Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09415777229, 094055338




Parsee Rustomjee and Mahatma Gandhi



Parsee Rustomjee was the first and fast friend of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa. He was founder member of Natal Indian Congress. He gave sheltered to Mahatma Gandhi on 13 January 1897, when he attacked by a European mob in Durban. He was one of the best supporters of South Africa Satyagraha during 1907 to 1914. He sentences for jail also. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I have been thinking what written reply to give to the handsome and costly address presented to me by my fellow-countrymen. After deep consideration, I have come to the conclusion that, consistently with professions made by me from time to time, I must not be satisfied with merely saying that what I value is the affection that has prompted the gifts, not the gifts as such. I have, therefore, decided to hand over the jewellery, as per accompanying schedule, to the African Banking Corporation with instructions to deliver the articles to the Natal Indian Congress against a receipt signed by the President and Honorary Secretary or Secretaries for the time being. I make them over to the Congress on the following conditions:

 (1) The jewellery or its value should form an emergency fund to be utilized only when the Congress has no other funds to fall back upon without the two landed properties.

 (2) I should have the right to withdraw any or such of the jewellery that may then not have been utilized for devoting same to any beneficial object, whether within or outside the scope of the Congress. When the necessity for utilizing the jewellery arises, and if it is possible, I would feel it an honour to be consulted by the Congress as to whether the object for which it is sought to utilize same is, in my opinion, an emergency within the scope of this letter. But the Congress is free at any time to withdraw the jewellery without reference to me. I have taken the above step deliberately and prayerfully. I feel that neither I nor my family can make any personal use of the costly presents. They are too scared to be sold by me or my heirs, and, seeing that there can be no guarantee against the last contingency, in my opinion, the only way I can return the love of our people is to dedicate them all to a sacred object. And since they are in reality a tribute to the Congress principles, to the Congress I return them. Lastly, I repeat the hope that our people would translate into acts their good intentions for the institution of which the recent presentations were an earnest. That the Congress may continue to serve the Empire and the Community and that my successors may receive the same support that was extended to me is my fervent prayer.”1 

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I am in receipt of your three letters, dated 31st December, 7th January and 10th February. I have also received the cheque for £25 sent by you to be spent on feeding the famine-stricken people in Kathiawad or for any other charitable object I deem fit. All your three letters reached me when I arrived here from North India three days ago. I also received a letter at Rangoon, but it is in my luggage, which has not yet been received from Calcutta. I do not remember that it contained anything special that called for a reply. The famine in Kathiawad is very acute. But I have not yet obtained full information regarding the extent of relief being given to the famine-stricken. When I obtain it, I shall utilize the cheque sent by you. If I find that it is not needed immediately, I intend to spend the amount after June, for real scarcity will be experienced thereafter. If, unfortunately, we get no rains in June, there is a possibility that the conditions of 1897 might recur. Since it will be advisable to have as much money as possible for that contingency, I do not consider it meet to use this amount just now, except when absolutely essential. I shall write to you if there is any change in this decision. The cheque was deposited yesterday with a local banker at per cent interest. The money will be spent under my personal supervision. You need, therefore, have no anxiety in this matter. I cannot understand why Mr. Khan and Mr. Nazar should not attend to your work properly. You should have patience and take whatever work can be taken from them. People cannot speak or act always in the same manner. I think it is not right to form an adverse opinion on that account. As long as a man carries out with care the work entrusted to him, it is not necessary to pay attention to his ways. I have already sent to the secretaries a report of the work done here so far. As you must have seen it, I do not write about it again. The Governor there has declined to receive our address, saying that the Indians constitute a part of Natal’s population. Please let me know in exactly what context he has said so. You must have seen the question asked about us in Parliament and Mr. Chamberlain’s reply. Let me know immediately what Lord Milner writes. The Bengal Chamber of Commerce is willing to take up our work. Hereafter, please forward also to Prof. Gokhale at Poona copies of whatever literature, newspapers, etc., you may have to send from there to other gentlemen He is a member of the Imperial Council and he does a lot on our behalf. I very much regret to note that the Congress work there has become slack. You should do as much as you can. One should content oneself with doing one’s duty as one understands it, facing insults, obstacles, etc., courageously and behaving politely in every respect. What more can I write from this distance? It is, indeed, a matter of profound regret that the ideal of inviting Sir Muncherji has been abandoned. It will, however, be to our advantage if we can still exert ourselves and invite him. When I go to Bombay, I shall call at your house and inquire after your children. But I am not sure when I will go. Everything here is undecided. I intend settling down in Bombay if I can afford it. It is a little difficult to do public work from here. The future alone will decide it. Dr. Mehta strongly advises that I take complete rest at least for the next two or three months. The children are here with me. They are for the present attending the local school. Gokaldas and Harilal are studying in standard IV of the secondary school. Manilal studies privately; he has not been admitted into any specific standard at school. I hope you have recovered completely by now. It is necessary to take proper care of your health there. It is essential that one should observe moderation and regularity in the matter of food. Please give my compliments to those who may enquire after me.”2

