ONE natural consequence of the Indian mutinies is the exposure of many so-called defects in our administration, and the propounding of remedies against surprise or revolt in future. Every one who had his own theory as to the rise of mutiny, has now his theory as to the civil and military government henceforth. India is fairly the topic of the day. It takes the precedence of Parliamentary Reform. It has served to hide the defections of banks and the iniquities of directors. It half makes us forget the scope of the new Marriage Act. It diminishes speculation as to the late atrocious attempt on the life of the Emperor. It would be remarkable if, in the floods of pamphlets and speeches, and letters from Eastern travellers and retired officials, something worthy of attention did not swim on the surface. It would be remarkable that, in a crisis of unequalled importance, some of the remedies propounded should not be worse than the disease. In truth, to use Lord Macaulay's language on another topic, 'a roaring cataract of nonsense' has been poured forth on this vast field of inquiry. Some of the measures advocated are simply impossible. Some would probably produce in another quarter of a century a revolution, by which the military revolt would be effectually effaced. And some, on the other hand, are in the main those measures which calm, practical, and thoughtful men have been hitherto labouring to enforce; which have been adopted with success in some provinces, and advocated theoretically in others; and on which, whether forwarded by Crown and Company, the future well-being of India will essentially depend.
We purpose to notice in succession a few of the most salient points which have been brought out by the friction of opinions on the Government of India. One of the strongest cries has been the neglect of our religion. Our lukewarm demonstrations, it is said, have made us contemptible in the eyes of the native. Our support of Hindoo temples affords a painful contrast to our scanty churches and our limited ecclesiastical establishments. By our tenderness to caste and prejudice, we have conferred on both a dignity and a position to which they would have never otherwise attained, and which even the native himself does not willingly accord them. And our discouragement of missionary exertions, our harsh treatment of native converts, and the impediments we have thrown in the way of wavering idolators, have been justly punished by the outbreak at Meerut, where, only some thirty-eight years ago, a converted Sepoy was removed from his regiment because conversion, apparently, was not contemplated in the Articles of War. On the other hand, we are duly warned of missionary colonels, or, it may be, of lieutenants, who should presume 'to lead the devotions' of a less gifted captain, or 'admonish' a backsliding subadar major.
The progress of our religion in the East has been slow but sure. Earnest and enthusiastic, nay sober-minded men, may lament that our pace has been too moderate. When Lord Wellesley abolished infanticide at Sangor Island, we need not have waited twenty-five years more in order that Suttee should be put down by Lord William Bentinck. From the death of Suttee to the act enabling Christian converts to retain their worldly property, from this act to the permissive enactment for the marriage of Hindu widows, was too long an interval. Missionaries have been, at first, liable to deportation, then barely tolerated, and only of late years offered pecuniary assistance from Government towards the establishment of schools. This slow progress, it is urged, is disheartening and discreditable; at variance with our true position in India as the 'paramount power,' and unworthy of the faith which as a Christian nation we profess. There is a great deal more to the same effect from one party, with a few warnings against government by religion from the other. We shall endeavour, as briefly as we can, to mark the precise position which [544/545] the Indian Government has held with regard to this vital question, as well as that which it ought to hold.
