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Forty Thousand Followers of Gandhi in Prison



Forty Thousand Followers

of

Gandhi in Prison


India’s Struggle for Freedom Met by the British Government with Wholesale Arrests and Inhuman Treatment of Leaders Everywhere.

Indian Non-Violence answered by British Violence, Cruelty and Bloodshed.

Great Speech of Pandit K. Satanam.


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FORTY THOUSAND FOLLOWERS OF

GANDHI IN PRISON.


Since the British—following the departure of the Prince of Wales from India—undertook to stifle the Non-Co-operation movement by the imprisonment of Mahatma Gandhi and many of his followers and by other strong measures, little has been allowed to come out of that great land to show what is really going on. Highly censored despatches have given only glimpses of wholesale arrests and severe treatment of the Nationalists.

Much interest, therefore attaches to a document which has come to this country from India, a copy of the speech of Pandit K. Santanam, the new leader of the Nationalist movement in the Punjab.

The speech was delivered at the meeting of the Punjab Provincial Conference, called by the Non-Cooperators to adopt measures for carrying on their campaign in a manner to avoid repression.

Pandit Santanam dealt at length with the new British repression and charged that this policy had been accompanied by grave abuses. He said 40,000 of the leading spirits in the Non-Co-operation movement are held in jail in India under distressing conditions and multitudes more have been arrested without any real cause.

Our space not allowing us to give the speech in full, we shorten it somewhat on the lines of an excellent article recently published in the New York World.

Said Pandit Santanam in part:

It is our privilege as also our sacred and bounden duty to offer our deep and reverent homage to our great and saintly Leader, Mahatma Gandhi, who inaugurated this unique movement of Non-violent Non-co-operation, and for nearly 20 months guided and controlled it with a combination of wisdom, courage, tact and foresight without a parallel in the annals of the world. It will be impertinent on our part if we try to appreciate his work or even attempt to pass encomiums on the great qualities that he possesses. I shall not attempt to do so. We can only bow our heads in deep thankfulness to Providence which has vouchsafed to grant us the inestimable boon of such a great personality at a time when India, fallen and stricken India, stood sorely in need of a strong hand to pull us out of the Slough of Despond.

At the time when he entered into the arena of politics, it looked as if the claims of India to justice, freedom and self-determination had been for ever ruthlessly trampled under foot. The solemn pledges given by the British Prime Minister to the Muslims had been cruelly broken, and the faith, that we rightly or wrongly had in the justice and fairplay of the English, was gone forever. The horrors of the Martial Law in the Punjab and the subsequent denial of even justice to the Indian nation had made us despair that the Indians would ever be treated as human beings entitled to ordinary human rights and privileges.

Gandhi brings a ray of hope.

It was at this moment of gloom and despondency when hope had died down and faith in the goodness of human nature was shattered, that Mahatma Gandhi came forward and we began to see a ray of hope whereby we could triumph in spite of the forces of reaction which stood arrayed against us. He showed us a path for us to travel, treading on which we could by pure self-reliance, self-purification and self-sacrifice, attain our goal without taking thought of the strength of the opposition.

This was a bold and uncompromising doctrine, religious in its essence, now being applied in the field of politics for the first time in the history of the world.

Hindu-Moslem Union already achieved.

A careful study of the present situation will convince even the most hostile critic that we have, achieved almost or nearly, all that we had in view. Hindu-Mohammadan dissensions, the root cause of our weakness, are nearly non-existent to-day. We have made rapid strides in sinking our differences and creating that atmosphere of mutual trust and good will without which no common endeavour is possible.

In the serious conflict with the authorities that has taken place, all the communities have stood shoulder to shoulder with one another and have suffered in common. Where blows have been received, where liberty has been restricted and where blood has been shed, the Hindus and Muslims have vied with each other in offering the greatest sacrifice. If this common suffering, willingly undergone, nay sometimes even invited, cannot cement us together, then no force on earth ever will.

Prestige in the dust.

