§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I rise to draw the attention of the House to a matter which seems to me to be of very considerable public importance. On the 7th of this month a statement appeared in "The Times" that a warrant had been issued against Mr. Arabindo Ghose for an article which he published in a paper (the "Karmayogin") which he edits, on 25th December last. I immediately approached the India Office to allow me to put a question 657 without notice, in order to get information, but I was told by the Under-Secretary at that time that they had absolutely no information of any kind at the India Office. I was requested to repeat the question. I have done so three times, and to-day, it having been put for the fourth time, all the information I have been able to get is that this warrant has been issued under Section 124 (a) of the Indian Penal Code. My hon. Friend, in answering my question to-day, said he could state nothing with regard to the case, because that would be to prejudge it. I respectfully differ from that opinion, and I would ask whether it would be possible for the India Office to put in the Library a copy of this paper for the information of hon. Members. I have never asked the India Office to express any opinion on the issue of the warrant. I have never asked even for any expressions of opinion in regard to the article. I have never suggested that the India Office should in any way take sides either with the officials in India or with Mr. Arabindo Ghose. The position is this: Although it may be bordering on impropriety—I do not want to minimise that in the least—to raise the question of the issue of this warrant, nevertheless behind the issue of it there is a set of circumstances and a state of official mind which the House ought to take cognisance of. We know perfectly well that we have had already at Patiala cases of sedition where warrants have been issued against men not one of whom has been brought into court. There has not been a single substantial tittle of evidence produced against them, yet these men have been practically imprisoned for weeks and for months, and, ultimately, have had to be discharged without a stain upon their characters and without any serious allegations being made against them. Yet, forsooth, we are told that this is maintaining the dignity, force, and majesty of British rule in India.
I respectfully suggest that there is just as much damage done by the issue of a warrant as there is in bringing men before the court, and that it is the duty of the India Office to impress upon their officers in India, more particularly in view of the present state of political feeling and the exceedingly delicate nature of the task they have to face, it is, I say, their duty to impress upon their officers that such unfortunate occurrences as that which took place in Patiala the other day should not be repeated within the jurisdiction of 658 the Government of India. If this warrant is issued with evidence behind it, why is Mr. Ghose still at large? I have myself received, in the ordinary course of my Indian post, during at least the last three weeks, newspapers, each one of which stated that Mr. Arabindo Ghose was in a certain place, and each one of the statements agreed. It is perfectly well known he has left what we call in this country public life. He has become a sort of religious recluse. He has left the cares and concerns of the material affairs of the Universe, and has gone into retirement to make his peace with the Eternal. It is known what he is doing, and yet this warrant, issued, according to "The Times," on 5th or 6th April, is still undelivered. Nothing apparently has happened. With regard to the Section of the Indian Penal Code under which the warrant has been issued, I may say that Section 124 (a) was inserted, first, at the instance of Sir James FitzStephen, to deal with sedition.
I am not going to read the Section; it is rather long, but there is an explanation attached to it, and that explanation is the organic part of the Code itself. It is divided into three headings, and heads two and three make it perfectly clear that the mere expression of disapprobation of measures taken by the Government is not to be treated as sedition unless unlawful means are contemplated in some shape or form. Let us see how the Indian Government and Indian officials think they are instructed to conduct themselves under this particular Section. I turn to a speech delivered by the late Home Secretary in India, who is now in this country, when he was introducing the Press Law, and with the House's permission I will delight and, I am perfectly certain, amaze them by extracts from that speech. The speech was delivered in the Viceroy's Council when this Bill was being introduced in February of this year. The Home Secretary gave several instances of what was a misdemeanour which ought to be regarded as sedition. He says, in effect, the Government is represented as foreign, and that is sedition. It is therefore stated to be selfish and tyrannical, it drains the country of its wealth and impoverishes the people. That is sedition. It has produced famine, and its public works have generated malaria. That is sedition. [Mr. REES: "Hear, hear.] The hon. Gentleman who cheers that knows very well that that statement is made in official Blue Books. There have been reports presented on the 659 subject of malaria which state that one of the reasons why malaria has become so prevalent is that the natural drainage of the country has been interfered with by railway embankments, and that the unfortunate result of otherwise exceedingly successful experiments in irrigation in some districts has been to waterlog other districts, where pools of water are allowed to collect from which malaria is carried when it would not otherwise be carried.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
My case is nothing of the kind, and the hon. Member knows that perfectly well. All I state is this, and nobody disputes it, and any Indian official knows that one of the by-products of irrigation is that stagnant water does lie where it otherwise would not lie, and where this occurs malaria is generated, and having made that statement I decline to admit to anybody that I have been guilty of a seditious utterance. Then the Home Secretary went on to point out that it is said that the Government has introduced the plague and poisoned the wells in order to reduce the population so as to keep it in subjection. I am inclined to agree with him in regard to that single statement that it is seditious, and I have nothing to say about it. Then he goes on to say—these, the House must remember, are different examples of seditious utterances against the Government—that it is said it has destroyed religion by a godless system of education. [Mr. REES: "Hear, hear."] My hon. Friend associates himself with that seditious utterance by saying, "Hear, hear," to that statement, and I am not sure that I do not agree with him, but in saying these things, and in associating ourselves with such statements, we repudiate the idea that we are associating ourselves with seditious utterances. Finally, the Home Secretary alluded to the statement that the Government allows Indians to be ill-treated in the Colonies, and seeks to destroy caste. That is the idea of sedition in the minds of Indian officials, who have to apply this Section of the Indian Code, and who have to say whether any particular utterance by any particular man is or is not apparently culpable under that Section. This is where the difficulty lies.