First, as regards the support of Hindu temples, by grants of land for religious and charitable purposes. These grants existed, and still exist, all over India. They had been conferred by old Hindu rajahs, by upstart Mahrattas, by vizirs and viceroys, by emperors of Delhi, by mere landholders, and by the Sikh Government of Lahore. We found these grants flourishing in vast numbers all over the country. In every conquest or annexation we took these grants as part of the system, just as we took the country with its climate, and the population with their virtues and vices. Some of the tenures so conferred were held on secular considerations, some on religious, and some on mixed grounds. There was military service to be rendered; there were pious and learned Brahmins to to be supported; there were youths to be educated in the law of Mahommedan doctors and the religion of the Koran; there were houses where the sacred Grauth of the Sikh Guru was to be studied; there was the dole of rice to be given to the blind; there was water and shade to be afforded to the pilgrim; wells to be dug, trees to be planted, rest-houses for the wayfarer and food for the faint. But let it be clearly understood, that before the mutinies had even commenced, all connexion whatever between Government and the famous Temple of Juggernath, in the province of Orissa, had 'ceased and determined.' For some years Government had pain the superintendent of that temple 23,000 rupees a year, simply because Government found that certain lands yielding that annual amount had been unjustly and irregularly resumed by its own officers. In other words, Government having done an injury, offered and made restitution. The lands were not restored at the time, because such an arrangement would have been highly inconvenient to the native superintendent himself, who could not manage them, and to the cultivators. who much preferred the gentle mercies of the British government. At last, under repeated attacks from Exeter Hall, the Court of Directors, though aware that the payment alluded to was only that of a just debt, rescinded the former arrangement, and gave up some land as an equivalent, in order to avoid affording a handle for offence; and all connexion or so-called support has since that time entirely ceased. But as to the vast number of grants investigated and either recongnised or abolished or modified by officials specially appointed for the purpose, the case is widely different. If grants for pious, charitable, or secular purposes have been pronounced invalid, they have been so from defect or flaw in title, or from the production of deeds obviously forged. Where they have been recognised as good and valid, the recognition has been based on sound title-deeds, on uninterrupted possession or prescription, by which, in the language of law, an irregular entry was cured. The principles on which these long and protracted investigations have been conducted, are the principles applicable to oral and written evidence in all legal cases, and the principles of common justice as between one claimant and another. Lands, houses, and gardens, assigned to individuals by the favour or the piety of previous rulers, were parts of our huge revenue system. In some cases, where large native establishments were to be supported by extensive and valuable endowments, Government found it imperatively necessary to interfere in order to prevent waste and spoilation. It does so interfere to this day, by nominating respectable natives as local agents to superintend and account for the proceeds of such grants, whenever the funds are fraudulently diverted or applied to purposes other than were contemplated by the founder. It does seem to us that to act otherwise than the Indian Government has acted, would be quietly to abdicate the primary functions of government altogether. We have a right to demand revenue from all land not specially exempt from this universal tax. We are not countenancing idolatry, but merely following justice, when we acknowledge and respect the force of some grants and engagements by which former rulers have bound [545/546] themselves in good faith; and when we interfere to prevent spoilation and fraud, for the direct benefit of numerous classes, or the relief of indigence, we are merely exercising that just and provident interference which becomes us as a beneficent ruling power, and which is daily exercised without cavil in a dozen other departments of the service. If we are never to come in contact with questions of caste and religion, in our judicial or revenue proceedings, and if to adjudicate on such points is tantamount to the official and authoritative recognition of error, all we can say is, that we have no business in India at all. You cannot legislate for or rule such a people without daily handling questions which to us seem religious, because the secular and the religious element are so intimately blended in the East. It is often difficult to say where the one commences or where the other ends. So our policy has been that of vigilance for our own lawful dues, of tenderness to long prescription, and of impartiality where claimants of the same or of different religions are concerned. Any other principle, it seems to us, would have been either rapacity or indifference, and would certainly have been opposed to that Christian charity of which we are so fond of boasting, and that patriarchal justice which hitherto has illustrated the British reign in the East.
The religious party in England may rest assured that Government has long ceased directly to idolize idolatry. Brahmins are no longer invited to pray for rain. The names of heathen deities are not prefixed to formal documents issued under the seal of any Indian court. The life of a Brahmin convicted of murder, is now forfeited to the law in the holy city of Benares, as would be the life of any outcast under the same circumstances in the most unholy Alsatia. Churches have been erected at all the principal stations in our new, as in our old acquisitions. The outward observance of Sunday is rigidly enforced by the orders of the executive, and neither hammer nor steel are plied by native workmen on any public work on that day, unless under the most pressing emergency, such as the health or life of troops fresh landed from England. Officers of all services and departments are at liberty to contribute most liberally, and do contribute, to missionary enterprise, while no one, in India at least, thinks of making them accountable for the mutiny. And Government, for the last four years, has proffered direct pecuniary assistance to the missionary engaged in the education of youth, whether he belonged to the Free Kirk of Scotland, to the Society of Baptists, to the Established Church, or to any other mission. That we have proceeded with a tenderness akin to fear in some of the above measures: that good and earnest men, fully competent to legislate for the excitable Asiatic races, longed to see this open avowal of our duties, but died without seeing it: that we excited wonder for our inertness, followed by something like contempt, is indeed a subject for unfeigned regret. The days of timidity and sluggishness are, however, past.