Now let us consider how does the prestige of the Government stand to-day? That prestige is in the dust, never to rise again to enslave our minds. All over India the message of Swaraj has been carried to every hearth and home. Everyone, be he Moderate, be he Extremist, considers self-government as indispensible for India to be able to rise to her full stature and take her rightful place among the nations of the world on a footing of equality. The present system of arbitrary foreign rule is an evil which must be ended, and replaced at as early a date as possible by an Indian Government responsible to the Indian people. The word of the present Government is no longer believed in and faith in its integrity and good intentions is shaken forever. Belief in the justice of the British courts, specially in political cases, is almost a thing of the past.

People learn self-reliance.

The soundness of the education imparted in schools is questioned, and hope that the British people will some day grant us Dominion status out of the goodness of their heart, has been given up once and for all. Even the unlettered peasant and the ignorant wage earner has found out for himself that the policy of the Government is one of exploitation throughout, exploitation of the brain, exploitation of the body and of manhood and exploitation of the fruits of labour; and every man, woman and child has grasped the lesson that if we would be free we will have to attain freedom by our own unassisted efforts and in spite of the oppositon of our present Government. The lesson of self-reliance has gone home and the whole nation has been taught that what it would have, it will have to strive for and that nothing is worth having which had not been won by one’s own efforts.

British diplomacy out-manoeuvered.

At the beginning of the Non-co-operation movement, the Government seemed to think it a mad scheme and announced that it was not going to interfere with it, but was going to leave it to die of inanition. They seemed to think that it was such a hopelessly futile scheme that it was not necessary to take any action against it or its advocates, so long as they refrained from preaching or practising violence. This policy they adhered to for nearly a year. But what is the position to-day? Contrary to their expectations they found the movement gaining strength day by day, that at last they became alarmed and had to take most desperate and, what I can safely call, ill-advised action.

Non-violent atmosphere unparallelled.

Remember that we had not departed from our ideal of Non-violence. We had preached it so constantly and so thoroughly that at the present day India is more non-violent in its political attitude than India or any other nation ever was or can hope to be. We had inculcated this doctrine in the masses so successfully that, in spite of grave provocation, non-violence even under most trying circumstances has been the rule. Outbreaks of a violent character there have been, but they have been few and far between and really insignificant in their magnitude, or in their effects on the rest of the country. But in spite of all this, the Government has had to depart from its professed attitude of non-interference. We have given most astonishing proofs of our strict adherence to non-violence as a method of political warfare, and the 40,000 men or so who have gone to jail are an incontrovertible proof of this statement.

But what has been the result? The result is that to-day in the Punjab and some other provinces, the Government seems to have entirely lost its head and has resorted to repression pure and simple. Out of our own free will we suspended the movement of mass civil disobedience throughout the country. If the Goverment had been really of the opinion that violence was the one thing it objected to, then, after the Bardoli resolution[1] there was no need for any action on its part of a repressive character. In spite of that it is now resorting in the Punjab to repression on such a large scale that it becomes evident that its avowed object of securing law and order is mere camouflage meant to throw dust in the eyes of the outside world.

Intensity of repression index of success.

The lesson I wish to draw is that the very intensity of the efforts the Government is putting forth to suppress this movement is a proof of the strength that the movement has attained. Judged by this standard we can very well say that the non-co-operation movement in the Punjab has attained remarkable success, indeed. We find that the attitude of the Government has entirely changed, specially since the departure of the Prince of Wales from the Indian shores, and it has taken to methods which, I have no hesitation in calling a repetition of the methods under Martial Law. It seems, the Government has issued instructions that the Akali, the Congress and the Khilafat movement in the Punjab and the system of panchayats must be completely suppressed and, I have it on a reliable authority, that one of the District officers had issued instructions to his subordinate to make a clean sweep of all the political workers in his district. Let me just detail to you some of the things that have been done and are being done in the name of law and order in this unhappy Province.

Methods of repression.

ARRESTS. Arrests are being made usually without warrants. Recently, since the new repressive policy started about a month and a half ago, a number of blank warrants are issued by the magistrate to the police officials and the filling up of the names of the accused is left to their sweet will and pleasure. Sometimes the magistrate accompanies these parties of the police and sometimes not. But it can readily be imagined, what an abuse this practice lends itself to as it gives a wide scope to the police to terrorize innocent people and extort, perhaps, money from them by threatening them with arrest. A police party going into any village with blank warrants in their hands can terrorize the whole village, and especially those people who are not avowed non-co-operators.

