INDIA'S FIGHT FOR FREEDOM
AN ADDRESS By ANUP SINGH, M.A., PH.D.
Thursday, March 17th, 1938
PRESIDENT: Gentlemen, it may seem strange in view of the turmoil and strife throughout the world today that we are here to listen to an address on India's fight for freedom, but it takes little imagination to understand the difference between the satisfied India. and the dissatisfied India in the present crisis which is facing the British Commonwealth.
Our guest-speaker, Dr. Singh, has the rich cultural heritage of ancient India and years of advanced study in American universities, as well as the experience gained from extensive travel and observation, and he speaks with authority on this great Empire, his home.
The year that saw the birth of the Empire Club of Canada also in far off India saw the birth of Anup Singh. Today we meet. Our ideals, I think, are the same, a united Empire, founded on British ideals of liberty, freedom and self-government. We await with interest the address of our guestspeaker, Dr. Singh.
(Applause) DR. ANUP SINGH: Mr. Chairman and Members of The Empire Club: I deem it a great privilege to be with you this afternoon. Particularly, it is gratifying to note, in spite of the fact that the news from other parts, as your President said, is gripping the attention of the entire world, that you have come to listen to a discussion on Indiait is really very encouraging. I think, however, I have a claim upon your attention, due to the fact that India is a member of the British Empire. It represents 35o million people-virtually one-fifth of the human race, and the fact that two out of three British subjects live in India makes any discussion on India either at this time or any other time very pertinent and I think it is appropriate that I am discussing this problem with you this afternoon.
As I retrovert a little to the world events of the past few years there are two things that stand out, to my mind. One is the fact that the ordinary processes of government that the world had evolved and was getting accustomed to are being discarded; and the second is the fact that we seem to be caught absolutely unaware in the rapidly shifting scenes coming one after another and we don't seem to realize what has brought them about.
I would like to take you back a little to the situation in Manchuria, when that formed the headlines. Japan grabbed Manchuria and installed a puppet king, the Japanese Henry Pu Yi. The world acquiesced and accepted that as a fact accomplished.
Then the scene shifted to Ethiopia, where Mussolini, I think in contemptuous defiance of the entire world drove with his bayonet and guns the King of Kings, who went begging for his throne to all places. Well, Ethiopia was no more and we got accustomed to that.
Then the scene shifted to Spain where the civil war has been responsible for the mutual annihilation of two groups and the devastation of the whole beautiful country. And, more recently, we have got used to the news from Spain.
And now we turn our attention to Austria and Central Europe, to what is happening there.
One thing is very clear and that is the fact that physical force, that brutal force is coming once more to the surface and we are living in a very dismal, cynical age in which the whole ideals of democracy or a representative form of government, all those ideals are for the first time on the defensive. But I think it is noteworthy that even at a time like this there are millions of people living in various parts of the world who subscribe to the doctrines of democracy and who still have faith that the democratic form of government is the only form of government that provides enough opportunity for the modern and spiritual growth of men. They still accept that doctrine and that form of government as the best that man has evolved, in spite of all its shortcomings and I think it is still more noteworthy that a very large number of those people live within the British Empire, the people who accept democracy as the most excellent form of government that has ever been invented and who are willing to pay the price and are determined to maintain those principles.
But there is one note in this whole situation that I should like to call into challenge and that is the position of India.
Senator Borah, very recently, made the remark that the British claim for being the champions of democracy sounds a bit hollow when millions of people in India do not have the elementary political and civic rights. That interpretation, I admit, is a bit exaggerated, but it is true that India is not a full-fledged member of the Empire and does not have equal representation and does not determine her policies either internally or outside of the country. I say it is a challenge because if you believe in democracy it means extending the same rights to other people, and no amount of sophistry, no amount of assumed or alleged or inherent inability of the people of India to determine their affairs is a valid excuse, because the democratic form of government presupposes the acceptance of the right of the people to even bungle their affairs. As I look around I do not know who are the people who can be declared to be the most worthy custodians of the representative form of government.
