Amongst a lot of injustice against South African Indians, one was the judgement of Justice Searle in 1913 to nullify all the marriages if not celebrated according to Christian rites and registered by the Registrar of marriages. And at one stroke, Indian Hindus, Muslims and Zoroastrians were affected; the wives were degraded to the rank of concubines, and their progeny were deprived of their right to inherit the parent’s property.
This insult to womanhood made the Indian women folks in South Africa to join the struggle. Many of them were Tamils, (Tamil labourers from Madras Presidency worked in coal mines in Natal and Transvasal). The women’s bravery were beyond words – one of them was pregnant, some of them had young babies in their arms. Even Kasturba joins the struggle and lands up in jail. In the Maritzburg jail, they were harassed and the food was of the worst quality, and had a laborious hard task of laundry.
During this time, a tamil “coolie” as he calls himself, by the name of Balasundaram meets Gandhi in his office, asking help to file a law suit. His upper body is full of flogging wounds, and his towel tied at his hips. Gandhi asks him why he doesn’t put the towel over his shoulder, he replies that “the shoulders wont be there the next day” – Gandhi files a case for him against the Government, and Balasundaram gets a judgement in his favour in that case.The first time ever, the laborers get one in their favour, by the way!
Soon Gandhi, Balasundaram and a young girl of 16 years, named Valliammai were jailed in relation to the disobedience movement against this law, in 1914.
She was a tall girl, but the three month jail term makes her so ill. They decided to release them on health grounds, but her health was so bad that she had be wrapped in a bed sheet and had to be carried by Gandhiji and Balasundram back to the Tolstoy farm.
She was on her deathbed, But the clarity and bravery simply inspired the Mahatma. She said if she had another chance she would offer her life again for Satyagraha movement. In his writings he says:
“Valliamma you do not repent of your having gone to jail?” I asked.
“Repent? I am even now ready to go to jail again if I am arrested,” said Valliamma.
“But what if it results in your death?” I pursued.
“I do not mind it. Who would not love to die for one’s motherland?” was the reply.
On her deathbed, she asks Balasundaram to narrate a song. He does that, and hearing that she passes away.
Gandhiji is saddened and later write, “The loss of Valliammai would perhaps affect me more than that of my elder brother (Lakshmidass).” Gandhiji promised her that he will learn tamil, and asks Balasundaram to transliterate the song in English.
And made it the last song as a part of his daily prayers.
Do you know which song is this? A Thevaram song of Thirugnana Sambandar (8.051) called the “Achho pathigam”
முத்திநெறி அறியாத மூர்க்கரொடு முயல்வேனைப்
பத்திநெறி அறிவித்துப் பழவினைகள் பாறும்வண்ணம்
சித்தமலம் அறுவித்துச் சிவமாக்கி எனைஆண்ட
அத்தனெனக் கருளியவா றார்பெறுவார் அச்சோவே
Btw, The Cooptex building at Egmore, Madras is named after her – Thillayadi Valliammai building!