Reports have come from Sialkot district that the police have very often arrested people unconnected with political movements, especially, non-co-operation, simply because they were easier game. The non-co-operators, not being afraid of arrest, on the contrary welcoming it, are not a paying proposition. Sometimes, where instructions to arrest two or three men in a village were given, the police have arrested a lot more along with them in the hope that those others would pay subsequently for their liberty. The result has been that many persons, who are hauled up, have been let go after a few days’ detention without any charge being framed against them or cases brought.

In Sialkot town itself, we have had the spectacle of nearly a hundred men being arrested in a few days’ time, and after the lapse of a short interval all, but five or six of them, being left off without any explanation being offered. In Daska a small town in Sialkot District the whole bar consists of 6 gentlemen; of these 5 were arrested and the 6th was left out because he was not in the Station at the time. It seems they were not told what they were arrested for but were asked to express regret. They very properly refused to do any such thing as nothing was alleged against them, and were let off after a few days detention. In other places where people were assembled for quite legitimate purposes, the police have come on the scene and declaring the meeting an unlawful assembly, have asked them to disperse.

Allegations are made that entirely religious gatherings have been prohibited and efforts also made to disperse them.

The arrests are being made in an unnecessarily harsh and cruel fashion. Complaints are pouring in every day that the police behave with great brutality, handcuffing all prisoners irrespective of their status and position, making them walk long distances in the burning sun in spite of bodily infirmities, keeping them overcrowded in the police lock-ups and not even giving them the ordinary facilities for performing their ablutions and very often sending them out for necessary purposes in pairs with their hands manacled.

Dragged by the legs.

Picketing parties are very severly handled, and the brutal way in which some of the volunteers of Rawalpindi were treated so late as the end of March, where they were first soundly beaten and then dragged by the legs with their shoulder and head trailing along the ground until the hair was rubbed off and in one case at least an unmentionable but revolting cruelty practised, recalls some of the horrors perpetrated by the police officials in Martial Law days in Amristar.

Religion not respected.

What is worse still, the police seem to take a delight in offending the religious susceptibilities of the people they arrest; sometimes a Koran or a Bhagawadgita[2] is beaten with a shoe, sometimes a Sikh is pulled by his beard (as was brazenly admitted by European police officer in the court of Mr. Keough the other day;) and sometimes the Sikhs are tied together by the hair of the head. It is to be remembered that all this time the people arrested are entirely non-violent and unresisting and make not the slightest objection to go along with the police officers. Only the other day, on the 18th of April, when a party of young men in Lahore were taking some of the old discarded foreign clothes, about 1000 in number, in procession, the police surrounded them, belaboured them with sticks and snatched away all the clothes that were carried in procession.

Women annoyed.

They did not even respect the modesty of women in Subraon, a village in the Lahore District. The president of the Sikh League has made a definite charge that the police entered the Zenana portions of the houses and made the women give up their jewelry, and sometimes even snatched them from their persons. It is worthy of note that in this affair, the magistrate, who came to the village had no distraint warrants with him and yet forcibly took away the cattle, fodder and ornaments from the people’s houses, who had to pay the punitive tax.

Seventy year old woman beaten.

From Raikot in Ludhiana District comes a tale that the Additional Superintendent of Police who went to make arrests, resented the people salaaming Moulvi Fazal Haq after his arrest, and insisted on their salaaming him instead. When they refused, he whipped them himself with his cane, and even an old woman of 70 and a boy of 5 did not escape his anger. When, as a protest against this inhuman treatment the shop-keepers observed a hartal,[3] he had them hauled up before him and had them given five stripes each, and to what he considered the ringleader ten stripes for this heinous offence. You are also aware of the case of a courageous lady of Amristar who tried to shield with her body the poor volunteers from being mercilessly beaten by the police and got belaboured herself for her merciful intervention.