660 But let me take the case of Mr. Arabindo Ghose. Mr. Arabindo Ghose is practically an Englishman. He does not speak Bengali, and his influence with his fellow Hindus is weak in proportion. When he was still a baby almost he was brought over to this country, and he was educated in Manchester. From Manchester he came to St. Paul's School in London, and from there he went to Cambridge, and whilst he was at that place he passed into the Indian Civil Service, but was disqualified because he could not ride. He then went to India, and from the Gaekwar of Baroda he received an appointment at the High School of Baroda, an admirable institution which anybody who goes to Baroda will see and examine with the greatest satisfaction. Here you have a man whose fundamentals are Eastern, whose habits of thought are Eastern, who is a Hindu in religion, and who is one of the most zealous followers of the revival sect of the High Church such as you see raising its head in Bengal at the present moment. But this man is imbued with Western thought, has read our literature and the poets like Byron, whom he is exceedingly fond of quoting. He goes back to India and makes several reflections upon the Indian Government, and makes criticisms on its action, and is immediately put down in the black books of the Indian officials, and is regarded either as a sedition-monger or as a man who ought to be watched. I am giving currency to no secret; it is a current report that as a matter of fact this man, after having been tried on an accusation that might have cost him his life, and having been acquitted, and not only acquitted without stain, and acquitted by a judge who uses language which he who runs may read— this man, having been brought before the court and acquitted, according to common and well-informed reports, it was actually discussed whether his name should be put among the list of men to be deported without trial under that Section of which we heard so much last Session.
I am speaking what is common report in India, but of course the proceedings are never published. I wish they were, and I should be very glad if my hon. Friend to-day were going, in answer to anything I have said, to tell me that what took place on the consideration of the report of the nine deportees, plus the case of Mr. Arabindo Ghose, was going to be published. I should be the most delighted man in this House. But there it is, he 661 has been put in the suspected list, and there is not a single thing that he does but is twisted and misrepresented. Even as a matter of fact—and this is my own version of the issue of the warrant—when he retires from public life into private life, although that again was known, and although all his friends said it was imminent, and although he himself practically told me when I saw him that he would not be very much longer in the affairs of the world and engaged in journalistic work—when that step was taken, and he did retire, it was apparently regarded by the Government of Bengal as a move in some deep-seated hidden political plot, and that was the thing which caused the issue of the warrant—at any rate, that is my theory. What is this article about which so much has been said? My hon. Friend has not been able to furnish me with a copy. I have it myself. The "Karmayogin" is a paper published once a week, and up till quite recently Mr. Arabindo Ghose edited it. I have the complete article, but I only propose to read two main seotions of it. They indicate what was in Mr. Arabindo Ghose's mind, and they indicate the character of his offence, so far as it was an offence. This is the key sentence of the whole article:—If the Nationalists stand back any longer, either the national movement will disappear or the void created will be filled by a sinister and violent activity. Neither result can be tolerated by men desirous of their country's development and freedom.Surely to any man who reads this article as it was meant to be read the meaning of that sentence is perfectly clear, and Mr. Arabindo Ghose, as is perfectly well known by those who have followed his actions and his writings, sincerely believes that the Nationalist movement of which he is the head for the time being at any rate, or was till quite' recently, is the one guarantee that there shall be no violence done in India, and be blames the officials who have suppressed the free expression of Nationalist sentiment for the unfortunate circumstances which have led to murder and death and executions which everyone deplores.
§ Mr. J. KING
May I ask in a friendly way whether this article is published in Bengali, and whether Mr. Arabindo Ghose is not a Bengali?
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
The article is in the most excellent English. There is not a line of Bengali in the whole 662 of it except the date of this issue and its own title. Mr. Arabindo Ghose could no more write an article in Bengali than I could. The second extract, which will give an idea of the article, is this:—Fear of the law is for those who break the law. Our aims are great and honourable, free from stain and reproach, our methods are peaceful though resolute and strenuous. We shall not break the law, and therefore we need not fear the law.Then he turns to comment on certain things on which comments have been made again in the official Blue Books.But if a corrupt police, unscrupulous officials or a partial judiciary—That, of course, is not justified by the Blue Books, but it is a matter of common discussion in India—make use of the honourable publicity of our political methods to harass the men who stand in front by illegal ukases, suborned and perjured evidence or unjust decisions, shall we shrink from the toll that we have to pay on our march to freedom? Shall we cower behind a petty secrecy or dishonourable inactivity? We must have our associations, our organisations, our means of propaganda, and if these are suppressed by arbitrary proclamations we shall have done our duty by our Motherland and not on us will rest any responsibility for the madness which crushes down open and lawful political activity in order to give a desperate and sullen nation into the hands of those fiercely enthusiastic and unscrupulous forces that have arisen among us inside and outside India.There is a strong, sincere and effective criticism and condemnation of the practices which have been disgracing the extreme left movement in India during the last year or so. The gentleman of infamous associations who lodges in Paris and tries to stir up the youth of this country and India has had no stronger opponent and no more effective counteracting influence than Mr. Arabindo Ghose in his attempt to say honestly and fearlessly, but yet lawfully and fairly, what he feels about the administration of our officials in India. As I said at the commencement I had no desire to raise this question. I know perfectly well that the state of India at the present moment is a very difficult and a very dangerous one, and those who are best qualified to form a judgment about what may happen are perhaps more pessimistic than those who are less qualified to form that judgment. But I feel perfectly certain that unless the India Office will insist upon its officials administering India with some generosity, some Catholicity of sentiment and some serious attempt to associate with themselves men like Mr. Arabindo Ghose the future is going to be very much darker than it at present is. When we talk about India as being Oriental and Hindu, we make a profound mistake. India is nothing of the 663 kind. India is a sort of growth of the West engrafted upon the stock of the East, and that is the great problem of India to-day. It is not your millions, who simply toil morning, noon and night, week in and week out, month in and month out, year in and year out, toil from the cradle to the grave, and have no aspirations, no thoughts, and no knowledge of the Government of India. That is not the problem of India.
