. His mother, however, would not listen to any such thing. Many a gruesome tale had the good woman heard of the abandoned nature of life in England and she shrank from the prospect of exposing her son to all its temptations as from the thought of hell. But the son was firm and the mother had to yield. But not until she had taken her son to a Jain Sannyasin and made him swear three solemn vows forswearing wine, flesh and women, did she give her consent.
Once in England Mr. Gandhi set about to make of himself a thorough "English gentleman." An Indian friend of his, then in England, who gloried in his anglicised ways took him in hand and gave lessons in fashion. Under his leadership he began to school himself in dancing, English music, and French, in fact in all the accomplishments needed for the great role of the "English gentleman." His heart, however, was never in the matter. The vows he had taken at his mother's instance haunted him strangely. One day he went to a party and there was served with flesh soup. It was a critical moment. His conscience swelled in protest and bade him make his choice on the spot between his three vows and the character of the English gentleman. And conscience won. Much to the chagrin of his friend before alluded to, he rose from the table and committed the great social sin of quitting the party abruptly. A great triumph for a youth! He thereafter bade adieu to all his new-fangled ways : his feet ceased to dance, his fingers knew the violin no more, and the possibilities of the "English gentleman" in him were lost for ever.
All this proved to be but the beginning of a keen spiritual struggle which stirred his being to its depths and out of which he emerged into an assured self-consciousness and abiding peace of soul. The eternal problems of existence now faced him and pressed for an answer. That this struggle was not merely intellectual, that it was no passing spasm such as even inferior men have known is proved by his subsequent career. As in the case of all great souls, his entire being was, we may take it, cast into the crucible to be melted and poured into divine moulds. The sense of an insufferable void within and without, that tribulation of the spirit which lays hands of torture upon the barred doors of the heart and unseals the inner vision this it was that assailed him. At this critical time, friends were not wanting who tried to persuade him that in Christianity he would find the light for which he yearned. But these apparently did not meet with much success. At the same time he began to make a close study of the Bhagavad Gita, and it was the spiritual panorama which here was unveiled before him that finally stilled the commotion of his soul. It was here that he found the staff upon which he could lean. The void was now filled, light flooded his being and he had sensed the peace that passeth understanding. Hereafter the soul's endeavour was to be one, not of search, but realisation.
Mr. Gandhi's stay in England was otherwise uneventful. He passed the London Matriculation Examination, qualified himself for the Bar, and returned to India.
Melancholy news awaited his arrival in Bombay. Unknown to himself a calamity, which to a Hindu at least is one of the great calamities of life, had befallen him. His mother who had loved him as perhaps only a Hindu mother could, who had saved him from moral ruin, and who had doubtless winged ceaseless thoughts of love and prayer for her far-away son in England,that angel of a mother was no more. She had been dead sometime and the occurrence had been purposely kept a secret from him. We shall not attempt to describe his feelings when at last the news was disclosed to him.
The next eighteen months Mr. Gandhi spent, partly at Bombay and partly at Rajkot, devoting himself to a deeper study of love and the Hindu scriptures. He also set up practice in the Bombay High Court. But there was other work to do for him in a different part of the world and the fates thus fulfilled themselves. A firm at Porbander which had a branch at Pretoria had an important law-suit in South Africa in which several Indians were concerned. The conduct of this suit expected to last for over a year being offered to him, he accepted it and proceeded to South Africa.
And here perhaps it will be fitting to envisage in general outline the position of the Indian immigrant in South Africa at the time. That position was frankly one of the utmost ignominy and injustice. More than half a century ago the colony of Natal wanted cheap labour for the development of its resources, and its eyes were turned to India as the best market for this supply. Representations were accordingly made to the Government of India through the Imperial Government and the indenture system was inaugurated. One gathers that in the early negotiations that went on between the Imperial and the Indian Governments on the question, solemn promises were made by the Imperial Government that the indentured immigrant would be treated with every consideration during the term of indenture and thereafter be accorded every facility to settle in South Africa if he so chose. But the way to a certain place is paved with good intentions and after a time the indenture system fast proved itself an abomination. Thousands of sturdy peasants from all parts of India, simple souls caught in the meshes of the recruiting agents by specious promises of a land flowing with milk and honey, found themselves on landing in South Africa waking, up to a hopeless sense of anguish and disillusionment. The physical and moral conditions of life on the estates were ideally calculated to turn the very angels into brutes. The treatment accorded to the indentured labourer by his master was, to bo as mild as possible, revolting in the extreme. The slave-owner was at least compelled by his selfishness to take care of the physical comfort of his human chattels but the employer of indentured labour was destitute of even this consideration! The tales of cruelty and individual suffering that has been collected and published almost tempt us to think that man was made not in the image of God but in that of His Ancient Enemy. And the most hopeless feature of the situation was that these victims of colonial greed were bound to serve their term and that they had no chance of laying, and much less of making good, any case against their masters. The laws themselves were unjust to the indentured labourer and were atrociously administered.
The position of the indentured labourer who had served his term and did not desire to re-enlist was one of calculated invidiousness. At every step he was hemmed in by a thousand obstacles thrown in his way and intended to frustrate any attempt to acquire a livelihood in freedom. Law and society conspired together to fix the brand of helotry to his brow. It was brought home to him in numberless ways that he was regarded as the member of some sub-human species, in whom it was sacrilege to defile the earth occupied by the white man, except as his hewer of wood and drawer of water. The law of the land here also did but reflect this dominant spirit of exclusiveness. It made distinctions between man and man on the ground of colour and race. In Natal, for instance, every ex-indentured Indian, man, woman, and child (boys and girls over a certain age) had to pay a poll tax of 3 per head. It is unnecessary, however to catalogue in detail the various disabilities legal, economic, political and social under which the Indian laboured.
The small body of professional people, lawyers, doctors, merchants, religious teachers, who followed in the wake of the indentured Indian, these also, whatever their position and culture, fell equally under the same ban. The coloured man was in the eyes of the white colonist in South Africa a vile and accursed thing. There could be no distinction here of high and low. If these colonials had been asked to paint God they would have painted him white! There were certain differences in the position of the Indian between one province and another, in South Africa itself, the ideal in this line having been attained in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, then independent. Not to labour the tale throughout South Africa the law was unjust to the Indian and man inhuman.
It is however interesting to think what a medley of elements contributed to this attitude. First and foremost, there was the antipathy of colour and race to what lengths this can go in the modern civilized West, the American institution of lynching sufficiently illustrates. Secondly, there was the economic factor—the free Indian was a formidable competitor in trade to the small white dealer. His habits were simple, his life temperate, and he was able to sell things much more cheaply. Thirdly, there was the instinct of earth—monopoly South Africa must be and continue to remain a white man's land. Lastly, there was a vague feeling that the influx of the coloured man was a growing menace to the civilization of the white. The solution of the problem from the point of view of the South African colonist was very simple—to prohibit all immigration in the future, and to make the position of those that already had come so intolerable as to drive them to repatriate themselves. And towards this end, forces were inwardly making in South Africa when Mr. Gandhi first landed there. The paradox of the whole thing lay in the fact, that while India had been asking for the Indian, in South Africa, the elementary rights of a British citizen, the colonial was all the while thinking of casting him out for ever as an unclean thing.
From the very day that Mr. Gandhi set foot at Natal he had to taste of the bitter cup of humiliation which was then the Indian's portion. At court he was rudely ordered to remove the barrister's turban he had on, and he left the court at once burning with mortification. This experience, however, was soon eclipsed by a host of others still more ignominous, Journeying to the Transvaal in a railway train, the guard unceremoniously ordered him to quit the first-class compartment, though he had paid for it, and betake himself to the van. Refusing, he was brutally dragged out with his luggage. And the train at once steamed off. All this was on British soil! In the Transvaal itself things were even worse. As he was sitting on the box of a coach on the way to Pretoria, the guard asked him to dismount because he wanted to smoke there. A refusal brought two consecutive blows in quick succession. In Pretoria he was once kicked off a foot-path by a sentry. The catalogue may be still further extended, but it would be a weariness of the flesh.
