From the book: Passive Resistance 1946 - A Selection of Documents compiled by E.S. Reddy & Fatima Meer

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Mahatma Gandhi

It is my firm conviction that Indians in South Africa must Bt submits to the latest racial legislation of the Union of South Africa. They have well nigh exhausted all constitutional means of seeking redress. Therefore, they have at their disposal the matchless weapon of Satyagraha which was successfully tried for the first time in South Africa. There is no cause therefore for despair. They must vindicate the honour of the nation to which they belong by use of Satyagraha, whether they are few or many. They must not selfishly submit to the contemplated segregation nor accept the racial franchise.

Telegram by Mahatma Gandhi to J.C. Smuts, 18 March 1946

Your Asiatic policy requires overhauling. It ill becomes you. Least you should do is withdraw threatened land and franchise measure and call Advisory Round Table Conference at least of Union British and Indian Governments and if possible of all associate powers to order Asiatic, African and general colour policy arising from Asiatic Bill. This is not for publication unless you so wish. Your and South Africa's Sincere Friend, Gandhi

J.C Smuts' cabled reply to Mahatma Gandhi, 21 March 1946

I much appreciate your interest and your kind message of friendship which is warmly reciprocated. Indian difficulties in Natal have become much more acute in recent years and now have to be urgently dealt with no prevent deterioration from which Indians may be greatest sufferers. Repeated local conferences with Indian organisations have produced no solutions and Round Table Conference with outside powers is not politically feasible. As regards proposed legislation conferment of political status on Indians has become highly expedient and is great step forward even though representation is by Europeans under South Africa Act. To allay fears of further penetration, Bill proposes demarcation of free areas in Natal where Indians and others can buy and occupy land freely and question of Indian segregation does not arise. Demarcation to be made by Joint Boards on which Indians adequately represented. Although Bill curtails rights of Indians to buy and occupy anywhere in Natal it is essentially not unfair in intention or effort and will provide workable basis for Indian development and racial peace for many years. As such I commend it to you who know how great are the difficulties in maintaining harmony among South Africans of all races. I assure you of the friendly spirit in which I am acting in a situation which may easily get out of control. This is for your information and not for publication. I see no harm however in statement that you and I have been personally in communication over this matter if you consider it desirable.

Telegram by Mahatma Gandhi to J.C. Smuts, 22 March 1946

22 March 1946
Field Marshal Smuts
Cape Town

Thanks for wire. India is expected to get independence this year. If you believe it, wait till then. Cloistered civilisation like cloistered virtue. Your good intentions undoubted. Premise appears faulty. India's protest against inferior status. Proposed franchise doubtful privilege. Land Tenure is segregation. Shall respect your wish avoid publicity contents our cables.


Interview by the South African Deputation with Mahatma Gandhi. Delhi, May 1946

(Gandhiji remarked on the presence of divisions among them. They admitted divisions but argued that they were there even in Gandhiji's time.)

Gandhiji: The difference between then and now is this: that in those days the blacklegs became isolated after a time, and it was possible to hold monster meetings everywhere. Parsee Rustomjee went among the indentured labourers and, in the final struggle, they rose like one man. Repeat that history today, and you will win. Do not repeat it, and you will fail. Do you command the sympathy and support of all the interests? Will the mercantile community back you?

Sorabjee: The mercantile community was not with us even then.

Gandhiji: But we had Cachalia. If you have one Cachalia amongst you, the whole of the mercantile community will be covered.

Sorabjee: Suppose no merchant comes forward. Is not a struggle possible then?

Gandhiji: It will then take a different turn and in the end the mercantile community will be swept out of existence.

A Member: We are a difficult community at times.

Gandhiji: I know, I know. The South Africa of today is not far different from the South Africa that I have known. In the first article I wrote for the Indian Opinion I said that if after all there were one true man in South Africa, he would cover all. He will build up the whole structure from within. "Amidst a whole heap of bad coins," I wrote, "if there is one true sovereign, the heap will be worth that one sovereign and no more.

If you produce one civil resister of merit, he will pull things through. Do not start the struggle, therefore, unless you have that stuff. Manage to exist you will anyhow. But that should not satisfy you. You have to live as a self-respecting community with an equal status. Indians have to make good that position by showing the real stuff.

(The discussion then turned on the strategy of the proposed Satyagraha. Gandhiji was definitely opposed to sitting in prohibited seats in trains and railway carriages by way of Satyagraha. Satyagraha should be on a clear, unequivocal and impersonal issue and capable of taking thousands in its fold...)

A Member: You have said, we should associate with Zulus and Bantus. Does it not mean joining them in a common anti-white front?

Gandhiji: Yes, I have said that we should associate with Zulus, Bantus, etc. It means that you take them under your wing when you have developed that power of non­violence. You will be their saviour. But if you allow yourselves to be overwhelmed and swept off your feet, it will be their and your ruin.