The problem, of India is contained in the handling, in the treatment, in the classification of that small group of Hindus, and of Mahomedans too, who are fundamentally Eastern in their characteristics, but who have been educated over here and have gone back full of the sentiments and the aspirations and the political ideas of the West. If you are going to say, as your officials have said with unfortunate emphasis in issuing this warrant, which has been the occasion of my interposition, "We treat you as suspects, we will have nothing to do with you, and if you criticise us we will put into operation Section 124 (a) of the Indian Criminal Code," the consequences will be upon their heads, and those consequences will certainly not redound to the honour and glory and majesty of our Government in India. I hope, without saying anything more, that what I have said may result in a more satisfactory statement and some better assurance from the India Office, because, I feel perfectly certain that the very best service which we can give to these hard-working and, on the whole, honest officials is to compel them, not to regard themselves as little Akbars who must be obeyed, but to put themselves into the position of Ministers, leaders of political parties if you like, who have to judge public opinion, who have to sway public opinion, and to manipulate public opinion, and who have to take advantage of opposition and criticism as well as of flattery and agreement. It is because I feel that that is the great thing which is required in India to-day that I have raised this question.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
My hon. Friend has dealt so fully with Mr. Arabindo Ghose that that matter need not be further dwelt upon, but the House may be reminded once again that Mr. Arabindo Ghose has already been the victim of one very exhaustive trial. It came to a close on 6th May of last year, when Mr. C. B. Beachcroft, who tried the case, delivered 664 a very lengthy judgment. One of the difficulties in India is the paucity of information supplied be the public of this country concerning Indian affairs and the acts of the Indian Administration. Everything which tells against the Indian people is blazoned forth, and matters which might tell in their favour do not receive anything like the same publicity. Mr. Beachcroft, after a very lengthy and exhaustive trial, found that Mr. Arabindo Ghose had not been guilty of any offence known to the law of India. The law of India casts its net nowadays at least very wide indeed. Mr. Beachcroft described Mr. Arabindo Ghose asa man who seems to have an extraordinary hold ever the affections of his countrymen.And he added these words:—It is freely admitted for Mr. Arabindo Ghose that his ideal is independence, but the attainment of it is to be reached by passive resistance and by educating the people to stand by themselves; and counsel for the Crown admits that there is nothing wrong in cherishing such an ideal, provided it is not sought by violent methods.Counsel was forced to admit on that occasion that the idea of national independence which Mr. Arabindo Ghose advocated was in itself neither seditious nor wrong, provided the methods taken to attain the idea were not in themselves violent or criminal. The judge proceeded, after hearing all the evidence, to say:—Now not a single article has been pointed out to me—And this applies to the written articles and the speeches made by Mr. Arabindo Ghose,which suggests the use of violence.Because of that Mr. Arabindo Ghose was acquitted. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) has quoted several statements from the articles on which, we understand, the fresh warrant is being issued, but there is one quotation which I should like to read to the House, because it appears to me to be the real gravamen of the charge which the Government of India is now about to make against Mr. Arabindo Ghose. After describing the ideals of the Nationalist party and the movement against the present régime, Mr. Arabindo Ghose proceeds:—These are the objects for which we have to organise the national strength or India. On us falls the burden, in us alone there is the moral ardour, faith and readiness for sacrifice, which can attempt and go far to accomplish the task. But the first requisite is the organisation of the Nationalist, party. I invite that, party in all the great centres of the country to take up the work and assist the leaders who will shortly meet to consider steps for the initiation of Nationalist 665 activity. It is desirable to establish a Nationalist Council, and hold a meeting of the body in March or April of the next year. It is necessary also to establish Nationalist associations throughout the country. When we have done this, we shall be able to formulate our programme, and assume our proper place in the political life of India.Here we have a movement which is admittedly not to be associated with violence, which admittedly is animated by a high patriotic and moral ideal—a movement which claims the attention of the young enthusiasts of India to prevent them from being led into those devious courses into which some of them, unfortunately, have lately been tempted, and the Government, seeing the growth of this movement, apparently wish to stifle it, or, by threatening the prosecution of Mr. Ara-bindo Ghose, to hint to others like minded with himself that every attempt to carry out a conference and to organise that force will be encountered with all the rigours of the law.
Attention called to the fact that there were not forty Members present. House counted, and forty Members being found present,
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE (resuming)
I hope the Under-Secretary of State for India, when he comes to make his statement, will be able to assure us this organisation and the Nationalist Conference on the lines of Mr. Arabindo Ghose's teaching will not be prevented by moans taken to intimidate Mr. Arabindo Ghose. Now I come to another matter bearing upon this case, and upon the questions which are arousing much interest, and not a little feeling, in India. I refer to the conduct of the police. I refer to that matter because all these cases and charges must necessarily, in the first instance, be based upon information supplied by the police. They not only make the charges, but supply the evidence, and obviously, unless the people of India of all classes have faith in the police and in the purity of their methods, there will not be that respect for justice and for law which all well-wishers of the country desire to see.
