H.M. Hyndman

England For All

Chapter VI

If Ireland, a little island close to our own shores, its people speaking our language, sharing our civilization and religion, with all its problems lying, as it were, in the hollow of our hand and open to inspection with the naked eye – if, after centuries of absolute rule over the inhabitants, we are beginning to confess that the matter is well-nigh too hard for us, and look to enlisting Irishmen in the government of their own country as our only hope of success in the future – if, I say, this little business has plagued us so sore, what are we to think of the task of ruling 200,000,000 of people, of totally different race, language, civilization, and creeds, thousands of miles away from England, by means of 900 young gentlemen who do not set foot in the country till they are over twenty years of age, and work without the slightest help from the natives in the higher branches of administration? Yet this is what we, the English people, are now trying to do in India; and with such unfortunate results to the inhabitants, that it is absolutely essential that the great mass of the community, on whose shoulders now rests the weight of this vast empire, should take the matter into their own hands. This, indeed, is now the only hope that the English people will see the mischief that is being done, and insist that neither vested interests nor regard for individual reputations shall longer stand in the way of absolutely essential reforms.

No man can read the history of our early conquests in India without a strange admixture of feeling. Deeds of the noblest heroism and determination are found side by side with the records of such meanness, cruelty, and greed, that at times we doubt whether it is possible that qualities so different should have belonged to the same race. A mere merchant company, humbly suing for permission to trade, grew into power and influence in spite of themselves, till they became of necessity the heirs of the Great Mogul, and the conquerors of the rising Mahratta confederation; their clerks and supercargoes, their shopmen and peddlers, figured forth before the world as warriors, statesmen, and administrators. Whilst the king and the aristocracy were losing, by sheer ignorance and incompetence, the noblest inheritance across the Atlantic that ever fell to the lot of any nation, ordinary Englishmen were conquering an empire just in the way of everyday business, which, had it been properly managed, would in some degree have compensated for that monstrous blunder. A great and ancient civilization had fallen under their control, and it needed but a right comprehension of its tendencies to lead the people on, with little of change, to a wider and a higher development, which should have been to the advantage of all. This was the idea of some of the nobler spirits, who saw clearly that a growth of thousands of years could not suddenly be twisted in accordance with foreign notions without grave danger of injury to rulers and ruled. To raise the tone of the native Governments to the best native standard, slowly introducing the leaven of Western ideas into the administration without altering the form of society or pursuing the fatal policy of complete annexation – this was the view of men who had, unfortunately, too little weight as against more vehement counsellors.

The East India Company itself, however, protested constantly against the violent methods of its own servants; but the inexorable necessity of paying interest had, very early in its history, a most baneful influence upon the system pursued by us in India. Annexation became the rule; and even forty or fifty years ago the natives of India had begun to discuss the effect of the drain of produce to England consequent upon the multitudes of fortunes made by Englishmen and withdrawn on their leaving. The nabobs who returned after shaking the pagoda-tree, represented so much wealth taken out of India, which was never returned. Nevertheless, the rule of the East India Company was on the whole economical. It was soon found out that countries governed by foreigners, in which the old native system had been broken down, seemed somehow not to have the elasticity and power of recovery for which India had been celebrated for centuries. India, the administrators in Leadenhall Street discovered was a poor country, not to be treated as if untold wealth could be taken for the asking without harming the people.

To enter upon the beneficial changes made in native usages, the noble work of Sleeman in uprooting the Thugs, of Outram in settling the Bheels, of Edwardes on the Indus border, or, on a wider field, the reforms adopted by Lord William Bentinck, would be to extend this chapter far beyond the limits of this little work. Natives of India know well that had Englishmen confined their efforts to such objects as these nothing but good would have come of their rule. To this day the government of the old East India Company, in those countries where good native customs were respected and the people not worried, is looked back to with regard and even affection. Men who went out to India as mere boys got to know the people, and loved them; they made their homes in the country, and returning but rarely to England, held a very different position from that of their successors of to-day.

