LOCATIONS OR GHETTOES?
Some of the classes which render us the greatest
social service, but which we Hindus have chosen to regard
as 'untouchables,' are relegated to remote quarters of a
town or a village, called in Gujarati dhedvado,
and the name has acquired a bad odour. Even so in
Christian Europe the Jews were once 'untouchables' and
the quarters that were assigned to them had the offensive
name of 'ghettoes.' In a similar way today we have become
the untouchables of South Africa. It remains to be seen
how far the sacrifice of Andrews and the magic wand of
Sastri succeed in rehabilitating us.
The ancient Jews regarded themselves as the chosen
people of God, to the exclusion of all others, with the
result that their descendants were visited with a strange
and even unjust retribution. Almost in a similar way the
Hindus have considered themselves Aryas or
civilized, and a section of their own kith and kin as Anaryas
or untouchables, with the result that a strange, if
unjust, nemesis is being visited not only upon the Hindus
in South Africa, but the Musalmans and Parsis as well,
inasmuch as they belong to the same country and have the
same colour as their Hindu brethren.
The reader will have now realized to some extent the
meaning of the word 'locations' with which I have headed
this chapter. In South Africa we have acquired the odious
name of 'coolies'. The word 'coolie' in India means only
a porter or hired workman, but in South Africa it has a
contemptuous connotation. It means what a pariah or an
untouchable means to us, and the quarters assigned to the
'coolies' are known as 'coolie locations'. Johannesburg
had one such location, but unlike other places with
locations where the Indians had tenancy rights, in the
Johannesburg location the Indians had acquired their
plots on a lease of 99 years. People were densely packed
in the location, the area of which never increased with
the increase in population. Beyond arranging to clean the
latrines in the location in a haphazard way, the
Municipality did nothing to provide any sanitary
facilities, much less good roads or lights. It was hardly
likely that it would safeguard its sanitation, when it
was indifferent to the welfare of the residents. These
were too ignorant of the rules of municipal sanitation
and hygiene to do without the help or supervision of the
Municipality. If those who went there had all been
Robinson Crusoes, theirs would have been a different
story. But we do not know of a single emigrant colony of
Robinson Crusoes in the world. Usually people migrate
abroad in search of wealth and trade, but the bulk of the
Indians who went to South Africa were ignorant, pauper
agriculturists, who needed all the care and protection
that could be given them. The traders and educated
Indians who followed them were very few.
The criminal negligence of the Municipality and the
ignorance of the Indian settlers thus conspired to render
the location thoroughly insanitary. The Municipality, far
from doing anything to improve the condition of the
location, used the insanitation, caused by their own
neglect, as a pretext for destroying the location, and
for that purpose obtained from the local legislature
authority to dispossess the settlers. This was the
condition of things when I settled in Johannesburg.
The settlers, having proprietory rights in their land,
were naturally entitled to compensation. A special
tribunal was appointed to try the land acquisition cases.
If the tenant was not prepared to accept the offer of the
Municipality, he had a right to appeal to the tribunal,
and if the latter's award exceeded the Municipality's
offer, the Municipality had to bear the costs.
Most of the tenants engaged me as their legal adviser.
I had no desire to make money out of these cases, so I
told the tenants that I should be satisfied with whatever
costs the tribunal awarded, in case they won, and a fee
of ?10 on every lease, irrespective of the result of
the case. I also told them that I proposed to set apart
half of the money paid by them for the building of a
hospital or similar institution for the poor. This
naturally pleased them all.
Out of about 70 cases only was lost. So the fees
amounted to a fairly big figure. But Indian Opinion
was there with its persistent claim and devoured, so far
as I can recollect, a sum of ?1,600. I had worked hard
for these cases. The clients always surrounded me. Most
of them were originally indentured labourers from Bihar
and its neighbourhood and from South India. For the
redress of their peculiar grievances they had formed an
association of their own, separate from that of the free
Indian merchants and traders. Some of them were open-
hearted, liberal men and had high character. Their
leaders were Sjt. Jairamsing, the president, and Sjt.
Badri, who was as good as the president. Both of them are
now no more. They were exceedingly helpful to me. Sjt.
Badri came in very close contact with me and took a
prominent part in Satyagraha. Through these and other
friends I came in intimate contact with numerous Indian
settlers from North and South India. I became more their
brother than a mere legal adviser, and shared in all
their private and public sorrows and hardships.
It may be of some interest to know how the Indians
used to name me. Abdulla Sheth refused to address me as
Gandhi. None, fortunately, ever insulted me by calling or
regarding me as 'saheb'. Abdulla Sheth hit upon a fine
appellation-'bhai', i.e., brother. Others followed him
and continued to address me as 'bhai' until the moment I
left when it was used by the ex-indentured Indians.