Remembering T. SHER SINGH
C. F. Andrews
From the Lecture delivered at The National Army Museum, London, England, on September 18, 2006.
The period straddling the mid-19th century and the middle of the next was one of the most packed with significance in the annals of humankind - including, specifically, to the history of the Sikhs, that of the Indian sub-continent, and even of the vast British Empire itself.
Charles Freer Andrews could easily be rated as one of the most extraordinary people who lived during this era and had an impact on, again, each of those constituencies - the Sikh nation, the sprawling Indian sub-continent, the far-flung British Empire, and even the world at large.
But I won't be telling you anything new, I'm sure, by stating that very few people even recognize the name of C.F. Andrews today. Of those who have heard of him or know of him, what information they possess - but for a very few exceptions - is quite limited and mostly deals with some isolated aspect of his life.
Through some quirk of fate, I became aware of him as a young teenager. I was drawn to early 20th century history, and during the course of my readings, I came across this extraordinary man. The more I read about him - and there wasn't much available - the more intrigued I became. I pursued and found some of his writings and quickly realized that there was much more to him than met the eye. But I experienced the same difficulty then that I have experienced recently in researching him for this lecture.
He is a man who has been allowed to disappear into the footnotes of history. I believe it is a grievous loss, and one that begs to be corrected.
I did a bit of a survey - unscientific and informal, I readily admit - over the course of a couple of weeks this summer. I asked over sixty people who I had encountered during the course of other dealings but who either hailed from the sub-continent or were Sikh or otherwise knew quite a bit about India. One person, that is, just one out of approximately sixty, recognized Andrews' name. When I questioned him further, he knew him as one of the founders of St Stephen's College in Delhi, and a friend of Gandhi - Mohandas Gandhi - and little else.
Having now revisited his life and work more extensively, I have come to the conclusion that there are two reasons why Andrews has been lost to this generation. Firstly, I think his memory has been overshadowed by the memory and aura of Gandhi himself. It would have been most inconvenient for India and Indians to recognize Andrews' role in the same period of history. So, they conveniently let him go.
Secondly, it was his role as the Conscience of the British Empire that led to his obliteration in the British memory. It was therefore convenient in Britain as well to let his memory dissolve within the pages of history. Like any good conscience, he was - at times - prickly.
Pity, because it is a black-hole of a loss.
For those of you who think you have never heard about this man, let me remind you that you actually may have, but ... and you'll soon see how and why he has been overshadowed. Most, if not all of you, have seen - I'm sure - the wonderful Richard Attenborough film, "Gandhi". Let me then jog your memory.
You will recall an early scene in the film, when a young Anglican priest (portrayed by Ian Charleson of "Chariots of Fire" fame) visits a youthful Gandhi at his home in South Africa and offers his support for the local struggle. That Anglican priest was C.F. Andrews.
There is another scene in a church. Andrews is in the pulpit and he chides the British people and urges them to look at the Indian situation through truly Christian eyes. Many in the congregation are shown expressing their disapproval by storming out during his sermon.
Then there is the scene between Andrews, Gokhale and Gandhi during a garden party held shortly after Gandhi's return from South Africa. The scene acknowledges that Andrews was instrumental in drawing Gandhi into the Indian Independence Movement.
Again, we see Andrews, with Gandhi and his wife, Kasturba, on an overcrowded, speeding train, which has a number of laborers perched on its roof. The precariously placed passengers, noting the Englishman's curiosity, coax him into joining them. He accepts the challenge and clambers perilously to the top.
In yet another scene, Andrews visits Gandhi in jail. In this remarkable segment, Gandhi encourages Andrews to go off to Fiji on a mission, stating that it is time for him to leave the Indian struggle to the Indians.
Significantly, Andrews does not appear in the film again.
I have thus culled only a few important clips. You can see him in various other scenes, as a direct player or in the background, reflective of his intense and crucial involvement in the very forefront of everything that was going on in the geopolitik.
