The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi/Volume I/1894 Open Letter on Franchise Law
[Before December 19, 1894]
- THE HON. MEMBERS OF
- THE HON. THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL AND
- THE HON. THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
- THE HON. THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL AND
Were it possible to write to you anonymously, nothing would have been more pleasing to me. But the statements I shall have to make in this letter will be so grave and important that it would be considered a sheer act of cowardice not to disclose my name. I beg, however, to assure you that I write not from selfish motives, nor yet from those of self-aggrandisement or of seeking notoriety. The one and only object is to serve India, which is by accident of birth called my native country, and to bring about better understanding between the European section of the community and the Indian in this Colony.
The only way this can be done is to appeal to those who represent and, at the same time, mould public opinion.
Hence, if the Europeans and the Indians live in a perpetual state of quarrel, the blame would lie on your shoulders. If both can walk together and live together quietly and without friction, you will receive all the credit.
It needs no proof that masses throughout the world follow, to a very great extent, the opinions of the leaders. Gladstone's opinions are the opinions of half England, and Salisbury's are those of the other half. Burns thought for the strikers during the dock labourers' strike. Parnell thought for almost the whole of Ireland. The scriptures—I mean all the scriptures of the world—say so. Says The Song Celestial by Edwin Arnold: “What the wise choose the unwise people take; what the best men do the multitude will follow.”
This letter, therefore, needs no apology. It would hardly be called impertinent.
For, to whom else could such an appeal be more aptly made, or by whom else should it be considered more seriously than you?
To carry on an agitation in England is but a poor relief when it can only create a greater friction between the two peoples in the Colony. The relief, at best, could only be temporary. Unless the Europeans in the Colony can be induced to accord the Indians a better treatment, the Indians have a very bad time before them under the aegis of the Responsible Government, in spite of vigilance of the Home Government.
Without entering into details, I would deal with the Indian question as a whole.
I suppose there can be no doubt that the Indian is a despised being in the Colony, and that every opposition to him proceeds directly from that hatred.
If that hatred is simply based upon his colour, then, of course, he has no hope. The sooner he leaves the Colony the better. No matter what he does, he will never have the white skin. If, however, it is based upon something else, if it is based upon an ignorance of his general character and attainments, he may hope to receive his due at the hands of the Europeans in the Colony.
The question what use the Colony will make of the 40,000 Indians is, I submit, worthy of the most serious consideration by the Colonists, and especially those who have the reins of Government in their hands, who have been entrusted by the people with legislative powers. To root out the 40,000 Indians from the Colony seems, without doubt, an impossible task. Most of them have settled here with their families. No legislation that could be permissible in a British Colony would enable the legislators to drive these men out. It may be possible to devise a scheme to effectively check any further Indian immigration. But apart from that, the question suggested by me is, I submit, sufficiently serious to warrant my encroaching upon your attention and requesting you to persue this letter without any bias.
It is for you to say whether you will lower them or raise them in the scale of civilization, whether you will bring them down to a level lower than what they should occupy on account of heredity, whether you will alienate their hearts from you, or whether you will draw them closer to you—whether, in short, you would govern them despotically or sympathetically.
You can educate public opinion in such a way that the hatred will be increased day by day; and you can, if you chose so to do, educate it in such a way that the hatred would begin to subside.
I now propose to discuss the question under the following heads:
- 1. Are the Indians desirable as citizens in the Colony?
- 2. What are they?
- 3. Is their present treatment in accordance with the best British traditions, or with the principles of justice and morality, or with the principles of Christianity?
- 4. From a purely material and selfish point of view, will an abrupt or gradual withdrawal of them from the Colony result in substantial, lasting benefit to the Colony?