We are forced to admit, however, that in the matter of caste, considered apart from the purely religious question we have cherished and soothed the feeling till it well-nigh mastered us. Every one who has taken the smallest trouble with native servants in India, is well aware that caste is the most pliant, easy, convenient fetter in the world. All the fearful denunciations against forfeiture of caste culled out of the Hindu Shastras, and served up by spicy writers on the 'manners and customs' of India, are purely theoretical. There is no such thing as irremediable loss of caste, except for the sin of eating beef, of the sin of eating with Europeans; and the party of 'Young Bengal,' who have long done both without scruple, are not the men to raise an uproar on the subject. For all other offences, caste can be repurchased by purifications, by gifts to Brahmans, and, as it is so often repurchased in English society, by a good dinner to the whole tribe of offended relations and friends. Unpopularity in any individual is constantly made a convenient pretext for sending him to an Indian coventry. A popular [546/547] or a powerful man may with impunity repeatedly do things which would, for the first offence, have shut out a less fortunate person from the marriage feast, from the funeral supper, from the bubbling hookah, and from the drinking pot of every one of his circle. The loss of these privileges tells so much on the common interchange of civilities, that a poor man will get hopelessly into debt in order to feed his greedy relations, and buy his readmission to society. On the other hand, caste, when in does not run the risk of this unpleasant forfeiture, may become a bore. Many a decent Hindu no more thinks of complying with every ordinance of caste or religion, than a decent Protestant troubles himself with implicit obedience to all injunctions of his parish priest. And it is indisputable, that while aware of the facility with which caste may be relaxed or extended, we have contrived so to act as to array caste actively against us, to acknowledge its might, and to bend before its magic name. By caste, the Sepoy has been petted into the spoilt and unmanageable child of a vast nursery, tenanted by 100,000 others as wilful and wicked as himself. We must try henceforth to govern without bowing before the sheer absurdities of a convenient religion. But we must raise our voice against any change in the substantial and sound policy by which the Government has steadily refused to be active in making proselytes. We can give Christianity its legitimate prominence, without appearing to force it on the natives. If we do, indeed, commence next year to press our religion on the natives; if the revenues of India are to be spent on the creation of needless bishopries; if by legislation anticipative of the requirements of the age, or by laws to a proverb useless in the absence of morals, we shall only raise up a jealous, unquiet, restless feeling amongst the natives, who out-number the Sepoys in the proportion that the Sepoys out-numbered us; if we deliberately possess the people of India with some vague dread, which selfish intriguers can safely play upon, we shall be preparing the way for some terrible explosion of popular violence amongst the most credulous of nations, and we may yet see the day when, according to the prophetic hint of a wise old native delivered some years ago to a public servant of note, every man, woman, and child in the peninsula may rise up with a clod in their hands, and bury all the Europeans in India under huge mounds of earth. Give us, we may be permitted to say, a Government that shall assert its unquestionable rights and its definite position: that shall honour Christianity; and in the introduction of wise, beneficent, and timely reforms shall lend no ear to extravagances propounded as the cardinal points of religion, or to excuses thrown as a cloak over sheer insolence and vice. And give us, besides, a band of missionaries eloquent, carnest, unfettered, and unsupported by Government; who with erudition ministering to piety, and with zeal mingled with compassion and charity, shall advocate against a false and foul philosophy the invincible cause of truth, and we can feel no doubt as to the issue of such a combat. The foundations of Hinduism, already sapped and tottering, shall, in the course of a few years, be seen crumbling into dust: for into those scales of pure truth on one side and pure falsehood on the other, no official heavy-handed Brennus need be summoned to cast in his sword.