Asia is the land of long memories, and those who treat its people with justice, firmness, and consideration pass on their legacy of good feeling to the next generation. All who read the writings of Metcalfe, Shore, Malcolm, Mountstuart Elphinstone, Henry Lawrence, Meadows Taylor, or Sleeman, will find that below the surface there is a constant undercurrent of regret at the needless Europeanization which they see going on. And the natives of India have ever been most easily led by men who, whilst combatting their faults, were not above appreciating their good qualities, even when they have shown themselves rigorous and exacting. Thus it happened that, notwithstanding many great errors, and a gradual impoverishment, which was then scarcely perceived, the agricultural population of British India – fully three-fourths of that vast population – was loyal to the rule of the great Company when Lord Dalhousie was appointed Governor-General. It was the mission of this arbitrary bigot to overthrow all the best traditions of our rule in India, to shock every native idea of justice or good faith, to commence that course of unscrupulous annexation and wholesale Europeanization from which our Empire is now suffering, and to lead up by his policy to one of the most serious rebellions that ever shook the power of any Government. The great Mutiny of 1857 was the direct outcome of Lord Dalhousie’s headlong career of violence and chicanery. How the rebellion was put down, and what marvellous vigour and tenacity our countrymen showed in resisting the attack of their own trained soldiery, assisted in the more recently annexed territory by the people themselves, are matters of history. It was again a story of marvellous capacity chequered by grave mistakes.

Peace was at length restored; the rule of the East India Company came to an end; and with the assumption of the government by the Crown the English people became directly responsible for the beneficent management of their own great dependency. Throughout the fierce conflict which was waged the sympathy of the mass of the people was with us rather than with the mutineers. If it had not been, we could not possibly have overcome the rebellion. Here, then, if ever in history, was an opportunity for the governing race. It lay with Englishmen to accept the better portion of the system which had been superseded, and to retain the goodwill of the people by light taxation and consideration of their ancient customs.

Unfortunately a different course was adopted. At first all went well. Lord Canning, to his eternal honour, kept his head in panic-stricken Calcutta, and refused to allow millions to be treated with cruelty and injustice because a few infamous ruffians had been guilty of horrible, never-to-be-forgotten outrages. The Queen’s Proclamation of 1858 was an admirable document, rightly called the Great Charter of India. Princes and people looked forward to period when all the advantages which had been secured to them by the Company – peace, order, freedom from exaction – should be combined with a gradual preparation for self-government and a careful reorganization of native rule under English guidance. But it was not to be. The word went forth from high quarters that India had been neglected, that what she stood in need of was English capital, at five per cent. guaranteed interest paid half-yearly – and English energy, at very high salaries paid quarterly. India, in fact, became the outlet for the savings of the upper and middle classes and an opening for their sons. Now began the reign of capital in good earliest and with it a pressure of taxation, an increase of famines, a deterioration of the soil, and an impoverishment of the mass of the people unprecedented in the long history of India.

But the administration comes first. In this, one fatal principle has been followed out for the last three-and-twenty years. Wherever room could be found for a European, he has been chosen in place of a native. Even in the judicial department, where the natives have greatly distinguished themselves, none of the highly-paid posts are open to them – although at a lower salary, and with less important positions, they try cases involving quite as grave issues as those tried by the Europeans. The extent to which this employment of Europeans has been carried in every department, surpasses belief. Young natives are educated in the colleges for the highest class of administrative work, but no prizes are ever open to them. They receive the compliments of the Chancellor of the University, who is perhaps also the Governor of the Presidency, on their ability – and then they find themselves ousted by a number of Englishmen from posts in which they might fairly hope to serve their country.

Now this has been very far worse under the Crown than it ever was in the Company’s time. In the Public Works Department alone, the European establishment actually cost £2,300,000, a year or two ago; this too, though the natives of India are specially apt at engineering, and all the great irrigation works in the country of any real value have been built by natives, or constructed by Europeans on native principles. Where these have been abandoned the grossest blunders have been made, and millions of acres of land ruined. Time after time requests have been put forward by the people of India, through the only channel open to them, that the total amount paid in salaries to Europeans in India should be published, but this has never been done. The effect of this excessive employment of Englishmen is most serious in every way. Millions sterling every year which might go to the people of the country are taken by foreigners, who, though honest enough, and in some respects more capable than natives, yet really devour the substance of the people whose country they no doubt wish to benefit. More than this, in addition to the salaries they receive in the country, and spend on luxuries which a native would rarely dream of, or the savings which they bear away to England when they depart, every European who leaves Government employment receives a pension, which likewise is so much paid by India to Englishmen out of the country. But there is a further objection still. By this enormous mass of super-incumbent Europeans, who fill every office of importance in a country inhabited by 200,000,000 people, those who might be in training for self-government, and who in time might be able to carry on our best methods without their drawbacks, are turned into a disaffected class. These men see their country, as they think, ruined in the interest of foreigners who have less and less sympathy with the people they rule.

