The symbol of a Court of justice is pair of scales
held evenly by an impartial and blind but sagacious
woman. Fate has purposely made her blind, in order that
she may not judge a person from his exterior but from his
intrinsic worth. But the Law Society of natal set out to
persuade the Supreme Court to act in contravention of
this principle and to belie its symbol.
I applied for admission as an advocate of the Supreme
Court. I held a certificate of admission from the Bombay
High Court. The English certificate I had to deposit with
the Bombay High Court when I was enrolled there. It was
necessary to attach two certificates of character to the
application for admission, and thinking that these would
carry more weight if given by Europeans, I secured them
from two well-known European merchants whom I knew
through Sheth Abdulla. The application had to be
presented through a member of the bar, and as a rule the
Attorney General presented such applications without
fees. Mr. Escombe, who, as we have seen, was legal
adviser to Messrs. Dada Abdulla & Co, was the
Attorney General. I called on him, and he willingly
consented to present my application.
The Law Society now sprang a surprise on me by serving
me with a notice opposing my application for admission.
One of their objections was that the original English
certificate was not attached to my application. But the
main objection was that, when the regulations regarding
admission of advocates were made, the possibility of a
coloured man applying could not have been contemplated.
Natal owed its growth to European enterprise, and
therefore it was necessary that the European element
should predominate in the bar. If coloured people were
admitted, they might gradually outnumber the Europeans,
and the bulwark of their protection would break down.
The Law Society had engaged a distinguished lawyer to
support their opposition. As he too was connected with
Dada Abdulla & Co, he sent me word through Sheth
Abdulla to go and see him. He talked with me quite
frankly, and inquired about my antecedents, which I gave.
Then he said:
'I have nothing to say against you. I was only afraid
lest you should be some Colonial-born adventurer. And the
fact that your application was unaccompanied by the
original certificate supported my suspicion. There have
been men who have made use of diplomas which did not
belong to them. The certificates of character from
European traders you have submitted have no value for me.
What do they know about you? What can be the extent of
their acquaintance with you?
'But,' said I, 'everyone here is a stranger to me.
Even Sheth Abdulla first came to know me here.'
'But then you say he belongs to the same place as you?
It your father was Prime Minister there, Sheth Abdulla is
bound to know your family. if you were to produce his
affidavit, I should have absolutely no objection. I would
then gladly communicate to the Law Society my inability
to oppose your application.'
This talk enraged me, but I restrained my feelings.
'If I had attached Dada Abdulla's certificate.' said I to
myself, 'it would have been rejected, and they would have
asked for Europeans' certificates. And what has my
admission as advocate to do with my birth and my
antecedents? How could my birth, whether humble or
objectionable, be used against me?' But I contained
myself and quietly replied: continue from here
'Though I do not admit that the Law Society has any
authority to require all these details, I am quite
prepared to present the affidavit you desire.'
Sheth Abdulla's affidavit was prepared and duly
submitted to the counsel for the Law Society. He said he
was satisfied. But not so the Law Society. it opposed my
application before the Supreme Court, which ruled out the
opposition without even calling upon Mr. Escombe to
reply. The Chief justice said in effiect :
'The objection that the applicant has not attached the
original certificate has no substance. If he has made a
false affifavit, he can be prosecuted, and his name can
then be struck off the roll, if he is proved guilty. The
law makes no distinction between white and coloured
people. The Court has therefore no authority to prevent
Mr. Gandhi from being enrolled as an advocate. We admit
his application. Mr. Gandhi, you can now take the oath.'
I stood up and took the oath before the Registar. As
soon as I was sworn in, the Chief Justice, addressing me,
'You must now take off your turban, Mr. Gandhi. you
must submit to the rules of the Court with regard to the
dress to be worn by practising barristers.'
I saw my limitations. The turban that I had insisted
on wearing in the District Magistrate's Court I took off
in obedience to the order of the Supreme Court. Not that,
if I had resisted the order, the resistance could not
have been justified. But I wanted to reserve my strength
for fighting bigger battles. I should not exhaust my
skill as a fighter in insisting on retaining my turban.
It was worthy of a better cause.
Sheth Abdulla and other friends did not like my
submission (or was it weakness?). They felt that I should
have stood by my right to wear the turban while
practising in the Court. I tried to reason with them. I
tried to press home to them the truth of the maxim, 'When
at Rome do as the Romans do.' 'It would be right,' I
said, 'to refuse to obey, if in India an English officer
or judge ordered you to take off your turban; but as an
officer of the Court, it would have ill become me to
disregard a custom of the Court in the province of
I pacified the friends somewhat with these and similar
arguments, but I do not think I convinced them
completely, in this instance, of the applicability of the
principle of looking at a thing from a different
standpoint in different circumstances. But all my life
though, the very insistence on truth has taught me to
appreciate the beauty of compromise. I saw in later life
that this spirit was an essential part of Satyagraha. It
has often meant endangering my life and incurring the
displeasure of friends. But truth is hard as adamant and
tender as a blossom.
The opposition of the Law Society gave me another
advertisement in South Africa. Most of the newspapers
condemned the opposition and accused the Law Society of
jealousy. The advertisement, to some extent, simplified