The Hindu Invasion
FRED. LOCKLEY IN THE PACIFIC MONTHLY
The author looks at the influx of these East Indians into Canada from the United States' standpoint. In doing so he brings out many poits unfamiliar to the majority of Canadians.
HAVE you ever watched a band of sheep in a rocky and barren field, pastured till the grass has been eaten down to the roots? You will see the sheep gather near the fence and look longingly at the luxuriant bunch-grass in the next field, while they march back and forth along the line fence in hope of finding a chance to get into the grassy pasture. Presently some old ewe, her faculties made keen by hunger, will discover a lossened wire where she can wiggle under the barbwirefence. How long do you suppose it will be, if you do not mend the gap, till the green field is dotted with hungry sheep making the most of their opportunity?
India, densely pouplated, plaguesmitten, famine-stricken, is, that overcrowded and over-pastured field ; British Columbia and the United States are the green fields toward which the ever-hungry hordes of India are eagerly looking. They have found the gap and are pouring in. Will the rest follow their leaders in an overwhelming flood? Will India, with her 296,000,000 population, of whom more than 100,000,000 are always on the verge of starvation, become an immigration menace?
Who are these tawny-skinned, black-bearded, turbaned Asiatics? Do we want them? Have they come to stay? Are they desirable immigrants? Shall we welcome them or oppose their coming? These questions and a score more of similar import are being asked by the citizens of British Columbia. The question became acute when over two thousand Sikhs and Hindus were landed at Vancouver and Victoria last Fall.
During the past few days I have been endeavoring to find the answer to some of the above questions by interviewing American and Canadian immigration officials, the officers of railway and steamboat lines, workingmen, capitalists, politicians, sawmill owners and other large employers of labor, British army officers who have retired after having spent half their lifetime in India, as well as the Sikhs and Hindus in Vancouver, Victoria, Port Townsend, New Westminster and Port Moody.
The more one studies the question the more one is brought to a realization of its complex and far-reaching character. It is a question of such serious import and one involving such grave consequences that it should not be used as political capital in party discussion nor settled in the heat of debate between Liberal or Conservative of British Columbia. It is a question to be decided only after the most thorough discussion, not only of the present aspects of the case, but of its relations to the welfare of the country. Laying aside all prejudice, either for or against Asiatic labor, it should be settled on its merits on the broad plane of statesmanship.
Before entering into the question of the causes which led these men to cross the sea, it will be well to inquire who they are and whence they come.
In that most ancient of classics, the Veda, we read : “Aham blumin
adadam Aryaya,” “I gave the earth to Arya.”
“Who is Arya that he should be given the earth?” you ask. Look in your mirror and you will have your question answered, for you yourself are a part of the answer.
Arya, or to use the more familiar term, the Aryan race, embraces in its western division not only us who speak the English tongue, but also the Greeks, the Italians, the Celts, the Slavonians and the Teutons and, in the Far East, it includes the Iranians and the Hindus. Thus it will be seen the Hindus are our kinsmen. I can see you are balking at that term “kinsmen” as applied to the Hindus ; yet,
no matter how much you may wish to repudiate the bond that binds us to them by the ties of blood relationship, the proof is too convincing to be set aside. Were we to disregard all historical evidence our language alone would be proof sufficient to establish our common origin. Many of our most familiar words trace their lineage in an unbroken line to the Sanskrit roots. Such words as God, mother, home, son, heart and tears, as well as scores of others, are from root words which, in a slightly modified form, are still in use in India.
When we lived together in our early home in Western Asia two thousand years or so before Christ, we spoke a common language, but, with increasing numbers, our fertile plains and valleys became crowded and we began pushing our borders onward and outward and, because we were more intelligent and enterprising than the bordering non-Aryan tribes and were their superiors in the use of arms, we overcame them and pushed our outposts throughout Central India, and from there we went further afield till we had overrun all Europe. On account of our removal from our early home, and because communication with it became more and more infrequent till it ceased altogether, new words crept into our language and old words, by a gradual transition, changed their form till we had evolved from our parent tongue many new dialects. Now, after the lapse of forty centuries, our kinsmen in the Far East are turning their faces westward. Here and there a tiny crevice has appeared in the dam that has held them in check for so long. They are trickling through in a slight and apparently insignificant stream into the western lands, but will the stream gradually enlarge till it floods our land and menaces our institutions?
At Port Townsend I said to the ETnited States immigration officer: “Suppose those Hindus-prove undesirable. How can we keep them out?”
“The two dollar head tax and the price of a ticket from Vancouver or
Victoria is all they require to come in,” he replied.
