From the book: A Documentary History of Indian South Africans edited by Surendra Bhana and Bridglal Pachai

Satyagraharequired that the word of the adversary be trusted. However, the compromise was misunderstood, and a Pathan who had threatened to kill anyone who took the lead in applying for registration considered it a betrayal. He severely beat Gandhi on 10 February 1908. Below, Gandhi himself relates the story, which appeared originally in the Gujarati section of Indian Opinion, 22 February 1908. Incidentally, the Pathan (Mir Al'am) was Gandhi's client. Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 8, pp. 93-7.


For my part, I am not in the least surprised that I was assaulted. I had declared even on the 9th that, in view of the promise about the repeal of the law, I did I not see any dishonour in giving finger-impressions outside the law. On the contrary, I thought it was honourable to give them. When, in the meeting in front of the mosque, there was strong opposition to the idea of Indians voluntarily giving their finger-impressions, I asked myself what I would do if I had the real spirit of satyagrahain me, and then I declared my resolution that, if I was alive on Monday, I would positively give my finger-impressions. I still do not regret having done so; rather, I think that I did my duty to my God and my community. When at a quarter to ten on Monday morning I set out towards the Registration Office in the company of Mr. Essop Mia, Mr. Naidoo and a few other Indians, I did feel that there might be an attack on me. In fact, I had spotted two of the assailants near the office. They walked alongside of us. I then became surer. But I decided that I should not, as I had declared earlier, mind being assaulted by my own brethren.

Some way ahead, one of the men asked, 'Where are you all going?’ Mr. Essop Mia was about to answer, when I interrupted saying,'I am going [to the Registration Office] to give my finger-impressions. The others, too, will do the same. If you want to give your thumb-impressions [only], you can do that.’ My only recollection of what followed is that I received very severe blows.

I took severe blows on my left ribs. Even now I find breathing difficult. My upper lip has a cut on one side. I have a bruise above the left eye and a wound on the forehead. In addition, there are minor injuries on my right hand and left knee. I do not remember the manner of the assault, but people say that I fell down unconscious with the first blow which was delivered with a tick. Then my assailants struck me with an iron pipe and a stick, and they also kicked me. Thinking me dead, they stopped. I only remember having been beaten up. I have an impression that, as the blows started, I uttered the words 'He Rama!’ [Oh God]. Mr. Thambi Naidoo and Mr. Essop Mia intervened. Mr. Woo was hit as a result and injured on the ear. Mr. Essop Mia received a slight injury on a finger. As I came to, I got up with a smile. In my mind there was not the slightest anger or hatred for the assailants.

On reflection, I feel that we fear death needlessly. I believe that I have not known such fear for a long time now. And I have grown more fearless after this incident. If I had not regained consciousness, I would not have felt the suffering that I went through later. We can thus see that there is suffering only as long as the soul is in intimate union with the body. I became aware of the suffering only when the soul's union with the body was restored.


I do not blame anyone for the assault. Those who attacked me would have at one time greeted me and welcomed me enthusiastically. When they assaulted me, it was in the belief that I had done them and the community harm. Some people thought I had sold the community by having agreed to [the system of] finger-impressions [in our compromise] with the Government. If that is what they thought, is it surprising that they attacked me? If they had had some education, they would, instead of assaulting me, have adopted other means of venting their dislike of me. In either case, they would have had the same reason. Experience tells me that some people know of only one way of expressing disapproval. For them physical strength is the one supreme thing. How then could I be angry? What point would there be in having them prosecuted? My real duty consists in disproving their charge against me. That will take time. Meanwhile, as is the way of the world, people will persist in the methods of violence. In this situation, the duty of the wise man is only to bear the suffering in patience. I think of myself as a wise person. I have therefore no choice but to endure the suffering inflicted on me. My religion teaches me to have no fear save of God. If I had any such fear, I should be violating a divine command. Why then should I be afraid of suffering? I therefore ask of God that I may remain fearless till the last. I ask my well-wishers to say the same prayer.


