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beginning. When their labour contracts expired many settled in the
country, acquiring small plots of land as their own or becoming petty
traders, artisans, etc., and, being frugal and hard-working and of a
higher type than the Kaffir and other natives, they throve as a whole.
The white population, who had found them at first very useful, began to
see in them either dangerous competitors or an undesirable element
calculated to complicate the social problems in a country in which the
European formed anyhow but a small minority face to face with 6,000,000
natives. Both the old Boer Government in the Transvaal and the Colonial
Government of Natal set to work to curtail by legislative enactments and
local regulations the rights which Indians had been at first allowed to
enjoy, and to assimilate their treatment to that of the lowest and most
backward natives. The Indians were systematically subjected to the
disabilities and indignities against which Mr. Gandhi for the first time
led them to organise a violent agitation and finally to offer passive
resistance.

The agreement arrived at between General Smuts and Mr. Gandhi in 1914
was in the nature of a compromise which gave the Indians some relief
without conceding the principle of equal rights, and it only brought the
long struggle to a temporary close. The old sore was reopened with the
Asiatics' Trading and Land Act of 1919, which, the Indians contend,
wantonly violated both the terms and the spirit of the 1914 settlement
and which Europeans have declared to be "necessary in the interests of a
white population." The chief grievances of the Indians are the denial of
representation and franchise (except in Cape Colony), their segregation
within appointed areas, and the curtailment of their "inherent right to
trade." Some Europeans would fain deny that colour prejudice affects
their view of the problem, which they regard as essentially eugenic and
economic. As far as the mixture of races is concerned the European's
objections to it should be readily understood by the Indians, whose own
caste laws are as rigidly directed as any in the world against the
drawbacks of miscegenation. The European, however, has legislated not to
prevent mixed marriages but to arrest the general depression of the
standards of life - low wages, a lower standard of skill in skilled
trades, and low housing conditions which, he alleges, have resulted from
the unrestricted influx of a large coloured population into the
towns - and he uses the term "coloured" to include the Indians. With
regard to the restrictions of trade licences he deduces the necessity
for them from the economic effects of unrestricted competition which has
led, he declares, to the bankruptcy of European firms, to their
displacement in the same premises by Indians, and to the depreciation of
European property. But, the Indian replies, if Indians have thriven in
South Africa in the past it is because they work harder and live more
frugally, and if they flourish more especially as traders it is because
Europeans, finding it to their interest to trade with them, have been
their best customers. Apart from the material ruin which South African
legislation has brought upon many Indians, what they most deeply resent
is unquestionably its specifically racial character. They may suffer
fewer personal disabilities as to travelling on railways and in
tram-cars and walking on street pavements than they did a few years
ago, when very special precautions had to be taken to prevent such a
distinguished Indian as Mr. Gokhale being exposed to them during his
visit to South Africa. But they still suffer, they complain, under the
supreme indignity of racial discrimination with which South African
legislation is openly stamped. Repatriation could only take place slowly
even if the cost of compensation, which no fair-minded European could
then reasonably deny, were not in itself an almost insurmountable
obstacle. From the merely practical point of view the question therefore
is now reduced to the discovery of a _modus vivendi_ for the Indian
community now in South Africa, and it would be very near a solution if
legislation to secure the economic and eugenic standards on which the
Afrikander lays so much stress were so framed as to apply to the whole
population, even should it in practice bear more heavily on the Indian
than on the European, if the former less frequently rose to the required
standards. A similar solution would remove the sense of grievance
arising out of the denial of the franchise in Natal and the Transvaal,
of which the injustice seems to Indians to be merely heightened by the
fact that it has been given to them in Cape Colony, where they form a
much smaller minority. But there is no sign that the temper of the South
African Union, in which British and Dutch are united on no issue more
firmly than on this one, will abate its claim to treat the Indians
within its borders as an inferior race that has no rights to be weighed
against the interests, real or assumed, of the superior white race.

