On the 7th October 1917, an enthusiastic Mass Meeting was held at Calcutta, when Mr. C. R. Das as Chairman of the meeting spoke as follows:—
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Gentlemen,—When this morning Mr. Akran Khan called upon me to request me to preside over this meeting, I felt it was a call of duty to which I must respond. My heart is filled with gladness to find that on this platform and at this meeting Hindus and Mahomedans of Calcutta have met together to fight their common battle. Indeed in the days of the Swadeshi movement in 1905, I knew—and my friend Mr. Bipin Chandra Pal will bear me out—we knew that the day was not far distant when the Hindus and the Mahomedans will fight shoulder to shoulder in the cause of their country. I did not then know that the time was so near. While I must give expression to this feeling I feel at the same time, a sense of deep loss. I refer to the death of my friend Mr. Rasul. How I wish he had been here to-day to fight this battle with us shoulder to shoulder, how I wish his presence had animated us to-day. Gentlemen, on the morning of the day that he died, I felt this loss but I feel it overwhelmingly to-day in this vast assembly. There is no man in Bengal, Hindu or Mahomedan who was more respected by the whole Bengalee race. There is no man in Bengal who fought so much, who exerted himself to such an extent to bring about the union between Hindus and Mussalmans of this country and if I may be permitted to say so, he was almost the pioneer amongst Mahomedans, the first who felt that the interest of the Hindus and the interest of the Mahomedans is the same in spite of religious differences. Gentlemen, we have met to-day to protest against the policy of internment and to ask for the release of the gentlemen who have been interned. Who are the persons who are specially mentioned in your notice? I am sure you will agree with me that these are names which are respected by Mahomedans and Hindus alike. The name of Mahomed Ali is a household word in India. I had the honour of his friendship. We met together often when he was in Calcutta and I can tell you that there is no more sincere and ardent patriot in the whole of this country than Mr. Mahomed Ali. Mr. Shaukat Ali, I do not know personally but I have heard accounts of him from many of my friends which show that this gentleman is an unselfish patriot. This gentleman had been engaged in the work of union between Hindus and Mahomedans all over India and certainly such a man is worthy of esteem and honour. The last name is that of Sham Sunder Chakravarty. I have had personal acquaintance with him. I have been bound with him by ties of friendship and I can assure you, gentlemen, that Sham Sunder Chakravarty is incapable of having done anything which deserved his internment. I have given you the honoured names which are mentioned in this notice. But over and above these few names I can tell you there is hardly a home in East Bengal from which one or more persons have not been interned. Every home in East Bengal is filled with sadness to-day, because these people have been snatched away from their homes and imprisoned without trial or without proof. I protest on your behalf against this policy of internment. I say this policy is un-British, is opposed to all the time honoured traditions upon which the British Empire is based. It is opposed to all rules of common sense and prudence and uprightness and the sooner this policy is abrogated the better for the peace and prosperity of the empire.
Gentlemen, at a time when the British Government in its wisdom has declared its policy that Home Rule in some shape or other must be granted to this country that some sort of responsible Government is necessary for the foundation and preservation of the empire; at a time when His Excellency the Viceroy has advised us to preserve an atmosphere of calmness; I ask, is it wise to detain these men against popular opinion, against the universal desire of the Indian people. And why should they be detained? May we not tell those who are responsible? You detain them under an Act which has been characterised by the highest authorities in England and in this country to be illegal and ultra vires. You have detained these men and other persons on political considerations which are outside the purview of the Defence of India act under which you claim to detain them. Gentlemen, I wish to read to you a passage from the judgment of one of the greatest judges in England—I may say that the Act in England is similar to the Act under which these gentlemen have been snatched away from society and kept imprisoned. This learned Judge, Lord Shaw than whom a nobler judge there is not in the whole of England says—You remember, gentlemen, in England persons of German origin have been sought to be detained in this way and His Lordship says:—"But does the principle, or does it not, embrace a power not over liberty alone but also over life?" His Lordship says that if by the stroke of a pen you can take away the liberty of a man, does it not also follow that by the stroke of a pen you can take away his life also? His Lordship goes on to say:—
"If the public safety and defence warrant the Government under the Act to incarcerate a citizen without trial, do they stop at that, or do they warrant his execution without trial? If there is a power to lock up a person of hostile origin and associations because the Government judges that course to be for public safety and defence, why, on the same principle and in exercise of the same power, may he not be shot out of hand? I put the point to the learned Attorney-General, and obtained from him no further answer than that the graver result seemed to be perfectly logical. I think it is. The cases are by no means hard to figure in which a Government in a time of unrest, and moved by a sense of duty, existed, it may be, by a gust of popular fury"
in this case the Anglo Indian fury
"might issue a regulation applying, as here, to persons of hostile origin or association, saying, 'Let such danger really be ended and done with; let such suspects be shot.' The defence would be, I humbly think, exactly that principle, and no other, on which the Judgments of the Courts below are founded—namely, that during the war this power to issue regulations is so vast that it covers all acts which, though they subvert the ordinary fundamental and constitutional rights, are in the Government's view directed towards the general aim of public safety or defence."
