Friday, March 17, 2017

The Irish and the Indians

Today, on a day of significance to the Irish, St. Patrick's Day, it is worth remembering:
On 26 January 1950, Éamon de Valera was asked to be guest of honour at a reception in Birmingham to celebrate the declaration of India as a republic. At first glance it seemed an unusual choice. The organisers were asked why they had not chosen a fellow Indian. Their response was unequivocal:
‘We and the Irish had strong ties of friendship. We suffered under the same tyranny for many centuries. They had the Black and Tans; we had the massacre of Amritsar. They had de Valera and Casement and MacSwiney; we had Gandhi and Nehru and Bose. They had Sinn Féin; we had our National Congress. They had the IRA; we had the INA. It is not only for the smile and the shamrock we know Ireland. It is for the toughness of their leaders and for the rebellion in their hearts.’
Subhas Chandra Bose noted in February 1943:
Of all the independence movements we Indians have studied closely and from which we have received inspiration, there is perhaps none that can equal the Irish struggle for independence....The debt of gratitude which India's patriots owe to Irish heroes for the inspiration they have received will be difficult to repay.  In fact, it would not be the slightest exaggeration to say that among the fighters against alien imperialism, whom I have known personally, there are perhaps none whose friendship I cherish more than that of those brave men and women who have uncompromisingly stood and fought for the Irish Republic.
It goes beyond this "united against the common oppressor".  In the great Bengal Famine of 1943, when Churchill callously let the Indians he hated so much to starve,  it was Ireland (along with nationalist China, whose remnants are now in Taiwan) that shipped food aid to India.  Jawaharlal Nehru noted in his The Discovery of India,
“The governments of China and Eire (Ireland), poor in their own resources, full of their own difficulties, yet having had bitter experience themselves of famine and misery and sensing what ailed the body and spirit of India, gave generous help (during the Bengal famine of 1943-44). India has a long memory, but whatever else she remembers or forgets, she will not forget these gracious and friendly acts."
A lady in the checkout line, all decked out in St. Patrick paraphernalia saw my green shirt and remarked "So you're Irish today!".     Yes, for one day at least.