The law suit which he had been engaged to conduct was at last over, and a social gathering was given in his honour on the eve of his departure for India. That evening Mr. Gandhi chanced to see a local newspaper which announced that a bill was about to be introduced into the colonial Parliament to disfranchise Indians and that other bills of a similar character were soon to follow. With true insight he immediately perceived the gravity of the situation, and explained to the assembled guests that if the Indian community in South Africa was to be saved from utter extinction immediate and resolute action should be taken. At his instance a message was at once sent to the colonial Parliament requesting delay of proceedings, which was soon followed up by a largely signed petition against the new measure. But all this was of no avail. The bill was passed in due course. Now another largely signed petition was sent to the Colonial Secretary in England, and in consequence the Royal Assent was withheld. But this again was of no avail for the same goal was reached by a new bill through a slightly different route. Now it was that Mr. Gandhi seriously mooted the question of a central organization in South Africa to keep vigilant watch over Indian interests. But it was represented to him that such an organization would be impossible unless he himself consented to remain in South Africa. The prominent Indians guaranteed him a 'practice if he should choose to stay. In response to their wishes he enrolled himself in the Supreme Court of Natal though not without some objection, at first, on the ground of his colour. Thus began for him that long association with South Africa which was destined to have such memorable results.
From a moral point of view the choice that he made to remain in South Africa, to which he had gone only on a temporary professional visit, was the first great act of Mr. Gandhi's public career. A young man with his life before him and every prospect of carving distinction for himself in his own native land is called upon to brush all that aside and devote himself to the uplift of his own countrymen in a far away land amidst circumstances of disgusting humiliation and struggle. How many in Mr. Gandhi's position would have made the same choice? How many would have had the same passivity to surrender themselves to the guiding hand of destiny? How many would have placed service above self? But to men born for great ends such crises of the soul come only to find them prepared. The South African Indian community were like a flock of sheep without a shepherd, surrounded by ravenous wolves, and Mr. Gandhi chose to be the shepherd. South Africa was the vine-yard of the Lord in which he was called upon to dig and delve, and he chose to be the labourer. From the day that his resolve was taken he consecrated himself to his work as to a high and lofty mission.
His first step, was to make his countrymen in South Africa articulate. And with this object.he organised them into various societies all over the land. He trained them in methods of constitutional agitation and for the purpose held meetings and conferences, and promoted petitions and memorials. He also sought out young men willing and capable and trained them for public work. And it was his character that imparted vitality to all his endeavours. By mixing with high and low on equal terms, by his readiness to succour the needy and console the afflicted, by the example he set of a simple, pure and austere life, by his transparent sincerity and perfect selflessness he made a profound impression upon them all and acquired an influence which deepened in the passage of the years into a boundless reverence. Nor should it be forgotten that, that amongst the European community itself there were some good men and true who saw and recognised in him a soul of transcendent goodness.
In the year 1896 Mr. Gandhi came to India to take his wife and children to South Africa. Before he left South Africa he wrote and published an "open letter" detailing the wrongs and grievances of his countrymen resident there.
News of the splendid work which he had done in South Africa had travelled before him to India, and Indians of all classes joined in according him an enthusiastic reception wherever he went. In these meetings Mr. Gandhi had of course to make some speeches. Our good friend, Reuter, sent highly garbled versions of his addresses to South Africa. He was represented as telling his Indian audiences that Indians in South Africa were uniformly treated like wild beasts. The blood of the Colonials was up and the feeling against Mr. Gandhi reached white heat. Meeting after meeting was held in which he was denounced in the most scathing terms. Meanwhile he was urgently requested to return to Natal without a moment's delay, and he embarked accordingly.
The steamer carrying Mr. Gandhi reached Durban on the same day as another steamer, which had left Bombay with 600 Indian passengers on board two days after Mr. Gandhi's own departure. The two ships were immediately quarantined indefinitely. Great things were transpiring at Durban meanwhile. The Colonials were determined not to land the Asiatics. Gigantic demonstrations were taking place, and the expediency of sending the Indians back was gravely discussed. It was plain that the Colonials would go any length to accomplish their purpose. The more boisterous spirits even proposed the sinking of the ship. Word was sent to Mr. Gandhi that if he and his compatriots should attempt to land they should do so at infinite peril; but threats were of no avail. On the day on which the new Indian arrivals were expected to land a huge concourse had assembled at the docks. There was no end of hissing, shouting, roaring and cursing. The Attorney-General of Natal addressed the infuriate gathering and promised them that the matter would receive the early attention of Parliament, commanding them at the same time in the name of the Queen to disperse. And the crowd dispersed. Mr. Gandhi came ashore sometime after the landing of his fellow-passengers, having previously sent his wife and children to the house of a friend. He was immediately recognised by some of the stragglers who at once began to set up a howl. A rickshaw was engaged, but the way was blocked. Mr. Gandhi walked on foot with a European friend and when they reached one of the streets the pressure was so great that the two friends were separated. The crowd at once began to maul Mr. Gandhi till the Police came and took him to the house of a friend. The Police Superintendent expressed his apprehensions that the mob in their frenzy would even set fire to the house. Mr. Gandhi was obliged to dress himself as a Police constable and take refuge in the Police Station. This ebullition of abnormal feeling subsided after some time and a momentous page in Mr, Gandhi's life was turned.
In October 1899 war broke out between the English and the Boers in South Africa. Mr. Gandhi, with the sagacity of a true leader at once perceived what a golden opportunity it was to the British Indians to vindicate their self-respect and readiness to suffer in the cause of the Empire. At his call hundreds of his countrymen in South Africa were glad to enlist themselves as Volunteers, but the offer was rejected with scorn by the powers that be. The offer was renewed a second time, only to meet with a similar fate. When however the British arms sustained some disasters, it was recognised that every man available should be put into the field and Mr. Gandhi's offer on behalf of his compatriots was accepted. A thousand Indians came forward, and were constituted into an Ambulance Corps, to assist in carrying the wounded to the hospitals. Of the service that was rendered in that direction, it is not necessary to speak as it has been recognised even in South Africa. At another time the British Indians were employed to receive the wounded out of the line of fire and carry them to a place more than twenty miles off. When the battle was raging, Major Bapte who was commanding came to Mr. Gandhi who of course was one of the Volunteers, and represented that if they worked from within the line of the fire they should be rendering inestimable service. At once all the Indian Volunteers responded to the request and dauntlessly exposed themselves to shot and shell. Many an Indian life was lost that day.
The war was over and the Transvaal became & part of the British Empire. Mr. Gandhi was under the impression that, since the wrongs of the British Indian subjects of the Queen were one of the declared causes of the war, under the new Government those wrongs would be a thing of the past. And accordingly he returned to India with no idea of going back, but he was reckoning without his host. The little finger of the new Government was thicker than the loins of the Boers. The Boers had indeed stung the Indian subjects of the Queen with whips but the new Government stung them with scorpions. A new Asiatic department was constituted to deal with Asiatics as a species apart. A most insidious policy of exclusion was maturing. The prospect was dark and appalling and Mr. Gandhi had to return to the scene of his labours. He interviewed the authorities but he was assured that he had no business to interfere in the matter while they themselves were there to look after everything. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was then in South Africa and a deputation led by Mr. Gandhi waited upon him in Natal. In Pretoria however a similar deputation was disallowed unless Mr. Gandhi was excluded. Evidently Mr. Gandhi's name was becoming gall and worm-wood to the authorities. But he was not the man to be frightened. He determined to fight out the battle in the Law Courts and enrolled himself on the Supreme Court of Pretoria.
He now felt more than ever the imperative need of an organ which should at once educate the South African Indian community on the one hand and be on the other the faithful mouth-piece of their views. In 1903 a press was bought and the paper "Indian Opinion" was ushered into existence. It was published in four languages, English, Tamil, Guzerati and Hindi. At first it didn't prove a success and entailed such heavy loss that during the first year alone Mr. Gandhi had to pay a sum of £2,000 out of his own pocket. Though in subsequent years the financial position of the paper has somewhat improved, it has never been a pecuniary success. Notwithstanding, it has grown to be a great force in South Africa and rendered invaluable service during the recent struggle.
In the year 1904 a virulent attack of plague broke out among the Indian Community in Johannesburg. The Municipal authorities were either ignorant or apathetic. Mr. Gandhi, however, was at once on the scene and sent word to the authorities that if immediate action were not taken an epidemic was in prospect. But no answer came. One day the plague carried off as many as twenty-one victims. Mr. Gandhi with three or four noble comrades at once broke open one of the Indian stores which was empty, and had the patients carried there and did what he could in the matter. The next morning the Municipal authorities bestirred themselves and took the necessary action. The plague lasted a month counting more than a hundred victims. We in India may shudder to think to what an appalling magnitude the outbreak may have grown but for the heroic endeavours of the subject of this sketch, and his devoted comrades. In such ways, indeed, had Mr. Gandhi's influence begun to bear fruit.
