William Henry Hoare Vincent

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Sir William Henry Hoare Vincent, GCIE KCSI (1 April 1866 – 17 April 1941), was a Welsh civil servant and diplomat.



Speech in the Council of State (1921)

To Maneckji’s question, the following was the detailed response of Sir William Vincent, the Member for Home Affairs on the Governor General’s Council:
https://eparlib.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/762645/1/cosd_01_02_05-09-1921.pdf#search=null%20[1921%20TO%201929], p. 91.
Quoted from J. Sai Deepak, India, Bharat and Pakistan - THE CONSTITUTIONAL JOURNEY OF A SANDWICHED CIVILISATION, 2022
  • It would perhaps interest Honourable Members if I were to preface my remarks with a brief reference as to the origin and cause of this rising in Malabar. The fact is that these Moplahs are an ignorant people, many of them poor and nearly all of them fanatical and entirely under the influence—as I learn from the information before me—of a bigoted priesthood. As I think all Honourable Members know they are descendants of Arab traders and soldiers who first came to the Malabar coast some time, I think, about 800 AD, and we are told that they later established themselves by intermarriage and conversion, or perversion, whichever term appeals to different Honourable Members of this Council, of the local residents to Muhammadanism. There have been many outbreaks of these people who now number about a million in the past, indeed during a period of about 20 years—between 1836 and 1853, there were 22 outbreaks, but the biggest one about which I have any information occurred in 1885 after which 20,000 arms including 9,000 guns were collected from the insurgents.
  • The present rising in itself appears to be purely religious, though, no doubt, it has been accentuated by economic distress. In the past agrarian trouble has frequently been at the bottom of risings, but I have no information before me which leads me to think that Hindu landlords are responsible for the present outbreak. It is, however, known that certain Extremist Muhammadan agitators—I do not wish to use any word that will cause resentment, because many gentlemen feel very strongly about the Khilafat who are not really Extremists in the sense I mean—have been at work for two years in this locality working up the people over the Khilafat. There is on the information before us no sympathy for the non-co-operation movement as such, and indeed there is little regard for Mr. Gandhi’s personality. There is certainly no sympathy for a movement of purely non-violent, non-co-operation as the results show. At the beginning of this year, Honourable Members will remember certain inflammatory speeches were delivered at Erode, Mangalore and in Madras, and there is no doubt according to the reports we have had that those speeches had considerable effect on this fanatical population of Malabar which is singularly prone to violence; the situation in April and May was in consequence somewhat dangerous. It subsequently, as we thought, or as the Local Government thought, improved, and we were told that the Ramzan had been the quietest known for years in the Malabar District. In June, there were reports that volunteer associations were being formed, but later again we were told that these associations had ceased as the leaders had realised the danger of continuing them. That information, I am afraid, was incorrect, and these associations were being secretly organised all the time. The Government and local authorities were apparently misled in this matter, but there was nothing to show this till the end of July when the situation suddenly deteriorated largely as the result, as has been reported to us, of the Karachi Conference. Now I should like to cite here a passage from the Madras letter on this point. I have the leave of the Madras Government to cite it. This is what it says:
  • ‘It is difficult to arrive at an exact appreciation of the situation at present, but there seems to be no doubt that continual provocative speeches on the Khilafat question, combined with the resolutions of the recent All-India Khilafat Conference at Karachi, have produced an impression on the mind of the Mappilla that the end of the British Raj is at hand. It is certainly true that, as the result of Khilafat propaganda, the Mappillas are better organised than they used to be and also better informed as to the strength of their own position and the difficulty of taking military action against them.’ The first actual signs of lawlessness occurred on the 31st July when some Police-officers went to arrest a man who was accused in a criminal case. I think there had been a case of housebreaking in the residence of a Nambadri Brahmin. Armed Moplahs collected in large numbers to prevent the arrest, and there was grave danger of a serious riot. That was happily averted, and the police apparently, though this is not clear from the reports before me, went home without arresting any one. In any case, the police were powerless to face the mob, and the incident was significant because it was regarded by the Moplahs as a victory and a defeat for the Government. The District Magistrate then applied for extra troops to be sent to Calicut, and they were sent. Finally, on the 20th, the District Magistrate determined to arrest certain persons who were in the possession of arms, under the Moplah Outrages Act, at Tirurangala, with the aid of a military force. Three men were arrested without any trouble, and a party of police were left behind to search for others. In the course of this search a mosque was entered by the Moplah Police-officers who, however, removed their shoes before entering. I may say that in times past rebellious Moplahs have frequently taken refuge in mosques. While these occurrences were taking place, news had quickly spread round as to what was happening and a large mob of Moplahs collected, some coming by train and some on foot. This mob first attacked the party of police and later on in the day attacked the military forces to which I have referred. The attack was beaten off, but I regret to say with the loss of two British Officers, one being Lieutenant Johnstone of the Leinster Regiment and the other a Police-officer named Rowley. By this time railway communications had been cut and the telegraph wires destroyed, and the troops had to remain where they were. Subsequently the outbreak of violence in this single area of Tirurangadu developed into a general rising throughout a large part of the Malabar District of a definitely anti-Government character: Swaraj was proclaimed and a green flag hoisted. I have here rather an interesting account of the reasons for this outbreak from an officer who has had considerable experience of this locality. He has given me leave to use it. This is an extract of a letter received by him:
  • ‘The Moplah believes that the Sirkar is nearing its end, and the day is looming when he will not have to pay either taxes to the Government or rent to the Hindu landholders. Economic distress is another factor not to be left out of account. Then he goes on to speak of the failure of the monsoon.’ This is not an official account. Here is another extract: ‘At first all the violence shown was anti-official and anti-European, but now the mob of five thousand and ten thousand are seen to be disintegrating into small gangs who having no telegraph lines to cut or culverts to destroy are devoting their scheme to harrying the Hindus, especially the high caste Hindus—Nambudris and Nayars whom they lost of their grain and riches and occasionally murder.’ I think I have now told the Council all I can in the time available as to how this rising originated. As to the casualties our information is that up to the present one British Officer and three British of other ranks have been killed, one British Officer and a number of other ranks have been wounded; two Assistant Superintendents of Police, one Inspector and two Head-Constables have been killed, a planter has been murdered, and others have narrowly escaped. We cannot be sure now that this death roll is complete. Many Hindus have been murdered. Numbers are missing, but we hope that some of them may escape and turn up later on. Some have been forcibly converted, as I understand, under threat of death. I dare say Honourable Members have read the account of the maltreatment by the Moplahs of an old lady of over 84 at Calicut, the mother of a Mr. Menon, who is a member of the local municipality. They have also probably heard of the murder of a retired Indian Inspector of Police whose head was cut off and carried about on the top of a spear. There has also been very great damage to property of all kinds. Temples, I regret to say, have been desecrated and numerous acts of arson and pillage committed. As regards Moplah Casualties, I can give no figures except that I am informed that in an engagement 400 men were killed. The press reports indicate about a thousand deaths, but this is purely a matter of surmise, though I expect it is by no means an excessive estimate. We know that at Pudokottur these Moplahs who are exceedingly courageous and fearless of death, fought desperately for many hours. In fact their attacks on the troops were only repelled after five hours of heavy fighting. They were armed with carbines looted from the police, sporting rifles taken from various places and with swords and knives. This is all the information I can give on the second portion of the Honourable Member’s motion.
