HC Deb 17 June 1930 vol 240 cc16-25

asked the Secretary of State for India whether he will give the House the latest information he has as to the conditions in India?

The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Mr. Wedgwood Benn)

I am circulating a statement containing two appreciations of the situation by the Government of India for the weeks ending 7th and 14th June.


Has the result of the court-martial in the case of members of Indian forces who refused to fire upon their fellow countrymen yet been announced?


I have seen Press reports, but, if my hon. Friend wants a further answer, perhaps he will put down a question on the Paper.

Following is the statement:

Appreciation of the situation by the Government of India, for the week ending 7th June, 1930.

The following is our appreciation of the situation up to 7th June.

1. North-West Frontier Province: Tribal.—Afridi situation overshadowed everything else during past week and at one time events threatened to assume very serious complexion. Lashkar led by Said Badshah and other prominent Mullahs was known to have formed some three weeks ago near western end of Khajuri Plain. Subsequently further concentrations with standards collected in Upper Bara and began to move slowly towards the Peshawar District border. By 4th June, lashkar had reached point about 15 miles west of Bara Fort. Reported intention was to hold jirga, with Khalil and Mohmand tribes of District with a view to combined resistance to alleged Government oppression. On night of 4th-5th June, lashkar entered Peshawar District, and numerous isolated gangs, some of them numbering several hundreds, penetrated Khalil and Mohmand villages up to cantonment boundary. Khalils and Mohmand were incited to revolt and attack cantonment, but refused. Large part of lashkar appears thereupon to have retired westwards towards hills. Numerous gangs however remained scattered through Khalil and Mohmand country and in gardens south of Peshawar City. Trees were felled and culverts destroyed on Peshawar Bara road. On morning of 5th parties retiring across Khajuri plain were bombed from the air and Royal Air Force are reported to have inflicted heavy casualties. Simultaneously movable column marched out from Peshawar to clear country between Bara and Kohat Road. Drive was entirely successful and troops are reported to have inflicted severe casualties, operating in very difficult terrain. Details of losses suffered by Government Forces not yet available but a few casualties, as was inevitable in operations of this sort, are reported to have occurred. Careful search conducted on 6th June failed to discover any Afridi stragglers in British territory and entire lashkar appears to have withdrawn from District.

In Malakand, parties of Utman Khel from Ambahar approached Peshawar District border north-west of Tangi village in the Charsadda Tahsil. These were joined by men of Pranghar and other villages just beyond District border. Air action was therefore taken against Pranghar after issue of usual ultimatum. Utman Khel lashkar is now reported to have taken up position in Jindai Khwar where air action has been taken against them at intervals during week. Haji of Turangzai and his son are still hovering on Mohmand border in hope of receiving support from Mohmands or of general rising in Peshawar District. Encampment has been bombed at intervals and lashkar accompanying Haji is reported to be short of supplies. Some contingents for this reason are reported to have left and gone home. Main body of Mohmand tribe continues to hold aloof.

In Waziristan, Madda Khel and Khiddar Khel Wazirs have paid in full fine inflicted on them for their unprovoked attack on Datta Khel post. Maliks who had surendered themselves as hostages have therefore been released and have departed to their homes to assist in controlling tribes. As reported in last week's summary, lashkar of Shabi Khel and Kikarai Mahsuds of Shaktu had collected to attack Sigai village. Villages from which lashkar had collected were given ultimatum and ordered to evacuate as Government proposed to retaliate if Sigai was molested. On night of 31st May, Sigai village was entered and partially burnt, whereupon air action was taken against the villages concerned. This was at once successful and lashkar appears now to have dispersed. Mahsuds otherwise are reported quiet. Wana Wazirs, nothing to report.

2. Internal.—Peshawar District.—On night of 3rd June, two motor lorries hired by Frontier Constabulary were ambushed while returning empty to Shabkadr Fort. Driver of one lorry was shot dead and lorry burnt. Driver of second lorry was badly wounded. As outrage occurred in Shabkadr village, Gigiani quarter of this village, which was proved to have been implicated, was rounded up on 5th June and arrests effected. Otherwise there have been no incidents in Peshawar.

