From the book: A.I. Kajee His Work for the Southern African Indian Community by C. H. Calpin
In 1936 Sir Raza Ali, the Agent-General for India in the Union, made public his intention of marrying a Miss Sammy of Kimberley. Sir Raza Ali was a Moslem and Miss Sammy a Hindu.
For months, enraged Hindus and Moslems protested against this seeming affront to their convictions. Each community was offended at the prospect of one of its prominent members marrying into the other. Cables were sent by all and sundry, by insignificant clubs and fanatical religionists to members of the Government of India asking them to intervene, to prevent, or to postpone the marriage until its implications had been brought to the notice of Sir Raza Ali and an opportunity provided for a consideration of the feelings of the Indian public. Some silly person telephoned the Prime Minister, General Hertzog, as if the Indian problem in its political and economic and racial implications was not enough to occupy him, without calling him into matrimonial complexities. Sir Raza Ali, it should be said, had obtained the approval and the blessing of the Government of India.
Hindu leaders were more incensed than Moslems, and it was they who led the agitation against Sir Raza Ali which spread to India. Some newspapers in India demanded his resignation. Local Hindus holding prominant positions in the Natal Indian Congress-Mr. V. S. C. Pather was President, Mr. S. R. Naidoo and Mr. B. M. Patel, honorary joint-secretaries, Mr. J. W. Godfrey, vice-president of the South African Indian Congress, they with Mr. V. Lawrence, Mr. Sorabjee Rustomjee, executive members resigned en bloc as a protest. An attempt was made to persuade the Agent-General to postpone his marriage. Conversations Hindu leaders had with Sir Raza Alt came to nothing. Angered by the indiscriminate and unwarrantable attacks made upon him in South Africa and in India, Sir Raza Ali refused to meet Indian leaders.
Correspondence suggests that he had discussed the possibility of his resigning with Kajee and a few others. In a letter written to Kajee in February 1936 he says, "The newspapers received from India by this week's mail show that Swami Bhawani Dayal has thrown himÂself heart and soul into the agitation against me in India. In fact he went so far as to send a telegram to his Excellency the Viceroy suggesting my recall from South Africa in case I did not agree to the Congress proposals. He is doing all that in the name of the Congress which is supposed, as I informed you, to have sent telegrams on the night of 15th January to India protesting against my marriage. I shall be glad if you will let me know whether my meeting of the South African Indian Congress or its executive authorised the sending of these telegrams or gave authority to Swamiji to act on its behalf."
It was expected that Kajee would take a definite line on the incident. "I may tell you," a friend wrote to him, "The Hindus have adopted a very definite attitude in this matter. On the morning after I left you I met several (Guierati Hindus) and they were very much upset. I could see that they expect you to take up a very strong attitude.... and to condemn the agent for what he is doing. They also think you at the back of this entire affair -at least that you were in and you purposely kept back the information till it was too late. I see they are calling a mass meeting to-morrow. If you go to this meeting and join the protest you will lose the sympathy of the MosÂlems. If you don't, then the traders and others will not give you business.... if you are forced then the only alternative for you will be to resign. When you were telling me about resigning, I am sure you knew how far things had gone but did not tell me."
Three days after this letter was written Sir Raza Ali was married. The same correspondent wrote to Kajee. "What the Congress had to do with the 'affair I fail to understand. Unless it is meant as a protest against you, and the other Moslem members of the Congress. The best form of protest would have been to declare non-cooperation with the Agent himself, but fanaticism blinds people and they cannot see reason." "The Congress is dead," continued the letter, "and your friends have saved you the trouble of resigning. What is the next move? Take my advice for what it is worth, and keep away from all party and communal affairs. Be a little charitable and take a broader view. It is clear Miss Sammy was a willing party, and her family was agreeable to the wedding, as her brother and sister attended her. Why could not Sorab (Mr. Sorabjee Rustomjee) and company argue with the bride instead of wasting their time with the Agent, I fail to understand. They had more chances with her.
P.S. You must send a wedding present to Sir Raza Ali. I have sent one."
It is not to be supposed that Kajee could feel so intensely about the marriage as did his Hindu colleagues and some of his Moslem friends. He was never an orthodox Moslem, and he had long since relegated religious principles and social prejudices about inter-communal marriages. He appreciated the repugnance with which Hindus and Moslems viewed the union, but he could not bring himself to condemn either party. He was a close friend of Miss Sammy's family, and in addition he was more concerned about the political aspects of the marÂriage than about the religious and social considerations involved.
