A hundred years ago Feb. 17, 1920. Archives

From the Archives (February 17, 1920): British Guiana and Fiji deputations

Mr. M.K. Gandhi writes in the ‘Young India’

There are at present two deputations from the overseas. The one headed by its Attorney-General Dr. Numan is from British Guiana, and the other by the Bishop of Polynesia is from Fiji. Both have arrived for the purpose of obtaining Indian labour. Hitherto both have had indentured labour. In both, the existing indentures have only just been cancelled. His Excellency, the Viceroy whose attitude on the status of British Indians living in the different colonies has been generally correct, put the popular case very clearly when he said that India could not be expected to consider the convenience of the colonies at her own expense nor could the Government of India prevent free Indian emigration if there were Indians who wanted to go with a view to bettering their own position. His Excellency further added that a committee of probably non-official members would be appointed to confer with these deputations and consider the question and that the Government would be guided by the advice of that committee.

Now let us examine the position. The British Guiana deputation wants from Indian settlers of the former type for its plantations. The Fiji deputation wants free in the place of indentured labour. Both are tropical countries chiefly growing sugarcane. These colonies unlike South Africa and the uplands of East Africa cannot hold European colonists. These places are not fit for European colonization but they are being developed by European capital assisted by Indian labour.If they cannot get Indian labour either as servants or master workers, they must tap some other sources, possibly China.

I had the privilege of meeting both the deputations — the British Guiana more than once. From British Guiana there have been no complaints of ill treatment of its indentured Indians. There is no doubt that there are no legal inequalities in British Guiana. In Fiji too there are probably no glaring inequalities in law. I believe too that the Fiji Government and the planters are now willing to treat the Indian labour better and offer better terms.

The question for us, however, to consider is, do we want Indian labour to go to these colonies, and, if we do, are the terms such as would make the Indian morally and materially better? In my opinion, we want all the labour we have in India. A willing labourer has ample score for earning a substantial living in India. Our industries require labour. India is not overpopulated. The pure agriculturist does not need to go out of India to earn a living. Emigration cannot solve the problem of Indian poverty. The causes are too deep and widespread to be solved by a scheme of emigration no matter how ambitious it may be. A few thousand emigrants going out every year can produce no effect on the deep and deepening poverty of the vast masses of India. My conviction is that the returned emigrants in the majority of cases disrupt the home life without doing any counterbalancing benefit to society in general or the members of the home so disrupted in particular. Whilst, therefore, I would not interfere with any agriculturalist, I would not encourage him to leave India unless there was a distinct moral advantage to be gained by migrating.

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