My reading of Indian history leads me to the conclusion that in all likelihood we should never have been rulers in India had we not been grievously injured as traders, in violation of rights accorded to us by the native powers. All know the story of the black hole of Calcutta, which led to our waging war on the Nawab. We had previously fought with the French and French allies in the south, we had contended with other European rivals, but our rule began with the victory of Plassey. After that victory our only alternative was either to leave the country altogether, or to go on conquering till we should become the supreme power over the whole of the continent. If we had retired from the land we had conquered, and had sought to remain as traders, our retirement would have been attributed to weakness, and demands would have been made on us which would have made trading impossible. If we had determined not to advance, but simply to retain what we had acquired, and had satisfied ourselves with repelling attacks, these attacks would have been continued till we had either gone forward, or resigned our conquest altogether.
We can understand the course pursued by the founders of the British Empire in India only when we look on them as placed between the alternative mentioned. The Directors of the East India Company did not seek the government of India. They deprecated it. By it commerce was disorganized and dividends lowered. Some of their servants in India made enormous fortunes by the new state of things, but this was no comfort to them. Order after order was sent out against the extension of territory. Governor after governor was commissioned to carry out the peaceful views of the home authorities, but still conquest went on under the direction of these very governors.
[Sidenote: THE POLICY OF THE MARQUESS OF HASTINGS.]
I am far from vindicating all that was done; deeds were committed which deserve severe condemnation; but it would be a travesty of history to say that the governors, who set out with peaceful intentions, succumbed to the lust of conquest. They were often forced to adopt war measures. Many instances might be adduced. I give only one. The Marquess of Hastings had denounced the conquering career of the Marquess of Wellesley. He was selected for the very purpose of reversing his policy, so far as it could be reversed. If any person could be trusted for giving peace to India he was the man. Shortly after his arrival our connexion with the Ghoorkhas, the ruling body in Nepal, became strained. They made raids into our territory beneath the hills, and murdered and robbed our subjects. The Marquess was extremely desirous to avoid a rupture with them. Remonstrances were addressed to them, and proposals made to settle differences by the better defining of the boundaries between their country and ours. These proposals were regarded as a proof of weakness, and the bold demand was made we should give up to them the great fertile region north of the Ganges. There was no further hesitation. To yield to this demand, for which there was not the pretext of right, would have been to announce to all the potentates of India that we were unable to defend ourselves, and would have led them to assail us. War was declared, which, after two campaigns and a severe struggle, ended in the discomfiture of the Ghoorkhas, and in their cession to us of the large territory they had conquered a few years previously. Ought the Governor-General to have yielded to the Ghoorkha demand? Yes, if we were prepared to leave the country altogether, but otherwise not.
No sooner had the Marquess of Hastings landed in India than he began to doubt the policy he had formerly advocated, and events soon compelled him to abandon it. The policy on which he acted was declared by him in unmistakable terms: "Our object in India ought to be to render the British Government paramount in effect, if not declaredly so ... and to oblige the other states to perform the two great feudal duties of supporting our rule with all their forces, and submitting their mutual differences to our arbitration."
Till we became confessedly supreme we were not for any length of time allowed to remain at peace. There were two main reasons for the unrest, which prepared the way for war. One reason was that the native powers hated and dreaded us, and were eager for our overthrow even when they professed the greatest friendliness. When we were involved in difficulties they were ready to rise against us. Every indication of our desire to avoid hostilities was interpreted as a sign of weakness, and thus became an incentive to the renewal of the struggle. Another reason for the fresh outbreak of war was the treachery of the native princes. I cannot say that in the matter of treaty keeping we had clean hands. The gross deceit played on Omichund, as described by Macaulay in his Essay on Lord Clive, stands nearly alone in our public conduct in India, but other transactions have been unworthy of our character for high-minded integrity. It may, however, be confidently affirmed, that looking at our governing conduct as a whole, it presents by its faithfulness to engagements a marked contrast to the conduct of those who had entered into treaty with us. Many of our Indian wars would have been prevented had there not been on their part the violation of engagements in a manner which showed they never intended to keep them an hour longer than they were compelled by circumstances.
If a review of the course pursued by our people in India shows how we became the governing power, and indicates the ground on which our rule rests, a review of the history of India for ages previous to our advent, and of the condition in which we found it, will help us greatly in answering the question -- Has India been benefited or injured by our having seized the sceptre?
