- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 10 Apr 1924, p. 174-183
- Mahsi, Professor Yohan, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Reference to the political agitations which have been carried on in India in recent years. The great and ever-increasing unrest during the last 15 or 20 years in India, and reasons for it. India's national awakening to the great benefits which they have received under British rule, due to the spread of Western education and Christian teachings which have opened the eyes of the people to their relations with their fellowmen and their relations to God. The many difficulties that beset the British Empire today in the administration of affairs in India. Political divisions within India, as well as the Native Princes. Difficulties arising out of the 147 different languages and dialects spoken in India, and the many different classes and castes. The factor of religious divisions within India. The high rate of illiteracy to be found in India; the high rate of starvation and hunger. The lack of laws governing child labour. The educated people today in India clamouring for home rule and self-government. The speaker's division and discussion of what he terms the three great camps: the Home Rule or Extremist Camp; the Liberal Party of Moderate Party; the masses, ignorant and illiterate. Understanding the national awakening of India, and appreciating the political situation by going back to 1834 and reviewing India's history and development since then. The Bengal Act. Seven points of the Bengalese which led to considerable agitation. A brief history of Ghandi and how he became an agitator. Ghandi's beliefs, convictions, and actions. The love of the Indian people for Ghandi. Recent uprisings and ferment. The Montague-Chelmsford Act to provide the native people with legislative machinery which would give them control over their own government. India not yet safe, still struggling to pull herself out of the slough of economic backwardness, social agitation and political subjection.
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- 10 Apr 1924
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- Full Text
THE POLITICAL SITUATION IN INDIA
AN ADDRESS BY PROFESSOR YOHAN MAHSI
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
April 10th, 1924.
PRESIDENT BROOKS introduced the speaker, who was received with applause.
PROFESSOR YOHAN MAHSI.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,--I thank you for this hearty reception you have extended to me, and I thank you very much for the honour conferred upon me to present before you, "The Political Situation in India." Let me say right at the beginning that I belong to no political party in India, nor am I here to spread any political propaganda for India. I am here to speak of the various problems concerning India today.
You must have heard and read much about the political agitations which have been carried on in India in recent years. During the last 15 or 20 years there has been a great and ever-increasing unrest. There have been social unrest, political unrest and religious unrest. The whole country has been awakened by this great unrest, the whole nation has been behind this great national awakening, and I will endeavour to explain to you very briefly the causes underlying this great unrest.
First let me say that the people of India are beginning to get their eyes opened to the great benefits which they have received under British rule. (Applause) Under British rule the people of India have enjoyed a type of freedom, of liberty they have never enjoyed before. (Loud applause)
India's national awakening is due to the spread of Western education and Christian teachings which
Yohan Mashi, a inissionary from India; a close observer and keen critic.
have opened the eyes of the people to their relations with their fellowmen and their relations to God. When Western education was introduced to India the young men and women studied it; they studied Western philosophy and Western culture. They have studied all these things with the result that there has been a decided impetus in progress. The people began to think about themselves and their country. No doubt there have been many things under British rule which gave rise to unrest and discontent, but in spite of the mistakes on the part of the British Administrators Britain has nobly done her duty as trustee of the British Empire. (Applause) Nowhere in the whole world in the past will you find the parallel of one nation the ruling partner of several other nations such as we find Great Britain today. The difficulties that beset her today in the administration of affairs in India are many. There are real problems facing the Government there. I will give you some figures which may perhaps give you some slight realization of the tremendous problems with which Great Britain is faced in India. In the first place let me tell you that India is more like a continent than a country. There are three hundred and eighty millions of people living in that great country. They are politically divided into two great parties; one party is called the Native State Party; the other is the British Party. There are six hundred and seventy-five Indian States ruled by Native Princes who uphold the British Government. They are interested in internal affairs. The second party is, as I have said, called the British Party. This party is divided into fourteen provinces and they lead the people of those provinces.
You may perhaps be able to form some conception of the conflict of ideas and opinions among the people of India when I tell you that there are 147 different languages and dialects spoken there. A native travelling from one part of the country to another cannot understand the language spoken in that part of the country. There are many different classes and castes, such as the Hindoos, the Mohammedans, the Moslems, and so on. But the most interesting thing about it all is that though there are so many different tongues spoken in India, when the Indian Extremists or Home-Rulers met at the All-India Conference or Congress the language they spoke was the English language. (Hear, hear, and applause)
One-fifth of the population of India is subject to these Native States which I have just mentioned, and two different parts of India. There are very, very old institutions and customs in India. The people are sharply divided into castes and classes. The people of one class will not inter-marry or mix with the people of another class. So pronounced is this class distinction that some races will not go near another for fear of being polluted. There is one caste with which none of the rest of the native population will have anything to do. There are thirty-five millions of these "untouchables" in India.