A former Member of this House, whose absence we regret (Mr. Mackarness), made this question his own when he was with us. Those of us who were present when these questions were being discussed by the hon. Member recollect the long quotations which Mr. Mackarness used to give us from the Commission appointed by Lord Curzon to inquire into charges against the police, and how that Commission found 666 that unquestionably there was substantial ground for believing that a great deal of corruption was practiced in the police force, not merely in the lower grades, but in the higher grades also, and that certain forms of illegal pressure were brought to bear to compel confessions from persons whom the police desired to implicate or from whom they desired to obtain evidence against some persons accused. I would like to cite one case to illustrate what was meant. I cite it because it is not the case of a political prisoner. This is the case of a woman, Gulab Bano, who, in 1908, was accused of having murdered her husband. She was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death; an appeal was taken to the High Court at Lahore, and the sentence was quashed and the woman was ordered to be liberated. The judge who quashed the sentence in the High Court pointed out that certain evidence favourable to the woman could have been given by the police officials, but these witnesses were kept out of the box and not allowed to come forward. In his judgment, torture had been applied to the woman to make her confess to a deed which she had never committed, and if the House will allow me I will read out the torture applied in this case. It is a horrible thing; it is a disgusting thing, a kind of thing no one likes to think of, much less to mention, but still, the facts have got to be known if we are to appreciate the importance of the subject with which we are now dealing.
The judge, in sustaining the appeal of the woman and in dismissing her, called upon the Government to institute a special inquiry into the charges made by the woman against the police and the prison officials, and afterwards the Government issued a Resolution, based upon a secret inquiry, at which, so far as is known, no steps were taken to obtain evidence beyond that given by the accused parties themselves; that is to say, the police officials implicated. In the course of that Resolution this sentence occurred: "On the evening of 7th June she" (that is, the accused woman) "complained to the matron of the gaol that the police had maltreated her." The hospital attendant was summoned, and to him Julab Bano (the woman) made a statement to the following effect: "I was hung to the roof by the police (superintendent and two head constables) in my village during the investigation, with a rope in my legs, and a baton smeared with green chillies was thrust up my anal opening."
667 The civil surgeon who examined the woman at the same time subsequently testified that he found her terribly inflamed and ulcerated, "a condition which, in my opinion, would only have been caused by an assault similar to that described by the prisoner." The district Judge, when the case was tried before him, received from the woman a very clear and detailed account of all the circumstances. Under the agony produced by this torture she confessed to having murdered her husband, and was condemned to death. Fortunately, an appeal was taken, and the case came before the High Court. The presiding Judge expressed his surprise that the woman should have been condemned on such evidence, and called for a strict and searching inquiry into all the details of the case. The woman, it may be said, subsequently died in prison, and, so far as I know, no statement has yet been made public as to the cause of death mentioned in the case, and for this reason, because the officials apparently were more concerned in shielding and protecting the police than they were in finding out and punishing those who were guilty of this atrocity.
A more recent case, which has a direct bearing upon that of Arabindo Ghose is that of Mr. A. B. Cohatka, who held degrees from the University of Madras, and was editor of a paper which published some reports of speeches by Mr. Arabindo Ghose and translations of his articles. This man was charged with the dissemination of sedition, and was sentenced to fifteen months' imprisonment for the offence. The interesting fact to be borne in mind here is that when Mr. Arabindo Ghose was being tried for his speeches the judges decided that they were not seditious, and yet this man, who was simply charged with publishing the speeches which the judges had declared not to be seditious, was convicted of sedition and actually sentenced to fifteen months' imprisonment. He was kept in Nagpore Gaol for five and a half months in a solitary cell. I understand that the Indian Penal Code lays it down that no one can be kept for longer than seven days at a time in a solitary cell; but this man was kept in one for five and a half months, and during that period his weight went down from 135 1b. to 103 1b. He was loaded with chains, and on one occasion was seen by some medical men being removed from one prison to another, and he was so weak and his chains were so heavy that he had 668 to stoop at every step and lift the chains from the ground to enable him to make any step forward at all. I want to ask why it is that political prisoners are treated in this fashion? In this country it is admitted that the political prisoner is entitled to and he receives better treatment, and only the other day the Home Secretary, to the great pleasure of most Members of this House, announced that in future further special privileges would be granted to all prisoners who were not guilty of sordid crime. If that be the case, surely we are entitled to ask that a similar law should be applied to political prisoners in India. I come to a more painful case under this head, and it is one to which I direct special attention of the Under-Secretary—I refer to the Midnapore case. It will be remembered by those interested in this question that recently four men were charged with conspiracy, the manufacture of bombs, and all the rest of it. Finally three of them went for trial, and on 1st June of last year the High Court dismissed the charges and set them at liberty. During the course of the trial it came out that in this case also there had been, or it was alleged anyhow, resort to torture to extort confessions from witnesses and from the accused. These confessions would not bear examination. On the strength of them, however, a conviction was obtained in the lower court, which, as I have said, was subsequently quashed by the higher court in which the Lord Chief Justice of Bengal presided. Here likewise an inquiry was ordered, and the strange fact is that the Chief of Police and the chief officials against whose conduct an inquiry was ordered were granted free passes for the purpose of travelling, and I believe that some of them are travelling in Europe at this moment on leave of absence. Some of the accused have raised several actions at law for damages against the police in respect of their conduct. But the point is that these actions cannot be proceeded with because the parties against whom they are directed have received leave of absence, and are travelling either away from the district, or, as I understand, some of them at least, in Europe. The other day the parties against whom the claim is being made were allowed a further extension of three months in which to lodge their defence. I ask hon. Members to look at the facts of this case from this point of view: Supposing in this country certain officials were charged 669 with some gross offence which necessitated an inquiry into their conduct at the Home Office, and that the innocent parties whom they had wrongly accused were about to file actions for damage against them—what would be said if the men so accused were to be granted leave of absence for a whole year in order that they might escape inquiry and the results of their conduct? I ask the Under-Secretary for India to state what is being done in connection with the inquiry in India, and whether the officials responsible will insist upon the return to Midnapore of the officials against whom the actions have been brought, in order that those actions may be proceeded with without further delay. Obviously, the longer a case of this kind can be delayed the less chance the claimants will have of pressing their case.
