CRIME AND THE PRESS IN INDIA. T HE first Session of
the reconstructed Imperial Legis- lative Council at Calcutta opened on Tuesday under the shadow of another political crime. The day before Police-Inspector Shams-ul-Alam was shot dead in the High Court while taking part in the trial of those who are accused of conspiring to overthrow the Government by the use of bombs. The fact that the murder was committed in open Court, in the presence of all the symbols of the law, is only a more than usually dramatic proof that the present conspiracy in India aims at making government impossible. There is nothing racial or sectarian in the conspiracy ; any one who avowedly helps the Govern- ment to perform its simplest duties may be a marked man and fall a victim at any moment. The murders of the Public Prosecutor in the Alipur trial, of Sir Curzon Wyllie and Dr. Lalcaca, of Mr. Jackson, the Collector of Nasik, and now the murder of Police-Inspector Shams-ul-Alam, as well as the various attempts on the lives of other officials, all bear the same stamp. British administration is to be paralysed as a preliminary to being removed. We need hardly say that, however far the practice of political assassination—a new thing in India—may be carried, there will never be anything even remotely -resembling paralysis. Government will unflinchingly go on. Lord Morley and Lord Minto have agreed to pursue a policy of political concession, as contrasted with the policy Of higher political efficiency, on the old lines, which Lord Morley has attributed to Lord Curzon. So be it, as Lord Morley says ; we have yet to see whether the results will be encouraging or disappointing, but at all events the new era is being entered upon with a reasoned hopefulness and an earnest intention to extract from it all the good that is possible. But this policy of political concession, which was originated spontaneously by Lord Minto and was not in any sense extorted by intimidation, is definitely designed to co-exist with the absolute and permanent retention of British sovereignty. "We do not know how to leave India," said John Bright, "and therefore let us see if we know how to govern it." It remains as true now as when Bright spoke these words just after the Mutiny that we do not know how to leave India. We do not blow because we cannot permit ourselves to have any knowledge of such a gigantic and infamous dereliction of duty as to leave the diverse and conflicting elements of India to fight for mastery among themselves, and ultimately, when they are stricken and exhausted, to fall a prey to the invasion of barbarous marauders.
We must not write now of the extremely interesting and sincere review of political events in which at the opening of the Legislative Council Lord Minto traced the develop- ment of the present reforms ; for the minds of all men are much more deeply concerned with his important announce- ment that a Bill was to be introduced on the following Friday to curb the literary license which has been so industriously watering the poisonous growths of anarchy. Before these lines can appear in print the text of the measure will have been published. We can hardly say how much we dislike, in ordinary circumstances and on ordinary grounds, any restriction of the freedom of the Press. We all blow the arguments against restriction,—the Press is a safety-valve ; it is better to have subversive or criminal tendencies openly declared than to have them driven underground where they work invisibly, and perhaps more dangerously ; the mere fact of restriction is itself a grievance, and makes martyrs of men who would not otherwise have discovered that they had a, grievance at all ; and so forth. The reasons against meddling with the freedom of the Press might be multiplied indefinitely. But let us remember a most important and distinguishing fact which may, and in the present case certainly does, make all the principles we have mentioned inapplicable to India. The mind of the Eastern man is not the mind of the Western man. And if we had to point to the extreme examples of the difference between East and West, we should point to Englishmen on the one hand and to the natives of India on the other.
What is a matter of principle when we are dealing with our own political existence ceases entirely to be a matter of principle under Oriental conditions. It becomes a matter of expediency. The maintenance of order is the first duty of Government, but under the regime of the last two or three years in India, where license has responded freely to indulgence, order has not been maintained. That is the simple fact which Lord Minto has to face. At the present rate a point would sooner or later be reached at which government worthy of the name could not be carried on. While we have been acting with patience and tolerance the conspirators have read in our demeanour the signals of weakness or fear. Englishmen, with their long-established prepossessions in favour of uni- versal freedom, have been very unwilling and very slow to believe this ; yet those who understand most about the native mind—namely, natives themselves—have told us that our self-restraint was misinterpreted from beginning to end, and that they could. not conceive how we could be so blind to obvious facts. If the government of India were in their hands, they said, they would know how to blot out the present conspiracy quickly and finally with such measures of repression as we have not even dreamed of introducing. We should never of course accept any of the wilder suggestions of natives for ending the conspiracy, for the burden we have laid upon ourselves requires us to be temperate and just even though it be to our own cost. But Lord Minto does most plainly recognise that the time has come when a stringent law must be put into force against those native newspapers, pamphlets, and circulars which are far and wide intro- ducing a terrible virus into impressionable minds. The incitements to murder are not always conveyed in clear and direct langunge, but they are unmistakable incite- ments nevertheless ; they are read as such, and do their work just as effectually as if they were explicit instructions to an assassin. This is the kind of instigation which has not previously come under the law, but is now to be brought under it. The most deplorable fact about the recent assassinations is that they have nearly all been perpetrated by young men, scarcely more than boys, who have acted in a semi-hypnotised state as the instruments of older and. more astute schemers. The latter have taken very good. care of their own skins, but their agents, curiously enough, have displayed a perfectly fanatical indifference to their fate. In most cases they have stood still to be arrested, and expressed their satisfaction that their work was done. The murderer of Shams-ul-Alam admitted freely that he was ordered to do the deed by a secret society.
We have no manner of doubt as to the imperative necessity of the new law against the Press. Exactly the same reasons which made Lord Morley consent to the revival of an old law for the deportation of certain fanatical agitators hold good now. Lord Morley then said :—" See the emergency and the risk. Nobody appreciates more intensely than I do the danger, the mischief, and a thousand times in history the iniquity, of what is called reason of State.' I know all about that. It is full of mischief and full of danger ; but so is sedition, and we should have incurred criminal responsibility if we had opposed the resort to this law." The Times correspondent tells us that when Lord Minto announced the forth- coming introduction of his Bill the applause in the Council Chamber was led by the Indian members. We are not surprised. It is, as we have said, the Indians who understand the nature of the conspiracy best who are most convinced of the necessity of new methods of grappling with it. We heartily congratulate Lord Minto and Lord Morley on showing once more that they are strong enough not to fear the shallow, if plausible, accusation that they are false to the political principles of a lifetime. "See the emergency and the risk." These much more than justify the measures they propose to take. As John Stuart Mill said, people are unfitted for more than a limited and qualified freedom when they will not co-operate with the law in the repression of evil-doers. To say that co-operation has been withheld in India is to make a. very mild statement of the case.