Another great factor which divides the people of India is the different religions. But I want you to bear this in mind: There is one thing which should never be overlooked; you will not find such things in India as skepticism, atheism or even agnosticism. If you want to make an appeal to the masses of the people of India you must make it from a religious viewpoint. If there is to be a revolution in India or a rebellion it can only come through some controversy over some element of religion, otherwise never. Nowhere in the whole world will you find so many faiths and creeds.
The great mass of the people are illiterate. Probably about seventy-five percent of the population live in villages, and seventy millions are continually on the verge of starvation. They get only one meal in every twenty-four hours. They are very poor and have no time to think about home rule or any political question. They are not susceptible to propaganda of any kind; what they are chiefly interested in is how to get sufficient to eat to keep them alive. Some of the children of the poorer classes of about eight to fifteen years of age work from four o'clock in the morning until eight o'clock at night, with only one hour's rest during that time! They receive from ten to twelve cents a day. There is no law to govern this child-labour in India.
Now, there is another thing about India. The educated people there today are about six in every hundred, and five percent of the youths are in schools and colleges. Sixty-five percent of the educated people today in India are clamouring for home rule and self-government.
I think I will be safe in dividing the country into three great camps, the first is what we call the Home Rule or Extremist Camp. In this camp you will find really clever and intelligent people. There is no doubt about that. They are very smart politicians. They have a large following of some of the best educated men and women in India today. They are hard workers and know what they want. Then there is another great political party which is called the Liberal Party or Moderate Party. They think that the time is not yet ripe for Home Rule and Self-Government. They want to have Home Rule, but they want it in a constitutional way when they think the country is ready for it. The third party is made up of the masses. They are very ignorant and illiterate. They have no time to think of Home Rule or politics. They do not for the most part take any interest in politics. They want to be left alone so long as their property and their honour are respected.
To understand the national awakening of India, and to appreciate the political situation it will be necessary to go back to 1834, which was really the beginning of the various movements in that country. Before that time there was no such thing as higher education on Western lines in India. The introducing of Western education to India is to be credited to a brilliant Scotchman of the name of Duff (Applause) When he went to India he became acquainted with some Bengalese, intelligent men and women, and they told him what they wanted. They wanted a better educational system, so he prepared a scheme whereby they could have the advantage of a Western education. Of course he encountered opposition from certain quarters, but he ultimately went out and did a lot of good. British efforts to stimulate education in India passed most successfully when based upon indigenous institutions. The missionaries were the first to try to educate the people, but they did not receive much encouragement from the official authorities, in fact they were liable to banishment and deportation. They were the first to study the vernacular dialects spoken by the people. They endeavoured to translate the Bible, and also taught English. In 1901 three out of every four country villages had no schools, and only three million boys, or less than one-fifth of the total number of school-going age, were in receipt of primary education, and only one girl for every ten of the male sex, or two and a half per cent. of the female population of school-going age.
It was in 1905 that the people of India first began to have ambitions for independence. That was the year of the war between Japan and Russia. They considered Russia one of the mighty nations of the world, and when little Japan defeated Russia a thrill of joy and aspiration went through all the people in India. The people began to think of their ancient civilization and history of their country. They wanted more freedom. Their demands were so persistent that they led to the passing of the Bengal Act.
The Bengalese have been characterized by every stage of human progress and every type of human enlightenment and superstition, from the educated classes to the primitive hill type. They have had great natural catastrophes, such as river inundations, famine, tidal waves and cyclones in the lower provinces of Bengal. The British Government introduced canals and railroads. Since the advent of British administration the history of Bengal has been one of prosperity. (Applause) When the Bengal Act was passed it created considerable trouble and required special attention from the Indian Home Government.
The Bengalese have always been noted for their advanced ideas, and this led to what has become known as the seven points. I will read them to you
1. Why is India not a self-governing member of the British Empire on an equality with the Dominions? 2. Why is she not allowed fiscal autonomy and a protective tariff to develop her backward industries instead of being regarded as a profitable market for British goods? 3. Why are not Indians allowed to carry arms? 4. Why are they excluded from the commissioned ranks of the army? 5. What is the cause of the discrimination of the Dominions against Indians in their immigration rules? 6. Why are nearly all the higher and lucrative positions in government held by Europeans? 7. Why have we not had compulsory primary education when after 60 years of educational effort only 6 percent of the population is literate and less than 4 percent of the total population is under instruction?
These seven points led to considerable agitation, and there was a greater uproar throughout the whole country. The agitators did all they could to foment trouble, and there was great danger of a revolution. They had great hopes that if Great Britain became involved in any European war a rebellion would then be declared in India. Never were they so mistaken. They had made a great miscalculation of the patriotism of the people. When war broke out in 1914, to their great amazement and sorrow India nobly responded when the call to arms came on behalf of the Motherland. (Applause) One million two hundred thousand of her sons left the shores of India to fight under British rule. (Loud applause) They went to fight for King George and the British Government. (Applause)
But though unrest and agitation remained, it was clearly shown that there was no such thing as disloyalty against the British, although while the war was on one or two things happened which disturbed the minds of some people. Certain British states men had promised the people that as soon as the war was over that many of the grievances would be redressed, and that they would receive a great many benefits. The war came to an end, and to the bitter disappointment of the people war-time pledges were broken. The people became restless, and the agitators began to get busy. Rebellion was openly preached, but there was really not much danger of disloyalty to the British Government. In the midst of it all, however, there came the massacre of Amritzer by General Dyer and his troops, which sent a thrill of horror throughout the whole country. Everywhere one went the massacre was the sole topic of conversation. The whole country was in a ferment, when along came Ghandi with his policy of non-co-operation and passive resistance.
