Evelyn Roy

Indian Political Exiles in France

Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. VII, April 1925, No. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THE increasing severity with which Indian political exiles are treated in French territory leads one to believe that it is due to the policy of close co-operation entered into between the French and British Governments since the advent of the Conservatives to power in Great Britain.

Three such cases have been brought to our attention in the past few weeks, and a fourth one has just been added.

The first and most shocking is the expulsion front France of Manabendra Nath Roy, political exile and well-known revolutionary from British India, whose writings and organising activities have done so much to bring India into close touch with the outside world, and whose ideology has deeply impressed itself upon the Indian liberation movement, especially during the past four years. Manabendra Nath Roy has been actively associated with the nationalist and revolutionary movement in India since the age of fourteen years, that is to say, twenty years of his life have been dedicated to the cause of the suffering millions there. Severely persecuted on account of his activities by the British Indian Government, he was several times imprisoned and finally forced to escape in 1915 to avoid a heavy punishment. Since that time he has continued his activities on behalf of his country by means of writing, organising and arousing public opinion in various countries on behalf of his country’s cause. He is the author of several books—India in Transition, One Year of Non-Co-operation, India’s Problem, What Do We Want? and Political Letters—all severely prohibited in India. He came to Europe in 1920, and has travelled extensively in nearly every European country, his life tormented by the ceaseless activities of the British Secret Service, which has dogged his footsteps from the Orient to America, from America to Europe. The German Government, acting under British pressure, issued an order for his arrest in 1923, but he left Germany before it was executed and took up his residence in Switzerland. Here, also, pressure was brought to bear to bring about his expulsion, which was refused by the Swiss Government. He came to France in July of 1924, after the Herriot Government came to power,; hoping to find here a wider field of activity and a safe refuge on the soil of France. His expulsion, executed on January 30, can only be attributed to British pressure brought to bear upon the French Government, which has refused him the right to remain on French soil.

A very ugly feature of his expulsion lies in the fact that reports were telegraphed out to India by Reuter, from an obviously inspired source, on February 6, “That M. N. Roy was on his way from France to India, under arrest on a warrant issued in India against him as a result of the Cawnpore Conspiracy Trial.” It appears that only a slight miscalculation of time prevented the British authorities from seizing him and putting him aboard a steamer bound for India, before any public protest could be made, or any preventive action taken on the part of his friends. The manner of his arrest and expulsion bears this supposition out. M. N. Roy was taken in the street, on photographs and information supplied by Scotland Yard; he was hustled to the nearest local police station by a detective and three policeman, without any warrant of arrest being shown to him, nor any proof of identity being provided. From there he would have been taken to the frontier without further formality had not the impatience of the detective to get rid of him obliged him to send his victim to the Prefecture of Police, where the writ of expulsion was executed with the same brutal haste. His demand for a delay of twenty-four hours, in order to arrange his affairs and to consult a lawyer, was roughly denied; he was not allowed to communicate with anyone before his departure, and was sent under escort to the frontier by the first train His wife, who was arrested with him, was kept in detention until his departure, without being allowed to see or speak with anyone. He was told by the detective who arrested him that he was going to be sent to England. The fact that he was sent to Luxembourg only shows that a country was selected where his abduction by British Secret Police would be an easy matter, His escape may be regarded as a miracle of good luck.

The other cases which have been brought to our attention of the persecution of Indian political exiles at the hands of the French authorities include two refugees in the French colonies of Pondicherry and Chandernagore. Mr. R. C. L. Sharma, political refugee from British India since before the war, has been constantly harassed by the French and British Secret Police, acting in common. In September-October, 1924, he received a verbal order to leave French territory without delay, no reason being given. Through his lawyer, he was able to secure a delay by demanding a written order from the Governor, who gave him the choice of leaving French territory or going to live in a small village oŁ the interior, Canouvapeth. Here he has lived for the past six months, closely watched by the French and British Police, unable to leave without authorisation. No offence against French law has been alleged against him; he has done nothing to justify these arbitrary measures.

At British instigation, the introduction, distribution and circulation of literature printed in English and freely circulated in Great Britain is severely prohibited in French India, because in these publications the truth about British rule in India is told.

