Stuk 128 - Circular letter by F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

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PETH/6/128

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Circular letter by F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

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  • 22 Nov. 1926 (Vervaardig)

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6 sheets

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En route to Calcutta.—Outlines his and his wife’s activities during the last fortnight. Discusses in detail the political situation in Madras and the labour conditions there, and describes visits to Mysore and Madura.

(Mechanical copy of a typed original.)

—————

Transcript

En Route to Calcutta.
November 22, 1926.

It is only a month yesterday since we left England, and a fortnight ago in the train to Madras I was writing an account of our first experiences of India {1}.

I have rarely lived as strenuous fourteen days as those which I have just experienced. Thanks to the businesslike arrangements made by my friend Campbell I have seen almost everyone of any account in Madras—the Governor, all the non-elected members of the Madras Government, all but one of the elected Madras ministers, and all the principal members of the three political parties in Madras, “justisites”, “independents”, and “congressmen”; I have visited most of the factories of the city, I have addressed three trade union meetings and have discussed the labour position with the commissioner of Labour and with all the principal trade union officials; in addition I have travelled 300 miles west and spent 3 days in the State of Mysore seeing sights in the capital city Mysore and addressing two meetings in the adjacent city of Bangalor, and 300 miles south to Madura where we stayed with a landowner and spent two days visiting temples and investigating conditions in a neighbouring village.

Let me deal first with the political situation. We arrived in Madras on the day immediately following the election which had gone off quietly but not without considerable interest and excitement. We were told that quite a number of women had exercised the franchise, and that one woman had stood as a candidate in a rural constituency on the West Coast. Previous to the election the “Justice” members had formed the principal party in the Madras Legislative Council and therefore from them the Ministers had been selected. These ministers had charge of what are known as the “transferred” subjects, while the “reserved” subjects, according to the diarchy installed by the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, were controlled by the members of the Legislative Council appointed by and responsible to the Governor alone.

My first meeting was with the members of the “Congress” party who are the Swarajists in Madras. Their main plank is the utter inadequacy of the amount of self government provided by the existing constitution. The diarchy of the provincial governments and the very limited powers given to the elected representatives in the (federal) Government of India are alike condemned by them. They do not want a commission appointed in 1929 by Britain to consider what modifications of the constitution she will be graciously pleased to grant to India, but a round table conference of Indians and British to arrange the details of the change over to complete “Dominion” status. They have abandoned the “boycott” of the Council as implied in the “non-cooperation” of Gandhi, and the “walk-out of the Chamber” as ineffective political weapons and substituted obstruction based as far as they understand it on the tactics of Parnell. On local issues they deny that they are in any sense either a “capitalist” party or a Brahmin party, pointing to the fact that most of the Trade Union leaders hold prominent positions in their ranks, and many non-Brahmins were their candidates at the recent elections. They support a wide franchise but point out that an illiterate franchise provides grave opportunities for corruption.

The Justice party consider the diarchy a piece of rather badly constructed machinery which will need very considerable repairs if it is to be made to work. But they are quite averse to jumping from that into complete self-government either in the local or in the federal government. They regard the Swaraj and Congress parties of Indian† as essentially Brahmin, and fear that they would use any power given to them [to] rivet fetters of Brahmin tyranny upon India. They look upon themselves as champions of the non-Brahmins generally including the large section of outcast “untouchables” who are so terribly oppressed at the present time.

The Independents have not any one point of view and hold many divergent opinions, some approximating to the “Congress” and others to the “Justice” party.

The Mohammedans have a special franchise of their own for the Assembly and a specially appointed member of the Legislative Council of Madras. As traders they have not troubled much about the higher education which has been so much sought after by the Brahmins, and some of those whom I saw are fearful lest greater self government may mean in practice subordination of Mohammedan to Hindu which they would resent and resist perhaps even by violence.

The English in Madras hold many varying opinions and those in official positions are naturally chary of expressing very definite views as to the future. I think however there is a general consensus of opinion that there has been a genuine attempt made both by the British and by the Indian majority-party to work the constitution and that it has not proved at all easy. Some think that self government ought to have been confined first to taluk boards and district boards (rural district councils and county councils). Few however would think it possible to go back on the provincial self-government already conferred. The most advanced x† view that I heard was that (since people prefer self-government to good government) complete self-government should be bestowed in 1929 on the Madras Presidency, the Governor becoming entirely constitutional, all the subjects including law and order and finance being “transferred” to the control of the popularly-elected assembly, and the whole government to be in the hands of ministers to be selected, as in England, from the majority party. But, and those who took this view were emphatic on this point, this handing over the reins in Madras must be accompanied by a tightening instead of s† loosening of the reins in the Government of India as a whole, and further it must by no means be assumed that self governing powers similar to those proposed for Madras should be given to all the other component parts of British India.

I do not propose, at this stage, to express any view of my own, and I will therefore only add that the result of the elections in Madras presidency has been a considerable victory for the Congress party, who are now the largest single party and will perhaps constitute an absolute majority of the elected members (out of a Chamber of about 130, 30 or more are official or nominated). The woman in S. Canara just missed being elected. Whether the Congress party will accept office—as minister for the “transferred” subjects remains to be seen. Their originally avowed policy was the reverse and they have given pledges to the Indian National Congress itself to this effect. But it is thought that Congress itself this December may give them absolution from this promise and that that may not be too late for their final reply to the Governor.

