Freedom's Battle/The Punjab Wrongs

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Freedom's Battle by Mohandas K. Gandhi
The Punjab Wrongs

Political Freemasonry[edit]

Freemasonry is a secret brotherhood which has more by its secret and iron rules than by its service to humanity obtained a hold upon some of the best minds. Similarly there seems to be some secret code of conduct governing the official class in India before which the flower of the great British nation fall prostrate and unconsciously become instruments of injustice which as private individuals they would be ashamed of perpetrating. In no other way is it possible for one to understand the majority report of the Hunter Committee, the despatch of the Government of India, and the reply thereto of the Secretary of State for India. In spite of the energetic protests of a section of the Press to the personnel of the committee, it might be said that on the whole the public were prepared to trust it especially as it contained three Indian members who could fairly be claimed to be independent. The first rude shock to this confidence was delivered by the refusal of Lord Hunter's Committee to accept the very moderate and reasonable demand of the Congress Committee that the imprisoned Punjab leaders might be allowed to appear before it to instruct Counsel. Any doubt that might have been left in the mind of any person has been dispelled by the report of the majority of that committee. The result has justified the attitude of the Congress Committee. The evidence collected by it shows what lord Hunter's Committee purposely denied itself.

The minority report stands out like an oasis in a desert. The Indian members deserve the congratulation of their countrymen for having dared to do their duty in the face of heavy odds. I wish that they had refused to associate themselves even in a modified manner with the condemnation of the civil disobedience form of Satyagraha. The defiant spirit of the Delhi mob on the 30th March 1919 can hardly be used for condemning a great spiritual movement which is admittedly and manifestly intended to restrain the violent tendencies of mobs and to replace criminal lawlessness by civil disobedience of authority, when it has forfeited all title to respect. On the 30th March civil disobedience had not even been started. Almost every great popular demonstration has been hitherto attended all the world over by a certain amount of lawlessness. The demonstration of 30th March and 6th April could have been held under any other aegis us under that of Satyagrah. I hold that without the advent of the spirit of civility and orderliness the disobedience would have taken a much more violent form than it did even at Delhi. It was only the wonderfully quick acceptance by the people of the principle of Satyagrah that effectively checked the spread of violence throughout the length and breadth of India. And even to-day it is not the memory of the black barbarity of General Dyer that is keeping the undoubted restlessness among the people from breaking forth into violence. The hold that Satyagrah has gained on the people--it may be even against their will--is curbing the forces of disorder and violence. But I must not detain the reader on a defence of Satyagrah against unjust attacks. If it has gained a foothold in India, it will survive much fiercer attacks than the one made by the majority of the Hunter Committee and somewhat supported by the minority. Had the majority report been defective only in this direction and correct in every other there would have been nothing but praise for it. After all Satyagrah is a new experiment in political field. And a hasty attributing to it of any popular disorder would have been pardonable.

The universally pronounced adverse judgment upon the report and the despatches rests upon far more painful revelations. Look at the manifestly laboured defence of every official act of inhumanity except where condemnation could not be avoided through the impudent admissions made by the actors themselves; look at the special pleading introduced to defend General Dyer even against himself; look at the vain glorification of Sir Michael O'Dwyer although it was his spirit that actuated every act of criminality on the part of the subordinates; look at the deliberate refusal to examine his wild career before the events of April. His acts were an open book of which the committee ought to have taken judicial notices. Instead of accepting everything that the officials had to say, the Committee's obvious duty was to tax itself to find out the real cause of the disorders. It ought to have gone out of its way to search out the inwardness of the events. Instead of patiently going behind the hard crust of official documents, the Committee allowed itself to be guided with criminal laziness by mere official evidence. The report and the despatches, in my humble opinion, constitute an attempt to condone official lawlessness. The cautious and half-hearted condemnation pronounced upon General Dyer's massacre and the notorious crawling order only deepens the disappointment of the reader as he goes through page after page of thinly disguised official whitewash. I need, however, scarcely attempt any elaborate examination of the report or the despatches which have been so justly censured by the whole national press whether of the moderate or the extremist hue. The point to consider is how to break down this secret--be the secrecy over so unconscious--conspiracy to uphold official iniquity. A scandal of this magnitude cannot be tolerated by the nation, if it is to preserve its self-respect and become a free partner in the Empire. The All-India Congress Committee has resolved upon convening a special session of the Congress for the purpose of considering, among other things, the situation arising from the report. In my opinion the time has arrived when we must cease to rely upon mere petition to Parliament for effective action. Petitions will have value, when the nation has behind it the power to enforce its will. What power then have we? When we are firmly of opinion that grave wrong has been done us and when after an appeal to the highest authority we fail to secure redress, there must be some power available to us for undoing the wrong. It is true that in the vast majority of cases it is the duty of a subject to submit to wrongs on failure of the usual procedure, so long as they do not affect his vital being. But every nation and every individual has the right and it is their duty, to rise against an intolerable wrong. I do not believe in armed risings. They are a remedy worse than the disease sought to be cured. They are a token of the spirit of revenge and impatience and anger. The method of violence cannot do good in the long run. Witness the effect of the armed rising of the allied powers against Germany. Have they not become even like the Germans, as the latter have been depicted to us by them?