It seems to have been acknowledged by those who are supposed to know, that the indentured Indians are indispensable for the welfare of the Colony; whether as menials or waiters, whether as railway servants or gardeners, they are a useful addition to the Colony. The work that a Native cannot or would not do is cheerfully and well done by the indentured Indian. It would seem that the Indian has helped to make this the Garden Colony of South Africa. Withdraw the Indian from the sugar estate, and where would the main industry of the Colony be? Nor can it be said that the work can be done by the Native in the near future. The South African Republic is an instance in point. In spite of its so-called vigorous Native policy, it remains practically a desert of dust, although the soil is very fruitful. The problem how to secure cheap labour for the mines there has been daily growing serious. The only garden worthy of the name is that on the Nelmapius Estate, and does it not owe its success entirely to the Indian labour? One of the election addresses says:
- . . . and at the last, as the only thing to be done, the immigration of Indians was entered upon, and the Legislature very wisely rendered their support and help in furthering this all-important scheme. At the time it was entered upon the progress and almost the existence of the Colony hung in the balance. And now what is the result of this scheme of immigration? Financially, £10,000 has been advanced yearly out of the Treasury of the Colony. With what result? Just this, that no vote ever made of money to develop the industries of the Colony, or to promote its interest in any way in this Colony, has yielded such a financially profitable return as that shown by the introduction of coolies as labourers into this Colony. . . . I believe the Durban population of Europeans, had no such labour been supplied as required for Colonial industries, would be less by at least half what it is today, and five workmen only would be required where twenty now have employment. Property in Durban generally would have remained at a value some 300 or 400 per cent below that which now obtains, and the lands in the Colony and other towns, in proportion according to the value of property in Durban and coast land, would never have realized what it now sells at.
This gentleman is no other than Mr. Garland. In spite of such invaluable help derived from “the coolie”, as the poor Indian is contemptuously termed even by those who ought to know better, the honourable gentleman goes on, ungratefully, to regret the tendency of the Indian to settle in the Colony.
I take the following extract from Mr. Johnston's article in the New Review, quoted in The Natal Mercury of the 11th August, 1894:
- One seeks the solution in the introduction of a yellow race, able to stand a tropical climate and intelligent enough to undertake those special avocations which in temperate climates would be filled by Europeans. The yellow race, most successful hitherto in Eastern Africa, is the native of Hindostan—that race in diverse types and diverse religions which, under British or Portuguese aegis, has created and developed the commerce of the East African littoral. The immigration of the docile, kindly, thrifty, industrious, clever-fingered, sharp-witted Indian into Central Africa will furnish us with the solid core of our armed forces in that continent, and will supply us with thetelegraph clerks, the petty shopkeepers, the skilled artisans, the cooks, the minor employees, the clerks, and the railway officials needed in the civilized administration of tropical Africa. The Indian, liked by both black and white, will serve as a link between these two divergent races.
As to the Indian traders, who are miscalled Arabs, it would appear best to consider the objections raised to their coming to the Colony.
From the papers, especially The Natal Mercury of 6-7-'94, and The Natal Advertiser of 15-9-'93, the objections appear to be that they are successful traders, and that, their mode of living being very simple, they compete with the European trader in petty trades. I dismiss as unworthy of consideration the generalizations from rare particular instances that the Indians resort to sharp practices. As to the particular instances of insolvency, I would only say, without meaning in the least to defend them, “Let those that are without sin first cast a stone”. Please examine the records of the Insolvency Court.
Coming to the serious objection as to successful competition, I believe it is true. But is that a reason for driving them out of the Colony? Will such a method commend itself to a body of civilized men? What is it that makes them so successful competitors? He who runs may see that it is nothing but their habits, which are extremely simple, though not barbarous, as The Natal Advertiser would have it. The chiefest element of their success, in my humble opinion, is their total abstinence from drink and its attendant evils. That habit at once causes an enormous saving of money. Moreover, their tastes are simple, and they are satisfied with comparatively small profits, because they do not keep uselessly large establishments. In short, they earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. It is difficult to see how these facts can be urged as an objection to their stopping in the Colony. Of course, they do not gamble, as a rule do not smoke, and can put up with little inconveniences; work more than eight hours a day. Should they be expected to, is it desirable that they should, abandon these virtues, and contract the terrible vices under which the Western nations are groaning, so that they may be permitted to live in the Colony without molestation?