"Under this the Government becomes a Committee of Public Safety. But its powers as such are far more arbitrary than those as of the most famous Committee of Public Safety known to history."
This is what one of the greatest of English Judges has said. Now, gentlemen, we next come to these particular cases. Mr. Mahomed Ali, as you all know—and if I have said more of him, you will pardon me, because he was a friend of mine,—he was asked to give an undertaking. He gave it but he said: "Subject to the injunctions of my religion." They are all the facts which have appeared in the letter of his mother whom judging from her letter, we all hold in deep veneration? Judging from that letter it seems to me that Mr. Mahomed Ali was not released because he would not give an unconditional undertaking, because he did not say, "What ever the injunctions of my religion may be I give an undertaking, the undertaking which you want." Well, gentlemen, I pause for one moment and I ask you to consider according to what right or what principle does the Government of this country or any government in the world, ask a man to give up his opinion and his religion? Ought he to submit to it? Is it not his duty to say at once, "I do not care what you do but it is my religion, I stand on it and here in this sphere I am a free man, You may hold my body imprisoned but my soul is in the hands of God." Now gentlemen, exactly, that illustration was given by this great judge in his judgment. His Lordship goes on to say:—
No far-fetched illustrations are needed; for, My Lords, there is something which may and does move the actions of men often far more than origin or association, and that is religion. Under its influence men may cherish belief which are very disconcerting to the Government of the day, and hold opinion which the Government may consider dangerous to the safety of the realm. And so, if the principle of this construction of the statute be sound, to what a strange pass have we come! A regulation may issue against Roman Catholics—all, or, say, in the South of Ireland, or against Jews—all, or, say in the East of London,—they may lose their liberty without a trial. During the war that entire chapter of the removal of Catholic and Jewish disabilities which has made the toleration of British famous through the world may be removed not because her Parliament has expressly said so, but by the stroke of the pen of a Secretary of State. Vested with this power of proscription, and permitted to enter the sphere of opinion and belief, they, who alone can judge as to public safety and defence, may reckon a political creed their special care, and if that creed be socialism, pacifism, republicanism, the persons holding such creeds may be regulated out of the way although never deed was done or word uttered by them that could be charged as a crime. The inmost citadel of our liberties would be thus attacked. For, as Sir Erskine May observes, this is "the greatest of all our liberties—liberty of opinion."
Gentlemen, is life worth living if we have not that liberty of opinion? You may differ from me, I may differ from you—you must be allowed to hold your own opinion, I must be allowed to hold mine. Members of the Civil Service may hold one opinion, I may hold another opinion. His Excellency the Viceroy may hold another opinion. His Majesty the King Emperor personally may hold one opinion and I may hold the contrary opinion—but is opinion a crime? Has it ever been a crime in the history of civilization? We hoped that the dark ages have gone but it seems that it still lingers. Now, apart from the opinion of this great judge, I rely,—I venture to think I have got the right to rely—upon the gracious Proclamation of 1858. Let me quote to you, gentlemen, the passage which has been often quoted and which we regard as our Magna Charta. It says this;—
"Firmly relying ourselves on the truth of Christianity and acknowledging with gratitude the solace of religion, we disclaim alike the right and the desire to impose our convictions on any of our subjects. We declare it to be our royal will and pleasure that none be in anywise favoured, none molested or disquieted, by reason of their religious faith or observances, but that all shall alike enjoy the equal and impartial protection of the law; and we do strictly charge and enjoin all those who may be in authority under us that they abstain from all interference with the religious belief or worship of any of our subjects on pain of our highest displeasure."
