In 1913, in South Africa, the Government passed a law that only marriages performed according to the Christian –rites and registered the Registrar of Marriages would be considered valid. This meant that at one stroke the lawfully wedded wives of the Hindus, Moslems, Parsis and those of the followers of the other faiths were reduced to the shameful status of mistresses. Now such a position between the husbands and the wives was intolerable. Therefore, Bapu carried on negotiations with the Government for putting an end to this offensive indignity, but in vain. Consequently, he decided upon starting a nonviolent struggle to, have the humiliating grievance redressed and justice done to those affected by the statute. This time, he felt, he would like also to invite the women to take part in the crusade. But their participation would, he knew, involve certain grave risks. For instance, most of the women living in the Phoenix Ashram were his relatives. They might agree to join the struggle, not because of their own inner conviction of the righteousness of the cause, but out of respect for him wishes. And once they were in, they would be sent to jail, where, not being used to particular rigorous discipline and diet of the place, they might become nervous and so eventually tender an apology to the authorities. All this, Bapu argued with himself, would tend to weaken the morale of the other participants. For this reason he was not inclined even to draw Ba into the struggle. Eventually he resolved to let the women decide for themselves, believing as he did, that in such matters it was best to leave the initiative to them. So Bapu waited for a favourable opportunity to tell Ba what was passing through his mind.
And such an opportunity came along before long. One day Ba was baking bread and Shri
Ravjibhai Patel, who was sitting nearby was helping her in this chare. At the
time Bapu was not doing anything very important. So all of a sudden, casually,
he said to Ba, "Have you heard?"
"What?" Ba asked.
Bapu laughed a little and answered, "Till today you were my lawfully wedded wife. But
now you will cease to be such."
"Who says that?" Ba inquired raising her eye-brows, "you are always discovering something
Bapu rejoined, "This is not my discovery. It is General Smuts, who has declared and
decreed that only wives, married according to the Christian rites, have a right
to call themselves such, all the other wives belonging to the other faiths,
will be considered as kept women."
Ba flared up, "What nonsense! Who on earth has put this fantastic notion into his head?"
Bapu then asked Ba what she and the other women, thus affected by the debasing
and demoralizing decree, proposed to do under the circumstances.
Ba replied, "What can we do?"
Bapu, who was all along waiting for a favourable opportunity to speak out his mind, smiled
and answered, "Like us men, you, too, should fight the Government and claim your
rightful and legitimate status."
Ba countered, "But is it not enough that you, as we know, are already courting
Bapu argued, "But you also should do so for the sake of preserving your own
At this Ba was rather surprised. So she said, "Go to jail? How can we women go to jail?"
Bapu replied, "Why not? If men are prepared to undergo suffering and hardship, why
not women? Rama was followed by Sita, Harishchandra by Taramati and Nala by
Damayanti. They all suffered untold hardships, you know, along with their
"But they were goddesses," argued Ba, "and we are only ordinary mortals. We do not have
courage like theirs."
"But that does not matter in the least," Bapu said. "If we act like them one day we shall
become like them also. You and I belong to the dynasties of Sita and Rama. If
Sita had stayed back in the palace, who would have called her 'Revered Mother'?
If Taramati had hesitated to offer herself for sale, and if Damayanti had not
gone with Nala into the forest, who would have called them True Wives' ? So you,
too, if you do not want to be stamped with the stigma of the mistress, you must
be prepared to go to prison for the sake of your honour."
Ba was quiet for some time. Then she said, "So you want me to go to jail. Perhaps, that
is the only thing that remains to be done. Well, then I shall go. But will the
jail food suit my weak health?"
Bapu answered, "It is not I who am asking you to go to jail. It is for the sake of
your own self-respect that you have to do that, of course, if you feel it so. If
you do not get suitable food, then you can ask them to let you have fruit."
"But will they let me have fruit?" queried Ba.
"If they do not," replied Bapu, "then - you go on fast till they relent."
Whereupon Ba laughed and said, "You have certainly shown me the way to die. And I feel
that once I go to jail, I shall not come out of it alive."
Bapu joined in the laughter and added "I also wish that to happen. For, if you pass
away, while in prison, then I shall worship you as the world-mother."
"Well, then I am quite willing to court arrest," Ba exclaimed with visible
This made Bapu very happy, indeed. And when Ba left the room for a while, he said to Shri
Ravjibhai, "It is Ba's unique virtue that, whether she likes it or not, she
ultimately complies with my wishes."