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