Speeches & Writings
Grievous Distress Among the People of India
In moving the following resolution at the ninth lndian National Congress held at Lahore in 1893 Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya said:
That this Congress, concurring in the views act forth in previous Congresses, affirms:
That fully fifty millions of the population, a number yearly increasing, are dragging out a miserable existence on the verge of starvation, and that in every decade, several millions actually perish by starvation.
And humbly urges once more that immediate steps be taken to remedy this calamitous state of affairs.
Mr. President and Brother Delegates,
It is with a heavy heart I rise to propose this motion. It is a matter of very great regret that a resolution of this character should have to be passed year after year without our having the consolation of recording that the Government had paid earnest attention to the matter. I say it is a matter of very great regret because of all the grievances under which our people are suffering, of all the troubles that they have to undergo, this question of poverty is the greatest, and as such, one would expect that the Government would devote its attention to remedy the grievance which year after year the best intelligence of India has put forward for its consideration. Gentlemen, as I have said, it is a matter of deep regret that we should have to use the words of this resolution once more. This subject was brought to the attention of Government as early as 1885, when the first Congress met in Bombay. Again in 1886, when we met at Calcutta for the first time, the subject was, if anything, more emphatically dwelt upon and we urged Government to institute enquiries and to take steps to remedy the spread of poverty which we complained of.
Though nine years have rolled by, the Government have not yet taken any step to remedy the state of affairs. All they did was to institute a hole and corner enquiry in 1888, not with a view to remedy the grievance, but to silence the complaints, if possible, by saying that the poverty complained of existed not so much in reality as in imagination and the reports published by Government, and the Resolution of the 24th October, 1888, was directly meant to serve that end. But if Government makes these hole and corner enquiries, and evidence is not sought and evidence is not received, and reports and resolutions are hurled at the heads of the people, with a view to throw dust into their eyes, who is to blame if the people don't believe them and if we complain of the cruel indifference of the Government; who is to blame if we have to appeal again and again to the Englishmen who have come to govern the country and those who have taken the responsibility of guiding our destinies in England; who is to blame if we have to appeal again and again for justice in this country? When a proposal was put forward recently in the House of Commons, asking that a Royal Commission might be appointed to enquire into the complaint, it was said by those who did not care to have such an enquiry, that honorable gentleman who presides over this assembly, had not supplied sufficient evidence of poverty, but as, the President well remarked, you cannot make people see if they are not inclined to see. Facts and figures have been supplied both this year and in previous years which leave no room for doubt that poverty has been increasing, goes on increasing and will go on increasing, unless something is done to remedy it. If they chose to ignore all that is said to them they cannot tell us with decency that we have not given them evidence. They talk of sense of solemn responsibility in having undertaken the task of guiding the destinies of the millions of this land. When you come to think of the small attention they bestow on Indian questions and the light-heartedness with which they deal with the most solemn questions, you begin to suspect, they do not realize their responsibility to God and man; for injustice, oppression and suffering, are going on under their rule. They have asked us to supply evidence of the poverty. Will they come and see? If they believe in God and believe they will have to render an account of their stewardship in this country, let them come out to this country once in their lives and go from village to village and town to town and see in what misery the people live. Let them come out and ask the people what the country was, say, before the Mutiny. Where are the weavers, where are those men who lived by different industries and manufactures, and where are the manufactures which were sent to England and other European countries in very large quantities year after year? All that has become a thing of the past; everyone sitting here is clothed in cloth of British make, almost every one -- and wherever you go you find British manufactures and British goods staring you in the face. All that is left to the people is to drag out a miserable existence by agricultural operations and make infinitesimal profit out of the little trade left to them. In, the matter of the services, in the matter of trade, our people are not enjoying one hundredth part of the profit and gain which they used to enjoy fifty years ago. How then is it possible for the country to be happy? How is it surprising that the country is not more poor than it is? There are only two kinds of evidence we can offer to our critics, one is the direct