HL Deb 04 March 1919 vol 33 cc459-71

LORD SYDENHAM had the following Questions on the Paper—

To ask the Under-Secretary of State for India—

  1. 1. If he can say when the opinions of the Provincial Governments in India on the Report of the Viceroy and Secretary of State will be made available for the information of Parliament and the public.
  2. 2. If he can give any information as to the riots at Katarpur last year when, it is stated, a mob of 3,000 Hindus murdered a number of Mahomedans, burning some of them alive, and destroyed their village.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, among the most important proposals in the Report of the Viceroy and Secretary of State for India were those which contemplated the establishment in all the Provincial Governments of a diarchical system. That system is quite unknown to past history and government, and I confess I regard it myself as impracticable and fantastic. It has now been carefully considered by the responsible Governments who would have to carry it out, and I feel sure your Lordships will agree with me that their opinions should be made known as soon as possible to Parliament and to the public. These opinions, I believe, have now been at the India Office for several weeks, and what I urge is that they should be given to us as soon as possible. There is another set of Papers which are not mentioned in my Question but on which I gave private notice to the noble Lord. I hope he will undertake to make public the evidence given before Lord Southborough's Committees, which I believe have now finished their work. If this is not done I assure the noble Lord that there will be the greatest dissatisfaction among the non-Brahmin communities in India, which, as your Lordships well know, compose the vast majority of the Indian people. These communities already bitterly resent the fact that two Indians were appointed to the Committees both of whom had pronounced publicly against communal representation, to which they attach the greatest importance. In the debate of last August the noble Earl the Leader of the House said there were "many persons in India very suspicious of what is called Brahminical rule, who are entitled to be heard. "That is most true, but the strong opinions of these persons was ignored in the Report of the Viceroy and Secretary of State, and I think it is only just to them that their views should be made known now. In the past there really has been too much reluctance to publish opinions that did not coincide with those which the Secretary of State, perhaps too hastily, had adopted, and I hope the noble Lord will agree that complete frankness is essential having regard to the very serious issues which will shortly come up for decision in Parliament.


My Lords, before the noble Lord answers for the Government I would like to say a word in addition to what has already been said by Lord Sydenham. Perhaps I may be permitted to seize this opportunity of offering a very warm expression of congratulation to my noble friend the Under-Secretary on his first assumption of active work as the representative of the India Office. I have had the privilege of close and intimate association with Lord Sinha in public work both in India and in this country during recent years, and therefore I, along with other noble Lords present, can readily understand how it has come about that Lord Sinha has occupied posts of the very highest distinction and responsibility both in connection with India and the Empire during the past ten years. The post he now fills is one that to every Englishman is perfectly easy and simple, as your Lordships are well aware. But the post occupied, and occupied for the first time under the new movement of Imperial evolution, by an Indian like my noble friend will present difficulties, in rnany instances serious difficulties, and I feel sure that those who know India best will realise what I mean when I say that. Nobody will realise it better than my noble friend himself, and I feel that it is an act of characteristic public spirit on his part in assuming the position. I feel sure his high qualities will enable him to overcome those difficulties in the same way as he has successfully overcome difficulties in other posts, but he will find it difficult to attain complete success unless he can be assured—as I confidently hope he may be—during the whole term of his office, of the wholehearted and sincere support and cooperation of his fellow-subjects in India, whether they be European or Indian. That he will receive the sympathy and support of your Lordships during the time he is in office he can, I am certain, be assured.

The Question asked by Lord Sydenham—the first on the Paper—is an important one. He asks that the Reports of the Local Governments on the Secretary of State's and Viceroy's Report should be published at as early a date as possible, and that full time should be given to Parliament and the public to study and consider that Report. Later on, undoubtedly, the report of Lord Southborough's Committees will be available for Parliament and the public, but these Local Government Reports stand rather apart from those because they have been considered and drafted by Local Governments mainly in the light of proposals embodied in the Report of the Viceroy and Secretary of State, and, as such, must constitute an important part of the groundwork of any scheme which is ultimately adopted in connection with constitutional reform. in particular, the views of Local Governments will be of the greatest possible importance as to the extent to which Local Governments in future are to be released from the central control of the Government of India. This is an important and extremely urgent question.