I pass now to Labour conditions. It is essential in this connection to remember that town factory labour forms but a tiny part of the total labouring population of the country. This is of the greatest importance both in itself—in order that true proportion may be preserved in the mind—and also because the conditions of agricultural labour have necessarily a great effect upon wages and conditions in the factories. If the factory worker retains one foot on the land he has to that extent a refuge from unlimited oppression in the factory. If there is a horde of ill paid half-starved agricultural labourers at the factory gates that will make a successful strike very difficult.

I am glad to say that after considerable investigation I obtained substantial agreement as to facts from the employers’ and workmen’s sides. But here the satisfaction ends, for the conditions are certainly deplorable. In the cotton mills of Madras a skilled man working nine hours earns from less than a rupee a day or some R24 a month (8/- a week) up to about R36 (12/- a week) with a few at higher amounts. At the railway works the hours are 8 and the wages of about 50% of the skilled men vary from about R18 a month up to R24 (6/- to 8/- a week), another 30 or 40% getting 9/- to 12/- a week, with some at higher levels. The coolies (labourers) get R10, R12, and sometimes as much as R15 a month (3/6, 4/-, and 5/- a week).

Of course the Indian has far fewer expenses than the British worker having next to nothing to find for clothes and fuel, while rent will be from 4d to 1/- a week. Nevertheless at least R32 a month (11/- a week) is needed for bare subsistence for man wife and 3 children, while R72 a month (24/- a week) was given me by some of the workers as a real living wage for a family. Consequently existing wages do not in many cases provide even a subsistence level unless several other members of the famil[y] are also working.

One of the obnoxious features of Indian factory life is that wages often do not commence to be paid until full six weeks after a man starts work. In the meanwhile he often gets into the hands of the moneylender and can never extricate himself again. Other complaints are as to fines and victimisation, and the fact that while there are elected representatives of employers on the legislative councils there are no elected representatives of Labour, also the utterly disproportionate wages given to Europeans and Anglo Indians (children of mixed marriages) who probably start at R84 a month (28/- a week) and rise to far higher figures.

In fairness I should like to say that I found one of the British-owned cotton mills considerably superior to the Indian ones. Some attempts were being made at good housing, education of children of the operatives, and welfare work generally including the provision of well ventilated rooms for mid-day dinner. In the Indian mill I was shocked to see workmen eating their food squatting on the floor in the midst of the machinery.

Behind the town operative lies the ryot (peasant farmer), behind the ryot lies the landless agricultural labourer of whom perhaps 50% are outcasts. Taking one year with another the peasant with the help of his family may get an average monthly income of R10 (3/6 a week) and upwards, the landless may get R9, R12, or even R18 or R24 (3/6, 4/-, 6/-, 8/- a week) in busy times for his own labour alone but his wages will sink to R9 a month (3/- a week) or less or nothing when times are slack. Of course his wife and children may also be able to earn something and there may be something to be got out of a cottage industry or even a village industry. But the total family income may very likely not reach R100 a year (£7. 10. -) and of that pittance the money-lender and other harpies may secure a considerable part. I do not give these figures as in any way accurate but rather as a rough estimate from the general talks that I have had. Possibly I may have occasion to correct them later. In any case they relate only to Madras.

{2} In the early part of my letter I spoke of my visits to Mysore and Madura. My wife and I went to the former as guests of the native ruler, the Maharaja. This Indian State is governed exclusively by Indians and has recently received a constitution from him in which there are two properly elected Houses. Though the Maharaja is not obliged to accept their advice I gather that he usually does so except on certain questions which he reserves exclusively for himself. The State is acknowledged to be very well governed and has to its credit the construction by exclusively Indian design and labour of the second largest dam in the world.

In madura† we were entertained by Mr. Foulkes a friend of Mr. Campbell’s. We went inside two most interesting Hindu temples, one of them having an area of some 40 acres including a beautiful artificial lake. I climbed an intricate stairway to the top of one of the towers and overlooked the city. On our second visit it was festival night and the temple was illuminated. Great crowds of worshippers as well as sacred cows wandered everywhere at will except into the holy of holies.

Not far from Madura is the village of Usilempatti where the interesting experiment is being made of weaning the tribe of Kullahs from dacoity (robbery) by the simple expedients of giving them water and thus enabling them to earn their own living from their irrigated fields, & by giving their children education in an elementary school. It appears to be quite successful so far, showing once more that the roots of crime are poverty and ignorance.

This letter should reach you a few days before Christmas. Please accept from my wife and myself for your own circle and for all your friends our hearty good wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

F. W. PETHICK-LAWRENCE.

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{1} PETH 6/125.

{2} The last sheet, which begins here, is marked “Keep Carefully only Copy.” and there is a cross in the margin alongside the paragraph about the village of Usilempatti. At the foot of the preceding sheet is written, ‘Note last Page taken by FWPL to Edinburgh 22/2/45 EK.’

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