It will be best, also, to consider the common objection to the Indian traders and labourers. It is their insanitary habits. I am afraid I must, to my great mortification, admit this charge partially. While much that is said against their insanitary habits proceeds merely out of spite and hatred, there is no denying that in this respect they are not everything that could be desired. That, however, never can be a reason for their expulsion from the Colony. They are not hopelessly beyond reform in this branch. A strict, yet just and merciful, operation of the sanitary law can, I submit, effectually cope with the evil, and even eradicate it. Nor is the evil so great as to require any drastic measures. Their personal habits, it would appear, are not dirty, except in the case of the indentured Indians, who are too poor to attend to personal cleanliness. I may be allowed to say, from personal experience, that the trading community are compelled by their religion to bathe once a week at least, and have to perform ablutions, i.e., wash their faces and hands up to the elbows, and their feet, every time they offer prayers. They are supposed to offer prayers four times a day, and there are very few who fail to do so at least twice a day.
It will, I hope, be readily admitted that they are exceptionally free from those vices which render a community a danger to society. They yield to no one in their obedience to constitutional authority. They are never a political danger. And except the ruffians who are sometimes picked out, of course unknowingly, by the immigration agents at Calcutta and Madras, they seem to be free from the highly grievous offences. I regret that my inability to compare the Criminal Court statistics prevents me from making any further observations on this point. I will, however, beg leave to quote from the Natal Almanac: “It must be said for the Indian population that it is on the whole orderly and law-abiding.”
I submit that the above facts show that the Indian labourers are not only desirable but useful citizens of the Colony, and also absolutely essential to its well-being, and that the traders have nothing in them that should render them undesirable in the Colony.
As to these latter, before quitting the subject, I would further add that they are a veritable blessing to the poor portion of the European community, in so far as by their keen competition they keep down the prices of necessities of life; and knowing their language and understanding their customs, are indispensable to the Indian labourers, whose wants they study and supply, and whom they can deal with on better terms than the Europeans.
The second head of the enquiry is the most important, viz., what are they, and I request you to peruse it carefully. My purpose in writing on this subject will have been served if only it stimulates a study of India and its people; for, I thoroughly believe that one half, or even three-fourths, of the hardships entailed upon the Indians in South Africa result from want of information about India.
No one can be more conscious than myself of whom I am addressing this letter to. Some Honourable Members may resent this portion of my letter as an insult. To such I say with the greatest deference: “I am aware that you know a great deal about India. But is it not a cruel fact that the Colony is not the better for your knowledge? Certainly the Indians are not, unless the knowledge acquired by you is entirely different from and opposed to that acquired by others who have worked in the same field. Again, although this humble effort is directly addressed to you, it is supposed to reach many others, in fact all who have an interest in the future of the Colony with its present inhabitants.”
In spite of the Premier's opinion to the contrary, as expressed in his speech at the second reading of the Franchise Bill, with the utmost deference to His Honour, I venture to point out that both the English and the Indians spring from a common stock, called the Indo-Aryan. I would not be able, in support of the above, to give extracts from many authors, as the books of reference at my disposal are unfortunately very few. I, however, quote as follows from Sir W. W. Hunter's Indian Empire:
- This nobler race (meaning the early Aryans) belonged to the Aryan or Indo-Germanic stock, from which the Brahman, the Rajput, and the Englishman alike descend. Its earliest home visible to history was in Central Asia. From that common camping ground certain branches of the race started for the East, others for the West. One of the Western offshoots founded the Persian Kingdom; another built Athens and Lacedaemon, and became the Hellenic nation; a third went on to Italy and reared the city on the seven hills, which grew into Imperial Rome. A distant colony of the same race excavated the silver ores of prehistoric Spain; and when we first catch a sight of ancient England, we see an Aryan settlement, fishing in wattle canoes and working the tin mines of Cornwall.