"Its a damnable scandal," he wrote, "that the marriage dispute should take up so much time and energy when we can ill afford to waste any at all."
He wrote to Kunwar Maharajh Singh expressing this opinion and received the following reply. "Sir Raza All's marriage was in my humble opinion a mistake," wrote the Kunwar. "My wife and I knew Lady Raza Ali in South Africa and had great regard for her and her sister. From the personal point of view I have no objection to the marriage and wish Sir and Lady Raza Ali every prosperity. The position, however, of the Agent-General in South Africa is at all times diffiÂcult and I am afraid that Sir Raza Ali has enhanced the difficulties by marrying. Personally, I would have preferred him to wait until he was on the eve of leaving South Africa for India. Marriage also with a lady of another faith always has its difficulties and no doubt certain influential members of the Hindu community were frightened at the thought of the lady's conversion -to Islam. "My Moslem friends in this country tell my that in India Sir Raza All's marriage with a Hindu, lady would be illegal, since Islam allows marriage with a Christian or a Jew, but not with a Hindu. I daresay also that you are right in thinking that the Agent-General gave the objectors to understand that he would listen to their objections and postpone the marriage. "Now, however, it the deed has been done, I deprecate with you a ether split in the Indian community. You will remember how in my time the cession of the Colonial-born Association led to a regrettable rift among Indians in South Africa. Happily with very few exceptions the Indian Leaders adhered to the Congress. So did I. The result was that the Congress gained increased strength while its opponents mainly continued themselves by massing resolutions. I do not think that a letter from me to Sorab, S. R. Naidoo or V. S. Pather etc. will do any good. I am not sufficiently in touch with their views in the matter, nor with the chances of a compromise or with what will satisfy them. Nor has Sir Raza Ali written to me. Personally, I can think of no better intermediary than you. You are a great friend of Sorab etc. and you are no doubt in touch with the Agent-General. I am extremely grateful to know that communal feeling has not been stirred by the marriage. It would be interesting to know from you what is the opinion of the leading members of the Colonial-born Association. "What have Christopher and Manilal (Gandhi, the son of Mahatma Gandhi) got to say in the matter?"
The incident of Sir Raza All's marriage left Kajee in a commanding position. He was one of the few officials of Congress, who remained in office to continue the work, and he was vested with power and position of great importance both to himself and to the community. Whenever anybody who is anybody resigns and a whole comÂmunity is at sixes and sevens, the man who can retain a sense of balance and act as a mediator appears to the public as a model of sober thought and social stability. It is not unreasonable to assume that Kajee had a curious satisfaction in being thrust into a position where a display of magnanimity might redound to his credit. He was, we may be sure, vitally concerned for the political health of the community. Indeed his letters are evidence of his passion for unity and his despair over the resignations following Sir Raza All's marriage. He appealed to a number of public men in India to write personally to those who had resigned, and was instrumental in persuading the executive of the South African Indian Congress to pass a resolution urging them to reconsider their decision.
He wrote personally to each of the resigning members calling their attention to matters pending between Congress and the Natal Municipal Association on the subject of Indian segregation, adding "I feel that the community that you have served so faithfully and well for so many years is suffering irremediable harm by the attitude of non-co-operation you have adopted towards Congress work. Will you continue to persist with the spirit of non-co-operation or will you allow your better judgeÂment to prevail and continue the constructive work you have been doing for years? I have written this personal note of appeal in the hope: that it will not be in vain. I wonder whether it will have the effect that moves me to write it. I live in hopes. I know you will put the community before your personal feelings. If things go wrong then posterity can blame you that you let them down and that all your work was in vain."
Writing to his friend Swami Bhwani Dayal who was in India at the time, and who at one stage joined with the objectors to the marriage, Kajee says "I learn from Maganlal (the clerk in Kajee's office) that in your letter to your people at Jacobs you say that you, Kunwar and others in India consider the whole incident as a laughable one. I entirely agree with you, but it is a matter of great regret that friends like V. S. C. Pather, S. R. Naidoo, Sorabjee and others should take it in the manner they have done. My efforts are directed towards our friends withdrawing their resignations because I feel it was a blunder on their part to have tendered their resignations at all. I may tell you that in the Cape and in the Transvaal, and even in Natal there is no bitterness on the part of the Hindus in this matter. The affair is treated as a joke, and if it were not for Raza Ali treating our friends when they went to see him in Johannesburg prior to his marriage in the manner that he did I am sure that the personal feelings that have arisen would not have come about. I should like to write to Sorab V. S. C. Pather and others to withdraw their resignations and not to cripple the Congress for the private and laughable doings of one who is a passing phase in our political life."