It was about this time also that Mr. Gandhi founded the famous "Phoenix Settlement." He had been reading Buskin's Unto this Last and its influence sank deep into his mind. He was at once on fire with the author's idea of country settlements and shortly after the plague subsided, Mr. Gandhi went to Natal and purchased a piece of land at Phoenix, a place situated "on the hill sides of a rich grassy country." Houses were built and a village sprang up on the mountain side. In this "settlement" Mr. Gandhi sought to enshrine his ideal of the simple life. It was to be a retreat from the bustle of city life where men and women might by communion with nature seek to divest their life and mind of all artificial trappings and come nearer to the source of their own being. It was to be an ashrama, a spot of sanctity and peace. Its members were to be a spiritual brotherhood and were to know no differences of rank. To all alike labour was to be a privilege and a joy. All had to dig, plough and cultivate the adjoining land with their own hands. Mr. Gandhi himself when he was in South Africa used to go to the village during his moments of leisure and take part in the work of cultivation like anybody else. But he had to fulfil this sublime idealistic impulse of his at immense pecuniary sacrifice, for the scheme, we are told "absolutely impoverished him."
It was here also that Mr. Gandhi practised a great tapasya. Here he laid upon himself and his family the yoke of an iron discipline in daily habit. He stripped himself of all luxury in externals. He wore the coarsest, raiment and for food took only so much as would suffice to keep body and soul together. He slept upon a coarse blanket in the open air. He starved the flesh and reined in the mind. And his soul waxed in joy and strength. And to those that beheld it was a marvel and a wonder.
In 1906 the Zulus broke out in rebellion and a corps of twenty Indians with Mr. Gandhi as leader was formed to help to carry the wounded to the hospital. The corps subsequently acted as nurses and Mr. Gandhi ministered in person to the wounded Zulus. The founding of the Phœnix Ashrama and the nursing of the Zulus with all their meaning in terms of the higher life were a fitting prelude to what was about to follow.
In the year 1906 the new Government of the Transvaal brought forward a new law affecting all Asiatics, which was sinister, retrograde and obnoxious in the last degree. One morning all the children of Asia in the Transvaal awoke and found themselves called upon to register themselves anew by giving thumb impressions. Thus all Asiatics were placed on a level with convicts. And yet these light-hearted legislators and their compatriots were by profession the flock of an Asiatic whose injunction to his disciples was to go forth amongst the children of men as lambs amongst wolves! Who will dare to say that in the dealings of the western nations with “Coloured” races this spirit has ever been much in evidence? How else could these colonials have so merrily blackened a whole continent which has been the home of the oldest civilisations and has given to humanity its greatest prophets and saviours? But in this case also the Asiatic lambs were destined to give a glorious object-lesson to the wolves.
The object of the new measure was apparently to prevent unlawful immigration from what they regarded as the pariah continent. Now the Indian Community throughout South Africa and their leaders were quite willing that reasonable restrictions should be placed on all future immigration though on abstract considerations of justice they could have insisted upon the right of the “open door.” But what they had been agitating against all these years and what they could not reconcile themselves to was that this object should be compassed by laws which tended to differentiate them on any ground of colour or race. The principle of equality of all races before the law, however much its application may have to be tempered by considerations of circumstance, had been the very head and front of their demands. And now defiance and contempt were hurled as them in the shape of this new law. It was at the same time a certainty that it was but the precursor in the Transvaal and in other parts of South Africa of more insidious and flagrant measures intended to drive out the Indian Community once and for ever. And it was hailed by the colonials as the beginning of the end, while the Indian Community was convulsed with indignation.
Meanwhile Mr. Gandhi and his co-workers were not idle. They proceeded to interview the member of the Government in charge of the new bill, but when they succeeded only in getting women excluded from its operation it was realised that there was now nothing left Tor persuasion to accomplish. The Legislative Council passed the new measure after the farce of a discussion. Infinitely more important to us are the proceedings of another meeting held in that very city and at the very time when the bill was being rushed through the council. It is an immense gathering, consisting of several thousands of Indians of all classes and creeds. A great spirit animates all. Impassioned speeches are made denouncing the new law. But now at the close the great throng rises up and shouts a solemn “Amen.” It is the vow of passive resistance that he has thus been administered. Those thousands had decided not against the new bill but against the new Act. They had decided also that henceforth they were to be the masters of their own fate and not General Smuts or Botha or the Legislative Council. And the onlooker may well have whispered to himself, "To-day we have been present at the lighting of a fire which will never go out."
It was a momentous step. But Mr. Gandhi on whom the burden of leadership now lay heavily was eager to take any step that promised an alternative solution. And accordingly a deputation under his leadership and that of Mr. Ali was sent to England to agitate, if possible, against the Royal Assent being given to the new legislation. The Royal Assent was withheld in consequence till a constitutional Government should be installed in the Transvaal. As a result of its efforts a committee in London with Lord Ampthill, ex-Governor of Madras, as President, Sir Mancherjee Bowanaggree as Executive Chairman, and Mr. Ritch as Secretary, was also formed to keep guard over Indian interests in South Africa. But the relief thus obtained was only temporary. A constitutional Government was soon formed in the Transvaal, the new measure was passed in hot haste, received the Royal Assent, and became law.
Thus was the Indian community in the Transvaal impelled upon the great destiny of “passive resistance.” To register or not to register was now the question : to register and sell their honour and self-respect for a mess of pottage or not to register and take up arms against a “sea of troubles.” Like the voice of God speaking to the inmost soul was Mr. Gandhi's appeal to his countrymen at this hour. There could be no question, he explained, of their submitting to this final and crowning challenge of colonial insolence to Indian manhood. There was nothing left but to bare the majesty of their own souls to the storm and defy it to do its utmost. The prison and the gaol were now to be the cells of their own self-discipline. All the forces of darkness in league were powerless to move them from the firm-set purpose of their own hearts. Was spirit greater than matter? Was the body to be nailed to the cross or the soul? Was not Heaven itself beckoning them to the great Heights? In such wise did Mr. Gandhi adjure his countrymen.
The words of the leader awoke a responsive thrill in thousands of intrepid hearts. Like one man they vowed against the registration. Like one man they resolved to face prosecu- tion and persecution, dungeon and death itself. Like one man they resolved to make atonement for the heaped-up humiliations of many years by a supreme and triumphant act of self-vindication which should rivet the eyes of the whole world. The hour of the spirit's rebound when individuals and communities alike cleave through every consideration save that of their own integrity, that hour had come.
The passive resistance movement had commenced. The registering officers went about from place to place, but little business had they to do as ninety-five per cent, of the people remained true to their oath. The law took its course and a veritable saturnalia of imprisonments ensued. The gaols became literally crammed with the Indians who suffered for conscience' sake. High and low, rich and poor went to the gaol as to the bridal. Husband was separated from wife, child from parent, and yet the fervour and pertinacity of the sufferers abated not. Mr. Gandhi himself was sentenced to two months' simple imprisonment. During the trial he took full responsibility for the course adopted by the Indian community and asked for the maximum punishment for himself. The authorities were naturally perturbed to see the worm turning and for the first time displayed a chastened mood. Negotiations were opened through the mediation of one, Mr. Cartwright, a journalist, and it was agreed that the new law should be suspended for three months, that in the meanwhile registration should be made voluntarily, and that at the end of the period it should be repealed. In pursuance of this arrangement Mr. Gandhi himself, to set an example, went to the office to register. The position of a leader is fraught with peril, and a Pathan who had joined the passive resistance movement imagined that Mr. Gandhi was playing the coward and betraying his trust. Under this impression he dealt him such severe blows on his way to the registration office that he instantly fell down senseless on the spot. As a result of the injuries received he hovered between life and death for some time, during which the wife of his good friend and admirer, the Rev. Mr. Doke, a baptist minister of Johannesburg, devotedly nursed him back to life. His friends afterwards asked him to take legal action against the Pathan but he replied that the Pathan had done only what he considered to be right! This incident threw the situation into confusion for the moment but subsequently the process of voluntary registration was satisfactorily completed and the authorities were called upon to perform their part of the compact. But this they refused to do, and all efforts at compromise proving futile there was now no alternative but to resume the struggle.
