A Letter to Mr. Ramsay MacDonald

Dear Sir,

From the middle of the year 1906 to the month of August 1908, I was working as a special contributor to a weekly Tamil Journal, the India by name, which was published in Madras. In the latter year, the Government of Madras thought it fit to prosecute that Journal for sedition.

I was not the person responsible for the conduct of the Journal and so, of course, they sent another man to gaol.

In my lectures, poems and pamphlets, I represented the advanced section of the party of constitutional reform. I quitted Madras a few days after the India prosecution commenced, as many of my friends informed me that keen disappointment was felt by some high placed officials at their inability to find something which would enable them to send me to prison and that the Police were trying to fabricate false evidence against me. An impartial and thorough student of the history of our times like yourself could not but be aware how mercilessly and deliberately the peaceful nationalist movement was suppressed in that year, thus making room for what neither the Government nor the Nationalist really wanted, viz. terrorist violence.

My public utility was thus unexpectedly checked-let me hope, temporarily-and I had no special love for the interesting role of a martyred victim to official blindness and Police lies. I, therefore, sought refuge under the French flag in Pondicherry.

After I came to Pondicherry, I was living as an independent Journalist, not attached to any particular paper, but receiving money from various newspapers for signed articles. I challenge the Government of Madras to produce a single article signed by me which any impartial court could pronounce guilty under the law.

In the month of November 1910, I wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Police, Madras, asking if there was any warrant against me in British India. The Commissioner sent a reply assuring me that there was none. And so I became confident that the Madras Government had no longer any grudge against me. Subsequently the Pondicherry journals, with some of which I had already served my connections, were proscribed by the British Government.

In the month of July 1911, Collector Ashe of Tinnevelly District, was shot dead by a Brahmin, Vanchi Iyer, and as though to encourage the inventive skill of the Madras Police, Vanchi Iyer committed suicide, leaving no clue whatsoever as to the possible abettors.

The lower Police, to whom, by the way, political motives and political crimes were, and still are, as strange and unfamiliar as Differential Calculus, at once imagined that the newspapermen who had been talking “Swadeshi” on the sands of the Madras Beach three years before must be at the bottom of the whole thing; for, had they not shown their bias for disregarding the law by refusing to swallow the benefits of that angelic Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code as interpreted by the Pinches of the day?

During the trial of the Ashe murder case at the Madras High Court, I could get some glimpses into the sort of “evidence” which made the Police suspect me as a possible abettor.

It would appear that some of the so calls “ Conspirators “ – the charge of any conspiracy to murder Mr. Ashe, be it noted, broke down in the course of the trial and was abandoned by the Government-had with them copies of a harmless love poem and a social reform novelette written by me. It must also be mentioned that the particular men in whose possession these books were found were acquitted by the court as nothing could be found to connect them with even the general “ conspiracy “ on which charge some of their fellow accused were ultimately sent to gaol.

The only charge which the Police could maintain against these acquitted men was that they were found in possession of books published by me! And, of course, I was guilty because they had my book! Q.E.D.

Another thing which came to light during the trial was that Vanchi Iyer was alleged by one prosecution witness to have made a visit to Pondicherry months before he committed the murder. This was, of course, disconcerting news, but that witness-a post-office clerk who was well-known here as a friend of the spies was not corroborated by any independent witness among the citizens of Pondicherry, and what is more to the point just at present is that Vanchi Iyer came to my house or was seen in my company at any time.

With such wonderful “ evidence “ in their hands, the Police got warrants issued against all the refugees in Pondicherry, making a noteworthy exception in the case of my friend, Mr. Aurobindo Chose, evidently because they thought he was too powerful a personality to play such vulgar tricks against.

Our names were proclaimed in British India and a reward of a thousand rupees was offered for the capture of any of us. I naturally wanted to protest.

But, in the meanwhile, as a result of some mysterious agreement between the British and French Governments, a Company of Policemen, about 200 strong in the earlier months, was posted in Pondicherry to watch the movements of all the refugee. You will be interested to know that these policemen have peculiar ideas of surveillance. They started rumours among the more ignorant classes in Pondicherry that they had come to occupy the town, that the French were going to give up the entire colony and so on.

(Note: As a matter of fact, the question of the cession of some French towns in India to the English was seriously considered by some French Ministers about this period, but the British police made too much capital out of it. – C.S.B.)

French citizens in Pondicherry were openly made to understand that if anyone among them should live on friendly terms with us, he would be sent to prison the moment he set his foot on British India Soil. And, in order to make these treats effective, the British Police actually arrested some Pondicherrians at Villupuram, of course without assigning any valid reasons; and they would have continued the game for a much longer period, had not my good friend, M. Paul Bluysen, that true- souled son of France and faithful Depute for India in the French Chamber, intervened and put an end to their dirty tricks by vigorous and timely action.

Later on, they said they were going to use personal violence against some of us and carry us away by force. A few adventurous Sub-Inspectors tried to influence some local rowdies to injure us. In one case, at any rate, there was a midnight visit from the rowdies and my own house was looted and robbed in my absence by men who afterwards confessed the guilt and whom everybody knew to be the hirelings of the British spies.

