If you have read the blog (Leopold’s ghost and other crimes against humanity), this letter written by the great Indian Philosopher, Nobel Laureate and Poet Rabindranath Tagore, serves to underscore the stark brutality of some of crimes that did not get the due public attention they deserved (as usual, as the perpetrators were the ‘occupying’ force at the time). The incident in question was the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre of unarmed Indian civilians by British troops under General Dyer. Sadly (and not surprisingly) there were no real consequences meted out to General Dyer and his peers.
This is brilliant prose employed to delivere Tagore’s ultimate rebuke to British Authority – repudiating his Order of Knighthood…
The enormity of the measures taken by the Government in the Punjab for quelling some local disturbances has, with a rude shock, revealed to our minds the helplessness of our position as British subjects in India. The disproportionate severity of the punishments inflicted upon the unfortunate people and the methods of carrying them out, we are convinced, are without parallel in the history of civilised governments, barring some conspicuous exceptions, recent and remote. Considering that such treatment has been meted out to a population, disarmed and resourceless, by a power which has the most terribly efficient organisation for destruction of human lives, we must strongly assert that it can claim no political expediency, far less moral justification. The accounts of the insults and sufferings by our brothers in Punjab have trickled through the gagged silence, reaching every corner of India, and the universal agony of indignation roused in the hearts of our people has been ignored by our rulers- possibly congratulating themselves for imparting what they imagine as salutary lessons. This callousness has been praised by most of the Anglo-Indian papers, which have in some cases gone to the brutal length of making fun of our sufferings, without receiving the least check from the same authority, relentlessly careful in something every cry of pain of judgment from the organs representing the sufferers. Knowing that our appeals have been in vain and that the passion of vengeance is building the noble vision of statesmanship in out Government, which could so easily afford to be magnanimous, as befitting its physical strength and normal tradition, the very least that I can do for my country is to take all consequences upon myself in giving voice to the protest of the millions of my countrymen, surprised into a dumb anguish of terror. The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part, wish to stand, shorn, of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so called insignificance , are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings. And these are the reasons which have compelled me to ask Your Excellency, with due reference and regret, to relieve me of my title of knighthood, which I had the honour to accept from His Majesty the King at the hands of your predecessor, for whose nobleness of heart I still entertain great admiration.
Yours faithfully,RABINDRANATH TAGORE
6, Dwarakanath Tagore Lane,
May 30, 1919
Note: The Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre (alternately referred to as the Amristar Massacre) occurred on April 13, 1919 at Jallianwalla Bagh (Garden) in the North Indian City of Amristar. A troop of British Indian Army soldiers under Brigadier – General Reginald Dyer opened fire on a gathering of unarmed men, women and children. The firing continued for 10 to 15 minutes, lasting until the soldiers ran out of ammunition.Official British sources at the time placed the fatalities at 379 with 1100 wounded. The Civil Surgeon (Dr. Smith) reported that there were 1,526 casualties (Source: Wikip