16 AUGUST 1930, Page 16

Letters to the Editor


[To the Editor of the SPECTATOR]

Sur,—The articles and letters in your paper with regard to India have been intensely interesting. The article in the issue of August 2nd by Reginald Reynolds has brought out a point which it is well worth emphasizing ; this is, that the Panchayal is the Indian method of government. So often an Indian's way of doing things is different from ours. For instance, two Indian women making a bed will do so from the top and bottom rather than from the sides as we do. Instances could be multiplied a hundred-fold. Panchayats —or Councils of the old men of the village or Castes, are a form of government unknown to us, but, as your correspondent points out, they have been the Indian form of Government for centuries. May I tell the story of how an appeal to the Panchayat of her caste worked in the case of an old Ayah I once had ? She was a remarkable old lady—of course, of a low caste, as all Ayahs are—a woman of much character and wisdom. A widow, a small insignificant-looking woman with her eyes generally east down and her hands meekly folded in front of her, she yet ruled her large family of children and grandchildren with much firmness and judgment. Her five daughters were all married and the sons-in-law were satisfactory, with the exception of one—who would not Work and support his wife and children. He finally deserted them, going off to a city over two days' journey from the place where my husband and I were stationed at the time. One morning old Lalli—the Ayah—asked for a week's leave. When asked what she wanted it for, she explained that she had laid the case of Tilloo (her son-in-law) before the Panchayat of her caste and they had decreed that she should go to the place where Tilloo had hidden himself and bring him back, to be dealt with by them.

" Lalli !" I exclaimed, " how can you go three days' journey, a lone old woman like you ? And what is more, where is the money to come from ? " " Memsahib," she replied, " my Panchayat has written to our Caste-men in each of the places where I must stop and they will look after me. When I arrive at A— they will deliver Tilloo into my hands and I will return with him. As to the money, . Iluzoor," she said, falling at my feet, " that will come from you— " Wise and business-like Panchayat ! They would have given her the money if necessary, but advised trying the Memsahib first.

She got the money and departed. I confess I was anxious about the old lady during the week, but on the appointed day for her return she came noiselessly into my room bearing my early tea. " Is all well ? " I asked, eagerly. " All is well," she said ; " my Caste-men met me, they delivered Tilloo into my hands. The Panchayat will deal with him." " How will they make him work ? " I asked. " They will deal with him," she said, in a tone of high and lofty dismissal. The subject seemed to her hardly worth discussing further.

Tilloo pulled my punkah humbly and efficiently through the whole of that hot weather. When I left India, years after, he was still working humbly and supporting his family. " Verily," I thought to myself on that hot morning when Lalli returned so triumphantly (and I think so still), " verily they manage these things better in the East than we do in the West."

Realizing, as all who know India must do, how different on practically every point is the Indian outlook from ours, might it not be wise at this juncture when a new form of government is being devised for our Indian Empire that it should be built in the first instance, and as far as possible, with material native to the country, with the methods and ideas that are essentially Indian ; supplementing those, where necessary, with British methods and ideals ? Such a combination would surely be a strong and lasting one.

One other point : now, when our whole relations with our Indian fellow-subjects are in the melting pot, would it not be possible for us as a nation to " mend our manners " and to drop for ever that superior and " rude " attitude so many of us have adopted towards Indians in their own country ? Surely, in our new " building," we could be done for ever With this sign of inefficiency—for that is what rudeness anywhere amounts to.

My only excuse for venturing to write on India is that twenty-seven years of my life have been spent there, and I. have seen it from more than one point. My father was one of John Lawrence's men, and worked under him through the Mutiny and afterwards in the settling of the Punjaub. He was thirty years in India with only one short furlough home.. As children we often heard him tell stories of gallant deeds done by men on both sides. If the hero of the story had been Indian, his eyes would flash and the story would end with the emphatic words " Good men ! Good men ! Every bit as good as Englishmen ! " He loved India and her people to the marrow of his bones. Those were great days. And to great men was given the handling of then'. Later, I spent some time with a brother who was in the Indian Army and one learnt there—though, of course, there was much to the con- trary—what comradeship and sympathy could exist between English officers and their Indian men. Later, again, I spent. several years in the land as the wife of a medical missionary.

One last word. Often individuals or nations find them- selves responsible for some particular task the purpose of which seems to lie quite visibly on the surface of affairs. But- it is only when the work in hand has been accomplished that the real purpose or what might be called " the purpose of first importance " which has lain unthought of and hidden, comes to light ; and suddenly it is seen to be the big purpose of the whole effort.

Why have Britain and India been brought together in this strange and difficult comradeship which has lasted nearly one hundred years ?

The answers which might be given are many and varied. But beneath the ostensible reasons which lie so much on the surface—i.e., the benefits given and received on both sides—. there lies the " purpose of first importance"—the freeing of India's women. This, when achieved, will be the culminating point of benefit received on both sides. For the women of India are wonderful material ; and when they are free, their contribution, not only to their own nations but to the British Empire, will be one of considerable value.

Undoubtedly there are millions of happy homes in India, and millions of happy women, but undoubtedly also, the lot of the average Indian woman is deplorable beyond words. The. blame for this condition of affairs is not to be placed on the men of India, but rather on the circumstances of their lives. and of their country's history—centuries of internal warfare which made it necessary to seclude their women, the conse- quences arising from this seclusion, etc., etc. To maintain that the men of India are worse than the men of other nations is, of course, an absurdity.

Sometimes one wonders whether Britain will be allowed to lay down her responsibilities, or India be able to govern her- self until this underlying purpose is accomplished.—I am, Sir,