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


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


Recruitment and Mahatma Gandhi


The law permitting recruitment of indentured labour came into being 50 years ago. It had the result of placing Indians in the same condition as slaves. The late Sir William Hunter himself described it as slavery. It was in 1896 that a protest was first made against this enslaving law. It had no effect then and things remained as they were up to 1911. In that year, the practice was prohibited only in respect of Natal. In Fiji, however, the condition of Indian labourers has been worse than it was in Natal. There was a strong public opinion in Natal, but there is none in Fiji. Lord Hardinge declared last year1 that the law would be repealed very soon. We had hoped then that it would go after a year or 50. But we hear now, one and a half years after the declaration, that the law will remain for five more years and that afterwards they would see what could be done. This report has revived our concern for the sufferings of our fellow-countrymen and it has become our duty now to raise a strong protest to ensure the immediate repeal of the law. The agitation was launched at Allahabad and, meetings having already been held at Madras, Poona and other places, we also have met here to register our protest. Mr. Andrews has dedicated his life to this struggle. Mr. Gokhale had the fullest confidence in him and, at his instance, Mr. Andrews and Mr. Pearson went to Fiji to see things for themselves. He Mr. Andrews had £300 with him—this was all he had —and this he made over to the Satyagraha Fund at Lahore. He no longer wants to be styled Reverend, but thinks it an honour to be known as Tagore’s disciple. Mr. Polak is known to you. He is young, and if the young people here were to do even a tenth of what he has done, we should have swaraj this moment. 1 

I would like to warn the Government against accepting or initiating conscription. I hope it will never flourish on the Indian soil. But, in any case, it ought not to be introduced until all voluntary efforts have been honestly made and failed. You will admit that the leaders have with remarkable self-restraint hushed all the tales of the forcible recruitment that is reported to have gone on hitherto. I venture to think that the danger point has been reached. 2 This Conference emphatically urges that nothing short of a complete abolition of the indenture system of recruitment of labour in any form will meet the evils of the system which is a form of slavery which socially and politically debases the labourers and is detrimental to the economic and moral interests of this country. 3

Of course I would not ask you to leave the League1 and work with me; on the contrary, I wish that you remain in the League and guide its policy too in the right direction. You are satisfied with the present position. To me, it seems dangerous. If the League refuses to help in recruitment, it will be going against the Bombay resolution.2 If all the members of the League believed that it was not permissible to anyone to help in recruitment while being in the League, the Bombay resolutions should not have been passed and I should not have been given the chairmanship of the meeting. When the League accepted me, it indicated that any of its members who desired to help in recruitment could do so. 4 The Government at present wants half a million men for the army. They will certainly succeed in raising this number somehow. If we supply this number, the credit will be ours, we will be rendering a service and the reports that we often hear of improper methods adopted by recruiting agents will become things of the past. It is no small thing to have the whole work of recruiting in our hands. If the Government have no trust in us, if their intentions are not pure, they would not recruitment through us. 

The shortcomings of the thinking sections are plain on this occasion. I use the word”thinking” in place of”educated”. If such men and women were to do their duty, they could influence the classes fitted by nature to join up. My experience goes to testify to a great weakness on the part of the thinking section. Their not taking sufficient interest in national work makes the task of recruitment difficult. Those among them into whose hands this leaflet may find its way should, if they have faith in this work, prepare themselves and inspire the illiterate and ignorant sections for this great task. We can lay bare our heart to those whom we consider our elders. Such laying bare is necessary. You have done right in writing to me. I do not know what excesses are committed in recruitment. If they are many, it is all the more necessary for me to go in for it. The Montagu-Chelmsford Scheme is, in my opinion, very good. We can have its shortcomings removed through agitation. Whatever the merits of the Scheme, however, I definitely hold that we should join the war. We do not join it for the good of the British people; we want to go in for recruitment to do service to the country, and with an eye to its interests. What shall I say about the miserable plight of India? I see clearly that India cannot attain real swarajya. I hold that by joining the army we can accomplish two things: we shall become brave and we shall learn something about the handling of arms; and we shall prove our worth by helping those with whom we wish to become partners. Resisting their excesses and sharing their troubles— both these things are worth our doing. I want you to think very calmly on this question. I suggest your sending this letter to Devdas and also discussing the matter with him. 5

You will see my second appeal in connection with recruitment for the war. I have offered the services of five persons from the Ashram. There are others also eager to go, but it is not possible to send them. The five who are to be sent are Ramanandan, Surendra, Thakorlal, Nanubhai and Raojibhai. I shall of course be there. I believe a depot will soon be started here. Had Devdas not been doing the work of Hindi, he too would have joined. He is eager to do so. I have written to Harilal, but he is not likely to go. You are doing important work there; I cannot therefore ask you. Ramdas remains. He can certainly join if he wishes. Ramdas does not feel happy if he has to leave one job and take another. You may ask him. 6   So much for Sir Michael and the educated classes. But though he claimed to regard the others with affection, he estranged them from him and his Government by his methods of recruitment and collection of war contributions. It is not, however, without considerable hesitation that we feel bound to deal with this matter. We realize the necessity that existed during the War for a vigorous campaign of recruiting and collection of monetary contributions. We realize, too, that if India claims, as she does, equal partnership with the other members of the Empire, she must bear her full share of the Empire’s burden. We would, therefore, if we could, have avoided any reference to the methods adopted for collecting contributions in men and money. But in understanding and appreciating the sudden response of the classes and the masses to the proposal for hartal, and then, in the Punjab, the unexpected exhibition of mob fury, it is necessary to go into the causes that contributed to the remarkable demonstration and in the Punjab to the manifestation of violence. For we consider that no amount of misrepresentation about the Rowlatt Act, assuming that there was any, can possibly account for the response of the masses, and the participation of a number of people in violence. Nor can any sense of duty towards the Empire be allowed to disregard the sacredness of individual liberty or to ignore cruelty or compulsion, secretly or openly but illegally practised. The evidence that we have collected and the judicial records that we have read conclusively prove that the methods adopted for securing recruits and donations or loans travelled far beyond the line of moral or social pressure; nor were these methods unknown to Sir Michael O’Dwyer. Indeed conscription was openly talked of, suggested and advocated, and we cannot help saying that open conscription would have been infinitely better than the so-called voluntarism, which was in effect worse than conscription, because the voluntarism pressed only the weakest and permitted the strong to go scot-free. 7 

This represents the ideal. Ideas of ‘high’ and ‘low’ are deep-rooted in our country and hence caste, varna and religion are given greater attention than merit or demerits. Hence it is not surprising that Brahmins are not given employment where there is a ban on their recruitment. Unfortunate incidents will persist, because of our sins and the rot that has entered our religion. We should, therefore, suffer them in a spirit of atonement. 8 I have gone through the terms of the agreement. They are certainly harsh. I am considering the matter. What I would suggest is that an impartial arbitrator should be appointed and only such terms should be laid down as he accepts. Strictly speaking, of course, every employer has a right to fix his own terms for recruitment and everyworker has a right to reject them. It is up to one’s liking. But since I know the press authorities I have suggested the appointment of an arbitrator. 9




  1. Prajabandhu, 11-2-1917
  2. Letter to Sir Claude Hill, April 26, 1918
  3. Young India, 8-5-1918
  4. Letter to Shankarlal Banker, June 16, 1918
  5. Mahadevbhaini Diary, Vol. IV
  6. Letter to Manilal Gandhi, July 31,1918
  7. Chapter II Sri Michale  O’Dwayer’s Administration
  8. Harijanbandhu, 10-9-1933
  9. Letter to Sabhaji, April 19, 1941



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