Their slogan today is no longer merely 'Asia for the Asiatics' or 'Africa for the Africans' but the unity of all the exploited races of the earth. On India rests the burden of pointing the way to all the exploited races. She won't be able to bear that burden today, if non-violence does not permeate us more than today. I have been trying to fit ourselves for that mission by giving a wider bend to our struggle. India will become a torchbearer to the oppressed and exploited races, only if she can vindicate the principle of non-violence in her own case, and not jettison it as soon as independence of foreign control is achieved.

A Member: Race consciousness is arising all over South Africa.

We Indians take advantage of the Bantus. We send our children to Native colleges. But we are ashamed to call ourselves Natives. They feel we are arrogant and aloof. We do not do enough to make an adequate return for what we have got from them. They are getting resentful and the white man encourages and promotes that feeling to widen the gulf.

Gandhiji: It will be an evil day for you, if he succeeds. The trouble is that you are all worshippers of the golden calf.

Christopher: Having never seen it, how can we worship it?

Gandhiji: Worshipping is different from seeing. Don't we worship God without seeing Him?

The delegation then asked if a leader could be sent from India to organise and lead them. Gandhiji, in reply, told them that a leader would have to arise from among them. He hoped that they would throw up one in due time...

•   The deputation was led by Sorabjee Rustomjee and included A. Christopher. S.R. Naidoo, A.S.M. Kajee and A.A. Mirza. It met Mahatma Gandhi several times. This interview apparently took place in May in the sweeper's colony in Delhi.

"Indians in South Africa" : Article by Mahatma Gandhi, 27 May 1946

The Indian deputations from South Africa have made a great stir in India. They propose to approach the UNO with a view to enlisting the latter's sympathy. But the legislation is going through. The Indian High Commissioner will be withdrawn as he should be. What little aid he can render is nothing compared to the indignity of representing a country whose inhabitants are to be treated as an inferior race. This new caste is worse than the ancient but dying institution of India which has some redeeming features, even while it is dying. But the new civilised edition has none. It shamelessly

proclaims that white civilisation requires the erection of legal barriers in order to protect itself against Asiatics and Africans. The Indians in South Africa are bearing a heavy burden which they are well able to discharge. Satyagraha, the mightiest weapon in the world, was born and bred there. If they make effective use of it, it will be well with the sacred cause they are handling. It is not one of making it easy for a handful to be permitted to live and trade there if they wear the badge of inferiority called years ago by an Englishman in South Africa "dog's collar" . The cause is the cause of the honour of India and through her of all the exploited coloured races of the earth, whether they are brown, yellow or black. It is worth all the suffering of which they are capable.

Speech by Mahatma Gandhi at Prayer Meeting, New Delhi, 21 June 1946

(Referring to the start of the passive resistance struggle of the Indian community in South Africa, Gandhiji described how some white people there had taken the law into their own hands and were harassing the passive resisters that were fighting for their self-respect and the honour of India.)

The Union government seems to be just watching while the 'whites commit mischief. It is wrong. It is bad enough to pass an unjust law, but it is worse to let white people take the law into their own hands. They ought to realise that Indians are in no way inferior to them. The latter cannot submit to segregation. The only way open to them to obtain redress is through Satyagraha . They are offering it against the offending law by setting up tents in the prohibited areas.

Some white men have vowed vengeance against them. They have been daily raiding their tents, and terrorising them. Some women are also among the resisters. But they have bravely told the men that they will stand by them and share their vicissitudes. It is no small thing in South Africa. Dr Dadoo and Dr Naicker are leading the movement, according to the papers. It was the duty of the government to stop this hooliganism of the whites. They can take action against the passive resisters according to law. What is taking place there today is worse than martial law...

Telegram to Mahatma Gandhi by Dr Y.M. Dadoo, on behalf of the Joint Passive Resistance Council, on the arrest of the first batch of Passive Resisters, 21 June 1946

Consider police action and arrest first victory. Spirit of Resisters excellent. Their non-violent behaviour under extreme provocation and assaults magnificent. Struggle continues. More and more volunteers will go into action according to plan. We Shall Resist!

"White Man's Burden" : by Mahatma Gandhi, 26 June 1946

According to Reuter, picked Indians, men and women, headed by Dr Naicker, commenced Satyagraha (in South Africa popularly known as passive resistance) on 14th June in respect of the segregation law of the Union Parliament of South Africa. The same agency further reports that neither the government nor the Municipality had taken any action against the passive resisters but that some "whites" of Durban had taken the execution of the law into their own hands by raiding the camp at night, cutting down tents swiftly and carrying them away...

The papers report that after three days of hooliganism the Borough police had posted themselves near the scene of passive resistance and warned the hooligans against molesting the resisters and terrorising them into submission. This is heartening news. Let us hope that it can be taken at its full value and that the protection means fullest protection against lawlessness, sporadic or organised. Organised popular lawlessness is known as lynching, so shamelessly frequent in America.