Peshawar City.—Unfortunate incident occurred on (the 31st of) May, when rifle was accidently discharged by Lance Corporal belonging to detachment on duty in City. No less than three persons were struck by bullet, two of them children who were killed. Crowds immediately collected and had to be dispersed. This was done without untoward incident, but later crowds reassembled and in one place attempted to snatch rifles from small detachment of troops marching through city who were compelled to fire in self-defence. Nine people are reported to have been killed and 18 wounded.

Kohat and Bannu Districts are quiet. On the 31st May, Police and Constabulary, supported by troops, entered Dera Ismail Khan City and effected certain necessary arrests. Crowds collected and had to be dispersed by lathi charge. Later police were subjected to heavy showers of bricks from house-tops, from which shots were also fired. Attacks were stopped by police firing about 50 rounds of buck shot at house-tops. One rioter on roof is reported to have received flesh wound. Troops and police remained in occupation of disaffected quarters of City till the 5th June, when pickets were withdrawn, and all is now reported quiet.

3. Mention was made last week of the communal riots at Rangoon and Dacca. At the former place the trouble subsided quicker than had been feared and, with the return to work of most of the labourers, conditions are now practically normal. The disorders at Dacca were brought under control early in the week, but they are likely to leave behind a legacy of ill-feeling and insecurity.

Except on the Frontier the week has been free from serious disturbances. A communal fight occurred in the Muttra District, due to the boycott of Muhammadan carters by Hindus; and Bengal has reported an attack on the police in a village in the Midnapore District, which necessitated firing. The comparative quiet is probably due more to the absence of incidents leading to clashes between the authorities and the people than to any appreciable change of feeling in the towns, although reports received from several provinces, and in particular from the Punjab, indicate a slight lull in Congress activity and enthusiasm. There is reason to believe that the arrest of leaders is beginning to have some effect in certain provinces, but it cannot be assumed at present that the movement has reached its crest.

4. There have been several raids during the week on the salt works at Dharasana, in Gujerat, but the authorities have had little difficulty in dealing with them. The organisation of the raids has been half-hearted and the enthusiasm of the volunteers has been markedly less than on previous occasions. This week's proceedings attracted very few spectators and generally there has been a very poor response to the invitation of the Congress to regard Dharasana as an All-India Satyagraha. The failure is reported to have caused considerable despondency. On the other hand, the raids have been used for the most unscrupulous propaganda and every effort has been made to make capital out of the alleged brutalities of the police. In some cases volunteers who have received very slight injuries have been taken on stretchers in procession in neighbouring towns, and no opportunities have been lost to vilify the police and to advertise the alleged excesses of the authorities. A minimum of force has in fact been used and the police have behaved with restraint.

The weekly attack on the Wadala salt works, near Bombay was carried out on the 1st June and repulsed without any great difficulty. There was, however, trouble a day or two later among prisoners at Worli and a clash between them and the police resulted in a number of prisoners being hurt.

The monsoon will shortly bring to an end these mass raids on salt works. The organisers have achieved very little so far as the theft of salt is concerned but they have to some extent attained their object of rousing hostility towards Government and of encouraging public defiance of the law. In Bombay City there have been several processions during the week, and vigorous attempts have been made to obtain the adherence of Muhammadans and Parsis to the Movement.

5. There has been little change in the situation in Gujerat where the boycott of public servants continues. The campaign against the payment of land revenue does not appear to have made much progress during the week. The Ordinance dealing with instigation to the non-payment of certain dues, which was applied last week to the Bombay Presidency, has been extended to Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, Assam, the Punjab, and the North-West Frontier Province, in order to check incipient movements against the payment of Government dues. Outside Gujerat the movement has not got beyond the stage of instigation, but it may be anticipated that in several provinces vigorous efforts will be made to delude the rural population.