The Government of India has never questioned the reality of Indian
grievances in South Africa. In 1903, shortly after the Boer war, Lord
Curzon strongly urged the British Government to enforce their redress in
the Transvaal whilst it was still governed as a Crown Colony. At the end
of 1913, when the struggle was most acute, Lord Hardinge expressed his
sympathy with a frankness and warmth which fluttered Ministerial
dovecots both at home and in the Union. Since then Indian troops have
fought during the war side by side with South African troops, and the
representatives of India have sat in the War and Peace Councils of the
Empire side by side with Ministers of the South African Union. So long
as South African legislation bears the impress of racial discrimination
the Government of India is bound to maintain its opposition to it, and
the more fully it voices Indian opinion under the new constitution, the
more emphatic its opposition must be.

In other Dominions the Indian question is much less acute, as there has
never been anything like the same amount of Indian immigration, and it
is now practically stopped. But it must be remembered that it was the
return to India of a large number of Sikhs who were refused permission
to land in British Columbia that was the signal for grave disorders in
the Punjab in the second year of the war. And not so long ago the Aga
Khan, as well known in London as in India, had to give up visiting
Australia in view of the many humiliating formalities to which as an
Asiatic he would have been subjected before being allowed to land there.
It is surely not beyond the resources of statesmanship to devise at
least a scheme by which Indians of good repute who wish to travel for
purposes of business or study, or for the mere satisfaction of a
legitimate curiosity to see other parts of the Empire, should be free to
do so without any restraints on the score of race. The attitude of the
other Dominions seems certainly to be at present far less uncompromising
than that of the South African Union, and one may look forward with some
confidence to an agreement by which the rights of Indians already
settled in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada will obtain sufficient
recognition to satisfy Indian self-respect.

The Indian question is not, however, confined to the Dominions. It is
unfortunately in some of the Crown Colonies that it has recently assumed
an even more serious aspect than in South Africa, inasmuch as in the
Crown Colonies the British Government is directly responsible for the
treatment of Indians, whilst only indirectly in a Dominion, where the
primary responsibility rests with the Dominion Government. The question
of Indian indentured labour in Fiji, British Guiana, and some other
smaller colonies is of lesser importance, though Indians have been
deeply moved by stories of ill-treatment inflicted upon them by European
planters, and indenture itself is held nowadays to connote a state
almost of servitude incompatible with Indian national self-respect.
There the Government of India has a remedy in its own hands. It can
stop, and is stopping, the export of Indian labour to those colonies.
Far graver is the situation that has only recently been created for
Indians in the Crown Colony of East Africa, known since the war as
Kenia. Indians were settled in that part of Africa even before British
authority was ever established there, and Mr. Churchill, now Secretary
of State for the Colonies, himself admitted some years ago, after his
travels in that part of the world, that without the Indians the country
would never have reached its present stage of development and
prosperity. Whilst if in the case of a self-governing Dominion the
British Government can at least urge, as an excuse for its acquiescence
in the disabilities imposed upon Indians, that it cannot override the
constitutionally expressed will of the Dominion people, it can plead no
such excuse where a Crown Colony is concerned over which its authority
is absolute and final. This is indeed the point on which the Government
of India laid stress last winter in a long and closely reasoned despatch
elaborating the view already formally enunciated by the Viceroy that in
a Crown Colony Indians have a constitutional right to equality of status
with all other British subjects. That right has, it is contended, been
violated in Kenia in regard more especially to the three major questions
of franchise, segregation, and land ownership. At the very moment when,
in India, elected assemblies have been created under a new constitution
on the broadest possible franchise, the Legislative Council of Kenia,
with a population of 35,000 Indians and only 11,000 Europeans, is so
constituted that it has only two Indian members out of fourteen, whilst
of the remaining twelve, eleven are European and one represents the very
backward Arab community. Land ownership in the uplands has been reserved
exclusively for Europeans on the plea that the climate of the lowlands
to which the Indians are relegated is more suitable for them than for
Europeans. Yet the climatic argument is itself disregarded when, even in
the lowlands, racial segregation is enforced in areas reserved there too
for Europeans alone. The representations of the Government of India have
commanded the attention they deserve, and the Colonial Office has sent
out instructions to the Kenia authorities to suspend all segregation
measures. The whole question will, one may hope, be reopened and settled
on a new basis of justice for Indians. The British settlers will surely
themselves recognise, on further consideration, that their interests
cannot be allowed to override the far larger obligations of Great
Britain to the people of India.