We have a better method. Unlike that of violence it certainly involves the exercise of restraint and patience: but it requires also resoluteness of will. This method is to refuse to be party to the wrong. No tyrant has ever yet succeeded in his purpose without carrying the victim with him, it may be, as it often is, by force. Most people choose rather to yield to the will of the tyrant than to suffer for the consequences of resistance. Hence does terrorism form part of the stock-in-trade of the tyrant. But we have instances in history where terrorism has failed to impose the terrorist's will upon his victim. India has the choice before her now. If then the acts of the Punjab Government be an insufferable wrong, if the report of Lord Hunter's Committee and the two despatches be a greater wrong by reason of their grievous condonation of those acts, it is clear that we must refuse to submit to this official violence. Appeal the Parliament by all means, if necessary, but if the Parliament fails us and if we are worthy to call ourselves a nation, we must refuse to uphold the Government by withdrawing co-operation from it.

The Duty of the Punjabee[edit]

The Allahabad Leader deserves to be congratulated for publishing the correspondence on Mr. Bosworth Smith who was one of the Martial Law officers against whom the complaints about persistent and continuous ill-treatment were among the bitterest. It appears from the correspondence that Mr. Bosworth Smith has received promotion instead of dismissal. Sometime before Martial Law Mr. Smith appears to have been degraded. "He has since been restored," says the Leader correspondent, "to his position of a Deputy Commissioner of the second grade from which he was degraded and also been invested with power under section 30 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Since his arrival, the poor Indian population of the town of Amhala Cantonment has been living under a regime of horror and tyranny." The correspondent adds: "I use both these words deliberately for conveying precisely what they mean." I cull a few passage from this illuminating letter to illustrate the meaning of horror and tyranny. "In private complaints he never takes the statement of the complainant. It is taken down by the reader when the court rises and got signed by the magistrate the following day. Whether the report received (upon such complaints) is favourable to the complainant or unfavourable to him, it is never ready by the magistrate, and complaints are dismissed without proper trial. This is the fate of private complaints. Now as regards police chellans. Pleaders for the accused are not allowed to interview under trial prisoners in police custody. They are not allowed to cross-examine prosecution witnesses.... Prosecution witnesses are examined with leading questions.... Thus a whole prosecution story is put into the mouth of police, witnesses for the defence though called in are not allowed to be examined by the defence counsel.... The accused is silenced if he picks up courage to say anything in defence.... Any Cantonment servant can write down the name of any citizen of the Cantonment on a chit of paper and ask him to appear the next day in court. This is a summons.... If any one does not appear in court who is thus ordered, criminal warrants of arrest are issued against him." There is much more of this style in the letter which is worth producing, but I have given enough to illustrate the writer's meaning. Let me turn for a while to this official's record during Martial Law. He is the official who tried people in batches and convicted them after a farcical trial. Witnesses have deposed to his having assembled people, having asked them to give false evidence, having removed women's veils, called them 'flies, bitches, she-asses' and having spat upon them. He it was who subjected the innocent pleaders of Shokhupura indescribable persecution. Mr. Andrews personally investigated complaints against this official and came to the conclusion that no official had behaved worse than Mr. Smith. He gathered the people of Shokhupura, humiliated them in a variety of ways, called them 'suvarlog,' 'gandi mukkhi.' His evidence before the Hunter Commission betrays his total disregard for truth and this is the officer who, if the correspondent in question has given correct facts, has been promoted. The question however is why, he is at all in Government service and why he has not been tried for assaulting and abusing innocent men and women.

I notice a desire for the impeachment of General Dyer and Sir Michael O'Dwyer. I will not stop to examine whether the course is feasible. I was sorry to find Mr. Shastriar joining this cry for the prosecution of General Dyer. If the English people will willingly do so, I would welcome such prosecution as a sign of their strong disapproval of the Jallianwalla Bagh atrocity, but I would certainly not spend a single farthing in a vain pursuit after the conviction of this man. Surely the public has received sufficient experience of the English mind. Practically the whole English Press has joined the conspiracy to screen these offenders against humanity. I would not be party to make heroes of them by joining the cry for prosecution private or public. If I can only persuade India to insist upon their complete dismissal, I should be satisfied. But more than the dismissal, of Sir Michael O'Dwyer and General Dyer, is necessary the peremptory dismissal, if not a trial, of Colonel O'Brien, Mr. Bosworth Smith, Rai Shri Ram and others mentioned in the Congress Sub-Committee's Report. Bad as General Dyer is I consider Mr. Smith to be infinitely worse and his crimes to be far more serious than the massacre of Jallianwalla Bugh. General Dyer sincerely believed that it was a soldierly act to terrorise people by shooting them. But Mr. Smith was wantonly cruel, vulgar and debased. If all the facts that have been deposed to against him are true, there is not a spark of humanity about him. Unlike General Dyer he lacks the courage to confirm what he has done and he wriggles when challenged. This officer remains free to inflict himself upon people who have done no wrong to him, and who is permitted to disgrace the rule he represents for the time being.

