Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. May 28, 1907
The True Meaning of the Risley Circular
We have seen that the effect of Lala Lajpat Rai's deportation is solely to bring the struggle between the bureaucracy and the people to a head and the leaders as well as the rank and file into the range of fire. We have also come to the conclusion that the disturbances in Mymensingh create no new problem but rather compel us to face as urgencies certain primary necessities we have too much neglected,– the necessity of no longer relying blindly on the purely hypnotic and illusory protection of the Pax Britannica which may at any moment fail us or be suspended; the necessity of an universal training in the practice of self-defence and a better organisation for mutual assistance; the necessity of recognising and practically grappling with the Mahomedan difficulty. But neither of these occurrences has really made impossible, or even altered the conditions of, our programme of defensive resistance.
The third fresh departure of the Government of India is the Risley Circular. This circular is only a more comprehensive and carefully studied edition of the Carlyle Circular. It brings therefore no unfamiliar element into the problem; but there is this very important difference, that while the Carlyle Circular was a local experiment hastily adopted to meet an urgent difficulty and dropped as soon as it was found difficult to work, the Risley Circular is a deliberate policy adopted by the Supreme Government, with full knowledge of the circumstances and of its possible effects, in the hope of striking at the very root of the Swadeshi movement. Everyone will remember the convulsion created by the Carlyle Circular. Its natural effect would have been to bring about an universal students' strike, and for a few days it seemed as if such a strike would actually take place. Unfortunately the movement immediately affected certain vested interests and the representatives of those interests happened also to be the political leaders to whom the country and the students especially were accustomed to look for guidance. The leading spirits among the young men in Calcutta were still immature and wanting in grit and tenacity; the influence on their minds of their old leaders was very powerful; the new men were comparatively unknown and influenced the course of events rather by the concrete directness of their views, the ardour of their feelings and the fiery energy of their speech and activity than by the weight of their personalities. The older leaders were, therefore, able by a strenuous and united effort of their authority to turn back the impetuous tide and dissipate the enormous motive-power which had been generated. They were too selfish to sacrifice their immediate interests, too blind and wanting in foresight to understand that the immediate loss and difficulty would be repaid tenfold by the inevitable effects of the movement. An universal educational strike at that moment, before the Government had become accustomed to the situation, would infallibly have unnerved the hand of power and brought about an almost immediate reconsideration of the partition. Whatever Government1 may say or do, it cannot afford to lose control of the education of the country; it cannot afford to hand over this immense mass of material, the India of the future, into the hands of the political leaders without the subtle control and check which membership of a Government University exercises, without the opportunity of unstringing the nerves of character and soul which the present system of education provides. The Government must keep its hold on the mind of the young or lose India. The magnitude of their blunder was dimly perceived afterwards by some of the leaders and one or two admitted it in private. We only recall that disastrous episode in order to lay stress on the fact that if again repeated the blunder will be worse than a blunder, it will be an offense2 against our posterity and a betrayal of the nation's future.
What is the position now? The Risley Circular is a desperate attempt of the bureaucracy not only to recover and confirm its hold on the student population and through them on the future, but to make that hold far more stringent, rigid, ineffugable than it ever was in the past. They do not care very much if certain academical ideas of liberalism or nationalism are imparted to the young by their teachers, but they desire to stop the active habit of patriotism in the young; for they know well that a mere intellectual habit untranslated into action is of no value in after life. The Japanese when they teach Bushido to their boys do not rest content with lectures or a moral catechism; they make them practise Bushido and govern every thought and action of their life by the Bushido ideal. This is the only way of inculcating a quality into a nation, by instilling it practically into the minds of its youth at school and college until it becomes an ingrained, inherent, inherited national quality. This is what we have to do with the modern ideal of patriotism in India. We have to fill the minds of our boys from childhood with the idea of the country, and present them with that idea at every turn and make their whole young life a lesson in the practice of the virtues which afterwards go to make the patriot and the citizen. If we do not attempt this, we may as well give up our desire to create an Indian nation altogether; for without such a discipline nationalism, patriotism, regeneration are mere words and ideas which can never become a part of the very soul of the nation and never therefore a great realised fact. Mere academical teaching of patriotism is of no avail. The professor may lecture every day on Mazzini and Garibaldi and Washington and the student may write themes about Japan and Italy and America without bringing us any nearer to our supreme need,– the entry of the habit of patriotism into our very bone and blood. The Roman Satirist tells us that in the worst times of imperial despotism in Rome the favourite theme of teachers and boys in the schools was liberty and tyrannicide; – but neither liberty nor tyrannicide was practised by the boys when they became men; rather they grew up into submissive slaves of the single world-despot. It is for this reason that the men of the new party have welcomed the active association of our students with political meetings, with the propagation and actual practice of Swadeshi, with the volunteer movement in its various forms,– not, as has been malevolently suggested, out of a turbulent desire to make use of unripe young minds to create anarchy and disorder, but because they see in this political activity in the young the promise of a new generation of Indians who will take patriotism earnestly as a thing to live and die for, not as the pastime of leisure hours. Nobody who believes that such patriotism is the first need of this country can consistently oppose the participation of students in politics. When Indian nationality is a thing realised and the present unnatural conditions have been remedied, then indeed this active participation may be brought under restriction and regulation; for then the inherited habit of patriotism, the atmosphere of a free country and the practice and teaching of the Bushido virtues within the limits of home and school life will be sufficient. But before them3 to submit to restrictions is to commit national suicide.
If our educated men do not understand this – as, indeed, with our want of direct political experience it is difficult for them to understand it,– our English rulers at least have grasped the situation. Study their circular and you will see what it means. School students are not even to attend political meetings nor school teachers to teach them patriotism. Why? Because at that age the mind is soft and impressionable and what is seen and heard, sinks deep and tends to crystallise not merely into fixed ideas, but into character. A teacher may by his personal influence and teachings so surround the minds of his students with the idea of the country, of work for the country, of living and dying for the country that this will become the dominant idea of their minds and, if associated with any kind of patriotic discipline or teaching in action, the dominant note in their character. The attendance of schoolboys as volunteers at political meetings, their work in the reception and service of men honoured by the country for patriotic service, their active participation in semi-political, semi-religious Utsavas are all part of such a patriotic discipline. It is this against which the efforts of the bureaucracy are being directed, by the Risley Circular, by the prohibition of the Shivaji Utsava outside the Deccan, by the attack on our Melas and other public occasions where such training is possible. For the same reason the active participation of College students in political meetings is forbidden. At the age of College students ideas may be modified, the intellect may be powerfully influenced by what they hear and see, but character can only be influenced and modified by action. And it is of character in action that the bureaucracy is afraid, not so much of mere ideas, mere speeches, mere writings. Let the College students attend political meetings and Utsavas – that by itself will not hurt the bureaucracy; but let them not organise or take part in them, for that means the character affected, the habit of political action formed, the first elementary beginnings of service to the country commenced. Picketing and active participation in Swadeshi work is of course still more objectionable from the bureaucratic standpoint. For the same reason, again, College Professors are forbidden to influence their students or lead them to political meetings: for that brings in the powerful impetus of leading and example and threatens the bureaucracy with the beginnings of organisation.
The Risley Circular, with its sanctimonious professions of anxiety for the best interests of students and guardians, is in reality a powerful attack on the growing spirit of Nationalism at its most vital point. As such we must understand it and as such resist it.
Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volumes 6-7.- Bande Mataram: Political Writings and Speeches. 1890–1908 .- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2002.- 1182 p.
1 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Whatever the Government
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: offence
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: then