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by Mohandas K. Gandhi

The train reached Charlestown in the morning. There was no railway, in those days, between
Charlestown and Johannesburg, but only a stage-coach, which halted at Standerton for the
night en route. I possessed a ticket for the coach, which was not cancelled by the break of the
journey at Maritzburg for a day; besides, Abdulla Sheth had sent a wire to the coach agent at

But the agent only needed a pretext for putting me off, and so, when he discovered me to be a
stranger, he said, 'Your ticket is cancelled.' I gave him the proper reply. The reason at the back of
his mind was not want of accommodation, but quite another. Passengers had to be
accommodated inside the coach, but as I was regarded as a 'coolie' and looked a stranger, it
would be proper, thought the 'leader', as the white man in charge of the coach was called, not to
seat me with the white passengers. There were seats on either side of the coachbox. The leader
sat on one of these as a rule. Today he sat inside and gave me his seat. I knew it was sheer
injustice and an insult, but I thought it better to pocket it. I could not have forced myself inside,
and if I had raised a protest, the coach would have gone off without me. This would have meant
the loss of another day, and Heaven only knows what would have happened the next day. So,
much as I fretted within myself, I prudently sat next to the coachman.

At about three o'clock the coach reached Pardekoph. Now the leader desired to sit where I was
seated, as he wanted to smoke and possibly to have some fresh air. So he took a piece of dirty
sack-cloth from the driver, spread it on the footboard and, addressing me, said, 'Sami, you sit on
this, I want to sit near the driver.' The insult was more than I could bear. In fear and trembling I
said to him, 'It was you who seated me here, though I should have been accommodated inside. I
put up with the insult. Now that you want to sit outside and smoke, you would have me sit at your
feet. I will not do so, but I am prepared to sit inside.'

As I was struggling through these sentences, the man came down upon me and began heavily
to box my ears. He seized me by the arm and tried to drag me down. I clung to the brass rails of
the coachbox and was determined to keep my hold even at the risk of breaking my wristbones.
The passengers were witnessing the scene--the man swearing at me, dragging and belabouring
me, and I remaining still. He was strong and I was weak. Some of the passengers were moved to
pity and exclaimed: 'Man, let him alone. Don't beat him. He is not to blame. He is right. If he can't
stay there, let him come and sit with us.' 'No fear,' cried the man, but he seemed somewhat
crestfallen and stopped beating me. He let go my arm, swore at me a little more, and asking the
Hottentot servant who was sitting on the other side of the coachbox to sit on the footboard, took
the seat so vacated.

The passengers took their seats and, the whistle given, the coach rattled away. My heart was
beating fast within my breast and I was wondering whether I should ever reach my destination
alive. The man cast an angry look at me now and then and, pointing his finger at me, growled:
'Take care, let me once get to Standerton and I shall show you what I do.' I sat speechless and
prayed to God to help me.

After dark we reached Standerton and I heaved a sigh of relief on seeing some Indian faces.
As soon as I got down, these friends said: 'We are here to receive you and take you to Isa
Sheth's shop. We have had a telegram from Dada Abdulla.' I was very glad, and we went to
Sheth Isa Haji Sumar's shop. The Sheth and his clerks gathered round me. I told them all that I
had gone through. They were very sorry to hear it and comforted me by relating to me their own
bitter experiences.

I wanted to inform the agent of the Coach Company of the whole affair. So I wrote him a letter,
narrating everything that had happened, and drawing his attention to the threat his man had held
out. I also asked for an assurance that he would accommodate me with the other passengers
inside the coach when we started the next morning. To which the agent replied to this effect:

'From Standerton we have a bigger coach with different men in charge. The man complained of
will not be there tomorrow, and you will have a seat with the other passengers.' This somewhat
relieved me. I had, of course, no intention of proceeding against the man who had assaulted me,
and so the chapter of the assault closed there.

In the morning Isa Sheth's man took me to the coach, I got a good seat and reached
Johannesburg quite safely that night.