- The forefathers of the Greek and the Roman, of the Englishman and the Hindoo, dwelt together in Asia, spoke the same tongue and worshipped the same gods.
- The ancient religions of Europe and India had a similar origin.
A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir. Such a state of things, which the Christian legislators of the Colony would not, I firmly believe, wittingly allow to exist and remain, must be my excuse for the following copious extracts, which will show at once that the Indians were, and are, in no way inferior to their Anglo-Saxon brethren, if I may venture to use the word, in the various departments of life—industrial, intellectual, political, etc.
As to Indian philosophy and religion, the learned author of the Indian Empire thus sums up :
- The Brahmin solutions to the problems of practical religion were selfdiscipline, alms, sacrifice to and contemplation of the Deity. But, besides the practical questions of the spiritual life, religion has also intellectual problems, such as the compatibility of evil with the goodness of God, and the unequal distribution of happiness and misery in this life. Brahmin philosophy has exhausted the possible solutions of these difficulties, and of most of the other great problems which have since perplexed the Greek and Roman sage, mediaeval schoolman and modern man of science (the italics are mine). The various hypotheses of creation, arrangement and development were each elaborated and the views of physiologists at the present day are a return with new lights to the evolution theory of Kapila (the italics are mine). The works on religion published in the native language in India in 1877 numbered 1192, besides 56 on mental and moral philosophy. In 1882 the total had risen to 1545 on religion and 153 on mental and moral philosophy.
- If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant—I should point to India; and if I were to ask myself from what literature we have here in Europe,we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact, more truly human—a life not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life—again I should point to India.
- From every sentence deep, original and sublime thoughts arise, and the whole is pervaded by a high and holy and earnest spirit. Indian air surrounds us, and original thoughts of kindred spirits ... In the whole world there is no study, except that of the originals, so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Oupnek'hat. It has been the solace of my life; it will be the solace of my death.
- The science of language, indeed, had been reduced in India to fundamental principles at a time when the grammarians of the West still treated it on the basis of accidental resemblances, and modern philosophy dates from the study of Sanskrit by European scholars. . . The grammar of Panini stands supreme among the grammars of the world. . . It arranges in logical harmony the whole phenomena which the Sanskrit language presents, and stands forth as one of the most splendid achievements of human invention and industry.
- India has given to the world Comparative Philosophy and Comparative Mythology; it may yet give us a new science not less valuable than the sciences of language and of folklore. I hesitate to call it Comparative Jurisprudence because, if it ever exists, its area will be so much wider than the field of law. For India not only contains (or to speak more accurately, did contain) an Aryan language older than any other descendant of the common mother tongue, and a variety of names of natural objects less perfectly crystallized than elsewhere into fabulous personages, but it includes a whole world of Aryan institutions, Aryan customs, Aryan laws Aryan ideas, Aryan, beliefs, in a far earlier stage of growth and development than any which survive beyond its borders.
- The astronomy of the Brahmins has formed alternately the subject of excessive admiration and of misplaced contempt. . . In certain points the Brahmins advanced beyond Greek astronomy. Their fame spread throughout the West, and found entrance into the Chronicon Paschale. In the 8th and 9th centuries the Arabs became their disciples.
- In algebra and arithmetic the Brahmins attained a high degree of proficiency independent of Western aid. To them we owe the invention of the numerical symbols on the decimal system . . . The Arabs borrowed these figures from the Hindus, and transmitted them to Europe. . . The works on mathematics and mechanical science, published in the native languages in India in 1867, numbered 89, and in 1882, 166.
- The medical science of the Brahmins (continues the eminent historian) was also an independent development. . . . The specific diseases whose names occur in Panini’s grammar indicate that medical studies had made progress before his time (350 B.C..). . . . Arabic medicine was founded on the translations from the Sanskrit treatises. . . . European medicine down to the 17th century was based upon the Arabic. . . . . The number of medical works published in the native languages of India in 1877 amounted to 130, and in 1882 to 212, besides 87 on natural science.