I say this because there are a number of people who think that the democratic form of government is good enough for Australians and for Canadians and for Britishers, but these people in India who have an entirely different background, different social customs, they have to be trained very, very gradually, and trained in the art of self-government. I submit this proposition for your consideration, that unless you can extend equal political rights to 350 million people of India, the claim of being a democratic people, the vanguard of democratic institutions will really sound a bit hollow. And that, I suggest, is a challenge both to the people of India and to the people of Great Britain.
The second thing that becomes more and more apparent to my mind is that we seem to be caught in these dilemmas, these rapidly shifting events, precisely because we do not see them coming far ahead . . . the imperceptible drifts of these events which eventually culminates in these tragic disasters. They are there for anybody to see but we haven't cultivated highly the art or sense of perceiving them at the proper time.
I say this because I feel the apparent calm in India is also a bit deceptive. The news from India does not form headlines today and most people think that things are going on smoothly. Having been recently to India and having had the privilege of interviewing a number of Indian statesmen and also the British statesmen, I have come back with the feeling that the whole atmosphere is charged with explosive possibilities. Any serious mistake, either by the Indian statesmen or by the British can very easily culminate in a disaster which will be mutually as disastrous both for India and for Britain, and it is therefore pertinent to discuss Indian problems at this juncture.
Now, before I come down to the real situation in India today I would like to discuss with you a few propositions and in the time limit it is not possible to substantiate some of the claims that I am going to make, but if I can succeed in provoking enough interest on your part to further study these problems, to re-examine some of your notions which oftentimes are accepted uncritically, I will be very much satisfied.
There are a few notions about India which make it utterly impossible for the average person outside of India, in spite of all his sympathies on moral grounds, in spite of all his sympathies with the Indian National Movement, a few facts which he has accepted uncritically render it impossible for him to be whole-heartedly enthusiastic about India's claim for self-government, and one of those propositions is that often-made assertion that the people of India or for that matter the people of the Orient have always known the despotic form of government and it would therefore be a very long period before they could acquire any sense of the knowledge of the mechanism of self-government.
I think that that generalization is untenable. The people of India have known monarchies, empires, republics, just as much as the people of Europe have. The small nations of India used to have their kings and elected assemblies to determine the affairs of the village people and I therefore suggest you re-examine those notions when you most pedagogically assert that the people of India have always known arbitrary rule. In theory, as in Europe, the king was always subject to natural law. The same prevailed in India also under the sanction of dharmi, that is his duty toward his subjects and I submit in actual practice also the regime of those kings and emperors could be favourably compared with any part of the world, considering the contemporary standard.
The second great charge or indictment against the people of India is that they are heterogeneous, that, therefore, any unity on either political or social grounds would be made utterly impossible.
The people of India to an outsider do appear a most heterogeneous group of people. There is a regular pageant for an outsider when he goes and finds customs and habits and dialects and what not, changing from village to village and from place to place.
That, again, I suggest is the freely superficial. India's cultural and spiritual unity, and by that I mean the fundamental outlook on life, is so real and so unified that I suggest they constitute a group entirely different to the rest of the world in that sense. In spite of these apparent differences the Hindu and Moslem in Kashmir and the Hindu and the Moslem in Madras, or in any other place, underneath the superficial differences, are essentially the same, and this brings me to the most widely discussed problem of the Hindus and the Moslems. I think that has created more misunderstanding about the real problem of India than any other single problem.
The British claim that the withdrawal of British rule from India will culminate in mutual annihilation of two groups who were always fighting before the British came and who continue fighting, so much so that wherever two or three or half a dozen Indians get together if they happen to belong to two different religions, they take delight in cutting each other's throats.
I have noticed those headlines in American papers and also in Canadian papers. I am here to give you most candidly my observations that I made recently in India. I think that the picture of the Hindu-Moslem problem is highly exaggerated. Nine-tenths of the people live 'in small villages, peacefully, side by side. There has never been one instance of riots among these villagers. One-tenth of the people live in the large cities and that is where most of the Hindu-Moslem riots are confined and there are various reasons for that.
