For Global Peace with Social Justice in a Sustainable Environment
Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav
Gandhi Research Foundation Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India
Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229
Sorabji Shapurji Adajania and Mahatma Gandhi
Mr. Sorabji Shapurji Adajania was a young Satyagrahi in South Africa. He played a key-role in second phase of the Satyagraha. He tested the rights of educated Satyagrahis under the Transvaal Immigration Law. Mahatma Gandhi was guided him. In 1912 he was sent to England by Mahatma Gandhi, at Dr. Pranjivan Mehta's expense, to qualify as a Barrister. Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “Mr. Sorabji Shapurji, who has passed several Bombay examinations in English and who lives in Charlestown, has agreed to be the defendant in a test case. He will attempt to enter Volksrust on Wednesday.”1
Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “Mr. Sorabji Shapurji Adajania has been sentenced to a month’s hard labour. We take this to be the conferment of an honour on him. A time is coming when, to ascertain the number of titles a man holds, we shall have to inquire of him how often he has been to jail. Sorabji case is different from those of the others and such as brings him greater credit. Other Indians went to jail in defence of their own rights as well as those of others. They were all, however, residents of the Transvaal. Sorabji is not domiciled in the Colony. He did not have to defend any rights of his own. Sorabji has gone to jail exclusively for his country’s sake, and in defence of educated Indians’ rights. Other Indians were not awarded hard labour, but Sorabji has been. He and his family deserve to be complimented on all this. But the best compliment Indians can pay Sorabji will be to remain very firm, to achieve the objective which he has sought to serve by going to jail, and to follow him there. That would be the right way of congratulating him. We will not commiserate with him or his family. Imprisonment is our destiny. It contains the seeds of our freedom, so that there is no call to console those who are jailed. The hardships of jail must be looked upon as comforts. Only when we are inspired with such courage and such ideals shall we be able to fulfil our tasks. We print a photograph of Sorabji in this issue. Everyone will admire his courage. Few indeed are the heroes who join the fray from no other motive than the pleasure of battle.”2
Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “Mr. Sorabji Shapurji Adajania has wanted to enter the Transvaal again. It is only because the Association has restrained him that he has not done so already.”3 Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “Mr. Sorabji Shapurji entered the Colony under the Immigrants’ Restriction Act. He was allowed to pass through unchallenged. After seven days’ residence in the Colony, he was prosecuted for being unregistered under Act 2 of 1907. Mr. Sorabji had applied for voluntary registration. That was refused. He was not prepared to submit to Act 2 of 1907. He held excellent testimonials from the Town Clerk of Charlestown and other prominent officials of that town. The Magistrate at Volksrust had recommended his application. He is educated up to the seventh standard of the Surat High School, and has often acted as Interpreter at the Court at Charlestown. On being tried under the Asiatic Act, he received notice to quit the Colony. This notice he, as a British subject, declined to comply with. He was thereupon prosecuted, and sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour for one month, without the option of a fine. Mr. Sorabji served his term, and, on the last day of his imprisonment, was secretly deported.”4
Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “Acting with great courage, Mr. Sorabji Shapurji left Johannesburg today by the morning train for Volksrust to undergo the sentence of imprisonment. Even at the mass meeting he had declared that he was prepared for imprisonment, however long it might be. His only regret was that the Association had not permitted him to court arrest earlier than the Natal businessmen, though he should have been allowed to do this as of right. Mr. Cachalia, Mr. Aswat, Mr. Vyas, Mr. Polak, Mr. Jivanji, Mr. Naidoo, Mr. Gandhi and others were present to see him off. Mr. Ebrahim Osman arrived here on Saturday. Mr. Cachalia and others went to receive him. He will be Mr. Cachalia’s guest.”5 Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “Mr. Sorabji Shapurji Adajania has been re-arrested. Mr. Sorabji arrest recalls painful memories. He is a devoted son of India. He is a brilliant representative of a brilliant race—the Parsee. He belongs to a well-known family in Bombay and he it was who laid the