Would I be surprising you if I told you that a considerable portion of the Gandhi film is fictitious and not supported by history? Shortly, I'll give you a couple of striking examples of how wide a poetic license Attenborough took in building the Gandhi saga. But, I must hasten to add - vis-à-vis Charlie Andrews - that the film does at the very least give us a flavor of his omnipresence during those eventful decades. The final scene in which the film depicts Andrews, especially when Gandhi sends him away by asking him to leave the independence movement to Indians, is pure fiction. It fits into Attenborough's creation of the Gandhi mystique, but the fact is that Andrews did not leave the setting that early in the story.
In the film, he's never seen again. In actual life, he stayed on as a central figure until 1940, when he died of an illness in Calcutta and was buried there, in the land he loved so much.
But Attenborough couldn't completely write off Andrews' ongoing role. True, you don't see Charlie Andrews again after the last scene I described to you. So, Attenborough invents a second character, because he simply cannot avoid showing one of the highlights of Andrews' involvement on the sub-continent. You'll recall, I expect, the role of a journalist played by the actor, Martin Sheen, and it is through this largely fictitious role that Attenborough captures the further and ongoing adventures of C.F. Andrews.
But first, before I go any further, let me briefly revert to the real ... Charles Freer Andrews.
Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1871, to a Catholic Apostolic Church minister and his second wife, Charlie was the next to the eldest of twelve children from their union, the fourth in a larger family of a total of fourteen children. From an early age, he is described as a special child and ... his mother's favorite.
From the age of six, Charlie grew up in Birmingham where his father became renowned for his "healing powers" and his "gift of prophecy". With the strong influence of both of his parents, it therefore comes as no surprise that Charlie grew up with two gravitational pulls.
The first, to a life of prayer, and the second, to a life of serving the poor and the downtrodden. These two strong currents, always interconnected, remained the dominant forces in his life. No matter where he went, whatever he did, these were his defining pre-occupations. They shaped everything he did, everything he said, and everything he wrote. Even when they brought him into direct conflict with the most powerful figures of Empire, or into direct disagreement with those he loved and supported.
Upon his father's urging, he joined the Catholic Apostolic Church, but his years of studying theology at Cambridge helped him formulate a simple and clear understanding of his own spirituality. He rejected his father's deeply ritualistic practices, and turned to Anglicanism. In 1897, at the age of 26, he was ordained an Anglican priest.
Someone who knew him well during this early period describes him as "simple, resolute, intense, self-denying... self-forgetful."
During this formative stage of his life, as the Victorian era ends and a new century begins, a number of key trends and traits have become entrenched in Charlie Andrews' young life. Some people around him have noted his deep spirituality and relentless energy, and have begun to admire him in superlatives. Others, at the same time, feel threatened by the very same characteristics and quickly become vociferous critics and detractors. Andrews begins to exhaust himself physically to the point of getting ill at periodic intervals. At the same time, as he discovers causes ... and they discover and claim him ... he discovers the vagaries of emotional depression.
He is already very politically aware of the world he lives in, and does not hesitate in expressing his admiration for the work done by the Empire. He also indicates a "deep respect" for the monarchy.
A college being run by the Cambridge Mission, with which he is somewhat associated - St Stephen's College in Delhi, India - is in urgent need for an "exceptionally strong and able man" to take over as Principal.
Charlie Andrews is conscripted for the position. At the age of 33, he sets sail for India and arrives in Bombay on March 14, 1904.
Andrews describes the country he found thus:
"The scene in India ...resembled that of the Roman Empire 1900 years ago. There was the same vast, unbroken, imperial peace in external affairs and a settled order outwardly maintained. But within this area of apparent calm a surging, heaving ferment had suddenly begun to appear."
But for short trips back to England or the extensive travels he undertook regularly to different parts of the world to fight for various causes, India would henceforth be his home for almost four decades, until his death in 1940.
It was love at first sight for Andrews. And it didn't take long either for India to become enamored with this man. But, like all affairs of the heart, this one too had its ups and downs, its learning curve, its moments of doubt and moments of epiphany, its challenges galore.
But the passion and the commitment remained throughout, unabated, undiminished, unwavering. Since the very moment the two met - this 33-year old Anglican priest from England and the age-old civilization looking for a new future - neither would be the same again. Each would not only transform the other but actually become the catalyst for the fulfillment of its - or his - destiny.