Take again the parade of armed forces in the several districts in the Punjab. The Government has not alleged that there is any rebellion or fear of any violence; still large forces are being marched through the villages simply with a view to overawe the public and strike terror into them. Is it any wonder if in these marches exactions are made or forcible supplies levied? In many villages punitive police are quartered, simply because the villagers take part in the Congress, Khilafat and the Gurdwara movement. The police acts with studied insult and cruelty towards the inhabitants.

In some places they go on singing ribald songs throughout the day in the middle of the village while there are women and girls about.

Panchayats. There is also a regular campaign against the Panchayats, (Arbitration Courts) and the policy of the Government seems to be to suppress them at any cost. Sometimes whole Panchayats are arrested and false cases of coercion and intimidation brought against the Panches. Their only crime seems to be that they are trying to prevent litigation by settlement of disputes among themselves. The Government seems to be alarmed at this move, as it not only deprives them of a large revenue, but also cuts at the root of their prestige to which they are desperately clinging.

Illegal court proceedings.

Another scandalous feature of the present policy of the Government is that the people after arrest are kept for long terms in the jails as under trial prisoners and the trials themselves are unnecessarily prolonged in spite of the fact that the accused, as non-co-operators, do not take part in the proceedings.

Very often persons are arrested under one section, proceeded against under another and finally convicted under a totally different section of the Penal Code.

Lala Gowardhan Das and Sardar Dilawar Singh were nearly three months in jail before their cases were decided. There are numerous other cases which will tell the same tale. Another ingenuity which the police or the public prosecutors have devised is to charge a person under two or three different sections for the same act and get him cumulative sentences on each charge.

Sometimes as many as three cases have been brought against the accused for the same act as in the case of L. Gowardhan Das. But worst of all is the practice which the police is resorting to, of bringing charges involving moral turpitude against prominent political workers simply with a view to lower them in the estimation of the public, knowing full well that they would not, according to the principles of Non-co-operation, produce any defense or even cross-examine the prosecution witnesses.

Magistracy incapable.

Attitude of Courts. It is needless to say much here about the attitude of the courts. The magistracy has shown itself absolutely incapable of or unwilling to uphold the rights of the Indians and in all cases almost the courts have been merely the instruments for registering and giving judicial colour to the wishes and the policy of the Executive. In the case of Lala Lajpat Rai, the Court even went further, and though the Government Advocate clearly said that he could not press for a conviction under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the Court rejected his contention and sentenced Mr. Rai to one year’s inprisonment. The fact that the non-co-operators would not defend themselves or appeal seems to have emboldened both the magistrate and the prosecuting agency, with the result that the cases are conducted in a most haphazard fashion and without any due regard paid to the forms of law or the substance of it.

Then, again, very often prisoners are kept handcuffed in court, a most unnecessary and barbarous procedure, considering that these prisoners who willingly offer themselves for arrest cannot, in the least degree, be considered dangerous or likely to escape.

Treatment in jails disgraceful. The treatment of political prisoners in jails is really disgraceful. In the Punjab the policy actually put into practice seems to be to make the jail life of these people as hard and unbearable as possible. Complaints are pouring in from all the jails, except a few, that the action of the authorities can only be construed as evidence.

The Punjab Council passed a resolution that political prisoners ought to be given better treatment. But the Council has ignored it, and the Government has stuck to its position that it was not going to give this treatment to all without distinction. Sir John Maynard quite lost his temper during this debate and went so far as to say that the Government was not prepared to give special treatment to every “scoundrel” who might get arrested in a political offence. It is, indeed, regrettable that in this country alone no recognition should be given to a person who suffers for his opinions and whose offence involves no moral turpitude. I would have no complaint to make if the Government frankly put forward the proposition that they meant to make the life of the non-co-operators in jail as hard as possible, so as to teach them a lesson. But they profess one thing and do another. The Government of India clearly stated in open Council that political prisoners would be treated with every consideration.

Eaten alive by mosquitoes.

The prisoners in most of the jails in the Punjab are made to wear the degrading jail uniform which consists of a shirt with half arms and a pair of shorts. Exposed portions of the body are simply eaten alive by the mosquitoes. They are not afforded any facilities for reading newspapers. No light is allowed to them at night. The sanitary arrangements are defective and no attempt is made to secure privacy even in the lavatories. The food is the ordinary mess common to the jails, very often unwholesome and disgusting, flavoured with half heated oil, which stinks in the nostrils and with a good admixture of dust and grit.