Once more did the rapture of suffering come upon thousands and the prison-house become a holy of holies. And how glorious was the spirit which had come upon them! Gentle and meek and uncomplaining,it was the very spirit of that Cross which their persecutors professed to follow but honoured so little in practice. It was almost as if one heard these men exclaim, "Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do." From every class and sect were the heroes drawn. Many among them were the poorest of the poor, living by the sweat of the brow and innocent of “education.” Wealthy merchants went into voluntary insolvency rather than prove false to their vow. The ruin and misery caused, the dislocation of family life, the hunger and starvation of the women and children were indescribable. But the women amidst all the desolation of their hearts only cheered the men on! The passive resisters were subjected to cruel hardships and indignities in gaol that their spirit might be broken, but this served only to quicken and intensify it. They had tasted of an immortal cup and anguish itself had now become only the food of their souls.
To us in Southern India it is a matter for splendid pride that amongst them all none displayed greater resolution or a more indomitable fibre than the children of the Tamil land. It has been calculated that out of a total population of nine thousand male Indians in the Transvaal two thousand seven hundred had in this way suffered “untold miseries in prison,” and many of them again and again. Needless to say, Mr. Gandhi himself was one of the victims this time also, being sentenced to a term of two months with hard labour. We have no space to refer to the hardships he endured with his brother sufferers in jail, to his many acts of self-denial, and to the sublime manner in which he bore up, believing as he did that suffering is the heaven-or-dained path to perfection. That so many should have been consumed by the apostolic fire and should have so clearly realised the issues at stake is a tribute at once to the relentless fury of the persecutors, the spiritual force of Mr. Gandhi, and the greatness of common human nature.
After his release from his second term of imprisonment Mr. Gandhi organised two deputations, one to England and the other to India for the purpose of educating public opinion in both countries. Several of the delegates were arrested on the eve of their departure and sentenced to prison as passive resisters. But Mr. Gandhi and some others nevertheless went to England and were successful in awakening some interest in the matter. The Transvaal ministers were then in England and the Imperial authorities tried to bring about a settlement. But General Smuts was implacable and nothing worth mentioning came of it. Arrangements were however made for a body of volunteers who undertook to collect funds and keep public interest alive, and the deputation returned to South Africa.
The deputation to India consisted of but one individual, that doughty and indefatigable champion of the Indian cause in South Africa, and Editor of the paper “Indian Opinion,” Mr. H. S. L. Polak. Feeling in India had reached a high pitch of resentment against the policy of the Transvaal Government even before his arrival. But when he under the direction of the late Mr. Gokhale toured the country and narrated in dozens of meetings the heart-rending tale of the South African persecution that feeling easily reached boiling- point and the demand for reprisals came from every quarter of the land. Funds also came pouring in for the relief of the distressed children in a far-away land who had done so much to raise their motherland in the estimation of the world.
One great and immediate result of Mr. Polak's propaganda was that attention in India was concentrated upon the enormities of the Indenture system as never it had been concentrated before. And when in March 1912 the late Mr. Gokhale moved in the Imperial Legislative Council a resolution for its abolition in a speech of classic force and dignity, the Government of India had to bow to Indian public opinion and signify acceptance. It was the first great victory of the Passive Resistance movement.
In South Africa itself the movement had a two-fold reaction. On the one hand, it made an indelible impression upon the better mind of the colonial and this found expression in the formation of a committee called the Hosken Committee, under the presidency of Sir William Hosken, a good, ardent and noble man, who in the face of obloquy from his own countrymen expoused the Indian cause with a zeal that was above all praise. On the other hand, it spurred the authorities to that increasing vindictiveness which imagines that the soul could be coerced by a more thoroughgoing application of brute force.
With the blindness that has characterised the persecutor in history the authorities in the Transvaal strengthened their hands by a new power, viz., that of deportation, hoping thereby to foil the Passive Resister. At first they deported the more prominent of them across the Natal border but these returned as fast as they were sent out. Not to be baulked the authorities now went the length of deporting a good many of the passive registers, about sixty-four in number, all the way to India. But these again were sent back with the sympathy and admiration of a whole nation. Utterly lost to all sense of shame the Transvaal authorities by hook and by crook did their level best to prevent them from landing. And one of the returning deportees, a lion-hearted youth Narayanaswamy, by name, hunted in this way from one British port to another died in Delgoa Bay in Portuguese territory. And his martyr-death threw a fresh halo of sanctity over the cause. The Government of India greatly impressed by the gravity of the situation in India consequent on the Transvaal occurrences moved the Imperial Government in England, who in their turn did their best to woo the Transvaalies to a more conciliatory mood. And the result was that the deportation process subsequently stopped.
After the various provinces of South Africa had been constituted into the South African Union the Imperial Government in England at the insistence of the Government of India strove once more to persuade the Union Government to effect a reasonable settlement of the problem, and for the purpose, addressed to the latter a despatch in October 1910, recommending the repeal of the law which had been the origin of the whole trouble, and the adoption of legislation on non-racial lines which, while prohibiting all future immigration in effect, will yet leave room for the entry into South Africa of a small and defined minimum of educated people. At the same time the Imperial Government pointed out that any such law should not have the effect of taking away any rights till then enjoyed by immigrants in the coast-lying provinces. This time the Union Government were willing to consider the suggestion, and to give effect thereto brought forward the Union Immigration Bill in 1911, which while repealing the old law did not annul the racial distinction, and further took away several rights from the residents of the coast districts—the very thing deprecated by the Imperial Government. This bill was naturally unacceptable to the Indian Community and finally was not passed. An understanding however was arrived at by which the passive resisters agreed to suspend their movement, and the authorities agreed to introduce satisfactory legislation in 1912, meanwhile administering the law as though it had been already altered. The measure of 1912 was however no better and the truce was extended for one more year. It was then that Mr. Gandhi invited the late Mr. Gokhale to South Africa to study the whole situation on the spot, and the latter with the full approval of the Indian and Imperial Governments sailed for that country and arrived at Capetown on 22nd October, 1912. He stayed for about three weeks and toured the whole country visiting every important city. Everywhere he was received with signal honour, not merely by the Indian community but also by the colonial authorities themselves, and succeeded in making a great impression by that sweet reasonableness for which he was so well-known. He interviewed the Union ministers and secured from them the promise of a satisfactory settlement, and amongst other things the repeal of the £3 tax which every ex-indentured Indian man and woman had to pay in Natal, and to which reference has been made already. Things seemed to augur well for the future and hope began to revive where despair had reigned before.
A fresh and extraordinary complication was now introduced into the situation in the shape of a judicial decision of the Union Court which declared all Indian marriages to be null and void under the law of the Union. The consternation into which it plunged the entire Indian Community is imagined than described. When the long-expected legislation was at last introduced into the Union Parliament in 1913, it was evident that it was merely tinkering with the whole problem without any attempt at solving it in a liberal or large-hearted manner. Warnings were accordingly given and representations made to the authorities by the Indian leaders but to no purpose. A few amendments were made in the original bill but the Act as passed was absolutely inadequate to meet the requirements of the situation. At this juncture a deputation was sent to England to bring home to the Imperial authorities and the British public the profound danger of the whole position, and the certainty that if timely steps were not taken it would lead to the revival of passive resistance on a vastly enlarged scale. But it was in vain. It required still an appalling amount of suffering before the conscience of the Union could at all be moved.
The struggle accordingly recommenced with a grimness and determination which threw into the shade even the previous campaigns. The principal planks of the passive resister this time were, the abolition of the £3 tax, the complete eradication of the racial bar as a principle of legislation, the recognition of the validity of Indian marriages, the right of entry into Cape Colony of all South Africa-born. Indians, and the sympathetic and equitable administration of all laws affecting the British Indian immigrant.
Of the incidents of this final stage of the struggle one can speak only in terms of bated breath. For it had been decreed that the baptism of fire through which the Indian Community had been passing during these long years should now be bestowed on the only two classes which had hitherto remained outside it the women and the indentured labourer. The Indian women in the Transvaal had indeed already played a memorable part, by the fine understanding they had displayed of the purposes of the whole movement, and by the whole-hearted sympathy and encouragement which they had given to their men-folk. But the time had now come for the women themselves to step into the flaming breach. Like an arrow in the heart did they receive the judicial dictum which pronounced their marriages to be invalid. Or rather it was that the entrance of this arrow was but the occasion for the opening of the flood-gates of that idealism of which woman's heart is the chosen home. And in what a deluge did it thereafter pour! How many hundreds were the Indian women that sanctified the prison-houses of South Africa! And how superb was the intoxication that came upon the men-folk as they beheld their own mothers, wives and sisters mock at the crucifixion of the body! Never before in the history of the world had a more signal proof been given of the power of the human soul to defy the arrayed forces of wickedness and embrace suffering in the battle for honour and self-respect. The splendour and ecstasy of it all will last through the ages.