In quick succession and progression, Andrews took on new skills and new roles. He added each new vocation to his repertoire, without shedding any of the earlier responsibilities. He had come as a priest. And became a teacher, writer, journalist, translator, columnist, newspaper-correspondent, editor, educationist, labor leader, mediator, activist, spokesman, and leader.
And conscience. Not only of the Raj but for India and Indians as well, questioning every tactic and strategy and demanding that all parties walk the straight line and do the right thing.
It didn't make things easy for him, because he opened himself easily to detractors: British authorities found him to be a thorn in their side - an Englishman constantly questioning their motives and their methods. Some saw him as betraying his land of birth, even the very Faith he had been sent to preach.
It didn't help any when he offered to resign from his Church and priesthood.
On the other hand, many Indians worried if he was a British spy. You will recall the scene in the Gandhi film in which Andrews quips, in the presence of Gandhi and Gokhale, that he is off to file a report with the Viceroy.
From the very outset, it was not difficult to find a cause to espouse or support in India at this stage of its history.
Andrews began by attacking the very methods of Christian proselytization in India - and don't forget that he was a priest sent to India to help convert the masses! He questioned the Western and Eurocentric view of Christianity, and demanded that it embrace humanity, not just what he himself referred to as the "white races".
Next, he fought for the equality of Indian Christian clergy and demanded that they be treated on a par with their British Christian counterparts.
It didn't take long before he went further and introduced the revolutionary idea that all Indians were to be treated as equals ... with the rest of the citizens of the Empire! After all, he argued, they were British subjects, weren't they?
When the Empire was revolted by the idea, Andrews came to the conclusion - and henceforth began to publicly sell this idea - that the only way Indians would ever achieve equality would be through independence - that is, complete independence from Great Britain.
Now, you have to look at this in the context of the 1920s. Gandhi - yes, Mahatma Gandhi - and his colleagues reacted AGAINST this concept. At this early juncture, they found it difficult to imagine a scenario where Indians could or would ever be treated as equals. More political power and a greater role in local decision-making is what they thought was possible, and that is the limit of what they then thought was in reality achievable.
But Andrews was not a politician. No one had taught him that politics was merely "the art of the possible" and he was never guided or limited by such a definition. To use a modern term, he was able to think outside the box.
And was relentless in haranguing Gandhi and Gokhale and Tagore and Patel, and later, Nehru, that what they wanted was Complete Independence, not just Greater Autonomy. And he did not give up until he converted them over to this simple, but then novel, concept ... He taught Indians, for example, "the importance of substituting ‘the concrete and the real' for ‘dreams and speculation'".
But, while all of this was going on, he kept the British authorities on their toes by fighting for the rights of Indians in the colonies - in South Africa, Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, even Canada. And in India, for the rights of women, the so-called backward castes.. and so on.
You and I have been taught about William Wilberforce who helped abolish the idea of slavery. Well, I believe that the history books should also similarly sing about Charles Freer Andrews because he helped abolish the idea of Indentured Labor, which was then as much of a plague as slavery had been (and to a large extent continued to be in some parts of the world). Indentured Labor was then the mainstay of the economies of the West Indies and the East Indies, all the fruits, of course, going to the colonizers.
All of this I present to you only to give you a taste of a fraction of what Andrews did during his lifetime. He wrote and published daily ... he edited "Young India"; he became a correspondent with the Manchester-Guardian and a regular contributor to the Times of London. There's one journal, The Modern Review, I think it is called. Over the course of thirty years, it is difficult to find many issues in which he doesn't have a substantial contribution.
Throughout all of this, he became a close confidant and advisor to both Gandhi and Tagore. And that dual role wasn't easy, because not only were the needs of the two great and all-consuming, but they also didn't see eye-to-eye with each other and were often at loggerheads in terms of the overall approach vis-à-vis the British. So Andrews was the mediator, the great reconciler, sometimes the only line of communication open between the two.
