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SELECTED LETTERS > > GANDHI-SAROJINI NAIDU CORRESPONDENCE > Correspondence between Mr. E. S. Montagu, Secretary of State for India & Sarojini Naidu
Correspondence between Mr. E. S. Montagu, Secretary of state for India & Sarojini Naidu

The following is the correspondence referred to in Mrs. Naidu's letter to Mr. Gandhi:


India Office,
Whitehall, S.W.1.
9th July, 1920



I am directed by the Secretary of State for India to invite your attention to the report of a public meeting at Kingsway Hall on the 3rd June, published by the organisers of the meeting. You are reported therein (page 17) to have said: "My sisters were stripped naked; they were flogged; they were outraged". As you have made no correction, the Secretary of State is bound to assume that you were correctly reported.
Mr. Montagu finds it difficult to believe that anybody could for one moment have thought that such occurrences were possible; and he finds that these particular allegations do not occur in the Report of the Committee appointed by the Indian National Congress (to which you appeared to refer as the authority for them) or in the Evidence collected by that Committee; and nothing in that Report or Evidence justifies the allegation that Indian women were stripped naked, or flogged, or outraged.
Mr. Montagu has satisfied himself that the statements that women were stripped naked, or flogged, or outraged during the operation of Martial Law in the Punjab are of course absolutely untrue. He therefore requests you to withdraw immediately the charges which you are reported to have made publicly, and for which, if correctly reported, you alone appear to be responsible, and to give to your withdrawal the same publicity as was given to the original statements, or if you are prepared to maintain the accuracy of these specific charges, to produce justification for them. The Secretary of State reserves the right of publishing this letter, but before doing so, proposes to await your reply, up to Wednesday morning, the 12th July.

I am, Madam,
Your obedient Servant,
(signed) S. K. BROWN


India Office,
Whitehall, S.W.1.
10th July, 1920

Since the despatch of my letter to you yesterday, the attention of the Secretary of State has been called to statement No. 147 printed on p. 194 of the Report of the National Congress sub-Committee.
Having regard to the general objects of the meeting, to the case which you desired to make to your audience, and to the context of your remarks, the Secretary of State does not think that this charge can be the allegation which you had in mind. It is an allegation wholly unconnected with Martial Law procedure, made against Indian Police constables and not against what you described as "Martial Authorities". It is not specifically referred to in the Congress Report.
If, however, this allegation which does appear in the Report or the Evidence published by the Congress Sub-Committee, is the foundation of your statement, he asks you to make it clear, that you had no reason to make such a charge against any "Martial Authority" and that you had in your mind only an allegation made against the subordinate police in the course of search for stolen property.
I am to add that paragraph 10 of the Government of India's despatch of 3rd May last in which enquiry is promised into such cases of alleged ill-treatment, obviously applies to this case. The Secretary of State has also, however, directed special enquiry into this matter, and hopes in due course to be in a position to state to the public the results of the enquiry.

I am, Madam,
Your obedient Servant,
(signed) S.K. BROWN


Duke's Hotel
35, St. James's Place
July 12th, 1920

The Rt. Hon. E.S. Montagu
Secretary of State for India
India Office.

Dear Sir,
I am in receipt of the letters of the 9th and 10th inst., sent me by your Secretary at your direction.
I notice that the statements contained in the first letter are considerably modified in the second. While the first categorically denies the existence of any evidence published by the Congress Sub-Committee to justify the remarks made in my Kingsway Hall Speech to which you refer, the second on the contrary admits that there is such evidence, but that the outrages were the work of the police and not of Martial Law Authorities.
I am surprised that you should attempt to make such a fine distinction, the materiality of which is not obvious, when the police were an integral part of the Martial Law machinery and admittedly were serving the purposes of "Martial Law Authorities" inasmuch as these outrages were perpetrated by them to procure evidence for the Martial Law Tribunals.
In any case, if you turn to my speech itself, the report of which is not entirely accurate, you will note that there are only two instances of outrage upon women which I have specifically attributed to Martial Law Authorities. These remarks were based upon several statements made by these women themselves, which read thus:

Statement 581, Page 866, Made by twenty-three women.

We were called from our houses or wherever we were and collected near the school. We were asked to remove our veils. We were abused and harassed to give out the name of Bhai Mool Singh as having lectured against the Government. This incident occurred at the end of Baishakh last in the morning in Mr. Bosworth Smith's presence. He spat at us, and said many bad things. He beat some of us with sticks. We were made to stand in rows and to hold our ears. He abused us also, saying "Flies, what can you do if I shoot you."

Passage from statement 362, Page 367

While the men were at the Bungalow, he rode to our village, taking back with him all the women who met him on the way carrying food for their men to the Bungalow. Reaching the village, he went round the lanes and ordered all women to come out of their houses, himself forcing them out with sticks. He made us all stand near the village Daira. The women folded their hands before him. He beat some with his stick and spat at them and used the foulest and most unmentionable language. He hit me twice and spat in my face. He forcibly uncovered the faces of all the women, brushing aside the veils with his own stick.
He repeatedly called us she-asses, bitches, flies and swine and said: "You were in the same beds with your husbands; why did you not prevent them from going out to do mischief? Now your skirts will be looked into by the village constables." He gave me a kick also, and ordered us to undergo the torture of holding our ears by passing our hands round the legs while being bent double.
This treatment was meted out to us in the absence of our men who were away at the Bungalow.
This statement was corroborated by eight other women who made similar statements.

Passage from statement 585, Made by Mai Caban, Page 869

On the 5th of Baishakh bullets were fired into our village. The village people ran away hither and thither. One European who was on horseback called some old women together and told them that whatever he had done (firing) was done well. The old women did not give any reply. He then abused them and beat them with a stick. He then asked other women to stand in a row. Those who had veiled their faces were forced to remove their veils. They too were beaten with sticks.


I am a purdahnashin. I never appear in public, not even before the servants. I was, however, called down from my house. I went with a purdah (veil). I was peremptorily ordered to take off my purdah. I was frightened and removed the purdah. I was then asked who assaulted Miss Sahib. They threatened me that unless I named the assailant, I would be given over to the soldiers.
Need I remind you that the purdah is as sacred to the Indian woman as is her veil to the Catholic nun, and forcibly to unveil an Indian woman constitutes in itself a gross outrage.
The other instances of outrage to which I draw attention in my speech, were not specifically attributed to any special individual. My charges, however, were based on statement 147, page 194, which, as you are aware, is of too indecent a nature to be quoted here or from the public platform.
I would further refer you to statements 130 and 131, which deal with the conduct of soldiers and not of the police.
I am deeply grieved to discover that until now you were not cognizant of the statements embodied in the Congress evidence concerning such outrages upon Indian women; and I trust that you are causing an exhaustive and impartial enquiry to be made into such cases.

Yours faithfully

From: Young India, August 11, 1920]