In some of the jails very hard work, like grinding of corn and preparing reeds for rope-making, etc., are given to these people who are mostly town-bred and unaccustomed to hard manual labour. They are made to undergo periodical parades simply to humiliate them. For fancied offences against jail discipline harsh punishments like solitary confinement, standing hand cuffed, etc., are inflicted. In Lyallpur jail, I have been told, men are made to work at Munj Pounding in the hot blazing sun. In several cases even the ordinary right of interviews by relatives allowed by jail rules are taken away, and a prisoner like Lala Lajpat Rai is not allowed to see even his relatives. The result of this policy of wanton insult and degradation has been to force the prisoners very often to go on hunger strike as a protest. In Ambala jail the prisoners are not allowed to say their prayers. It was alleged that a Mohammadan boy was punished for asking for water to perform ablutions before prayers.

In Ludhiana Jail the the religious books have been treated with disrespect by the jail officials and when a protest was made, the alarm was sounded and, it is said, that shooting also took place, causing injury to a few persons.

Meetings prohibited.

The normal activities of the Congress are very often restricted and efforts are made, though not openly, to prevent recruitment of members of the Congress. The attempt to suppress the Panchayats, I have already mentioned. Picketing of a peaceful kind for stopping the sale of foreign cloth or liquor is anathema to the Government officers, and they have stopped at nothing to discourage and put an end to this form of activity. The wearing of black turbans seems to have become a crime and in Lahore, at least, the wearing of a Gandhi Cap or black puggree sends the District Magistrate crazy. Under these circumstances, to carry on even the quiet constructive programme outlined in the Bardoli resolutions becomes very often difficult and it speaks volumes for the courage and perseverance of the workers here that they are pushing on their work with redoubled zeal undaunted by any persecution.

Press muzzled.

All the Nationalist newspapers have had occasion to feel the heavy hand of Government on them at one time or another and only the “loyalists” in sentiments have escaped scot free. But the circulation of the loyalist papers is very limited, as their combined circulation does not even come up to that of the nationalist paper with the least circulation. The principal nationalist papers have had to cease publication. The “Zamindar” has suffered the most, having had its press and 10,000 rupees security once confiscated, 2,000 rupees security confiscated two or three times in addition to having four sets of Editors and Publishers prosecuted and sent to jail, where they are serving the sentences. The “Akali,” except that it did not have its press confiscated has no less proud a record. The case against its fourth set of Editor and Publishers is going on at the present moment.

I have tried to narrate briefly some of the most salient facts connected with the repressive policy of the Government in this Province. It is by no means exhaustive, nor can I do justice to this subject within the short space that is available to me in this address. The material at our disposal is so abundant that it would not be difficult to fill a goodly sized volume with a mere narration of all the cases within our knowledge. I have merely tried to indicate how heavy the hand of repression is in this Province and what difficulties the Congress and Khilafat workers and workers of the Gurdwara Movement have to meet with.

Sikh veterans of World war among staunchest followers.

It is difficult to say which to admire most, the courage and self-sacrifice of those who have cheerfully gone to jail or the undaunted spirit and enthusiasm of those who are working outside in face of great odds. The Hindus and the Mohammadans have done very well, indeed, and given a splendid account of themselves; but the palm in the matter of suffering and self-sacrifice is certainly to be given to the Sikh community.

They have high and glorious, and what is more, recent military traditions behind them. They are a race of born fighters, thoroughly martial in spirit, yet in this non-violent fight, they have shown incontestably that their power of suffering without retaliation is as great as their capacity to fight. Under the most provoking conditions they have exhibited exemplary patience and self-control which cannot but evoke admiration from all lovers of true courage.

Non-Co-operation movement stronger.

I hope I have demonstrated clearly that the very intensity of the repression by the Government, the nervousness betrayed by it and the other steps taken by it to counteract the effects of the movement of non-co-operation is a sure sign that our movement is stronger than ever to-day and that far from losing its hold on the people, it is bound to gather fresh strength day by day.