The first and foremost is the new political consciousness which is working both ways. On the one hand it is bringing various groups together and on the other hand it is making each community self-conscious for the first time, and the introduction of the voting system which divides the whole Indian electorate in terms of various communities is directly responsible for accentuating these differences and the Nationalist plea that that introduction was the most vicious thing that ever could have been devised is substantially correct. Here, for the first time they are teaching these groups to think more in terms of their community, their religion than to think in terms of the larger economic or larger all-India interest. But above all this, in spite of these differences which have been exaggerated, I noticed that the Hindus and the Moslems in the new assemblies, in the Provincial Assemblies today .are working hand in hand to solve their economic problems. I noticed in the Punjab, in my own province, when a certain bill came out, the farmers, in spite of their religious affiliations voted on one side, and the city dwellers-the lawyers, the bankers, the money-lenders and the rest of the people-voted on the other side. That, to me, was an indication that in these representative institutions these groups are getting together and learning to think more in terms of their economic interest, rather than to think in terms of religious affiliation.
So I suggest the problem of the Hindu and the Moslem does not constitute any barrier against India's claim for self-government.
There is the perennial problem of the India caste system. Indian society has been divided for centuries in the supercilious groups, based entirely upon one's birth. That institution today is also on the defensive. The caste system is breaking down in India very rapidly and the credit for that, the main credit goes to Mr. Gandhi, who has come out openly and has advocated the rights of these untouchables who, after all, bear the brunt of this iniquitous system. He is advocating their right and making a great success and for the first time he has put the upper class people on the defensive.
The simple logic with which Mahatma Gandhi approaches his people is this: A few people of the upper classes are determined to get their political and economic rights from Great Britain. By the same logic they must be prepared to extend equal social and economic rights to those people whom they have mistreated. He is therefore enlisting a great deal of response and co-operation on the part of the younger people in India. The caste system, again I submit, is not a bar against India's right to self-government.
There is the problem of Nationalism-how far India has really evolved a sense of nationhood. Well, in this matter most of the critics I think made one serious mistake. They seemed to assume that Nationalism has a political phenomena-that it was always known to people in the Occident. That happens to be historically inaccurate. It is only since the French Revolution, a matter of 150 or 200 years, that this system or this political philosophy has come into existence. Before that there was your feudal laws. Then came the emergence of the middle class that introduced this idea of nationalism and even today you have to make tremendous efforts-the worship of the flag, revising your histories-to keep the younger people conscious of their common nationhood. I submit that the same forces that brought about nationalism in the West are now operating India and it is simply a matter of time when the people of India will also begin to talk of India as one unit-India for the Indians-and very likely they will turn out some of the jingoistic Nationalists who also, to my mind, constitute a great menace-that process is going on in Indian today.
These are some of the popularly accepted notions about Indian political and economic and social structure which I think have to be cleared up before any discussion of the Indian problem can be worked on.
Now, coming down to more recent and the present times in India. The dominant note in the Indian public life today is politics. I was so amazed when I went back to my village after ten years stay in the United States to find that the elder statesmen of the village, who formerly when they got their whole group together would spend the time in discussion of their religious scriptures, were now expounding some of the outstanding political doctrines of today. Instead of discussing Hinduism or Christianity, they were discussing Lenin, Gandhi, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler.
I say this because that, to my mind, was an indication of the fact that the people in India today are discussing precisely the same matters that you are concerned with here.
A few factors or forces have brought about that change in the Indian outlook. I can definitely mention just a few. The first and foremost factor that is responsible for creating politically-minded India is the introduction of education in India, the modern education. The British introduced this system primarily for the purpose of creating a small group of educated people in India who would co-operate and carry on the administration. But these people when they were initiated for the first time into European history, when they began to read Wordsworth, Milton and other writers, when they began to study the French Revolution, they, for the first time, became aware of the fact that India alone of all countries was under the domination of another group and that consciousness among the educated people, to my mind, was the first germ which was created or implanted by the British in India.
