author: Mahatma Gandhi
date:July 24, 1924
The White Cross is an international anti-narcotic society whose headquarters are in Washington, It appears to have branches all over the world. Its letterhead contains distinguished names as trustees or standing council. Its executive secretary, Mr. Mckibben, writes long letter urging me to secure India’s cooperation in the White Cross crusade against opium. I cull the following passages from the letter;
“The people of China resisted its invasion in two wars and in 1906 took the first opportunity in a century and a half to gain deliverance by pulling up or ploughing under the poppy on millions of acres. So long and so binding had been their enslavement that it was predicted that at any attempt to take opium away the Chinese people would rise in insurrection. Spence, an English writer, said in 1882 that revolution would result if the Chinese Government would undertake suppression of the growth of the poppy, the quiet seaports would be turned into hell, streets would run with blood: So far were these dire forecasts from coming true that no action of the Chinese Government was ever so popular as its determined and successful campaign for poppy destruction. It became a fervent, sweeping, religious movement. In a thousand cities and villages old smokers stacked up their pipes in piles as high as the houses as a burnt offering to Heaven. Jubilant processions, music and banners, voiced the general thanksgiving, while women wept tears of joy that the century-old curse was lifed.
Their rejoinings were short-lived. The British Government kept its promise to cease importing opium but, as has happened before and since, as you too well know, the Western world kept the word of promise to the ear but broke it to the heart. In place of opium there was poured upon devoted China a flood of morphine, heroin and cocaine, ten times worse. In this atrocity, I blush to say, the United States was a participant until a recent day. In consequence of chaotic conditions, military chieftains have now forced upon unwilling Chinese farmers, a renewal of poppy planting, excusing themselves because native opium is better than foreign morphine. Those who know China best believe that her fundamentally sound conscience will again respond when the nations give them support and will again rid their land of opium.
It Is universally recognized that no one nation can save itself. Opium products are so compact, so easily concealed and the wages of the traffic so enormous that, as long as the drugs are produced, they will find Their consumers. The American Congress has accordingly appealed to all nations to unite in suppressing the opium poppy and the cocaine shrub, reserving only such amounts as are considered necessary in medicine and science. A Conference has been agreed on to meet in Geneva in November 1924, to put into effect this proposal. This Conference will be vested with authority whereby it may, if it will, inaugurate measures that will deliver the world from the menace.
The question is now before the world, how may this Narcotic Conference be brought to act in the spirit as well in the letter of this mandate? Shall they meet the world’s hopes or blast them? To you, Sir, I need not name one all-powerful agency that may be invoked, namely, the power of public opinion, the focussing of the world’s conscience and conviction upon the meetings of that Conference.
The organization of which I have the honor to be a representative, the White Cross International Anti-narcotic Society, is seeking a voicing of public opinion and conscience, focusing it upon the November Conference in a way to move them irresistibly to use the opportunity providentially in their hands and rid the world of its greatest physical menace.
The experience of China should convince India that fears which have sometimes been expressed of Oriental revolt against deprivation of opium will prove groundless in India as they did in China. It is perhaps not strange that some representatives of the British Government in India fear that India is so wedded to opium that serious consequences would follow any attempt to take it away. There is far less danger of this in India than in China. India has never become enslaved to the extent of China, even though its victims have largely been those on whom the whole future depends, namely the babies doped by their mothers day after day while the mothers are at work in the factories. Indian ladies, who are devoted Social workers, say this practice is well-nigh universal. If revolt is apprehended, it would seem to a friendly observer most likely to be a revolt of the people against a Governmental policy which poisons to death the babies in their mothers arms, or leaves them alive as if born old, pallid, emaciated, stunted, blasted in body and hopeless of future, the motive being that the Government might get the revenues which it needs.
The world can never be delivered until India saves herself by ceasing to poison her own oncoming generations and by ceasing to pour her opium into the veins of other nations. For the sake of India and of the world, we lay before Mr. Gandhi and the people of India this our request for expressions of their mind such as will convince the coming Opium Conference that India both seeks deliverance from her own opium enslavement and joins hands for the redemption of the world. …
Furthermore, may we ask what is the wish of the people of India as to who shall be their representatives and spokesmen at the Opium Conference? In previous meetings, have the convictions of India been accurately voiced? Whether sent unofficially or, as would be more fitting, clothed with full powers of representation, we would suggest that India send some of her best sons to speak for her that the world may know her mind. If in any way our organization can assist in bringing before the Conference the expressions of Indian conviction, we shall be at your service.
The White Cross may rely upon Indias cooperation in its noble work. The All India Congress Committee (A.1.C has only recently unanimously passed a resolution which places on record its emphatic condemnation of the opium policy of the Government of India. If every poppy plant were rooted out, there would be no protest in the land against the act. The people will certainly rejoice when the whole of the revenue from intoxicating drinks and drugs is stopped, their sale absolutely Prohibited except strictly as medicines to be sold by certificated chemists or druggists.
But unfortunately for us and the world, India’s opinion is today represented by a Government that does not represent its people. At the forthcoming convention, therefore, it will not be the people of India that will be represented, but it would be the foreign rule over India that will be represented, in the interests not so much of humanity as chiefly of its revenue. Whether it would serve any useful purpose to send an unofficial representative, such as Mr. Andrews,, truly representing the people, is to be considered by the A.I.C.C.
Let us. however, see what the goal of the humanitarian crusade is. Miss La Motte has shown by unchallengeable figures that the worlds production of opium is far in excess of ,its medical requirements and that so long as it continues, so long will the immoral and soul-destroying traffic in it continue in spite of efforts to the contrary. She has shown, too, that the Government of India is the greatest culprit in the matter. The goal cannot be reached till the Government of India honestly carries out the wish of the best mind of the world, immediately to reduce the cultivation of opium in its jurisdiction to the lowest term possible and without counting the cost. The Government of India alone has blocked the way and it is feared that it will do so again, And it will do so not because India wishes, but because she is helpless,