The American immigration officials in British Columbia put the case in this way : “As we have no discretion in the matter of their admission, they being British subjects, the only thing we can do is to enforce the regulations very strictly and endeavor to keep out the least desirable of the applicants for admission.” Out of the six hundred or more who have applied so far for admission into the United States, nearly one-third have had the cabalistic letters L.P.C. or D.C..D. placed opposite their names and in consequence have been refused admission.. The letters L.P.C. signify that the intending immigrant is liable to become a public charge, either through old age, slight physique, or through want of means, while the letters D.C.D. indicate that the immigrant has a dangerous contagious disease, the most common form of which is trachoma, a disease of the eyes, contagious and difficult of cure. The third and last chance to keep out an undesirable person is to prove that he is seeking entrance in violation of the alien contract-labor law. If the applicant for admission to our shores can steer his barque without coming to grief on these three rocks in the entrance he has clear sailing.
About four years ago six Sikhs who had been working in Hongkong and other Chinese treaty ports, having heard from the sailors of the scarcity of labor in British Columbia, came to Vancouver. With their swarthy skin, erect and military bearing and picturesque garb, they attracted considerable attention and were made welcome, and given work at what, to them, was fabulous wages—a dollar and a half a day. It was not strange that they wrote of their good fortune to their friends at home and said that they had discovered a land, of gold at the edge of the Western sea. By twos and threes, by dozens and scores, the East Indians began coming to Vancouver till, by the middle of last October, there were 1,486 in Vancouver and vicinity. The working-
men were becoming uneasy as more and more of the turbaned laborers were seen at work in the mills. When word came that thousands more were coming and that six or seven hundred were then in transit it served to further intensify the feeling of uneasiness, and it only needed the arrival of the Empress of Japan, October 15, with a large number of Hindus aboard to crystallize the feeling of uneasiness into one of active hostility. A Canadian Pacific steamer arriving soon thereafter landed its cargo of over 300 Orientals at Victoria instead of Vancouver. The East Indians who had arrived on the Empress of Japan were placed in the detention shed for examination by the immigration officials. Right here, however, the City of Vancouver stepped in and took a hand in the game. The mayor of Vancouver ordered the police fores to guard the detention shed and to see that not a single Hindu be allowed access to the city. As the regulation of immigration is a prerogative of the Government, this move on the city’s part brought it into immediate conflict with the Dominion Government. Next to become involved in the vexed problem were the Canadian Pacific Railway and the city officials. The city clerk served notice on Mr. R. Marpole, the general superintendent of the Canadian Pacific Railway, that the city police had been instructed to prevent any of the East Indians from leaving the detention sheds. Mr. Marpole, in his reply, refused to co-operate with the city in detaining or deporting the East Indians, and said :
I write to say that this company cannot in any way accede to the request contained in your letter. So long as the passengers on the company’s vessels comply with the immigration laws of Canada, and pass the inspection of the Dominion Government officials, the company has no right to detain them. The city will have to take the risk of any action the city may take, and damages resulting therefrom.
At the meeting of the city council that evening, October 15, Mr. Marpole’s letter was read. The reading of this letter led to some very spirit-
ed debate. One of the aldermen, who has the reputation of being somewhat impetuous, suggested shipping all the Hindus to Ottawa, so that the question would be up to the Dominion Government in a concrete form. He further advised that the mayor be authorized to cut the hawser of the Empress of Japan to prevent the landing of the East Indians. Calmer counsel, however, prevailed, and the following telegrams were written, signed by the Mayor, and sent to Winston Churchill, Colonial Secretary at London, and to the Colonial Secretary at Hongkong:
East Indians are being shipped to British Columbia in large numbers under misrepresentations respecting state of labor market. Feeling very acute against people responsible, as liable to be large mortality among destitutes. Please take such action as you deem necessary to prevent further shipments.
Another, even more emphatic, was cabled to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, which read :
City of Vancouver will not stand for any further dumping of East Indians here. Mass meeting called to consider active preventive measures unless definite authoritative assurance received that Government has prohibited importation of these undesirable immigrants.
In answer to these messages the Colonial Secretary of Hongkong replied :
Indians mostly in transit from India. Advise you should ask Canadian Governmeot to approach Government of India.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier answered:
With reference to your telegram. Government not prepared at this moment to take action. Will wait for further communication on the matter.
These answers not proving very satisfactory, on October 18 a mass meeting was held at the City Hall, at which Mayor Bascombe and others spoke in strong terms on the subject under discussion, some of the speakers being greeted with cheers and others with hisses, Finally the following resolution was passed with a shout of assent by the large audience :
Whereas, from reports appearing in the public press the present immigration of East Indians may be taken as
a mere indication of a much greater influx of this class of labor,
Be it resolved, that the Dominion Government is respectfully requested to take immediate action toward determining whether or not further immigration shall be allowed, such immigration being in the opinion of this meeting, against the best interests of this country.