- The Brahmins regarded not only medicine but also the arts of war music, and architecture as supplementary parts of their divinely inspired knowledge. . . . The Sanskrit epics prove that strategy had attained to the position of a recognized science before the birth of Christ, and the later Agni Purana devotes long sections to its systematic treatment.
- The Indian art of music was destined to exercise a wider influence. . . . This notation passed from the Brahmins through the Persians to Arabia, and was thence introduced into European music by Guidood' Arezzo at the beginning of the 11th century.
- The Buddhists were the great stone-builders of India. Their monasteries and shrines exhibit the history of the art during twenty-two centuries, from the earliest cave structures of the rock temples to the latest Jain erections dazzling in stucco, over-crowded with ornament. It seems not improbable that the churches of Europe owe their steeples to the Buddhist topes. . . . Hindu art has left memorials which extort the admiration and astonishment of our age.
- The Hindu palace architecture of Gwalior, the Indian Mahommedan mosques, the mausoleums of Agra and Delhi, with several of the older Hindu temples of Southern India, stand unrivalled for grace of outline and elaborate wealth of ornament.
- English decorative art in our day has borrowed largely from Indian forms and patterns. . . . Indian art works, when faithful to native designs, still obtain the highest honours at the international exhibitions of Europe.
- There are some subjects too sacred for analysis, or even for words. And I now know that there is a human structure so exquisitely fine or unearthly, as to lift it into this holy domain. . . . The Taj is built of a light creamy marble, so that it does not chill one as pure cold white marble does. It is warm and sympathetic as a woman. . . . One great critic has freely called the Taj a feminine structure. There is nothing masculine about it, says he; its charms are all feminine. This creamy marble is inlaid with fine black marble lines, the entire Koran, in Arabic letters, it is said, being thus interwoven. . . Till the day I die, amid mountain streams or moonlight strolls in the forest, wherever and whenever the moon comes, when all that is most sacred, most elevated and most pure recur to shed their radiance upon the tranquil mind, there will be found among my treasures the memory of that lovely charm—the Taj.
Nor have the Indians been deficient in the dramatic art. Goethe thus speaks of Shakuntala, the most famous Indian drama:
- Wouldst thou the young year's blossoms, and the fruits of its decline,
- And all by which the soul is charmed, enraptured, feasted, fed.
- Wouldst thou the earth, and heaven itself in one sole name combine?
- I name thee, O Shakuntala! and all at once is said.
I take the following again from Hunter's Indian Empire:
- The Greek ambassador (Megasthenes) observed with admiration the absence of slavery in India, and the chastity of the women and the courage of the men. In valour they excelled all other Asiatics; they required no locks to their doors; above all, no Indian was ever known to tell a lie. Sober and industrious, good farmers and skilful artisans, they scarcely ever had recourse to a lawsuit, and lived peaceably under their native chiefs. The kingly government is portrayed almost as described in Manu, with its hereditary castes of councillors and soldiers. . . The village system is well described, each little rural unit seeming to the Greek an independent republic (the italics are mine)
- So far as their natural character is concerned, I have been led to form on the whole a very favourable opinion. They are men of high and gallant courage, courteous, intelligent, and most eager after knowledge and improvement. . . . They are sober, industrious, dutiful to their parents, and affectionate to their children; of tempers almost uniformly gentle and patient, and more easily affected by kindness and attention to their wants and feelings than almost any men whom I have met with.
- I do not exactly know what is meant by civilizing the people of India. In the theory and practice of good government they may be deficient, but if a good system of agriculture, if unrivalled manufacturers, if a capacity to produce what convenience and luxury demand, if the establishment of schools for reading and writing, if the general practice of kindness and hospitality, and, above all, if a scrupulous respect and delicacy towards the female sex, are amongst the points that denote a civilized people, then the Hindus are not inferior in civilization to the people of Europe.