During the past few weeks a series of conferences which were being organised in Eastern Bengal have been prohibited under the provisions of the new Seditious Meetings Act. May I remind the House that these district conferences which have been prohibited are part of the organisation of the Indian National Congress? For some twenty-five or thirty years now the Indian National Congress has met yearly, but no one in responsibility, certainly no Indian official of any note, has ever brought the smallest charge either of disloyalty or sedition against that body, or against the men responsible for carrying on its affairs. In connection with the Indian National Congress district conferences are organised, and they have been held without let or hindrance. Last year, and the year before that, and during all the heat of the agitation due to the partition of Bengal, these conferences were allowed to be held. This year, however, for some reason or another, the authorities have taken into their heads to prohibit the holding of three of these conferences which were to take place at Faridpur, Mymen-singh, and Barisal. They have taken steps by proclaiming a certain area in Eastern Bengal, apparently with the desire to prevent these conferences. As showing the peaceful condition of certain parts of Eastern Bengal, and one or two places where these conferences were to be held, I may state that since the case of deportation for fourteen months meetings have been held in the district in an open manner, and this did not lead to any disorder. But now the district magistrate, acting under the powers conferred upon him by the Seditious Meeting Act, has prohibited the 670 holding of conferences at Faridpur, Mymensingh, and Barisal. The three places are all together. The terms of proclamation were:—Whereas information has been received of the intention to hold a public meeting on the 25th and 26th March, 1910, for the purpose of discussing resolutions, most of which are not the direct concerns of this district, and which are so indeterminate and elastically worded as to admit of the introduction of seditious discussion; and whereas I have no guarantee that persons likely to indulge in seditious discussions will not be allowed to attend and speak at the meetings—And so on. The House will observe that the prohibition is not because of anything in the resolution, not because of any persons attending, but because possibly in the discussions of the resolutions things might be said which would be seditious. Surely, that is the most flimsy pretence ever put forward for prohibiting a gathering of this kind. Under the terms of the Indian Penal Code anybody guilty of sedition can be prosecuted and heavily penalised. To prevent a discussion of any kind at conferences attended by persons of standing and responsibility, because possibly some one might say something that would not be pleasant to the Government, is, I repeat, one of the most flimsy pretences under which it was ever attempted to interfere with freedom of meeting. I question whether in the long history of Ireland under coercion there was a case so bad as this. The resolutions to which the magistrate took exception were those calling upon the people to firmly adhere to their vow to patronise native industries. The second resolution was:—That this Conference fully appreciates the necessity of the full establishment of Colonial self-government in India as it was defined and adopted at the Calcutta Session of the Congress in 1906.The Conference was not to be asked to discuss Indian independence, or separation from the British Empire, but all this resolution asked the Conference to discuss was the establishment of Colonial Government in India under the British flag. Surely the authorities in India must be in a very nervous condition if they are afraid to allow a topic, which everybody admits is a perfectly legitimate topic, to be discussed at a conference of this kind. We who attempt to raise these questions in the House of Commons labour under considerable difficulty. The point of view some of us take is not popular. It is not popular mainly because the facts concerning India are not properly understood. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear that sentiment cheered. If the facts were understood our point of 671 view would be popular. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear that sentiment cheered. The people of India whose homes are in India, have small opportunities of putting their case before the country. Therefore it is all the more incumbent upon the India Office here to see to it that when there is unrest, when there is discontent, when there is a tendency to crime, that instead of oppressing those who guide the Indian people along constitutional lines they should be given every latitude for conducting the agitation on legitimate and constitutional lines. If that be refused the inevitable result must be to drive, the movement under ground, and to lead to results we should all deplore. When it is true that effort in India in matters of this kind depend upon police, it is doubly incumbent upon the India Office to see to it that every step is taken to punish all illegal acts committed by the police, whether they take the form of torturing prisoners to compel confessions, or extorting bribes to hush up cases, are properly dealt with, so that the people of India may have confidence in the administration of the law, and, therefore, be more ready to assist in giving effect to it than they possibly could be under the present circumstances.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Mr. Montagu)
This is, I think, the first occasion on which this Parliament has had to discharge one of its most important duties, namely, the discussion of Indian affairs. It would appear that both the attack and the defence of the Government of India both come from this side, the only part of the House which appears eager to discharge that duty. When I look upon the row of eager, interested faces opposite me I find it difficult to realise the Imperial mission of the Conservative party. In fact, I think the only attempt to take part in the discussion from the benches opposite to-day was a suggestion that the House should be counted out. I should be, I think my hon. Friends will believe, the last to deprecate a discussion such as that which has taken place now. It is absolutely essential that the assembly which forms the only link between the Government of India and the people of this country, upon whom in the last resort the responsibility for the government of that country lies—I refer to the link afforded by this House of Com- 672 mons and the House of Parliament—should always be ready to criticise, to question, and to defend the action of those officials who represent it in India. I do not complain of most of what the two hon. Members who have spoken on this side have said, but, if they will both forgive me for saying it, I like their perorations better than their facts. But I do find grounds for complaint in the precise moment which my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) has chosen to launch his attack upon the treatment of sedition in India, and in his basing it upon the case of Arabindo Ghose. I had occasion to refer this morning to an occurrence in this House when the hon. Member for Louth put a question on the Paper dealing with the trial of a Noble Lord for bigamy. The trial had not yet been begun, and, on being called on to put his question, the hon. Member said:—I understand, Mr. Speaker, you have expressed a view adverse to the putting of this question, as the trial is pending. Therefore. I do not propose to put it.Mr. Speaker replied:—I am glad the hon. Member has taken that course because I think it is a question calculated to prejudice the trial.I hope my hon. Friends will forgive me for saying—
