Gandhi's Views On Satyagraha
The Indian Emigration Act
ABOLITION OF INDENTURED EMIGRATION
We shall, for a moment, take leave
of the Ashram, which in the very beginning had to weather internal and external
storms, and briefly advert to a matter that engaged my attention.
Indentured labourers were those who
had emigrated from India to labour under an indenture for five years or less.
Under the Smuts-Gandhi settlement of 1914, the £3 tax in respect of the
indentured emigrants to Natal had been abolished, but the general emigration
from India still needed treatment.
In March 1916 Pandit Madan Mohan
Malaviyaji moved a resolution in the Imperial Legislative Council for the
abolition of the indenture system. In accepting the motion Lord Hardinge
announced that he had 'obtained from His Majesty's Government the promise of the
abolition in due course' of the system. I felt however, that India could not be
satisfied with so very vague an assurance, but ought to agitate for immediate
abolition. India had tolerated the system through her sheer negligence, and I
believed the time had come when people could successfully agitate for this
redress. I met some of the leaders, wrote in the press, and saw that public
opinion was solidly in favour of immediate abolition. Might this be a fit
subject for Satyagraha? I had no doubt that it was, but I did not know the modus
In the meantime the Viceroy had made
no secret of the meaning of 'the eventual abolition', which, as he said, was
abolition 'within such reasonable time as will allow of alternative arrangements
So in February 1917, Pandit
Malaviyaji asked for leave to introduce a bill for the immediate abolition of
the system. Lord Chelmsford refused permission. It was time for me to tour the
country for an all- India agitation.
Before I started the agitation I
thought it proper to wait upon the Viceroy. So I applied for an interview. He
immediately granted it. Mr. Maffey, now Sir John Maffey, was his private
secretary. I came in close contact with him. I had a satisfactory talk with Lord
Chelmsford who, without being definite, promised to be a helpful.
I began my tour from Bombay. Mr.
Jehangir Petit undertook to convene the meeting under the auspices of the
Imperial Citizenship Association. the Executive Committee of the Association met
first for framing the resolutions to be moved at the meeting. Dr. Stanley Reed,
Sjt. (now Sir) Lallubhai Samaldas, Sjt. Natarajan and Mr. Petit were present at
the Committee meeting. The discussion centred round the fixing of the period
within which the Government was to be asked to abolish the system. There were
three proposals, viz, for abolition 'as soon as possible,' abolition 'by the
31st July,' and 'immediate abolition.' I was for a definite date, as we could
then decide what to do if the Government failed to accede to our request within
the time limit. Sjt. Lallubhai was for 'immediate' abolition. He said
'immediate' indicated a shorter period than the 31st July. I explained that the
people would not understand the word 'immediate'. If we wanted to get them to do
something, they must have a more definite word. Everyone would interpret
'immediate' in his own way, Government one way, the people another way. There
was no question of misunderstanding 'the 31st of July,' and if nothing was done
by that date, we could proceed further. Dr.Reed saw the force of the argument,
and ultimately Sjt. Lallubhai also agreed. We adopted the 31st July as the
latest date by which the abolition should be announced, a resolution to that
effect was passed at the public meeting, and meetings throughout India resolved
Mrs. Jaiji Petit put all her
energies into the organization of a ladies' deputation to the Viceroy. Amongst
the ladies from Bombay who formed the deputation, I remember the names of Lady
Tata and the late Dilshad Begam. The deputation had a great effect. The Viceroy
gave an encouraging reply.
I visited Karachi, Calcutta and
various other places. There were fine meetings everywhere, and there was
unbounded enthusiasm. I had not expected anything like it when the agitation was
In those days I used to travel
alone, and had therefore wonderful experiences. C. I. D. men were always after
me. But as I had nothing to conceal, they did not molest me, nor did I cause
them any trouble. Fortunately I had not then received the stamp of Mahatmaship,
though the shout of that name was quite common where people knew me.
On one occasion the detectives
disturbed me at several stations, asked for my ticket and took down the number.
I, of course, readily replied to all questions they asked. My fellow passengers
had taken me to be a 'sadhu' or a 'fakir'. When they saw that I was being
molested at every station, they were exasperated and swore at the detectives.
'Why are you worrying the poor sadhu for nothing?' they protested. 'Don't you
show these scoundrels your ticket,' they said, addressing me.
I said to them gently: 'It is no
trouble to show them my ticket. They are doing their duty.' The passengers were
not satisfied, they evinced more and more sympathy, and strongly objected to
this sort of ill- treatment of innocent men.
But the detectives were nothing. The
real hardship was the third class travelling. My bitterest experience was from
Lahore to Delhi. I was going to Calcutta from Karachi via Lahore where I had to
change trains. It was full, and those who could get in did so by sheer force,
often sneaking through windows if the doors were locked. I had to reach Calcutta
on the date fixed for the meeting, and if I missed this train I could not arrive
in time. I had almost given up hope of getting in. No one was willing to accept
me, when porter discovering my plight came to me and said, 'Give me twelve annas
and I'll get you a seat.' 'Yes,' said I, 'you shall have twelve annas if you do
procure me a seat.' The young man went from carriage to carriage entreating
passengers but no one heeded him. As the train was about to start, some
passengers said, 'There is no room here, but you can shove him in if you like.
He will have to stand.' 'Well?' asked the young porter. I readily agreed, and he
shoved me in bodily through the window. Thus I got in and the porter earned his
The night was a trial. The other
passengers were sitting somehow. I stood two hours, holding the chain of the
upper bunk. Meanwhile some of the passengers kept worrying me incessantly. 'Why
will you not sit down?' they asked. I tried to reason with them saying there was
no room, but they could not tolerate my standing, though they were lying full
length on the upper bunks. They did not tire of worrying me neither did I tire
of gently replying to them. This at last mollified them. Some of them asked me
my name, and made room for me. Patience was thus rewarded. I was dead tired, and
my head was reeling. God sent help just when it was most needed.
In that way I somehow reached Delhi
and thence Calcutta. The Maharaja of Cassimbazar, the president of the Calcutta
meeting, was my host. Just as in Karachi, here also there was unbounded
enthusiasm. The meeting was attended by several Englishmen.
Before the 31st July the Government
announced that indentured emigration from India was stopped.
It was in 1894 that I drafted the
first petition protesting against the system, and I had then hoped that this
'semi-slavery,' as Sir W. W. Hunter used to call the system, would some day be
brought to an end.
There were many who aided in the
agitation which was started in 1894, but I cannot help saying that potential
Satyagraha hastened the end.
For further details of that
agitation and of those who took part in it, I refer the reader to my Satyagraha
in South Africa.
[Source: This article is taken from
the book "The selected works of Mahatma Gandhi"
Autobiography-Vol. II, Navneet Publications, Ahmedabad, India]