I am confident that a very liberal and definite policy is necessary in this connection. Discontent, which undoubtedly has been rife in many parts of India during recent years is, I believe, to be attributable in no small measure to the fact that the Provincial Governments have been unduly checked and controlled by the distant Central Government. I feel that, whatever shape constitutional reform may take as the result of discussion in Parliament, if it is to be effective it must be coupled with provincial decentralisation, and that should be on a thorough and comprehensive scale. That is a question which will require very careful study both as regards the opinions and experience of the Central Government and also, equally, as regards the opinions and experience of Local Governments.

There is one other Report which was not alluded to by Lord Sydenham, and on which I should be grateful if the noble Lord could give us some information. It is the Report of the Indian Industrial Commission. This again is a question of absolutely first-class importance in India, not excepting even constitutional reform, because future prosperity must in a large measure depend on the extent to which her vast native resources can be manufactured and dealt with by her own people effectively and profitably. The past record of Government in India in this connection cannot, I think, he characterised as progressive, and I hope that the result of this Report will give a very strong stimulus in the direction of industrial enterprise This Commission has sat for two years—during the years 1916 and 1917—and has published its Report, but I am not sure whether it has been circulated in India. I would ask my noble friend whether this Report can now be made available to Parliament and the public in England. The matter is one of such vital importance that I would also ask this further question—that no new scheme should be adopted or given effect to by the Government of India until this Report has been studied by Parliament, and Parliament has had an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon it.


My Lords, it is with considerable diffidence that I rise this evening to address your Lordships, and I hope I may be not altogether out of order if I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Islington, from whom I have in the past had a great deal of courtesy and consideration, for the more than generous terms with which he has been pleased to refer to me; and I thank your Lordships also for the very kind reception you gave to the remarks.

With regard to the Question on the Paper by the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham, my task is comparatively easy, because I have only to draw your Lordships' attention to what has been already promised as early as November last by Lord Islington himself and also last month—on February 17 and 19—by the Secretary of State for India in another place. The first set of Papers which Lord Sydenham asked should be published refers to the opinions by the Local Governments on the great scheme known at the Montagu-Chelmsford scheme for constitutional reforms in India. Replying in the House of Commons to a Question put on February 17 and 19 respectively, the Secretary of State said— I have at present seen only advance copies of the opinions of Provincial Governments as to the proposals for constitutional reforms, but I expect before long to receive them officially from the Government of India, together with the Government's considered views on the whole subject, and of course they will be presented to Parliament, though I cannot at present specify a date. Then, as early as November last, Lord Islington, speaking in your Lordships' House, said this— The Reports from the Local Governments on the Reforms Report, and all the material which will be of use in the discussion of this matter, in so far of course as they do not contain confidential matter, will in due course, and without unnecessary delay, be published. I repeat that assurance, but I cannot add anything further to it. The Government of India's Despatch giving their views on the opinions of the Local Governments has not yet been received, though it is expected that it will not be very long in arriving, probably not later than the end of this month. The Report of the Government of India should then be in the hands of the Secretary of State. As soon as it is received and has been considered by the Secretary of State it will be placed before Parliament.

There is another set of Papers for which the noble Lord asked—the Reports of the two Committees over which Lord Southborough presided in India, and also the evidence which may have been recorded by those Committees. As regards the Reports themselves, the Secretary of State has definitely pledged himself to place them before Parliament. The Reports, so far as we know, have not yet been signed—at least, our information is that it is only one Report of the Committee, that to determine the electorates, that has been signed. We have no information regarding the others. Lord Southborough and the members of his Committees are, I believe, already on their way back from India, and the Reports will be in the hands of the Secretary of State I hope before the end of the present month. As soon as they are received they will be placed before your Lordships' House. As to the evidence, all that I am in a position to tell your Lordships at present is that the procedure to regulate the proceedings of these Committees was left entirely to the discretion of Lord Southborough and the members of the Committee. It is not known whether they have recorded evidence with a view to publication, and in any case until the return of Lord Southborough and the receipt of the Committee's Reports it is not possible to give any information on the subject, or to publish any evidence that may have been given.