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I hope the hon. Member for Leicester will forgive me for saying that I think a large part of his arguments, referring to Mr. Arabindo Ghose, is likely, one way or the other, to prejudice the proper administration of justice under the Indian law. Let me recite to the House, shortly, the facts in relation to this case. On 25th December an article was published in a newspaper called "Karmayogin," and the tone of that article was brought to the notice of the law officers of the Government of Bengal, I the Advocate General, the Legal Remembrancer, and the Standing Counsel, who is an Indian lawyer. The opinion of those Law Officers was that the article was of such a nature as to render the writer liable to prosecution under Section 124 (a) of the Indian Penal Code. The hon. Member for Leicester did not read it. I propose to read the Section to the House. "Whoever by word either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to 673 excite disaffection towards His Majesty or the Government established by law in British India, shall be punished with transportation for life or any shorter term, to which a fine may be added, or by imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which a fine may be added, or by fine." The Law Officers of the Government of Bengal considered that the tone of the article was such that it came within the meaning of the words of that Section. The Code of Criminal Procedure, Section 196, lays it down that no prosecution under this Section may be instituted without the sanction of the Local Government. The Government of Bengal, having the advice of their Law Officers before them, accepted it, and sanctioned the prosecution of Mr. Arabindo Ghose, who was believed to be the writer of the article in question.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
There were certain difficulties in obtaining legal and technical proof of the authorship, and so the issue of the warrant for Mr. Ghose's arrest was delayed until the beginning of this month. That warrant has not yet been executed, because Mr. Ghose's whereabouts are unknown. The hon. Member for Leicester, on private information of his own, culled, I gather, from newspapers, has been more fortunate than the police officers who are called upon to execute the warrant.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
May I remind the hon. Member that I have put all the information at his disposal.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
Precisely. I presume the same information is available to the Government of India. At the same time, it is not always possible immediately to effect the arrest of somebody wanted by the police. I have no doubt that every effort is being made, and that at any moment Mr. Ghose may be arrested; but the latest information I have is that Mr. Ghose has at present succeeded in evading arrest. Anyhow, a warrant in the name of the King Emperor for the arrest of Mr. Ghose has been issued by the Chief Presidency magistrate in Bengal, with the consent and on the advice of the Government of Bengal and their Law Officers. Immediately that warrant is issued I contend that the question whether it should or should not have been issued, whether the article was or was not seditious, rests 674 entirely with the Courts of Justice in India. It is not a matter for this House to decide; it is not a matter for any Member of this House to express an opinion upon at this moment. If the hon. Member for Leicester is wrong, Mr. Ghose, having been tried by the chief Presidency magistrate in Calcutta, with full rights of appeal to two judges of the High Court of Justice, will be properly punished. If, on the other hand, my hon. Friend is right and the article is not seditious, Mr. Ghose will be acquitted, and then will be the hon. Member's opportunity for challenging the action of the Government of Bengal, and, if he likes, of the Imperial Government, and, if he likes, the Secretary of State for India. But when an action is being tried, when a charge is pending, not only would it be improper to express an opinion on the article forming the subject, but, I submit, it would be highly improper to place before this House any information merely intended to give an opportunity for expressing an opinion about a subject in which I suggest, with all humility, it has no right to interfere at the moment, and to interfere in which would be for the House to do that very thing which hon. Members below the Gangway are always asserting we should not do, namely, calling in the Executive to interfere with the judicial arrangements of India.
I would remind my hon. Friend that the only other evidence brought in support of his charge about sedition was a case in Patiala, which is not a part of British India, but is a Native State, with the judicial procedure of which we have nothing to do. I would submit that a charge based, first, on an occurrence in a Native State, and, secondly, upon a case which has still to be decided by a court of law, is very poor material upon which to ask the House to discuss the whole question of procedure with regard to sedition.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a British Resident in the State of Patiala responsible for British interests?
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I am aware that there 13 a political agent for the group of States of which Patiala forms part; but we are not responsible for the judicial procedure in Patiala. If I may ask the House to leave Mr. Ghose where he is, and not to usurp the functions of the Indian Courts of Justice, I would only pause to say in conclusion one other word as to 675 the difficulty of discussing matters of this kind. I do not desire to follow the hon. Member for Leicester or the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) in exonerating from all blame a gentleman who has still to stand his trial by a judicial court, nor do I desire to say anything derogatory to a man whom my hon. Friend has rightly described as having great influence in India and being well known for his high education and eloquent writings, a sample of which my hon. Friend read to the House. But no sooner does a case like this come up for discussion than my hon. Friend, quoting a statement relating to the gentleman in question, allows the House to assume that such quotations are correct and accurate, and then I am saddled with the choice either of leaving that impression on the House or running the risk of saying something, which I desire to avoid, to the detriment of Mr. Ghose. I will give the House an example. Once again the judgment of Mr. Beach-croft in a trial, not for sedition at all, but for conspiracy to use bombs, has been quoted as showing how innocent of all evil effort and intention Mr. Ghose must be taken to be. Mr. Ghose was acquitted of any share in any conspiracy to use bombs or of any charge to wage war against the King; but he was not on trial for sedition, and Mr. Beachcroft definitely and deliberately refused, in words which I could quote, to express any opinion as to whether a charge for sedition could or could not be based upon some of Mr. Ghose's teachings and writings. Therefore the whole argument of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil about the punishment of a man for publishing speeches which had been declared by a judge of the Sessions Court to be innocent falls absolutely to the ground. I venture to say with all respect that that conclusion and that inaccuracy are only an example of many others in the long speech which the hon. Member made to the House. Let me refer shortly to one or two others. There is the prohibition of meetings in certain districts in Eastern Bengal in answer to a question I was asked the other day upon this point I replied that there was no conspicuous unrest or disturbance in these three provinces. It is not with a view of quelling such disturbances and unrest that the Seditious Meetings Act was prepared. It was with a view of preventing disturbances being caused by agitators brought in from outside.