[Sidenote: MUHAMMADAN RULE.]
For centuries Muhammadans were the rulers of India. They entered, not to avenge wrongs done to them, but as the servants of Allah, called to put down idolatry, and entitled to rule over the nations they subdued. Centuries elapsed before the extension of their rule beyond the North-West region. Gradually it extended to other parts of India. The seventeenth century was well advanced before the greater part of Southern India came under the rule of the Emperor of Delhi -- the Shah-un-shah, King of kings, as he was called. His suzerainty was generally acknowledged in those lands which continued under Hindu rulers.
As we turn over page after page of the Muhammadan rule in India, what scenes of strife, of bloody war, of treachery, of desolated countries, continually meet our view! No sooner did an emperor die than the struggle commenced for the vacant throne between his many sons, brother fighting with brother till one became the victor, and then woe to the vanquished! The governors of Provinces, as soon as they thought they had sufficient power, rebelled against the sovereign, and struggled -- not infrequently with success -- to secure an independent throne. In the course of these civil wars countries were overrun, towns and villages levelled with the ground, their inhabitants massacred, and their property pillaged. We read of rival dynasties which contended with each other for empire. We are told of terrible invasions like those of Timour and Nadir Shah. There were no doubt great emperors, such as the illustrious Akbar, during whose rule India suffered comparatively little from war, and enjoyed great prosperity. Governors were now and then firm and just rulers. Looking at the whole period of Muhammadan rule, during no part of which India was free from the scourge of war, and during a great part of which war on a large scale was carried on, untold misery must have been endured by many of its inhabitants, and there was little security for life and property. The aristocracy of the emperors' courts was mainly that of office, and only to a limited degree that of blood and ancient possession. We find persons of mean birth rising to greatness, and persons on the very pinnacle of honour cast down to the ground. There was a succession of emperors called Slave Emperors, as they had originally been slaves in the court, whence they rose to supreme power. When we consider the teaching of the Quran respecting those who do not submit to Islam, we may suppose what the condition of the Hindus was under Muhammadan rulers, so far as they acted out their principles. Happily during this period, though constantly exposed to terrible disasters, the people in their villages were often left to manage their own affairs.
[Sidenote: THE REIGN OF ADVENTURERS.]
When our nation commenced its conquering career in the middle of the eighteenth century, the Muhammadan Empire was in a state of collapse. Within thirteen years of Aurungzeb's death, in 1706, six sovereigns were seated on the imperial throne. Shah Alum was nominal emperor from 1759 to 1806, and all the time he was a wanderer, a prisoner, or a pensioner of the Mahrattas, the Rohillas, or the English. He was as melancholy an example of fallen greatness as can well be conceived, a greatness which retained its title while its bearer was subjected to every indignity. He had been for some time in the hands of the Mahrattas, who used his seal freely, and at the same time treated him with the utmost cruelty. The food supplied was so insufficient that he and his household were almost starved. When Lord Lake took Delhi from the Mahrattas in 1803 he found the poor old blind emperor under a tattered canopy, trembling at what might now befall him. Some years previously his eyes had been gouged out by one of his Rohilla keepers. At once he was treated by us with the highest consideration. Power was not given, but a handsome pension was assigned, and he was personally treated with all the honour due to a reigning sovereign. When these facts are remembered, it is strange we should be charged with overthrowing the Muhammadan Empire in India. Whoever was injured by our conquest, Shah Alum and his family were assuredly benefited.
