The year 2011 marks the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. We adore him for his poems, songs, novels and short-stories which have enriched the Bengali literature. But we tend to forget that he was a great patriot as well. A colleague of Sri Aurobindo at the National Council of Education, he had renounced the Knighthood that was offered to him by the British Government as a mark of protest against the inhuman assassination of innocent people at the Jallianwala Bagh on 13 April 1919.
Today, as a mark of tribute to the great poet-patriot we take the opportunity of publishing Rabindranath Tagore’s letter to the then Viceroy of India, Lord Chelmsford, in which he had formally announced the renunciation of his Knighthood. This letter was published in ‘The Statesman’ on 3 June 1919.
With warm regards,
The enormity of the measures taken by the Government in thePunjab for quelling some local disturbances has, with a rude shock, revealed to our minds the helplessness of our position as British subjects inIndia. The disproportionate severity of the punishments inflicted upon the unfortunate people and the methods of carrying them out, we are convinced, are without parallel in the history of civilised governments, barring some conspicuous exceptions, recent and remote. Considering that such treatment has been meted out to a population, disarmed and resourceless, by a power which has the most terribly efficient organisation for destruction of human lives, we must strongly assert that it can claim no political expediency, far less moral justification. The accounts of the insults and sufferings by our brothers inPunjab have trickled through the gagged silence, reaching every corner ofIndia, and the universal agony of indignation roused in the hearts of our people has been ignored by our rulers- possibly congratulating themselves for imparting what they imagine as salutary lessons. This callousness has been praised by most of the Anglo-Indian papers, which have in some cases gone to the brutal length of making fun of our sufferings, without receiving the least check from the same authority, relentlessly careful in something every cry of pain of judgment from the organs representing the sufferers. Knowing that our appeals have been in vain and that the passion of vengeance is building the noble vision of statesmanship in out Government, which could so easily afford to be magnanimous, as befitting its physical strength and normal tradition, the very least that I can do for my country is to take all consequences upon myself in giving voice to the protest of the millions of my countrymen, surprised into a dumb anguish of terror. The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part, wish to stand, shorn, of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings. And these are the reasons which have compelled me to ask Your Excellency, with due reference and regret, to relieve me of my title of knighthood, which I had the honour to accept from His Majesty the King at the hands of your predecessor, for whose nobleness of heart I still entertain great admiration.
6, Dwarakanath Tagore Lane,
May 30, 1919