It would be wrong to infer from the foregoing that the decision of Hindu leaders to resign from Congress was impelled by anything but sincere motives. They were convinced that the marriage would "deeply affect the susceptibilities of the Hindus" and give rise to serious communal differences. Their object in asking the Agent-General to postpone the marriage was to preserve Indian solidarity and to maintain a cordial relationship among all sections of the community. They believed that the marriage would be a national calamity likely to produce repercussions the grave effects of which could not be foreseen. "To the eastern mind," they wrote in a statement to the Press, "having regard to its traditional and religious character, such matrimonial alliances are undesirable; more so in the case of the Agent-General, who holds a highly responsible position in this country. Having regard to what has happened, and as it is not possible for us to co-operate conscientiously with the Agency whilst in charge of Sir Raza Ali, no other course is left open to us but to resign our respective official positions in the Congress."
The split in the community had two major results. It placed Congress in the hands of the Moslems, and it raised Kajee to a leading position in Congress. For the first time Kajee was able to dominate policy, and the quarrel which began with the marriage of Sir Raza Ali can be looked upon as the occasion which brought Kajee to the forefront as a leader and political personality. Up to that time he was part of Indian political life, contributing to it in secretarial work and in cooperating with men much older than himself in the executive, in helping the routine business of Congress and in performing those tasks which others either refused or were too busy to undertake. He was the willing horse in an organisation and in a community where willing horses are not easily found. There were plenty of men ready to meet to discuss, and to formulate policy; there were few indeed who would accept responsibility for the routine which must be done if a political policy is to be pursued - with success. A mere incident in the life of the community was the immediate cause of Kajee's rise to power. That he was strategically placed when the occasion demanded leadership was due to the unremitting toil he had put into the work of Congress for so many years.
"With the marriage of Sir Raza Ali and the resignation of Hindu Members of Congress a change came over the character of Indian political organisation. Some of those who resigned gradually gave up their interest in politics, partly through their age and partly through a feeling that they no longer had a contribution to make. Congress moved uncertainly into the future. It was important that the resigning members should be back in the fold as quickly as possible. For two years endeavours were made to persuade them to withdraw their resignÂations. At Congress meetings the temporary officials guided by Kajee continued to hold the resignations over in the hope that Hindu leaders would reconsider their action. It was not until 1938, and after the most earnest appeals had been made, that they came to the decision to resume their public duty.
Among those who signed the joint-letter to this effect was Mr. Sorabjee Rustomjee. At every stage in Kajee's political life Mr. Sorabjee Rustomjee appears either as good fairy or as bad ogre. Up to this time, Sorab, as he was affectionately called, and Kajee had been firm friends. Kajee owed much to Sorab in the early days both in business and in politics. There was complete understanding between them and a degree of mutual help which made their work in Congress amicable and productive. Kajee's business as a broker and agent had developed considerably, and a feature of Indian politics at the time was the inter-play of business interests. Indians in busiÂness often help each other out of difficulties, particularly at the end of the month when money is needed for salaries and to meet accounts. A legitimate interchange among them formed the basis of many a successful business and forged links of inter-dependence which bound them together.
Rising in age and security together, Kajee and Sorabjee were too much alike to work in the same harness for a lifetime together. In their youth they were David and Jonathan, used each other's money and nursed each other in illness. Their friendship broke on Sir Raza Ali's marriage. It was an estrangement which rapidly grew into a political and personal rivalry. Indian politics might be written around these quarrels. Whether either of them was conscious of an estrangement having the seeds of hatred at the time, no one can say, but from 1936 onwards any friendly competitive spirit which they may have felt became a rivalry which had a decisive effect upon Indian affairs, and which coloured the lives and the careers of both of them.
Sir Raza Ali's hopes, expressed at his wedding receptÂion, that his marriage to Miss Sammy would help to unite Indians in South Africa and would "forge a new link between Indians and South Africa" were quickly dashed. The divisions in Congress clouded his period of office, and much of the contribution he might have made was lost in the deteriorating relations between rival factions. Politics makes strange bedfellows. But all things pass, and by the expiration of Sir Raza Ali's term of office the community was once more united, if only officially. At a farewell ceremony, held at the City Hall in Durban, Congress leaders paid a tribute to the manner in which the Agent-General had conducted affairs in this country. At this ceremony an incident occurred which brought Kajee some unwanted publicity. One of the difficulties which beset Indian leaders in South Africa is the absence of opportunity to present their views to the European public.