6. In last week's appreciation mention was made of opposition to the Congress programme of boycott of newspapers and to the methods of picketing employed on foreign cloth and other shops. This opposition tends to grow, and where, as in some places, it accompanied by increased activities on the part of picketers, the danger of disorder is enhanced. The Prevention of Intimidation Ordinance now extends to the provinces of Bombay, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, Assam and the North West Frontier Province.

7. Poltical activity by Muhammadans on constitutional lines continues. Outside the Frontier Province the Muhammadans of Northern India are practically solid in their opposition to the Civil Disobedience Movement and many offers of service have been received from spiritual and political leaders and from large landowners. During the week His Excellency the Viceroy received a very representative deputation of Muhammadan landlords of the Punjab who, while giving expression of their political aspirations, assured His Excellency of their determination to support Government in the task of maintaining law and order. The steadfast adherence of the bulk of Muslim community to constitutional methods is a reassuring feature of the general situation..

Appreciation of the situation by the Government of India, for the week ending 14th June, 1930.

The following is our appreciation of the situation up to 14th June.

2. North-West Frontier Province (tribal).—Whole tribal trouble has from beginning been engineered from Peshawar and other centres in British territory by means of unscrupulous misrepresentations. Thus, immediately after occurrences of 23rd April, emissaries carrying baskets full of bloodstained clothing (in some cases procured with assistance of local butchers) and other tokens of alleged wholesale massacre, were despatched in all directions to tribal centres and homes of influential Mullahs. On re-establishment of full control in Peshawar City on 4th May this type of propaganda somewhat died down, but has later apparently to seine extent revived and has been producing further crop of troubles. Latest developments are as follows: On 9th June a hostile gang of trans-border tribesmen, appeared on the Northern border of the Hazara District, near Oghi, and attempted to enter. Their advance was prevented by Frontier Constabulary, to whose assistance two companies of Garhwalis and some pack artillery have since been sent. Situation in that neighbourhood appears to have been stabilised. Nawab of Amb provided contingent of 400 men to assist authorities.

In Malakand Agency there have been no further developments of importance, except that Utman Khel, of Shamozai, Barang and Asil Valleys, in small parties have crossed Swat River and assembled in upper part of Jindai Nulla on North border of Peshawar district, whence their armed parties have entered district in various directions and opened up communication with disaffected elements. Air action has been taken against them at intervals, but so far without decisive effect.

Mohmand situation has improved. Dissensions have broken out amongst Badshah Gul's party over his alleged misappropriation of funds believed to have been sent from Peshawar. Intensive bombing has also compelled Alingar Fakir, with his following, to return home, and latest news is that Badshah Gul's concentration, after interview with seven selected Mohmand Maliks of Peshawar District, is also dispersing.

Afridis.—Lashkar which penetrated Peshawar District were reported all back in their homes by 8th June, after sustaining losses estimated at 80 killed and about 100 to 150 wounded. Instance of extent to which tribes are swayed by propaganda, and their credulity, is furnished by fact that one of main objects announced by lashkar was revenge on Government for numerous Afridis killed on 23rd April, whereas in point of fact, so far as can be ascertained, only one Afridi actually lost his life that day. Customary Friday jirga at Bagh on 13th was expected to be largely attended, when discussion would turn on further action, if any, to be taken against Government. Tribal hot-heads are described as being still very bitter against Government, and Elders and Maliks unable to control them.

Kohat.—Border agitation amongst Jowaki Hassan Khel and Pass Afridis has been reported, but has no marked effect as yet; same applies to Orakzais.

Waziristan still remains all quiet, but two parties of agitators described as Congress emissaries from Bannu side, numbering seven in all, are reported to have entered Shaktu and thence proceeded to Maidan, where they are endeavouring to organise collection of lashkars and advocating joint jirgas with Teri Khel Wazirs for concerted action against Government.