676 These three districts, many years before there had been any talk of general unrest in India, have always been particularly delicate and difficult districts to administer. So long ago as 1872 Sir George Campbell referred to them in curious but forcible language as "hot-blooded tidal districts." That seems to me to describe exactly the kind of condition which these districts are permanently in. Meetings might disturb such districts; firstly, by spreading seditious views and gaining converts to these views among the people; secondly, they might also be dangerous to the peace of the districts for a totally different reason. They might arouse animosity and antipathy among the differing races and religions in the districts. They might have an exaggerated, but similar effect, to that of an Orange procession going through a Roman Catholic town in certain parts of Ireland. Both points of view have to be taken into account by the magistrate who has to decide whether a particular meeting shall or shall not be held. I gather that my hon. Friend is of opinion that a particular magistrate misused his power under that Act. If that be so, I can only say that I will convey that view to my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for India, and suggest to him that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Merthyr Tydvil desires inquiry into the particular circumstances.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
Let me make my point clear. I was not referring to public meetings, but to the conferences which have been allowed in former years, in the same place, and with the same speakers. They have never been prohibited before.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
The conferences to which my hon. Friend referred do come under the Seditious Meetings Act, but I will mention the point to my Noble Friend the Secretary of State. There is one other point to which I have not referred— the general charge of corruption against the Indian police. As my hon. Friend knows, in 1902 and 1904, a Commission sat to investigate the condition of the Indian police. Since the Report of that Commission vast sums of money have been spent and radical alterations have been made with a view to, and with the effect of, enormously improving the Indian Police Service. It would be idle, I think, to deny there is some ground for the charges both of corruption and of violence on the part of the Indian police. I can only say that such charges, well founded, are becoming increasingly few with the 677 improvement of the Police Service. They are always followed by proper inquiry and visited with the most rigorous and exemplary punishment, and they have little effect upon the impartial and magnificent courts of law before which these cases are heard. I would remind my hon. Friend that the over-painting of these accusations against the Indian police does not help to make that force a better force. I would also remind him that there is no commoner way—I do not say it applies to every case—for a man to endeavour to escape from a serious charge in India than, first, by confessing and then alleging that that confession has been extorted from him by the police. Such a device being possible, hon. Gentleman should be particularly careful in regard to forming any conclusion as to the genuineness of these allegations against the police. Let me take the painful case which the hon. Gentleman raised of Gulab Banc. The judge did not find that in that case the police were guilty of outrage. They did, however, say that there was a case for inquiry into the conduct of the police. The inquiry was held, and as a result it appeared from the medical evidence that it was practically impossible for the injuries to have been inflicted after the woman was in the custody of the police. The woman, it was suggested, inflicted these injuries upon herself with a view of getting off by a false charge against the police. I have only to say, in conclusion, that the woman did not die in prison, but in a distant village, and that she did not mention the injuries until Home time after the date on which she alleged they occurred.
To come to another charge of the hon. Gentleman—that of the Midnapur case—I gather that his grievance there is that we did not publish the result of the inquiry. I have explained to this House that it is impassible to publish the results of that inquiry without prejudicing the results of certain civil actions involving large sums of money in which, practically speaking, although not actually, the police are on their trial.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I understand that my hon. Friend suggested that there was a delay in getting a settlement of those civil actions because various officials were on leave. That has nothing to do with the Government. If a civil action is pending against an official who goes on leave 678 he does it at his own risk. The court may or may not, in their discretion, grant an adjournment of the case, and the Government have no power of interference. So far as I can I have answered the suggestions and points raised by both hon. Gentlemen. I assure both of them that we are awaiting the results of these trials, and that the fullest possible information will be subsequently laid before the House. My hon. Friend complained that Indian officials are slow to give information to this country, and that there is always a difficulty in extracting it. I sincerely believe it to be the duty of the House to criticism Indian administration, but I must remind hon. Members that criticism uniformally hostile is not the sort of criticism to invite a willing gift of information from the people who are criticised. And when it is affirmed that the most that can be said of an. Administration, which is the envy and the admiration of every nation of the world, is that they are its officers, hardworking and on the whole honest, I venture to remind both hon. Members that part of the responsibility for the difficulties in obtaining information rests upon this House, and not upon the Indian Government.
