HC Deb 10 May 1935 vol 301 cc1343-54

3.24 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 289, line 9, to leave out from the beginning to the end of the Schedule, and to add: The North Cachar Hills (in the Cachar District). The Mikir Hills (in Nowgong and Sibsagar Districts). All Tribal Territories on the frontier of Assam which at the time of coming into operation of this Act are unadministered.


The Chittagong Hill Tracts.


Central Provinces.

Bihar and Orissa.


United Provinces.


Partially Excluded Areas.


Bengal, etc.


Central Provinces.

Bihar and Orissa.


The Tahsil of Kulu and Saraj.


I would express my gratitude to the Government for their decision not to move the Amendment which appears in the name of the Secretary of State—in page 289, line 9, at the end, to insert The Upper Tanawal Area. When I saw that Amendment this afternoon I thought I had never seen a more perfect example of a stymie. I thank the Under-Secretary now for taking up his ball and—if I may go on with the golfing metaphor—leaving the green clear for me to make my putt. During the passage of this Bill through Committee I have often been accused of going back upon our recommendations in the Report of the Statutory Commission, but in moving this Amendment I shall surely not be incurring that charge. I look around to see if any of my former colleagues are present in the Committee, and I am glad to find that I am not the Casablanca in this matter, for the hon. Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee) is with us. I am afraid, however, that he has got rather into the habit of fanning the flame which is rapidly reducing to a cinder the recommendations of the Statutory Commission.

The object of this Amendment must be sufficiently patent to any hon. Member who has given the subject his consideration. The purpose of the Schedule which we are proposing to substitute for that which appears in the Bill is, of course, to extend the areas excluded and partially excluded from the normal operation of the Bill. Let no hon. Member present underrate the significance of the problem with which we are dealing in this Amendment. Every Clause, every line, every word of the Bill is big with fate. This Amendment involves the fate of 21,000,000 souls, if we are to attach any importance to the Census report. Is it not rather extraordinary that here on a Friday afternoon, with, I suppose, some 30 Members present, we are deciding the fate of 21,000,000 persons? Of course, perhaps a hundred or two will join us in the Lobbies, but the majority of them will probably not know what they are voting for.

As far as I can calculate, only about half the total number of these primitive tribesmen will receive statutory protection under the Bill, but that is not the only reason why I and those who are associated with me are endeavouring to induce the Secretary of State to accept this Amendment. The Bill only sets up machinery to raise the excluded areas to the constitutional status of the rest of each Province when they are considered to be fit for such a change; there is no provision whatever for the reverse process, which might very conceivably prove to be necessary. Therefore, it seems to us more expedient to start by taking the risk of over-excluding rather than under-excluding. When the new situation is in operation, it may well prove necessary that many areas for which no provision is now made should be excluded. In our amendment we offer for the consideration of the Secretary of State a further list of primitive tribes which it would be appropriate to exclude. Of course, I do not set myself up as an authority on these tribes; indeed, I should be very sorry even to attempt to pronounce the names of some of them which appear in the amendment, much less to tell the Committee where the places are. But, of course, I need hardly tell the Committee that this list has been prepared on the advice of men on the spot, who, I believe, are well qualified to advise us on this subject.

I am not, however, going to be too modest. I am not entirely ignorant of the primitive tribesmen of India. During those immense, exhausting and exhaustive peregrinations which the Statutory Commission made throughout the nine provinces of India, and to which the Commission devoted—I might say sacrificed, or even wasted—so much of their time, I was afforded the opportunity of leaving the beaten track and of seeing something of the backward tracks in situ. I suppose I am one of the few hon. Members of this House who have had conversation with the head hunters of Kohima in their own jungle. I was there with the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee). These little head hunters met us and had a palaver. Presumably the District Commissioner had informed the tribal chieftain that my head was of no intrinsic value as he evinced no disposition to transfer it from my shoulders to his head hunter's basket which was slung over his back and was, I think, the only garment he affected. I am telling this to the Committee in order to prove that these little tribesmen are more sophisticated in their own particular way than perhaps the Committee may imagine. They have a very shrewd suspicion that something is being done to take away from them their immemorial rights and customs.

