- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 19 Nov 1931, p. 275-286
- Pilcher, George, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The spirit underlying British statesmanship in London now; the spirit which entirely animates our judgment on problems such as India. The Indian question as put by the Indian leaders who demand a great change in the character and control of the administration of the country, and in a reversal by the speaker, "Has England the right to leave India?" Some clear estimate, however perfunctory, of what the British have done in India. The unfounded charge that the British have neglected the cultural advancement of the country. An examination of the British in India, looking specifically at literacy, language, defence, social order, public finance, trade, population growth, establishing an association with the Princes. Issues which must be settled if permanent safeguards are to be made. Consequences of the British leaving India. The aim of Britain to give India full responsible government, but with the British Parliament as the judge of the stages in that advance toward independence. What a non-British internal war would mean. Some comments on Mr. Gandhi. Encouraging the whole world to get the right perspective of this problem, and realizing its significance for world prosperity. Returning to the report given by the Simon Commission.
- Date of Original
- 19 Nov 1931
- Language of Item
- Copyright Statement
- The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
- Empire Club of CanadaEmail
Agency street/mail address
Fairmont Royal York Hotel
100 Front Street West, Floor H
Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3
- Full Text
- THE BRITISH ACHIEVEMENT IN INDIA
AN ADDRESS BY MR. GEORGE PILCHER.
19th November, 1931
PRESIDENT STAPELLS was in the Chair. He introduced the guest, who said:-It has been a great pleasure to me to observe, since my arrival in Canada, the great interest taken by you in my subject, as evidenced by the recent address to this Club by Sir Arthur Currie, and also the series of addresses by Madame Sorabji, who gave very good outlines of the Social Service in India. I was also greatly impressed with the attitude of the audiences I have recently addressed in the Old Country' in regard to the whole problem of the British Empire. The feeling there now is that the Empire can only last if it subserves the general human interest; if it is a great factor in the material, spiritual and moral advancement of its subjects; and if it takes its stand upon the progress of the human race. I think that is the spirit underlying British statesmanship in London now, and it is certainly the spirit which entirely animates our judgment on problems such as India.
The Indian question is always put in this form by the Indian leaders who demand a great change in the character and control of the administration of the country: "Have the British any right, as a non-Indian race, to be here at all, purporting to govern Indian for India's good?" I want to postulate it in a different way; "Has England the right to leave India?" (Applause.) Before we can answer this question we must get some clear estimate, however perfunctory, of what the British have done in India. That is really at the base of this problem. It is sometimes urged that they have neglected the cultural advancement of the country. No charge could be less well-founded. When we began to take a close interest in India" about 1800 or a little before that, there was no printing press in that country, although in Europe the press had been in use for 300 or 400 years. There had been no clear intelligence as to how many languages there were, who spoke them" or indeed any clear knowledge of the very structure of many of the languages. One of the first jobs of the English missionaries and administrators was to ascertain what were the languages, and provide the Sanscrit and other literatures with suitable letters. That was an immense task. Only recently a great book has been published containing a passage of prose translated into 400 different vernaculars, all of them spoken in India. At least 70 of these are important languages belonging to ten or twelve linguistic groups differing from one another as greatly as Norwegian from Swedish, or Swedish from German. The solution of the language problem is one of the great services which the British have rendered to India. The whole of this propaganda for the termination of British rule in India is conducted in the English language. It is the language of the Indian Conference. Mr. Gandhi would be utterly unable to express himself or agitate at all with the Bengale, Madrasi or Punjabie, without the English language, which is the "lingua franca" of the country. Therefore they retain their hold on the English language. Not more than seven per cent are literate, even to the extent of writing a post card in any language. Barely one per cent of the female population are literate. There are 351,000,000 souls in India, but not one newspaper has a circulation of 100,000. That will give you some conception of the limit, for many years to come, of any real political enlightenment of the masses of the people; thus when a politician says, "I demand, on behalf of the Indian people, that you sign this deed handing over the Government of India to me or to some one else," it is pertinent to know how many of the population he represents, and in what way they express their mandate and ask him to represent them in London.
But I must pass on to other achievements-first, defence. There was hardly a century, from the conquest of India down to the Eighteenth Century, in which there was not an invasion of the country which involved unutterable misery and cruelty to the masses of the people. There was an attempted foreign invasion in 1920; I was there at the time; it cost £40,000,000 to repel the invader, although we had a British army of 60,000 men, and Indian troups of 160,000, officered by British. We maintained that army against enemy invasion. Generally speaking, since 1900, thanks to the British army and organization, the peril of invasion has been removed.
