Labour Monthly

Faked Indian Statistics as
Imperialist Propaganda

BY V.Chattopadhyaya

Source : Labour Monthly September, 1930, No.9.
Publisher : The Labour Publishing Company Ltd., London.
Transcription/HTML : Salil Sen
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2010). 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.

Notwithstanding the assurance given to the Indian Nationalists by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald that the Report of the Simon Commission will not form the sole basis of the discussions at the coming Round Table Conference, there is no doubt that all the three imperialist parties of Great Britain will insist on attaching the greatest importance to the so-called evidence contained in that Report. Tens of thousands of copies have been published at "Government expense" and disposed of either by sale or by free distribution. Hundreds of thousands of persons have read the detailed summary published by The Times. The Report is being very widely circulated in the United States to counteract the pro-Indian attitude of a certain section of the American bourgeoisie and intelligentsia. It is being translated into a number of European languages, and it has already had a very favourable reception in the bourgeois, including, of course, the Social-Democratic, press, of almost all countries.

The Simon Report is, in fact, the culmination of a long series of books, pamphlets and newspaper articles that have been pub¬lished, during the last four decades particularly, to create a deliber¬ately perverted and distorted view of the history and present con¬dition of the Indian people, and to generate a universal sense of contempt for their alleged inferiority, backwardness, helplessness, and internal strife and dissension, in order to justify British imperialist exploitation -- called by MacDonald the "civilising mission of capitalism" -- in the eyes of the "civilised world." The Report is one of the most insidious of these lying publications, because it is taken to be an authoritative and impartial statement by seven "honest Englishmen," and its effectiveness as a poison is further enhanced by the fact that it has the imprimatur of a so-called Labour Government.

The Simon Report, like all imperialist propaganda against the subject races, is based on the principle that lies about the latter should be repeated as frequently, persistently and plausibly as possible until they come to be accepted as facts. In this respect the Simon Report has been fairly successful. In Volume I, in sum¬ming up the "conditions of the problem," the Report gives a number of "statistical data," with such an air of accuracy and finality that most people have so far questioned only the conclusions that have been drawn from these, but not the honesty and accuracy of the statistics themselves.

In the reviews of Volume I that have appeared in the imperialist and pro-imperialist press (from the Morning Post and The Times to the Daily Herald and the New Leader), tributes have been unanimously paid to the correctness of the "evidence" presented in the Report. There is, of course; nothing very surprising when Lord Meston, who had himself been a Governor in India, writes in the Contemporary Review (August issue) that he "would like to add a tribute to its accuracy" and that the Report "is a convinc¬ing statement of the conditions of the problem." But even "Left wing" Labour leaders, who want us to believe that they are fighting imperialism and capitalism, make exactly the same kind of statements as Lord Meston. For instance, in the New Leader of June 13, Fenner Brockway writes:--

Even those of us who from the first have opposed the Simon Commission must admit that it has done its work courageously and thoroughly…… Furthermore, appreciation must be expressed, so far as this first report is concerned, of the care with which Sir John Simon and his colleagues have approached their task. I doubt whether the most extreme Nationalist will be able to point to serious inaccuracies on major facts, though they will dispute, of course, the significance of the facts. (My emphasis.--V.Ch.)

And H. W. Nevinson writes even more dogmatically in the same journal (June 27):--

Let me clear out of the way two aspects that are inevitably insisted upon by all defenders of British rule in India. They are rightly insisted upon, but now may be taken for granted by all who speak with knowledge and reason. First, the almost insuperable difficulty of constructing (not criticising) a constitution or form of government to suit a minor continent including 560 native Indian states (nominally independent), races of 222 separate languages, peoples of two main and hostile religions (168,000,000 Hindus and 60,000,000 Moslems in British India alone), 10,000,000 outcasted or "depressed" popula¬tions, also called "Untouchables," and treated as such…. Everyone who thinks of India ought to know these bare facts to start with. If he does not know, he should read Vol. I. of the Report. If he neither knows nor reads, let him hold his peace. (My emphasis.--V.Ch.)