The account given by Mrs. Polak in the pages of “Indian Opinion” of the part played by women in the struggle is so interesting that it deserves to be quoted in full. She writes:—
"Ruskin has said: “A woman's duty is two-fold, her duty to her home and her duty to the State.” Scarcely an Indian woman in South Africa has read Ruskin's words, probably never heard of them, but the spirit of truth manifests itself in many ways and places, and the Indian women of South Africa intuitively knew this as one of the true laws of life, and their work showed that they performed their greater duty accordingly. These women, without any training for public life, accustomed to the retirement of women of India, not versed or read in the science of sociology, just patient, dutiful wives, mothers, and daughters of a struggling class of workers, in an hour of need, moved by the spirit of a larger life, took up their duty to their country, and served it with that heroism of which such women alone are capable.
It is said so often that woman does not reason, and perhaps it is a charge largely true, but where the elementary laws of being are concerned, woman follows a surer path than any dictated by reason, and sooner or later gets to her goal. Every reform movement has shown that, from the moment women stand side by side with men in the maintenance of a principle, however dimly understood by them, the spirit of the movement grows, is crystallised, and success to the movement is assured.
The Western is so accustomed to think of the Indian woman as one living in retirement, without any broad thought and without any interest in public affairs, that it must have come with a shock of surprise to learn that many Indian women, some with babies in their arms, some expecting babies to be born to them, and some quite young girls, were leaving their homes and taking part in all the hardships of the Passive Resistance campaign.
The last phase of the fight, and the one through which to-day we rejoice in peace, was practically led in the early stages by a small band of women from Natal, who challenged prison to vindicate thefr right to the legal recognition of their wifehood, and a similar small band of women from Johannesburg.
The women from Natal, all of them wives of wellknown members of the Indian community, travelled up to Volksrust, were arrested and sentenced to three months' hard labour, and were the first of hundreds to go to gaol. The women from the Transvaal travelled down the line, taking in the mines on their way, holding meetings and calling upon the men to refuse to work and to die rather than live as slaves, and at the call of these women, thousands laid down their tools and went on strike. I think it may safely be said that, but for the early work of these brave women, during the middle of last year, the wonderful response to the call of honour and country might never have taken place. About six weeks after the Transvaal women left, they also were arrested, and a similar sentence to that passed upon the women of Natal was passed upon them, and they were forcibly vaccinated. So these brave women were shut away from life, but the fight now so splendidly begun went on.
A few days after the release of these last women, two gave Birth to children, and another, a young girl of about twenty, passed away, and a third hovered between life and death for months, but the goal was won. To-day, all these women are back in their homes and are busy in the usual routine of an Indian woman's life. There is absolutely none of the pride of heroism about them. They are the same patient, dutiful women that India has produced for centuries; yet they endured the publicity, and no one who does not know India can understand how terrible to the Indian woman such publicity is. They endured the physical hardship, the mental sorrow, the heartache; for nearly all who did not take young children with them left young ones at home, endured hunger strikes, because they were deprived of fat to eat and sandals to put on endured it all without harshness or bitterness. India has many things to be proud of, but of none more than the part the Indian women of South Africa took in the uplifting and recognition of a people here despised."
The foregoing account refers to a strike on the coal-mines. The organization of a strike of the Indentured labourers was part and parcel of the scheme of the leaders for the final campaign. This strike and the famous march of the strikers to the Transvaal, we cannot better describe than in the words of an article entitled "That Wonderful March" in that self-same journal. It runs:—
"The question of the repeal of the £3 tax had become urgent already in 1908 and 1909, when an organisation had been formed for the purpose of securing it, and petitions widely signed had been sent to the then Natal Parliament, without other result than the passing of the ineffective Act of 1910, giving magistrates discretion—which some used, while others did not—to exempt certain classes of women in certain circumstances.
During his campaign in India, in 1909-10 and 1911-12, and his visit to England in 1911, Mr. Polak had pressed the question upon the attention of the people and Government of India and the British public, who had hitherto been ignorant as to the harsh incidence of the tax and grim misery that it entailed.
Accordingly, when the Hon. Mr. Gokhale came to South Africa in 1912, and set himself to the task of examining Indian grievances on the spot, he immediately seized upon the tax as one that required and was capable of immediate remedy, and he, therefore, as he has told us, made special representations on the subject at the meeting of Ministers at Pretoria, when, he is positive, a definite undertaking was given him to repeal the tax. His efforts to that end had already been foreshadowed whilst he had travelled through the Union, and he had given assurances to vast crowds of those liable to the tax that he would not rest until he had secured its repeal, a resolve that had been much encouraged by the sympathetic speeches and conversations of prominent Natalians, both at the Durban banquet and at the subsequent Chamber of Commerce meeting. And these promises, fortified by the knowledge of what had transpired at Pretoria, Mr. Gandhi, upon his return from Zanzibar, whither he had accompanied Mr. Gokhale, repeated again and again in a responsible manner, to large numbers of those affected by the tax.
When, therefore, in 1913, a measure was introduced into the Union Parliament, at the end of the session, exempting women only from its operation, but requiring them to take out an annual licence, a message was sent to Mr. Gokhale in India requiring whether the promise of repeal had been limited to women. The reply was that it applied to all who were affected by the tax, and the Bill was promptly killed by Mr. Meyler and the late Sir David Hunter, who protested against its further progress, as they felt convinced that to pass it would be to delay total repeal indefinitely. Up to this time there had been no denial by the Government of the promise alleged.
At the rising of Parliament, Mr. Gandhi entered into fresh negotiations with the Union Government, reminding them of the promise, and asking for a definite undertaking of repeal of the tax in 1914. Meanwhile, in England, Mr. Polak,who had gone there at Mr. Gokhale's instance, had made it clear to the Imperial authorities and the British public that, whilst the repeal of the £3 tax had not previously formed part of the Passive Resisters' demands, the question had now become so acute, and Indian public feeling in South Africa had become so intense owing to what was regarded as the Union Government's breach of faith that, in the unfortunate event of the revival of the struggle, repeal of the tax would be made part and parcel of it. Lord Ampthill, too, after consulting with Mr. Gokhale, referred in explicit terms to the promise of repeal, in a portentous speech in the House of Lords. In the result, the Union Government declined to give an undertaking on the subject, though they still did not deny the promise, and the question therefore, formed one of the five points of Passive Resistance in Mr. A. M. Cachalia's letter of the 12th September, announcing the revival of the struggle. At the same time, Mr. Gokhale, in the face of the objections of his medical advisers, hurried back to India to rouse the Government and his fellow-countrymen to action.
On September 28, and before any important activity had developed Mr. Gandhi addressed to the Secretary for the Interior a letter containing the following warning and appeal:—
"I know also what responsibility lies on my shoulders in advising such a momentous step, but I feel that it is not possible for me to refrain from advising a step which I consider to be necessary, to be of educational value, and, in the end, to be valuable both to the Indian community and to the State. This step consists in actively, persistently, and continuously asking those who are liable to pay the £3 tax to decline to do so and to suffer the penalties for non-payment, and what is more important; in asking those who are now serving indenture and who will, therefore, be liable to pay the £3 Tax upon the completion of their indenture, to strike work until the tax is withdrawn. I feel that in view of Lord Ampthill's declaration in the House of Lords, evidently with the approval of Mr. Gokhale, as to the definite promise made by the Government and repeated to Lord Gladstone, this advice to indentured Indians would be fully justified... Can I not even now, whilst in the midst of the struggle, appeal to General Smuts and ask him to reconsider his decision... on the question of the £3 tax?" The letter was shown to General Smuts who vouchsafed no reply, but who also did not even then repudiate the promise, nor did he warn the employers of the intentions of the Passive Resistance leaders. A fortnight later, in a statement circulated by Reuter's Agency throughout the South African press, it was clearly stated that "the movement will also consist in advising indentured Indians to suspend work until the £3 Tax is removed. The indentured Indians will not be invited to join the general struggle." The public thus received ample warning of what was toward.