Take, next, the achievement in the internal order of the country. One of the best and fairest books you can read is Sir Walter Lawrence's "The India we Serve". During the whole period of his 25 years' service in India there was never a serious occasion of dispute extending to street riot and disturbance between Moslem and Hindu communities. But what was the condition when the British arrived there? You can read descriptions, not in the record of British writers, but in such books as that of Bernier Dupre, and others written by impartial observers, before the British were interested in the country; it was one constant disturbance. One of the greatest Moguls was engaged in a war with his brother and uncle which continued for years, involving massacres and counter-massacres, bringing disaster to the country. There were revolutions between Princes, and revolutions between Moslems and Hindus. During a century of British rule India has had internal peace, due partly to the army and in a measure to the magnificent organization of an indigenous police force nearly 300,000 strong, officered by only 700 Englishmen. Those men have rendered invaluable service to India by giving the villagers peace, by capturing the plundering Dacoits and raiders. The question must be answered: "What can you do to see that the Moslems will not set upon the Hindus, that those garroters and thugies that were active in the country shall not become active again?" The thug existed until 1855 or 1860, the professional hereditary garroter of one native Indian class, who strangled his victims with a handkerchief. He joined himself to a party marching from Allahabad to Delhi; he insinuated himself into the habits of the people and obtained a knowledge of their country, and after two or three days every member of that party would be garroted, and buried beneath the sacred tree to the accompaniment of religious rites. This was exterminated by British police officers. "The Confessions of a Thug," written about that time, will give you some impression of the state of the country until this tremendous work of pacification was achieved by the Britisher.
Now I want to pass on to some humdrum achievements, equally creditable to the British race, and just as necessary, to safeguard British peoples all over the Empire, as those I have recorded. Take, first, the question of public finance. You hear from those wishing to terminate British rule that the British Government has squandered vast sums. No charge has less merit. India, with its ten provincial governments, is carried on for the equivalent of £135,,000,000 a year. The country contains a fifth of the human race-351,000,000-and includes 2,000 miles of one of the world's most difficult frontiers to defend, part of it the most vulnerable frontier in the British Empire. Some £40"000,000 is spent on the army, the strength of which I have stated; you may judge whether that expenditure is excessive or unnecessary. India has a national debt of a little over £800,000,000, and the amount of £700,000,000 is invested in great public utilities, such as the railway, which has one of the most efficient administrations in all India. So well are the utilities managed that they pay the entire interest on the investment, and many, such as the railway, yield a clear profit to the taxpayer, which goes to the reduction of taxes every year. I commend the railway situation there to the study of Canadian citizens at the present time. (Laughter.) I say this not in any spirit of criticism; the Empire exists by pooling the knowledge of the various parts. The railways are state-owned. They were built by British companies with British capital,, but the state hired them and tired to run them, and made experiment after experiment, until after fifty years of trial and error they have a system which incorporates all the advantages of state-ownership and company management. I believe that Canada would obtain great profit from the suggestions of the Indian Railway Administrator, who has retired and is probably in London at present. The contribution such a man could make to the systems of Canada if he were on a Commission of Inquiry would be very great. Half of the public debt of India is owed in London. In the interests of India we must have some guarantee in the world's market that India's interest is not to be entirely destroyed; that the debt will be honoured; and that those great public assets will continue to be administered productively, economically and efficiently, as they have been in the past. (Applause).