Internal.—Disarmament of disaffected villages and arrest of seditious leaders continues in various parts of Peshawar District, but there has been no material change in situation. That agitation is still at work is shown by continued attempts to hold seditious meetings at various centres. On other side, Charsadda Town reports holding of meeting 10th June, to prepare petition expressing loyalty to Government and condemning agitation. At Hawed, near Bannu, on same day dissension arose between anti-Government speakers and local Mullahs, and resulted in meeting breaking up in disorder.

Elsewhere, nothing to report.

3. The Muharram passed off quietly, except for clashes between Hindus and Muhammadans at Vellore in Madras Presidency, and at two or three villages in Kaira District of Gujerat.

4. There has been recrudescence of communal trouble at Dacca, but reports so far received do not indicate that this is serious.

In Midnapore District of Bengal, serious outbreaks of disorder have occurred at four or five places during past fortnight, and have been characterised by attacks on police by mobs of considerable size. It was necessary to send a detachment of troops and reinforcements of police to District, but situation appears now to be under control. It is reported that attacks on police were directly due to instigation of Congress Volunteers.

5. On 12th June, Congress organisation in Bombay City defied order of authorities forbidding procession, and this led at two places to clash with police.

6. There have been no raids on salt works, and it may be assumed that no more will be attempted during the monsoon. Their suspension may be followed by greater activity in other directions, especially in picketing.

7. Further reports from several Provinces confirm fact mentioned in last week's appreciation, that there has been some lull in Congress activity and enthusiasm: this is most marked in Punjab, in Calcutta and in some districts in Madras. On other hand, there has been considerable activity in some areas to which movement has recently extended, in regard to campaign for non-payment of taxes.

There has been no development of any importance in Gujerat, but in parts of Bengal movement for non-payment of Chowkidari tax appears to be making some progress.

Attempts have been made to encourage defiance of Forest Laws in south of Bombay Presidency, and one case has been reported of wilful destruction of forest trees. For present, however, chief activities of Congress are directed to boycott of foreign goods and liquor shops. The invitation issued by All-India Congress Working Committee a month ago, to lawyers, to give up their profession, and to students, to desert their studies, has received little response.

8. An important meeting was held at Amritsar on 7th June, attended by representatives of various Sikh parties, when there was long discussion on unfortunate incident that occurred at Delhi on 6th May, in connection with Sisganj Gurdwara. Sharp differences of opinion were revealed, and moderate Sikhs eventually left meeting. The extremists have declared their intention of taking bands to Delhi, with object of demonstrating before police station from which firing on Gurdwara took place. It is hoped, however, that wiser counsels may prevail.

9. During week, further meeting of All-India Congress Working Committee was concluded at Allahabad. The Resolutions included an appeal to country publicly to defy Press Ordinance, the Prevention of Intimidation Ordinance and Unlawful Instigation Ordinance; and, in particular, to extend campaign for non-payment of Land Revenue to certain areas, to intensify movement for non-payment of Chewkidari tax in areas where it has already started, and to start it in other areas. The Committee also urged people to carry on with redoubled vigour picketing of liquor shops and foreign cloth shops, and social boycott of Government servants. They made strong appeal to Muhammadans to join movement.

In regard to newspapers which have continued to appear in spite of arbitrary mandate of Congress Working Committee, modified their previous decision and abandoned proposal to picket those newspapers which have defied their order. The reason given for this change of policy was that other Congress activities afforded ample scope for picketing, but real reason was undoubtedly determination shown by several papers of Nationalist tendencies to resist what they regarded as an improper interference with their liberty of action.

The proceedings of Committee were generally characterised by disregard of disastrous consequences to country of pursuance of Civil Disobedience Movement; and by attempts, for purposes of propaganda, to place on Government the responsibility for events that are directly attributable to spirit of lawlessness which Congress have deliberately created and fostered. There are signs in some parts of country that, though Congress are in no way relaxing their efforts, misgivings increase regarding their aims and methods among many who were at first inclined to view Civil Disobedience Movement with toleration, if not with approval. The active opposition of those who frankly disapprove of it is steadily increasing, with belief that it is doomed to failure.

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