Europeanization is stunting all natural growth in India, and this with less and less excuse every day; for civilians and others no longer live in India as they used to do, rarely make real friends of the people, and are perpetually moved about from post to post or come home on furlough. But they equally prevent any change of system; and on their return to England they form, with some few noble exceptions, a compact body, opposed both by interest and tradition to any real justice to India.

Now if this administration were on the whole successful, it would not even then outweigh the enormous economical drawbacks involved. As, however, it is a failure in almost every branch, and we are now obliged to go back in sheer desperation to some modified form of the old native laws, surely no longer ought we to hesitate to make a definite change. For take even our civil courts; these we were confident could not fail to be successful. What has occurred? They are a complete curse to the people, bringing about endless litigation, and involving gross injustice to the poor, owing to their expense. Our land laws: these are found to be utterly ruinous, not in one part of India alone but in many, driving the cultivators first into the hands of the money-lenders and then into gaol. Our educational system: of that it is needless to speak. So far, it is practically non-existent, save for the well-to-do. Our public works – but these come under another head more conveniently. Now all these objections to our existing methods are made, not by outsiders, but by tried and trained official Englishmen, who having been appointed to account for the mischiefs which have arisen, speak plainly of the baneful effects of our blunders, and themselves suggest a reversion to native plans, which we had discarded before as unsuited to the people. It is painful to read their confession that somehow our system does not work, and yet to find that the very men who honestly admit this are averse from the only possible remedy.

For now comes the most serious part of the matter. India is a poor country. We have been trying to enrich her, and this is how we have done it. In 1856, a year before the mutiny, the sum of £23,000,000 was taken from the people of India for the purposes of government; in 1880, twenty-four years after, no less a sum than £68,000,000 was taken from them for the same purpose. Has India, then, become so much richer in the quarter of a century? There is no evidence to that effect; much the other way. We know from official reports and official protests that, light as the taxation may seem to us, it is heavier than the people of India can bear. Any increase would be – I know no authority to the contrary of that – politically dangerous. The salt tax – levied, bear in mind, to the tune of 700 per cent ad valorem – interferes with the consumption of that necessary of life most seriously; whilst no less a man than the late Lord Lawrence thought the murrains among the cattle which have been so frequent of late years were, in part at least, due to the want of salt owing to its excessive price.

But there is graver evidence than the death of cattle, the ever-increasing spread of famines, and consequent death of men. Famines are far more frequent than they were. In the last twenty-three years there have been not fewer than six serious famines, which have swept away millions of the people, and millions of cattle too. The last great famines – those of Bombay and Madras, and the North-West Provinces – were something terrible; not fewer certainly than 7,000,000 of people died of starvation and famine-fever between 1876 and 1879 in those provinces. This is the worst famine of which there is any record whatever; and it occurred, not in the India of old time, with difficult communications, tottering Governments, indifferent and careless administrations; but in the India of today, with a powerful Central Government, with railroads and highways, canals and irrigation works – to say nothing of money freely poured forth to save these people from their dreadful fate. But this was an exceptional affair, it may be said; there was some phenomenal drought all over the country; the rains ceased, the whole land was barren. Drought no doubt there was, but by no means of inordinate severity, and this alone would not have accounted for the fearful mortality. Nowadays, sad to say, our people – the greater part of the 200,000,000 we are responsible for – are living nearer, and ever nearer, to the limit of starvation; thus what in happier periods would have been a scarcity, now deepens into a serious famine. And the main causes for this miserable state of things are not far to seek.

The total net revenue of the Government of India raised from the many and various races under our rule does not exceed £38,000,000 a year, after making deductions for the cost of collection. This revenue so raised cannot safely be increased: the mass of the people are, as has been said, taxed up to the hilt. But year after year we take out of the country agricultural produce to the amount of £20,000,000 at the very lowest estimate, to bring to us here in England, in order to pay interest, pensions, and home charges, for which there is no commercial return.

