Friday, 1 July 2016

Young India - The toiling millions

A friend having for the first time seen New Delhi and the
Assembly Hall in March last writes:
I was the other day for the first time in the Assembly Hall and it was for the first time then that I saw New Delhi also. I could see how millions must have been poured into the construction of New Delhi to make it so imposing. The Assembly Hall too presents an equally imposing appearance. But as I came out of the Assembly Hall, I saw dilapidated huts which turned out to be the labour camp where I thought must be living the coolies working at the construction of New Delhi.... The contrast between the palaces built in New Delhi for wealthy people and the miserable huts allotted to the people whose labour was responsible for the palaces was too terrible for contemplation....

How, I thought to myself, could the members of the Assembly day after day miss the horrible contrast which I could see even during the few moments that I was in New Delhi? . . .

I have said nothing to any of the members. But could you not do anything in this matter? I have said nothing because I could influence no one; but you may think it worth while doing something. You are a friend of the poor and might be able to secure some relief. Anyway I could not help disburdening myself to you.

I have summarized the main contents of the letter which my fair correspondent has written in Hindi. The criminal disparity that exists between the condition of labour and that of capital is no new thing in modern times. The discovery made by the friend reminds one of the discovery said to have been made centuries ago by Gautama Buddha.It was no new thing he saw. But the shock received by the sight of old age, disease and other miseries of life transformed his life and materially affected the fortunes of the world. 
It is well that this lady has received her first shock. If she and the other cultured women of India, who have received their education at the expense of the very poor people of whom the correspondent writes so pathetically, will dive deeper and make some slight return to these poor people by making common cause with them, some alleviation in their distressful condition will not be long in coming. 
Every palace that one sees in India is a demonstration not of her riches but of the insolence of power that riches give to the few, who owe them to the miserably requitted labours of the millions of the paupers of India. We have a Government which is based upon and which only exists by the exploitation of the toiling millions. A friend sent me the other day a cutting from an English newspaper which considered Rs. 1,500 for an Englishman to be not enough for his wants in India, and it warned Englishmen from venturing out to India if they could get not more than Rs. 1,500 per month. There is no need to quarrel with that standard. From the writer’s own standpoint, Rs. 1,500 per month is demonstrably inadequate because he regards club life, a motor-car, migration to a hill-station during the hot months, education of children in England to be the necessary minimum. All one can say and one must say about this standard is, that if it is the indispensable minimum, it is a standard too expensive for India to afford; and however beneficial in the abstract may the services of English officials be demonstrated to be, if the toiling millions are to live, they must get along without these beneficial services for the simple reason that the benefit is beyond the reach of their pockets. I suppose it is possible to demonstrate that if the millions of India could be translated to some bracing Himalayan plateau, they would be able to double the length of their days on earth. But it is a proposition which they will laugh out of court as beyond their reach.

What the lady observed in New Delhi is but a tiny symptom of an ever-growing and deep-seated disease which is daily destroying the lives of thousands of people. It is quite possible to imagine that if an energetic member of the Assembly moved a resolution calling upon the Government to provide better housing accommodation for the labourers, the resolution would be carried, that it would not be vetoed and that the Government would gladly give effect to it at the expense of millions poorer still than these labourers. I am sure that this is not what the fair friend really desires. What she desires in common with every Indian who knows anything of the country is a radical change in the system of government which is top-heavy and which under its intolerable weight is crushing day after day the poor inhabitants of this country who are groaning at the bottom. I have pointed the way out of this difficult situation times without number. I do not know another.
Young India, 28-4-1927

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