Then, the missionaries also have contributed a great deal in creating the present political consciousness. It may not seem very apparent but indirectly they have been one of the great forces. The early missionaries went to India to convert the Hindus and Moslems to Christianity. In their very attempt they made the Hindus and Moslems conscious of their own religion. They began to re-examine their religions from the impact of this new challenge. The missionaries claimed their religion, Christianity, to be superior to Hinduism or Islam. A few people in both groups began to re-examine their religion and in that attempt they began to eulogize everything that was Indian. They began to eulogize India's past glory and it made them conscious, as Indians whose religion was challenged.
A third great factor which brought about this change was the introduction of modern machinery in India, facilitating communications, bringing various groups together, anti the introduction of newspapers in India the circulation of which made it possible for the first time for people in Kashmir, in the Punjah and in Madras to communicate with each other and exchange ideas.
But all this consciousness before the World War was confined on only a handful of educated people who were loyal British subjects, who co-operated with the British regime. There were individuals here and there who tried to initiate some revolt against the British but it always culminated in utter disaster because there was no mass movement at the time.
The parting of the ways, really, the immediate background of the whole Indian agitation today is the World War, and I think any discussion of the Indian political problem or present conditions in India largely begins with the World War. You all recall that India threw in her lot with the Allies. Even a man like Gandhi, who loves to call himself a rebel today, was the first one to go out and recruit people to fight side by side with the English people.
During this time Mr. Lloyd George made a very significant statement, that after the termination of her war, India would be given a measure of self-government. That statement was taken literally by the Indian people and it aroused their hopes and desires for further political reforms in India. The war was over and naturally India began to look to England to redeem her pledge. England came forward with a very substantial grant of self-government to the Indian people in the form of the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms of 1919.
Most unfortunately just at this time the most tragic thing happened in my own home town. I am not going to go into the details of that but it is enough to recall the infamous massacre when General Dwyer, I think in a fit of absent-mindedness, shot down 700 Indian people, men, women and children, assembled in a peaceful meeting as a protest against some of the oppressive measures recently passed by the British. When the news of that reached the other parts of India the whole of India was indignant and Mr. Gandhi at that time called upon the British Government to rectify the harm that had been done to her people. They appointed the Hunter Commission, under the chairmanship of Lord Hunter. Three Indians and four Britishers served on that Commission and that, to my mind, is the first cleavage between the loyal, conservative Indians and the British point of view. The minority report was submitted by the Indian people and the majority report, signed unanimously by the British, was submitted. General Dwyer was retired on full pension from the Indian Service, and the thing which I think made the whole of India feel a sense of humiliation for the first time was the fact that the General's good friends and admirers, and many of them Members of the British House of Lords, presented him with a purse as a token for his meritorious services, he was then supposed to have rendered to the Empire.
And that was the beginning of the Nationalist movement on a large scale because Gandhi at this juncture came forward and declared himself a rebel against the British rule in India and called upon his people to launch a move known as the non-co-operation, non-violence movement.
Those of you who have perused the newspapers need not be reminded about the outstanding events since that movement. It is enough to say that during this great controversy, bitter political rivalry and hatred, accentuated often by racial arrogance on the part of individual British administrators, created a very vicious atmosphere, and since then it has become utterly impossible to negotiate with any sense of confidence or fair play on either side.
We have a legend in ancient India that the gods and demons at one time set out to recover the nectar of immortality for the human race. They began to churn the ocean and the excessive churning produced poison. The problem then was to look after this poison which threatened the lives of all the people and that is precisely the situation in India today. There is so much of mutual distrust and lack of good faith on either side that it is making the whole controversy more bitter than it would be under normal circumstances.
The Round Table Conference were convened, you recall, in London--the first great attempt to get the Indians and the British people together. Mahatma Gandhi did not participate in the first Round Table Conference but he consented to join the second, and that started also events, without bringing peace to India. The reason for that is very simple-that the British Government treated Mr. Gandhi as one of the 124 delegates that had assembled -in London. Gandhi's claim that he and he alone was capable of representing the Indian people, that he was voicing the sentiments of the British articulate. India was never seriously entertained by the British, and the Hindus, the Moslems, the Sikhs, the Budhists, the delegates brought to London, nominated by the British, these people went on quarreling with each other. Gandhi made one claim a t the time. When he looked around he said, "This is an ill-assorted bunch of politicians from India, and if either one of these people went back to India and stood for election against an ordinary member of the Congress he would be defeated." That claim was indicated correct very recently when one of the outstanding Liberals, a leading delegate at London, stood for election and secured only three votes-his own, the vote of his wife and the vote of his daughter. Gandhi was right and at the Round Table Conference, for good or bad, he alone was in a position to speak on behalf of India.