Our contention was with those whose only claim to rule rested on the sword. Bold adventurers had risen everywhere, and were snatching at the fallen sceptre. There were still emperors, as we have mentioned, and their prestige gave value to documents bearing their seal, but they did not retain a shred of power. Daring Europeans, helped by native allies, had set to carving out principalities for themselves. The viziers and nawabs that ruled in the name of the emperors rendered them neither obedience nor tribute. Our first great battle was fought with Suraj ud Dowla, the Nawab of Bengal, the grandson of Aliverdi Khan, an Afghan adventurer, who had acquired the government of the country. In the South we fought with Hyder Ali, a trooper who gathered under him a marauding band, and by courage and craft rose to being a sovereign, and with his son Tippoo Sahib. Our longest and most severe contests were with the Mahrattas, a warlike tribe of Hindus in Western India, who came first into prominence in the seventeenth century under Sivajee, a petty chieftain, and gradually advanced under various leaders till they became for a time the paramount power. Their hordes of horsemen scoured the country in all directions, north and south, east and west, demanding the chauth, the fourth part of the revenue, and returning to their capitals laden with spoil. The leaders with whom we had most to do, sometimes in the way of friendship, far more frequently in the way of warfare, were the Peshwa, the head of the Mahratta confederacy, the heir of Sivajee; Ranojee Bhonsla, a private horseman, who became Prince of Nagpore; Pilajee Gaikwar, a cowherd, who ruled in Baroda; Ranojee Scindia, a menial servant of the Peshwa, who made Gwalior his capital; and Mulhar Rao Holkar, a shepherd, who became Maharajah of Indore. Not one of their number professed to belong to the ancient ruling families of India.
As we glance at India as it was under Muhammadan rule, and consider its state when our conquering career began, we find there were no elements of stable government: the Imperial power had become a shadow; ambitious leaders were everywhere striving for the mastery, ready to beat down all opposition within their own immediate sphere, and then prepared to wrest power from neighbouring chiefs. India had at that time a very dark prospect before it.
This review of the past history of India may seem an unduly long introduction to a brief statement regarding its condition under our rule, but it is only by looking to the past a right answer can be given to the questions: What right have we to govern India? From what evils has our government delivered it? What benefits have we conferred on its population? Inattention to the past has led many to give in some cases an utterly wrong, in other cases a very inadequate, answer to these questions. It is clear that India has been brought under our rule by what may be rightly called aggressive war only to a very limited extent. It is also clear that the hostile forces we encountered were not those of the ancient princes of the land, but of adventurers who were struggling to rise on the ruins of the disorganized empire. At the present time, on the mere ground of the length of possession, our rule has a stronger claim than that of the potentates whom we overthrew.
[Sidenote: THE ADVANTAGES OF BRITISH RULE.]
A review of the past prepares us to see some of the advantages our rule has conferred. No longer are armies marching over India, supplying their wants by the plunder of its people, and leaving ruin in their track. No longer has the husbandman, when he sees at a distance the dust raised by the tramp of the Mahratta cavalry, to flee to his walled village, if he has one to flee to, or to his hamlet if he cannot do better, leaving his field, perhaps ready for the sickle, to be trodden down by the unwelcome stranger. No longer are hosts of marauders like the Pindarees, who scarcely professed to be anything else than marauders, allowed to roam over fertile and populous regions in their robbing and murdering expeditions. No longer are professional robbers called Dacoits allowed to set out on excursions, and make their way under various disguises to towns, to rise at an arranged signal, attack the houses of the rich, and force them, often under torture, to reveal their treasures. No longer are Thugs, professional murderers, left to arrange their plans for insinuating themselves into the goodwill of travellers, with a view, when the opportunity came, to throttling their victims, robbing them, and then burying them, that all mark of their deeds might be effaced. From Dacoity and Thuggery Europeans had nothing to fear, but natives suffered frightfully; and special departments were formed for their suppression. In Northern India, at least, these bands of robbers and murderers have been broken up. No longer are the lives and property of the people at the disposal of their rulers, as was to a large extent the case previous to the British era. They are now under the aegis of law.
If any one think that the advantages thus conferred by the establishment of a stable government are of little value, all we can say is they have no conception of the misery brought on thousands from generation to generation, when these advantages were unknown.
Never was a comparatively small nation entrusted with so vast a work as that committed to us by our undertaking to administer the government of a continent thousands of miles from our shores, inhabited by two hundred and fifty-four millions, who differ widely from us in language, religion, habits, history, associations -- in almost everything in which one nation can differ from another. Two hundred millions are under our direct rule, and the rest are under native rulers who acknowledge our Queen as suzerain. It would have been a miracle had we not in the course of our government, during more than a hundred years, done many unwise, many wrong, even many cruel things. He would be a bold man who would stand forth and maintain we had done good, and only good, to the nations of India. We take no such optimist position. You can adduce many things in our dealings with the people which the best of the officials have themselves condemned, and you can mention evils which have followed our rule for which we can scarcely be said to be responsible. This, however, we say with the fullest conviction, as the result of long residence in India and of extensive observation: that considering our position as Western strangers, and the difficulties with which we have had to contend, our Government has had a success far greater than could have been anticipated, and has conferred vast advantages on the country.
