The East Indians in Canada
Publication:
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 7 Sep 1922, p. 181-194


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Sastri, Right Hon. Srinivasa, Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
Description:
The speaker here as a representative of the Government of India, which has claims on the Government of Canada for a certain amount of sympathy, of good-will, and co-operation within the limits of governments. The Government of India ruling over a population of varied cultures and very mixed civilizations, 300 millions in number, now passing through a political excitement of a very acute kind with multitudinous aspects. Considerations of the intelligent people in India with regard to their relation to other dominions, their position as amongst the people of those dominions, the relative situation that India and her peoples have to occupy in the great Britannic commonwealth. The bulk of Indian sentiment loyal to the Empire. The expression "equal partnership" and what it means to India and to the Empire; the question as to whether it is merely rhetorical. Arguments that point both ways. Consequences of assigning to India a position of permanent inferiority. How East Indians are treated today in Canada. The issue of the eligibility to vote as the valued right of citizenship and how it related to Indians in the Dominion of Canada. Numbers of East Indian residents in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada. The lack of East Indians coming into Canada and why that is so. Emigration laws in India. The issue of East Indians coming to Canada for the purpose of labour. The conspiring by Canada and England together to suspend the flow of life from India to Canada. A comparison between the number of Japanese and Chinese and the number of East Indians that are allowed to come into Canada. Obtaining equal citizenship for the 1,000 or so East Indians who are already in Canada. Drawing attention to the fact that Canada cannot treat the East Indians as other Asiatics and why that is so. Protection for East Indians under the Union Jack.
Date of Original:
7 Sep 1922
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English
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THE EAST INDIANS IN CANADA
AN ADDRESS BY RT. HON. SRINIVASA SASTRI, MEMBER OF THE COUNCIL OF STATE, INDIA.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
September 7, 1922.

THE PRESIDENT, Sir William Hearst, welcomed Mr. Sastri and requested the Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Ontario, to introduce the speaker.

HIS HONOUR, LIEUTENANT-GOVERNOR COCKSHUTT

Received with applause, he expressed his appreciation of his kindly reception by the Empire Club, of which he had heard so much and so favourably. He added that the speaker of the day was here by special invitation of the Dominion Government, and he would be able to tell some things which the Club were anxious to hear in reference to his own country and its relations to the great Empire. They were always glad to meet friends from the distant parts of the far-flung Empire, and were proud to think they were united under the one flag, the Union Jack. (Applause)

RT. HON. MR. SASTRI.

Mr. President, Your Honour, and Members of the Empire Club,--I much appreciate the warmth and cordiality of your welcome, and will try to do

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Rt. Hon. Srinivasa Sastri, P.C. member of the Madras Legislative Council, 1913; Fellow of Madras University, 1909; elected to the Council of State under the New Reforms Regime, 1920; representative to the Imperial Conference, 1921; represented India at the League of Nations Assembly, 1921, and at the Conference on the Limitation of Armaments, Washington.

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what I can to deserve the confidence you have extended to me in that you have allowed me an opportunity to speak at a time when His Honour, who is supposed to have nothing to do with local politics, presides over the meeting, and in connection with a Club whose concern, apparently, is the whole British Empire. I hope to be able to draw your attention to certain matters in which India is interested, but in which India is interested only in the sense that the affairs are such as to interest at the same time the British Empire in other parts of that great organization. I will endeavour to deal with the subject from an aspect as far removed as possible from politics, and thus ease the mind of our President today. It is extremely difficult, when one talks on subjects in this department, to make one's self clearly understood, for I have found, in an experience extending over a few years now in public life, that if there is anything easier than to offend, it is to take offence.

Any subject that a man presents to an audience, he desires as far as possible to circumscribe. My business is very narrow, very restricted in its scope, and is concerned with a matter which, when I have said it, you will find is extraordinarily simple in its scope and purpose. Nevertheless, there are some of us who have so many matters filling our heads, so many affairs with which we have dealt, so many large concerns of life in which we have had a hand one way or another, that we cannot but import a few of those extraneous considerations and always ask, with an air of complete wisdom: "But is not that other aspect also to be taken into consideration? Is this larger view also to be present to our minds?"--that the poor speaker does not know where he stands, and is bewildered by the array of connected and unconnected topics of which his speech has been the innocent occasion. Let me try to keep clear, if I may, of all such complications; and in order to help me to keep clear, may I ask you for a moment to put aside all prepossessions and preconceptions, and to try your hand this afternoon, of all afternoons, at the almost impossible task of keeping your mind like a slate on which I may write in my own characters. It is not an easy task, I am sure, but I hope you will allow me to teach you as though you were people who do not prejudice a matter, and who were for the moment willing to occupy the position of judges in a court of law, receiving evidence afresh, considering the points that arise with open minds, and then delivering your judgment either here or outside, or as the occasion may arise, having considered the Canadian point of view, the Indian point of view, and the Empire point of view.