These telegrams and the action of the mass meeting indicate the attitude of the city officials and of a majority of the citizens of Vancouver on the question of the coming of the Hindus yet, as most questions have two sides, this is no exception to the rule.
In my inquiries I constantly heard the charge made that there was some capitalistic organization back of the influx of East Indians. If reiteration of a statement would lead to belief in it I would have to believe it true ; however, I believe the charge is absolutely without foundation. In all my inquiries among the Sikhs I could And no evidences of it.
“No work at home. Too many people. High wages here. My cousin write and tell me so, so I come,” was the tenor of their reply.
Colonel Warren, a retired British army officer, who served for twenty years in India and understands Hindustani and Pujabi, has talked to at least five hundred of them, asking this question, and he has failed to find one who has been solicited to come. Said a very bright native of the Punjab, who has traveled extensively throughout Asia and who is from the same district whence these men come :
“Hunger, actual hunger, is what is bringing my fellow-countrymen here. In India the wages are low, unbelievably low, so low that it is hard work to keep body and soul together. During times of famine the British Government gives relief work, paying four cents a day to the men and three cents a day to the women. For work on the ' streets and similar work the usual wage is about $2.25 a month. Naturally these men who have seen other parts of the world realize that they can do better away from home and hence come here They prefer to come to a country under the British flag, for many of them have fought for that flag in the hill wars in India, in Egypt, in the Boxer troubles in China, and in the Boer war in South Africa. They see the English people received gladly and welcomed royally in India, and they suppose that, having borne the brunt of England’s wars in the Far East, they will be welcome wherever the British flag is flying. But it seems they are mistaken. I have traveled all over Asia and I have not heard a word or read a notice in all my travels inviting my countrymen to come to Canada. They have heard of this as. a country where a man has all he needs to eat, so they come.”
Henry N. Gladstone, a nephew of the eminent statesman, William E. Gladstone, while in Vancouver a few months ago, said :
It is amazing to me that these Sikhs will come over here to do coolie labor. They are men of very high caste in their own country and have been emplç>yed in military work. These men work in India as policemen and military patrol. I was for fifteen years in India, and it is a matter of keen interest to see these men coming to Canada to do manual labor. Not many years ago it was against a rule of their caste to travel overseas, but their work as soldiers of the Empire has broken them away from this idea.
You need have very little fear in British Columbia that thev will not assimilate. If I have any knowledge of them they do not want to assimilate. They will make a little money among you and then slip back to their own people. At home they get about ten shillings a month and save money out of it. If they get $1150 a day here they will soon make a fortune and go home again. A coupleof hundred dollars is a fortune to them, and, living as they do, they can save that amount in a short time. The Sikhs are scrupulously clean and I regard them as a very fine race of men.
Dr. Munro, the Canadian immigration inspector at Vancouver, in speaking of the Hindus and Sikhs, said :
“I believe that much of the dissatisfaction as to the work of the Sikhs has arisen from the fact that they are unfamiliar with our tools. Though they have never used an ax in their lives/they are given one and told to work in the timber. Until
they become accustomed to its use they cannot do as much work as an experienced man, and because they cannot they are condemned for poor workmen. Another thing which stood in the way of their making good at once was that they went to work almost immediately after landing from a long sea voyage. They had been sea-sick and were weak and not up to their usual form. Another serious handicap is that when a few of them are hired in a lumber camp the boss expects them to eat what the Chinese cook prepares for the crew. Pork and beans, corn-beef and cabbage are set before them, and they will have none of it. To a Hindu pork is an abomination, and he would rather die than touch it. The cow is their sacred animal, and it is a sin unforgivable to touch it as a food. This condition of affairs puts the East Indian at a serious disadvantage. He prefers to prepare his own food ; his staples are rice, bread, milk, fruits and vegetables, and he would much rather starve than eat what is forbidden by his religious beliefs.”
I asked the police department as to the character »of the East Indians. “They give us absolutely no trouble,” was their report. Six of the Sikhs were arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct and assault and battery, the complaining witness being a white man. During the trial it developed that the white man, while drunk, had entered one of their houses and, going into a room where six of them were quartered, and seeing their headdress he had decided they must belong to members of the fairer sex, whereupon he immediately had embraced one of them and so vigorous was his love-making and so fervent were his kisses that the disgusted Oriental had thrown him out and when he tried to force his way in again, he had been roughly repulsed. The case was dismissed.
