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Looking the Storm in the Face

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In May 1908, Sri Aurobindo was interned, along with thirty-eight revolutionaries, in the famous Alipore bombing case, but was released after one year due to the brilliant advocacy of his case by C.R. Das. The speech reproduced below was delivered soon after his release from jail (19th June, 1909) in the conference at Jhalakati, district Barisal. In the speech he condemns the repression let loose by the British government and criticizes John Morley, secretary of state for India, for deporting scores of innocent and respected Bengal citizens (see Morley’s speech of 13 June 1909).
Later, he left Calcutta, and reappeared in Pondicherry (a French enclave) where he spent the remaining years of his life in spiritual pursuits.

Fellow-countrymen, delegates and people of Barisal and Backergunge, I have first to express to you my personal gratitude for the kind reception you have accorded to me. For a year I have been secluded from the fellowship and brotherly embrace of my fellow-countrymen. Your kind welcome awakens warmer feelings in me, than would have under other circumstances. It is a special moment for me to have this welcome in Barisal. When I come to this district, when I come to this soil of Backergunge which has been made sacred and ever memorable in the history of this country ­I come to no ordinary place. When I come to Barisal, I come to the chosen temple of the Mother – I come to a sacred pithasthan of the national spirit – I come to the birthplace and field of work of Aswini Kumar Dutt.

It is now the fourth year since I first came to Barisal on the occasion of the provincial conference. Three years have passed since then; they have been stormy and have caused stress to the country, they have been years during which history has been in the making, during which the people of India have been undergoing a process of rebirth. .

One sign of what has been happening in the past is this empty chair (pointing to the chair which has Aswini Kumar’s photo). One aspect of these years has been a series of repressions resulting in immense sufferings and sacrifices. Barisal has had its full share of these sufferings.

What you have been punished for was your patriotism, you were punished for your swadeshism and you were punished for your successful organization of boycott. The tax was borne by the mahajans of Jhalakati with the readiness and uncomplaining endurance of large-hearted patriotism.

And now there have come the deportations. You have been asked to endure the exile of those who have been dearest to you, who stood for all that was patriotic and noble in the district. Barisal has had more than its full share of deportations. Of those deported, three are sons of this district. The man whose name will forever live on the lips of his countrymen as one of the makers of the new nation, ­Aswini Kumar Dutt, has been taken away from you. His active and devoted lieutenant has been taken away from you. That warm-­hearted patriot whom I am proud to have had the privilege of calling my personal friend – Monoranjan Guha – has been taken away from you. Why have they been exiled? What was their offence? Can anyone in Barisal name a single action – can anyone of those who have sent him into exile name specifically any single action which Aswini Kumar Dutt has committed, of which the highest and noblest man might not be proud? Can anyone name a single action of Krishna Kumar Mitra’s which would be derogatory to the reputation of the highest in the land? They have indeed been charged – vague charges, shameless charges. The law under which they have been exiled has been impugned in Parliament as an antiquated and anomalous regulation, utterly out of place and unfit to be enforced in modern times. When it was so attacked and its use by the Government of India challenged, Lord Morley, the man who rules India with absolute sway and stands or should stand to us as the incarnation of British statesmanship, made an answer which was not the answer of a statesman but of an attorney. ‘The law,’ he said, ‘is as good a law as any of the statute book.’ What is meant – what does Lord Morley man – by a ‘good law’? In a certain sense every law is a good law which is passed by an established authority. If there was a law which made swadeshi illegal, by which to buy swadeshi cloth would become a criminal action punishable by a legal tribunal – there have been such laws in, the past – and if that were enacted by the Legislative Council, it would be in Lord Morley’s sense of the word as good a law as any upon the statute book. But would it be a good law in the true sense or a travesty of law and justice? Lord Morley says it is a good law. We say it is a lawless law, a dishonest law, which, in any real sense of the word, is no law at all.

What is it that this movement seeks, not according to the wild chimeras born of unreasoning fear but in its real aim and purpose? What is it that we seek? We seek the fulfilment of our life as a nation. This is what the word ‘swaraj’, which is a bug-bear and terror to the Europeans, really means. When they hear it, they are full of unreasoning terrors. They think swaraj is independence, it is freedom and that means that the people are going to rise against them in rebellion, which means there are bombs behind every bush, and that every volunteer who gives food to his famine-stricken countrymen or nurses the cholera-stricken is a possible rebel and dacoit. Swaraj, however, is neither a colonial or any other form of government. It means the fulfilment of our national life. This is what we seek, this is why God has sent us into the world to fulfil him by fulfilling ourselves in our individual life, family, community, nation, and in humanity. It is this fulfilment that we demand, for this fulfilment is life and to depart from it is to perish. Our object, our claim is that we shall not perish as a nation, but live as a nation. Any authority that goes against this object will dash itself against the eternal throne of justice – it will dash itself against laws of nature which are the laws of God, and be broken to pieces.

Sri Aurobindo

Reference:

Ghose, Aurobindo. Early Political Writings. Vol.2. Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library, 1972. p.57-66.