April 20, 1931 — Women’s Committee, Common-wealth of India League, London, England
Friends, as chairman of the Women’s Committee of the Common-wealth of India League under whose auspices we meet this afternoon, it is my pleasant duty to welcome you all. As an Indian I feel especially happy and honoured to occupy this post which gives me a chance to express on behalf of India her sincerest gratitude to those who stand by her in her time of need. To me the assemblage of such a large number of delegates representing various women’s organizations in this country is a symbol of those great bonds of fellow ship and love which transcend all racial or class interests. Above all, it is a sign of that deeprooted love of justice and fairplay so abundantly found in the hearts of women. The very fact that such large numbers of women’s organizations support the objects of this Conference is proof of their willingness to do unto India as they would like to be done by. Such auspicious omens make one rejoice and feel happy.
The resolutions bearing on the Indian situation, as drafted by the Women’s Committee, are already in your hands. Able and illustrious women, whose names are already so well known to you, will present them for your deliberation and decision. The principles of liberty and equality, for the vindication of which they have dedicated their lives, are sufficient guarantees that the representation of the Indian case is safe in their hands. I, therefore, do not propose to say anything on the resolutions but would say a few words on the situation in India as it stands to-day.
During the last few months, public interest has been much aroused, but it is not yet sufficiently keen to enable it to realize that never before in the history of the British connection with India, has the situation been so critical. We stand at the parting of the ways and the decision of the next few months will make history. It is said that Lord Irwin and Gandhi have saved India for the Empire. They have certainly paved the way for it; whether their efforts will finally be fruitful, time alone will show. At present the position is most intricate. There are certain outstanding ideas in connection with the deliberations of the Round Table Conference, such as the federated states of united India, full responsibility in the central government and safeguards. Only a rough skeleton outline has been drawn, so that all the details have still to be filled in. None of the conclusions are definite and no parties, not even the delegates to the Conference, have been committed to any views, except the further carrying on of the work of the Round Table Conference. To this, as we all know the Congress has also committed itself, as a result of the Irwin-Gandhi pact. The real work, therefore, of finally drafting the Indian constitution will begin when the next Round Table Conference meets with Mahatma Gandhi as the sole delegate of the National Congress Party. He has been given discretion to adjust minor matters but he comes with a clear mandate from the nation itself, that nothing less than the substance of Independence will be acceptable to India. The federation must be a federation of free and self-governing units, the transfer of responsibility to the centre must be thorough and complete; safeguards must be reduced to a minimum and definitely proved to be solely in the interests of India. It is here that true fight will begin. Although there is now much interest in Indian affairs here in England, the change that has come over the Indian mentality has not yet been fully recognized by all sections of the British public. A spirit of haggling and bargaining is still found in any quarters. I was much struck by a phrase of Mr Churchill’s in the House of Commons. He said very forcibly that the Nationalist[s] (in India) were trying to squeeze out of the British Government as much as they possibly could and the British Government, in its weakness, is allowing itself to be thus squeezed. Such a remark shows that the real spirit of the Indian movement has not yet been understood. India is not out to bargain. She is determine to be the mistress in her own house without further delay. Those who fight will do so to the bitter end. They have repeatedly said that having burned their boats there is no going back for them. No sacrifice is too high for the goal they have set before them. Mahatma Gandhi has designated this the last battle of his life. He will either achieve freedom for India or die in the attempt. Last year’s happenings are sufficient proof of the solemn determination of the Indian people. To believe that India will be satisfied with anything less than complete self-government is entirely false. All efforts, therefore, should be directed towards a peaceful solution of the the Indian question and this can only be done by conceding to India the right of self-determination.
The general public is reluctant to take the Indian problem seriously. It has no time for it, and therefore, there is a tendency to leave the matter in the hands of those who are supposed to understand the question. India is thus above party politics and is a national concern. No party can afford to take a strong stand on the Indian question nor can they allow a split amongst themselves on that ground. Necessarily, therefore, the machinery which deals with the Indian problem moves heavily and slowly. But slow movement and caution are incompatible with the present mood of India and may indeed prove disastrous if steps are not taken to mend matters.
Who can supply the impetus for greater understanding and magnanimity more than the women’s organizations? I have great faith and confidence in women. They are out to use their great faith in recently acquired civic powers to change the whole scheme of life, re-moulding it nearer to the heart’s desire. Let India merit their serious thought and support!
I shudder to think of what would happen if the next Round Table Conference does not find a peaceful solution. The fight on the part of India is bound to be renewed. What form it may take it is difficult to foretell, but it does not require a prophet to say that the greatest suffering, torture, bloodshed and dislocation of commerce and trade, are bound to follow. As the population of India is one fifth of the human race, the reactions of such a movement must be felt by the whole world. England cannot remain unaffected. Providence has brought the two countries together. Let us make a united effort to bring into being a relationship on the basis of love and freedom which alone can endure.
Source: Speeches of Mata Rameshwari Nehru (1885-1966): The illustrious woman of India (Bhagat Puran Singh Pingalwara Amritsar) pp. 150-155.