Now just think for a moment what this means. It means that this very year we Englishmen are taking from the people of India, for European rule and the use of European capital, more than we have ever taken: it means that this amounts to more than the total land revenue of all British India – to more than half the net income from all sources as calculated above. Yet India is a poor country is a very poor country, as Indian officials tell us. And this is how we “develop” it. We drain away from the country that produce which might be so beneficially employed by our fellow subjects; and then we beat our breasts when famine comes, and call out to Providence to wipe off those spots on the sun which somehow or other do all the mischief.

What cowardly pretence is this. The truth lies open to all. We are ruining India because our upper and middle classes will persist in exacting from its people agricultural produce to pay interest, home charges, and pensions. No country in the world, not blessed with virgin soil of exceptional fertility, could possibly stand such a drain without exhaustion. The real effect of this drain once fully grasped, all talk even about the uncertain opium revenue, about the grinding salt tax, about the mischievous licence and stamp tax, becomes idle; for by this constant demand we are draining away the very life-blood of our people. What would Englishmen say if the whole agricultural rent of the country went over to France every year, because we had French prefects in every county, and French money had built our railroads and excavated our canals? Yet the agricultural rent of England is a mere fleabite in comparison with the drain from India, the relative wealth of the two countries being taken into account.

”But then,” say investors, “the railroads, the canals, have increased the wealth of India; we must have interest from our money, no matter how many are starved every now and then to pay us. To argue otherwise would be communism, confiscation again. It is absurd to forego interest to keep people alive.” Well, have the railroads increased the wealth of India? Are the numberless foreigners employed a burden or the reverse? The matter really requires but little consideration. Railroads do but transport wealth from one point to another more conveniently than common roads. They themselves, make no wealth, neither do they add to that already in existence. Those who find the capital deduct a certain proportion of the produce transferred for the payment of working expenses and interest. Now if this proportion of produce remains in the country, and is paid to natives, it is still at hand to feed the people; but if it is loaded on board ships, as jute, cotton, or indigo, and sent to a foreign country to pay interest on capital [which as we have seen, means the wages of past (unpaid) labour, now owned by those who neither toil nor spin], then so much wealth is taken clean out of that country, never to reappear or to return to fertilize the soil. There are new colonies, no doubt, which can afford to pay this toll to foreigners, because the application of labour to virgin soil is exceedingly profitable, though even in that case the drain is often more injurious than it seems at the time. But in the case of India the result is disastrous from the first. Interest is taken away, and Europeans are paid high salaries, alike in famine and in plenty, in drought and in flood. Moreover, much more than £20,000,000 have been thus paid away under the guarantee which have never been earned at all. Losing railways have consequently been made profitable investments to home capitalists by the truly beneficent intervention of their own Government. Railways therefore in India, worked by Europeans at a high salary, and paying interest on the money borrowed by sending agricultural produce out of the country, are very different from railways here with us in England. This has now been acknowledged. Borrowing out of India is seen to be most injurious; and yet the country is getting deeper and ever deeper into debt for public works, and the exhausting drain is being increased by the employment of more Europeans.

The truth is that, built with the best possible intentions, the public works of India are a burden on the people. Eager to enrich the country and yet to derive advantage from it, our proceedings for the last three-and-twenty years have been harmful and ruinous in the highest degree. This is no secret. The most important officials at the India Office know it well. The fearful effect of the drain from India has been the subject of more than one grave confidential memorandum, as well as of protests from Indian Finance Ministers, who, however, could not see themselves that the construction of unremunerative public works out of borrowed money was ruinous. But such is capitalism – selfishness so ingrained that five per cent. per annum cannot possibly be wrong, though millions may starve because it must be punctually paid. We have lent nearly £250,000,000 to India, and must have our return, though the people had no voice whatever in the borrowing, and now begin to feel only too sadly that their substance is being taken from them, they scarcely know how.