Before the segregation law was passed, white men, known to be respectable, had carried anti-Asiatic agitation to the point of frenzy. Not satisfied with their triumph in having legislation compelling segregation passed probably beyond expectation, the more advanced section among the agitators have become the executioners of their own laws. They do not know that they are thereby defaming the white man's name!

My appeal to the white men and women who have regard for laws for which they have voted is that they should create public opinion against hooliganism and lynch law...

The real "white man's burden" is not insolently to dominate coloured or black people under the guise of protection, it is to desist from the hypocrisy which is eating into them. It is time white men learnt to treat every human being as their equal. There is no mystery about whiteness of the skin. It has repeatedly been proved that given equal opportunity a man, be he of any colour or country, is fully equal to any other. Therefore, white men through the world and especially of India should act upon their fellow men in South Africa and call upon them not to molest Indian resisters who are bravely struggling to preserve the self-respect of Indians in the Union and the honour of their motherland. "Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you" . Or, do they take in vain the name of Him who said this? Have they banished from their hearts the great coloured Asiatic who gave to the world the above message? Do they forget that the greatest of the teachers of mankind were all Asiatics and did not possess a white face? These, if they descended on earth and went to South Africa, would all have to live in the segregated areas and be classed as Asiatics and coloured people unfit by law to be equals of whites. Is a civilisation worth the name which requires for its existence the very doubtful prop of racial legislation and lynch law? The silver lining to the cloud that hangs over the devoted heads of our countrymen lies in the plucky action of Reverend Scott, a white clergyman, and his equally white fellow-workers, who have undertaken to share the sufferings of the Indian resisters.

Speech by Gandhi at Prayer Meeting, Poona, 1 July 1946

Gandhiji said that it grieved him that the hooliganism of the white men of South Africa was daily growing worse. The relieving feature was that the courage and renunciation of the Satyagrahis was rising to the occasion. One of the sisters, Dr Goonam, had been sentenced to six months' imprisonment with hard labour. The trying Magistrate had reduced the term to four months. Dr Goonam had objected to it saying that she wanted no favour on the score of her sex. Her offence, if it could be so called, was exactly the same as that of the men. But the Magistrate would not listen to her objection. Satyagrahis were being recruited in large numbers. He hoped and prayed, said Gandhiji, that the Satyagrahis would continue to be strong and firm and that their struggle would be crowned with success...

Speech by Gandhi at Prayer Meeting, Poona, 3 July 1946

... Gandhiji said that he would not say that the situation in South Africa was deteriorating. But it was certainly becoming graver. The government repression was becoming worse. That was, however, part of the bargain. A Satyagrahi breaks the law and welcomes the penalty. Referring to the arrest and conviction of Parsee Sorabjee to three months' rigorous imprisonment, he described how as a young lad of sixteen he had given proof of unusual courage in the course of the Satyagraha movement which he conducted in South Africa. A mounted policeman threatened to overrun the passive resisters. Sorabjee held the reins of the horse and told the policeman that he could not frighten the Satyagrahis into submission by such tactics. He was a worthy son of a worthy father, the late Parsee Rustomjee, both for his bravery and munificence.

Gandhiji paid a glowing tribute to Reverend Scott of Johannesburg whose Christian conscience had revolted against the inequality of the segregation law and the ill treatment to which passive resisters were being subjected. As a protest against it. Reverend Scott had decided to cast in his lot with the Satyagrahis and share with them the indignities to which they were being subjected. It was no small thing for a white man to identify himself with coloured people in South Africa. If the Satyagrahis remained free and non-violent till the end, all would be well with them. He had already told the audience their duty in this connection, that is, a heartfelt prayer to God to give strength to the Satyagrahis and light to the whites.

Speech by Mahatma Gandhi at Meeting of the All India Congress Committee, Bombay, 7 July 1946

Gandhiji referred to the draft resolution on the Satyagraha movement being carried on by Indians in South Africa. He said that the Indians in South Africa were being ill treated not because they were not whites but because they were considered as coolies. The Indians in South Africa spoke English and many of them were doctors and lawyers. In spite of all this, the South African whites looked upon them as coolies and called them as such. The Indians, of course, were in a minority and yet they were putting up a brave fight. They had no swords or guns but they were determined to resist the anti-Indian laws by soul force, which was the only force available to Satyagrahis. Durban owed its present prosperity to the Indians. The South African whites had agreed to give the Indians the vote though not as equals but as inferiors. The white civilisation in South Africa could not be kept alive by such means. Gandhiji wondered how a brave man like General Smuts who had praised the Indians so much in the past could be instrumental in taking steps to deprive the Indians of their elementary rights.