[Sidenote: BRITISH ADMINISTRATORS.]
It would be difficult to find in the history of the world a more remarkable class of men than those who have been engaged in the administration of India. There have been inefficient, selfish, idle, unprincipled men among them. In former years we used to hear of John Company's bad bargains; and now that India has come directly under the rule of Queen Victoria we now and then hear of John Bull's bad bargains. These have been the exception, not the rule. There has been in succession a band of men who have earnestly sought the good of the people, and have shown a capacity for administration which I have no doubt surprised themselves, as it has those who have watched their progress. Sir John Kaye has given interesting sketches of some Indian worthies, but it would require a series of volumes to record the deeds of the many who have taken a warm interest in the people, have toiled for their good, and have been trusted, and in some instances literally adored, by them. I have had a considerable acquaintance with the personnel of the Government of the North-West Provinces, from some occupying the highest position down to assistant magistrates. I cannot say I admired all, but I can say that I have been surprised at the number who did their duty faithfully, were thoroughly interested in their work, and rejoiced when they had achieved any measure of success.
With a few exceptions the Governor-General has been an English nobleman who has filled some important office at home; but Lieutenant-Governors, and not infrequently Governors, have been persons of large Indian experience, who have passed with honour through all the grades of the Civil Service. These, assisted by the Commissioners of Provinces, exercise a strict supervision over the entire administration. Officials have continually to report their doings, and irregularities are quickly discovered. We know of no class who have more onerous duties to discharge than magistrates of districts and their subordinates. They have long hours in crowded courts in an exhausting climate, decide many intricate cases, maintain order within the bounds of their jurisdiction, receive reports of what is being done and give directions, prepare reports for the Government, and they are expected to give a courteous reception to native gentlemen when they call, however long these gentlemen may be inclined to prolong their visit. We have been at times in a position to see the daily life of some of these men, and have been struck with the amount of work devolving on them, and the patience they have shown where there was strong temptation to impatience.
[Sidenote: INCIDENTAL EVILS OF OUR RULE.]
As strangers, it is difficult for us to understand the people, and the result is that with the best intentions we have at times adopted measures utterly unsuited to them. Our very attempt to secure the rights of all classes by the careful drawing up of civil and criminal codes, and by the institution of courts where they are administered, has fostered the litigiousness of the people, and has led to a fearful amount of perjury. Litigiousness got no play where courts did not exist, and perjury could not show itself where witnesses were not examined. It is said that in one of our most recent acquisitions, the Punjab, the people have deteriorated under our rule. Runjeet Singh had no prisons. Thieves caught in the act were maimed and allowed to go their way. Murderers and other great offenders were at once put to death. We can scarcely adopt this primitive mode of maintaining order, and by our codes, courts, judges, and witnesses we have no doubt opened the door to evils of which the Punjab knew nothing in Runjeet Singh's time. If the early colonists of New York and Boston had retained their primitive simplicity, those cities would not now be disgraced by the slums, with their vice, crime, and misery, which make them too closely resemble the cities of the old continent. When society makes progress, new, social, and political, arrangements are indispensable, the countervailing good being much greater than the incidental evils which come in their train.
In India there are Regulation and Non-Regulation Provinces, the Regulation Provinces being those which have been long under our rule, and are subject to all our laws; and the Non-Regulation Provinces being those to which our codes are only partially applied, and where much is left to the discretion of the administrator. In the former the chief offices belong to the regular Civil Service, while in the latter military men as well as civilians are employed. Both classes have furnished most able and capable men.
