III. WAS IT A
From Poona I went to Rajkot and Porbandar, where I had
to meet my brother's widow and other relatives.
During the Satyagraha in South Africa I had altered my
style of dress so as to make it more in keeping with that
of the indentured labourers, and in England also I had
adhered to the same style for indoor use. For landing in
Bombay I had a Kathiawadi suit of clothes consisting of a
shirt, a dhoti, a cloak and a white scarf, all made of
Indian mill cloth. But as I was to travel third from
Bombay, I regarded the scarf and the cloak as too much of
an incumbrance, so I shed them, and invested in an
eight-to-ten-annas Kashmiri cap. One dressed in that
fashion was sure to pass muster as a poor man.
On account of the plague prevailing at that time third
class passengers were being medically inspected at
Viramgam or Wadhwan I forget which. I had slight fever.
The inspector on finding that I had a temperature asked
me to report myself to the Medical Officer at Rajkot and
noted down my name.
Someone had perhaps sent the information that I was
passing through Wadhwan, for the tailor Motilal, a noted
public worker of the place, met me at the station. He
told me about the Viramgam customs, and the hardships
railway passengers had to suffer on account of it. I had
little inclination to talk bacause of my fever, and tried
to finish with a brief reply which took the form of a
'Are you prepared to go to jail?'
I had taken Motilal to be one of those impetuous
youths who do not think before speaking. But not so
Motilal. He replied with firm deliberation:
'We will certainly go to jail, provided you lead us.
As kathiawadis, we have the first right on you. Of course
we do not mean to detain you now, but you must promise to
halt here on your return. You will be delighted to see
the work and the spirit of our youths, and you may trust
us to respond as soon as you summon us.'
Motilal captivated me. His comrade eulogizing him,
'Our friend is but a tailor. But he is such a master
of his profession that he easily earns Rs. 15 a month
which is just what he needs working an hour a day, and
gives the rest of his time to public work. He leads us
all, putting our education to shame.
Later I came in close contact with Motilal, and I saw
that there was no exaggeration in the eulogy. He made a
point of spending some days in the then newly started
Ashram every month to teach the children tailoring and to
do some of the tailoring of the Ashram himself. He would
talk to me every day of Viramgam, and the hardships of
the passengers, which had become absolutely unbearable
for him. He was cut off in the prime of youth by a sudden
illness, and public life at Wadhwan suffered without him.
On reaching Rajkot, I reported myself to the Medical
officer the next morning. I was not unknown there. The
Doctor felt ashamed and was angry with the inspector.
This was unnecessary, for the inspector had only done his
duty. He did not know me, and even if he had known me, he
should done have otherwise. The Medical Officer would not
let me go to him again insisted on sending an inspector
to me instead.
Inspection of third class passangers for sanitary
reasons is essential on such occasions. If big men choose
to travel third, whatever their position in life, they
must voluntarily submit themselves to all the regulations
that the poor are subject to, and the officials ought to
be impartial. My experience is that the officials,
instead of looking upon third class passengers as
fellowmen, regard them as so many sheep. They talk to
them contemptuously, and brook no reply or argument. The
third class passenger has to obey the official as though
he were his servant, and the letter may with impunity
belabour and blackmail him, and book him his ticket only
putting him to the greatest possible inconvenience,
including often missing the train. All this I have seen
with my own eyes. No reform is possible unless some of
the educated and the rich voluntarily accept the status
of the poor, travel third, refuse to enjoy the amenities
denied to the poor and, instead of taking avoidable
hardships, discourtesies and injustice as a matter of
course, fight for their removal.
Wherever I went in Kathiawad I heard complaints about
the Viramgam customs hardships. I therefore decided
immediately to make use of Lord Willingdon's offer. I
collected and read all the literature available on the
subject, convinced myself that the complaints were well
founded, and opened correspondence with the Bombay
Government. I called on the Private Secretary to Lord
Willingdon and waited on His Excellency also. The latter
expressed his sympathy but shifted the blame on Delhi.
'If it had been in our hands, we should have removed the
cordon long ago. You should approach the Government of
India,' said the secretary.
I communicated with the Government of India, but got
no reply beyond an acknowledgment. It was only when I had
an occasion to meet Lord Chelmsford later that redress
could be had. When I placed the facts before him, he
expressed his astonishment. He had known nothing of the
matter. He gave me a patient hearing, telephoned that
very moment for papers about Viramgam, and promised to
remove the cordon if the authorities had no explanation
or defence to offer. Within a few days of this interview
I read in the papers that the Viramgam customs cordon had
I regarded this event as the advent of Satyagraha in
India. For during my interview with the Bombay Government
the Secretary had expressed his disapproval of a
reference to Satyagraha in a speech which I had delivered
in Bagasra (in Kathiawad).
'Is not this a threat?' he had asked. 'And do you
think a powerful Government will yield to threats?'
'This was no threat', I had replied. 'It was educating
the people. It is my duty to place before the people all
the legitimate remedies for grievances. A nation that
wants to come into its own ought to know all the ways and
means to freedom. Usually they include violence as the
last remedy. Satyagraha, on the other hand, is an
absolutely non- violent weapon. I regard it as my duty to
explain its practice and its limitations. I have no doubt
that the British Government is a powerful Government, but
I have no doubt also that Satyagraha is a sovereign
The clever Secretary sceptically nodded his head and
said: 'We shall see.'