May I take this opportunity of expressing my entire concurrence with what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham. I also consider that absolute frankness is essential in the consideration of these most important matters; and so far as the Secretary of State is concerned, and so far as I myself am concerned, I hope that there will be no occasion on the part of your Lordships to complain in that respect. With regard to the documents to which my noble friend Lord Islington referred—namely, the Report of the Indian Industrial Commission—may I remind your Lordships that it was formally laid before your Lordships' House on February 19 last, and on inquiry of the printers it has been ascertained that copies will be available for circulation on Thursday next by noon. Therefore copies will be available both for your Lordships' House and to the public on Thursday next. I entirely agree, if I may say so, with Lord Islington as to the importance of this Report, and also with regard to the complaint which he has made—though perhaps it is not for me to urge it now—that the Government of India, before this Commission was appointed, could hardly be accused of having been too progressive in industrial matters. It is the earnest hope of all who are concerned in the Government of India, as well as of the Indian people themselves, that effect may be given to the recommendations of this Commission as soon as they have been considered by the Government of India in the first place, by the Secretary of State and by Parliament. I can assure my noble friend that, so far as any action on this Report is concerned, the Secretary of State has already intimated to the Viceroy that no action should be taken until the opinions of the Local Governments on the Report, as well as the considered opinion of the Government of India, had been received by him, and there will be ample opportunity given to the members of your Lordships' House to study and consider this Report, and, if need be, to raise any discussion upon it before any action is taken in regard to it. That is, I think, all that I need say at this stage with regard to the first Question on the Paper.


My Lords, I cannot deny myself the pleasure of adding one word to the very full tribute to the services in the past of my noble friend who has just sat down, and of expressing the high hopes we all entertain of the work which he is going to do here in the future. I also have had the pleasure of being associated with my noble friend in the past, and I know very well what the value of his services is; and I think that your Lordships here, from observing the easy mastery with which he replied to the Question of the noble Lord on the cross-benches, and the manner in which he developed the various points which arose out of that Question, will agree that we can look forward with the utmost confidence to his conduct of the very important measures of which he will no doubt have charge in the future in your Lordships' House.


Hear, hear.


I have practically nothing to add, except to express my great satisfaction at the phrase which fell from the noble Lord opposite regarding the necessity of complete frankness and openness in displaying all the facts which may come from India to this country; and I feel certain, therefore, that he and the Secretary of State will put the narrowest possible construction on the word "confidential" when he stated that it would be only confidential matter which would be excluded from publication in regard to these Provincial Reports. I can quite believe that those Provincial Reports, or some of them, contain things which, from the mere point of view of promoting a particular policy, the India Office would just as soon should not be placed on the Table of the two Houses for discussion, possibly with the result of supplying arguments to those who may oppose the policy of His Majesty's Government. But I am quite certain that the India Office will not in any way succumb to a temptation to set aside, or not to reveal, any such statements that may come; and as a matter of fact, knowing what the general line of the policy of His Majesty's Government is, I think we may confidently assume that much general approbation in this matter of devolution, of which Lord Islington spoke, is certain to come from all the different Provincial Governments. We can look forward with great interest to the appearance of these Reports, and I sincerely hope that their advent will not be much longer delayed.


I beg to thank the noble Lord for the answer he has given me, and especially for his promise—which I know he will carry out—that there shall be greater frankness on the part of the India Office in future. I have now to ask the Under-Secretary of State the second Question standing in my name—Whether he can give any information as to the riots at Katarpur last year when, it is stated, a mob of 3,000 Hindus murdered a number of Mahomedans, burning some of them alive, and destroyed their village.