Considering the resources of India its taxation is heavy. Our Government pays its servants of every description, high and low, civil and military, with a regularity utterly unknown under native rule, and the income must in regularity keep pace with the outlay. When we read of seventy millions as the expenditure, it must be remembered that what is called the land-tax is really rent, for in India the land has always been considered the property of the state. This is kept before the mind of the people of Madras by the yearly assessment of the tenants, and before the people of the North-Western Provinces by the new assessment made every thirtieth year. By the perpetual settlement of Bengal, the tax-collectors were at once raised to the position of landholders, of which they have often taken undue advantage. It must also be remembered that a considerable sum is expended on remunerative works, such as canals and railways. The expenditure on the army is great. I cannot conceive why our Government keeps up so large a native army. It would appear to those who are outside the Government circle, that its reduction would conduce to safety as well as to economy. The European part of the army is comparatively very small, and it would be most perilous to lessen it. Years before the Mutiny, Sir Henry Lawrence said it was the backbone of our strength, and events proved how true his remark was. Yet it is, and must continue to be, very expensive, like every other form of European agency. The Mutiny among its other results left behind it heavy pecuniary responsibilities, which have added to the debt and led to increased taxation. Many are of opinion that the amalgamation of the Royal and Indian armies was an unwise measure, and has caused much unnecessary expense. Often complaints have been made that successive home Governments, from their unchallenged control over the affairs of India, have imposed an unjust burden on its resources by keeping at home too large a force at its expense, and by undue charges for stores sent out, as well as by making it pay sums which were more properly due by the imperial exchequer.
"The net land revenue has risen in the ten years beginning 1870-71 from L20,335,678, or nearly half the total net revenue of L42,780,417, by about two millions sterling, to L22,125,807, with a total net revenue of L49,801,664. The gross revenue of the latter year, 1879-80, was L68,484,666, the difference being derived from sources other than taxation, such as the opium monopoly. The revenue of 1880-81 was L72,920,000, and the gross expenditure L71,259,000. Including the land revenue as land-tax, the 200 millions in the twelve Provinces of British India pay about 4s. a head of imperial taxation, besides municipal or local and provincial cesses, which purchase such local advantages as roads, schools, police, and sanitary appliances. This incidence of taxation varies from 5s.6d. per head of the land-owning classes to 3s.3d. for traders, 2s. for artisans, and 1s.6d. for agricultural labourers. The fiscal policy of the Government has of late been to reduce the burden of the salt monopoly, which is a poll-tax, and to abolish import duties. The 541/2 millions in the Native States pay only to their own chiefs, who enjoy a net annual revenue of fourteen millions sterling, and pay L700,000 as tribute, or less than the cost of the military and political establishments maintained on their account" (Dr. George Smith's "Geography of British India"). Deducting land-tax, opium, railways, irrigations, post-office, and suchlike remunerative services, the taxation is reduced to 2s. per head of population.
If the European army in India be the backbone of our military sway, European administrators are, I believe, the backbone of our government. During the terrible years 1857 and 1858, the services rendered by those who were engaged in civil employment were of the highest value in restoring peace to the distracted country, and in re-establishing our government. European officials of every grade showed equal zeal and determination. There were many native officials in these Provinces, some of them highly paid and greatly trusted. A few remained faithful and did good service, though the help rendered, when summed up, cannot be reckoned great. Many proved unfaithful, and some became our bitter enemies. If instead of Englishmen as judges, magistrates, and collectors, we had had at that time highly educated natives of Bengal holding these offices, the men who receive for themselves the best hearing in England, can we suppose that, however well inclined, they could have borne the brunt of the contest, and aided largely in securing the victory? It would ill become me to speak against these men. I know some of the class for whom I have not only a high esteem but warm affection. Among them there are not a few who are great in attainment, keen in intellect, and strong in purpose to do the right. Still I do not think they themselves would maintain they have the physical courage, the firm mental calibre, the moral strength, and the high place in the confidence of the community, which would qualify any of their number to occupy the position of Governor-General, Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, and Chief Commissioner, or would make it desirable they should form the leading body of the administrative staff. The successful candidates for the Civil Service have come, we believe, exclusively from the highly-educated youth of the Presidency cities, between whom and the millions of their own Provinces there is no such bond as unites the so-called leaders of the Irish with the majority of their countrymen. In the other countries of India they are little known, and are regarded with no special interest.
[Sidenote: HINDUSTANEES AND BENGALEES.]