Andrews was distressed by some of the translations of Tagore that were being published in the West .... Tagore had just won the Nobel Prize for Literature and was in high demand around the world. So, Andrews became his translator and editor. And traveled with him several times through Europe and North America.
Andrews led Tagore's great experiment at education, the Shantiniketan. And later, also led his new International University, the Vishwa Bharati University ...
I could go on thus for pages just listing for you the areas that Andrews touched and left transformed for the better.
I haven't even gotten to his many books. Two dozen of them. His extraordinary biography of Gandhi, for example. Or his umpteen books of essays on India - past, present and future.
And ah yes, his spiritual writings. The accounts of his personal spiritual journeys. Some became classics and best sellers the world over. They move you, and you don't have to be a Christian to savor them. If you read "What I Owe to Christ", or "Christ in the Silence" or "The Sermon on the Mount", you realize how genuinely and completely he had gone past religion, into the realm of pure spirituality ... a stage to which all religions aspire.
* * * * *
What first drew me to Charlie Andrews was his account, as published in the press, of some historic events he personally witnessed in the Punjab in the 1920's. These were highly charged, violent, dramatic, dangerous, oppressive incidents involving the police and peaceful protesters.
What first moved me was that Andrews didn't find himself there by accident. He was prohibited from going even into the Province of Punjab, but he managed to devise a way to get in nevertheless. He suffered ... and I do not use the word lightly ... through witnessing these events. And then ... then he wrote about them and published them and ensured that the world, especially all Britons, read about them. He wrote truthfully and daringly, at great personal peril.
Let me explain, first the context, and then the specifics, and you'll see for yourself ...
By 1919, things had come to a head in the Punjab. Oppression at the hands of the government authorities had reached a new high. Public whippings of those who opposed the Raj had become a daily occurrence. Yes, I'm talking about 1919, not long after the Great War had ended. The very same war in which over 138,000 Sikh soldiers fought in Belgium and France for Britain and the Empire; more than a quarter of them were casualties.
On April 13, 1919, General Dyer marched into the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, while a public and publicized, peaceful protest meeting was being held. He was accompanied by a troop of soldiers armed with machine-guns and an armored car. They secured the only entrance and exit to the wall-enclosed park and Dyer ordered his troops to open fire. Over four hundred innocent men, women and children were killed in cold blood. Hundreds of others were left shot and bleeding, in an action later described by General Dyer and his boss, Michael O'Dwyer, the Governor of the Province, as an attempt to teach the people a lesson.
Tight censorship prevented details of this outrage from reaching the outside world, even though an inkling of the massacre had been carried around the world through the rumor mill.
When, months later, the details began to filter in, Andrews bristled at the news and desperately tried to enter Punjab. They banned him from entry. He tried over and over again, and was once even caught on a train and forcibly disembarked.
Finally, almost six months later, he was able to enter Punjab and visit the site and obtain eyewitness accounts. "I could not sleep", he later wrote, "or eat or even speak to anyone after what I saw. I wanted to go apart, and be alone."
Andrews made his way to the Gujranwala District where, he had heard, a Sikh ex-non-commissioned officer had been accused of disrupting railway services. Though the former army man denied the accusation and despite no proof whatsoever, he had been flogged and publicly humiliated, as an example to the populace. Andrews had heard of this and other degradations being carried out in the Province and sought this man out. The proud Sikh refused to talk or complain.
Andrews then did something which caught the imagination of the entire nation: "He stooped down and touched [the ex-soldier's] feet, and asked him to forgive the British for their evil-doing."
The Sardar, who was also the headman of the village, responded by embracing him.
Andrews explained it later by citing an old Sanskrit word, prayaschitta, which means both "repentance" and a "gesture".
Gandhi, who was still in the nascent stage of developing a long-term strategy for a nation-wide movement, publicly responded to this event by stating: "The lesson that Mr Andrews' life taught them was that, though we would and must resist injustice and oppression ... we were to bear no ill-will toward the wrongdoer."
Later, as the tragedy of the massacre of Amritsar was commemorated around the country, leaders proclaimed: "How can we hate Englishmen, if we love Andrews ... and others [like him]? We must conquer the English with our love."
