M. K. Gandhi: Indian Patriot in South Africa/Chapter 22
October 16th, 1908.
Yesterday, Mr. Gandhi was was sentenced, for the second time this year, to imprisonment for two months. "Hard labour" was also imposed. His crime was that, in returning from Natal, he was unable to show his certificate, which everyone knew had been to him, but which he had burned with the rest, when the terms of the compromise were repudiated by the Government; and refused to give his thumb impressions, as means of identification—a needless formality—and which would have meant acquiescence in the present Act.
His consistent line of conduct, through all this trouble, has been to stand beside the humblest of his countrymen and suffer with them. In fact, all the Asiatic leaders have done this. A few weeks ago when the hawkers were arrested for having no licence, the best educated and wealthiest man in the community suddenly became "hawkers." The Imam of the Mosque, the Chairman of the British Indian Association, the Chairman of the Chinese Association, and others like them, appeared in the streets with baskets of fruits or vegetables, as bundles of soft goods, and invited the police-officers and magistrates to buy. It was an act of kinship which was appreciated by the suffering men. Now, a private telegram from Volksrust states that "Mr. Gandhi has been drafted on to work on Volksrust Show Ground, attired in the usual garb."
When passing sentence on him, the magistrate is reported to have said:—"I very much regret to see Mr. Gandhi, an officer of this Court and of the Supreme Court, in his present position. Mr. Gandhi may feel otherwise, looking at the situation in the light that he is suffering for his country. But I can only view it from another point of view."
The prisoner himself made it perfectly clear how he regarded it. In addressing the Court he said:—"In connection with my refusal to produce my registration certificate, and to give thumb-impressions or finger impressions, I think that as an officer of this Court, and of the Supreme Court, I owe an explanation. There have been differences between the Government and the British Indians whom I represent as Secretary of the British Indian Association, over the Asiatic Act No. 2 of 1907, and after due deliberation, I took upon myself the responsibility of advising my countrymen not to submit to the primary obligation imposed by the Act, but still, as law-abiding subjects of the State, to accept its sanctions. Rightly or wrongly, in common with other Asiatics, I consider that the Act in question, among other things, offends our conscience, and the only way I thought, as I still think, the Asiatics could show their feeling with regard to it was to incur its penalties. And, in pursuance of that policy, I admit that I have advised the accused, who have preceded me, to refuse submission to the Act, as also the Act 36 of 1908, seeing that, in the opinion of British Indians, full relief that was promised by the Government has not been granted. I am now before the Court to suffer the penalties that may be awarded to me."
Just prior to this he wrote to me on a scrap of paper:—"My sole trust is in God, I am therefore quite cheerful."
So, once more, in company with about two hundred and fifty of his people, scattered throughout the Transvaal gaols, Mr. Gandhi is condemned, as he put it in a note recently, "to partake of the hospitality of King Edward's Hotel." Cheerful? Naturally so; according to his own words "the happiest man in the Transvaal."
- "He hath obtained the Yog—that man is such,
- In sorrows not dejected, and in joys
- Not overjoyed; dwelling outside the stress
- Of passion, fear, and anger."
On Sunday, Mr. Gandhi was transferred from Volksrust goal to the Fort, at Johannesburg.
The Indians, who have become expert "pickets," always alert, gained intelligence of this change, and planted men at every station along the line of route. When he reached Johannesburg, dressed in convict clothes, marked all over with the broad arrow, he was marched under guard through the streets, before sundown, carrying his bundles as any convict would.
It makes one ashamed of the British rule under which such insults are possible. Of course, it is simply a result of the prison system. The governors of these goals are gentlemanly and courteous, the warders, with one exception, have been most kind, but an Indian is classed as a Native, and a Passive Register, as a criminal, while a criminal native must suffer the utmost degradation that the law provides. So the batteries of the Reef crush criminal savage and conscientious Indian without distinction. We have heard that Mr. Gandhi's experiences during that night were extremely shocking. Again the cast-iron regulations were at fault. As a native prisoner of the criminal class, he was locked into a cell with native and Chinese convicts, men more degraded than it is easy to imagine, accustomed to vices which cannot be named. This refined Indian was obliged to keep himself awake all night to resist possible assaults upon himself, such as he saw perpetrated around him. That night can never be forgotten.
Once more we have seen him. The Crown required Mr. Gandhi yesterday and to-day at the Court as a witness in some trial, and we saw and spoke to him. He look thin and unkempt. The wretched fool, and his gaol experiences, have told sensibly on his health. But his soul is calm and his mind dear. "It is all well," he said in his quick incisive way.
Two children, greatly attached to him, accompanied their friend on his return march to the Fort. They walked in line with him, for a long distance up the dusty road, in hope of attracting his attention, and of throwing him a ward of cheer. But they failed. His face was "steadfastly set to go to Jerusalem," and he saw nothing but that.
I wonder what he saw in that long march. Not the immediate Jerusalem, I imagine—the place of crucifixion. I know of no vision more terrible than that. The Fort, with its cells and its hateful associations. Those long files of prisoners. The white-clad, brutal native warders, swaggering along with their naked assegais. The lash for the obdurate, and the criminal taint for all. A city whose secrets may not be told; from whose dens children emerge criminals, and criminals indefinitely worse than when they entered.
No, not that; it is another Jerusalem which he faces steadfastly. It is such a city as all inspired men see, and to build whose walls they still "endure the cross, despising shame." A holy City, already come down from God out of Heaven, forming, unrecognised, unseen by worldly souls, amid the squalor of to-day, wherever God's children are. A new Jerusalem, whose beautiful gates are ever open to all nations; where no "colour-bar" is permitted to challenge the Indian, and no racial prejudice to daunt the Chinese; into whose walls even an Asiatic may build those precious stones which, one day, will startle us with their glory.