foundation of the second stage of the struggle. Mr. Sorabji has already suffered imprisonment six times. He will now be imprisoned for the seventh time. He has served in the aggregate the longest term—over sixteen months. The advent of the Union of South Africa is marked for Indians by the re-arrest of Mr. Sorabji. That the first working day of the Union should be turned for the Indians in the Transvaal, if not in South Africa, into a day of mourning and a reminder that the Union to them is meaningless is a sad commentary on a great epoch in the evolution of the British Empire. Natal is within the Union. Mr. Sorabji has domicile rights in Natal. He will be deported to the territories of a member of the Union. What is this Union? Whom does it unite? What does it unite? Or is it a Union against the Indian and other Coloured races inhabiting South Africa? If the Union of South Africa promotes the might of the Empire, are we or are we not to rejoice over the fact as being members of that Empire? How will the event strike the new Emperor of India? What responsibility attaches to the Governor-General of South Africa in this matter? These are questions which may or may not be rightly answered. Meanwhile, the brave Mr. Sorabji does his duty and, if Indians in South Africa mourn over the further sufferings of a brother, they may rejoice, too, that of Mr. Sorabji the whole of India is proud and that India’s salvation depends not on external aid but on internal growth such as is shown by Mr. Sorabji.”6
Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “One of the best of Indians has just passed away in Johannesburg in the person of Sorabji Shapurji of Adajan, near Surat, at the age of thirty-five. And it is my mournful duty to pay a humble tribute to a fellow-worker. Mr. Sorabji, though known to a select company of friends, was unknown to the Indian public. His work lay in South Africa. He was a prince among passive resisters. He joined their ranks when the struggle in South Africa was at its highest and when it had travelled beyond the confines of the Transvaal. When he joined the struggle, I must confess, I had my doubts about his ability to go through it. But he soon made his mark as a front-rank satyagrahi. Neither he nor I ever expected that he would have to undergo a series of imprisonments amounting in all too over 18 months with hard labour. But he went through it manfully and cheerfully. Mr. Sorabji was a small trader when he took to public life in South Africa. He had a High School education. But such as it was, he made the most effective use of it in the Transvaal. During the struggle, he showed a steadfastness of purpose, probity of character, coolness of temper, courage in the midst of adverse circumstances, such as the best of us do not often show. There were occasions when the stoutest hearts might have broken Sorabji never wavered. After the struggle was closed, it was my intention to send to England someone from among a band of young Indians who had proved themselves capable warriors. A friend had offered the needful funds. The choice, for a variety of reasons, fell upon Mr. Sorabji. It was a question, whether having abandoned the life of a student for over eight years; he could take to it again. He was, however, determined. His ambition was to become a barrister and fit himself for fuller service. To England he went. He had come in close touch with Mr. Gokhale when he was in South Africa. He came in closer touch in London. And I knew that Mr. Gokhale had the highest opinion of Mr. Sorabji worth. He had invited him to become a member of his Society. The deceased took an active part in all the leading movements among Indians in London. He was for some time Secretary of the London Indian Society. He was the first to join the Indian Ambulance Corps that was formed in London at the inauguration of the war and served at Netley, nursing the sick and the wounded. After being called to the Bar, he proceeded to South Africa, where he intended to practice the profession and return to India after he had given a number of years to South Africa and found a substitute. But alas! Fate has willed it otherwise and a career full of promise had to come to an abrupt end. The deceased was only 35 when he died. In all I have said above, I have hardly described the man in Sorabji. He was faithful to a degree. He was a true Parsee, because he was a true Indian. He knew no distinctions of creed or caste. Love of India was a passion with him, her service an article of faith. He was indeed a rare man. He leaves a young widow to mourn his death. I am sure there are many friends of Sorabji to share her grief.”7