This period in Andrews' life also proved to be its most intense.
He travels to Africa, speaking out against racial prejudice. He is repeatedly assaulted - physically - each time by a European. Back in England, Churchill hears about it and denounces the crimes.
Back in India, Andrews enters into an intense dialogue with Gandhi. "Civil disobedience treads on the very brink of violence," Andrews argues. "I cannot find Christ in all this."
Andrews is asked to address the Congress. He does, but insists on wearing foreign, specifically English clothes.
Around this time, amidst the storms raging around him, Andrews begins to see further clarity in his personal spiritual quest. He confesses to Tagore that "stormy religious doubts and questioning have ceased to rage."
In September 1922, he sets out on a nation-wide, fund-raising journey for Tagore's new International University at Shantiniketan.
On the 12th of September, he finds himself back in Amritsar. And hears about Guru-ka-Bagh and the situation developing there.
The Sikhs in Punjab are in the throes of a struggle to regain control of their religious institutions. Many of the gurdwaras - Sikh places of worship - have been taken over by corrupt Hindu priests, known as mahants, and are being used for anti-social, even criminal, activities.
The government authorities are content with the new status quo, because it is convenient for them if it keeps the Sikhs out of their gurdwaras, which in turns keeps them off-balance, and possibly out of mischief by weakening their participation in the independence movement. Why the Sikhs?
Well, the government is worried, because this is a people with a high sense of civic involvement. While only two percent of the Indian population, it was contributing to more than eighty percent of the arrests and sacrifices made to the Independence Movement. It was a community that, they felt, had to be kept in check.
The Sikhs, on their part, were pursuing a simple, non-violent approach.
They zeroed in on one blatant transgressor, the mahant at the Guru-ka-Bagh, a complex of two gurdwaras located at a distance of twelve miles from Amritsar on the road to Ajnala. The gurdwaras were historical shrines commemorating the memory of the two Martyr Gurus of Sikhism who had each taught the lesson of passive resistance to tyranny and oppression, and had both given their lives in setting such an example.
When denied the right to enter the property - all public gatherings in the Province had by now been declared unlawful assemblies - Sikhs began to simply gather and peaceably cross the property line. After all, it was their place of worship. The authorities responded by alleging trespass and arrested those who stepped onto the grounds.
Groups ... known as jathas... of between 50 and 200 volunteers, young men and old, sometimes even women, would court arrest everyday by peacefully entering the property line. This had been going on through the month of August and into September. By the time Andrews arrived on the scene, more than 4000 had already been arrested and were languishing in jail. The jails were full.
The police were instructed to stop the jathas some distance away, and chose three specific bridges for this purpose. The new instructions to the police were that, instead of arresting the trespassers, the latter were to be beaten and terrorized in order to discourage them from joining these marches.
The Sikhs responded by taking public vows of non-violence and continued to attend on the scene in large numbers.
Here's one description of what would happen there:
"Finding the road blocked to them, the Akalis - [that was the appellation then given to the Sikh protesters, bearing no relation to the current political party using the name] - would generally squat down on the bare ground with joined hands as if in prayer singing hymns all the while. They would be asked to disperse and go back to their homes and on their continuing to sit and sing as before, they would be dragged about and beaten brutally with lathis, often on their private parts, till they became senseless. They were then lifted up and thrown on one side of the road, where they were attended to by the scouts and medical men who were always present for rendering first-aid and then carrying the men in ambulance cars to one of the three hospitals improvised for the purpose at Amritsar ... "
[From ‘The Struggle for Reform in Sikh Shrines', by Ruchi Ram Sahni]
Charlie Andrews heard about all this and, of course, made a beeline for one of the bridges. He arrived at the Raniwala Bridge on the morning of September 12, 1922.
Now, Richard Attenborough recreates the scene Andrews witnessed that morning. But with some - no, considerable - poetic license. Here's what he changes: in the actual scene, all the non-violent protesters were Sikhs. In the movie, of the hundreds you see, only one is shown as a Sikh. In reality, the scene was in 1922, as part of the non-violent Sikh Gurdwara Reform Movement, and it later became the inspiration for Gandhi's independence movement. In the film, it is shown as an incident in the independence movement itself, directly precipitating independence. In reality, such an event never happened under Gandhi.
