OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fifth Series (1893-96)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THE BUDDHIST BOYCOTTING BILL
THE contrast, between the dense, murky, depressing atmospheres of London, Sheffield, Birmingham, and the other great cities of England and the country about them is so vivid as to be impossible of conception to one who has not personally visited them. How well I remember the sort of horror that came over me when I first awoke one morning and looked out of the window into the smoke-laden atmosphere of Sheffield; I could scarce believe my eyes and instinctively consulted my watch to see whether I had not, by mistake, arisen before sunrise, It was from some such experience in London that I went, on the 14th of August, down to Maidenhead to visit Miss Müller at her country place. I had left behind me the clouds and darkness of the metropolis and came into a sunlit, gloriously fresh landscape picture where one could realise some fore-taste of paradise in living, the birds singing in the trees, the high-bred cattle and sheep, browsing in the emerald meadows, and the flowers sending out their sweet scent into the air. However, the change was but a
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momentary one and then came the undesired return to town and its official drudgery.
My conference with Sir Richard Mead at the Colonial Office and my presentation of the Protest and Appeal of the Sinhalese Buddhists and of theConvention of School Managers (held at Colombo, June 16, 1894), who had appointed me their special delegate to bring the matter of their grievances before Government, resulted in my receiving from the Marquess of Ripon, K. G., then Secretary of State for the Colonies, a letter of a very encouraging character and, in fact, the matter was satisfactorily settled and was reported to me at the T. S. Convention of 1894 by Mr. A. E. Buultjens, then General Manager of Buddhist Schools under my supervision. The question was of too much importance to be passed over in this narrative with the brief mention made of it last month. It was a covert blow at the whole Buddhist educational movement, which would have been fatal but for the vigilance and courage of Mr. Buultjens and our Buddhist committee, and the benevolent sympathy shown by Lord Ripon, though himself a Roman Catholic in faith. It was the twelfth clause of the Education Code of the Department of Public Instruction, amended in 1892 and the two successive years in such a way as to prejudicially affect the registration of Buddhist schools to a very serious extent. The text of the clause in question, with the amendments introduced for the first time in 1893, printed in italics, is as follows:
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“Excepting in towns with special claims, no application will, as a general rule, be entertained for aid to a new school when there already exists a school of the same class within two miles of the new school, without some intervening obstacle, unless the average daily attendance in the new school for one year prior to the date of application for aid exceed 60 in a boys’ and 40 in a girls’ school. But in any case, however large the attendance, no new school will be aided within a quarter of a mile of an existing school of the same class, excepting in towns with special claims as aforesaid.”
I feel it necessary to dwell at some length upon this question because it shows what serious obstacles have had to be surmounted by the Sinhalese Buddhists, in their fight against their ill-wishers, to secure the right to educate their children without sending them to schools organised by the enemies of their religion with the avowed object of drawing them away from their ancestral faith. The Sinhalese are not so intellectual as the Hindus, but I maintain that they deserve the greatest credit for the persistence with which they have, since 1880, kept active the educational movement which I helped them to start at that time. Mr. Buultjens, in the temperate appeal which he made to Lord Ripon for justice, and which it was my privilege to present to the Colonial Secretary, explains the working of the Twelfth Clause as follows:
“Immediately after the publication of the Draft of the Code for 1893, a petition signed by over 2,000 leading Bhikkhus and laymen praying for the rescission
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of this quarter-mile Clause, otherwise known as the Buddhist Boycotting Bill, and for the adoption of the principle of Local Option was presented to the Legislative Council in November, 1892, and the Hon. the Colonial Secretary then promised to give it his consideration. But as your Lordship may see from the correspondence annexed, no redress of the grievance was granted. On the contrary the Hon. the Colonial Secretary (in No.4) refers to paragraph 11 of the Code, which does not affect the question at issue, since as a matter of fact schools are annually opened and registered as grant-in-aid schools. Thus according to the ‘Administration Report of Public Instruction,’ the increase of newly registered schools was from 971 in 1891 to 1,024 in l892; so that paragraph 11 did not apply to the 51 new schools registered in that one year. In the third paragraph of the letter No.4, the Hon. the Colonial Secretary practically asks the Buddhists to open schools away from the Centres of population, leaving them the alternative either to educate their children under hostile religious influences or to keep them illiterate . . .