Mahatma Gandhi Wrote, “Now as Satyagraha was made to embrace the Immigration Act as well, satyagrahis had to test the right of educated Indians to enter the Transvaal. The Committee decided that the test should not be made through any ordinary Indian. The idea was that some Indian, who did not come within the four corners of the definition of a prohibited immigrant in the new Act in so far as the definition was acceptable to the community, should enter the Transvaal and go to jail. We had thus to show that Satyagraha is a force containing within itself seeds of progressive self-restraint. There was a section in the Act to the effect that any person who was not conversant with a European language should be treated as a prohibited immigrant. The Committee therefore proposed that some Indian who knew English but who had not been to the Transvaal before should enter the country. Several young Indians volunteered for the purpose, out of which Sorabji Shapurji Adajania was selected. Sorabji was a Parsi. There were not perhaps more than a hundred Parsis in the whole of South Africa. I held in South Africa the same views about the Parsis as I have expressed in India. There are not more than a hundred thousand Parsis in the world, and this alone speaks volumes for their high character that such a small community has long preserved its prestige, clung to its religion and proved it second to none in the world in point of charity. But Sorabji turned out to be pure gold. I was but slightly acquainted with him when he joined the struggle. His letters as regards participation in Satyagraha left a good impression on me. As I am a lover of the great qualities of the Parsis, I was not and I am not unaware of some of their defects as a community. I was therefore doubtful whether Sorabji would be able to stand to his guns in critical times.
But it was a rule with me not to attach any weight to my own doubts where the party concerned himself asserted the contrary. I therefore recommended to the Committee that they should take Sorabji at his word, and eventually Sorabji proved himself to be a first-class satyagrahi. He not only was one of the satyagrahis who suffered the longest terms of imprisonment, but also made such deep study of the struggle that his views commanded respectful hearing from all. His advice always showed firmness, wisdom, charity and deliberation. He was slow to form an opinion as well as to change an opinion once formed. He was as much of an Indian as of a Parsi, and was quite free from the bane of narrow communalism. After the struggle was over Dr. Mehta offered a scholarship in order to enable some good satyagrahi to proceed to England to study for the bar. I was charged-with the selection. There were two or three deserving candidates, but all the friends felt that there was none who could approach Sorabji in maturity of judgment and ripeness of wisdom, and he was selected accordingly. The idea was that on his return to South Africa he should take my place and serve the community. Sorabji went to England with the blessings of the community and was duly called to the bar. He had already come in contact with Gokhale in South Africa, and his relations with him became closer in England. Sorabji captivated Gokhale who asked him to join the Servants of India Society when he returned to India. Sorabji became extremely popular-among the students. He would share the sorrows of all, and his soul was not tarnished by the luxury and the artificiality in England.
When he went to England, he was above thirty, and he had only a working knowledge of English. But difficulties vanish at the touch of man’s perseverance. Sorabji lived the pure life of a student and passed his examinations. The bar examinations in my time were easy. Barristers nowadays have to study very much harder. But Sorabji knew not what it was to be defeated. When the ambulance corps was organized in England, he was one of the pioneers as also one of those who remained in it till the last. This corps too had to offer Satyagraha, in which many members fell back but Sorabji was at the head of those who would not give in. Let me state in passing that this Satyagraha of the ambulance corps was also crowned with victory. After being called to the bar in England Sorabji returned to Johannesburg where he began to practice law as well as to serve the community. Every letter I received from South Africa was full of praise for Sorabji: ‘He is as simple in habits as ever, and free from the slightest trace of vanity. He mixes with all, rich as well as poor.’ But God seems to be as cruel as He is merciful. Sorabji caught a galloping phthisis and died in a few months, leaving the Indians whose love he had freshly acquired to mourn his loss. Thus within a very short period God bereft the community of two outstanding personalities, Kachhalia and Sorabji. If I were asked to choose between the two, I would be at a loss to decide. In fact, each was supreme in his own field.