The question of the treatment of Indians in the Crown Colonies is one
that has to be settled between the British Government and the Government
of India, and it could not therefore come before the Imperial
Cabinet - or Conference - recently attended by the Prime Ministers of all
the Dominions assembled in London. But in regard to that question in the
Dominions, Mr. Srinivasa Sastri, one of India's representatives, laid
down in their presence firmly and plainly the principle on which all
Indians are at one:

There is no conviction more strongly in our minds than this, that a
full enjoyment of citizenship within the British Empire applies not
only to the United Kingdom but to every self-governing Dominion
within its compass. We have already agreed to a subtraction from
the integrity of the rights by the compromise of 1918 to which my
predecessor, Lord Sinha, was a party - that each Dominion and each
self-governing part of the Empire should be free to regulate the
composition of its population by suitable immigration laws. On that
compromise there is no intention whatever to go back, but we plead
on behalf of those who are already fully domiciled in the various
self-governing Dominions according to the laws under which those
Dominions are governed - to these peoples there is no reason
whatever to deny the full rights of citizenship - it is for them
that we plead, where they are lawfully settled, that they must be
admitted into the general body of citizenship, and no deduction
must be made from the rights that other British subjects enjoy.

In commending the matter to his audience for earnest consideration and
satisfactory settlement, Mr. Srinivasa Sastri spoke with the added
authority of his position as a member of the Indian Legislature and one
of the ablest leaders of the Moderate party. "It is," he said, "of the
most urgent and pressing importance that we should be able to carry back
a message of hope and of good cheer." He will have to report to the
Legislature on his mission when he returns to India, and no part of his
report will be looked for with more anxiety or more closely scrutinised.

Indians have already demonstrated their willingness to recognise
accomplished facts and to accept in practice any reasonable settlement
which does not strike fatally at the principle laid down by Mr.
Srinivasa Sastri, not only on behalf of his fellow-countrymen, but in
the name of the Government of India, which here again has acted as a
national Indian Government. South Africa, it may be, will nevertheless
persist in subordinating to a narrow conception of her own interests the
higher interests of Imperial unity, which, if it ever ceased to include
India, would assuredly be a much poorer thing. It is all the more
essential that if India's faith in the Empire is not to be, perhaps
irretrievably, shaken, South Africa should remain, in her refusal to
honour the pledge of partnership given to India on behalf of the whole
Empire, a solitary exception amongst the self-governing Dominions, and
that the United Kingdom, whose responsibility to India is most directly
involved, should insist that the pledge be redeemed to the full in the
Crown Colonies which are under the immediate and direct control of the
Imperial Government.

FOOTNOTES:

[4] August 1921.




