Fellow countrymen, delegates and people of Barisal and Bakarganj: — have first to express to you my personal gratitude for the kindly reception you have accorded to me. For a year I have been secluded from the fellowship and brotherly embrace of my fellow-countrymen. To me, therefore, the kindliness of your welcome must awake much keener feelings than would have been the case in other circumstances. Especially is it a cause of rejoicing to me to have that welcome in Barisal. When I come to this District, when I come to this soil of Bakarganj which has been made sacred and ever memorable in the history of this country — I come to no ordinary place. When I come to Barisal, I come to a chosen temple of the Mother — I come to a sacred pithasthan of the national spirit — I come to the birth-place and field of work of Aswini Kumar Dutta.
It is now the fourth year since I came to Barisal first on the occasion of the Provincial Conference. Three years have passed since then — they have been years of storm and stress to the country, — they have been years during which history has been making, during which the people of India have been undergoing a process of rebirth. Many things have happened in these years, especially in the last few months. One sign of what has been happening in the past is this empty chair (pointing to the chair upon which Aswini Kumar's photo was placed). One aspect of these years has been a series of repressions. They have been years in which the country has had to undergo the sufferings and sacrifices which repression involves. Barisal has had its full share of these sufferings. They had begun even before I last came among you. You had then the regulation lathi of the Police and the Gurkha visitation. After that there have been other forms of coercion. In this very town of Jhalakati you had to pay a punitive police tax. It was a punitive tax, punitive not of any offence of which you have been guilty, — for you have been guilty of none. In Barisal, there was no disturbance, no breach of the law. On the contrary, you have always been patient and self-restrained — you have always kept within the four corners of the law. What you have been punished for was your patriotism — you were punished for your Swadeshism — you were punished for your successful organisation of boycott. That tax was borne by the mahajans of Jhalakati with the readiness and uncomplaining endurance of large-hearted patriotism.
And now there have come the deportations. You have been called to endure the exile of those who have been dearest to you, who stood for all that was patriotic and noble in the district. Of the deportations Barisal has had more than its full share. Of those deported three are sons of this district. The man whose name will live for ever on the lips of his countrymen as one of the great names of the age — one of the makers of the new nation — Aswini Kumar Dutta has been taken away from you. His active and devoted lieutenant has been taken away from you. That warm-hearted patriot whom I am proud to have had the privilege of calling my personal friend — Manoranjan Guha — has been taken away from you. Why have they been exiled? What was their offence? Can anyone in Barisal name a single action — can anyone of those who have sent him into exile name definitely any single action which Aswini Kumar Dutta has committed, of which the highest and noblest man might not be proud? Can anyone name a single action of Krishna Kumar Mitra's which would be derogatory to the reputation of the highest in the land? There have indeed been charges, — vague charges, shameless charges, — made. The law under which they have been exiled requires no charge. The law under which they have been exiled has been impugned in Parliament as an antiquated and anomalous Regulation, utterly out of place and unfit to be used in modern times. When it was so attacked and its use by the Government of India challenged, Lord Morley, the man who rules India with absolute sway and stands or should stand to us as the incarnation of British statesmanship, made an answer which was not the answer of a statesman but of an attorney. "The law," he said, "is as good a law as any on the Statute Book." What is meant — what does Lord Morley mean — by a "good law"? In a certain sense every law is a good law which is passed by an established authority. If there were a law which made Swadeshi illegal, by which to buy a Swadeshi cloth would become a criminal action punishable by a legal tribunal — there have been such laws in the past — and if that were enacted by the Legislative Council, it would be in Lord Morley's sense of the word as good a law as any upon the Statute Book. But would it be a good law in the true sense or a travesty of law and justice? Lord Morley says it is a good law. We say it is a lawless law, — a dishonest law, — a law that is, in any real sense of the word, no law at all. For what is its substance and purpose? It provides that when you cannot bring any charge against a man which can be supported by proofs — and when you have no evidence which would stand for a moment before a court of justice, in any legal tribunal — when you have nothing against him except that his existence is inconvenient to you, then you need not advance any charge, you need not bring any evidence, you are at liberty to remove him from his home, from his friends, from his legitimate activities and intern him for the rest of his life in a jail. This is the law which is as good a law as any on the Statute Book! But what does its presence on the Statute Book mean? It means that under certain circumstances or whenever an absolute authority chooses, there is no law in the land for any subject of the British Crown — no safety for the liberty of the person.