“When every effort failed to prevent the rescission of the new rule from the Code, and the clause became law, the Director of Public Instruction was requested by letter at least to save from the operation of the clause four schools which had been opened before the clause came into operation in 1892. But even in this, justice has been denied, and the villagers were compelled by the Director to pull down the
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buildings of three schools and to erect them away from their old site. The total cost for the erection of the three new schools was Rs.1,000, and the Director has not even offered compensation for the injury done, but the expense has been entirely borne by villagers. Only after the buildings had been pulled down were two of the schools registered, that is to say the Director of Public Instruction compelled the removal of the school from the village Nugegoda to the village Kirillapone, and the removal of the school from the village Karagampitiya to the village Nedimala. It is needless to point out to your Lordship that a Government official could hardly have selected a better method than this of practically bringing before the villagers an object-lesson of the character of the British Government for justice and religious neutrality.
“The effect of the operation of the quarter-mile clause is by no means over, and your Lordship’s special attention is directed to the cases of the Weragampita and the Kurunegalla schools which, though opened prior to 1892, up to date remain unregistered. The entire Buddhist community is roused by a sense of the injustice done to these two schools, and your Lordship’s kind interference is prayed on behalf of this question, for we fear that the Director may be influenced still more by the powerful missionary bodies to introduce fresh clauses into the Code calculated to hinder the people of the land from the registration of their schools.”
In a letter to the Director of Public Instruction, Ceylon, dated September 19th, 1892, Mr. Buultjens says:
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“2. The Buddhist public are grateful for the principle of absolute religious toleration publicly proclaimed by the Government, and relying on that pledge they have of late years opened a large number of schools in several provinces, and completed the erection of buildings before the new clause came into operation.
“3. In many localities—especially towns—where all the other denominations have hitherto opened schools it is virtually impossible to establish a new school in any desirable place without infringing the new clause.
“4. To open schools far away from the centres of population would be courting failure, whilst leaving the other sects in pre-emptive possession of the best sites.
“5. The Buddhist schools are essentially the life of the Buddhist nation, and experience has proved that on the whole the Buddhists are reluctant to send their children to the schools of the other denominations, owing to the difference of doctrines taught in them.
“6. The greater portion of the revenue is obtained from the taxes paid by the Buddhists, and it seems unfair that money so raised be expended on more than 1,000 schools of other denominations, whereas less than 30 Buddhist schools have hitherto been registered; even granting that this is largely due to their own ignorant neglect of Departmental rules.
“7. The Buddhists do not attempt proselytism, but claim the right to open schools wherever they can
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secure a sufficiently large attendance of children of their own faith, and they do not ask for any privilege to open schools in villages where those of another faith predominate . . . I beg also to submit that the principle of Local Option would be very readily accepted by the Buddhists as a clause in the Education system.”
Every intelligent Western reader will see what a cunning and, at the same time, illegal scheme it was to make the new clause retroactive, so as to not only bar the way against the opening of new Buddhist schools in villages already pre-empted by the Christian Missionaries, but also to compel the Buddhists to tear down and move away schools actually established before the Act went into effect. However, with the progress of time, matters have been mended, a rather more tolerant spirit is being shown and, very recently, Mr. D. B. Jayatilaka, our present General Manager of Buddhist schools, was appointed a member of the Government Board of Education. According to his last Annual Report to myself there were 132 registered schools and 26 applications for registration were pending; the grants earned during the year footed up to Rs. 31,390-0-7: at the same time the expenditure was Rs. 42,509-1-7. This deficit is the burden which presses upon our self-sacrificing Buddhist colleagues: how great it is can only be appreciated by those who are acquainted with the average poverty of the Sinhalese people.
My time was partly occupied during the next few days with the preparation of photographs from the
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mementos of H. P. B.’s early New York phenomena which were to be engraved for my OLD DIARY LEAVES.
On the 20th of August Lord Ripon wrote me to call on him on the following Thursday afternoon, and at the appointed time received me very kindly at the Colonial Office; he hoped that the good Sinhalese, for whom he expressed a kindly feeling, and whose efforts to promote the education of their children he thought very praiseworthy, might get out of their difficulties. I asked him if he had any message to send to the people of India, among whom his memory was so affectionately preserved. He said: “Yes. Tell them that I shall never forget them nor lose my interest in all that concerns their welfare. I have the happiest recollections of my stay in that country.” On the same evening I presided at a meeting of the Blavatsky Lodge and bade the members farewell. On the following morning I went to Albert Docks, and embarked on the P. & O. mail steamer “Peninsular”: many friends saw me off.