GANDHI IN ACTION network

the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229

E-mail- dr.yadav.yogendra@gandhifoundation.net;

dr.yogendragandhi@gmail.com

Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India

 

 

Emily Hobhouse and Mahatma Gandhi 

 

 

 

It was a perfect pleasure to have received your very kind and generous letter. Had I known how to approach you before, I would undoubtedly have endeavoured to enlist your large heart in our behalf. It was during the Boer war that I came to admire your selfless devotion to Truth, and I have often felt how nice it would be if the Indian cause could plead before you for admission; and it is evident to me that your first telegram uttering a note of warning was an answer to that yearning. I am loathing writing to you on this question, as Miss Molteno has told me how feeble you are now in health. She was good enough to read to me a part of Miss Greene’s letter, telling her in most pathetic tones how it was the duty of those who loved you to refrain from imposing fresh burdens on you. I am, therefore, torn by conflicting emotions. But, as Miss Molteno, who knows you better assures me that sic to expect you now not to interest yourself in our cause is to misjudge you and to aggravate your illness, because you would, she says, fret about us without being enabled by us to render your assistance effective. If your health permits and if the climate on the North Coast of Natal would not be too trying for you, I would esteem it a privilege if you could take rest on the little settlement at Phoenix where Indian Opinion is published.

Miss Molteno knows the settlement well. It is situated about eighty feet above sea-level and is exposed to certain winds which sweep across the hills that overlook the settlement and purify the atmosphere. The scenery around is certainly very charming, the site is beautifully isolated, there is no bustle or noise, it is two miles from the nearest station and I venture to think that you will find loving hands to administer to your wants, and nothing would give me personally greater pleasure than, if I were free, to be able to wait upon you and nurse you. You will, I hope, consider this offer a coming from the heart and without the slightest hesitation accept it if you can. I will not weary you with copies of correspondence and details about the question. I enclose the telegrams exchanged between General Smuts and myself, which speak for them. We have always accepted what we could get in matters of detail, but, in this matter of the Commission, we are solemnly bound to sacrifice ourselves for the principle of consultation. In striving to secure this recognition of an elementary right, if we must, for the time being, forfeit public sympathy, we must be prepared to do so. Knowing that the truth is on our side, past experience will enable us to have patience, and, as days go on, the mists of ignorance will be removed, the cloud will lift and I have no doubt that Truth will conquer. What we have asked for is the smallest measure and, if the Government obstinately refuses to grant that measure of justice, surely it will be an indication of their disinclination to recognize the status of British Indians throughout the Union. Indeed, through my twenty years’ experience, I have been able to gather many an indication of the same spirit and it is really against that that we are fighting. In those matters to which Passive Resistance is directed, I hold there can be no compromise.

Could Daniel have compromised by bowing to one of the laws of Moses and the Persians and not to others, or would the whole body of those laws have represented the influence of Satan and, therefore, been unacceptable in toto? The last paragraph of your letter seems to assume that we are following the tactics of the high-souled militants of England. May I say that we have not only copied them, but, wherever it has been necessary, I have drawn a sharp distinction between their methods and ours? Indeed, I used to have long discussions with the followers of the great Mrs. Pankhurst on this very question. At no stage do we believe in the use of physical force, but I am free to confess that we have certainly been encouraged, in the hour of our weakness, by the noble example of devotion to duty and self-sacrifice that the militants have set, though we condemn their methods and tactics as suicidal and beneath the dignity of woman. I hope that God will restore you to health and spare you for many a long year to continue your noble and unassuming work in the cause of Humanity. 1

Friends had preserved your Letter of 8th December, ’22. It was like meeting you to receive that letter. I never met Miss Adams. I was quite happy in the Prison. I had as many books as I wanted so long as they were non-political. I wonder it you ever read Young India. It would be a privilege to send it to you, if you would care to read it. How are you keeping body? 2 Newspapers tell us that Miss Emily Hobhouse is no more. She was one of the noblest and bravest of women. She worked without ever thinking of any reward. Hers was service of humanity dedicated to God. She belonged to a noble English family. She loved her country and because she loved it, she could not tolerate any injustice done by it. She realized the atrocity of the Boer War. She thought England was wholly in the wrong. She denounced the war in burning language at a time when England was mad on it. She went to South Africa and her whole soul rose against the barbarity of the concentration camps which Lord Kitchener thought were necessary if the war was to be won. It was then that William Stead led prayers for English reverses. Emily Hobhouse, frail as her body was, went again to South Africa at great personal risk to court insults and worse. She was imprisoned and sent back. She bore it all with the courage of a true heroine. She steeled the hearts of Boer women and told them never to lose hope. She told them that though England had gone mad, there were Englishmen and English women whose sympathies were with the Boers and that someday their voice would be heard. And so it was. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman swept the board at the general election of 1906 and made to the wronged Boers such reparation as was possible. 3

I make no apology for reproducing General Smuts’ great speech on Emily Hobhouse at the time of burying the ashes of Emily Hobhouse in Bloemfontein. The speech makes clear what one individual with force of character can do; what a woman, miscalled the weaker sex, can do; what true patriotism means. 4 In sending me a cutting from Indian Opinion, Phoenix (Natal), a friend drew my attention to an omission from General Smuts’ tribute to Emily Hobhouse copied some time ago in these pages. It refers to her effort to introduce spinning and weaving industry amongst the distressed Boer women after the Boer War. Here is the passage in question. 5

 

 

References:

 

  1. Letter to Emily Hobhouse, January 5, 1914
  2. Letter to Emily Hobhouse, July 27, 1924
  3. Young India, 15-7-1926
  4. Young India, 2-12-1926
  5. Young India, 9-12-1926  

 

 

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