The time-shift between the actual event and the imagined one is of at least two decades.
Also, in the film depiction, it is worthy of note that there is no Charlie Andrews. Yet, he's there. The Martin Sheen character, the journalist Walker in the film, as I've said earlier, is largely a fictional role. In real life, it was Charlie Andrews reporting the incident.
Charlie Andrews' report was published on the 19th and 20th of September, 1922, a week after the incident. Here are a few excerpts from The Tribune:
En route to the bridge, Andrews comes across a jatha ...
"... There was a light in their faces as they spoke to me with betokened joy. I was especially struck by the look of devotion in the face of a Sikh lady of middle age who accompanied us. I can only describe it by saying that she looked, in her quiet devotion, like a picture of the "Madonna". The whole scene, the intense faith of my companions, the look of reverence in their faces, the solemn awe mingled with joy, moved me very deeply. It was the first event, which really gave me the religious atmosphere of all that I was afterwards to experience in the later scenes. It put me in touch with the Akali reform movement in its spiritual aspects as perhaps nothing else could have done..."
Further down the road, Andrews encounters another jatha heading for the bridge....
"... We met on the route a band of hundred Akalis in black turbans, who had marched that morning from Amritsar after having taken the vow at the Golden Temple that they would not commit a single act of violence, either by word or deed. I was to see, later on, how faithfully they kept that vow. On subsequent days I had opportunities of witnessing the scene at the Golden Temple itself as they came out with religious joy written on their faces and a tiny wreath of white flowers placed on their black turbans which dedicated them to the sacrifice ..."
While doing his research for writing the report, Andrews discovered the following statistics: "one in three of the Sikhs in these jathas had been a soldier and had served during the Great War."
Andrews gets down from his horse-carriage, and proceeds on foot alongside a jatha ...
"... I was dressed in my English dress, with a sun helmet on my head, but even before they knew my name they returned my greeting without the slightest trace of bitterness in their faces. There was a halt to drink water and they got to know who I was and came forward. Then one who was serving water with a brass vessel came to me and offered the water to me also to drink. I put my hand forward to receive it, but he said to me, "Please take the vessel itself" and I took it in my hands and drank from it. The act had a strongly religious aspect to me. It was as if I was sharing in a sacrament of consecration before the suffering was to begin..."
Finally, Andrews arrives at the Guru-ka-Bagh gurdwara ...
"...I was struck at once by the absence of excitement such as I had expected to find among so great a crowd of people. Close to the entrance there was a reader of the Scriptures, who was holding a very large congregation of worshippers silent as they were seated on the ground before him. In another quarter there were attendants who were preparing the simple evening meal for the Gurdwara guests by grinding the flour between two large stones. There was no sign that the actual beating had just begun and that the sufferers had already endured the shower of blows. But when I asked one of the passers-by, he told me that the beating was now taking place. On hearing this news I at once went forward. There were some hundreds present seated on an open piece of ground watching what was going on in front, their faces strained with agony. I watched their faces first of all, before I turned to the corner of a building and reached a spot where I could see the beating itself. There was not a cry raised from the spectators but the lips of very many of them were moving in prayer. It was clear that they had been taught to repeat the name of God and to call on God for deliverance. I can only describe the silence and the worship and the pain upon the faces of these people, who were seated in prayer, as reminding me of the shadow of the Cross. What was happening to them was truly, in some dim way, a crucifixion...."
C.F. Andrews proceeds to describe the actual beatings in graphic detail. The scene is captured well by Attenborough in Gandhi, and I'll therefore not reproduce the relevant passages here. He, however, borrows this event to convey the power of personal sacrifice and to portray a seminal turning point, not in the Sikh struggle to free the gurdwaras - as it actually was - but as part of the culminating days of the Indian Independence Struggle itself - which it never was. Attenborough unabashedly and liberally dips into the intricate details, even the very language, of Andrews' report.