Standerton is a small village and Johannesburg a big city. Abdulla Sheth had wired to
Johannesburg also, and given me the name and address of Muhammad Kasam Kamruddin's firm
there. Their man had come to receive me at the stage, but neither did I see him nor did he
recognize me. So I decided to go to a hotel. I knew the names of several. Taking a cab I asked to
be driven to the Grand National Hotel. I saw the manager and asked for a room. He eyed me for
a moment, and politely saying, 'I am very sorry, we are full up,' bade me good-bye. So I asked the
cabman to drive to Muhammad Kasam Kamruddin's shop. Here I found Abdul Gani Sheth
expecting me, and he gave me a cordial greeting. He had a hearty laugh over the story of my
experience at the hotel. 'How ever did you expect to be admitted to a hotel?' he said.

'Why not?' I asked.

'You will come to know after you have stayed here a few days.' said he. 'Only we can live in a
land like this, because, for making money, we do not mind pocketing insults, and here we are.'
With this he narrated to me the story of the hardships of Indians in South Africa.
Of Sheth Abdul Gani we shall know more as we proceed.
He said: 'This country is not for men like you. Look now, you have to go to Pretoria tomorrow.
You will haveto travel third class. Conditions in the Transvaal are worse than in Natal. First and
second class tickets are never issued to Indians.'
'You cannot have made persistent efforts in this direction.'
'We have sent representations, but I confess our own men too do not want as a rule to travel
first or second.'

I sent for the railway regulations and read them. There was a loophole. The language of the old
Transvaal enactments was not very exact or precise; that of the railway regulations was even less

I said to the Sheth: 'I wish to go first class, and if I cannot, I shall prefer to take a cab to
Pretoria, a matter of only thirty-seven miles.'

Sheth Abdul Gani drew my attention to the extra time and money this would mean, but agreed
to my proposal to travel first, and accordingly we sent a note to the Station Master. I mentioned in
my note that I was a barrister and that I always travelled first. I also stated in the letter that I
needed to reach Pretoria as early as possible, that as there was no time to await his reply I would
receive it in person at the station, and that I should expect to get a first class ticket. There was of
course a purpose behind asking for the reply in person. I thought that if the station master gave a
written reply, he would certainly say 'no', especially because he would have his own notion of a
'coolie' barrister. I would therefore appear before him in faultless English dress, talk to him and
possibly persuade him to issue a first class ticket. So I went to the station in a frock-coat and
necktie, placed a sovereign for my fare on the counter, and asked for a first class ticket.

'You sent me that note?' he asked.

'That is so. I shall be much obliged if you will give me a ticket. I must reach Pretoria today.'
He smiled and, moved to pity, said: 'I am not a Transvaaler. I am a Hollander. I appreciate your
feelings, and you have my sympathy. I do want to give you a ticket--on one condition, however,
that, if the guard should ask you to shift to the third class, you will not involve me in the affair, by
which I mean that you should not proceed against the Railway Company. I wish you a safe
journey. I can see you are a gentleman.'

With these words he booked the ticket. I thanked him and gave him the necessary assurance.
Sheth Abdul Gani had come to see me off at the station. The incident gave him an agreeable
surprise, but he warned me, saying: 'I shall be thankful if you reach Pretoria all right. I am afraid
the guard will not leave you in peace in the first class, and even if he does, the passengers will

I took my seat in a first class compartment, and the train started. At Germiston the guard came
to examine the tickets. He was angry to find me there, and signalled to me with his finger to go to
the third class. I showed him my first class ticket. 'That doesn't matter,' said he, 'remove to the
third class.'

There was only one English passenger in the compartment. He took the guard to task. 'What
do you mean by troubling the gentleman?' he said. 'Don't you see he has a first class ticket? I do
not mind in the least his travelling with me.' Addressing me, he said, 'You should make yourself
comfortable where you are.'

The guard muttered: 'If you want to travel with a coolie, what do I care?' and went away.
At about eight o'clock in the evening the train reached Pretoria.


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