January 5, 1931
Curiously, it was in a jail that the year’s end found the little
half-naked brown man whose 1930 mark on world history will undoubtedly loom largest of all. It was exactly twelve months ago that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s Indian National Congress promulgated the Declaration of Indian Independence. It was in March that he marched to the sea to defy Britain’s salt tax as some New Englanders once defied a British tea tax. It was in May that Britain jailed Gandhi at Poona.
Last week he was still there, and some 30,000 members of his Independence movement were caged elsewhere. The British Empire was still wondering fearfully what to do about them all, the Empire’s most staggering problem.
“Cold English Brains.” A British journalist of standing lately revisited India and reported his findings to North American Newspaper Alliance.
Journalist Henry Noel Brailsford is a graduate of Glasgow University, where he remained for a time as assistant professor of Logic. Later he was a leading writer for the Manchester Guardian, a member of the Carnegie International Commission in the Balkans (1913), and editor of the New Leader (1922-26).
“In India I saw what no one is likely to see again,” reported Briton Brailsford.
“Bombay obeyed two governments.
“To the British Government, with all its apparatus of legality and power, there still were loyal the European population, the Indian sepoys, who wear its uniform, a few of the merchant princes, and the older generation of the Moslem minority.
“The rest of Bombay’s population has transferred its allegiance to one of the British Government’s too numerous prisoners: Mahatma Gandhi.”
Carefully Briton Brailsford described the system of parallel government in Bombay, whereby members of the Indian National Congress themselves marshal and police their demonstrations.
He reported that the Gandhiwomen who picket shops selling British goods, and who fling themselves down to be trodden on by any Indian determined to enter, will stand aside for occidental shoppers. “The shopkeepers themselves signed a requisition to the effect that they made no complaint against this peaceful picketing, and for a time there were few arrests.”
In and around Bombay, Ahmedabad, Delhi and Benares, Mr. Brailsford examined many Indian men and women bearing “wounds on the feet or bruises on the stomach, made with the butt end of a rifle…one man with a terribly swollen arm, fractured or dislocated, hanging in a sling…a woman (with) a badly swollen face caused by a blow.”
In the opinion of Briton Brailsford, “cold English brains” devised the system whereby bands of native police, especially in the rural districts, set upon individual Indian men & women and beat them.
“The execution (of this plan) was left to hotter heads and rougher hands,” notably to Mohuntal Shah, chief Indian official of the Borsad Taluka in Kaira District, who, Mr. Braisford reports, has not only presided at numerous pouncings and beatings, but also “occasionally assisted with a heavy walking stick.”
Individual beatings are applied, in the main, to extort from the victim his land tax. Mr. Brailsford traveled through district after district where the peasants had taken and kept this vow:
“We will pay no taxes until Gandhi is released from jail.”
For Mr. Gandhi, for the Mahatma, for St. Gandhi, for Jailbird Gandhi not thousands but millions of individual Indians are taking individual beatings which they could escape by paying what His Majesty’s Government call, quite accurately, “normal taxes.”
Physical extortion, even of taxes, is in law virtually everywhere a crime. Briton Brailsford reports that the Indian agents of the British Government have pursued tax evaders out of British India into the native State of Baroda and beaten them there. This is a crime for which the Man of the Year in Yerovila Jail at Ponna is to blame.
He is to blame because, although His Majesty’s Government have got him in a jail staffed by British jailers, they have not yet stopped him from producing writings which are smuggled out somehow, week after week, to his people.
What Chance Success? The Viceroy of India last week admitted at Calcutta that “some concessions” will have to be made to the Indian Nationalism, which for twelve months he has been trying to stamp out.
Meantime, in London, before adjourning for the holidays, the Indian Round Table Conference decided “in principle” that the upper and lower houses of the new Indian Legislature which they are trying to create, shall be called the “Senate” and the “House of Representatives.”
The Irishmen, asked independence but were content with the “Irish Free State,” which has a “President” and a “Senate.” If Indians would be content with so little, it is still not likely that Britons would grant it. Up to last week the Round Table Conference had not touched the red-hot question of India’s status.
The Conference had touched, and showed signs of splitting on the question of Hindu-Moslem representation in the new legislature.
India’s 70,000,000 Moslems are “the largest minority in the world.”
When the Aga Khan, No. I Indian Moslem, left London for Paris (he has a home in Paris) last week, it was rumored and denied that he was not gone “for the holidays” but to India for momentous consultations.
Stock reasons why Britain must hold India: 1) “she cannot relinquish her trust”; 2) deprived of the Pax Britannica, India would be torn with Hindu-Moslem civil war; 3) “Britain is the only sure defense of the Untouchables,” some 45,000,000 souls; 4) politically Indians are too “childish” to rule themselves.
In India Last Week:
— The Viceroy re-imposed his decree gagging the Indian press which he lifted when criticism became keen.
— A newspaper straw vote among the occidental community in Bombay brought 1,000 ballots, 830 of them for granting India “dominion status.”
— The Indian National Congress maintained its grip on the entire native market for foreign cloth in Bombay (several hundred shops), which has been closed for six months. Nevertheless Bombay (chief commercial city) and Bombay Presidency are not India, and imports to the entire continent fell only 25% during the first eight months of 1930.
Mr. Gandhi’s boycott is credited with reducing imports (i.e., sales by Britain) 5%, the rest of the decline, 20%, being charged to “Depression.”
— Strikes and mass demonstrations have decreased in frequency throughout India, but in the punjab (north) and Calcutta (east), the districts furthest from Gandhiland proper (the Bombay Presidency), the Government faces much spontaneous violence: assaults, attempted assassinations, assassinations of British officials, particularly the military. The British Inspector General of Prisons in Bengal (east) was recently assassinated.
— In Burma Province a force of 1,000 well-armed native rebels swept through the villages of southeast Tharrawaddy, murdered British Forest Ranger H.V.W. Fields Clarke. British and Indian troops including the famed East Kent Buffs, scourge of many an Indian uprising, moved against them.
In London Mr. U BaPe, Burmese representative at the Round Table Conference, sought to exonerate his countrymen on the ground that dispatches said the rioters wore “only blue pajama bottoms.” “That dress is not Burmese,” said he severely. “It approaches more nearly the Shan dress.
— Correspondents nearly all believe that if the British Parliament (on a recommendation from the Round Table) grants India full “dominion status,” the Gandhite Independence Movement can be diverted into that channel.
If, however, the name only of “dominion status” is granted (with its implicit “right of secession” temporarily reserved), there is about an even chance that the Indian National Congress can be horn-swoggled into quiescence.
If, finally, the Round Table breaks down, enough spontaneous violence is expected to give His Majesty’s Government enough provocation to use at strategic points the weapon of massacre, so effective when Brigadier-General Dyer sprayed with machine gun bullets and killed some 400 Indians at Amritsar in 1919.
General Dyer received the censure of the House of Commons by a vote of 230 to 129, was endorsed by the House of Lords 129 to 86, and finally accepted from the Morning Post a large sum of money spontaneously made up by individual Britons.
(I found this article on Time’s almanac – I am just reproducing it here for the benefit of readers interested in India’s modern history and to those particularly interested in the role played by M.K.Gandhi in India’s freedom struggle)