Opportunities were confined almost solely to occaÂsions such as the farewell ceremony to Sir Raza Ali. It is true that the Indo-European Council, an organisation established to encourage Europeans and Indians to meet for the discussion of subjects of mutual interest, did some good work in bringing to the notice of Europeans the disabilities under which they lived. But the Indo-European Council, like all inter-racial organisations, talked to the converted and attracted to its membership only those who were sympathetically inclined to the Indian cause. Kajee was one of its moving spirits.
Lack of opportunity for bringing to the notice of the general public the grievances which they took to the Government in memoranda and by deputations accounts for one or two features of the local Indian scene. Indians are inveterate writers of letters to the newspapers. Every Natal editor knows at what length Indians can write. One of the reasons for the non-appearance in the newspapers of so many letters Indians write is that the journalist responsible for the correspondence columns has no time to read the manuscript sent in. They go into the waste paper basket.
Whereas more importance is given to Indian affairs by newspapers than hitherto, it is still a fact that English Press has never succeeded in presenting a true picture of Indian politics to European readers. These things may account for the habit which some Indian leaders have of using a formal occasion at which Europeans are present for political purposes.
At the farewell gathering arranged to do honour to Sir Raza Ali and Lady Ali previous to their departure for India, Kajee's name was on the programme as the last speaker, following Sir Raza Ali and preceded by Mr. Maurice Webb, Hajee E. M. Paruk, and the Chairman, His Worship the Mayor, Councillor Fleming Johnston. The presence of the Durban Municipal Orchestra, "under the direction of Mr. Edward Dunn" and by "kind permission of the Mayor and City Councillors of Durban" gave a social informality to the function and made it one of those rare opportunities for the exchange of compliÂments between Indians and Europeans. Such opportunities unfortunately are very rare. They do much to persuade European guests that their Indian hosts can be interesting conversationalists and graceful speakers.
Until he was called upon to address the guests nothing unusual had occurred. Mayors can always be relied upon for a suitable phrase to open a function. Hajee E. M. Paruk read his speech and made a presentÂation to Sir Raza Ali, and Mr. Maurice Webb, whose work for the Indian community coupled with his conciÂliatory approach to all public affairs, commended him to an audience of this sort, spoke in appropriate terms. Incidental music, with items ranging from "The Indian Love Lyrics" or "In a Persian Market", and "Chu Chin Chow" to the "Maid of the Mountains", provided a suitÂable background to light conversation and the jingle of tea-cups.
Kajee was usually sensitive to such atmospheres. Much to the consternation of European guests and to the confusion of their Indian hosts, he chose to raise his voice in a political harangue. He began by apologising for referring to the lot of Indians in South Africa and went on to an examination of the proposals before parliaÂment to introduce the Mixed Marriages Legislation as well as to criticise the Durban City Council for its criminal neglect of Indian welfare.
It has been said of Kajee that be was a great orator; No doubt the claim can be sustained if he is judged in his own context. There are not very many good speakers among the older generation of Indian leaders. The older leaders, lacking the education of the younger generation, are certainly not as good in public address as the rising politicians in the resistance movement. There were moments when Kajee had occasional flights of oratory, but he can never be looked upon as a great orator by European tests. Unless he gave very careful preparation to a speech and put himself under severe restraint, he could not resist the temptation to let himself go. Whenever he faced an audience of Europeans and. Indians he began his speeches quietly and in a conciliatory mood but ended by "tearing a passion to tatters", as if a fire, burning low, flamed into an all-consuming energy. A torrent of abuse would tumble from him, and he would lose himself and his subject in a staccato denunciation, punctuated by his upraised fists.
His voice rose in the City Hall. "The Indian was also a pioneer," he declared. "He cleared the swamps, he carried commerce to all parts of the province. While his civilisation was applauded and he was said to be a law-abiding people he was bracketed with the primitive Native."