What is the Punjab doing? Is it not the duty of the Punjabis not to rest until they have secured the dismissal of Mr. Smith and the like? The Punjab leaders have been discharged in vain if they will not utilise the liberty they have received, in order to purge the administration of Messrs. Bosworth Smith and Company. I am sure that if they will only begin a determined agitation they will have the whole India by their side. I venture to suggest to them that the best way to qualify for sending General Dyer to the gallows is to perform the easier and the more urgent duty of arresting the mischief still continued by the officials against whom they have assisted in collecting overwhelming evidence.

General Dyer[edit]

The Army Council has found General Dyer guilty of error of judgment and advised that he should not receive any office under the Crown. Mr. Montagu has been unsparing in his criticism of General Dyer's conduct. And yet somehow or other I cannot help feeling that General Dyer is by no means the worst offender. His brutality is unmistakable. His abject and unsoldier-like cowardice is apparent in every line of his amazing defence before the Army Council. He has called an unarmed crowd of men and children--mostly holiday-makers--'a rebel army.' He believes himself to be the saviour of the Punjab in that he was able to shoot down like rabbits men who were penned in an inclosure. Such a man is unworthy of being considered a soldier. There was no bravery in his action. He ran no risk. He shot without the slightest opposition and without warning. This is not an 'error of judgement.' It is paralysis of it in the face of fancied danger. It is proof of criminal incapacity and heartlessness. But the fury that has been spent upon General Dyer is, I am sure, largely misdirected. No doubt the shooting was 'frightful,' the loss of innocent life deplorable. But the slow torture, degradation and emasculation that followed was much worse, more calculated, malicious and soul-killing, and the actors who performed the deeds deserve greater condemnation that General Dyer for the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre. The latter merely destroyed a few bodies but the others tried to kill the soul of a nation. Who ever talks of Col. Frank Johnson who was by far the worst offender? He terrorised guiltless Lahore, and by his merciless orders set the tone to the whole of the Martial Law officers. But what I am concerned with is not even Col. Johnson. The first business of the people of the Punjab and of India is to rid the service of Col O'Brien, Mr. Bosworth Smith, Rai Shri Ram and Mr. Malik Khan. They are still retained in the service. Their guilt is as much proved as that of General Dyer. We shall have failed in our duty if the condemnation pronounced upon General Dyer produces a sense of satisfaction and the obvious duty of purging the administration in the Punjab is neglected. That task will not be performed by platform rhetoric or resolutions merely. Stern action is required on out part if we are to make any headway with ourselves and make any impression upon the officials that they are not to consider themselves as masters of the people but as their trusties and servants who cannot hold office if they misbehave themselves and prove unworthy of the trust reposed in them.

The Punjab Sentences[edit]

The commissioners appointed by the Congress Punjab Sub Committee have in their report accused His Excellency the Viceroy of criminal want of imagination. His Excellency's refusal to commute two death sentences out of five is a fine illustration of the accusation. The rejection of the appeal by the Privy Council no more proves the guilt of the condemned than their innocence would have been proved by quashing the proceedings before the Martial Law Tribunal. Moreover, these cases clearly come under the Royal Proclamation in accordance with its interpretation by the Punjab Government. The murders in Amritsar were not due to any private quarrel between the murderers and their victims. The offence grave, though it was, was purely political and committed under excitement. More than full reparation has been taken for the murders and arson. In the circumstances commonsense dictates reduction of the death sentences. The popular belief favours the view that the condemned men are innocent and have not had a fair trial. The execution has been so long delayed that hanging at this stage would give a rude shock to Indian society. Any Viceroy with imagination would have at once announced commutation of the death sentences--not so Lord Chelmsford. In his estimation, evidently, the demands of justice will not be satisfied if at least some of the condemned men are not hanged. Public feeling with him counts for nothing. We shall still hope that, either the Viceroy or Mr. Montagu will commute the death sentences.

But if the Government will grievously err, if they carry out the sentences, the people will equally err if they give way to anger or grief over the hanging if it has unfortunately to take plane. Before we become a nation possessing an effective voice in the councils of nations, we must be prepared to contemplate with equanimity, not a thousand murders of innocent men and women but many thousands before we attain a status in the world that, shall not be surpassed by any nation. We hope therefore that all concerned will take rather than lose heart and treat hanging as an ordinary affair of life.

[Since the above was in type, we have received cruel news. At last H.E. the Viceroy has mercilessly given the rude shock to Indian society. It is now for the latter to take heart in spite of the unkindest cut.--Ed. Y.I.]