Many mistakes would be prevented if English people would remember that we have in India nations differing widely from each other. We have a striking illustration of this fact in the part of India in which we have lived. Bengalees abound in the public offices in the North-West Provinces and in the Punjab. They are deemed sharper in intellect, and are better educated, than the Hindustanees, and on account of their superior education they have got situations which would have been filled by natives of the country, had their educational acquirements been equal. These Bengalees are not strangers in these Provinces to the same extent as Englishmen, but they are strangers, and are looked upon as such by the people. Where they are numerous they keep mainly to themselves, and however friendly they may be with Hindustanees they are regarded as belonging to another country. When you meet them you know them at once by their look, dress, language, and habits. A part of Benares, called Bengalee Tola -- Bengalee district -- is inhabited almost wholly by Bengalees, and when you enter it you feel you have come among another people, who speak a different language and present a different appearance. During the Mutiny they were regarded in the North-West with suspicion, as half-English, and many were happy to seek shelter where we were able to keep our footing. If the question was put in Hindustan Proper to any large body of people -- Would you have Bengalees or Englishmen for your magistrates and judges? I think in most places the well-nigh unanimous response would be, The Englishman.
If my opinion is to rest on my own observation, I would confidently say that notwithstanding the injustice and unkindness charged against some English officials, the people generally have profound trust in our justice -- in our insaf -- and as a rule, except when they think the native partial to themselves, they prefer to have their cases tried where an Englishman presides. When on a journey I once came up to two men engaged in eager talk. I heard them use frequently the words, Ungrez and Insaf -- Englishmen and Justice -- and on stopping I heard the one telling the other of the bribes taken by native officials in a case he had, and of the justice done when the Englishman took it up. He ended with the words, "What a wonderful people for insaf these English are!" to which remark the other man assented. I thanked them for their good opinion, and held on my way.
If the administration of India in its present state must, in its chief offices, remain in the hands of Europeans, it must be expensive. The great officers of state, considering the dignity they have to maintain and the establishments they have to keep, must be highly paid. When we think of the qualifications required by those who are charged with the ordinary administration, the great expense to which they are put, the years they spend in laborious work in an exhausting climate, and their unfitness as a rule for work in England on their retirement, I do not think their income or pension can be to any large extent safely or justly reduced. The era of nabobs, returning with vast wealth to astonish the English people, has long since passed away. These men had small pay, but great perquisites. The pay has been greatly increased, but the perquisites are gone, and India has benefited vastly by the change.
Indian magistrates have much to tell of the litigiousness of the people, their constant attempts to overreach each other, the carefully woven lies which they have daily to unravel, the trust put in bribes to influence decisions, and the deeply ingrained notion in the minds of native officials that they should get more for their services to the public than the bare pay, the sookha tulub -- dry wages -- as it is contemptuously called.
[Sidenote: THE POVERTY OF THE PEOPLE.]
The people of Northern India are mainly agricultural, and they are unquestionably poor. Our very success has in one aspect tended to their impoverishment. With very few exceptions they marry young, and during the many years of peace which have passed over them, with the exception of the short sharp crisis of the Mutiny, the population has greatly increased. Whenever an epidemic breaks out, means are at once employed to check it. There is a vaccination department for the purpose of preventing the ravages of small-pox. Female infanticide, which had prevailed to a frightful extent among certain castes, has been diminished, though not, it is feared, wholly suppressed. It is well known that famines have been sadly destructive of life, but there is evidence that previous to our rule, when there were few roads and little communication between one part of India and another, famines were still more so. Among so vast a population directly dependent on the soil, in a country where rain is so indispensable, and is now and then a failure, we have too much reason to fear famines may yet recur; but such provision is now made against their ravages, that it is hoped the catastrophes of the past will be escaped.
It is believed that, as the result of the new order of things, India at the present time has by many millions a larger population than it ever had previously. Mention has been made of the improvement effected in the Province of Kumaon; and other parts of India present instances of equally successful administration, but the area of new cultivation has not kept pace with the increase of population. It is sad that so many of the people should be underfed. In our own country and in Ireland this question of sufficient food for the entire population is one of the pressing difficulties of the day. Much is within the power of people themselves to improve their condition. We know it is so at home, and it is so in India. There, there is a vast body of sturdy beggars, under the guise of religious devotees, who feed on the people. Lending and borrowing go on at a most hurtful rate. If a person finds himself possessed of some twenty or thirty rupees, he either puts it into jewels for the female members of his family, or lends it at an exorbitant rate of interest. It has sometimes seemed as if creditors and debtors included the entire population. Debt, not by law but by custom, is hereditary, and a man is expected to pay the debts of his grand-parents. Marriage expenses are so heavy, that very often a debt settles down on a man on his marriage day under which he lies till the day of his death. Government has done much to induce leading men to bind themselves to a moderate expenditure on the occasion of marriages, in the hope that the example might prevent the unreasonable and pernicious profusion of the marriage season. If the habits of the people were changed the pressure of poverty would be greatly lightened.
