Four generations after Independence, the name C F Andrews is unlikely to mean anything to the politicians or the human rights activists of today’s India. Yet, this was the man who fell in love with Rabindranath Tagore after finding in Gitanjali “the inner moral beauty of India”, who was eulogised by Tagore for “identifying himself with a defeated and humiliated people”, who was generally admired by the freedom-movement generation as “the conscience of the white man” and who was described by Mahatma Gandhi as “a true friend of the poor and downtrodden in all climes”. Andrews was the only contemporary who called Gandhi Mohan.
The latest book on Andrews, Charles Freer Andrews: A Crusader for Human Rights, by Mary Thomas (NavVishnu Publications, Ajmer) is a timely reminder that there was an Englishman who stood shoulder to shoulder with leaders like Gandhi and fought for India’s Independence. Brought up in a strong Christian belief structure in England, he became a missionary and an ordained priest. But his readings and contacts led him to become a missionary, not of Christianity, but of the crusade for human dignity. He renounced his priesthood, causing much agony in his family and within himself. There was a time when, as Mary Thomas points out, “some Englishmen condemned him as a traitor and many in the church denounced him”.
What sustained Andrews was his humanitarianism. Like most Englishmen in England, he was under the impression that British rule in India was for the benefit of India. Soon after he landed in India in 1904 to join the staff of St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, he was shocked to realise that ground reality was different from what he had understood. His bosom friend in St. Stephen’s, Vice Principal Susil Rudra, helped him understand that Britain improved its commercial, economic and industrial interests by impoverishing Indians and exploiting Indian resources. Besides, Rudra opened his eyes to “the racial and religious arrogance of the imperial government”.
Andrews, his soul disturbed by what he saw and heard and learned in India, became a relentless fighter for India’s rights and dignity. This is graphically brought out in the chapter Mary Thomas has devoted to “Opium traffic”. The way the British merchant houses made addicts out of Chinese masses is a tragic tale of history. It is painful to realise that the East India Company, with its monopoly of opium production in India, traded in the drug clandestinely first and then openly.
Andrews, the upright moralist, was shocked by what he found when he made a detailed study of the trade and the people affected by it. That the Indian Government and British authorities in London were colluding with the illegal and unethical business was something he could not ignore. He wrote articles in the British press, campaigned with international agencies and constantly interacted with policy-makers in India including the Viceroy. He did not succeed in getting policies changed because the vested interests were too powerful. But he played a central role in bringing sordid details of the scandalous trade to the attention of the public and various international conferences in the early 1920s.
The involvement of Andrews covered virtually all aspects of life in India during the early part of the 2011 century. (He died in 1940). Primarily an educationist, he played a major role in the campaign against the indentured labour system, in opposing racism, in propagating human rights ideas, in fighting for improving the condition of undertrials and of course in the struggle for Indian independence. The author is a retired Head of the Department of Political Science in Bhavan’s College, Mumbai. Her research is detailed making the central figure of her study look three-dimensional. It is a pity that C F Andrews is not alive in the consciousness of the politically active segments of modern Indian society, let alone the general public.