This is the way they put it to me. They said, "We hear that a black king is going to come to rule over India. If that is so, for goodness sake"—or whatever corresponds to the expression "goodness sake"—"do not let it be a Bengali, because we loathe the Bengali." They ended by saying that they much preferred Queen Victoria. The Statutory Commission decided to change the names of the districts of the tribesmen similar to those whom I have been describing from backward tracks to excluded areas, because we thought that the term "backward" was a misleading one. It is true that some of these tribesmen eat food which, if you or I eat it, would give us ptomaine poisoning at once, but you and I have no right to say that because a third person can digest food which we cannot digest, that that person is therefore backward. It might be that his inside had reached a more advanced state of evolution than yours or mine, but it is a mistake to imagine—and I am speaking seriously—that because their customs are different from ours, that they are backward in every sense. I had a long talk with Dr. Hutton, the District Commissioner, and ascertained that they are an extremely moral people and live apparently decent lives, and that, if we leave them alone, they will leave us alone.

I went with Sir Laurie Hammond, the Governor of Assam, to the most remote north-eastern corner of our Indian Empire, Sadeya, where Chinese Tibet touches our Indian Empire. I was privileged to see one of the most remarkable durbars it has been the privilege of any of His Majesty's subjects to see. Beside the Himalayas we had an enormous circle of tribesmen of every sort and description, garbed in all kinds of raiment, and some were without raiment at all. Some had the head of a lion super-imposed on their own, others had poisoned spears, and others were painted with what might have been woad. I said to myself, as I saw this extraordinary amorphous circle, "How is it possible to fit India into a scheme or constitution where you have men so extraordinarily dis-similar from the rest of the King's subjects in England?"

I motored with the hon. Member for Limehouse 100 miles across the plateau of Chota Nagpur district for Ranchi, and saw the tribes to which he referred in his speech a day or two ago and whom he described as being extraordinarily advanced. I remember seeing their houses, which reminded me more than anything else of cottages in Devonshire. They are most extraordinarily decent, well-behaved people, if we leave them alone, and I do not want them to learn any sorts of tricks which they do not know at present. Exigious as my experience may be compared to that of my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Sir R. Craddock) and other hon. Members, it was sufficient to open my eyes to the importance of a problem which demands our most careful consideration, and which affects the happiness and prosperity of so many of His Majesty's subjects.

I would crave leave of the Committee to quote certain passages from the Report of the Statutory Commission. I have often thought what a pity it was that the Prime Minister, then Leader of the Socialist Government, and the Lord President of the Council, then Leader of the Opposition, declined to accept our Report, because I maintain that there is some good stuff in it. On page 109 of Volume 2, reference is made to the backward tracts, and I would quote the most pertinent passages: The stage of development reached by the inhabitants of these areas prevents the possibility of applying to them methods of representation adopted elsewhere. They do not ask for self-determination, but for security of land tenure, freedom in the pursuit of their traditional methods of livelihood, and the reasonable exercise of their ancestral customs. Their contentment does not depend so much on rapid political advance as on experienced and sympathetic handling, and on protection from economic subjugation by their neighbours. The representation offered under the Bill is representation drawn from the very class which is most hostile to these tribes. Our Amendment does not conflict with any basic principle of the Bill and I hope that if any hon. Members are hesitating about voting for the Amendment because they have to think of the fate of the Government, they will set their fears at rest. It is not an Amendment on which if the Government were defeated they would have to go to the country. We should absolve them from any obligation of that kind. On the other hand, the provisions of the Bill in this regard conflict not only with the Report of the Statutory Commission—here I speak subject to correction from the Under-Secretary—but, so far as I can remember, they vary much from the findings of the Joint Select Committee. According to the terms of the Bill no area not included from the start in the Sixth Schedule can be added to it later. We must ensure that every area requiring special treatment must be included in it now. That is an extremely important matter and I hope the Committee will do a great deal more than is suggested in the Amendment I have mentioned, which mentions one tribe, and I do not know what the tribe is.