There is much room for improvement in the incidence of taxation. The land-tax, we may say the land-rent, is the main source of revenue, but it is alarming to think of dependence on the opium monopoly for the millions it contributes. Intoxicating drugs are largely used in India, and among them opium holds the favourite place. Permission to the people to grow and manufacture opium for themselves would be as hurtful as permission to distil whiskey and gin would be to our country. It is devoutly to be wished the present system may come to an end, and that in its place a fiscal system be adopted similar to that of England in reference to alcoholic drinks. In reference to spirits, every effort should be made to discourage their sale, however much the revenue may suffer in consequence. The salt-tax has been so productive that it has been kept up in a manner which has borne heavily on the people. It has been reduced, and it is hoped that it will be reduced still further.
Regarding some of the questions at present much discussed, I can only say that every friend of India, I may say every friend of justice, must desire that the people be largely entrusted with the management of their own affairs, that local government be encouraged, and every facility given to the admission of natives, so far as they are qualified, into the rank of administrators. Much is being done in this direction, and still more will be done in the future. The police has been improved, but it stands much in need of further improvement.
Happy changes were expected from the assumption by the Queen of the direct government of India. Progress has been made since that time, but I do not think it is in any large measure owing to the change. For some time previously increased attention was given to the sanitation of towns, the improvement of roads, the laying out of market-places, the planting of public gardens, the building of hospitals, dispensaries, and town houses. Many wealthy natives, stirred up by magistrates, have contributed liberally to these improvements. Of late years these works have been carried on with increasing zeal. In 1877 we saw some of the principal towns in Northern India, and were struck with the contrast they presented to their condition during the early years of our residence. The filthiest place in Benares, which almost sickened me every time I came near it, is now a beautiful garden, with a fine town-house attached to it. The very bulls of Benares have been got rid of. No longer are these brutes encountered in the streets.
My readers will observe that I am far from agreeing with those who describe our rule in India as an unmixed blessing to its inhabitants. It is undeniable that our rule, because foreign, lies under great disadvantages. I am still farther removed from agreement with the extremely pessimist views which are sometimes advanced. The history of India rebuts the assertion that we have acquired our sovereignty mainly by fraud; and whatever may be said of other parts of India, no one acquainted with Bengal and the North-Western Provinces can say that he has there seen "the awful spectacle of a country inhabited only by officials and peasants." When one thinks of the atrocious crimes, upheld by religious sanctions, such as suttee and infanticide, which we have put down in the face of determined opposition and even threats of rebellion from the most honoured classes of the community, it is strange to be told that "before we went the people were religious, chaste, sober, compassionate towards the helpless, and patient under suffering," and that we have corrupted them. We are told that "while we have conferred considerable advantages, the balance is wofully against us." As the result of long residence in India, and of reading about India, I have come to the conclusion the balance is immensely in our favour.
[Sidenote: WHENCE IS IMPROVEMENT TO COME?]
All friends of India desire the improvement of its government, and the increasing welfare of its people. Whence is the improvement to come? We are told "nothing is to be hoped for from the Indian official class." From whom is anything to be hoped for? From the Home Government? The leaders of our political parties have passed measures beneficial to India, but they have again and again taken advantage of its helplessness to impose on it burdens to which it ought not to have been subjected. Are we to look to the people at home for relief? How difficult is it to secure attention to the subject, or to make them understand it when their attention is gained! Are we to look to the non-official class in India? I have nothing to say about the Ilbert Jurisdiction Bill, except that while officials have been divided about it, many of the most eminent being in its favour, non-officials almost to a man have been bitterly opposed to it. Where I have spent the greater part of my life, nothing has been more common than complaints by Europeans of injustice done to them by partiality shown to natives at their expense. Are we to look to the great landholders, bankers, merchants, shopkeepers, and well-to-do classes in the cities of Bengal and the North-West, who have benefited most by our rule? What may be expected from them is illustrated by the fact that when the finances were thrown by the Mutiny into confusion, many protested against an income tax, and some of high position proposed that the finances should be rectified by an increase of the salt-tax! In these influential classes there are high-minded and benevolent individuals, but if we look at them in their collective capacity we shall be disappointed. When we look at the long roll of distinguished Indian officials, mark their achievements, hear their protests against what they deemed hurtful measures, and their advocacy of beneficial changes, I think we find in them India's warmest friends, who have done it the most signal service, and from whom more can be expected than from any other class.