I am here as a representative of the Government of India, which I think has claims on the Government of Canada for a certain amount of sympathy, a certain amount of good-will, and a certain amount of co-operation within the limits of governments. The Government of India is ruling over a population of varied cultures and very mixed civilizations, three hundred millions in number the very numbers are staggering--now passing through a political excitement of a very acute kind which I cannot bring before you, much as I would like, in all its multitudinous aspects. The British Government in India, therefore, has a great, has an arduous, has a most absorbing problem before it all the time--at this time more difficult, more complicated than ever, and may I hope, and am I right in assuming, that a government so circumstanced, struggling in another part of the Empire, and seeking help at the hands of the Canadian Government or the Canadian people, will meet with a cordial response to the extent that that response is compatible with the safety and the welfare and the complete liberty of Canada? I will take your consent to mean that that sentiment meets with your approbation. (Hear, hoax)

A great many of the intelligent people in India are now proposing for the first time many serious problems to themselves; amongst others, their relation to other dominions, their position as amongst the people of those dominions, the relative situation that India and her peoples have to occupy in this great Britannic commonwealth. Taken in the mass, omitting certain Bolshevist, revolutionary, disruptive enemies from which India is not altogether free -and what part of the Empire is, for I know a secret or two of Canada as well-omitting these out of consideration I can tell you that the bulk of Indian sentiment is loyal to the Empire. (Loud applause) It is fully appreciative of the benefits of the Empire; it would like to be proud of the Empire if you would let it be proud of the Empire; and unless the people of the Dominions and the people of Great Britain are resolved to throw us out of the fold of the Britannic commonwealth, you will find the Indian population quite willing to remain within, receiving benefits and advantages, giving such benefits and advantages as it may be in their power to give, bearing testimony amongst the nations of the world for the glory and the light and the moral and spiritual excellencies of the British Empire, adding such elements as a great and ancient civilization could contribute to the long story--just begun, but by no means concluded--of human civilization and human welfare. (Applause)

My countrymen are asking themselves: "Whatever the past, has the future in store for us an honourable and self-respecting place within the Empire? Is the expression, 'equal partnership in the dominions,' which has been used in describing the relation of India to the Empire, merely rhetorical? Is it merely intended to please the ear of the Indian population, or is it a pledge and a promise which, in practice, will soon convert what is only an aspiration at the present moment, into an accomplished fact? Which is it?" There are arguments that point both ways. Impartial consideration of the circumstances today would justify a sinister answer, but I am one of those who are fully persuaded that it is not easy to weigh in any small scales, or to measure by any petty standard, the relations of great peoples extended over several decades, that the man is unwise who says that all is good, or that all is bad. There is no judgment in these matters within one's compass which can with any certainty affirm the one thing or the other; but we all dwell in the realm of hope, otherwise this planet of ours would be a sorry theatre for wandering human atoms, unrelated to one another, and wishing only to destroy one another. We all dwell in hope, and it is my hope, as it is the hope of hundreds of thousands of people in India, looking at these matters in a broad human light, and loving every light, and every shadow as well--it is our belief, it is our hope, that in the process of time wisdom, faith, charity in their largest significance, not altogether dreamed of today even in those realms which we pretend we have conquered-that all those virtues of the human character will be vouchsafed to us in greater measure and in much clearer brilliance than ever before. Then, and then only, the lessons of the war will have been fully learned in all parts of the nations which have been so justly described as the lesser and the smaller League of Nations, that is, the numerous races, numerous colours, numerous civilizations that have come somehow or other to abide together under the Union Jack, which floats over so many parts of the globe; that those races, that this Empire, that this organization will really mean for us all the one thing which we should cherish and should seek to improve, and place upon a broader and stronger basis, the one thing which should be the purpose of each one of us--to make more useful still over the world, and more promising for the future of our race-the only guarantee our experience has offered so far that some day on this globe of ours the nations will have learned to forget war, will have learned to regard each other as brethren, as equals, and join in one common fellowship for the worship of the common Maker and for the glorification of Him and of all whom He has created; to tolerate, to love and to help one another under Him. (Applause)