  • I have explained that it is doubtful how far this movement or rising can be ascribed clearly to non-co-operation–non-violent non-co- operation, i.e., Mr. Gandhi’s movement, but it certainly seems on the information before us to be connected very definitely with the Khilafat. The policy of Government towards the non-co-operation movement has been very fully explained to this Council on previous occasions, but the Honourable Member now attacks me and says, ‘why did not Government do more? Why did you not take more vigorous action and prosecute these people, and arrest them.’ Now what I want to put to Honourable Members is that this Council cannot have it both ways. Last Session, when I stood up in this Council, and stood up in the Legislative Assembly, was there a single man here—except perhaps one or two—who asked Government to take any more strenuous measures than they were taking? I do not remember the Honourable Sir M. Dadabhoy standing up then and saying: ‘You must take more drastic action; you must strengthen your military forces, prosecute here, and prosecute there,’ and I think it is rather hard on us that we should be challenged therefore in this Council on that account. On the merits I would put it in this way. The question when to undertake and when to forbear from general repressive measures against a movement of this character is always one of difficulty for any Government to decide, and very much more difficult in present political circumstances in India. I think every one will admit that. The Government have been very much exercised over this situation, but we had no reason to believe that it was going to develop in such a speedy manner in this area.
  • There is also another aspect of this question. You cannot say because there has been a rising in Malabar among a notoriously turbulent people that the Government of India should embark upon a general campaign of repression throughout India ... ... There are however two facts which I omitted to mention. The first is that there were in July certain very violent speeches made in Malabar, and the Government of Madras were considering the question of prosecuting the speakers when these outrages occurred. The second is one to which I ought in justice to the Madras Government to refer. In May the Local Government were about to prosecute Mahomed Ali for speeches delivered down in Madras and Erode. Council are aware that after that there were meetings between His Excellency the Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi, and rightly or wrongly, the Government of India thought that it was only fair to give this gentleman Mahomed Ali a locus poenitentia after his apology in the hope that he would abstain from preaching violence in future. As to precautionary measures, troops were sent down to Calicut immediately the demand was made by the local authorities. That, I think, was between the 11th and the 14th. The numbers were not large. But unless the Members of the Legislative Assembly are prepared to vote considerably larger sums of money than they do at present for internal defence and other military expenditure, we must take certain risks of being able to check disturbances of this kind with small forces. As to the situation, at present, I can only say that all possible measures to suppress the rising have been taken, but the situation is far from satisfactory. An appreciation of the present situation from Madras runs as follows:
  • ‘Your telegram. Political, dated 28th August 1921. Appreciation general situation. Malabar Railway to Calicut has been temporarily restored for running by day and is being held by troop. Garrison Malappuram having been brought back to Calicut the whole interior of South Malabar except Palghat Taluk is in the hands of the rebels. Probable that the troops will again have to meet and overcome determined resistance by the rebels in fore. Subsequent operations will take the form of locating and dealing with numerous small and mobile parties of Moplahs in extremely difficult country. Active assistance by local inhabitants cannot be counted on. Situation from point of view of civil administration is that local machinery of Government has broken down. Throughout the affected area Government offices have been wrecked and looted and record, destroyed. Communications have been obstructed. Those officials who have not escaped are, as far as known, either captives or in hiding. All Government officers and Courts have ceased to function and ordinary business is at a stand-still. Famine conditions imminent in portions of affected area. Europeans and numerous Hindu refugees of all classes now concentrated at Calicut.’ I do not propose to tell the Council, and I think they will not expect me to tell them, the exact military force available, because any information that is published will undoubtedly get to the Moplahs themselves and indeed to others who perhaps are hostile to Government. I may say, however, that the Madras Government asked for further reinforcements recently, but the last I have heard is that they are satisfied with the number of troops they have now in Malabar. The situation is now in hand. We shall, however, probably hear of at least one more serious attack by these Moplahs, and then I hope that the thing may dwindle down to more or less desultory disorders ... ... No one can however altogether avoid action which may affect religious sentiments if a number of armed Moplahs collect in mosques in furtherance of their criminal purpose. I think I have now given the Council all the information I have, but I should like to convey to the people, in Malabar, some expression of sympathy, some expression of regret from the Government of India and from this Council for the lives lost, temples desecrated, injuries caused, and property destroyed, and I am sure I am voicing the sentiments of everybody in this Council in this matter. I should like also to convey to them, Military and Auxiliary Forces, and indeed to all servants of the Crown in Malabar, our gratitude for their services. I should like also, if I may, to express our sympathy with the Madras Government and to convey to them an expression of our recognition of the manner in which all concerned have performed duties, both arduous and distasteful ...
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