"Slums," he swept on, "were being cleared but those dispossessed of their homes had nowhere to go to. Indian housing had been talked about for years by the City Council, but not a single house had been built and occupied. Not a single housing loan had been granted to an Indian for the last three years. There were 15,000 Indian school-age children out of school. There were some apprenticeship committees that did not admit Indians as apprentices. The Industrial laws applied equally to the Indian yet equal opportunities were denied him."
"Such are the ways of this so-called democratic country," he stormed. "The most defenceless section of the community is always used as the butt in general elections. Chivalry is dead in the political life of South Africa. The heritage of the Nordic races no longer exists here."
Kajee embraced all in one comprehensive and fierce tirade. Some of his fellow Indians sitting next to their European guests covered their faces in an anxious prayer that he might stop. On the following day local newsÂpapers came out with the headlines "City Hall Outburst by Indian Leader-Councillors Resent Racial Tone of Meeting"-and reported the reactions of Europeans to this astonishing harangue. Councillor R. Ellis Brown, whom a year or two afterwards became mayor of this City, said, "I consider the use of the City Hall was abused. It had been lent for a purely formal and social occasion. Certainly it will be difficult for them (the Indians) to get the Hall again." Councillor A. L. Barnes said, "Mr. Kajee must have lost control of himself; apart from being ill-mannered it was an outburst which, if taken seriously, can only be termed indiscreet in the least." Councillor H. H. Harris maintained "everything possible is being done for Indians in Durban. The speech was rank ingratitude".
Next morning, like every other public man, Kajee was up betimes to see the reaction to his speech. He was always quick in defence and attack, and was soon at work on an answer to the comments made by City CounÂcillors. He sent a statement to the newspaper denying that the reception became a virulent political agitation, and insisting that the City Hall was not lent but was hired by Congress. Councillors R. Ellis Brown, P. Osborne, and H. H. Harris were not present and "it is rather taking a provoking liberty on the part of these City Fathers to criticise a speech which they had neither heard nor read". Referring to the opinion of one CounÂcillor that the City Hall will not be lent to Indians again, Kajee wrote, "evidently he is no lover of free speech and is forgetful of the fact that the City Hall has been built from public funds to which the Indian has contributed in the way of rates and taxes as much as the European." He was not "deeply concerned with good or bad taste while my people are suffering as they are today, and no one with a feeling for his community's welfare would let pass an opportunity of bringing the miseries of his people to the notice of an influential gathering. He assured Councillor Barnes that he had not lost control of himself and had made similar if not stronger speeches to audiences which had included Cabinet Ministers, Judges and other high officials quite as important as those who honoured us with their presence on Saturday."
"The Agent-General," he concluded, "has departed with the applause of the European and the Indian community resounding in his ears, but the 220,000 Indians he came to serve remain in South Africa, and it is but natural that they expect from City Councillors and others who rule over them common justice and humanity."
Kajee's protestations in defence of his outburst were not entirely convincing, there is no doubt that many of his colleagues felt he had gone a little too far in his speech. The programme he used at the ceremony is still to be found in the files. And Kajee seldom destroyed anything on which he had made notes, and it is possible by reference to this programme to infer that at the beginning of the ceremony he had no intention of making an attack upon the political situation. He had jotted down on the programme one or two headings which suggest a very different intention. There are one or two lines of verse still legible, and one or two others crossed out, as if during the ceremony he was unable to recapture the exact words. It would seem as if he were inÂtending to speak on a lighter note. On the back of the programme are the lines
"Lived a woman wonderful
May the Lord amend her!
Neither, simple kind nor true,
But her pagan beauty drew
Christian gentlemen a few
Hotly to attend her."
The lines trail off into illegibility and end with someÂthing about the "glory of her face". He was trying to recall Kipling's "South Africa". It is probable that he decided not to use these lines which be could not complete in memory, and that, listening to speeches of others on the platform, he was moved to carry their remarks into more direct and open attack. This is not to excuse any lack of courtesy, but rather to explain the incident, and also to note the point that, lacking the opportunity for making grievances known to Europeans, Kajee snatched the chance of doing so.
It is well known in Natal that these rare formal social functions shared by Europeans and Indians hide hostilities and antagonisms as intense as any class war. To allow a little of the naked truth to break the veneer of Society's demand for courtesy was probably not a bad thing. We Europeans are apt to be squeamish about such things but conditions being what they were in the Indian community we should not be shocked when the cry of the multitude is heard in the palace ground.
There is a note scribbled in the files which reads, "My dear Kajee, you did the right thing yesterday. Hell with the newspaper reports'."