The Indian women who had joined the struggle as a protest against the refusal of the Government to legalise Indian marriages and who, as Passive Resistors, had unsuccessfully sought imprisonment at Vereeniging, Germiston and Volksrust, were allowed to pass into Natal unmolested, and the first steps taken to "call out" the Indians on the coal-mines in the northern part of the Province were due to the courage and devotion of these women, whose appearance there was almost in the nature of an accident. Under the guidance of Mr. C. K. T. Naidoo, they made Newcastle their headquarters, and, travelling from mine to mine, they made eloquent appeal to the Indian labourers and their families to cease work until an assurance of repeal of the tax was given by the Government. The response was immediate and general. Mine after mine was closed down, as the Indian labourers refused to work, and a state of panic ensued amongst the employers, who at first continued to give rations as an inducement to their employees to remain on the mines. A hurried conference of mine-owners was held at Durban, at which Mr. Gandhi was invited to be present, and he then explained the situation and referred to the promise made to Mr. Gokhale. He pointed out that the labourers were being asked to strike only so long as the £3 Tax was unrepealed, and because it had been alleged—an allegation that was subsequently discovered to be well-founded—that the employers were opposed to repeal. The conference telegraphed to General Smuts inquiring about the promise, which was denied by him and by General Botha, for the first time; but it is significant that the late Mr. Fischer, who was also present at the meeting with the Ministers, did not repudiate it, though his physical condition did not preclude his doing so. Mr. Gokhale at once cabled, stating that a promise of repeal had undoubtedly been made to him, and, as a result of the hostile attitude now taken up by the Government and by the employers, the labourers were invited to leave the mines, where improper influences were being used to induce them to return to work.
Mr. Gandhi placed himself at the head of a vast commissariat organisation, and, together with a small body of assistants, chief of whom was Mr. Albert Christopher, and with the co-operation of Mr. Kallenbach, the Indians—men, women and children—were fed and maintained at Newcastle, where they flocked by the hundred, coming by road and rail as fast as they could leave the mines, with the result that the latter, from Dundee and Ladysmith to Newcastle, were denuded of their labour supply. It was a pathetic and yet a cheering sight to watch these patient hundreds plodding slowly along muddy roads, in inclement weather, to the Newcastle centre, where they lived on a handful of rice, bread, and sugar a day, in the open, without shelter, without cooking accommodation beyond what they improvised on the bare veld, without comfort of any kind. But they were buoyed up with a great hope, and they had an inspiring leader. Mr. Kallenbach, too, fought their battles for them with the Newcastle municipality and magistracy, and later they saw how Mr. Gandhi shared their daily life and hardships, nursed the sick, and fed the hungry. They knew that the Indian women, who had urged them to strike, were cheerfully suffering imprisonment with hard labour, for their sake, and they felt in honour bound to struggle on until they had secured the repeal of the tax that weighed so heavily upon so many of them. And the women amongst them were no less heroic than the men. One mother, whose little child died of exposure on the road to Newcastle, was heard to say: "We must not pine for the dead; it is the living for which we must work." Such a spirit ensured ultimate success.
As their members swelled, it was felt that the only possible method of compelling the Union Government to realise their responsibilities and assume charge was to march the whole of the strikers into the Transvaal, there to court arrest and imprisonment, and it was accordingly decided to concentrate at Charlestown, the border village, where Messrs. Vallibhai and Mukdoom rendered great service. At the head of a large "army," therefore, Mr. Gandhi marched there on October 30th, but just before the march commenced, a number of strikers were arrested and removed to the gaols after sentence of imprisonment. Day by day hundreds more marched to or entrained for Charlestown, where a vast camp was organised, under the sanitary control of the District Health Officer, Dr. Briscoe, and rations, that were pouring in from Durban and Johannesburg Indian merchants, to which were added supplies purchased with money that was being cabled in large sums from India, were daily distributed to a gathering of men, women and children that numbered finally over 3,000.
Meanwhile, Mr. Gandhi had telegraphed the intentions of the "invaders" to the Government, who apparently took no notice of the warning. Simultaneously, efforts were made, without success, by the Deputy Protector to induce the strikers to return to work, and large batches of them were arrested, and eventually imprisoned.
At last, a week after the notification, Mr. Gandhi commenced the now famous "invasion" of the Transvaal, with a following of over 2,000. The women and children were left behind at Charlestown, in charge of Miss Schlesin and Mr. Kallenbach, who worked day and night to make their lot somewhat easier. At the border, the "army" came to a stand, whilst Mr. Gandhi, who was near the rear, having remained behind to make final arrangements, came forward to interview the police officer who, with a small patrol, was on duty at the gate of entry. Whilst these preliminaries were in train, the main body became impatient, and a mass of cheering, shouting Indians, clad in ragged clothes, and bearing their pitifully small belongings upon their heads, swarmed through the streets of Volksrust, determined to do or die, brushing the handful of police aside like so many helpless and insignificant atoms. They encamped on the farther side of the town, and the great march had commenced. The programme was to march, at the rate of some 25 miles a day, until the men were arrested, or Tolstoy Farm, at Lawley, near Johannesburg, was reached, and the Government were informed of each stopping-place. Eight days were set aside to reach their destination, unless they were earlier arrested, and, from the swing and energy of their marching, it was plain that a phenomenal feat was being performed by men, many of them heavily burdened, unused to conditions of "war," but accustomed to hard and simple life, and on a meagre and unusual diet. That night they reached Palmford, where special accommodation was offered to Mr. Gandhi, who, however, refused to accept hospitality which his humbler countrymen could not share.
Meanwhile, the Government were not altogether idle, but with that stupidity which almost invariably characterises governments in similiar emergencies, they did the wrong filing, and issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Gandhi, hoping thus to demoralise the forces that he was leading. Mr. Gandhi surrendered to the warrant of Palmford, having, at the request of the authorities, pointed out some of his own followers to give evidence for him, as the Crown would not otherwise have been able to prove its case against him! He was motored swiftly to Volksrust, but the "army" silently and grimly pursued its march undeterred by the loss of its revered leader. At Volksrust, Mr. Gandhi was charged with breach of the Immigration Act and applied for bail, as he was in charge of large numbers of men entirely dependent upon him, and his application was granted. Realising, however, the probable risks that would ensue if the people were left leaderless, he addressed the following telegram to the Minister of the Interior:
"Whilst I appreciate the fact of Government having at last arrested prime mover in passive resistance struggle, cannot help remarking that from point view humanity moment chosen most unfortunate. Government probably know that marchers include 122 women, 50 tender children, all voluntarily marching on starvation rations without provision for shelter during stages. Tearing me away under such circumstances from them is violation all considerations justice. When arrested last night, left men without informing them. They might become infuriated. I, therefore, ask either that I may be allowed continue march with men, or Government send them by rail Tolstoy Farm and provide full rations for them. Leaving them without one in whom they have confidence, and without Government making provision for them, is, in my opinion, an act from which I hope on reconsideration Government will recoil. If untoward incidents happen during further progress march, or if deaths occur, especially amongst women with babies in arms, responsibility will be Government's." No reply was returned to this humane appeal, but it was understood that the Government had no intention of assuming charge of this large body of men, women and children. Writing at the time of Mr. Gandhi's arrest, the special correspondent of the Natal Mercury sent his paper the following vivid description of the conditions prevailing both then and earlier at Charlestown:—
"We arrived at Palmford about 8-30 P.M. last night, and found them all sleeping in the veld, just below the station. Many of them were feeling the cold severely... I visited Charlestown twice on the 5th (the day before the march commenced). The whole appearance of the town resembled nothing but an Indian bazaar. The town was crowded with Indians... No sanitary arrangements were made at first, and the position from a health point of view was awful; but later Mr. Gandhi assisted the municipal officials, and the position was greatly improved. I found Mr. Gandhi at the back of an Indian store, in the yard, serving out curry and rice to his followers, who marched up, and each man received his quota. One baker sold 5,000 loaves to the Indians in one day."
Mr. Gandhi, upon his release on bail, swiftly motored back to his followers, rejoining them on the march, which proceeded quietly as far as Paardeberg, where the remaining women and children were left behind in charge of a few of the men, who had become footsore. The main body reached Standerton on the morning of the 8th, where a number of strikers were arrested by their compound managers, assisted by a few police, and entrained for Natal. And here, too, Mr. Gandhi was re-arrested on the same charge as before. He again requested bail, and, owing to the attitude of the strikers, who persistently refused to move from the Court precincts until their leader was restored to them, his request was granted, and the march was resumed immediately.
