HL Deb 22 March 1901 vol 91 cc834-41

My Lords, I wish to ask the Under Secretary of State for India if the Indian Government will relieve the Director of Public Instruction of Bombay from the task of reporting on native publications to the Government of India, and if the India Office will make some amends to Mr. Malabari for the charge of sedition so un- justifiably cast upon Mr. Malabari in the Director's Official Report of 24th July, 1900. What happened was this: In a letter dated 31st March, 1899, the Government of India desired the Director of! Public Instruction in Bombay to report on native publications in the Presidency. This was a task and a duty which had been too long neglected by the Indian Government. For many years, commencing before 1848, this duty in respect of Hindustani literature was well performed annually by M. Garcia de Tassy, Professor of Hindustani in the School for Oriental Languages held in the National Library of Paris. After his death this! annual Report ceased. There is every reason to believe that the Government of Lord Gurzon intended to supply this deficiency, and did not intend that the Director of Public Instruction should hunt for sedition. In any case the director—1 hope the Government will mention his name, because he ought to get the credit or the discredit for what he has done— selected out of all India the one man least amenable to any accusation of disloyalty or disaffection.

Mr. Malabari has long been the editor of the Indian Spectator. I have read that paper certainly for more than seventeen years, for it was recommended to me by Sir Louis Mallet, Under secretary in the India Office, who left that office from failing health in 1883. Me always read that paper, and I believe his successor had an equally high opinion of it. I was speaking to a member of the Secretary of State's Council the other day, and J stated that Mr. Malabari was the most pro-British editor in India. He replied that if not the most, he was certainly as pro-British as any of the other editors. What did the Director do? Did he seek to form an opinion from the editorial or other articles in the Indian Spectator written in English, upon which we could all form an opinion? No, he raked up a Gujarati poem written by Mr. Malabari twenty-five years ago, when he was not yet twenty years of age; he casts doubt upon whether Mr. Malabari wrote it himself on the ground, says the Report, that "it is difficult to believe that a Parsee could write such pure Gujarati"; he then mistranslates the poem and accuses it of "inciting the people of Gujarat to cast off a yoke which presses on them heavily." I may observe that the Bombay Government has refused to produce the translation upon which the Director of Public Instruction founded his criticism. This incident happened during an interregnum between the departure from Bombay of the late Governor (Lord Sandhurst) and the arrival of his successor, so that, properly speaking, neither one nor the other can be said to be answerable for what was (lone by the Bombay officials.

The Times of India on 19th November, 1900, published a translation of the poem by Mr. Kabraji, editor of the Rast Goftar, a justice of the peace, Fellow of the Bombay University, and a Gujarati author and critic of distinction. Needless to say, this translation does not bear out any of the imaginations of the sedition-hunting Director of Public Instruction. When the Director endeavours to find fault with particular words he becomes ridiculous. He translates "pagar" as "official salaries"; the word —a Portugese word—means "any payment," as Mr. Malabari says of it in Gujarati, and it is the same in its original language. The next blunder of the Director worth noticing is when he forces the word "rajamala" to mean "Sovereign" or "Government," whilst it means "office work." What Mr. Malabari says he meant was: -The work of administration is not suited to yon: or, you are not capable of administrative work, because of the indolence of the Gujaratis; not that the Sovereign or the Indian Government was not fit for the Gujaratis. "Raj" is an Indian word meaning "Rule" or "State"; and the Director evidently does not know what "amala" means or to what language it belongs. It is Arabic, and means, literally,"workmen,"—those who do anything; and in India it is used for the low-paid officials of law courts and Government offices. In order to translate this word as "Sovereign or" the Government, "the Director must have taken the Sanskrit meaning of" amala, which is "spotless," sometimes applied to a woman. But it requires all the conceit of an Indian civil servant to suppose that any outsider would apply the epithet "spotless" to the Indian Government, which, since the time of Warren Hastings, has acquired more spots than the leopard.