You recall that he went back to India and started a movement there and since then the British have been working day and night for years to evolve or work out this new Constitution and the whole agitation centers around that new Constitution today.
Lord Linlithgow very sincerely referred to that new Constitution as "the greatest experiment in the whole of human history, an attempt to introduce a representative form of government at a time when it is being discarded elsewhere."
Mr. Churchill calls it "a monument of shame built by the pygmies, both British and Indian." With his characteristic pungency he refers to it a "monument of shame." He thinks that Great Britain has gone too far.
The outstanding leader of India, Mr. Nehru, next to Gandhi the most popular figure, calls this a "charter of slavery."
There you have three distinct points of view. Is it a noble experiment, is it a monument of shame, or is it a charter of slavery? I suggest all those three views, again, are highly exaggerated, but the political reality which calls for immediate attention is the attitude of Mr. Nehru and his followers. It is not what Lord Linlithgow thinks, and he is very sincere in his interpretation. It is not what Mr. Churchill thinks. It is the fact that millions of people in India take Nehru's words as the gospel truth and that is the reality that has to be faced.
What are the specific grievances against the new Constitution? It retains the foreign affairs and the defense of India in the hands of the Viceroy. They can't be discussed in the newly elected assembly under the new Constitution and India is getting more and more concerned about her foreign affairs, about what her attitude is going to be in the next war. She wants to have a say in determining that policy but the newly elected assembly under the new Constitution would have no such powers.
The matter of finance would be dealt with by federal banks, to be established by federal enactment and the Indian assembly would have no control over them.
The railway system would be administered by a Board of Directors, to be appointed by the Board of Governors and the Indian assembly would have no control over it.
Some of the Nationalists claim when you eliminate foreign affairs, matters of defense, finance, the railway board, you reduce the whole thing to something which does not seem any advance over the 1919 Constitution, and the Provincial Assemblies, in which the Indians would have the majority are left without the ability to finance the projects which they might launch in the matter of social and economic reforms in India.
My own interpretation is that before very long Great Britain will be called upon to modify that Constitution. I have seen enough indication of change of heart in India and also in England when I have passed through there. I think they are beginning to feel that they cannot have a rebel India on their hands at a time like this and as I suggested the other day, the fear of another World War which is also pending is having a very sobering and chastening effect, both upon India and upon Great Britain.
India needs Britain's protection. All this talk about threatening to drive the British out of India is a mere bargaining gesture on the part of a handful of the ultra-Nationalists in the National Congress. Leading members that I interviewed are all convinced they want Dominion status in the Empire, but, may I suggest here at this time, this handful of people are being given the opportunity to spread their gospel, to spread their creed every day and the sooner Great Britain realizes that it is to her advantage to negotiate with Gandhi rather than wait until they have to deal with a man more belligerent, more uncompromising, more violent, the better. It would be tragic, both for England and for India, to wait for that moment.
Now, the picture of the British rule that has been made familiar to the people in India is something like that and I want you to place that picture side by side with the picture that is painted with a great deal of sincerity and force by the British politicians. The British politicians claim they have given to India law and order, something she has never known before.
I want to put this in the form of a dialogue.
The Nationalist comes along and says, without that law and order the British exploitation of India would not have been possible. Therefore, they don't feel gratified that the British have succeeded in introducing law and order in India.
Gandhi calls the law and order a peace of the grave, a situation in which millions of people are not allowed to participate, in determining their affairs their peace and order is not worth anything, that it is the old function of the government, the police function, that the new situation calls upon a more progressive outlook on the part of Great Britain toward India, that she identify herself completely with the interests of the Indian people and not think in the old Imperialistic terms.