"... The brutality and inhumanity of the whole scene was indescribably increased by the fact that the men who were hit were praying to God and had already taken a vow that they would remain silent and peaceful in word and deed. The Akali Sikhs who had taken this vow, both at the Golden Temple before starting and also at the shrine of Guru-ka-Bagh, were as I have already stated, largely from the army. They had served in many campaigns in Flanders, in France, in Mesopotamia and in East Africa. Some of them at the risk of their own safety may have saved the lives of Englishmen who had been wounded. Now they were felled to the ground at the hand of English officials serving in the same Government which they themselves had served ..."
Later in the report, Andrews proclaims:
"... A new heroism, learnt through suffering, has arisen in the land. A new lesson in moral warfare has been taught to the world..."
These very words are echoed in Martin Sheen's distressed telephone call in the film, reporting the outrage.
Andrews concludes his report thus:
"It was very rarely that I witnessed any Akali Sikh, who went forward to suffer, flinch from a blow when it was struck. Apart from the instinctive and involuntary reaction of the muscles that has the appearance of a slight shrinking back, there was nothing, so far as I can remember that could be called a deliberate avoidance of the blow struck. The blows were received one by one without resistance and without a sign of fear."
* * * * *
I have yet to tell you about Andrews' spiritual life.
I do want to give you at least a glimpse of the type of man he was, and hope to maybe encourage those who have the mandate to study his life and give him the place in history he so richly deserves.
You know how historians marvel at how the British left India, with not a shot fired at them - a unique phenomenon in the history of Man. Well, maybe the answer lies in these words from Gandhi, written after Andrews' death in 1940:
"If we really love Andrews' memory we may not have hate in us for Englishmen, of whom Andrews was among the best and the noblest. It is possible, quite possible, for the best Englishmen and the best Indians to meet together and never separate till they have evolved a formula acceptable to both. The legacy left by Andrews is worth the effort."
On the day Andrews died, Gandhi had declared: "I have not known a better man or a better Christian than C.F. Andrews."
In my readings on Andrews, I repeatedly came across people - in India, in England, in different parts of the world - who amazingly, over and over again, compared him to ... St Francis of Assisi. Sometimes, even unabashedly, referred to him as an "apostle".
But my favorite quote on Andrews is from Sir Gordon Guggisberg, who served as the British Governor of the Gold Coast, and later of British Guiana.
Meetings between Andrews and British bureaucrats were never easy. For the bureaucrats, that is.
Sir Gordon met with him, had discussions with him on various thorny issues, they had lunch together, and then, Sir Gordon saw him off at the door. As the taxi drove away carrying Andrews - an eye-witness describes this graphically - Sir Gordon "gazed after it with bowed head and fixed eyes... he breathed deeply [and said]: "I feel as though I had been honored to give lunch to Our Lord."
And that was Charles Freer Andrews.
* * * * *
[This Lecture, in its original form (along with an audio-visual presentation) was delivered under the aegis of The ANGLO-SIKH HERITAGE TRAIL and its inimitable CEO, Sardar Harbinder Singh Rana of Birmingham, UK. I am grateful to both for the opportunity. I also wish to thank Dr Mohinder Singh, whose support and guidance, as well as his excellent treatise, "The Akali Struggle: A Retrospect" - all proved so invaluable. In addition, I am indebted to a number of other works, but especially Ruchi Ram Sahni's "Struggle for Reform in Sikh Shrines"; Hugh Tinker's "The Ordeal of Love: C.F. Andrews and India"; and Sarjeet Singh Jagpal's "Becoming Canadians".]First published: February 27, 2007. Re-published: August 10, 2016.
Conversation about this article
1: Jay Singh (UK), February 27, 2007, 2:51 PM.
Fascinating. Many thanks for publishing this here.
2: Inderdeep Thapar (Melbourne, Australia), February 27, 2007, 9:01 PM.
A well-researched piece that gives Andrews his place in Indian History.
3: M Kaur (NP, USA), February 27, 2007, 9:34 PM.
Well done, immense amount of research applied here.
4: HARPREET S. HUNJAN (SURREY, CANADA), March 02, 2007, 12:40 PM.