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I hope you have reached safely. I receive letters regularly from Kaikhushroo and Abdul Huk. Since they write to you also, there is no need for me to say more. I know that you have to pay interest on overdrafts. As I had at present a little money to spare, I have sent the firm a cheque for £500. A part of the amount, say £250, will go to Chhaganlal; even so the balance will remain there. I shall take it back if I need it; and if I have more to spare, I shall send that also. Even otherwise we do not think it proper to hold up a big sum due to you from the Press, especially when, as I believe, I have money to spare. Please do pay attention to the education of the children. Do not forget what I told you about your health.”3 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I was very glad to read it. I am sure your mother must have been greatly delighted at your meeting her. It is a matter for great satisfaction that your heart’s desire has been fulfilled. I hope you will now pay sufficient attention to the education and conduct of your children. You did a very proper thing in continuing your simple diet on board the steamer. And I am glad to have your assurance that you will be regular in your walks, food and baths in Bombay. Please do not entertain the feeling that I have rendered you a service. My only desire is that your health should continually improve and you might live long and do good deeds. Please persuade my children to come here when you see them. Please do not entertain any anxiety about the work here. I frequently receive letters. I believe both of them are working satisfactorily. I am making enquiries about the bills in respect of previous cases. Please give my respects to Maji. Ask Jal to write me a letter. Get Soharab also to write a few lines below it.” 4

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I went to your firm when I visited Durban last week. Omar Sheth, Kaikhushroo, Abdul Huk and I sat together and went over the accounts. The receipts from rent have diminished considerably. They have gone below £200 and will go down a little further. But that can’t be helped. I met the lady running the Avon Hotel. She said that she would stay on only if the rent was reduced, and I have agreed to do so. In business, too, I do not see much substance. But since Abdul Huk is confident, Omar Sheth’s advice is that some business should be carried on. He has agreed to supervise it himself. I therefore do not see any harm in doing a little business. I remember what you said about rent. But you should not be in a hurry. Rents are bound to decline in these difficult times; but there is no cause for alarm. Please finish your work there without any hurry. The need for building the house is quite evident; please therefore let there be no interruption in it. There were no letters from you either here or at Durban. It is necessary to write to the firm at regular intervals. Please write to me about your health. Please give my respects to Maji. Get Jal and Sorab to write to me.”5

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Received your letter dated 20th May. I am returning herewith the two letters sent by you. I have written to Kaikhushroo and Abdul Huk without mentioning your name or the writer’s. It will take a day or two to receive their reply. You need not attach much importance to that letter. You will be able to judge better from the accounts and figures you receive. Please let me know if you find them defective. Anyway have no anxiety about the shop. Be at ease and complete the work you have begun. Let me know what steps you have taken in regard to the children’s education. I am glad to know that you have kept up your walks and baths. Perhaps you take the children also with you. You have given a good report in the issue of the Jame-Jamshed you have sent me. The account given about me was not necessary. I can do public work better without getting publicity in this way. You know my thoughts on the subject. A heavy bill has been received from Mr. Laughton regarding Latiwala. I cannot intervene in that matter. I have, therefore, written to the store that they should see Mr. Laughton and plead for a reduction. Give my respects to Maji. Let me know the names of people whom you have met.”6