The British claim that they have introduced education in India. The Nationalists don't feel any sense of gratitude then on that score. They say by introducing English education you have created a cleavage between the educated people in India and the village folk. Their outlook is not the same today as it was before and that you educated them to make your administration possible, and during 150 years of rule in India you have educated only eight percent of the people of the male population and three percent of the female population. You have been spending most of the money on military affairs and on the Civil Service, the pensions and the mounting debt of India can be attributed largely to the war in which India participated, and that Russia has done more for the education of her people during the last fifteen years than has been done for the people of India in 150 years. That comparison, and such comments, incidentally, are not very flattering to the British rule in India.
So, as you are advancing arguments to justify the rule in India the very same argument is twisted by the Nationalist and interpreted as his first claim upon self-government.
Take the fact that India today is absolutely disarmed. That is used by Great Britain as an excuse to perpetuate their political domination in India. The argument is, what will India do without the help of Great Britain? The Nationalists feel, and I think in this sense rightly so, that Great Britain being suspicious of the Indian people for a long time never encouraged military education in India. They have disarmed the people completely and if England now claims that India is helpless, England herself is to blame.
I mention this just to bring to you what is going on in the mind of the average Nationalist and there is a good deal of propaganda on both sides.
I am reminded of the story of a Russian peasant woman who had never seen a camel in her life. When the Bolsheviks came into power, she had been hearing a great deal about the diabolical Bolsheviks, and a camel happened to pass through her village. She looked at the animal with a great deal of astonishment and said, "Those darned Bolsheviks! See what they have done to our horses!"
So, when the propaganda becomes too rampant people lose their perspective. No Englishman today can go around and claim that the whole agitation in India is stirred up by a handful of Nationalists. Nor can a sane and sober, conscientious Nationalist in India claim that the British rule has been entirely for the benefit of English people, but, as I suggested in the beginning, it is not worth while to either indict the British or to eulogize the British, to either praise the Nationalists in India, or indict the Nationalists. Statesmanship today calls for a very sober and sane appraisal of the whole situation and one great factor which to my mind is going to be the determining factor in the whole situation is that England today is dealing with a new India, an India that might have been guilty of her sins of omission and commission in the past, and so have been many other countries, but India feels a sense of frustration and humiliation to be the only country, a country of 350 million people today, in the 20th century, taking dictation from a foreign power, and that sentiment is so profound and so wide-spread that even those people who do not take an active part in politics cherish that feeling uppermost in their hearts. They are looking forward to a day when India will be a free, self-governing country.
May I say at this juncture that any attempt to clarify the vicious political atmosphere that prevails in India today will not only create an atmosphere for the social and economic rehabilitation of India which calls for very rapid and drastic measures, but it would also be a great contribution to the ideals of democracy and it would be a matter of inspiration to those people already becoming cynical, who are getting disillusioned about ideals in the world today. I feel that there is enough statesmanship on both sides; they are both sitting back more or less and letting things drift, unwilling to cross the bridges until they come to them. I think that policy of muddling through and drifting is a policy that should be immediately discarded and England take full charge of the situation in India, and the redeeming feature in India today is ,that you have at the head of affairs a man who is definitely committed not as a matter of expediency but gas a matter of principle to the policy of non-violence and peaceful methods to be pursued, and when the rest of the world is dancing the mad dance of the sword, there is one man alive today who thinks that nothing worth while has ever been accomplished by physical force. That to my mind is the great moral inspiration for the people of India, and it should be a matter of great inspiration to the people of the world at large. So long as that man is there, and even if he is removed from the scene tomorrow, he has inculcated that spirit among his followers and I therefore feel that there is no need to be alarmed about the situation in India, as long as that controversy is carried along peaceful lines. To my mind, no matter who comes to power, the people of India are definitely committed to a policy of peaceful, continuous education to regain their political rights.
I thank you. (Applause prolonged.)
PRESIDENT: Dr. Singh, we listened with great interest to an address by your friend, Sir Robert Erskine Holland, entitled "Changing India." Today we have heard a very interesting address by another British subject. Your views are slightly different but the ultimate objective is the same. May those differences be solved.
On behalf of The Empire Club of Canada, I offer you our sincere thanks for your instructive address today. The meeting is adjourned.