- They are long-suffering and patient, hardy and enduring, frugal and industrious, law-abiding and peace-seeking. . . . The educated and higher mercantile classes are honest and truthful, and loyal and trustful towards the Brittish Government,in the most absolute sense that I can use, and you understand the words. Moral truthfulness is as marked a characteristic of the Settia (upper) class of Bombay as of the Teutonic race itself. The people of India, in short, are in no intrinsic sense our inferiors, while in things measured by some of the false standards—false to our-selves—we pretend to believe in, they are our superiors.
- They have very considerable administrative qualities, great patience, industry, and great acuteness and intelligence.
- There is simply no comparison between Englishmen and Hindus with respect to the place occupied by family interests and family affections in their minds. The love of parents for children and of children for parents has scarcely any counterpart in England. Parental and filial affection occupies among our Eastern fellow-citizens the place which is taken in this country by the passion between the sexes
- In all social matters the English are far more fitted to sit at the feet of Hindus and learn as disciples than to attempt to become masters.
- Soil of ancient India, cradle of humanity, hail! Hail, venerable and efficient nurse, whom centuries of brutal invasions have not yet buried under the dust of oblivion. Hail, fatherland of faith, of love, of poetry, and of science! May we hail a revival of thy past in our Western future!
- These nations have made Europe, France and Germany. Germany is for the Occident that which India is for the Orient.
Such is India. If the picture appears to you to be somewhat overdrawn or fanciful, it is none the less faithful. There is the other side. Let him who takes delight in separating, rather than in uniting, the two nations give the other side. Then, please, examine both with the impartiality of a Daniel, and I promise that there will yet remain a considerable portion of what has been said above untouched, to induce you to believe that India is not Africa, and that it is a civilized country in the truest sense of the term civilization.
Before, however, I can quit this subject, I have to crave leave to be allowed to anticipate a possible objection. It will be said: “If what you say is true, the people whom you call Indians in the Colony are not Indians, because your remarks are not borne out by the practices prevailing among the people whom you call Indians. See how grossly untruthful they are.” Everyone I have met with in the Colony has dwelt upon the untruthfulness of the Indians. To a limited extent I admit the charge. It will be very small satisfaction for me to show, in reply to the objection, that other classes do not fare much better in this respect, especially if and when they are placed in the position of the unfortunate Indians. And yet, I am afraid, I shall have to fall back upon argument of that sort. Much as I would wish them to be otherwise, I confess my utter inability to prove that they are more than human. They come to Natal on starvation wages (I mean here the indentured Indians).
They find themselves placed in a strange position and amid uncongenial surroundings. The moment they leave India they remain throughout life, if they settle in the Colony, without any moral education. Whether they are Hindus or Mahommedans, they are absolutely without any moral or religious instruction worthy of the name. They have not learned enough to educate themselves without any outside help. Placed thus, they are apt to yield to the slightest temptation to tell a lie. After some time, lying with them becomes a habit and a disease. They would lie without any reason, without any prospect of bettering themselves materially, indeed, without knowing what they are doing. They reach a stage in life when their moral faculties have completely collapsed owing to neglect. There is also a very sad form of lying. They cannot dare tell the truth, even for their wantonly ill-treated brother, for fear of receiving ill-treatment from their master. They are not philosophic enough to look with equanimity on the threatened reduction in their miserable rations and serve corporal punishment, did they dare to give evidence against their master. Are these men, then, more to be despised than pitied? Are they to be treated as scoundrels, deserving no mercy, or are they to be treated as helpless creatures, badly in need of sympathy? Is there any class of people who would not do as they are doing under similar circumstances?