CHAPTER XV

THE INCLINED PLANE OF GANDHIISM


Those who have persistently derided the "Non-co-operation" movement and
announced its imminent collapse have been scarcely less wide of the mark
than Mr. Gandhi himself when he began to predict that it would bring
_Swaraj_ to India by a date, not always quite the same, but always less
than a year distant. The original programme of "Non-co-operation" has
hitherto failed egregiously. Only very few lawyers have abandoned their
practice in "Satanic" law-courts at his behest, still fewer Indians have
surrendered the distinctions conferred on them by Government. A
mischievous ferment has been introduced once more into Indian schools
and colleges. Some youths have foolishly wrecked their own future, or
seen it wrecked for them, by attempts to boycott and obstruct the
examinations on which their career so often depends. But neither have
Mr. Gandhi and his followers destroyed the schools and colleges against
which they have waged war, nor created in anything more than embryo, and
in extremely few places, the "national" schools and colleges that were
to take their place. Even Rabindranath Tagore, whose poetic imagination
was at first fired by Mr. Gandhi's appeal to renounce the title of
knighthood awarded to him in recognition of his literary genius, has had
enough practical experience of education, as he himself has conceived
and carried it into execution on his own quite original lines, to be
driven at last to admit that Indian youths are asked to bring their
patriotic offering of sacrifice, "not to a fuller education, but to
non-education." With his craving for metaphysical accuracy of
expression, he has even denounced the "no" of "Non-co-operation" as "in
its passive moral form asceticism, and in its active moral form
violence." The conclusion wrung from his reluctant idealism is one at
which the large majority of sober-minded Indians arrived long before the
poet. They gave effect to it as voters at the elections in defiance of
Mr. Gandhi's boycott, and their representatives gave effect to it in the
legislatures which Mr. Gandhi no less vainly boycotted.

Yet in spite of Mr. Gandhi's repeated failures "Non-co-operation" is not
dead. It has a widespread organisation, with committees in every town
and emissaries particularly active in the large villages and in many
rural districts. It had the enthusiastic support at Nagpur of the large
assemblage that still retains the name, but little else, of the old
Indian National Congress. It does not lack funds, for Mr. Gandhi
professes to have gathered in the crore of rupees which he asked for
within the appointed twelvemonth. It controls a large part of the Indian
Press, though mostly of the less reputable type, more vituperative and
mendacious, in spite of all Indian Press laws, than anything conceived
of in this country where there are no Press laws. Mr. Gandhi himself
goes on preaching "Non-co-operation" with unabated conviction and
unresting energy, the same picture always of physical frailty and
unconquerable spirit, travelling all over the country in crowded
third-class carriages, worshipped by huge crowds that hang on his
sainted lips - and pausing only in his feverish campaign to spend a short
week at Simla in daily conference with Lord Reading. That the new
Viceroy should have thought it advisable almost immediately after his
arrival in India to hold such prolonged intercourse with Mr. Gandhi is
the best proof that the Mahatma is no mere dreamer whose influence is
evanescent, but a power to be reckoned with. The Simla interviews did
not seem to have been entirely fruitless when Mr. Gandhi extracted from
his chief Mahomedan lieutenants, the brothers Ali, a disavowal, however
half-hearted, of any intention to incite to violence in certain speeches
delivered by them for which they would otherwise have had to be
prosecuted. It looked as if he had made a more effective stand than on
other occasions against the importation of violence into
"Non-co-operation," and proved the reality of the influence which he is
believed to have all along exercised to curb his Mahomedan followers who
do not share his disbelief in violence. But Simla only deflected him for
a short time from his dangerous course.