You will find that a sentiment of this kind, which I have attempted too feebly to express, is extremely common in India. I wish it were understood and appreciated in England and elsewhere. What a mighty asset! What an invaluable factor in cementing relations within the Empire that sentiment is! Would not statesmen giving everything they can to nourish that sentiment, to make it justified of circumstances, and to vindicate it for generations yet to follow? So that an Indian, looking out on the wide world, may say to his sons and to his grandsons: "I have seen much, I have known much, but remember, this is my ripest wisdom-the British Empire is great; it is humane; it is glorious; so long as you can, abide within it." Will you allow us to say that to our children? That is the question, the appeal which I am bound to put to you. We must be proud of this British Empire; and we cannot be proud of it, much as we appreciate its material greatness-we cannot be proud of it the same as you are, unless we find within it a position entirely compatible with respect to ourselves. (Applause)

If you assign us to a position of permanent inferiority, well, you are cheating a very serious menace to the solidarity of the British Empire. That such a menace does now exist, no one who understands the facts can deny for a moment. That that menace is increasing and becoming more threatening is the mortal anxiety of the Government of India today; and it is under that anxiety that they are stretching out their hands for assistance to these sister dominions within the Empire, in whose hands, to some extent, the solution of this problem lies.

Here in Canada, as in some other parts of the Empire, Indians are treated today as though they belonged to the inferior people, as though they were not British subjects, as though they had done nothing to testify to their common interests within the Empire, as though during the war Canadian soldiers and Australian soldiers had not fought side by side with Indian soldiers, as though we had made no sacrifices during the war, as though the war had not left us in a position with almost crippled finances, with memories that are sweet and glorious but also with difficulties and problems which have become bigger and more difficult than ever they could have been.

Now, of all the rights of citizenship, the most valued, naturally--I need not say that to people who know what parliamentary institutions are--the most valued, naturally, is the right to vote. Now, Indians who are resident within this Dominion are compelled, no doubt, to pay their taxes and their rates, are restricted to conform to all the laws and regulations wherever they dwell, and would be considered greatly blame-worthy if they were not loyal to the government under which they were; but they cannot vote at a single municipal election; they cannot vote at a parliamentary election; they cannot vote at the Dominion parliamentary election so far as the Province of British Columbia is concerned. Elsewhere within this Dominion Indians are admitted to the franchise in those respects, but there are very few of them resident elsewhere in Canada, so that the right unconsciously conferred by your laws is really not of advantage to any appreciable number.

There are at the present moment, so far as official figures go, 1,100 Indians resident in British Columbia, and only about 100 scattered over the rest of the Dominion. The official figure, however, is considered a little exaggerated by your own people. Our own people that have lived here twelve or fifteen years assure me that the number within British Columbia is only about 800, and outside British Columbia, all over the Canadian Dominion, it does not reach 100 at all; whatever that is, it is a very manageable number--not only ordinarily manageable, but comfortably manageable. (Laughter) You could afford even to make a mistake or two in regard to that without much danger, only we wish that your mistakes should be on the side of generosity.

But I will try to show you another thing now. These thousands of our people can only diminish in number with the passage of years; they cannot increase, and for two reasons. With our consent and acquiescence you have passed laws and regulations, which are being very strictly operated, I must say, and they have as they were intended, accomplished this effect, this particular phenomena, that during the last five years no new Indian has come into your territory, and in future no Indian can come as a permanent settler. Oh, you will allow a fellow like me to go through all right because you are perfectly sure that when I have delivered my message you can give yourself the happiness of seeing my back. People that come here for temporary purposes you tolerate, but those who wish to come here, even temporarily, for the purposes of labour you exclude. Those who have in their minds any permanent occupation of Canadian soil are out of the question altogether.

On our side we have now passed a law which will not allow any man to go out of India without a passport from the Government of India, and the law is that they will not give a passport to anyone who wishes to go out of India for labour purposes, unless between the government of the country to which he wishes to emigrate and our own country an understanding has previously been arrived at regarding labour, regarding labour conditions, and the kind of treatment that labourers will get. Unless, therefore, your Government comes to an understanding with the Government of India--and your Government in these matters cannot act except with your consent--and wishes a few of our people to come here, you are not going to be bothered with any Indians. I say that that seems an eminently satisfactory state of things to somebody here. So be it. If you consider it perfectly satisfactory that 400 Japanese shall every year come into Canada with your fullest consent, to add to the Japanese population already resident here-400 by known processes and several others, I understand, by processes not strictly within the cognizance of the Immigration Department, if you think that it is desirable for you, in the interests of the solidarity of the British Empire, and with due regard to the distinctions that might be made between those who are British subjects and those who are not British subjects; if you consider it right, after excluding us wholesale like that, to admit Japanese people to that number, and Chinese people as well, on payment of $500 a year, or something of that kind; if you think that that is a satisfactory mode of composing the relations between the various parts of the Dominion, I have nothing to say to that. It is an arrangement that has been arrived at in a conference of the Prime Ministers of Great Britain and other Dominions and of the representatives of India. It was in the year 1918 that it was resolved that it was in the fitness of things that each Dominion should have liberty to pass such immigration laws as it chose; to exclude people, even from within the Empire, whom it did not wish to admit to its citizenship, and that it should be under no obligation to open its doors to any who were not importations for temporary purposes, or tourists, or students at the universities. By that understanding India wishes to abide. I am not, therefore, raising the question of Indian immigration at all. I put that on one side. That matter is a subject of this understanding, and to this understanding we wish to adhere loyally.