But I will be asked what I can have to say in defence of the traders, who, too, are equally good liars. As to this, I beg to submit that the charge against them is without foundation, and that they do not lie more than the other classes do for the purposes of trade or law. They are very much misunderstood; in the first place, because they cannot speak the English language, and secondly, because the interpretation is very defective, through no fault of the interpreters. The interpreters are expected to perform the Herculean task of interpreting successfully in four languages, viz., Tamil, Telugu, Hindustani and Gujarati. The trading Indian invariably speaks Hindustani or Gujarati. Those who speak Hindustani only, speak high Hindustani. The interpreters, with one exception, speak the local Hindustani, which is a grotesque mixture of Tamil, Gujarati and other Indian languages, clothed in extremely bad Hindustani grammar. Very naturally, the interpreter has to argue with the witness before he can get at his meaning. While the process is going on, the judge grows impatient, and thinks that the witness is prevaricating. The poor interpreter, if questioned, true to human nature, in order to conceal his defective knowledge ofthe language, says the witness does not give straight answers. The poor witness has no opportunity of setting himself right. In the case of the Gujarati speakers the matter is still more serious. There is not a single Gujarati interpreter in the Courts. The interpreter, after great difficulty, manages to get at the sense only of what the witness is speaking. I have myself seen a Gujarati-speaking witness struggling to make himself understood, and the interpreter struggling to understand the Gujarati-Hindustani. Indeed, it speaks volumes for the acuteness of the interpreters in extracting even the sense from a forest of strange words. but all the while the struggle is going on, the Judge makes up his mind not to believe a word of what the witness says, and puts him down for a liar.
The tramcars are not for the Indians. The railway officialsmay treat the Indians as beasts. No matter how clean, his very sight is such an offence to every white man in the Colony that he would object to sit, even for a short time, in the same compartment with the Indian. The hotels shut their doors against them. I know instances of respectable Indians having been denied a night's lodging in an hotel. Even the public baths are not for the Indians, no matter who they are.
If I am to depend upon one-tenth of the reports that I have received with regard to the treatment of the indentured Indians on the various estates, it would form a terrible indictment against the humanity of the masters on the estates and the care taken by the Protector of Indian immigrants. This, however, is a subject which my extremely limited experience of it precludes me from making further remarks upon.
The Vagrant Law is needlessly oppressive, and often puts respectable Indians in a very awkward position.
Add to this the rumours that are rife in the air, to the effect that they should be made, or induced, to live in Locations. It may be merely an intention; none the less, it is an index of the feeling of the European Colonists against the Indians. I beseech you to picture to yourself the state the Indian would be in in Natal if it were possible to carry out all suchintentions.
Now, is this treatment in consonance with the British traditions of justice, or morality, or Christianity?
I would, with your permission, quote an extract from Macaulay, and leave it to you to answer the question as to whether the present treatment would have met with his approval. Speaking on the subject of the treatment of the Indians, he expressed the following sentiments:
- We shall never consent to administer the pousta to a whole community, to stupefy and paralyse a great people whom God has committed to our charge, for the wretched purpose of rendering them more amenable to our control. What is that power worth which is founded on vice, on ignorance, and on misery, which we can hold by violating the most sacred duties which as governors we owe to the governed, which as a people blessed with far more than an ordinary measure of political liberty and of intellectual light we owe to a race debased by three thousand years of despotism and priestcraft? We are free, we are civilized, to little purpose, if we grudge to any portion of the human race an equal measure of freedom and civilization.
I have but to refer you to writers like Mill, Burke, Bright, and Fawcett, to further show that they, at any rate, would not give countence to the treatment accorded to the Indians in the Colony.
To bring a man here on starvation wages, to hold him under bondage, and when he shows the least signs of liberty, or, is in a position to live less miserably, to wish to send him back to his home where he would become comparatively a stranger and perhaps unable to earn a living, is hardly a mark of fair play or justice characteristic of the British nation.
That the treatment of the Indians is contrary to the teaching of Christianity needs hardly any argument. The Man, who taught us to love our enemies and to give our clock to the one who wanted the coat, and to hold out the right cheek when the left was smitten, and who swept away the distinction between the Jew and the Gentile, would never brook a disposition that causes a man to be so proud of himself as to consider himself polluted even by the touch of a fellow-being.