Commenting on the doings of the white hooligans who were said to have beaten to death an Indian, whom they mistook for a Satyagrahi, Gandhiji remarked:

It is a sad event. Nevertheless, I feel happy. A Satyagrahi must always be ready to die with a smile on his face without retaliation and without rancour in his heart. Some people have come to have a wrong notion that Satyagraha means only jail-going, perhaps facing lathi blows and nothing more. Such Satyagraha cannot bring independence. To win independence you have to learn the art of dying without killing. I venture to submit that a civilisation which needs such barbarous legislation for its protection is a contradiction in terms. The Indians ire fighting for their honour.

The land in South Africa does not belong to the whites. Land belongs to one who labours on it. I would not shed a single tear if ill the Satyagrahis in South Africa were wiped out. Thereby they will lot only bring deliverance to them but point the way to the Africans and vindicate the honour of India. I am proud of them and so should you be.

His object in speaking to them, he continued, was not to move ton to tears or to incite them to anger and vituperation against the Whites. Rather they should pray to God to guide the whites aright and grant strength and courage to their brethren to remain steadfast to the end. The South African struggle may appear to be insignificant today but it is charged with momentous consequences. Satyagraha is today being tried in the land of its birth. The success of a handful Indians, mostly descendants of indentured labourers, has excited the jealous of the whites of South Africa. And they are now subjecting them to unspeakable indignities. They are sought to be segregated into ghettos and further humiliated by being offered an inferior franchise. That all this should happen under the imprimatur of Field Marshal

Smuts fills me with shame and humiliation.

Our sins have a strange way of coming home to roost. We turned a portion of ourselves into pariahs and today the whites of South Africa are doing the same to our compatriots there. Let us purge us of this curse and bless the heroic struggle of our brethren in South Africa. They do not need our monetary help. But they need all our sympathy and moral support.

Speech by Gandhi at Prayer Meeting, Poona, 10 July 1946

(Summary )

I know what is taking place there (in South Africa) because in a way I belong to South Africa, having passed twenty years of the best part of my life there. It was there that Satyagraha was born...

The Indians were resisting the Ghetto Law in a civil, i.e., non-violent and therefore civilised way. They welcomed the penalty for the breach of law which could not be morally defended. But the white hooligans too were breaking their own laws. Theirs was criminal disobedience. It was a matter of pride for India that the children of indentured labourers and traders - many of them descendants of Harijans - were proving themselves such brave Satyagrahis. As against this the whites were resorting to lynch law.

After all civil resistance had its birth in Asia. Jesus was an Asiatic. If he was reborn and went to South Africa today and lived there, he would have to live in a ghetto.

He hoped that as in 1914, Field Marshal Smuts would at long last realise that he could not persecute the Indians in South Africa forever and come to a honourable settlement with them when he had tried them through and through. A committee of white men had been formed in South Africa to express sympathy with and identify themselves with the cause of the Indian passive resisters there. There was something of that kind in his time also. But this time it seemed to be on a bigger scale.

If this becomes extensive and the hooliganism is stopped and anti-Asiatic laws are repealed, there is hope of a blending of Eastern and Western cultures. Otherwise South Africa may prove to be the grave of Western civilisation.

"What will South Africa do?" Article by Mahatma Gandhi, 12 December 1946

The deputation headed by Shrimati Vijayalakshmi Pandit and sent to the UNO Conference by the interim government has undoubtedly done very effective work with marked ability and success. Shrimati Vijayalakshmi Pandit clear from the following cablegram sends that from New York: "Today with your blessings justice of South African Indian cause was vindicated. Committee voting twenty-four to nineteen in our favour. Went to General Smuts after meeting and shook hands. He expressed appreciation at manner in which I had conducted case. It remains now to be seen how the Union of South Africa respond. Field Marshal Smuts was able to hurl at the Indian deputation the taunt that India treated her so-called untouchables much worse than the Union treated her Asiatics or for that matter the Africans. There would be much to be said for the Field Marshal's taunt if it was true. It is true of South Africa that her treatment of Asiatics has legally deteriorated from time to time, so much so that it has now become well nigh unbearable. Almost every promise made by the Union government to the government of India has now been broken. There is no legal bar against any of the Scheduled Classes being regarded as equal in status to the tallest Indian. What is however Hue to the shame of orthodox Hinduism and the Sanatanji Hindus is that religious custom has denied to these untouchables the rights which the law has allowed, and it is unfortunately also true that sometimes custom overrides the law. But public opinion is progressively rising against this barbarous custom and it is merely a question of line when the custom will be swept out of existence. Let us, therefore, tope that instead of taking doubtful advantage of the things in India which no one defends and against which public opinion is progressively rising the Europeans of the Union of South Africa will recognise that if the UNO Conference is any index of world opinion, it is decidedly against the European prejudice which has hardened into law into law.