There is another British achievement on which I could spend three-quarters of an hour, because it touches Canada very closely-the trade of India. It has been calculated that the whole foreign merchandise of India in 1780, in and out, could have been transported in twelve vessels of 5,000 tons each, leaving once a month and returning once a month. Last year vessels of a total displacement of 8,000,000 tons left from Bombay and Calcutta- both of which have populations of over one million people-carrying merchandise to the whole civilized world. The foreign trade last year was worth about £400,000,000 Sterling, or about $2,000,000,000. India ranks fifth or sixth in the world in the value of foreign trade. That achievement has been due primarily to the fact that the little island in the North Sea which obtained an interest in India about 1756 was inhabited by a maritime people. Wrapped up in the system of Indian trade we have a line of free ports running down from Plymouth to Australia. We have that great system of trade, with those ports and the Indian markets free to all nations of the world. Do you think that if this were abandoned it would effect only India? A relatively large proportion of British tonnage is concerned in the prosperity of that whole line of communication. India is a factor in British trade and prosperity; she is still our biggest customer; she buys nearly £ 100,000,000 Sterling worth of goods from the United Kingdom annually. No Englishman claims that India's interests should be subordinated to those of great Britain, but if trade prosperity ceases it is going to have a serious effect on the whole world business organization. This is worth consideration from the Indian and the Canadian point of view. What would be the effect if 'we had 500,000 men out of work in Lancashire? We have seen quite clearly in the past few years that if many industries in the United Kingdom are paralyzed for an indefinite time, the economic prosperity of the whole world is affected. The world moves as a unit, and has to work as a unit; you cannot contemplate the loss of this immense amount .of trade without disastrous effects on the Indian population in connection with cotton, jute and tea; the English export trade in iron and steel would suffer seriously; that suffering would communicate itself, sooner or later, to the whole world.
One or two other achievements I will mention, because they must be taken into consideration. I would call attention to the growth of India's population. If that country had been badly ruled-ruled in other people's interests-how is it that the population of 320,000,000 in 1920 has been raised to 351,000,000 in 1930? The increase of population has been very much larger in India since 1870 than in the United States, an unpopulated country of almost fantastic resources.
One-third of India is still ruled by natives. In ten British provinces we have gone ahead with parliamentary experiments, but in the native states, comprising one-third of the country, and one-third of the population, you have in contrast with the democratic development in the ten provinces a thoroughly paternal, despotic administration. Only a few months ago the Indian Princes in London were having a discussion with a Cabinet Minister who had outlined the difficulties that would come to the native states and one said, "Yes, but can you imagine what it would feel like to go out in the street and see the population anxious to get a glimpse of you? What it feels like to know that you have to go as if you were the very representative of God, and the peasants regard you as though you were "God?" Those Princes are tied to Britain by conventions' agreements and contracts guaranteeing them their right of protection against internal disorder and foreign nations. They surrendered the right to deal with foreign powers, but those agreements-which were not made with the native government, but with the King-Emperor, as they call the King-give them the right to administer their properties on the lines on which they had been administered hitherto. One of the British achievements has been the complete understanding between the Princes and the British Government, and the absolute reliance of those Princes on the British word. (Applause.) The Princes encourage a closer association with British India, though the Round-Table Conference shows how difficult it is to come to a basis of agreement, when you try to decide who is to control the financial resources-the native states or the Princes. The native Prince is God and ruler, with power of life and death over his subjects. The land belongs to him; the peasants cultivate it, but he gets the big revenue, because of his personal capacity; almost universally he has no civil list. It is practically his property, with a patriarchal relationship between the Prince and his subjects. It is not an easy matter to dove-tail that into a system with the principle of "no taxation without representation".
I have given you some conception of the issues which must be settled if permanent safeguards are to be made; these must surely be a condition of any British abandonment of responsibility. Have the British a right to leave India? Have they a right to risk the return of 350,000,000 people to the conditions from which they have been redeemed, largely by the small band of administrators who have carried on the government for so many years?
It is fairly clear hove the Indian sees it. The trend described by Sir Walter Lawrence has been totally changed. There is a fear abroad in those two great religions, Hindu and Moslem, that the end of the British Raj is coming. That is the underlying factor, causing the recrudescence of the terrible strife between the two religions. Early in 1921 the adherents of the primitive religion in the Malabar district heard Mr. Gandhi, who told them what fine fellows they were. They decided that the time had come to rise up and be doing something. The Moplas attached all the non-Moslems in the area. Some 5,000 were killed before British regiments could establish order. Some million Hindus were circumsized by those people.
The Moslems of the north came to Kandahar four or five months ago, and it was given in sworn evidence by men of the Moslem community in that modern city that they thought if Gandhi were released from jail the modern Raj might come in a few weeks or months. They started a most frightful massacre again. The official number of the dead was between 400 and 500, and some 1,000 prisoners; and the official of the jail told me the number was very much larger. I have seen photographs that the press were not allowed to reproduce, of hundreds of dismembered remains that were carted through the city in a lorry. What guarantee is there that that sort of thing is not to become general" and that the whole business of the country will not be disturbed? What guarantee could there be if there were not absolutely satisfactory control of the army? Mr. Gandhi said yesterday that he must control the army; but who is he that he should control the army? I do not want to belittle Mr. Gandhi; I think he is trying to do good in his own way; but I do not know whether we should allow him rope in so many directions. It is all part of the British toleration.