Sunday, the 9th, was an historic day. With a view to a final consultation with him before leaving for India, Mr. Polak had telegraphed to Mr. Gandhi, saying that he was joining him, and had received a wire suggesting Greylingstad as the meeting place, but with the warning that he (Mr. Polak) might be arrested if he came. He joined the column at a small place named Teakworth, a few miles on the Standerton side of Greylingstad. The "army," spread along the road for a distance of some three miles, was led by a small, limping, bent, but dogged man, coarsely dressed, and using a staff, with a serene and peaceful countenance, however, and a look of sureness and content. That was Gandhi, the principal Passive Resister. The two friends greeted each other, and eagerly exchanged news. Whilst thus engaged, and when about an hour distant from Greylingstad, not far ahead was seen a Cape cart, and walking rapidly towards them were a couple of police officers, behind whom came Mr. M. Chamney, the Principal Immigration Officer of the Transvaal. Realising the pacific nature of the demonstration and of the Indian leader's intentions, Mr. Chamney had complimented Mr. Gandhi by undertaking his arrest upon a warrant issued under the Natal Indenture Law with no stronger support than this. The Cape cart, with its precious freight, drove swiftly away, and the column resumed its march quietly, under the leadership of Mr. Polak, who had at once assumed the responsibility, preceded by the two mounted policemen. A few minutes later, Messrs. Cachalia and. Bhyat, who, together with Mr. Badat of Volksrust, were in charge of the commissariat arrangements, of which Mr. Polak was in entire ignorance, joined the column, having accidentally missed it in on another road, and they at once proceeded to Balfour, where it was due next morning and where food supplies were awaiting its arrival. The evening was fine and clear, and the cooking-fires that were lit from end to end of the veldt offered a bright and sparkling spectacle. Gradually, the buzz and throb of conversation sank, as sleep fell upon the camp. The night, however, was dismal and wretched, a cold wind howled mournfully down from the neighbouring hills, and a drizzle of rain added to the discomfort of the shelterless throng.
But the night was portentous, for it was decreed that the march should end on the morrow, though of this the marchers were as yet unware. At four in the morning it was resumed, and the moving mass of heroic men swung forward into their stride, covering the ground at a splendid pace, and, laden as they were, without waggons and without food, they travelled the distance between Greylingstad and Balfour, 13 miles, in 3 1/2 hours. Upon reaching the latter place, without any police escort, just before 9 a.m., it became evident that the last stage had been reached, for three special trains were drawn up at the station to take back the strikers to Natal. Mr. Polak was approached by the Police Officer in charge of the arrangements, and by Mr. Chamney, to co-operate with them in effecting the arrest of the "army." and upon receiving their assurance that the men were really to be sent to Natal, where criminal proceedings were awaiting them, he replied that he would gladly do so as the whole object of the march had thus been fulfilled, and his own responsibility ceased. At the same time, he offered himself for arrest also, but he was informed that the Government did not desire this. He, however, warned the officials that, in Mr. Gandhi's enforced absence, it might be difficult for him to induce compliance with their desire, as but few of the men had ever seen him before. Mr. Gandhi, however, was passing through from Heideberg, en route for Dundee, where he was subsequently imprisoned, and sent a message urging the people quietly to surrender.
They were fed as rapidly as food could be supplied to them—a handful of rice and bread each—and then Mr. Chamney, having questioned them as to their proofs of rights of residence, proclaimed them prohibited immigrants. For the moment, chaos prevailed, as a number of stalwarts, who had set their hearts upon reaching Johannesburg, called upon the multitude to march forward, but, instantly realising the danger of this movement, which, whilst it would have resulted in bloodshed, would have swept aside the small band of twenty-five policemen in the twinkling of an eye, and let loose an uncontrolled body of men to roam over the Transvaal, who would not afterwards probably have been located, Mr. Polak, followed by Messrs. Cachalia and Ehyat, rushed to the head of the column and implored the people to remember that their object, as passive resistors, was not Johannesburg but gaol, and eventually peace was restored. Gradually, and in small groups, the men entrained, Mr. Polak accompanying the first train as far as Charlestown, where he was shortly afterwards arrested. Here, the strikers having been locked up without food or water for eight hours, the trains were not allowed to remain more than a couple of minutes, the platform being occupied by armed police, who kept back the women that had remained there and now urged their men-folk, with tears in their eyes and choking voices, not to mind them but to remain true to their duty. And slowly the trains steamed south, bearing nearly two thousand humble heroes to a bitter fate and a shameful experience, but firm in the knowledge that they had done what they had set out to do, and that the repeal of the hated tax was now certain. The great and impressive march was over.
The Times has since declared that it must live in memory as one of the most remarkable manifestations in history of the spirit of Passive Resistance. It had achieved all that its organisers, in their fondest dreams, had hoped for it. It had proclaimed, as nothing else could have done, the stubborn endurance, the dogged persistency, the grim tenacity, the stern determination, the magnificent self-sacrifice of the Passive Resisters. And it assured success. It was not a defeat, as the shallow critics had at the time proclaimed it. Had the strikers not exercised, under the guidance of trusted leaders, immense self- control—there was no pillage, no disorder, no violence—all the forces that the Government had brought against them could not have prevented their swarming over the Transvaal. But it was the glorious ending of a peaceful demonstration of workers determined upon achieving freedom for themselves, their wives, their children. A splendid victory for Truth had been won. The honour of the Indian Motherland had been vindicated. Mr. Gokhale's word had been made good.
And the sign of this is to be found in the work of Messrs. Andrews and Pearson, the report of the Commission, its acceptance by the Government, the debates in Parliament, and the passing of Act 22 of 1914, repealing the £3 Tax for ever and granting freedom of residence in Natal to those who choose to remain unindentured. The real victory is that of the soul-force of the marchers, starving, weary, but buoyed up with unconquerable hope, over the brute-force of those who had declared their intention at all costs to maintain them in a condition of perpetual helotage."
Thus ended the great march. The majesty of the law was once more vindicated by the arrest, trial and imprisonment of thousands. Mr. Gandhi himself who, as the account quoted above mentions, had been arrested at Volksrust and released on bail was subsequently tried and sentenced to fifteen months. At the trial he delivered himself as follows:—
Addressing the Court at Volksrust, Mr. Gandhi said that he had given the Minister of the Interior due notice of his intention to cross the border with the prohibited immigrants, and had informed the Immigration Officer at Volksrust of the date of crossing. He assured the Court that the present movement had nothing whatever to do with the unlawful entry of a single Indian for the purpose of residence in the Transvaal. He might fairly claim that during his whole career in the Transvaal he had been actuated by a desire to assist the Government in preventing surreptitious entry and unlawful settlement, but he pleaded guilty to knowingly committing an offence against the Section under which he was charged. He was aware that his action was fraught with the greatest risks and intense personal suffering to his followers. He was convinced that nothing short of much suffering would move the conscience of the Governor, or of the inhabitants of the Union, of which, in spite of this breach of the laws, he claimed to be a sane and law-abiding citizen.
The strike on the coal-mines had meanwhile spread to the sugar plantations in Natal. A savage attempt was made to suppress it and in the attempt some of the strikers were shot dead, and several injured.
The cup of suffering was now full to the brim. Resentment in India had reached white heat. The Government of India were alarmed at the situation. And Lord Bardinge then Viceroy of India, in his famous speech at Madras, placed himself at the head of Indian public opinion and asked for the appointment of a commission to institute a searching enquiry into the whole matter. The Imperial Authorities also bestirred themselves as they had never done before. And the authors of the policy which had led to such incalculable misery and bitterness now for the first time showed likewise unmistakable signs of relenting by acceding to the demand for the commission of enquiry. But when it was actually constituted with Sir William Solomon as President, its composition rendered it so dubious that the Indian leaders resolved to ignore it altogether. It was at this crisis of affairs that the well-known missionary gentlemen, the Rev. Messrs. Andrews and Pearson, true children of the Man of Sorrows paid a visit to South Africa and by their persistent endeavours in influential circles were able to diffuse a healing spirit. All is well that ends well. The findings of the Solomon commission were favourable to the Indian community on all points referred to it for report. Its recommendations were endorsed without reservation by the Union Government and given effect to by the subsequent passing of the Indians' Relief Act. This gave satisfaction to the Indian Community and Mr. Gandhi formally announced the closing of the struggle.
