Rabindranath Tagore was an Indian playwright, poet, and educator whose work focused on blending Eastern and Western traditions and theatrical styles. He was the first playwright to introduce psychological realism to Indian drama and wrote many short stories and plays about social issues, often uncovering some of the taboos of Indian culture at the time, such as the oppression of women as addressed through the short story Punishment. He was a supporter of Gandhi and one of the earliest advocates for Indian independence. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 and was knighted for his work in 1915, but surrendered it after the Massacre of Amritsar in 1919 as a form of protest against the inhumanity suffered by his Indian brethren at the hands of the British military.
The following is a letter he wrote to magistrates, detailing the injustices taking place on Indian soil and surrendering his knighthood. The language and sentiment of the letter bring to mind the sentiments which may be felt throughout Iraq and Afghanistan today, as their entire cultures are currently being turned upside-down through the violence of condescending “reform.”
The enormity of the measures taken by the Government in the Punjab for quelling some local disturbances has, with a rude shock, revealed to our minds the helplessness of our position as British subjects in India. 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 in Punjab have trickled through the gagged silence, reaching every corner of India, 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 our 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
The following in an excerpt from Gitanjali (Song Offerings), a book of Tagore's poems which was published in 1912.
Mind Without Fear
By Rabindranath Tagore
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action---
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.