And Sorabji was as good an Indian as he was a good Parsi, even as Kachhalia was as good an Indian as he was a good Mussalman. Thus, Sorabji entered the Transvaal, having previously informed the Government of his intention to test his right to remain in the country under the Immigrants Restriction Act. The Government was not at all prepared for this and could not at once decide what to do with Sorabji, who publicly crossed the border and entered the country. The Immigration Restriction Officer knew him. Sorabji told him that he was deliberately entering the Transvaal for a test case, and asked him to examine him in English or to arrest him just as he pleased. The officer replied that there was no question of examining him as he was aware of his knowledge of English. He had no orders to arrest him. Sorabji might enter the country and the Government, if they wished, would arrest him where he went. Thus contrary to our expectation Sorabji reached Johannesburg and we welcomed him in our midst. No one had hoped that the Government would permit him to proceed even an inch beyond the frontier station of Volksrust. Very often it so happens that when we take prompt steps deliberately and fearlessly, the government is not ready to oppose us. The reason for this lies in the very nature of Government.
A Government officer does not ordinarily make his department so much his own as to arrange his ideas on every subject beforehand and make preparations accordingly. Again, the officer has not one but many things to attend to, and his mind is divided between them. Thirdly, the official suffers from the intoxication of power, is thus apt to be careless and believes that it is child’s play for the authorities to deal with any movement whatever. On the other hand, the public worker knows his ideal as well as the means to achieve his end, and if he has definite plans, he is perfectly ready to carry them out, and his work is the only subject of his thoughts day and night. If, therefore, he takes the right steps with decision, he is always in advance of the government. Many movements fail, not because governments are endowed with extraordinary power but because the leaders are lacking in the qualities just referred to. In short, whether through the negligence or the set design of the Government Sorabji reached as far as Johannesburg, and the local officer had neither any idea of his duty in a case like this nor any instructions from his superiors on the point. Sorabji arrival increased our enthusiasm, and some young men thought that the Government were defeated and would soon come to terms. They saw their mistake very soon, however.
They even realized that a settlement could perhaps be purchased only by the self-sacrifice of many young men. Sorabji informed the Police Superintendent, Johannesburg, about his arrival and let him know that he believed himself entitled to remain in the Transvaal in terms of the new Immigration Act, as he had ordinary knowledge of English, in respect of which he was ready to submit to an examination by the officer if he so desired. No reply to this letter was received; or rather the reply came after some days in the form of a summons. Sorabji case came before the Court on July 8, 1908. The court-house was packed full of Indian spectators. Before the case began, we held a meeting of the Indians presents on the grounds of the Court and Sorabji made a fighting speech, in which he announced his readiness to go to jail as often as necessary for victory and to brave all dangers and risks. In the meanwhile, I had got fairly familiar with Sorabji and assured myself that he would do credit to the community. The Magistrate took up the case in due course. I defended Sorabji, and at once asked for his discharge on the ground of the summons being defective. The Public Prosecutor also made an argument, but on the 9th the Court upheld my contention and discharged Sorabji who, however, immediately received warning to appear before the Court the next day, Friday, July 10, 1908. On the 10th, the Magistrate ordered Sorabji to leave the Transvaal within seven days. After the Court’s order was served upon him, Sorabji informed Superintendent J.A.G. Vernon that it was not his desire to leave. He was accordingly brought to the Court once more, on the 20th, charged with failing to obey the Magistrate’s order, and sentenced to a month’s imprisonment with hard labour. The Government, however, did not arrest the local Indians as they saw that the more arrests there were the higher did the Indians’ spirit rise.
Again, Indians were sometimes discharged thanks to legal technicalities in the cases instituted against them and this also served to redouble the ardour of the community. Government had carried through the Legislature all the laws they wanted. Many Indians had indeed burnt the certificates but they had proved their right to remain in the country by their registration. Government therefore saw no sense in prosecuting them simply to send them to jail, and thought that the workers would cool down finding no outlet for their energies in view of the masterly inactivity of the Government. But they were reckoning without their host. The Indians took fresh steps to test the Government’s patience, which was soon exhausted.”8