Cardinal Richelieu is reported to have said that he could hang any man upon a few lines of his writing. The Government of Bombay could do it with greater case; it can select any meaning from the various dialects of India. An ex-Bengal civilian wrote to me that "rajamala" means a Royal garland or necklace, and that "pagar" means a mound or a field raised above flood level. So you see how easy it is for a man with an imperfect knowledge of the languages like this Director to go hunting for sedition. The whole of the criticism of the Director is preposterous, and ought to have been withdrawn and apologised for. Mr. Malabari's paper was mentioned as one of the most loyal papers in India by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, during the discussion of the Sedition Acts in the Viceroy's Council in 1897 or 1898. Mr. Malabari's writings were not only the reverse of sedition, but were most moderate in tone He wrote a great deal against the infant marriage of the Hindus, but without irritating them, though perhaps he rather bored them. To tax such a writer with sedition is enough to goad him or his friends in that direction. Surely the Government will make some amende to Mr. Malabari, and express some regret for the trouble he has been put to. The proper attitude of an Englishman, or of an English Government, with regard to seditious writing ought to be that shown in the story of the Frenchman who asked his English friend how much longer he expected to be able to write as he was doing, without getting shut up in prison; the reply was that he had been trying to find that out for a long time, but that he had not yet reached the limit.


My Lords, I am sorry I cannot follow the noble Lord through his interesting disquisition on the past history of the Hindoo languages, but will address myself to the question on the Paper. In the first place I should like to explain, very shortly, the circumstances that led to the occurrence to which this question refers. In 1899, shortly after the arrival of Lord Curzon in India, the Government of India were anxious that the annual reviews on the native publications in the different provinces should be conducted in a more interesting manner, and they desired that the Director of Public Instruction should supersede the Government Librarian, who bad previously carried out this work, and that he should write these reviews in a style that was both literary and informing. They met with some opposition from the various provinces to this proposal; but it was eventually agreed, at any rate so far as Bombay was concerned—and as the question refers only to Bombay I need not allude to other provinces—that the Government Librarian should draw the notice of the Director of Public Instruction to any publications that he thought worthy of being noticed in the annual review. It was also decided that as the Director of Public Instruction could not possibly be expected to be familiar with all the different Indian vernaculars, it would be advisable for him to passthese publications on to experts, and if possible to native members of his own Department, who, having studied the books, were to make a short statement to the Director of Public Instruction, and with this material in his hands he was then to endeavour to carry out the wishes of the Indian Government in writing reviews of an interesting and informing character.

In 1900—in the month of July, I think—the annual review appeared, having been prepared in the manner I have sketched out; and in this review there was a criticism of a poem by Mr. Malabari, written in the Gujarati vernacular. Mr. Malabari took exception to the character of this review, which stated that certain passages in the poem were of a disloyal character, and wrote a complaint to the Bombay Government. The noble Lord asked me the name of the Director of Public Instruction. His name is Mr. Giles. Having given the matter every consideration, the Bombay Government came to this conclusion, and issued it as an answer to Mr. Malabari— His Excellency the Governor in Council is of opinion that Mr. Giles acted with propriety in calling attention to the poem in question, and is also of opinion that the Director of Public Instruction has, in his letter of 29th September, justified the criticism to which Mr. Malabari takes exception. Beyond expressing their readiness to accept Mr. Malabari's assurance that he did not intend the writings to convey any unconstitutional suggestion, they do not think it necessary to make any further remarks on the correspondence. This matter is a purely local one. No communications have passed between the India Office and the Government of Bombay on the subject, so that when the noble Lord asked me whether the Indian Government will relieve the Director of Public Instruction of Bombay from the task of reporting on native publications to the Government of India, my answer must be that the Secretary of State has no information as to the intentions of the Government of India in regard to this matter: and, with regard to the second part of this question—"whether the India Office will make some amends to Mr. Malabari for the charge of sedition so unjustifiably cast upon him in the Director's official report of 24th July, 1900,"—my answer must be that no one knows better than Mr. Malabari that if he has any cause for complaint he must address the Secretary of State on the matter. The Secretary of State has heard nothing from Mr. Malabari of any sort or kind, and in these circumstances there is no ground for the suggestion that my noble friend the Secretary of State should make any amends at all.


