Article 2-Gandhi’s Stay in South Africa

After the court incident in Durban  , Gandhi was  more determined to enforce  his rights ; after all he was a  barrister , a man of law who was supposed  to fight against injustice but here he himself was a victim of an unjust system .

Seth Abdullah sent Gandhi to Pretoria to meet Mr Baker , his lawyer , in connection with a court case . A first class ticket was booked  for his  journey to Pretoria . On the day of journey , Gandhi boarded the train and settled himself in the   first class compartment . He was alone and therefore  Journey was  comfortable till 9 PM when the train stopped at Maritzburg station .

At Maritzburg station , one English gentleman  boarded the first class compartment ;  he saw Gandhi occupying a seat . Apparently he was not comfortable by the presence of a black person in the  privileged class . He however did not utter a word  to Gandhi . He simply got down and came back with two railway employees . One of the railway officials approached Gandhi and asked him in a very rough language  as to why he was  travelling in first class and that  black people – Coolies were supposed to travel in the van of the train .

“But I am a Barrister” , argued Gandhi .

“ You may be any body ;  first and foremost you are a Coolie ;  you cannot travel in this compartment “  , railwayman  retorted .

“ I will travel in this compartment only , come what may “, Gandhi replied firmly though shaken a bit from inside .

“ I am giving you five minutes  time ; either you get down or else I will use force  to remove you from the compartment “ .

Gandhi was in no mood to get down ; according to him the ticket entitled him to  travel in the first class .

“ I will not get down of my own even if you use force “ Gandhi finally replied .

The English passenger  was hell bent to remove Gandhi from the compartment . He brought a policeman ; the policeman lifted Gandhi from his arms and dragging him , took to the door of the compartment .  At the door of compartment , Gandhi  even tried to resist from deboarding by firmly holding the handle of  the gate but other  white person  gave a strong  push from behind and Gandhi was thrown on to   the platform with great momentum . He had bruises all over ; his luggage was also thrown in a similar manner . Fortunately his head did not strike the  floor otherwise it would  have been a major accident . The train left immediately leaving Gandhi immersed in thoughts of humiliation and planning for next step .

It was extremely cold outside  on the platform . Gandhi shifted himself to the waiting room . Some how night was spent half asleep , half in fear but   in resolve to fight back . Some Indian porters provided him a blanket to cover in the chill.

During the day , Gandhi sent a telegram to Seth Abdullah and the General Manager of railway stating the event . Seth Abdullah too met the railway General Manager at Durban .  GM however brushed him aside with the advice that he ( Seth ) should not have arranged a first class ticket for Gandhi  knowing fully well that non whites were  not allowed privileged travelling . The news however spread like a wild fire ; it became a topic of discussion white vs black ; Coolies vs Masters . The positive outcome of these protests  was that  Railway GM gave instructions and Gandhi was allowed to travel to Charle’s Town in first class by next train with the same ticket . It was a small success which convinced Gandhi  that it was  worth raising a voice against injustice .

The train was up to Charle’s Town ; he got down at this station . Further journey up to Johannesburg was to be completed by State Coach which was  a coach  drawn by 6 to 8 horses ;  railway ticket included the fare of coach also . Here again one of the white passengers did not  allow him  to sit inside the coach .  Gandhi decided to play calm and  unwillingly occupied a seat outside the coach behind  the coachman . As bad luck would have it , the same English gentleman wanted to smoke  when coach stopped at Pardicof station .  Now  he asked Gandhi to get down from the seat and   sit with coachman so that he could smoke while sitting in his ( Gandhi’s ) seat .  Gandhi was already feeling discriminated  and was  exercising  lot of restrain ;  he strongly  refused to get down from his seat .  The English gentleman got extremely angry ;  he slapped Gandhi left and right and also abused entire black community of South Africa ; On the intervention of other passengers ,  Gandhi was then led  to sit inside the coach .

He got down at Standarton station  .  He was received by the persons sent by Seth Isa Hazi Sumar , a friend of Seth Abdullah . Gandhi  narrated the incident of the coach to Seth Isa Hazari .  Seth Isa was not at all surprised ; according to him it  was nothing new ; such incidents were   order of the day in South Africa so far as Indians were concerned .  Gandhi , true to his conviction of fighting injustice ,  wrote a letter to the person incharge of Coach company narrating the incident and emphasised that  he  deserved  a seat  inside the coach when he would resume his  journey for  Johannesburg . The coach  in charge ,  assured Gandhi  a hassle free journey  .  An  insulted but triumphant Gandhi reached Johannesburg .

For the journey to  Pretoria from Johannesburg,  Gandhi personally met station master , introduced himself as Barrister  and accordingly  requested for a first class ticket up to Pretoria . Station Master was a Dutch gentleman  ; he was familiar with the developments  and agreed to give Gandhi a first class ticket subject to his not creating any ruckus enroute in case some railway officer happened to ask him to  go to van meant for non white people . Gandhi reluctantly  agreed to respect the word of station master . This time the  English guard  objected to his travelling by first class but by the  timely intervention of another white passenger , the  guard allowed Gandhi to continue his journey . He thus  reached his destination Pretoria . He spent the night in a hotel -and next day met Mr Baker .  Mr Baker made arrangements of his stay in Pretoria with a lady Nanabai as a paying guest .

What is interesting to note here is that Gandhi  did not hesitate to make public his own humiliation  ; his focus all along was to raise a voice against injustice and discrimination ; for him public cause was more important than his self respect .Every incident strengthened his resolve to fight back . Credit ,  however ,  also goes to those English  people who responded to his call for justice ; the Railway GM , the Dutch station master at Johannesburg , the coach in-charge at Standarton station , and most important ,  the  Durban  press  , who published his incident of  the  court ,  thereby , introducing him to the South African society overnight ; he was an “Unwelcome Visitor “  who appeared  on the scene out of nowhere .

In nearly ten days time , a Barrister Coolie  had experienced so much first hand ; it  was more than  sufficient to make him  fully familiar with  the status of Indians in South Africa and his work ahead to mitigate their sufferings .

To be contd

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