§ Mr. J. D. REES
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for India, in his able and discreet speech, on which I beg to congratulate him, if I may as a Parliamentary contemporary, referred to the empty benches opposite. I venture to think that the explanation may be that the Opposition did not know that this question was to be raised. It was purely by accident I myself learned last night that this question was to be raised. I attended here to-day for an entirely different purpose. At any rate, since no hon. Member of any real Indian experience has spoken, I cannot refrain from referring to the questions which have been brought before the House. The junior Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie), after a race through India, appears here on behalf of the oppressed peoples of India, and against the oppressors, who are his own fellow-countrymen. I was rather sorry to see the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) pursued the same role, and took up the mantle that fell from the shoulders of Dr. Rutherford, the late Member for Brentford. He was always ready with some patent Parliamentary representation medicine, which I was to apply to the whole world. It 679 was made at Brentford, but Brentford, although it was famous for supporting two kings, could not tolerate its former hon. Member for two Parliaments. I was astonished to see a gentleman of the very great ability of the hon. Member undertaking the same rôle and coming back from India with information supplied entirely from one source, and prepared upon that information to try to discredit the impartiality and the justice of his own fellow-countrymen. I do sympathise with my hon. Friend in a way, because I do realise that if a certain organisation says to you, "Come, curse me this people, for they are too mighty for me," it would be a very flat, stale, and unprofitable thing to come back and say, like all distinguished foreigners, like our neighbours say, these Anglo-Indian people are worthy of all praise. It is this difficulty that obsesses hon. Gentlemen who go out to India this way, and accounts for the fairy tales with which the House is amused from India, Egypt, the Congo, and such places. But, taking the very case the hon. Member brought before the House, I cannot understand how they work themselves up into a frenzy because the Government of Bengal issued a warrant. Surely the Government of many millions of people is equal to the issuing of a warrant. The case has not yet been tried, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has showed the impropriety of dealing with the case which is still before the court. I was amused at the suggestion that because Arabindo Ghose has become religious that therefore he has washed his hands free of mundane affairs, and no longer persists in his former work. Had the hon. Member for Leicester the most elementary acquaintance with the elements of Indian conditions he would know that there is no better platform for carrying out an intrigue than the platform that Arabindo Ghose has now chosen. I do not speak positively, but I think that another Indian Sivajee, who really made something like an Indian nationality, became a religious mendicant, and I have no doubt that during that time he was as busy with his post as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester is with the letters he receives from members of Indian societies. I do not consider it proper to comment upon what was written by Arabindo Ghose for the good reasons given by the Under - Secretary for Foreign Affairs, but I say this, that Arabindo Ghose was distinguished, not 680 only for his literary ability, but distinguished above all things for his hostility to British rule in India, and to our fellow-countrymen, and that has been sufficient to secure for him the sympathy in certain quarters which has led some Members to espouse his cause.
I was also astonished to hear the hon. Member for Leicester lay down so crudely that the British Government in ruling 300,000,000 people of India should itself be governed by a small band of English-educated Hindus. I have never heard that position so boldly stated, and I hope Members of the House have not failed to notice it.
Then the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil came along, and his speech was distinguished from that of the hon. Member for Leicester by its greater inaccuracy. The hon. Member referred to the corruption of the Indian police, and the manner in which they brought cases before the courts. It must have occurred to everybody in the House, except the Member for Merthyr, that these police are natives of India, and that they are the representatives of every nationality in India. They are that part of the public service of India that is least under the control and influence of the European. They are the service above all others in India in which Europeans are rarest. If you can look anywhere in India for a mirror of what Indian administration would be without British supervision, it is to the police department of India that you must go. The whole burden of the case of some hon. Members here is that a people of whom the Indian police are very fair representatives should have the right to manage their own affairs without the slightest help or let or hindrance from us. That is the position of such hon. Members. I do not speak of the police as they do—far from it. I say that the police are fair representatives of the peoples of India, and that on the whole they are a fair and respectable force. It is very easy to come here with one or two cases against the Indian police, who are dealing with 300,000,000 people; but I say that, on the whole, the police do their work well. Lieutenant-Governors, and Inspector-Generals, and other great officials, have recorded their opinions of late in the most unequivocal terms that the Indian police have been greatly improved in honesty and efficiency. The Indian police are a fair representative of the Indian 681 peoples, and the Indian police are not what hon. Members of a certain type report them to be, black at heart. The police are well able to perform their functions. We are reminded that Arabindo Ghose concluded his articles with the words, "Mind, no violence." The hon. Members for Merthyr and Leicester are such ingenuous politicians that they do not see that published articles such as those of Arabindo Ghose excite uneducated youths to assassination and crime. Anybody who reads these articles will not deny that I have given a fair description of them. If hon. Members wish to know the facts about the police in India they should read the latest work upon India, written toy a distinguished French deputy and publicist, who has studied Administrations in the East. He says:—Administrations in India have great cause of complaint that the highest courts set up impossible standards. They make it impossible to obtain convictions where the police bring forward clear cases such as any ordinary man would act upon, by setting up high and impossible standards which no police can be expected to attain.The hon. Member for Merthyr said that conferences were prohibited in Eastern Bengal. They were not prohibited, but an Act was brought into force to enable the local magistrate to prohibit that which was likely to lead to the occurrence of the breach of the peace. The resolution put before this conference was likely to lead to trouble and disorder, and it alleged that the partition of Bengal was disapproved of by all the inhabitants. This is absolutely and notoriously contrary to the whole facts of the case. I deeply deplore that it does seem that hostility to the British Government and to our fellow-countrymen in India is very much the measure of the support and sympathy which these individuals receive in certain quarters of the House of Commons. Today we have only heard the echo of what was only too familiar in the last Parliament. The hon. Member for Leicester was somewhat hurt, and rebuked me, because I said that these questions are prompted by a seatless syndicate which now happily possesses very few representatives. I repeat that all these matters are put up for consumption by the public, and I implore hon. Members who are inclined to be carried away to consider whether the peoples of India really are oppressed, and whether such comforters are likely to bring to the people of India any real comfort.