My Lord, I shall not enter upon the philological merits of the case; I rise simply to give my opinion of Mr. Malabari. When I was connected with Bombay there was no one in that presidency more loyal than Mr. Malabari. I frequently read the Indian Spectator, and I can say that nothing ever appeared in that paper which could, in the remotest degree, be construed as disloyal. Mr. Malabari criticised the Indian Administration in a friendly spirit and with great intelligence. He also freely criticised his countrymen. Mr. Malabari was an ardent and prominent advocate of social reform, and as such he naturally made many enemies. I have seen a translation of the incriminating verses, as published in the Times of India in the month of November last year, and I must say that I cannot find anything in the poem which can be considered as seditious. In it Mr. Malabari urges his countrymen to be more self-reliant, and not to neglect arts and industries. I suppose that no exception can be taken to anyone who urges the natives of India to apply themselves more to industries than they are doing; the Government of India have on many occasions shown the importance they attach to the development of industries. Mr. Malabari belongs to a category of persons who criticise the Government, but who do so with the object of strengthening our rule in India, and of making it more popular. I cannot see that in doing so we should not accept any criticisms which he makes in a friendly spirit. There are very few men in India who exercise their judgment in that independent and moderate manner, and I think it is the duty of the Government to encourage them, because, unless you encourage them, you give an indirect encouragement to those who are actuated by entirely different motives. I trust, therefore, the Government will see their way to place some other construction on this poem than that which—no doubt in perfect good faith—has been placed upon it by those who have dealt with the matter.


My Lords, as my noble friend has referred to the loyalty of Mr. Malabari. I should like to say that during the five years I was Governor of Bombay Mr. Giles served under me as Senior Inspector, and also as Director of Public Instruction during the last two years of my term of office. He belongs to the Uncovenanted Service, and I am sure the Government has no more loyal subject than Mr. Giles, whose knowledge of Gujarati is extensive, and whose sympathy with the Gujarati natives is extreme.


My Lords, I should like to add my testimony to that which has been given by the noble Lord who has been Governor of Bombay (Lord Reay) as to the loyalty of Mr. Malabari. I have known him for many years, and have constantly read the Indian Spectator, of which he is editor. I have seen in that paper not the slightest trace of disloyalty to the Government. It is a paper that has been well conducted, criticising occasionally in a fair manner the acts of the Government, but in no sense disloyal. In point of fact, it is perfectly incredible to suppose that any Parsee can be disloyal to the Government of India. I should like to make one remark, and one remark only, upon this matter with respect to the merits of the case. I must say that in my opinion it is a very strong measure indeed for any Government officer to dig out a poem written twenty-five years ago by a man in Mr. Malabari's position.


Is the noble Lord certain of that? I have no information that the poem was written twenty-five years ago.


Mr. Malabari says that the particular poem to which exception was taken by Mr. Giles was written twenty-five years ago. I think it is rather too bad to dig out a poem after all those years. If a very-young man had written a foolish poem, I do not think alter twenty-five years it should be dug out and attacked. I believe that the highest authorities in Gujarati are of opinion that the poem does not bear the interpretation which the Government official has placed upon it. However that may be—I am absolutely unable to form an opinion myself, not being a Gujarati scholar—I am satisfied of this, that nothing could be more, foreign to the feelings of Mr. Malabari than that he should be con cerned in writing anything of a disloyal character towards the British Government.


My Lords, I hope that, in my reply to the noble Lord I said nothing which may induce your Lordships to think that I or the Secretary of State have any opinion either one way or the other in this matter, because no form of communication has been made to the India Office. I have certainly seen the translation of the poem, and I have my own opinion. I have certainly seen the comments that have been made in the review, but inasmuch as the Government of Bombay have made a statement to Mr. Malabari, which I have read, and Mr. Malabari has not thought it necessary to communicate with the Secretary of State on the matter, I can only repeat that I see no reason why my noble friend the Secretary of State should interfere in the matter.