XXXI. THAT MEMORABLE
WEEK ! --I
After a short tour in South India I reached Bombay, I
think on the 4th April, having received a wire from Sjt.
Shankarlal Banker asking me to be present there for the
6th of April celebrations.
But in the meanwhile Delhi had already observed the hartal
on the 30th March. The word of the late Swami
Shraddhanandji and Hakim Ajmal Khan Saheb was law there.
The wire about the postponement of the hartal
till the 6th of April had reached there too late. Delhi
had never withnessed a hartal like that before.
Hindus and Musalmans seemed united like one man. Swami
Shraddhanandji was invited to deliver a speech in the
Jumma Masjid which he did. All this was more than the
authorities could bear. The police checked the hartal
procession as it was proceeding towards the railway
station, and opened fire, causing a number of casualties,
and the reign of repression commenced in Delhi.
Shraddhanandji urgently summoned me to Delhi. I wired
back, saying I would start for Delhi immediately after
the 6th of April celebrations were over in Bombay.
The story of happenings in Delhi was repeated with
variations in Lahore and Amritsar. From Amritsar Drs.
Satyapal and Kitchlu had sent me a pressing invitation to
go there. I was altogether unacquainted with them at at
that time, but I communicated to them my intention to
visit Amritsar after Delhi.
On the morning of the 6th the citizens of Bombay
flocked in their thousands to the Chowpati for a bath in
the sea, after which they moved on in a procession to
Thakurdvar. The procession included a fair sprinkling of
women and children, while the Musalmans joined it in
large numbers. From Thakurdvar some of us who were in the
procession were taken by the Musalman friends to a mosque
near by, where Mrs. Naidu and myself were persuaded to
deliver speeches. Sjt. Vithaldas Jerajani proposed that
we should then and there administer the Swadeshi and
Hindu-Muslim unity pledges to the people, but I resisted
the proposal on the ground that pledges should not be
administered or taken in precipitate hurry, and that we
should be satisfied with what was already being done by
the people. A pledge once taken, I argued, must not be
broken afterwards; therefore it was necessary that the
implications of the Swadeshi pledge should be clearly
understood, and the grave responsibility entailed by the
pledge regarding Hindu-Muslim unity fully realized by all
concerned. In the end I suggested that those who wanted
to take the pledges should again assemble on the
following morning for the purpose.
Needless to say the hartal in Bombay was a
complete success. Full preparation had been made for
starting civil disobedience. Two or three things had been
discussed in this connection. It was decided that civil
disobedience might be offered in respect of such laws
only as easily lent themselves to being disobeyed by the
masses. The salt tax was extremely unpopular and a
powerful movement had been for some time past going on to
secure its repeal. I therefore suggested that the people
might prepare salt from sea-water in their own houses in
disregard of the salt laws. My other suggestion was about
the sale of proscribed literature. Two of my books, viz.,Hind
Swaraj and Sarvodaya (Gujarati adaptation
of Ruskin's Unto This Last), which had been
already proscribed, came handy for this purpose. To print
and sell them openly seemed to be the easiest way of
offering civil disobedience. A sufficient number of
copies of the books was therefore printed, and it was
arranged to sell them at the end of the monster meeting
that was to be held that evening after the breaking of
On the evening of the 6th an army of volunteers issued
forth accordingly with this prohibited literature to sell
it among the people. Both Shrimati Sarojini Devi and I
went out in cars. All the copies were soon sold out. The
proceeds of the sale were to utilized for furthering the
civil disobedience campaign. Both these books were priced
at four annas per copy, but I hardly remember anybody
having purchased them from me at their face value merely.
Quite a large number of people simply poured out all the
cash that was in their pockets to purchase their copy.
Five and ten rupee notes just flew out to cover the price
of a single copy, while in one case I remember having
sold a copy for fifty rupees! It was duly explained to
the people that they were liable to be arrested and
imprisoned for purchasing the proscribed literature. But
for the moment they had shed all fear of jail-going.
It was subsequently learnt that the Government had
conveniently taken the view that the books that had been
proscribed by it had not in fact been sold, and that what
we had sold was not held as coming under the definition
of proscribed literature. The reprint was held by the
Government to be a new edition of the books that had been
proscribed, and to sell them did not constitute an
offence under the law. This news caused general
The next morning another meeting was held for the
administration of the pledges with regard to Swadeshi and
Hindu-Muslim unity. Vithaldas Jerajani for the first time
realized that all is not gold that glitters. Only a
handful of persons came. I distinctly remember some of
the sisters who were present on that occasion. The men
who attended were also very few. I had already drafted
the pledge and brought it with me. I thoroughly explained
its meaning to those present before I administered it to
them. The paucity of the attendance neither pained nor
surprised me, for I have noticed this characteristic
difference in the popular attitude partiality for
exciting work, dislike for quiet constructive effort. The
difference has persisted to this day.