I will endeavour to tell you briefly the history of Ghandi and how he became an agitator. He was born of a good family and received his education in England. He was educated as a barrister-at-law. He is a man of a very high type of character, and honest in his convictions. During the South African war he formed and led an Indian Ambulance Corps, and in the Zulu war he again volunteered and was given command of a stretcher-bearer corps with the rank of Sergeant-Major. And then in the great war, in December, 1914, he raised an Indian Ambulance Corps in England, and would have served in it but for his broken health. Surely this is a remarkable record for a rebel. He is a sort of a national hero to the youth of the country. They consider him a great patriot. He is looked upon by them as a Garibaldi or a Mazzini. When they listen to him they feel that the Vedas and the Bhagavadgita are no legends. To them Mahatma Ghandi embodies the essence of the selfless spirituality that is personified in sacred books. He is the living incarnation of the spirit that made their country great.
He hates British rule chiefly because he hates all rule. He does not believe in physical force. He preaches the doctrine of non-co-operation, and believes that the absolute boycott of the British Government is the road to the immediate freedom for the Indian people. He commands his followers to withdraw their children from Government schools, to abandon the law courts, to return their degrees, to abjure the use of foreign goods, and to destroy every yard of foreign cloth they possess. Ghandi has completely dominated the Indian National Congress at successive elections, in Calcutta, Magpur and Ahmedabad. He does not believe in force or coercion. He is an implacable enemy to Western civilization. He believes that nobody is entitled to possess more than is necessary for his own use. He and his wife have given away all their property.
Ghandi's release from prison by the British Government was a wise step, because he is highly regarded by the people of India, for he exercised a beneficial control over the more extreme of his adherents. He is loved by the people of India as a great social reformer rather than as a politician. Ghandi's passive resistance to British rule, however, which was really the embodiment of soul force, was unsuccessful in appeasing the masses, because they understand no other agent of possession than that of brute force. That is the only law which they understand, and although Ghandi has received three Divine warnings to stop his work he has persisted. It is on account of his great social reforms that he is called Mahatma, or saint among his people. He has always defended the poor and the oppressed, but there is no doubt that Ghandi has failed miserably as a politician, and he is a very disappointed man.
Now in regard to recent uprisings and ferment in India. There is no doubt that millions of people in India yearn for self-government-swaraj, as it is called. The educated classes might be ready for it, but the outlook is very black. If India were to get home rule tomorrow there is every reason to believe that the consequent results would be famine, plague, internecine wars and invasion. And yet it may be urged that the very habits of peace and order which the British have given India, the great lessons of sanitation and hygiene which British regime has taught, might possibly to a great extent avoid a great many of these calamities. But the risk is too great. Anyone who imagines that India is ready for British democratic ideas of rule by a majority should read the address presented to the Montague Commission by the farmers of the Deccan, by the Zamidaras or great landholders, by European business men, by Indian Christians, by Mohammedans--by all these and various others. They believe that they should not be left at the mercy of any great numerical majority. At one stage the idea of extending the States of Native Princes and turning the rule of British India over to them was considered, but the protests were so many and so bitter that the scheme was abandoned.
Under the Montague-Chelmsford Act the British Parliament tried to provide the native people with legislative machinery which would give them control over their own government, and led them to expect from time to time further grants of power leading ultimately to self-government. It was made plain to the people that if they could prove themselves to be capable of ruling over a few things, they might ultimately be made rulers over many things. The act provided that in the Government of Delhi, the new Capital of India, the Viceroy's Executive Council would have three native members out of a total of eight, and in Whitehall there were to be three native members. A legislative assembly in Delhi was to have a large majority of members conducted by Indian constitutions, having as broad a foundation as conditions permitted. The Upper House of the Council of State was also to have a good majority of Indian members, some elected and a few ex-officio. The Government of India was not, it is true, to be responsible to this native assembly, but to the Secretary of State in London, and from him to Parliament.
India is not yet safe; she is still struggling to pull herself out of the slough of economic backwardness, social agitation and political subjection. Her present struggle is a very material one, for land and bread. It is for these that the peasants of the Punjab, the United provinces, Bengal, Madras and the whole of India have shed their blood: It is for these that the workers and peasants of India follow the Mahatma.
In conclusion let me say this, if there is a great national awakening in India the people are not yet ready for self-government, and the agitation that is going on in India will not be suppressed or squelched lay military force. The people of India, however, are loyal to the British Government. (Loud applause)