3. WAS IT A THREAT?
From Poona I went to Rajkot
and Porbandar, where I had to meet my brother's widow and other relatives.
During the Satyagraha in South
Africa I had altered my style of dress so as to make it more in keeping
with that of the indentured labourers, and in England also I had adhered
to the same style for indoor use. For landing in Bombay I had a Kathiawadi
suit of clothes consisting of a shirt, a dhoti, a cloak, and a white scarf,
all made of Indian mill cloth. But as I was to travel third from Bombay,
I regarded the scarf and the cloak as too much of an encumbrance, so I
shed them, and invested in an eight-to-ten-annas Kashmiri cap. One dressed
in that fashion was sure to pass muster as a poor man.
On account of the plague prevailing
at that time, third class passengers were being medically inspected at
Viramgam or Wadhwan--I forget which. I had slight fever. The inspector,
on finding that I had a temperature, asked me to report myself to the Medical
Officer at Rajkot, and noted down my name.
Someone had perhaps sent the
information that I was passing through Wadhwan, for the tailor Motilal,
a noted public worker of the place, met me at the station. He told me about
the Viramgam customs, and the hardships railway passengers had to suffer
on account of it. I had little inclination to talk because of my fever,
and tried to finish with a brief reply which took the form of a question:
'Are you prepared to go
I had taken Motilal to be one
of those impetuous youths who do not think before speaking. But not so
Motilal. He replied with firm deliberation:
'We will certainly go to jail,
provided you lead us. As Kathiawadis, we have first right on you. Of course
we do not mean to detain you now, but you must promise to halt here on
your return. You will be delighted to see the work and the spirit of our
youths, and you may trust us to respond as soon as you summon us.'
Motilal captivated me. His comrade,
eulogising him, said:
'Our friend is but a tailor.
But he is such a master of his profession that he easily earns Rs. 15 a
month--which is just what he needs--working an hour a day, and gives the
rest of his time to public work. He leads us all, putting our education
Later I came in close contact
with Motilal, and I saw that there was no exaggeration in the eulogy. He
made a point of spending some days in the then newly started Ashram every
month, to teach the children tailoring and to do some of the tailoring
of the Ashram himself. He would talk to me every day of Virmgam, and the
hardships of the passengers, which had become absolutely unbearable for
him. He was cut off in the prime of youth by a sudden illness, and public
life at Wadhwan suffered without him.
On reaching Rajkot, I reported
myself to the Medical Officer the next morning. I was not unknown there.
The doctor felt ashamed and was angry with the inspector. This was unnecessary,
for the inspector had only done his duty. He did not know me, and even
if he had known me, he should not have done otherwise. The Medical Officer
would not let me go to him again, and insisted on sending an inspector
to me instead.
Inspection of third class passengers
for sanitary reasons is essential on such occasions. If big [=important]
men choose to travel third, whatever their position in life, they must
voluntarily submit themselves to all the regulations that the poor are
subject to, and the officials ought to be impartial. My experience is that
the officials, instead of looking upon third class passengers as fellowmen,
regard them as so many sheep. They talk to them contemptuously, and brook
no reply or argument. The third class passenger has to obey the official
as though he were his servant, and the latter may with impunity belabour
and blackmail him, and book him his ticket only after putting him to the
greatest possible inconvenience, including often missing the train. All
this I have seen with my own eyes. No reform is possible unless some of
the educated and the rich voluntarily accept the status of the poor, travel
third, refuse to enjoy the amenities denied to the poor, and instead of
taking avoidable hardships, discourtesies, and injustice as a matter of
course, fight for their removal.
Wherever I went in Kathiawad
I heard complaints about the Viramgam customs hardships. I therefore decided
immediately to make use of Lord Willingdon's offer. I collected and read
all the literature available on the subject, convinced myself that the
complaints were well-founded, and opened correspondence with the Bombay
Government. I called on the Private Secretary to Lord Willingdon, and waited
on His Excellency also. The latter expressed his sympathy, but shifted
the blame on Delhi. 'If it had been in our hands, we should have removed
the cordon long ago. You should approach the Government of India,' said
I communicated with the Government
of India, but got no reply beyond an acknowledgement. It was only when
I had an occasion to meet Lord Chelmsford later, that redress could be
had. When I placed the facts before him, he expressed his astonishment.
He had known nothing of the matter. He gave me a patient hearing, telephoned
that very moment for papers about Viramgam, and promised to remove the
cordon if the authorities had no explanation or defence to offer. Within
a few days of this interview I read in the papers that the Viramgam customs
cordon had been removed.
I regarded this event as the
advent of Satyagraha in India. For during my interview with the Bombay
Government the Secretary had expressed his disapproval of a reference to
Satyagraha in a speech which I had delivered in Bagasra (in Kathiawad).
'Is not this a threat?' he had
asked. 'And do you think a powerful Government will yield to threats?'
'This was no threat,' I had
replied. 'It was educating the people. It is my duty to place before the
people all the legitimate remedies for grievances. A nation that wants
to come into its own ought to know all the ways and means to freedom. Usually
they include violence as the last remedy. Satyagraha, on the other hand,
is an absolutely non-violent weapon. I regard it as my duty to explain
its practice and its limitations. I have no doubt that the British Government
is a powerful Government, but I have no doubt also that Satyagraha is a
The clever Secretary nodded
his head and said: 'We shall see.'