But this is the one thing I wish to convey. I am not mixing up my franchise question with this immigration question, and I shall not consider the man wise who wishes to deny us the franchise merely because he chooses to confound us with the larger immigration problem. We do not say, stop it; we have consented to the stoppage of Indian immigration. We have a double lock-a, lock on your side, with the key in your hands, and a lock on our side, with the key in the hands of the Indian Government. We have conspired, Canada and England together, to suspend the flow of life from India to Canada. From Canada to India any man may go for labour purposes, for expedition purposes, for official purposes, for any purpose you can go; you will be honoured by our Government; you will be treated as favoured guests. Everything that we have--a great many things denied to the children of the soil--will be yours for the asking; take them. You have told them to keep us within our borders; we will remain; but we ask that the number, which cannot be disputed, the thousand people who are going to be less than a thousand rapidly, until they will probably be nothing at all in twenty or twenty-five years-that those thousand people are really and utterly and without mitigation or subtraction your equal co-citizens.

You know, sometimes people convey gifts to those whom they value. You have a life-long association with a friend; you have loved him; you have befriended him; you have given him many benefits, much assistance, many blessings, and probably he has returned a good part of those. These mutual loves and affections are beyond value; nothing under the sun is of equal importance. Still, occasionally we wish to materialize, as it were, to symbolize by a small visible token, this wealth of all these beautiful human relations that invest them occasionally with a poetry and a grandeur and a lovableness not altogether of this earth--a ring, a book, sometimes even an autograph when the personage giving it is of, great eminence. These things are valued not for what they themselves import, but for what lies behind. So do we ask your franchise for the thousand Indians scattered all over the provinces. It is nothing.

Perhaps the Indians getting that franchise will not all know how to appreciate it; they will never know how to cast a vote, and they may not care for it at all. It is not, therefore, anything of importance to the millions of Indians in the imperial sense, that we ask. Our territory is not going to be increased by it; our material prosperity is not going to be heightened by it; you will not add a whit to our resources in men, in wealth, in money, in industry; it will only be a proof-a visible, material proof in the world of institutions and laws and regulations-that for the purposes of franchise and citizenship you do not treat the Indian whom you have allowed to reside amongst you, as though he were of an inferior species of humanity. There is nothing else to it, but the people in India will value it very greatly indeed; and they commend it to you because, further, they are assured that all those interests which are so dear to you, and which at one time, when you made the exclusion of those Indians, seemed so all-important to you and so much in peril, are now placed beyond peril by this understanding to which I have referred.

This number will not increase; it will diminish. Your political conditions, therefore, in so far as they have reached an equilibrium, as I hope--and if not, it means a very sad condition in political matters, which are not at an equilibrium anywhere--your political conditions cannot be disturbed by this enfranchisement of 1,000 Indians; your economic life cannot be threatened by them; they will not lower your wages considerably, for if you want to believe the testimony of heads of labour organizations, even in British Columbia, who ought to know best of this, they have assured me and have authorized me to communicate their opinion to others, that they have found the Indian a loyal member of the trade union, and they have found the Indian, when employed in manual labour, a good and thoroughly praiseworthy workman, who has never undercut rates; that they are always afraid of other Asiatics, but not of the Indian-or the "Hindoo," as they call them there. They have frequently told me that in all their anti-Asiatic literature the references will be found only to the Japanese and the Chinese; not a single reference--and they challenge me on this point-not a single reference to the Hindoo. Well, then, he does not seem to be a very harmful individual.