Later on, in the month of April 1912, two local informers who were proved to be in the pay of the British Police stationed here-the same force that induced the Government of Madras to issue warrants against us on the charge of conspiracy – brought in accusation against myself and some other refugees charging us of a criminal conspiracy to murder all Europeans (of course, including the French).

But the French Magistrates were not nervous fools and they could see, after due investigation, that the whole thing was a clumsy conspiracy engineered by the British Police, and the JUGE d’ instruction said this in so many words, a number of times during the trial. Some other time I shall communicate to you, in full, the long tale of that ludicrous conspiracy; suffice it now to remark that the affair satisfied every one in Pondicherry as to the absolute legality the old, old truth that villainy ceases to be clever after it reaches a certain depth. For, the charges against us were sought to be established by devices as stupid and absurd as they were cruel and mean.

So the British Police continued to stay here and I may add that they are still with us although in a much lesser number than before, and are overwhelming us with the kindness of their well-mannered attentions.

To resume my narrative, I wanted to protest against the drastic measures which the Government of Madras had so lightly adopted against me, but found myself unable to do so as the local Post Office (under British Control) was at that time openly in alliance with the company of spies.

In fact, I had penned a long letter to the then Governor of Madras, explaining my political views and programmes and inviting the Government to consult high placed Indians of my acquaintance both in Madras and Pondicherry, in whom the Government had confidence, about the real nature of my thoughts and aspirations, in case the Government could not be satisfied with the mere legal and dignified policy of judging a man by his public acts and utterances.

I also pointed out that even in 1908 when I was in the full swing of my political activities, the Madras Government had no warrant against me, and that it was very queer that on the reports of policemen whose partiality for lying and concoction I could prove by documents in my possession – copies of a few I had annexed as a supplement to my letter to H.E. the Governor of Madras – of policemen whose utter incapacity for political detective work ought to be, by this time, abundantly clear to any intelligent administrator, a warrant should have been issued against me, after there years of my enforced retirement from public work under a foreign flag and in a small town where the nature of my occupation could be ascertained from any responsible citizen.

I then approached the local British Consul with a request that the letter be forwarded to H.E. the governor of Madras. That gentlemen returned the letter to me, after keeping it with himself for more than a week, with the intimation that it would be against the rules if he rendered me that service. The local Post Office I could not trust. And, in those days, the Two hundred new faces of the British spies and liberties that they assumed for themselves had produced such a sensation here that no Pondicherrian cared to have nay sort of relations with the – a state of affairs which came to an end only when the spies began to overdo the thing and familiarized everyone to their gentle way be spying on some of the French citizens. And thus it happened that I had no means even of sending up a protest against what I held as the iniquitous and very thoughtless persecution to which I was subjected and against the lies, which I had good reason to suspect, the spies were sending against me, day after day to the authorities in Madras.

After the arrival of Lort Pentland, as Governor of Madras, I noticed a partial change in the atmosphere of the local Post Office and concluded, rightly, that the influence of the spies on the Postal service had gone down considerably.

This encouraged me to write a long appeal to H.E. Pentland and send it by post.

In that appeal, I narrated all the facts of my case, also appending copies of certain documents which, I felt sure, would give His Excellency insight into the character of the lower police and their happy freedom from all notions of legality and moral rectitude. I stated very clearly to H.E. that I kept my nationalist opinions intact and unshaken but I merely protested against the adoption of cruel and unjust measures against me while I was far away from the field of political struggle and living a quiet but open life under a foreign flag, on the mere strength of vague suspicions.

The constitutional movement, as I have already remarked, had received a temporary check and so, I, like some others, finding that I could not render any service to my countrymen by remaining in British territory but merely endanger my personal freedom and security chose to exile my self to a foreign realm.

The local (French) Governors have again and again expressed to me, in the course of personal interviews, their perfect satisfaction as to the legality and innocent nature of my private and public life here. I have been living in Pondicherry for more than five years now.

And because a crime is enacted about three years after I left British India, in some obscure corner of a far-off district, where a previous Collector had incurred unpopularity (in the “Tinnevelly Riots” affair), the British Government, on the advice of the lower police issues a warrant against me on the charge of conspiracy, while the same charge of conspiracy brought against me by the hirelings of the same police people was, after a long and painfully sifting enquiry (including house searches and all the sort of thing) dismissed as frivolous and baseless by the local Magistrate who had a much better opportunity of ascertaining my life and character than the Government of Madras.

I wish I had sufficient power of language to depict the whole absurdity and injustice of the thing. I have heard and read about many countries and I may record my sincere conviction that nowhere in the world is the sacredness of the individual liberty more cynically ignored than in Madras and certain other Provinces of India. I hope and guess that Lord Pentland sincerely desires to remove this blot from the administration of the Presidency entrusted to his charge. At any rate, his written assurances to me that the matter would be e3nquired into by the Judicial Department make me believe that he is not totally callous to the infliction of private wrong in the name of public policy.

But I am beginning to fear that His Excellency’s hands are stayed in this matter by the reactionary elements in his new environment.

And I make this appeal to you, Sir, who as chief of the Labour Party and as a very sober and thoughtful statesman wield a considerable influence for good on English public opinion, to do all that you can in the way of strengthening Lord Pentland’s hands in rendering me justice, and in withdrawing the measures adopted against me on the strength of incredible, absurd and unscrupulous reports.

C. Subramania Bharati

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