It is under this law that nine of the most devoted workers for the country have been exiled, some of whose names are household words in India and incompatible with any imputation of evil. When the authorities were pressed in Parliament for an account of the reasons for their action they would not bring and refused to bring any definite accusation. Once indeed under the pressure of cross-examination a charge was advanced, — wild, vague and baseless. It was said in effect that these men were instigators and paymasters of anarchy and bloodshed. What was the authority under which such a charge was made? How was it that this monstrous falsehood was allowed to proceed from the mouths of His Majesty's Ministers and pollute the atmosphere of the House of Commons? Is there a man in his senses who will believe that Aswini Kumar Dutta was the instigator and paymaster of anarchy and bloodshed or that Krishna Kumar Mitra was the instigator and paymaster of anarchy and bloodshed, — men whose names were synonymous with righteousness of action and nobility of purpose and whose whole lives were the embodiment of uprightness, candour and fair and open living before all men? We have been told that it was not only on police evidence that they were exiled. That was not what was said at the beginning. At first it was on police information that the deportations were justified and any attempt to impugn that authority was resented. But now that police information has been shown to be false and unreliable, it is said that there was other than police information to justify the action of the authorities. We know what that information must have been. I will not make any sweeping charge against a whole body of men without exception. I know that even among the police there are men who are upright and observe truth and honesty in their dealings. I have met such men and honoured them. But we know what the atmosphere of that department is, we know what the generality of police officers are and how little reliance can be placed upon them. Of the value of police information Midnapore is the standing and conclusive proof. Besides this police information what else can there have been? Obviously the information on which the police has relied in certain of these cases — the evidence of the hired perjurer and forger, of the approver who to save himself from a baseless charge makes allegations yet more unfounded against others and scatters mud on the most spotless reputations in the land. If there were any other source besides this, we know too what that must have been. There are a sprinkling of Vibhishans among us, — men who for their own ends are willing to tell any lie that they think will please the authorities or injure their personal enemies. But if the Government in this country have upon such information believed that the lives of Aswini Kumar Dutta and Krishna Kumar Mitra are a mere mask and not the pure and spotless lives we have known, then we must indeed say, "What an amount of folly and ignorance rules at the present moment in this unhappy country."
Well, we have had many other forms of repression besides these deportations. We have had charges of sedition, charges of dacoity and violence, brought against the young men who are the hope of our country — charges such as those which we have seen breaking down and vanishing into nothing when tested by a high and impartial tribunal. This is the nature of the repression we have been called upon to suffer. It has been so engineered by the underlings of the Government that it strikes automatically at those who are most energetic, most devoted, most self-denying in the service of the mother country. It addresses itself to the physical signs, the outward manifestations of our national life, and seeks by suppressing them to put an end to that national life and movement. But it is a strange idea, a foolish idea, which men have, indeed, always cherished under such circumstances, but which has been disproved over and over again in history, to think that a nation which has once risen, — once has been called up by the voice of God to rise, — will be stopped by mere physical repression. It has never so happened in the history of a nation, nor will it so happen in the history of India. Storm has swept over us today. I saw it come. I saw the striding of the storm-blast and the rush of the rain and as I saw it an idea came to me.' What is this storm that is so mighty and sweeps with such fury upon us? And I said in my heart, "It is God who rides abroad on the wings of the hurricane, — it is the might and force of the Lord that manifested itself and His almighty hands that seized and shook the roof so violently over our heads today." A storm like this has swept also our national life. That too was the manifestation of the Almighty. We were building an edifice to be the temple of our Mother's worship — were rearing her a new and fair mansion, a palace fit for her dwelling. It was then that He came down upon us. He flung Himself upon the building we had raised. He shook the roof with His mighty hands and part of the building was displaced and ruined. Why has He done this? Repression is nothing but the hammer of God that is beating us into shape so that we may be moulded into a mighty nation and an instrument for His work in the world. We are iron upon His anvil and the blows are showering upon us not to destroy but to re-create. Without suffering there can be no strength, — without sacrifice there can be no growth. It is not in vain that Aswini Kumar has been taken from his people. It is not in vain that Krishna Kumar Mitra has been taken from us and is rotting in Agra Jail. It is not in vain that all Maharashtra mourns for Tilak at Mandalay. It is He, not any other, who has taken them and His ways are not the ways of men, but He is all-wise. He knows better than we do what is needful for us. He has taken Aswini Kumar Dutta away from Barisal. Is the movement dead? Is Swadeshi dead? The rulers of the country in their scanty wisdom have thought that by lopping off the heads the movement will cease. They do not know that great as he is, Aswini Kumar Dutta is not the leader of this movement, that Tilak is not the leader, — God is the leader. They do not know that the storm that has been sweeping over the country was not sent by them, but by Him for His own great purposes. And the same strength that was manifested in the storm today and in the storm of calamity that has passed over the country — the same strength is in us.
And if they are mighty to afflict, we are mighty to endure. We are no ordinary race. We are a people ancient as our hills and rivers and we have behind us a history of manifold greatness, not surpassed by any other race. We are the descendants of those who performed tapasya and underwent unheard-of austerities for the sake of spiritual gain and of their own will submitted to all the sufferings of which humanity is capable. We are the children of those mothers who ascended with a smile the funeral pyre that they might follow their husbands to another world. We are a people to whom suffering is welcome and who have a spiritual strength within them, greater than any physical force. We are a people in whom God has chosen to manifest Himself more than any other at many great moments of our history. It is because God has chosen to manifest Himself and has entered into the hearts of His people that we are rising again as a nation. Therefore it matters not even if those who are greatest and most loved are taken away. I trust in God's mercy and believe that they will soon be restored to us. But even if they don't come again still the movement will not cease. It will move forward irresistibly until God's will in it is fulfilled. He fulfils His purposes inevitably and this too He will fulfil. Those who are taken from us must after all some day pass away. We are strong in their strength. We have worked in their inspiration. But in the inevitable course of nature they will pass from us and there must be others who will take their places. He has taken them away from us for a little in order that in their absence we might feel that it was not really in their strength that we were strong, in their inspiration that we worked but that a Higher Force was working in them and when they are removed, can still work in the hearts of the people. When they pass away others will arise or even if no great men stand forth to lead, still the soul of this people will be great with the force of God within and do the work. This it is that He seeks to teach us by these separations — by these calamities. The men are gone. The movement has not ceased. The National School at Jhalakati was started one month after the deportation of Aswini Kumar Dutta; that is a patent sign that the movement is not, as our rulers would ignorantly have it, got up by eloquent agitators. The movement goes on by the force of nature; it works as force of nature works and goes inevitably on, whatever obstacle comes in the way.