But I shall have to devote to this subject a chapter
by itself. To return to the story. On the night of the
7th I started for Delhi and Amritsar. On reaching Mathura
on the 8th I first heard rumours about my probable
arrest. At the next stoppage after Mathura, Acharya
Gidvani came to meet me, and gave me definite news that I
was to be arrested, and offered his services to me if I
should need them. I thanked him for the offer, assuring
him that I would not fail to avail myself of it, if and
when I felt it necessary.
Before the train had reached Palwal railway station, I
was served with a written order to the effect that I was
prohibited from entering the boundary of the Punjab, as
my presence there was likely to result in a disturbance
of the peace. I was asked by the police to get down from
the train. I refused to do so saying, 'I want to go to
the Punjab in response to a pressing invitation not to
foment unrest, but to allay it. I am therefore sorry that
it is not possible for me to comply with this order.'
At last the train reached Palwal. Mahadev was with me.
I asked him to proceed to Delhi to convey to Swami
Shraddhanandji the news about what had happened and to
ask the people to remain clam. He was to explain why I
had decided to disobey the order served upon me and
suffer the penalty for disobeying it, and also why it
would spell victory for our side if we could maintain
perfect peace in spite of any punishment that might be
inflicted upon me.
At Palwal railway station I was taken out of the train
and put under police custody. A train from Delhi came in
a short time. I was made to enter a third class carriage,
the police party accompanying. On reaching Mathura, I was
taken to the police barracks, but no police official
could tell me as to what they proposed to do with me or
where I was to be taken next. Early at 4 o'clock the next
morning I was waked up and put in a goods train that was
going towards Bombay. At noon I was again made to get
down at Sawai Madhopur. Mr. Bowring, Inspector of Police,
who arrived by the mail train from Lahore, now took
charge of me. I was put in a first class compartment with
him. And from an ordinary prisoner I became a 'gentleman'
prisoner. The officer commenced a long panegyric of Sir
Michael O'Dwyr. Sir Michael had nothing against me
personally, he went on, only he apprehended a disturbance
of the peace if I entered the Punjab and so on. In the
end he requested me to return to Bombay of my own accord
and agree not to cross the frontier of the Punjab. I
replied that I could not possibly comply with the order,
and that I was not prepared of my own accord to go back.
Whereupon the officer, seeing no other course, told me
that he would have to enforce law against me. 'But what
do you want to do with me?' I asked him. He replied that
he himself did not know, but was awaiting further orders.
'For the present,' he said, I am taking you to Bombay.'
We reached Surat. Here I was made over to the charge
of another police officer. 'You are now free,' the
officer told me when we had reached Bombay. 'It would
however be better,' he added, 'if you get down near the
Marine Lines where I shall get the train stopped for you.
At Colaba there is likely to be a big crowd.' I told him
that I would be glad to follow his wish. He was pleased
and thanked me for it. Accordingly I alighted at the
Marine Lines. The carriage of a friend just happened to
be passing by. It took me and left me at Revashankar
Jhaveri's place. The friend told me that the news of my
arrest had incensed the people and roused them to a pitch
of mad frenzy. 'An outbreak is apprehended every minute
near Pydhuni, the Magistrate and the police have already
arrived there,' he added.
Scarcely had I reached my destination, when Umar
Sobani and Anasuyabehn arrived and asked me to motor to
Pydhuni at once. 'The people have become impatient, and
are very much excited,' they said, 'we cannot pacify
them. Your presence alone can do it.'
I got into car. Near Pydhuni I saw that a huge crowd
had gathered. On seeing me the people went mad with joy.
A procession was immediately formed, and the sky was rent
with the shouts of Vande mataram and Allaho
akbar. At Pydhuni we sighted a body of mounted
police. Brickbats were raining down from above. I
besought the crowd to be calm, but it seemed as if we
should not be able to escape the shower of brickbats. As
the procession issued out of Abdur Rahman Street and was
about to proceed towards the Crawford Market, it suddenly
found itself confronted by a body of the mounted police,
who had arrived there to prevent it from proceeding
further in the direction of the Fort. The crowd was
densely packed. It had almost broken through the police
cordon. There was hardly any chance of my voice being
heard in that vast concourse. Just then the officer in
charge of the mounted police gave the order to disperse
the crowd, and at once the mounted party charged upon the
crowd brandishing their lances as they went. For a moment
I felt that I would be hurt. But my apprehension was
groundless, the lances just grazed the car as the lancers
swiftly passed by. The ranks of the people were soon
broken, and they were thrown into utter confusion, which
was soon converted into a rout. Some got trampled under
foot, others were badly mauled and crushed. In that
seething mass of humanity there was hardly any room for
the horses to pass, nor was there an exit by which the
people could disperse. So the lancers blindly cut their
way through the crowd. I hardly imagine they could see
what they were doing. The whole thing presented a most
dreadful spectacle. The horsemen and the people were
mixed together in mad confusion.
Thus the crowd was dispersed and its progress checked.
Our motor was allowed to proceed. I had it stopped before
the Commissioner's office, and got down to complain to
him about the conduct of the police.