It now remains for me only to implore you to give this matter your earnest consideration, and to remind you (here I mean especially the English) that Providence has put the English and the Indians together, and has placed in the hands of the former the destinies of the latter, and it will largely depend upon what every Englishman does with respect to the Indian and how he treats him, whether the putting together will result in an ever lasting union brought about by broad sympathy, love, free mutual intercourse, and also a right knowledge of the Indian character, or whether the putting together will simply last so long as the English have sufficient resources to keep the Indians under check, and the naturally mild Indians have not been vexed into active opposition to the foreign yoke. I have, further, to remind you that the English in England have shown by their writings, speeches and deeds that they mean to unify the hearts of the two peoples, that they do not believe in colour distinctions, and that they will raise India with them rather than rise upon its ruins. In support of this I beg to refer you to Bright, Fawcett, Bradlaugh, Gladstone, Wedderburn, Pincott, Ripon, Reay, Northbrooke, Dufferin, and a host of other eminent Englishmen who represent public opinion. The very fact of an English constituency returning an Indian to the British House of Commons, in spite of the expressed wish to the contrary of the then Prime Minister, and almost the whole British Press, both Conservative and Liberal, congratulating the Indian member on the success, and expressing its approval of the unique event, and the whole House again, both Conservative and Liberal, according him a warm welcome—this fact alone, I submit, supports my statement. Will you, then, follow them, or will you strike out a new path? Will you promote unity, “which is the condition of progress”, or will you promote discord, “which is the condition of degradation”?
In conclusion, I beg of you to receive the above in the same spirit in which it has been written.
I have the honour to remain,
Your obedient servant,
M. K. GANDHI
From a pamphlet
- 1^ This was circulated among Europeans in Natal on December 19, 1894; vide
the following item.
- 2^ John Burns (1858-1943) : Prominent labour representative in the British Parliament (1897-1918). Came into prominence as a friend of working men during the days of the London Dock Strike of 1889.
- 3^ An English rendering, in verse, of the Bhagavad Gita
- 4^ Member of a South African race; loosely applied to Natives in South Africa
- 5^ Sage of ancient India, circa seventh century B.C., who founded the Sankhya system of philosophy
- 6^ Collection of fifty Upanishads rendered originally into Persian from Sanskrit in the 17th century
- 7^ Celebrated Sanskrit grammarian, circa sixth century
- 8^ An outline of Chronology from Adam to 629 A.D., supposed to have been compiled in the seventh century
- 9^ One of the eighteen puranas or old sacred Hindu mythological works it is believed to have been expounded by Agni, the god of fire, and deals with, among other things, ritual worship, duties of kingship and the art of war.
- 10^ The reference is to Sir T. Muthuswami Aiyer.
- 11^ Badruddin Tyabji (1844-1906); actively associated with and de facto President of the Bombay Presidency Association; presided over Congress session at Madras (1887); Judge of Bombay High Court (1895) ; nominated to the Bombay Legislative Council in 1882.
- 12^ Surendranath Banerjea (1848-1925); Moderate politician, Member of the Indian National Congress deputation to Britain in 1890. Member of the Legislative Council of Bengal (1893-1901). Owned and edited the Bengalee. Under the Montford Reforms became member of the Bengal Executive Council. President of the Congress in 1895 and 1902.
- 13^ Pherozeshah Mehta (1845-1915); Indian leader, dominated the public life of Bombay for a long time; one of the founders of the Bombay Presidency Association and thrice Chairman of the Bombay Municipal Corporation. Member of the Bombay Legislative Council and later, of the Viceroy's Legislative Council. One of the pioneer founders of the Indian National Congress in 1885; was elected to its presidentship twice, in 1890 and 1909.
- 14^ Seed of opium poppy
- 15^ Henry Fawcett (1833-84); statesman and professor of Political Economy at Cambridge
- 16^ The reference is to Dadabhai Naoroji's election in 1893 from Central Finsbury.