When I came to somewhat, I was taken to Mr. Gibson's office, opposite which I had been attacked. I was attended to by Mr. Lew and Mr. Gibson, junior. A doctor washed the wounds. They were thinking of removing me to hospital. Mr. Doke, a clergyman, who did a great deal of work for us during the later stages [of our campaign], hurried to the spot on hearing news of the assault; he suggested that I should be taken to his place. After some deliberation, I agreed to his suggestion. Mr. Doke is a Baptist and nearly forty-six years old. He has travelled widely in New Zealand, India, [Palestine] and other countries, He came here from Grahamstown three months ago. Judging from the way helooked after me and from his nature and that of his family, he must be a godly person indeed. He is not exactly a friend. I had met him barely three or four times before then, and that in connection with the campaign in order to explain the position to him. It was thus a stranger whom he took into his house. All the members of his family remained in constant attendance on me. His son's room was put at my disposal, and the son himself slept on the floor in the library. While I was ill, Mr. Doke would not allow the slightest noise anywhere in the house. Even the children moved about very quietly. Mr. Doke took the sanitary part of the duties on himself, while I looked helplessly on. Mrs. Doke took on the work of bandaging me, of washing the bandages, etc. They would not allow me to do even what I could have well done myself. Both husband and wife sat up [at my bedside] through the first night. They came into the room every now and again to see if I wanted anything. In the mornings Mr. Doke was busy receiving people who came to inquire after me. Every day nearly 50 Indians called. So long as he was in the house, he would take every Indian, whether he appeared clean or otherwise, into his drawing-room, offer him a seat and then bring him to me. He would also gently remind everyone that I should not be disturbed much. This is how he looked after me. He did more than attend on me and attend to all those who came to see me. He also did whatever he could about the difficulties of the community. Besides, he would call on Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Phillips and others, carry messages from me and do of his own accord whatever appeared necessary. It is small wonder that a nation which produces such men should march forward. And how can one say that a religion to which such gentle, kind-hearted and really noble persons belong is false in any way? His only object in doing all this was to please God. He also, as was his wont, prayed nightly sitting by my bed. In his daily life, too, he always said grace before and after a meal. His children were also made to take turns at reading from the Bible. I at any rate could see no selfish motive in him; in his conduct and in the education of the children, all that one could see was truth. I saw no touch of insincerity in anything that he did; neither did I feel that anything was done to please others. It is not often we come across such single-mindedness and nobility in Hindu or Muslim priests and grihasthas[householders]. These are not common even in Englishmen. Some nations have more of these [qualities], others have less. Without entering into a discussion of that point, I would only pray that there might be hundreds of Indian families like Mr. Doke's.


Both the blows and the injuries I received were severe, but in the opinion of the doctor not many patients were known to recover as speedily as I did. Though I was under the care of a physician, the treatment consisted entirely of home-cure methods. For the first two days I had nothing to eat or drink. That had the effect of keeping the fever down. On the third day I had no temperature. I started on a diet of a quarter pound of milk, and gradually added to it grapes, pears and other fruit. Then I began taking bread dunked in milk once a day. I am still on that diet. On account of an injury to three of the upper teeth, I shall not be able to eat anything hard for several days to come. Apart from the wounds, my mouth was swollen and so was my forehead. A poultice of clean earth was put on these, and the swelling has now subsided. I had been badly hit in the ribs, and here again the recovery is nearly complete thanks to a large poultice of earth. The doctor was afraid that the application of earthen poultice on wounds might cause sepsis. But I had them put on my own responsibility. The doctor is now, however, convinced that the earthen poultice has done much good. Normally wounds which have to be stitched up rarely escape becoming septic. I am emphatically of the view that with an earthen poultice wounds heal without becoming septic. And that is what has happened. I have used many remedies involving the use of earth. I think, if earth is judiciously used, it can be a useful remedy in many ailments. I hope later to be able to tell readers of Indian Opinion [more about], my experiences.


My object in writing this account is not merely to tell a story or to fill the pages of this journal, but only that my experience may be of use to others. The lesson that every servant of India is to draw from the assault is this: if anyone wants to serve the community, and always do the right by it, he must be prepared for physical assaults. If we do not take these things to heart, we shall have more peace of mind and happiness and, to that extent, more strength to serve the community. Such assaults should really be looked upon as rewards. Mr. Doke's conduct shows us all the path of goodness and the home remedies described here are worth noting. Mr. Doke received nearly 40 telegrams of thanks from different parts [of the Colony] and some Indians sent him fruits and other gifts as a mark of their gratitude.