We find that the public generally is more responsive than ever to the call of the non-co-operation movement. Those who have toured the districts invariably report that the people are as enthusiastic as ever and are willing to carry out any directions given by the Congress and sister committees. A very encouraging sign is that in spite of the great depletion in the ranks of our workers there are new men coming forward to take their place and carry on the work. It is true that these people are not quite as experienced as the ones that have gone before, but it is only a matter of time before they become quite efficient.

The salient points of the new programme, as you are all aware, are;—

The new programme.

1. Recruiting of members for the Congress Committees and collection of Tilak Swaraj (Self Rule) Fund.

2. Removal of untouchability.

3. Promotion of unity among all classes.

4. Effective boycott of foreign cloth and encouragement of Swadeshi.

5. Stoppage of drink evil.

6. Establishment of Panchayats and Arbitration Boards.

The significance of N. C. O. movement.

Mahatma Gandhi’s last message before he went to jail was that the whole country should adopt khaddar, (that is, native cloth, spun and woven by Indians in their homes) and that khaddar would be the salvation of India.

It is often asked how khaddar would bring about swaraj, and people wonder that Mahatma Gandhi attaches so much importance to it. They are willing to admit its economic utility, but are doubtful of its political value. I can only say that those who raise this objection have not grasped the full significance of the non-co-operation movement. To me the beauty of this movement lies in the fact that it is not only a weapon whereby we can force the Bureaucracy to surrender its power, but is also a means whereby we might perfect ourselves and make ourselves fit to exercise that power when we do obtain it. If we have lost our liberty it is because we deserved to lose it, and English domination of India was achieved, not by the strength of England’s arm, but by the weakness of the Indian people. The non-co-operation movement aims at removing all the evils inherent in us, and by strengthening ourselves, ipso facto, weaken the forces that have overpowered us. The extent to which we suceed in removing the root cause of the evil will also be the extent to which we can hope for success. Internal dissensions, lack of self-reliance, and weakening of the social fabric, drove us into the arms of the foreigner who came to India originally for purely commercial purposes.

The diagnosis of India’s helplessness.

If we would only grasp sufficiently clearly the patent fact, that Englishmen would not care to rule India if it were not for material advantages, and that political domination is of little attraction to the Englishmen except as a means for finding markets for the products of their own country we would have gone a long way indeed in correctly diagnosing the political illness we are suffering from.

The very methods by which England consolidated her power in India ought to furnish us a lesson as to how we ought to proceed to achieve self-government for ourselves. You might be quite sure that, if England could only dictate the commercial policy of India, she would tomorrow grant us full powers in all other directions, and it is because she is afraid that, with the loss of political power and domination, she would lose the right of controlling the commercial policy, that she is determined not to let us get the right of governing ourselves.

It follows, therefore, that our first object, if we would overcome the opposition of the English government to our right to rule ourselves, ought to be to remove the temptation that is before her, and demonstrate once for all, that India is no longer going to let herself be exploited of her resources. If we were to adopt Khaddar and bring about a complete boycott of foreign cloth save about 600 million rupees ($200,000,000) from going out of India annually to enrich England. This would be an indisputable proof that we have made up our minds to be no longer mere hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Our battle half won.

That is why the day that the whole of India is clad in khaddar and the import of foreign cloth ceases absolutely, that day will usher in Self Rule. To achieve the boycott we will have to be quite united and all the communities in India will have to work hand in hand and this common effort will promote our unity as nothing else will. This is the political significance of the khaddar movement and who can deny, that apart from its economic aspects, it has a political side to it of greater potency?

Both economically and politically, the propaganda of khaddar is the soundest weapon we have got in our armoury, and we would be unwise if we did not make the most of this. In the last 18 months we have achieved a great deal and the import of foreign cloth into this country has declined by over 50 per cent.

Our battle is more than half won. Let us persevere and victory will be ours.


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  1. By this resolution, the Congress temporarily suspended the mass—civil—disobedience.
  2. This is like spitting on the cross or the Bible.
  3. Voluntary civic strike such as closing shops, etc.