In the whole of this strange movement nothing is more mysterious than
the hold which Mr. Gandhi has over Mahomedans as well as Hindus, though
the wrongs of Turkey, which are ever in his mouth, touch only very
remotely the great mass of Indian Mahomedans, whilst the old antagonism
of the two communities is still simmering and bubbling and apt to boil
over on the slightest provocation. Collisions are most frequent during
religious festivals, especially if they happen to be held by both
communities at the same time. The chief stone of offence for Hindus is
the sacrifice of cows, the most sacred to them of all animals, without
which the Mahomedans consider their great annual festival of _Bakar-Id_
cannot be complete. Mahomedans, on the other hand, to whom musical
instruments as an accompaniment to religious worship are abhorrent, are
often driven wild when Hindu processions pass with their bands playing
in front of a mosque. Only four years ago, when the compact between the
National Congress and the Moslem League was still quite fresh, riots
broke out simultaneously during the _Bakar-Id_ over a great part of the
Patna district, which were only suppressed after a large tract of some
forty miles square had passed into the hands of the Hindu mobs, when a
considerable military force reached the scenes of turmoil and disorder,
for the like of which, according to the Government Resolution, it was
necessary to go back over a period of sixty years to the days of the
great Mutiny. It would be of little purpose to enumerate many other
instances of disorders on a lesser scale that have occurred since then
in connection with cow-killing. When staying for a few days last winter
in Nellore, a small town in the Madras Presidency, _i.e._ in a part of
India noted for its quietude, I had a pertinent illustration of the
often trivial but none the less dangerous forms that the persistent
animosity between Hindus and Mahomedans can assume. In Nellore, itself a
very sleepy hollow, the Mahomedans are not quite in such a hopelessly
small minority as they generally are in Southern India, for they number
about 6000 out of 30,000 inhabitants. The few "Non-co-operationists" in
the place, Hindu and Mahomedan, professed to have formed a
"Reconciliation Committee" to prevent their co-religionists from flying
at each other's throats. Their efforts were not, however, sufficient to
relieve the local authorities from the necessity of putting some of the
police on special service for the protection of respectable Hindu
traders of the same caste as Mr. Gandhi himself in their daily comings
and goings through certain quarters of the city against the more unruly
of their Mahomedan fellow-citizens. The usual bad feeling had been
exacerbated by an affray, already the best part of a year old, when one
of the Hindu processions from the four great temples of the city
perversely altered its accustomed route and passed down the streets
leading to the chief mosque with bands defiantly playing, and a party of
Mahomedans lying in wait for them rushed out and assaulted them with
brick-bats, until they were dispersed by a few rifle-shots from the
police. Apart from such major provocation, each side indulges in minor
pin-pricks that keep up a constant irritation. It is an old custom at
both Hindu and Mahomedan festivals for youths to dress up as tigers and
lions, who add an element of terror to the pageant by roaring to order.
Of late years each community has tried to deny to the other the right
to introduce this element of frightfulness into its processions, and
these harmless wild beasts have frequently been made to repent of their
disguise with bruised bodies and broken heads. In one large village in
the Nellore district serious trouble arose over an attempt on the part
of the Mahomedans to halt their procession for the purpose of
distributing "jaggery" water in close proximity to an enclosure set
apart by the Hindus for the nuptials of their god and goddess at an
annual marriage festival, and the _Taluk_ magistrate had to issue a
formal order, enforced by policemen on special duty, forbidding the
Mahomedans to place the objectionable pot of water within twenty feet of
the wedding enclosure. In all such cases both sides appeal promptly for
help to the authorities, and one of the chief and not least wearisome of
the British administrator's tasks is to be for ever on the watch in
order if possible to avert, by timely suasion and measures of
precaution, the serious trouble that may at any moment arise out of
trifles which to the European mind must seem grotesquely insignificant.
Indians themselves admit that it is an even more difficult task for
them, as Indian-born officials must almost always belong to one or other
of the two communities, and their impartiality be therefore congenitally
suspect to one side or the other.

There can be no worthier purpose for either government or public men or
private individuals to pursue than a real reconciliation between two
great communities estranged, not only by fundamentally different
religious beliefs and traditions, but by enduring memories of
century-long conflicts and of the very often oppressive domination of
Mahomedan rulers over conquered Hindu peoples held down in spite of
their numerical superiority by the sheer weight of superior force. There
may have been Englishmen who, believing in the shallow maxim _Divide ut
imperes_, have relied on that estrangement to fortify British rule; but
such has never been the principle of British policy. It has constantly
sought, on the contrary, to prevent and suppress as far as possible
disorders which, whenever they break out afresh, inevitably revive and
quicken the ancient antagonism, and to attenuate it, slowly but
steadily, by the exercise of even-handed justice and the pacifying
influences of education and the rule of law.

Has the alliance between Mr. Gandhi and the Ali brothers or the fusion
between the Congress and League Extremists, Hindu and Mahomedan, proved
more effective? How far down has this Hindu and Mahomedan fraternisation
really reached that is based above all on common hatred of a "Satanic"
Government? How far has it even temporarily checked the instinctive


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Online LibraryValentine ChirolIndia, Old and New → online text (page 24 of 27)