There are ample materials for arriving at correct views regarding the condition of India and the way in which it is governed. No Parliamentary Committee, no Royal Commission, is required to elicit the facts. The recently completed "Gazeteer" of India, in which Dr. Hunter and his assistants had been engaged for years, furnishes full and reliable information. The state of India is described in that imperial work with a frankness and fulness which leave nothing to be desired. If one of our great writers, who has secured the ears of our country, would set to the drawing up of a volume of moderate size, founded on the "Gazeteer," showing in a readable interesting form what has been done and what has been left undone, what has been done well and what has been done ill, and if the intelligent people of our country could be induced to give it a careful perusal, untold good would be done both to England and to India. Nothing would please Indian officials more than the eye of England being thus fixed on their doings and misdoings, that the whole truth might be known, and praise and censure be justly distributed, and still more that the changes most beneficial to the people might be effected.
[Sidenote: THE BEST GOVERNORS FOR INDIA.]
It is undeniable, as already said, that our rule because foreign lies under great disadvantages. When the ancestors of the present Hindus crossed the Indus and gradually made their way into the Continent before them, they subdued and to a great degree enslaved its inhabitants. For many a day their rule was foreign. This was also the case with the successive Muhammadan conquerors. Rule founded on the suffrages of the people remains to the present day unknown. There is, however, this difference between the previous rulers of India and the English, that they remained in the country, and gradually became amalgamated with its inhabitants, while we show no disposition to make India our home. As we do not, it would be far better if Hindustanees were the rulers of Hindustan, Bengalees of Bengal, the members of other Indian nations of their respective nations, provided they were qualified by character, attainments, and the estimate entertained of them by the ruled, with a strong central power to secure order throughout the Continent, while leaving unfettered the general administration. Towards this ideal strenuous efforts should be directed; but when we look at India as it is now, with its divergent and antagonistic elements, with the weakness induced by ages of superstition and despotism, what a long road has it to travel before it can reach this goal! The question, then, is not what is absolutely best, but what is practicable. Thus regarded, we are shut up to the continuance of our rule. Every friend of India must desire that it may be improved in every possible way, so that it may be in an increasing degree a blessing to its teeming population.
No one can predict the future of India. Within its borders there are many who for various reasons would be delighted with our overthrow, while I believe the vast majority in the parts of India I know best would deprecate our departure as a dire calamity. It is a notable fact that when our own native soldiers, sworn to uphold our rule, rose fiercely against us, and rebellion in many districts followed in the wake of mutiny, not a single native prince of the highest rank availed himself of the opportunity to throw off the suzerainty of our Queen. The army of the Prince of Gwalior rose against us, but by doing so they rebelled against their own sovereign. When in 1877 we were in a native state in Rajputana, a gentleman, who knew well the temper of the people, said that if our control was withdrawn the Rajputs and Mahrattas would be at each other's throats in a month. Our army has something better to do than to uphold an alien government. It has to prevent the outbreak of war which would desolate India from one end to the other. Happily its prestige is sufficient to avert this terrible evil, but the prestige can only continue while the army exists. By the suppression of the Mutiny our prowess was shown in a manner which has made an indelible impression. It is scarcely conceivable we can again have to encounter a similar outbreak, though trouble may come from unanticipated quarters. Our immensely improved means of communication contribute largely to our security. Good government, the conferring of manifest benefits on the people, will do more to establish our rule than all other things combined. It is obvious to all who have any just conception of our position in India, that never was a nation charged with greater responsibilities, never was such a tremendous task committed to a people, and never was there a more urgent call for the highest qualities, if the duties devolving on us are to be worthily discharged. Our Government cannot, and ought not, to undertake its evangelization, but if the work of government be rightly done, it will indirectly, but very effectually, help the Christian Church in giving the Gospel to the millions of India, which, when accepted by them, will purify and elevate their character, improve their condition, and fit them for true, healthy, national life, while securing their spiritual and eternal good.