Of the East Indians now in British Columbia a considerable number are Sikhs, a semi-religious organization which has been in existence for the past four hundred years or more. They differ from the Hindus in combining the leading doctrines of Brahminism and Mohammedism. They are splendid warriors, and were not subdued and anexed to Great Britain till 1849. The boys marry on reaching the age of from fourteen to sixteen years, their wives being younger by several years, so it follows, as a. matter of course, that practically all of the Sikhs in British Columbia are married and have families in India. At New Westminster I knocked at the door of a long, red, shed-like building, where a score or more of Sikhs were quartered. A grey-bearded Sikh opened the door, and with a courtly bow motioned me to come in, The air was so cold that you could see your breath. Built about the sides of the room were shelves upon which they slept. On each of these shelves sat a Sikh wrapped in a blanket. Sitting cross-legged on these shelf-like beds, with their huge turbans, their dark skin, their black beards and their impassive faces, they looked like a collection of terra cotta statuetts such as you may buy at a' curio store for paper weights.
One of the number responded to my question : “My name is Sergeant Singh. There are forty-four of us at this mill, but even now the ice locks the river and we may not work.”
I asked if he and his people were good workers, and were thrifty. Reaching under the matting on his bed, he took out a package wrapped carefully in many folds of cloth. Taking out a small, black, leather-bound memorandum book, he said, with a radiant and dazzling smile : “This wib prove. See, herein you may behold what many men have written of me ; you may examine this, my character book,” and he held it out to me.
Opening the book at random, I read aloud : “This is to certify I have known Singh for some time and he is not nearly as bad as he looks. ” Singh beamed with satisfaction. “Ah, is it not so, as I told you? All are like that. All say I am honest and work hard, ”
I turned the leaves over idly and saw that army officers in India, merchants in Australia, bankers in Hong-
kong, all had testified that Singh was industrious, trustworthy and would do as he promised.
At another house where the Hindus were quartered I knocked, The door was opened and instantly, at sight of me, seven or eight Sikhs in the room sprang to attention and with heels together, bodies erect and hand at urban in salute they stood as if caste in bronze.
“Is Ram Chand in?” I asked. Six heads nodded in unison and one of the number called a message in Punjabi to someone in the back room. A moment later a slender young lad, beardless and with closely cropped hair, stepped into the room.
“Is it for me you have enquire?” he asked.
Telling him my errand, I asked him several questions. He translated the questions to his fellow-countrymen. A moment’s excited talk ensued. He turned to me and said :
“They ask me to petition you to make known to them for why you wish this information. It is very particular you do not cause to be published anything which will cause to promote prejudice against our race. We de not understand why your people look at us with hard faces and feel angry with us. We wish to enquire that you enlighten us what they say we have done. We wish to secure respect to the end that we be good citizens, so they petition you not to cause to be published that which is not so.”
I told them I would endeavor to “cause to be published” only the truth, I asked Ram Chand why he wore no turban or beard as the others did ?
“I am Ram Chand,” he said, proudly, “a Brahmin, which is of the highest caste of all castes in India. You see I talk English very exact since I go to the university in my own land. My caste is the same as your caste here of padres or priests. Of our caste we wear not the turban, we cut the hair as with me, we wear not the beard, we eat flesh of no creature. We may not eat that which has had life. It is forbidden. These Sikhs here, they may eat flesh of the hare, the deer, the mutton, but not of the buffalo, the bullock or the cow, that is sacred—that they may not eat.”
I asked if these others were Sudras. He translated my question, and instantly the smiling and attentive Sikhs started an uproar which seemed to increase rather than abate. I asked Ram Chand what seemed to be the trouble.
“You have asked them a question which is a very great insult. They say to tell you the Sudras are of the lowest caste, coolies, so low that these men here may not associate with them without loss of caste. These are of the Rajput and the Vaisyas caste, soldiers and farmers. This man’s uncle owns a large farm in India, where in one year he grew $500 worth of crops. Sudras are like the dogs, and wander from place to place and starve. These are not Sudras. Our castes in chief are the Brahmins, which is by caste; the Rajputs, the warriors; the Vaisyas or the farmers, and below all are the Sudras. In my country it is not the custom that the high caste work, there the Brahmins do not labor, but here I see it is not so disgraceful to labor with the hands, so I desire to be conformed to the customs of the country that I may not create prejudice against my people, so I lay aside my caste obligations and I labor. Always on all former times my hands were soft, but no longer are they so since I handle boards at the mill where I labor.”