Gentlemen, I venture to think, that the Government, His Excellency the Viceroy or the Members of Council whoever may be responsible for it, has absolutely no right to demand an undertaking which in any way goes against the dictates of his religion. I hold in my hands the Magna Charta, I hold in my hands the very words used by Queen Victoria Empress of India, viz., "all those we charge and strictly enjoin, who may be in authority" and in this case the Council here is in authority,—"that they abstain from all interference with the religious belief or worship of any of our subjects on pain of our highest displeasure." His Excellency should know and the Council should know that by this act they are going against the Proclamation of 1858, according to which they would incur the displeasure of His Majesty the King. It is not we who are against the King, it is not we who are going against the principles upon which this Empire is based. It is those who Snatch away our liberty without just cause, without trial. Now, gentlemen, all these considerations might have been placed before the Government—I am sure the Government would have listened and done justice—but there is a difficulty in our way.
The difficulty is the European Association. We are used to the tricks of the European Association. In the days of the Ilbert Bill Agitation, we saw what the Anglo Indians can do. But then, public opinion had hardly been born in this country. To-day, again when the British Government has recognised the policy of self-Government we hear the same uproar. These people who come here to make money, who come here penniless and when they retire, take away thousands and thousands—these people pretend to talk in the name of India when they say that these gentlemen, these honoured gentlemen should not be released because they knew that if they are released, they will strengthen the party which seeks Self-Government, because they know that when Mr. Mahomed Ali comes out, when Babu Sham Sunder Chakravarty comes out, they will fight shoulder to shoulder for the cause of Self-Government in this country. And if Self-Government is granted what about the policy of these merchants? If Self-Government is granted the authority of Magistrates and Collectors in every district will be lessened—and then what would happen to these gentlemen who write letters to Collectors saying,—my dear so and so, will you see this done and will you see that done? It is a notorious fact in this country—and I have heard complaints from many Indian Merchants engaged in the coal trade—that they cannot get waggons at a time when English merchants are fully supplied with waggons. These are the advantages which they get by this country being ruled not by the people of this country but by a bureaucracy. That really is the reason of this Anglo-Indian agitation.
I must refer to the speeches made by these knights of Anglo-India against the interests of this country and against the policy of Self-Government. I will first of all refer to the foolish speech of Arden Wood. This gentleman is reported to have said: "If racial feeling is to be dominant in Indian politics the time will come, when we, the British will either have to leave India or reconquer it." Now, gentlemen, it is difficult to take this speechseriously. They may leave India if they find it unprofitable to stay in India. They may stay in India if they find it profitable to do so but the tall talk of reconquering India is a comical statement. It reminds me of the bravery of the valiant Pistol and Corporal Nymph. If this gentleman does not know, he ought to know that India was never conquered. India was won by love and won by promise of good government. India was never conquered and God willing, it will never be conquered for all time to come. India will impress her ideal, her civilization, and her culture upon the whole world. The work has commenced to-day. It will go on increasing till the world will listen to the message of India.