The Statutory Commission on its two visits to India received deputations from every conceivable interest in every Province, including deputations from the hill tribes. In reply to all these deputations we were accustomed to employ the formula that we would do what we could to convey their representations, through Parliament to the King Emperor. There were various degrees of intention in those replies, but I would say that it is some satisfaction to me to fulfil an undertaking that I gave to these people, who put such a very simple and childlike faith in the "yea, yea" or "nay, nay" of a British envoy.


In view of the form of this Amendment I had better put it with great care and include only a few words.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out, to the end of line 9, stand part of the Schedule."

3.41 p.m.


I would add a few words in support of the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Cadogan), who was my colleague on the Statutory Commission. Unlike him I am quite unable to make a judgment on this very detailed list of areas, but I should say with him that we ought to err on the side of inclusion and not on the side of exclusion. I have the same memories of visits to these backward areas, and it certainly seemed to me that there was overwhelming evidence that these people must be protected, and that they are far more liable to exploitation. I would mention one particular instance, that of the Todas in the Nilgiri Hills. I had the opportunity through an interpreter of speaking to these people. I heard stories of their grazing rights being encroached upon, and so forth. While there may be details in this Amendment which require modification, the broad line of inclusion is right. I would like to know from those who are moving this Amendment whether they are certain that it does not include areas that are so small as to be impossible of organisation as separate units. It depends to a large extent on the kind of administration that is to be adopted in future for these excluded areas.

I think there is a very strong case for forming one cadre of officers for certain backward areas, and seeing that the areas are dealt with by people who have a special interest in them. Anyone who visited a man like Dr. Hutton must have been impressed by his great knowledge and ability, and the fact that his qualifications are entirely different from those which are found in the ordinary routine of Indian Government. He is really a highly skilled specialist and a scientific observer. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary can say anything on these points. What I am afraid of is that if we have a great many small parcels of backward areas they will not get the kind of government that they want, unless there is provision for something very much wider in the cadre of officers. Generally speaking, on the broad ground of inclusion rather than exclusion, I wish to support the Amendment.

3.45 p.m.


I cannot pretend to have any personal knowledge on this subject but I have taken the opportunity of submitting this list of areas to a man whose experience and judgment would carry weight with any hon. Member, and that is why I have put down an amendment to the proposed amendment to add other districts which I am told ought to be included and given special attention. The two areas are the Baihar Tehsil of the Balaghat District which should have the same protection as is afforded to similar neighbouring territories, and the Melghat Tehsil of the Amraoti District.


Before the hon. and gallant Member can move his amendment, I think we must dispose of the Motion "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Schedule."


I think the Committee may be running some risk. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member really intends to move his amendment to the proposed amendment at this moment because it would limit any subsequent debate to the inclusion of these two districts. I think it would be better to have a general debate and then the hon. and gallant Member can move his amendment at a later stage.


I am not taking the amendment of the hon. and gallant Member to the proposed amendment now because the amendment which he proposes to amend is not yet before the Committee. I was trying to ascertain whether hon. Members want to continue the general debate on the question as to the areas which should or should not be included or partially included and then the hon. and gallant Member would be able to move his amendment formally later on.


I should like to ask your guidance. There is a Government amendment on the Paper which, I understand, we are not able to move. Now I understand that it will be possible formally to move this amendment.


The confusion probably arises because the original amendment was misread. I read the amendment correctly to leave out from the beginning of line 9, but it was apparently read by someone as from the end of the line. The Government amendment is to insert something at the end of line 9. That is probably the explanation of the confusion.