This is a great article. Thank you for posting it. It will help people know of the essence of our religion, and about our culture, our martyrs, etc.
5: Quintin George Rozario (Brisbane, Australia), March 02, 2007, 6:41 PM.
An excellent article indeed. In defence of Attenborough's portrayal of Andrews in the film "Gandhi", it was a film about Gandhi and not Andrews or other Englishmen and women. If Andrews was indeed the man portrayed in the article above, then he would have expected no reward nor recognition on this earth, let alone in the film. There were others like him, such as Dr. Annie Beasant - one could argue - who also made significant contributions towards Indian Independence but were not featured in the film. There are those, and for reasons best known to them, who criticize the Amritsar massacre and other, similar scenes in the film as being an insult to those "great men and women from Britain who served nobly in India". Baroness Thatcher, I believe, is at the forefront of that brigade. However, it must be remembered that every Britisher who remained in an occupied India also served the cause of Independence. Had it not been for their presence on Indian soil, there would have been no need for a fight or struggle for independence.
6: Phyllis Nelson Singh (Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S.A.), July 18, 2007, 10:13 PM.
Thank you for writing this excellent, historically awakening article, documenting the perserverance, loving spirit and struggle for spiritual and political freedom. I am a Christian married to a Sikh. The article, by describing the actions of Reverend Andrews, clearly reminds us that we share so MANY more similarities than differences. In my opinion, he lived his life truly modelling Christ and the Sikh Gurus. Reverend Andrews was indeed a most remarkable human being.
7: O. Dean Nelson, Ph.D. (Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A.), July 24, 2007, 12:40 PM.
I did not know the story of Rev. C. F. Andrews. What a fine contribution you have made in making his life available in print. I would like to have this article placed in the Renouf/Nelson Library of St. Philip's Episcopal Church, Tucson, Arizona. My brother-in-law is a Sikh and I admire him much. I chair the library committee. Thank you.
8: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), January 10, 2009, 12:13 AM.
Thank you, S. T. Sher Singh ji. A singularly excellent piece on C.F.Andrews not seen before. Re Jallianwalla Bagh where Dyer felt it his duty to make an object lesson of the demonstrators, Winston Churchill said: "It was an episode 'without precedent or parallel in the modern history of the British Empire ... an extraordinary event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation' (Farewell The Trumpets).
9: Kiran (Nottingham, U.K.), August 09, 2009, 8:06 AM.
Charles Andrews' love of humanity and his courage make me feel both inspired and humbled. Many, many thanks for your work.
10: Satya Sharma (Lautoka, Fiji), April 07, 2011, 3:27 AM.
Great article. We have a school in his name here in Fiji but I had no idea that he was an eye witness to Sikh history.
11: Satvir Kaur (Boston, MA, U.S.A.), June 11, 2012, 3:30 PM.
Thanks for this informational article. I had no clue who Andrews was although I remember hearing that name.
12: Satpal Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 12, 2012, 12:17 AM.
It is often hard to put across a person's spirituality; Sher Sahib, you have done a tremendous feat here and accomplished just that - gleaming upon us the radiant light of one Monsieur C.F. Andrews.
13: Jaspreet Kaur (Canada), June 12, 2012, 2:19 AM.
I liked the article except where it said that "sometimes even women" joined the jathas. Women were quite important in this struggle. Children participated too and were killed, even babies. I find it offensive as a woman to see those words, especially "even" in the context as if it is something against the nature of Sikh women to participate in such important struggles.
14: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, U.S.A.), June 13, 2012, 3:07 PM.
I agree with Jaspret Kaur ji. Often our writers are careless and thus sexist in their attitude towards giving equal recognition to Sikh women in history. That is contrary to what our Gurus taught us. I read every day, 'he' and 'him' whenever there is a reference to all members of our society.
15: Raju (India), September 01, 2014, 10:01 AM.
16: Raj (Canada), August 13, 2016, 6:47 PM.
Excellent research. Question is, could he have beeen part of abigger British face-saving exit strategy? After all, the Congress Party was created by the British, not by the Indians. Most Congress leaders were educated in Britain. Gandhi was brought to India by the British.