A third case, now occupying the attention of the Indian public, is that of Mr. Moti Lal Roy, political exile in Chandernagore from British India, the founder of an Ashram or religious school, and editor of a newspaper Prabartak. Mr. Mod Lal Roy is a highly religious man, whose pupils revere him as a “guru” or spiritual teacher. Besides religious instruction, his school aimed to teach the students to become self-supporting in after-life. He is the author of several religious books, and of Hundred Years of Bengal, proscribed in British India. At the instigation of the British-Indian government, the French authorities of Chandernagore suddenly began prosecuting Mr. Roy. He was called before the local Administrator and severely interrogated about his activities, in rude and insulting language. His school was searched, its pupils subjected to cross examination by the police, and his paper suspended. We will quote his own appeal to French public opinion at this unmerited treatment:—

The great determination that for the last fifteen years has led me to dedicate myself to the service of God and country; the fire of sacrifice which has consumed my all, while ceaselessly labouring and waiting for its fruition; if all this is deemed to mean nothing else but a disturbance of law and order in the land, then must I not declare from the housetops that even the path of true self-discovery for this nation is closed, and its sadhana (realisation) of manhood in danger, Should I not then, even at the cost of my very life, demonstrate that a pure, blameless seat of religious culture is being made the target for destruction by the power of Europe priding itself upon its twentieth-century civilisation; that the sword of oppression hangs not only over British India, challenging the national manhood there, but the same menace shadows the face of French India was well? I appeal to the French nation, who preached the gospel of Equality, Freedom and Fraternity—to the national leaders and to my countrymen, and hereby draw their attention to see that the holy seat of national culture and spiritual sadhana is not endangered or baffled in its object under the ban of unjust oppression.

We believe that the French people, once aware of these wrongs inflicted upon the sons of India who are struggling to free their country from one of the blackest tyrannies in history, will demand the protection of those exiles who have sought refuge from British persecution on the soil of France or her colonies. The position of Indian political refugees is seriously menaced; it lies with the French people who still believe in the rights of man to demand their protection at the hands of the French Government.

Paris, March 10, 1925

The following letter has been addressed by M. N. Roy to the French “Ligue des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen,” in protest against his expulsion from France (described in the article above).


Permit me to submit the following facts for your consideration, thinking that they demand an intervention on your part.

On January 30 I was arrested in Paris in fulfilment of an order of expulsion signed by the French Ministry of the Interior on January 3, and was immediately conducted to the frontier, without having been informed of the reasons for my expulsion, and without being given the means to consult a lawyer for my defence.

Thus, by one stroke of the pen, the right of asylum for Indian political refugees has been destroyed, and with this right, the idea which Indian revolutionaries hold, that France is the home of Liberty and Democracy for all the oppressed peoples of the world.

I appeal to the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme to obtain redress, and to this end I shall briefly recount the facts.

For twenty years, that is to say since the age of fourteen, I have fought in the ranks of Indian revolutionaries to free ourselves from foreign rule. My activity, dedicated to the cause of the 320,000,000 oppressed people of my country, has brought upon me, as upon all Indian revolutionaries, the brutal persecution of the English police. I have been imprisoned several times. In 1915, I was forced to fly from India to escape the extreme penalty of the so-called “law” which holds the Indian people in their present state of slavery.

The British police have not left me in peace, even in my exile. They have pursued me step by step, from one country to another, from Java to Japan, from China to the Philippines, to America, to Mexico and through most of the countries of Europe. Having taken refuge in Mexico in 1917, President Carranza, then at the head of the Government, gave me protection, and twice refused a demand for my expulsion presented by the British authorities. The exigencies of a revolutionary life have forced me on several occasions to adopt different names. The sympathy of the Mexican people and Government enabled me to live and travel with a Mexican name, which protected me to a certain extent since 1919, when I left for Europe with my wife. Since that time, we have lived and travelled in most of the European countries, writing, studying, organising and making propaganda for the liberation of India.

We left Switzerland for France in 1924, and have lived here six months, working for our cause, without ever mixing ourselves in the internal politics of this country.

My expulsion can only be attributed to foreign pressure brought to bear upon the French Government, as it was brought to bear upon the American, Mexican, German and Swiss Governments. The French authorities know whence this pressure comes, but it is difficult to believe that France has voluntarily agreed to become an instrument of British Imperialism. My case is not the only one. Acting under British pressure, the Government of M. Poincaré expelled and interned Indian political exiles who had sought asylum in Pondichery and Chandernagore. Two such cases were brought before the attention of the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme during the summer of 1924. Can the revolutionary traditions of the great French people accept such acts of oppression against Indian political refugees, seeking shelter from British persecution on French soil?

In the name of all Indian revolutionaries, I call your attention to this violation of the right of asylum, and demand the annulation of the order of expulsion against me, and the right to enter and to live in France.

With assurances of the highest esteem, I remain,

Very truly yours,
Luxembourg, February 1, 1925.