Another subject which has lately engrossed attention, is that of colonization. Had the plains of the North-West Provinces been covered with mills and factories, directed by some hundreds of Europeans, the Indian Government, it is said, would have had a body of men to depend on sufficient to repel a popular outbreak, or to recruit the scanty ranks of volunteers against the infuriated soldiery. And, with the usual unhesitating policy of reproach, the same Government is blamed for discouraging the introduction of British capital and of Anglo-Saxon enterprise, for a jealousy of any one bold enough to seek his fortune out of the pale of the services, and for retaining laws either so weak or so harsh that no European would wish, except under absolute pressure, to trust himself to their operation. In [547/548] answer to this, we say that the traditionary policy which at the commencement of this century tended to the exclusion of independent settlers, has long been discarded. Any Englishman may come and go, may sell and buy, may plant and dig, in any part of India that likes him best. A considerable number of such independent gentlemen lost every farthing of their property in places between Benares and Meerut. The factories of a greater number, we are glad to say, remain intact and in vigorous operation along the vast plains of the lower Granges. In many districts the adventurous Europeans are in the proportion to official Europeans as ten to one. Their presence in several emergencies of late has been productive of marked beneficial effect. They have tendered assistance to Government by thews and sinews, by knowledge of localities, by carriage and supplies. No one who has carefully watched the desperate struggle of order against chaos, but has wished that their number could have been trebled during the whole of last year. But all this does not prove that the Indian Government has set its face against colonization, or that such a measure is at all practicable in the sense in which it applies to Canada or South Australia. Few men, in or out of Indian services, ever expressed the faintest desire to settle, live, and die in Bengal. However tolerable life there may now be rendered by attractive employment, enhanced comforts, and extended intercourse, it is the aim of almost every one to secure an independence which may save him the inconvenience of toiling in an atmosphere at one time as hot as the blast of a furnace, at another steamy and damp like an English greenhouse in August when the gardener has just paid it a visit with the watering-pot. There are no set of men who have fairer opportunities of making money in India, or who carry away fortunes more speedily, than the Europeans unconnected with Government. But these men do not enter as settlers, clearing jungle and breaking up a virgin soil. To speculate in sugar, in silk, in indigo, in any one of the commercial products for which the whole Bengal Presidency is famous, requires skill and knowledge, and a purse fairly filled. In many of the most tempting districts there is not one acre of waste or unprofitable ground. The estates are as prized and as valuable as an estate in a ring fence in Warwickshire, possessed by native landlords of unrivalled skill in litigation, and cultivated by a tenantry almost as closely packed as the population of Flanders. It is absurd to talk as if it were possible for either Government or for an emigration society to drop shiploads of need Scotch and Irish on the esplanade at Calcutta, and then send them to pick up an independence in districts where every rood of ground has long maintained its dusky family.
If British capitalists wish for more cotton or more indigo, or like to try their hands at rent-collecting from estates which their owners are very willing to let in farm for a limited period, they have only to take their passage to India. But either the rich or the poor colonist will find the climate his most serious obstacle. Of out-door labour by Europeans, for nine months in the year the climate is a complete preventive. The fact is one beyond controversy. It may be contended that there are slopes in the Himalayas where, in a temperate atmosphere and a healthy air, the settler might explore a soil rich in mineral resources, and fitted for the growth of all sorts of European produce. But no body of men are more anxious on this score than the Indian Government. As we write, they have just published a series of reports on the climate and resources of the Himalayas, as fitted for colonization, inviting the attention of the speculative world. Railroads from the shores of the bay, through the alluvial plains to the foot of the hills,and sturdy colonists 'developing' the resources of the mountainous ranges, will be powerful auxiliaries against revolt or defection. But we trust that no outcry from a party, however powerful or loud-tongued, will ever induce any Government to act on the maxim that we are to rule India exclusively for the sake of the few Europeans who resort there, or that in any wild scheme of open councils and represented interests a handful [548/549] of settlers are to have a preponderating influence. A policy of this kind, though it might stifle clamour now, would in a few years excite that deep-rooted aversion to our rule which some pseudo-patriots have declared to exist already, and would, if anything could produce union, collect and combine into harmony the scattered elements of nationality, by the dispersion of which we have been enabled to hold India hitherto. The European settler or capitalist must look for nothing more than a clear field, and for only that superiority over Hindu or Mahommedan competitors which he may lawfully claim to exercise by his more continuous exertion, his unfailing self-dependence, and his stricter and higher discipline of body and of mind.
Jessore, March 6, 1856.
Last modified 6 April 2010