There is a very great difficulty at the present moment in watching events in India. I do not know whether the Censor is still at work, but I see in private letters allusions to happenings which never appear in our public Press, and it does seem to me as if we were not quite sufficiently informed as to what is going on in India. Since it was known that the Secretary of State would make large concessions to Home Rulers there have been certain distinctly unpleasant symptoms in India. There were riots in the three great Presidency towns, and in all cases there was some evidence of political inspiration. As to Bengal, the Government of Bengal itself has said so in its resolution as regards the very serious disturbances in Calcutta. As regards the strikes in Bombay it has been denied, but in a private letter from an Indian who was behind the scenes and who also did his utmost to preserve tranquillity, these words occur— Home Rulers were abroad in the mill centres, instigating and assisting the strikers, and asking them to hold on. In Rangoon troubles were planned, but were apparently frustrated by the action of Government. Other disturbances have taken the form of organised attack by Hindus upon Mahomedans. To the worst case of that kind the House has already had its attention drawn. That was in Bihar, when an area of 1,000 square miles was held up by the rioters for several days. Something of the same kind appears to have occurred at Katarpur on the occasion of the last Bakr Id ceremonies. From the little I have heard of that case it does seem as if effective steps were not taken in sufficient time, but that impression may be wrong, and, if so, doubtless the noble Lord will correct it.

In other cases disturbances which might have been serious have been averted by the prompt action of British officers. There is some significance to be attached to these happenings, and that significance must not be ignored. The number of Indians who really understand what Home Rule means is, in proportion to the population of India, very small, as the Report of the Viceroy and the Secretary of State admitted. But there is not a bazaar in all India where stories that Government is weakening or that Government is afraid would not be understood and would not be believed. That, I am afraid, is what is going on, and in a telegram from Delhi which The Times published yesterday there are these words— The Extremists appear to be animated by blind hatred of the Civil Service, which constantly finds expression on the platform and in the Press. The existence of this rancorous sentiment accentuates the difficulties of the political situation. I fear that the gross calumnies against the Government of India and against everything British which are rife at the present time are becoming a source of growing danger to the peace of India.


My Lords, with regard to the second Question on the Paper, in so far as information has been asked for by my noble friend I shall proceed to give that information at once. As regards comments, with your Lordships' leave I will reserve them until I have given the narrative of facts. This Question relates to riots which undoubtedly took place in a village called Katarpur in September last. The information which has hitherto been received by the India Office from the Government of India has been by cable, and is therefore necessarily meagre. I would have contented myself with giving your Lordships the bare facts as received by us by cable from the Government of India, but I thought it would give satisfaction both to the noble Lord who asked the Question and to the members of your Lordships' House if I were able to give a fuller account from any other source that was available, and I have accordingly compiled one from a newspaper account of the opening speech of counsel in the prosecution which has arisen out of this case, in order that your Lordships may have fuller information as regards the facts.

A serious not took place in the village of Katarpur, in the sub-division of Roorkee, in the district of Saharanpore, on September 18 last, and it is alleged that in the not at least thirty Mahomedans were killed sixteen injured, and a large part of the village burnt down. The circumstances which led up to the not extended over a series of some days. The village is one in which, according to the latest census Report, there were 538 Hindus and 238 Mahomedans, and there is a mosque, or idgah as it is called, in the village. The surrounding villages were in the main what might be called Hindu villages, and the town of Kankhal (also chiefly Hindu in population) as well as the great place of pilgrimage, Hurdwar, is also within a few miles of the village of Katarpur.

