When the important India Bill was being read in the House of Commons recently, one of the most interesting debates which it called out was that centering around the voting rights of the Jews of India based on definition of the word “European” as employed in the bill.
Sir Walter Smiles, it will be remembered, proposed an amendment to the bill providing that British Jews of the Sephardi Jewish community and those of mixed Sephardi-Jewish origin, but excluding Bene Israelites and Black Cochin Jews, should, for voting purposes, be considered “European.”
The amendment was withdrawn after Mr. Ormsby-Gore, speaking for the government, declared the point would be considered.
As would be expected, the discussion provoked the greatest of interest in Indian-Jewish circles. “Ben Nee,” writing in the Jewish Tribune, of Bombay, criticizes Barnett Janner, member of the House, for not expressing views on the matter. He also has much to say on the separate action of the Calcutta Jewish Community which, he declares, failed to notify the other Jewish communities of India of the issue at hand. He also complains that the aid of the Board of Deputies was not invoked.
“There is still time to act in the mater and it is for members of Indian Jewry to decide before it is too late. So far as Calcutta Jewry are concerned, the government is aware of their views and they are to be commended on the steps they have evidently taken to see that the same are placed before the representatives of the British people. However, I cannot say that I commend them for their separate action.
“There are other Jewish communities in India besides the one in Calcutta. If Calcutta Jewry had brought the matter to the attention of the Bombay, Cochin, and Rangoon communities and ascertained their views which could have been communicated to the sponsor of the amendment and the Secretary of State for India and these were unanimous the former’s hands would have been considerbly strengthened.
“Then also, why was not Mr. Barnett Janner who has always been a champion of Jewish rights and who would have interested himself on theirf behalf, been informed as to these views? It would have certainly been in Calcutta Jewry’s and in his own interests and then he would not have made the surprising statement that he would not express a view one way or the other.
“Reverting to my former remarks, it is most desirable that the views of Sephardi Jewry all over India should be ascertained and the British government be informed as to what they are. For this purpose, representative meetings of Sephardi Jews residing in Bombay, Cochin and Rangoon should be called and the views of the meetings as to whether they are desirous to vote as Europeans or not be communicated. The matter calls for urgency as the Bill is proceeding fast through Parliament and once it is placed on the Constitution Book it will be too late. It is up to the leaders of the communities to act in the matter in the interests of all.
“A consideration of the amendment would go to show that the only right Sephardi Jewry would have would be to vote as Europeans. For my part, I am opposed to any country having elections on purely religious or communal lines. The ideal method of appointing representatives is the one that is followed in England and other democratic countries where representatives are elected from certain areas according to geographical divisions and not on the basis of each community having so many representatives. The voters also are entitled to go to the polls not because of their belonging to a particular community but on the grounds of residence for a certain period within a particular area.
“This I repeat is the ideal method of election. However, as this method is not being pursued in India, as elections according to the Bill will proceed on communal lines, it would be better for Jews, who themselves constitute a minority, to be grouped with the Europeans who are also small numerically. They would thus have a better opportunity to make their vote felt. So also if there happened to be among them any persons whom they wanted to represent them. with an electorate composed of Jews and Europeans, they, would have a better opportunity of being elected.
“It is for these reasons that I think it would be in the interests of Sephardi Jewry to vote as Europeans and I hope that Sephardi Jewry all over India will see that Sir Walter Smiles’s amendment is included in the Act.”