3.50 p.m.


I wish to say a few words in support of the Amendment. It has occurred to me all through in connection with these excluded and partially excluded areas that they are far too limited for the purpose for which they are to be used. I do not profess to be able to speak about a large number of these areas, but some of them I know very well and I have often wondered why on earth certain areas were not included while certain other areas were included. For example take the district of Sambalpur which formerly belonged to the Central Provinces. It is a small district but the people are highly litigious and it is certainly not one which I should have either excluded or partially excluded, whereas there is the Mandla district which is full of aborigines and is very backward, and exclusion is only being proposed now under this Amendment. The people there are a very simple people and exceedingly truthful and they are far cleaner in respect of their villages than many people with more education. It would be a great pity if these people were left to the mercies of these other classes.

What has happened very often in the past has been that liquor sellers have gradually got these people into their debt and in course of time deprived them of their land. The fact that the people themselves realised that drink was to a large extent proving their ruin, was shown by the development of a real genuine temperance movement among them quite distinct from the sort of political picketing of the liquor shops that went on two or three years ago. The Government of which I was then in charge in the Province supported that movement because it was a genuine movement. It continued to make progress for a considerable time but I am afraid that the people later on found that a combination of sugar and water was a very poor substitute for their country liquor at times of festival and began to drop out of the movement until eventually the original reformer was left almost alone. That fact illustrates what I was saying as to the proper way of dealing with these aboriginal castes. Many of them have great merits and considerable ability in their own way and are extraordinarily truthful until they are brought into too much contact with the dwellers in the open country. It must be remembered in regard to nearly all these inhabitants of the Central Provinces that their people were formerly the rulers of the country, and held sway there for centuries until they were gradually driven out and are now only to be found in the hilly tracts. It is very desirable that the whole of this subject should receive further examination and that the list of excluded and partially excluded areas should be considerably extended. I have pleasure in supporting the Amendment of the hon. Member.

3.55 p.m.


I should like to say a word in support of the Amendment. I would like the Committee to realise the protection which is now given in what we call backward areas. There are places there which actually border on the tea gardens of Assam and the deputy commissioners there pay particular attention to ensure that no tea bush is planted upon this land which belongs to these people by very old treaties. Naturally British capitalists might be tempted to make unfair bargains with these people and get land cleared at a very cheap rate and put down plantations of some kind. Up to date, however, it is to the credit of the Government of India that they have sternly prevented any exploitation of this kind. There are other considerations also to be taken into account. Shopkeepers—Bengalis, perhaps, or the inhabitants of Central India—come there, and no doubt if these people were not protected by the deputy commissioners, liquor would be smuggled in, opium might be illicitly sold and the whole physique of this people would be deteriorated. At the present moment they are superior not only to the other people of India, but to the people of this country.

Last January I had the opportunity of admiring their wonderful physique and the way they were working at cutting down the jungle. No physique except that of the most highly trained athletes in this country can be compared to theirs. One reason for that is that the Indian Civil Service has prevented them from getting alcohol—the only thing they are allowed to drink is their own rice beer—and another reason is that their laws of morality are very much stricter than our own. Any immorality there is not visited merely by social condemnation. Very often death is the penalty. For that reason these people are chaste, and their physique is very much superior to our own. Then, too, the courage of these people is extraordinary. They will go out with elephants to catch wild elephants, and when they have caught a wild elephant they will jump down and slip a noose over his front leg and get the animal between two others. In their understanding of elephants some of these tribes lead the whole world. For that and many other reasons which I will not give now, because I do not want to take up the time of the Committee, it is essential that we should protect these people. It is to the credit of the British Government and the Indian Civil Service that up to the present they have protected them, and I think it would be very difficult for these people to maintain their present high standard if this Amendment were not accepted.

Ordered, That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[The Attorney General.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.

Adjourned at Four o'Clock until Monday next, 13th May.