1. 'LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST'?
Mr. Chamberlain had come to
get a gift of thirty-five million pounds from South Africa, and to win
the hearts of Englishmen and Boers. So he gave a cold shoulder to the Indian
'You know,' he said, 'that the
Imperial Government has little control over self-governing colonies. Your
grievances seem to be genuine. I shall do what I can, but you must try
your best to placate the Europeans, if you wish to live in their midst.'
The reply cast a chill over
the members of the deputation. I was also disappointed. It was an eye-opener
for us all, and I saw that we should start with our work de novo.
I explained the situation to my colleagues.
As a matter of fact there was
nothing wrong about Mr. Chamberlain's reply. It was well that he did not
mince matters. He had brought home to us in a rather gentle way the rule
of might being right, or the law of the sword.
But sword we had none. We scarcely
had the nerve and the muscle even to receive sword-cuts.
Mr. Chamberlain had given only
a short time to the sub-continent. If Shrinagar to Cape Comorin is 1,900
miles, Durban to Capetown is not less than 1,100 miles, and Mr. Chamberlain
had to cover the long distance at hurricane speed.
From Natal he hastened to the
Transvaal. I had to prepare the case for the Indians there as well, and
submit it to him. But how was I to get to Pretoria? Our people there were
not in a position to procure the necessary legal facilities for my getting
to them in time. The War had reduced the Transvaal to a howling wilderness.
There were neither provisions nor clothing available. Empty or closed shops
were there, waiting to be replenished or opened, but that was a matter
of time. Even refugees could not be allowed to return until the shops were
ready with provisions. Every Transvaaller had therefore to obtain a permit.
The European had no difficulty in getting one, but the Indian found it
During the War many officers
and soldiers had come to South Africa from India and Ceylon, and it was
considered to be the duty of the British authorities to provide for such
of them as decided to settle there. They had in any event to appoint new
officers, and these experienced men came in quite handy. The quick ingenuity
of some of them created a new department. It showed their resourcefulness.
There was a special department for the Negroes. Why then should there not
be one for the Asiatics? The argument seemed to be quite plausible. When
I reached the Transvaal, this new department had already been opened and
was gradually spreading its tentacles. The officers who issued permits
to the returning refugees might issue them to all, but how could they do
so in respect of the Asiatics without the intervention of the new department?
And if the permits were to be issued on the recommendation of the new department,
some of the responsibility and burden of the permit officers could thus
be lessened. This was how they had argued. The fact, however, was that
the new department wanted some apology for work, and the men wanted money.
If there had been no work, the department would have been found unnecessary
and would have been discontinued. So they found this work for themselves.
The Indians had to apply to
this department. A reply would be vouchsafed many days after. And as there
were large numbers wishing to return to the Transvaal, there grew up an
army of intermediaries or touts who, with the officers, looted the poor
Indians to the tune of thousands. I was told that no permit could be had
without influence, and that in some cases one had to pay up to a hundred
pounds in spite of the influence which one might bring to bear. Thus there
seemed to me no way open to me. I went to my old friend, the Police Superintendent
of Durban, and said to him: 'Please introduce me to the Permit Officer
and help me to obtain a permit. You know that I have been a resident of
the Transvaal.' He immediately put on his hat, came out and secured me
a permit. There was hardly an hour left before my train was to start. I
had kept my luggage ready. I thanked Superintendent Alexander and started
I now had a fair idea of the
difficulties ahead. On reaching Pretoria I drafted the memorial. In Durban
I do not recollect the Indians having been asked to submit in advance the
names of their representatives, but here there was the new department and
it asked [them] to do so. The Pretoria Indians had already come to know
that the officers wanted to exclude me.
But another chapter is necessary
for this painful though amusing incident.