It will be interesting at this stage to take stock of the results achieved by the concentrated suffering of eight long years. But we shall miss its significance if we do not grasp clearly at the outset that the battle was from first to last a moral and spiritual one, and was waged not for the compassing of material ends but for the vindication of manhood. And from this point of view it surely realised its purpose in a measure that the great protagonists of the movement themselves could not at first have dreamed of. The struggle was the means, the struggle was the end. To those who have known the intensity of aspiration and elevation of character that made the fight possible the talk of material results must ever seem a pitiful meanness. Such have received the initiation of the highest self-knowledge. They have been face to face with that mood of the soul which sights nothing but endless horizons of spiritual endeavour and achievement. They have known that the life of the ordinary selfish man is not the real life but that deep within everyone high or low sleeps a heaven into which some day we shall all awake.
Furthermore they have created for their children and their children's children the priceless memory of a heroic past. And down to the remotest generations will linger the pride of how the forefathers braved the fury of the persecutor and staked their all for nothing but their own honour. Nay shall not the motherland herself treasure for ever the story of the deeds of the humblest of her children in a far away land as it has treasured the legend of Rama and Sita, or that of the Pandava brothers? Will not humanity itself the world over feel a quickened sense of its own divinity as it peruses the same golden record? Has not another chapter been added to the world's Acts of the Apostles?
Let us now reckon the tale of the martyrs to whom it was given to give their lives to the cause. There was that young girl, Valiamma of whom Mr. Gandhi has said: "Simple-minded in faith she had not the knowledge that he had, she did not know what passive resistance was, she did not know what it was the community would gain, but she was simply taken up with unbounded enthusiasm for her people—went to gaol, came out of it a wreck, and within a few days died." There were the two youths from the Tamil land, Nagappan and Narayanaswamy—the former died shortly after his release from prison, and the latter at Delgoa Bay after having vainly attempted to land in South Africa as already told. And lastly there was the old man Harbatsingh, a Hindustani stalwart who went to gaol as a passive resister when he was seventy-five; and who when questioned by Mr. Gandhi why he had come, had answered. "What does it matter? I know what you are fighting for. You have not to pay the £3 tax but my fellow ex-indentured Indians have to pay that tax, and what more glorious death could I meet?" And he met his death in the gaol at Durban.
Coming lower down the scale, the feeling of contempt for the “coloured man” which had so long possessed the white settlers has yielded place to one of respect and admiration. The instinct of race-superiority has been knocked out of at least the better mind of the Union. The principle of differentiation on racial grounds has disappeared. The livery of manhood shines in place of the badge of servitude. Unfading lustre has been reflected upon the name of the mother-country, and an invaluable contribution made to the life of Indian Nationalism.
And last but not least, the struggle has removed the mask from the small emaciated figure known to the world as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and set him before the world in his true lineaments a moral giant, a spiritual hero, and a peerless soldier of God.
The material fruits of the struggle were in themselves by no means inconsiderable. The hated law which started the whole trouble was repealed. The £3 tax has been abolished. The recognition of Indian marriages has been secured. The system of indentured immigration has been put an end to. And most important of all, the passing of further laws intended to drive out the Indians from South Africa, which would certainly have followed, was nipped in the bud. But of none of these gains could it be said that it was wholly material.
There are still great disabilities under which the Indian resident of the Union has to labour. These we shall enumerate in the words of Mr. Gandhi himself: "There was still the gold law which had many a sting in it. There was still the Licensing laws throughout the Union which also contained many a sting. There was still a matter which the colonial-born Indians could not understand or appreciate, namely, the water-tight compartments in which they had to live; whilst there was free inter-communication and inter-migration between the provinces for the Europeans, Indians had to be cooped up in their respective provinces. Then there was undue restraint on their trading activity. There was the prohibition as to their holding landed property in the Transvaal which was degrading and all these things took Indians into all sorts of undesirable channels." Further the Indians have yet to be admitted to the political franchise. The sympathy which takes an equal interest in all classes of the ruled is still far distant. And lastly the practical stoppage of immigration from India has deprived the South African Indians of that opportunity of living intercourse with the mother country which he cannot but value so highly. These and like wrongs will have to be set right in the future, God grant without the necessity of similar struggles!
The sense of truimph and rejoicing which marked the closing of the memorable struggle was mingled by the sadness of tha thought that the great central figure, the genius and inspirer of the whole movement, the redeemer and Avatar of the Indian community in South Africa was soon to depart to the motherland for ever. Heightened a thousandfold was the pathos of farewell which in this case is best left to the imagination. His mission accomplished, the conquering hero returned to his native land in the faith, as he has said, that "it is in India that the nearest approach to perfection is most possible."
The welcome accorded to Mr. Gandhi on his return home, was characterised by all the warmth, affection, anddelicate reverence which India alone of all lands knows to offer to the great of soul. Since his return to this country he has been mainly devoting himself to a personal study and comprehension of the problems with which a great and ancient civilisation in process of transition to a new order necessarily teems. For this purpose, he has been going about from place to place, making the acquaintance of people of all grades and conditions, and coming into contact with the leaders of thought and activity. A man's character is written in his slightest acts and when during the early days of his arrival in this country, he was seen alighting from a third class compartment, at Howrah station, while the elite of Calcutta, assembled on the platform, were making a search for him in the first and second-class compartments, almost a sensation was caused. This was no vanity of humility on his part but proceeded from the firm resolve not to stain himself by any luxury which is not accessible to the poorest in the land. It was simply that passionate determination to one himself with the sorrows of the lowest and meanest of which his daily life is so eloquent an expression. And recently, he has become the fiery champion of the woes of the third-class passenger! In his eyes there is no wrong so trivial as to be unworthy of his earnest attention and striving. Such is the spirit that he has brought to the task of nation-making in this land.
There was again that incident at the opening of the Hindu University, when the platform was crowded with Rajahs and Maharajahs, and Mr. Gandhi made a speech at which several people left the meeting construing his words to be disloyal. It was sheer misunderstanding, as it afterwards turned out, of the spirit of a man whose whole life is a consuming effort to throw out of himself the very seed of hatred and every slightest motion of mind or heart which could have the shadow of any reaction of evil.
The Champaran incident is still fresh in the mind of the public and requires no elaboration. He had gone there on invitation to undertake an enquiry as to the conditions of the labourers in the Indigo plantations and the treatment meted out to them by their employers. The District Magistrate of Champaran took it into his head that his presence was a serious danger to the district and would lead to a breach of the peace. And he had an order served upon Mr. Gandhi to the effect that the latter was to leave the district by the “next available train.” Mr. Gandhi replied that he had come there out of a sense of duty and would stay and submit to the penalty of disobedience. At the trial that followed he simply pleaded guilty, and made a statement that he was faced by a conflict of duty, the duty of obeying the law and the duty of enquiry upon which he had come, and that under the circumstances he could only throw the responsibility of removing him on the administration. The Magistrate postponed judgment till some hours later in the day, and at the interview with the District Magistrate the same day he undertook not to go out to the village till instructions were received from the provincial administration. The case was adjourned to some days later, and the higher authorities subsequently issued instructions not to proceed with the prosecution. Some of the planters took the occasion to make a rabid attack upon Mr. Gandhi, but the recently published report of the Champaran commission of enquiry which was the immediate result of his visit has amply justified him.
The idea of a monster petition to the authorities from the people is not new in the modern political history of India. But when Mr. Gandhi revived the suggestion in connection with the Congress-Moslem-League scheme of reform, the moment was most opportune and the idea caught like magic. He himself undertook the propaganda in his own province of Gujarat and carried it out with characteristic thoroughness. The true patriot can never be idle, neither can he ever rest on his oars.
But far the most pregnant act of his in India has been the establishment of the Satyagrahasrama. As its name signifies, it stands for truth, truth as the highest consideration of all, truth in thought, word and deed. Its members have likewise to take the vow of celibacy, the vow of control of the palate, the vow of non-thieving, the vow of Swadeshi, the vow of fearlessness, and the vow of redeeming the untouchables in India. That education should be imparted through the vernaculars is also one of its cardinal principles. The Ashrama is thus the nucleus of a great new order for the perfecting of the individual and the uplifting of the nation.
It is as the embodiment of Satyagraha, as a veritable lamp burning upon the altar, that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi stands to-day before his countrymen. Truth-force or love-force, as he himself has translated the term into English, is to him the greatest of all powers. In proportion as individuals and nations alike fulfil the law of this power and fit themselves into it they live and grow : the rest is death. The delicacy of insight and vision, the force of character, and all the virtues which have thrown a mantle of splendour over his name are but the fruit of this central realisation carried into action. It would be vain to speculate as to what he would have become had his life been cast in other places than South Africa. God sends his chosen servants to do the work appointed for them. It is ours to recognize them.