Mr. Chamberlain had come to get a gift of 35 million
pounds from South Africa, and to win the hearts of
Englishmen and Boers. So he gave a cold shoulder to the
'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, 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
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 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 Transvaller had therefore to
obtain a permit. The European had no difficulty in
getting one, but the Indian found it very hard.
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 unnecessary and
would have been discontinued. So they found this work for
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, pounds in spite of the influence which one
might bring to bear. Thus seemed to be 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 for Pretoria.
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 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.