It was we who started this idea of self-government in India; it is not Mr. Gandhi's idea; it is not an Indian project. From the very outset we talked of the days when India might govern itself. You will find it in Macaulay, and if you read the famous declaration of 1917 made by a British Minister in the British House of Parliament you see that the aim was to give India full responsible government, but that the British Parliament must be the judge of the stages in that advance. Mr. Gandhi, who stands for Indian Nationalism, is reported to have said that his countrymen, who should carry the same weight in the world as Englishmen, German or Frenchmen, had not received the same amount of respect. He has set himself to awaken his people, but I think Mr. Gandhi lately realizes the magnitude of the achievement. He has become so used to the British peace that he does not know what a non-British internal war would mean; he does not realize the difficulty involved, or the character of many of those processes which give his country peace.
Mr. Gandhi knows his limitations. He has inveighed against many things, even against the importation of British mill, and the foundation of British hospitals; he referred to this as undermining native self-respect. Mr. Gandhi had an operation for appendicitis in
British hospital. He was asked to choose between a Hindu surgeon and a British-Colonel Macks. Gandhi chose Colonel Macks, and he has referred to the weakness of the flesh which prevented carrying out his principles With all his professions of self-denial and poverty, Mr. Gandhi has a mind full of egotism. I never like talking about people in their absence, but I would say these things if I were in his presence, as I was in the waiting-room of the House of Commons,, when he spent half an hour trying to show that the navy and the army were unnecessary. He was talking to one of the members about what he would do if there were a rebellion; describing how he would pray and pray, and talk independence-satyagraha--but this was the essence of the whole proposition-"Surely the British were friendly to India, and would help in an hour of need." (Laughter). Any proposal of his relating to Indian officers is this--that the Indian government might rule, but India would be served by the British with the item of supplies, and British officers would be in charge. It is inconceivable, as Sir John Simon pointed out, that you should have an Indian government responsible for the peace of the country in every district, and the army controlled by British officers. Many of those suggested solutions do not fit the facts of the case. Gandhi's efforts to bring the Hindus and Moslems together are notorious. If the Conference has been ineffective it has been in a large part due to Mr. Gandhi's failure, and the failure of others to achieve the impossible; that is, to persuade the Moslems that they would be safe in a future in which the English have not the control. There are 70,000,000 of untouchables who are claiming equal terms; there are 80,000,000 Moslems who will not submit to the Gandhi Raj. It is they, and not the British Government in London, who said, "We cannot agree to Mr. Gandhi's demand." They have demanded an absolute assurance that in any future legislature they shall be represented according to their numerical proportion in the population. Where they are lucky enough to have a majority, there shall be a majority in that Parliament.
I think we have unduly advertised the forces in India which are against the British administration. We have risked much to lead the United States to suppose that Mr. Gandhi and other Indians of the same mental cast speak for the whole 351,000"000. The world has been startled with the proceedings in London; they have stimulated interest everywhere; if we can rely on public opinion, and give people a true conception of our Indian problems, first on what principles the British Administration stands, and the patient temperament of the British Administrator, we can dispel the beliefs spread by some of those poisonous books, one of which I was reading the other day; it suggested that every Englishman in India insults a Hindu or Moslem when he meets one. There could not be a more infernal untruth than that suggestion. As long ago as 1900, the Government came down heavily on British officers who had not treated Indians with the proper respect. There are cads everywhere, but such men in India do not truly represent the British inhabitants.
We must encourage and help the whole world to get the right perspective of this problem, and realize its significance for world prosperity. I think the result will be to return to the report given by the Simon Commission This Commission, composed of men whom we can trust, went as far as they safely could. I am not without hope. I believe that the men from India who have gone to London with Mr. Gandhi, perhaps Mr. Gandhi himself, have acquired a much better conception of the nature and size of the difficulties, and you will find they will go back in a more tolerant and constructive frame of mind, which, if we are patient, will lead to a useful, firm and stable settlement on the lines of the well-reasoned recommendations in the Simon Commission's Report. (Loud applause)
HON W. G. MARTIN, Minister of Public Health and Welfare of the Ontario Government, conveyed the thanks of the Club to the speaker for his well-balanced and logical address.