evidence of the eyes, and we invite them to acquire that for themselves, the other is the indirect evidence supplied by the experience of those who have lived in this country and know the way in which the people live. Any such evidence I am ready to place before you, the evidence of men in the veracity and accuracy of whose statements no man dare utter a doubt. I will first call attention to what Mr. John Bright said in 1853, in the House of Common. Speaking of India he said: "What is it that the people of India, if they spoke by my mouth, have to complain of? They would tell the House that, as a rule, throughout almost all the Presidencies, and throughout those Presidencies most of which have been longest under the British rule, the cultivators of the soil, the great body at the population of India, are in a condition of great impoverishment, of great dejection and of great suffering." Later on, Lord Lawrence in 1864, said, "India is on the whole a very poor country. The mass of the population enjoy only a scanty subsistence." Speaking in 1873, he again said, "the mass of people were so miserably poor that they had barely the means of subsistence." In 1868-69 Mr. W. R. Robertson, then the head of the Agricultural Department in Madras said, "The condition of the Agricultural labourer in India is a disgrace to any country calling itself civilized." Sir Auckland Colvin speaking in 1885 in connection with the License Tax Amendment Bill remarked, "The masses of the people are men whose income at the best is barely sufficient to afford them the sustenance necessary to support life, living as they do on the barest necessaries of life." In 1882 Sir Evelyn Baring said, speaking as the Finance Minister of this country, "It has been calculated that the average income per head of the population in India is not more than Rs 27 a year, and though I am not prepared to pledge myself to the absolute accuracy of a calculation of this sort, it is sufficiently accurate to justify the conclusion that the tax paying community is exceedingly poor. To derive any very large increase of revenue from so poor a population as this, is obviously impossible, and if it were possible, would be unjustifiable." Again in the discussion on the budget after repeating the above statement regarding the income of Rs. 27 per head per annum, he said: "But he thought it was quite sufficient to show the extreme poverty of the masses of the people. In England the average income per head of the population is £ 33 (it is now £ 41), in France it was £ 23, in Turkey which was the poorest country in Europe it was £ 4 per head. He would ask honourable members to think what Rs. 27 per annum was to support a person and then he would ask whether a few annas was nothing to such poor people." Again if you come to 1888 you find that the Government of India admits indirectly that there was a great and increasing poverty, for, what did they say in their white-washing resolution? They said: "There is evidence to show that in all parts of India there is a numerous population which lives from hand to mouth, is always in debt, does not save and has little or nothing to fall back upon in bad season.” It is unnecessary for me to multiply these quotations; any man who cares to know the real facts can read the valuable papers of our illustrious Chairman and the paper issued by the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha in which the condition of the country is graphically and truly depicted. There was no shadow of fact in the excuse that our illustrious Chairman did not supply facts, for by official papers the fact is proved that there is great poverty and that Government is, doing nothing, or precious little to remove that poverty or check its growth. I ask you to say by this resolution that there are fully fifty millions of the population dragging out a miserable existence on the verge of starvation. It is a serious statement to make, yet I am emboldened to ask you to give consent to this motion, because, if anything, it does not fully express the poverty of the land; it falls short because I think the numbers are not correct, it underrates the numbers. You might ask me to give my authority for saying this I appeal to your own experience, but if you want in-direct authority, there is that of Sir Charles Eliot and Sir William Hunter. The latter says, "The remaining fifth, or forty millions, go through life on insufficient food;" whilst Sir Charles Eliot says, "I do not hesitate to say that half of our agricultural population never know from year's end to year's end what it is to have their hunger fully satisfied." Let the rulers think over those words and ask themselves what they will have to say to God when they go before Him. I accept all these statements of officials of Government, and ask, why does not Government do something to remedy the evil? We say that several millions perish by starvation. It is unnecessary to tire you with many figures but I will say this to prove that statement. The loss of life by war from 1793 to 1890 in the whole world was 4,500,000; the loss of life in 8 years by fever alone in India was 4,349,922. Does that not prove conclusively that several millions of our people die from sheer starvation: and are we not justified in asking our rulers to earnestly give this matter their most earnest consideration before the danger develops into a danger of a serious character? " (Loud applause).