By this time a dozen or fifteen of the Sikhs had gathered in the room. As the questions were translated to them they would discuss them with animation and finally refer them to one of their number, a stately and dignified Sikh, grey-bearded, slender, with a finely-cut face and with the bearing of a soldier. Had you taken off his turban and changed the color of his skin you would have taken him for a general or some distinguished statesman. They would give the most respectful attention to his terse comments, nod their heads in assent, and then I would get my answer. When I left they followed me out into the yard to bid me good-bye. They made
such an effective group against the white background of the snow that I took my kodak from my pocket and leveled it at them, thinking to get a picture. They scattered like a covey of quail, while Ram Chand, who had taken refuge behind me, said excitedly:
“It is desired that you be caused to hesitate briefly, my fellow-countrymen desire to make sufficient preparation for their portrait, as it is very particular we make a good appearance so not to cause a bad impression. It is desired you hesitate so they will make a more neat appearance.”
A moment or two later they appeared, some clad in Hongkong police uniforms, while others had on their army coats, those not up to the mark in the way of good appearance being rigorously excluded from the picture.
At the Rat Portage mill I watched the Hindus at work. They seemed to be competent and industrious. Those who know them best say they are obedient, faithful, respectful and exceedingly loyal, or “faithful to their salt,” as they term it. One of the Sikhs who is working for Colonel Warren for $25 a month, and who reads and writes English, was offered $3 a day to work as time-keeper and overseer in one of the saw mills that employes a large number of East Indians, but he refused to go in spite of the higher wages offered.
In the late Summer a considerable number of Sikhs went into the Cariboo district to work in the mines. In November the weather turned quite cold and the Sikhs, after staying about camp for a day or two, shivering with cold, struck out afoot for Vancouver, several hundred miles distant and, being old campaigners, they footed it in.
Several of the high-caste Hindus have died during the past Fall in British Columbia and, as it is a defilement to be buried, they have been cremated according to the prescribed rules of their religion. On November 4, Rudub Singh was killed in one of the saw mills near Vancouver.
Here, far from their native land, his co-religionists gave him his shroud of fire. A pyre of wood and brush was built, and on this the shrouded form of Rudub Singh, liberally sprinkled with butter, was placed ; and as the flames leaped up and wrapped the white-roobed figure in a garment of flame, the Hindus, in a plaintive minor key, chanted a funeral hymn that was old ere Rome had been thought of.
Here in the new world, as the acrid smoke rolled up from the funeral pyre and lost itself in the overarching boughs of the evergreens, they chanted :
Depart thou by the ancient paths to the place of our Fathers. Meet with the ancient ones; meet with the Lord of Death; clothe thyself in thy shining form; depart to the mighty in battle; to the heroes who have laid dozen their lives for others ; to the place of those who have bestowed their gifts upon the poor ; depart thou to the place of our Fathers where we also shall soon come.
It may help us to decide whether the East Indians are desirable immigrants or not by glancing at the conditions which prevail in their home land. It is a land under a curse, or, rather under a threefold curse, that of the caste system, of a gaunt-eyed famine, and of poison-breathing plague.
The caste system, with its ironbound regulations, holds the people of India in its cruel and relentless grasp, and from its decrees there is no appeal. From birth to death the victim of this system is bound hand and foot, for him there is neither liberty, nor hope of freedom. If he is born a Sudra a Sudra he must remain, a thing too low to spit upon, a creature so debased that his mere touch would defile one of higher caste. There is neither outlook nor uplook for him nor for his children after him ; worth, nor wealth, nor energy, nor any other thing can raise him to a higher level, and unlike the other castes he can sink no lower. For he is classed with the dogs and unclean creatures, and is denied all benefit of hope here and hereafter.
More than a hundred million of India’s people are always hungry and,
weakened by lack of food, have not the power to resist the epidemics which sweep over the land.
Of sanitation they have not the faintest idea, in consequence the water supply is polluted, the very air filled with infected dust.
Millions of people perish in the prolonged agonies of starvation during the frequent famines. In the famine of 1900, which raged throughout the Punjab and the central provinces, more than eight millions of people died from lack of food. These famines are followed by devastating epidemics—cholera, smallpox, fever and the dread bubonic plague, the latter disease alone claiming more than a million and a quarter of victims during the year of 1905. While these
diseases originate in the overcrowded and foul slums of India, they threaten the world at large, especially the bubonic plague, which thrives not only in the tropics, but where the thermometer hovers around zero, and which, through the instrumentality of rats, has been brought to Honolulu and San Francisco, to Liverpool and Hongkong.
Do you wonder when you look at India, with its low wages and high taxes, its famines anl plagues, its absence of ail incentive toward advancement, that the dam which for so long has held the people in check is weakening? Do you wonder that the East Indians are turning their faces westward toward the land of progress and opportunity ?