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Mr. Parsee Rustomjee took only a few hours to make up his mind and then indicated his readiness to go to Jail. Mr. Anglia gave up his business to go to Jail. Which of them shall we praise? Which of them shall we congratulate on his courage? When all of them are brave, Indians are beginning to wonder if there is any need to compliment any individual. Let us hope things will always go on in this fashion.”7 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “When I spoke to these gentlemen about Mr. Dawad Mahomed and Mr. Parsee Rustomjee, they seemed both deeply impressed. They deplored it all and wanted that some kind of solution should be found. When they were told of our demands, both admitted that they were quite reasonable.”8 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Mr. Rustomjee having complained against the negligence of the Jail physician and protested to the Governor that he had been having pain in the side, he has been brought over to the Johannesburg Jail and will be examined by another physician there. He has sent a message that he certainly intends to remain in the fight till the bitter end, whatever the state of his health. I want another fresh Indian, or one who might have beaten a retreat once, to imitate Mr. Rustomjee’s spirit. Mr. Rustomjee will complete six months on February 10. He has conveyed his desire not to have too many people at the Jail-gate; he does not want any public reception. He wants to enter the town without any fuss.”9

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Mr. Rustomjee, the Imam Saheb Abdul Kadir Bawazeer and Mr. Mahomed Ebrahim Kunke have been released. Earlier, we compared Mr. Shah’s services to those of Mr. Rustomjee. Both these satyagrahis remained in Jail for a continuous period of one year. Mr. Rustomjee suffered imprisonment for a total period of 14 months and 19 days, of which one full year was spent in Jail at a stretch. We draw attention to his letter describing what he suffered during this period. We congratulate Mr. Rustomjee and the community on the courage he displayed in the face of all those hardships. As Mr. Rustomjee was not deported again but was set free in Johannesburg itself, he got an opportunity of going to Durban; this he has made use of on the advice and with the consent of the satyagrahis. The step taken is unexceptionable. We hope that Mr. Rustomjee will put his affairs in order and recoup his health. We want to see both these things done and Mr. Rustomjee lodged in Jail again. If Mr. Rustomjee spent one full year in Jail, that was because he got an opportunity to do so. The Imam Saheb and Mr. Kunke, too, have utilized fully, and also given to the community the benefit of, the opportunities they got. The Imam Saheb’s is a record of which the Hamidia Society and the entire Indian community can well be proud. He is reduced in health and has been suffering from some ailment; ignoring all this, he has courted repeated terms of imprisonment. So long as the community has such brave men, who can say that we shall be defeated? We congratulate the three satyagrahis and pray to God to preserve them always in the path of virtue.”10

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The Transvaal Government has sent a long reply regarding Mr. Rustomjee; Mr. Cachalia has written again. The matter has also been raised in the House of Commons. All this is to the good. The officials stopped at nothing in their effort to break Mr. Rustomjee’s spirit. They are suffering the consequence now. However brave a face they may put on it in public, they appear to have received quite a severe reprimand over this affair. In the same letter, the Government has referred to the complaint in regard to the Imam Saheb. It had to admit the justice of the complaint. The sufferings of these two will help the prisoners who follow. Such is the mysterious law of God. We must learn to submit to that law. Any man who puts himself to suffering will diminish the value of that suffering if he himself enjoys its fruits. For his self-sacrifice to be perfect, he must go on suffering as long as his breath holds out and he must leave the fruits of his suffering to be enjoyed by those who come after. We wish such goodness and such strength to Mr. Rustomjee and the Imam Saheb.”11




  1. LETTER TO PARSEE RUSTOMJEE, October 18, 1901
  7. Indian Opinion, 22-8-1908
  8. Indian Opinion, 7-8-1909
  9. Indian Opinion, 29-1-1910
  10. Indian Opinion, 19-2-1910
  11. Indian Opinion, 26-3-1910



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