Some of the other speakers made very angry speeches. One gentleman is reported to have said that if there is a government by the people and for the people then there will be no security for life and "prosperity." Mark the word prosperity. I do not know whether the printer's devil is responsible for this but if he is, this devil has got a perfect knowledge of the internal affairs. The apprehension of this speaker is that if there is Self-government, there will be no security or prosperity. Whose prosperity may we ask? Is it the prosperity of India, is it the prosperity of the teeming millions of our country or is it the prosperity of Sir Archy Birkmyre? Whose prosperity? If the granting of Home Rule to this country means the poverty of Sir Archy Birkmyre, let it be so, but still Self-government must be granted. India does not live for Sir Archy Birkmyre or the petty traders who come here and rob us of our money. India lives for herself—she has lived for herself for centuries and she will live in herself and for herself for all time to come. There is another statement made by this angry speaker, which takes my breath away. He says that this agitation of the European Association is to assert the rights of the British in India. The rights of the British in India! The little-minded traders who at a time when the Government enjoins a calm atmosphere, hold a meeting and proceed straight away to denounce the whole country; and abuse the people and all the ideals for which they fight and in which they live and move and have their being—these men claim the right to represent the British. The British indeed! When His Majesty's ministers say that there should be Home Rule, there should be Self-Government, that the people of this country should be granted equal partnership with the people of England in the Empire, who are these traders who claim to represent British interest in India? Gentlemen, I will not take you through the many comical statements made by this entertaining band of players, Jones-Birkmyre Company. They are used to many tricks. I will refer to some of the 'Statesman' newspaper, which used to pose as the Friend of India at one time. I think it has given up all that pretence now. This "Statesman" came out one day with a furious article on the Extremists of Bengal and praised the Moderates and the next day it said that there did not seem to be any difference between the Extremists and the Moderates. Well, the reason for that is quite clear. There is in fact, no difference. This distinction was invented by the "Statesman" newspaper some years ago. We can frankly tell the Anglo-Indian community that there are no Extremists among us, no Moderates. The Hindus and Mahomedans of Bengal are all Nationalists—they are neither Extremists nor Moderates. I may tell you who are the Extremists. It is those Anglo-Indian Agitators who are the worst Extremists. You talk of a calm atmosphere! Who broke that calm? It is you Anglo-Indian Agitators. It is Sir Hugh Bray, it is the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, it is the speakers who spoke at the meeting of the European Association. These people broke the calm. I ask them to consider the position and beware. The days of the Ilbert Bill agitation have gone by. These are the days of rising Democracy in this country. We will no longer tolerate that sort of vapourings, that kind of abuse. If, in spite of that, they persist in their wicked agitation, we shall soon know how to deal with them. We are fighting in the best interests of the Empire, we are fighting for the ideal expressed by the King's ministers, we are fighting for carrying out that very policy which has been declared in England by His Majesty's ministers, and by His Excellency the Viceroy in this country. If you dare stand against that, we will know how to deal with you. Be assured, we Indians do not deny your legitimate share whatever may be the extent of that share in the Government of this country. We know what you mean when you say that Self-government is no good, because Self-government would be against the interests of the teeming millions of India. We know the hollowness of that hyrocricy. But we can tell these gentlemen, so far as I am concerned, at any rate, I am perfectly clear,—that we shall accept no Self-government, no Home Rule unless it recognises and includes within it the teeming millions of India. When I ask for Home Rule, for Self-Government, I am not asking for another bureaucracy, another oligarchy in the place of the bureaucracy that there is at present. In my opinion, bureaucracy is bureaucracy, be that bureaucracy of Englishman or of Anglo-Indians or of Indians. We want no bureaucracy, we want Home Rule, we want Self-government by the people and for the people. We want Self-government in which every individual of this country, be he the poorest ryot or the richest zemindar—will have his legitimate share. Every individual must have some voice. We want Home Rule, broad based on the will of the people of India. Now, gentlemen, this is our objective. Do they still say or can they, in reason, say, that we are not asking Home Rule on behalf and in the interest of the teeming millions of India? If they say we have got no right to ask for it in their interest, my answer is we have a thousand times greater right to ask for them than you who never know them or care for them. India has always been tolerant towards those people, whatever their religious creed or faith may be, who have made India their Home—every one of them is my brother and I embrace him with open arms. The history of India has made it abundantly clear. We have the Parsis in India. They adopted India as their home and to-day we embrace them as our brothers. We have had hosts of Mahomedan invaders who came to this country as conquerors but they made this country their home and to-day we embrace them with open arms. If these Anglo-Indians want to make India their home, let them do so and we will work hand in hand with them in the interest of the Indian Empire. But, if they come here to make money and all their interest is how best to make it, I say they are no friends of India, they have got no right to call themselves Indians, they have got no legitimate right to oppose the granting of self-good to the people of India. I say to them. "Come here if you want. Make money if you can. Go away in peace if you want to do so."
I said that our difficulty is, the mischievous working of the European association. Let us be united, gentlemen. Let us assist the Government against this selfish and unreal agitation. I feel sure the victory is ours.