What is it that this movement seeks, not according to the wild chimeras born of unreasoning fear but in its real aim and purpose? What is it that we seek? We seek the fulfilment of our life as a nation. This is what the word Swaraj, which is a bug-bear and terror to the Europeans, really means. When they hear it, they are full of unreasoning terrors. They think Swaraj is independence, it is freedom and that means that the people are going to rise against them in rebellion, that means there are bombs behind every bush, that every volunteer who gives food to his famine-stricken countrymen or nurses the cholera-stricken, is a possible rebel and dacoit. Swaraj is not the Colonial form of Government nor any form of Government. It means the fulfilment of our national life. That is what we seek, that is why God has sent us into the world to fulfil Him by fulfilling ourselves in our individual life, in the family, in the community, in the nation, in humanity. That is why He has sent us into the world and it is this fulfilment that we demand; for this fulfilment is life and to depart from it is to perish. Our object, our claim is that we shall not perish as a nation, but live as a nation. Any authority that goes against this object will dash itself against the eternal throne of justice — it will dash itself against the laws of nature which are the laws of God, and be broken to pieces.
This then is our object and by what means do we seek it? We seek it by feeling our separateness and pushing forward our individual self-fulfilment by what we call Swadeshi — Swadeshi in commerce and manufacture, in politics, in education, in law and administration, in every branch of national activity. No doubt this means independence, it means freedom; but it does not mean rebellion. There are some who fear to use the word "freedom", but I have always used the word because it has been the mantra of my life to aspire towards the freedom of my nation. And when I was last in jail I clung to that mantra; and through the mouth of my counsel I used this word persistently. What he said for me — and it was said not only on my behalf, but on behalf of all who cherish this ideal, — was this: If to aspire to independence and preach freedom is a crime you may cast me into jail and there bind me with chains. If to preach freedom is a crime then I am a criminal and let me be punished. But freedom does not mean the use of violence — it does not mean bombs; it is the fulfilment of our separate national existence. If there is any authority mad enough to declare that Swadeshism, national education, arbitration, association for improvement of our physique, is illegal, it is not stamping out anarchism; it is on the contrary establishing a worse anarchism from above. It sets itself against the law of God that gives to every nation its primary rights. The judge in the Alipore case said that the aspiration after independence and the preaching of the ideal of independence was a thing no Englishman could condemn. But if you say that the aspiration after independence is a thing none can condemn and yet put down by force the only peaceful means of securing independence, you are really declaring that it is the practice of independence which you will not tolerate. Because a few have gone mad and broken the law you have chosen to brand a whole people, to condemn a nation and to suppress a whole national movement. With that we have nothing to do. We have no voice in the government of our country; and the laws and their administration are things in which you don't allow us to have any concern. But one thing is in our own power; — our courage and devotion are in our power, our sacrifice, our suffering are in our power. That you cannot take away from us, and so long as you cannot take that from us you can do nothing. Your repression cannot for ever continue, for it will bring anarchy into the country. You will not be able to continue your administration if this repression remains permanent. Your government will become disorganised; the trade you are using such means to save will languish and capital be frightened from the country.
We have therefore only to suffer. We have only to be strong and enduring. All this machinery of coercion, all this repression, will then be in vain. That is the only virtue that is needed. We shall never lose our fortitude, our courage, our endurance. There are some who think that by lowering our heads the country will escape repression. That is not my opinion. It is by looking the storm in the face and meeting it with a high courage, fortitude and endurance that the nation can be saved. It is that which the Mother demands from us, — which God demands from us. He sent the storm yesterday and it carried the roof away. He sent it today with greater violence and it seized the roof to remove it. But today the roof remained. This is what He demands of us. — "I have sent my storms upon you, so that you may feel and train your strength. If you have suffered by them, if something has been broken, it does not matter, so long as you learn the lesson that it is for strength I make you suffer and always for strength." What did the volunteers do today when they flung themselves in crowds on the roof and braved the fury of the hurricane and by main strength held down the roof over their heads? That is the lesson that all must learn and especially the young men of Bengal and India. The storm may come down on us again and with greater violence. Then remember this, brave its fury, feel your strength, train your strength in the struggle with the violence of the wind, and by that strength hold down the roof over the temple of the Mother.