On September 11, the Bakr Id festival of the Mahomedans being close at hand, the police moved the sub-divisional magistrate to bind over the leading Mahomedan and Hindu villagers to keep the peace during the Bakr Id festival, which extends from September 17 to September 19 inclusive. They did so, inasmuch as there seemed to be a controversy—which is the usual controversy in these cases—as to whether Katarpur was a village in which cow sacrifice at Bakr Id was customary or not, and it therefore seemed necessary that precautions should be taken. On September 13, owing to the intercession of local officers, the parties appear to have come to an arrangement by which it was agreed that sacrifices should be quietly performed in the houses of two of the Mahomedans of the village. Later on, however, this agreement is alleged to have been repudiated by the neighbouring Hindus, with the result that on September 17, the first day of the Bakr Id, a crowd numbering thousands arrived at this village armed with big sticks. The local officers tried to get the people to come to some settlement but, failing to do so, wired to the sub-divisional magistrate at Roorkee to come to the place, and he arrived there on September 18, accompanied by a number of police constables. He found an excited crowd moving about in groups. It was when the local magistrate was present in the village that suddenly some cry was raised which seemed to be the signal for a general attack by the Hindus on the Mahomedans, who were fewer in number, and the huts in the Mahomedan quarter were set; on fire by groups of Hindu rioters. The fire stopped in the afternoon, and in the meantime an armed guard had been wired for from Roorkee. This guard arrived, and no further rioting took place. It is said that seventeen corpses were found by the sub-divisional officer, either burnt or partially burnt, and some more corpses were found later inside Mahomedan houses. A number of arrests were made later, and about 100 persons are now on their trial. At the proposal of the Local Government, a special Tribunal, constituted under the Defence of India Act, 1915, presided over by Mr. Justice Tudball, of the Allahabad High Court, was set up for the purpose. The Government of India has promised to telegraph the result of the proceedings as soon as they are finished. Those are the facts with regard to the rioting.

I do not for a moment seek to minimise the significance of these riots; but your Lordships will have noticed that this particular not in any case had nothing whatsoever of a political character about it. Unfortunately it is correct to say that these outbursts of religious fanaticism are still common in India, and on the occasions of these festivals, whether Hindu or Mahomedan, you find rioting taking place between the two factions of those communities. It is confined to the lower and poorer classes; and, after all, the real remedy for this state of things is the progressive enlightenment and education of those classes, and the closer co-operation of the educated and wealthier classes in both communities for the purpose of getting rid of or preventing these disturbances. This not had no political significance whatever, as I have already said, and I confess that I am surprised that the noble Lord took this as an occasion to point a moral with regard to the grant of Home Rule, which no one has yet suggested so far as I know, or anything in connection with that. Nor, if I may say so with regard to the three other riots mentioned—in Calcutta, in Bombay, and in Rangoon—is there any reason to suppose they had anything to do with the proposals for constitutional reform, or any reason of a political nature of that kind.

Your Lordships are aware that during the course of the war there has been considerable excitement amongst the Mahomedan population of India, an excitement which has in some cases and in some Provinces been shared by the Hindus. But to say that any of these riots can be justly ascribed either to the proposals for constitutional reform or to the supposed weakening of the Government, is, I submit, saying something which is not borne out by the facts. So far from the Report, of which so much has been said by the noble Lord, ignoring occurrences of this kind, as I read it—and as I believe most of your Lordships will have read it—the Report lays special stress on the fact that these religious dissensions still exist, that these religious riots still occur; and it is for that reason principally that they refuse to allow any control to the Legislative Councils over the departments of government which are concerned with the administration of justice and with the preservation of law and order. Therefore it seems to me at any rate, and I submit it with confidence to your Lordships, that to connect these riots—which have existed I am sorry to say for many years; long before any constitutional reforms were thought of—with the Report, or with the supposed concessions which are alleged to be going to be made, is somewhat far-fetched and unfair, if I may say so with great respect to the noble Lord.

After all, human nature being what it is, outbursts of this kind, however much we may deplore them, will occur from time to time. In countries blessed with one of the noblest religions, one of the most civilising and humanising religions known to the world, we find people fighting with each other, and we find them doing so not for any supposed spiritual benefits but for mere material benefits; and, after all, when these Hindus and Mahomedans fight on the occasions of these religious festivals, they are fighting, not for material benefits, but for what they believe to be the interests of their eternal souls. The only remedy is a closer co-operation of the officials with the more educated people for the purpose of spreading enlightenment and education amongst those poorer classes, and the more the people of the country co-operate with the Government and with the officials of the Government the greater will be the checks and safeguards for the prevention of these deplorable occurrences.


My Lords, I beg to thank the noble Lord for his full description of what occurred at Katapur. As regards one point I must correct him however. He said that I had drawn attention to the fact that the Report of the Viceroy and Secretary of State ignored these disturbances. I only said that this Report had ignored the strong opinions of the non-Brahmin classes of India, which I am sorry to say is absolutely the fact.