Moreover, I have now to draw your attention to the fact that you cannot treat the Indians as other Asiatics. The Indians have come into the Empire; they shared the risks and perils with you for the Empire, and mean, as I said, to abide in the Empire. The Union Jack should protect them. Common allegiance to His Majesty of Great Britain and Ireland must make them nearer and closer to you than people living in countries which are not connected with the British Empire. Can you think that it is in any way wrong to treat them as those who are to have conferred on them benefits which you could not confer on people who did not belong to the Empire? I have heard men say to me, "Oh, but you see, we have amongst us the Japanese and Chinese people, and we cannot afford to treat them differently from the Indian." Well, that seems to me to be a hasty and superficial observation. The person who makes that statement cannot fully appreciate what it means to be a British subject. A British subject has claims on him which other Asiatics have not; and I take it that neither Canada nor any part of the Empire will be in danger it it be known to all the nations in the world that Canadians means to treat Indians, because they are British subjects, differently from those who are not British subjects. (Applause)

I have very little else to add to command this mission to your favourable consideration. I know, however, one great difficulty. Everyone who hears me, if he believes that I am in earnest about the immigration question, adds his own testimony to the value of Empire, and says, "It is quite right; we ought to do it." But the practical politician comes afterwards on the plea, "You see, it is all right in theory; we admit that your case is unanswerable, but as a matter of practical politics I think it is somewhat difficult to bring about. You see, it means the education of our wide electorate." Yes, it does mean the education of the electorate; but who is to educate them if not those politicians who seek their suffrages, who wish to represent them not at their worst, not at their most ignorant, but at their best and their most enlightened? It is the duty of those leaders of opinion to be real leaders, and not to be paralyzed by the thought that the education of the electorate is a difficult matter. Is not the education of the electorate on the nature of your railway problems difficult? Is not the education of your electorate on the question of Dominion versus Province difficult? You do not run away from problems merely because they are difficult. You are here to face them; you are here to solve them somehow; to teach your people to solve them. Merely to meet this difficulty with a non possumus is not, it seems to me, to understand the gravity of the question that I am putting to you. But then, a man who is versed in human qualities says, "But really, my friend, you must see this; how will it benefit a politician to be concerned with that Indian problem-of a thousand people to be enfranchised? He won't get anything by it." (Laughter) And the only thing he will get is the very invisible, the very intangible, the very immaterial satisfaction of having served the interests of Empire; that is stellar politics, not terrestrial politics.

They say, "The practical man won't do such things; you require a visionary, a sort of Don Quixote to do those things." If the results of an action are not visible, and are not measurable by the ordinary human standards, that action is bound to wait. It can only appeal to a few, one in a hundred. Yes, some Quixote, that is the sort of person I am looking for. Is there a Quixote amongst you to whom I can confide this little piece of work, who will say to himself, "Yes, our politicians are busy with the big problems; I am concerned with a somewhat distant problem. Others are concerned with matters at home; my eyes are fixed on India; my eyes are fixed on the Empire. My task is much more difficult. There are very few to collaborate with me, but since I see these things as others do not, since I have a conception of the dignity and complexity of the problem which is not shared by others, my duty is all the greater--that the one who sees does not blink, that the one who perceives does not lie supine. The Empire can always appeal only to a few people that may be Don Quixotes. If I lose a few votes it does not matter, but while I see my duty I will proclaim my duty." (Loud applause)

THE PRESIDENT expressed the thanks of the Club to the speaker for his fine address on an important subject. The members of the Club approved of the vote of thanks by giving three cheers and a tiger.

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The East Indians in Canada


The speaker here as a representative of the Government of India, which has claims on the Government of Canada for a certain amount of sympathy, of good-will, and co-operation within the limits of governments. The Government of India ruling over a population of varied cultures and very mixed civilizations, 300 millions in number, now passing through a political excitement of a very acute kind with multitudinous aspects. Considerations of the intelligent people in India with regard to their relation to other dominions, their position as amongst the people of those dominions, the relative situation that India and her peoples have to occupy in the great Britannic commonwealth. The bulk of Indian sentiment loyal to the Empire. The expression "equal partnership" and what it means to India and to the Empire; the question as to whether it is merely rhetorical. Arguments that point both ways. Consequences of assigning to India a position of permanent inferiority. How East Indians are treated today in Canada. The issue of the eligibility to vote as the valued right of citizenship and how it related to Indians in the Dominion of Canada. Numbers of East Indian residents in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada. The lack of East Indians coming into Canada and why that is so. Emigration laws in India. The issue of East Indians coming to Canada for the purpose of labour. The conspiring by Canada and England together to suspend the flow of life from India to Canada. A comparison between the number of Japanese and Chinese and the number of East Indians that are allowed to come into Canada. Obtaining equal citizenship for the 1,000 or so East Indians who are already in Canada. Drawing attention to the fact that Canada cannot treat the East Indians as other Asiatics and why that is so. Protection for East Indians under the Union Jack.