We have quoted Nevinson at some length because the form in which he sums up and accepts the "bare facts" gives us a picture of the impression about India that has been created in millions of ignorant minds by British imperialist propaganda. The object of this propaganda is to terrorise people with "facts and figures" intended to prove the "immensity and difficulty" of the Indian "problem," arising from the "immensity of area and population," the "complication of language," the "rigid complication of in¬numerable castes," the "almost infinite diversity in its religious aspect," the eternal hostilities of the religious communities, &c. (the expressions are all taken from the Simon Report). And the conclusion to be drawn about "this variegated assemblage of races and creeds," this "congeries of heterogeneous masses" that is known as India, is that the 320 millions inhabiting that extra¬ordinarily disrupted and chaotic country ought to be thankful to British imperialism for having given them a "common govern¬ment" and protection from "foreign invasion" (the British imperi¬alist occupation not, of course, belonging to that category).

Now, not only are the true facts relating to the social and economic condition of the Indian people completely suppressed in the Report -- data, e.g., regarding wages, unemployment, housing conditions, famines, disease, mortality, profits of imperialist exploita¬tion, cost and results of the vast system of espionage, victims of militarism and imperialist terror, &c. -- but even the "statistical data" contained in the Simon Report and other official imperialist publications can be proved to be deliberate fabrications. We shall here deal with only a few of the most flagrant of these.

1. Languages

There is no lie so sedulously repeated and so widely believed, even by "educated" Indians themselves, as the statement that hundreds of different languages are spoken in India. This legend was deliberately created by the Linguistic Survey of India, which was supposed to study and classify the various languages and dialects from the point of view of their family affiliations. Every "civilised government" undertakes such surveys periodically in its country, but it is only the imperialist colonial governments that use the results of a philological survey for "proving" that the number of languages and dialects makes it impossible for the subject countries to govern themselves.

But even as regards the number of languages in India, the imperialist experts hopelessly contradict one another. The Simon Report (on the basis of the Census Report of 1921) gives the figure with plausible exactness as "222 vernaculars." The latest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Article on India) says that "no fewer than 220 distinct languages are recorded as vernaculars in the country." Lord Birkenhead, in a speech he made as Secretary of State for India, to show that Indians were unfit for self-government, put the figure at 200. Sir Thomas Holdich in his book on India says there are "50 languages." While the late Sir John Rees, a rabid imperialist, put the figures at 16! And the maximum British figure of 222 has been further improved by Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, who advocates English as the language of his Pan-Europa, one of the grounds being that it has already become the common language of the 300 million Indians who speak 300 different languages!

The very fact, indeed, that the figures vary from 16 to 222 in imperialist publications is itself a convincing proof of deliberate fabrication of statistics with mischievous intent. But the whole swindle becomes still more obvious when we look into the Census Reports of the Indian Government. We reproduce opposite, side by side, the tables contained in the Reports for 1901 and 1921.

By comparing these two tables we arrive at the amazing result that, whereas the population increased from 292 millions in 1901 to 316 millions in 1921 (without any influx of new foreign popu¬lations), the number of languages increased from 147 in 1901 to 222 in 1921 (without the addition of any new or polyglot territories).

(Vol. I, Part 1, p. 248) (Vol. I, Part I, p. 193)
Group No of Languages No. of Speakers Group No of Languages No. of Speakers
MALAYO – POLYNESIAN FAMILY (Malay group) 2 7,831 AUSTRIC FAMILY - 4,529,351
INDO-CIIINESE FAMILY - 11,712,299 Austronesian Sub-Family 2 -
Mon-Khmer Sub-Family 4 - Austro-Asiatic Sub Family: Mon-Khmer Branch 10 -
Tibeto-Burman Sub Family 79 - Munda Branch 7 -
Siamese-Chinese Sub Family 9 - TIBETO-CHINESE FAMILY - 12,885,346
DRAVIDO-MUNDA FAMILY - 59,693,799 Tibeto-Burman Sub Family 134 -
Munda Sub Family 10 - Tai-Chinese 11 -
Dravidian Sub Family 14 - KAREN FAMILY 14 1,114,026
Eranian Branch 3 - DRAVIDIAN FAMILY - 64,128,052
Indo-Aryan Branch 22 - Dravida Group 7 -
SEMITIC FAMILY 1 42,881 Intermediate Group 5 -
HAMITIC FAMILY 1 5,530 Andhra language 1 -
UNCLASSED LANGUAGES 2 346,150 North-Western l'nge 1 -
Andamanese - - INDO-EUROPEAN - 232,816,549
Gipsy - - Eranian Branch 2 -
- - - Dardic Branch 4 -
- - - Indo-Aryan Branch 19 -
- - - Andamanese - -
- - - Gipsy - -
Total 147 292,966,163 Total 222 316,056,183

