Though I thus took part in the war as a matter of
duty, it chanced that I was not only unable directly to
participate in it, but actually compelled to offer what
may be called miniature Satyagraha even at that critical
I have already said that an officer was appointed in
charge of our training, as soon as our names were
approved and enlisted. We were all under the impression
that this Commanding Officer was to be our chief only so
far as technical matters were concerned, and that in all
other matters I was the head of our Corps, which was
directly responsible to me in matters of internal
discipline; that is to say, the Commanding Officer had to
deal with the Corps through me. But from the first the
Officer left us under no much delusion.
Mr. Sorabji Adajania was a shrewd man. He warned me.
'Beware of this man,' he said. 'He seems inclined to lord
it over us. We will have none of his orders. We are
prepared to look upon him as our instructor. But the
youngsters he has appointed to instruct us also feel as
though they had come as our masters.'
These youngsters were Oxford students who had come to
instruct us and whom the Commanding Officer had appointed
to be our section leaders.
I also had not failed to notice the high-handedness of
the Commanding Officer, but I asked Sorabji not to be
anxious and tried to pacify him. But he was not the man
to be easily convinced.
'You are too trusting. Those people will deceive you
with wretched words, and when at last you see through
them, you will ask us to resort to Satyagraha, and so
come to grief, and bring us all to grief along with you,'
said he with a smile.
'What else but grief can you hope to come to after
having cast in your lot with me?' said I. 'A Satyagrahi
is born to be deceived. Let the Commanding Officer
deceive us. Have I not told you times without number that
ultimately a deceiver only deceives himself?'
Sorabji gave a loud laugh. 'Well, then,' said he,
'continue to be deceived. You will some day meet your
death in Satyagraha and drag poor mortals like me behind
These words put me in mind of what the late Miss Emily
Hobhouse wrote to me with regard to non-co-operation: 'I
should not be surprised if one of these days you have to
go to the gallows for the sake of truth. May God show you
the right path and protect you.'
The talk with Sorabji took place just after the
appointment of the Commanding Officer. In a very few days
our relations with him reached the breaking point. I had
hardly regained my strength after the fourteen days'
fast, when I began to take part in the drill, often
walking to the appointed place about two miles from home.
This gave me pleurisy and laid me low. In this condition
I had to go week-end camping. Whilst the others stayed
there, I returned home. It was here that an occasion
arose for Satyagraha.
The Commanding Officer began to exercise his authority
somewhat freely. He gave us clearly to understand that he
was our head in all matters, military and non-military,
giving us at the same time a taste of his authority.
Sorabji hurried to me. He was not at all prepared to put
up with this high-handedness. He said: 'We must have all
orders through you. We are still in the training camp and
all sorts of absurd orders are being issued. Invidious
distinctions are made between ourselves and those youths
who have been appointed to instruct us. We must have it
out with the Commanding Officer, otherwise we shall not
be able to go on any longer. The Indian students and
others who have joined our Corps are not going to abide
by any absurd orders. In a cause which has been taken up
for the sake of self-respect, it is unthinkable to put up
with loss of it.'
I approached the Commanding Officer and drew his
attention to the complaints I had received. He wrote
asking me to set out the complaints in writing, at the
same time asking me 'to impress upon those who complain
that the proper direction in which to make complaints is
to me through their section commanders, now appointed,
who will inform me through the instructors.'
To this I replied saying that I claimed no authority,
that in the military sense I was no more than any other
private, but that I had believed that as Chairman of the
Volunteer Corps, I should be allowed unofficially to act
as their representative. I also set out the grievances
and requests that had been brought to my notice, namely,
that grievous dissatisfaction had been caused by the
appointment of section leaders without reference to the
feeling of the members of the Corps; that they be
recalled, and the Corps be invited to elect section
leaders, subject to the Commander's approval.
This did not appeal to the Commanding Officer, who
said it was repugnant to all military discipline that the
section leaders should be elected by the Corps, and that
the recall of appointments already made would be
subversive of all discipline.
So we held a meeting and decided upon withdrawal. I
brought home to the members the serious consequences of
Satyagraha. But a very large majority voted for the
resolution, which was to the effect that, unless the
appointments of Corporals already made were recalled and
the members of the Corps given an opportunity of electing
their own Corporals, the members would be obliged to
abstain from further drilling and week-end camping.
I then addressed a letter to the Commanding Officer
telling him what a severe disappointment his letter
rejecting my suggestion had been. I assured him that I
was most anxious to serve. I also drew his attention to a
precedent. I pointed out that, although I occupied no
official rank in the South African Indian Ambulance Corps
at the time of the Boer War, there was never a hitch
between Colonel Gallwey and the Corps, and the Colonel
never took a step without reference to me with a view to
ascertain the wishes of the Corps. I also enclosed a copy
of the resolution we had passed the previous evening.
This had no good effect on the Officer, who felt that
the meeting and the resolution were a grave breach of
Hereupon I addressed a letter to the Secretary of
State for India, acquainting him with all the facts and
enclosing a copy of the resolution. He replied explaining
that conditions in South Africa were different, and
drawing my attentions to the fact that under the rules
the section commanders were appointed by the Commanding
Officer, but assuring me that in future, when appointing
section commanders, the Commanding Officer would consider
A good deal of correspondence passed between us after
this, but I do not want to prolong the bitter tale.
Suffice it to say that my experience was of a piece with
the experiences we daily have in India. What with threats
and what with adroitness the Commanding Officer succeeded
in creating a division in our Corps. Some of those who
had voted for the resolution yielded to the Commander's
threats or persuasions and wen back on their promise.
About this time an unexpectedly large contingent of
wounded soldiers arrived at the Netley Hospital, and the
services of our Corps were requisitioned. Those whom the
Commanding Officer could persuade went to Netley. The
others refused to go. I was on my back, but was in
communication with the members of the Corps. Mr. Roberts,
the Under- Secretary of State, honoured me with many
calls during those days. He insisted on my persuading the
others to serve. He suggested that they should form a
separate Corps and that at the Netley Hospital they could
be responsible only to the Commanding Officer there, so
that there would be no question of loss of self-respect,
Government would be placated, and at same time helpful
service would be rendered to the large number of wounded
received at the hospital. This suggestion appealed both
to my companions and to me, with the result that those
who had stayed away also went to Netley.
Only I remained away, lying on my back and making the
best of a bad job.