In order, however, to realise fully what is called a "language," we must take the above tables in conjunction with the list of Indo-Chinese languages published in the Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol. 1, pp.390-394 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1909). In this list of 103 languages we are given the number of speakers of each of these "different languages," and we find, e.g., the following figures:-

Name of Language No. of Speakers
Kasui 11
Nora 2

on closely studying the tables we find:--

(a) that the number of "languages" of the so-called Indo-Chinese Family rose from 92 in 1901 to 145 in 1921;

( (b) that these "languages" are not spoken in India at all, but in outlying districts in the Himalayas and the Burmo-¬Chinese frontier;

( (c) that the vast majority of these are not languages at all but either very minor dialects or names of tribes;

( (d) that out of the 103 "languages" included in the Tibeto Chinese group, 17 are spoken by less than 100 persons; 39 by less than 1,000; 65 by less than 10,000; 83 by less than 50,000; 91 by less than 100, 000; 97 by less than 200,000! The only language in the group is Burmese.

To these figures must be added the two "languages" of the so-called "Mân group" represented by 591 speakers in all; the Andamanese language with 580 speakers in all; the Gipsy "languages" with a total of 15,018 speakers; two "Austronesian languages" with a total of 5,561 speakers, &c.

This is the way in which more than 200 of the 222 "languages" have been fabricated, and we are then seriously told that these languages constitute a '"constitutional problem."

It is not possible here to go into any further details of the linguistic statistics, but if we wish to arrive at the correct number of languages spoken in India, we must dismiss as wholly absurd all the above-mentioned inventions as well as dozens of dialects that are spoken among hill-tribes by a few hundred thousand people, but that are seriously included as languages (although, even according to the Census Report of 1921, Vol. I, Part I, p.197, they are steadily dying out). We thus obtain a maximum figure of 13 languages, including the frontier provinces, as the only ones that can be considered when we discuss administration.

In this connection we must also expose the absurdity of the legend that English is the lingua franca of India. After 150 years of English "education," only 1 per cent. can read and write English. (24 millions out of a population of 320 millions). The truth is that of the 13 Indian languages, the 9 North Indian languages are extremely closely allied, so that even the Census Report (1921, Vol. I, Part I, p. 199) states: "There is no doubt that there is a common element in the main languages of Northern and Central India which renders their speakers without any great conscious change in their speech mutually intelligible to one another, and this common basis already forms an approach to a lingua franca over a large part of India."

There is another interesting point in the Simon Report to which we must draw attention. In India it is necessary for im¬perialism to show the greatest possible diversity, but imperialist policy has suddenly changed with regard to Burma. The interests of shipping and of heavy industry demand that Burma should be separated from India for more intensive exploitation, and the Report now says: "But though as many as 128 indigenous tongues are distinguished in the province, nearly seven-tenths of the whole population -- and the proportion is growing -- speak Burmese or a closely allied language." This is, quite rightly, cited as a proof of the linguistic unity of Burma. But although Hindustani is spoken or understood by seven-tenths of the Indian population, the fiction of 222 languages has to be maintained.

If we were to apply the same statistical method to Great Britain and Ireland, France, Germany or the U.S.A., we could easily show that more than 200 languages are spoken in each of these countries. The baseness and dishonesty of British imperialist statistics have been made obvious even by a few facts cited above, and we trust that H. W. Nevinson will not "hold his peace" but will publicly confess that he has been misleading the British workers by repeating the imperialist lie about the "222 separate languages."

In concluding this brief study of linguistic statistics, we must draw the attention of the Indian masses to the solution of the language problem by the proletarian dictatorship in the Soviet Union. There are far more languages spoken in the vast territory of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic, and yet the Russian workers have succeeded in establishing their strong independent centralised government, while maintaining the fullest possible cultural autonomy of the linguistic and national groups. The workers of India, too, will find no difficulty in solving their language problem when they have overthrown imperialism, feudalism and capitalism, which are the real hindrances to their national unity and their full national emancipation.

(To be continued)