But this drain must be stanched; the taxation must be lowered; more natives must be employed. England, in short, must rise to the level of her great responsibilities, and take order with the ex-officials who pour forth optimist harangues in praise of their own administrative capacity. For hear what all agricultural experts say. With one accord Mr. Buck, Mr. Harman, and Mr. Robertson declare that the soil of India is undergoing steady and permanent deterioration – that it will support fewer men and fewer bullocks as years pass by. Mr. Robertson puts the deterioration at not less than thirty per cent. in thirty years. Thirty per cent. less produce per acre in thirty years! Who can wonder? The produce of the earth is taken away to be brought over here, to an increasing extent, and there is now less manure than ever to put into the soil. At the same time the destruction of the forests for railway sleepers and fuel has, as in the United States and Australia, most seriously affected the climate for the worse. Drought and floods alternate in districts where formerly the rainfall was beneficial and equable. Such is the foresight of capital in India – the care of our civilization of to-day for the civilization of the human beings of tomorrow. From all provinces comes the same sad cry. From the North-West and from Oude, from Bombay as well as from Madras, from large tracts of Bengal, and even from the Punjab, one mournful story is heard; the land does not, as of old bring forth of its abundance; there is no blessing on the crops in our day. A deteriorated race of men, an inferior description of bullocks, bear witness to the truth of what they say.

So serious did all this seem, so fearful was the famine period of 1876-79, that Mr. James Caird was sent out to India as a Special Famine Commissioner, with the ready consent of both parties in the State, to examine, as the ablest English agricultural expert, into the condition of our noble dependency. He returned to tell us that unless we change our system a great catastrophe is inevitable. Catastrophe is easily written, but Mr. Caird evidently used the word in no light sense. After an elaborate investigation of the state of things, he too came to the conclusion that the soil of India is deteriorating, whilst the population is increasing in certain districts, so that the people live in perpetual semi-starvation. The very next famine period may therefore bring with it an economical cataclysm beside which even the great Irish destruction will sink into insignificance. Mr. Irwin prepares us in Oude for similar fearful trouble; Mr. Connell from the North-West Provinces takes up the tale. But Mr. Caird’s earnest protest has, so far, produced no effect; so what should they avail? Even Mr. W.W. Hunter, the Director-General of Indian Statistics, and a year ago advocate of the interests of the Indian bureaucracy and capitalists at home, even he, alarmed at last by his own very inaccurate figures, tells us that at least 40,000,000 of the people for whose welfare we are responsible – 100,000,000 would be nearer the mark – are going through life on insufficient food. Nay, more; he shows that the Mogul Emperors raised far more than twice the revenue we now get out of India, for six generations, without exhausting the country, whilst we who drain away the produce cannot take our present revenue without a great risk of collapse. By the side of this drain, and the consequent deterioration of the soil, helped on by denudation, all the rest of our blunders, great as they are, are mere child’s-play. Another famine period is even now approaching, no preparations have been made to meet it, and how far the inordinate cost of the Afghan wars has crippled our Indian exchequer is not even yet fully known.

Thus on every side the prospect is gloomy and overcast, and in the opinion of the ablest observers we are drawing nearer and nearer to an almost overwhelming disaster. Year after year we take from India agricultural produce which she cannot spare, because we are masters of the country, and, paying ourselves handsomely all round, leave those who depend upon us for safety to perish from want. Whilst we are disputing about the defence of the empire we ourselves are preparing its ruin, only to learn the truth too late: the knocking will come through the darkness from without – the murder within will be done. Let then the sun of English justice arise and shine – outshine all the glories of the East; let a message of mercy, whose wings are as silver wings and her feathers as gold, go forth from the people of England to the many races and nations under their rule, saying to all that, though they have ills of their own to suffer from and endless sorrows to bear, they would not that others should be made poorer or more miserable for them. So as death shall close our eyelids in never-ending slumber, we may feel that countless millions have some share of happiness which but for us they would have lacked, some joy and contentment which but for us they never would have known.

For the alternative course lies open before us once more. There are in India, as in Ireland and at home, two policies, the one of mock freedom and real oppression, the other of beneficent government and steady progress. Strange that having tried both methods in India, we should as a nation stick to the failure and discard the success. Wherever native administration has had free play under gentle European guidance, there we have seen prosperity and contentment spring up and endure. In Travancore and Baroda, in Mysore and Hyderabad, wherever English influence has been confined to supporting upright native rule, the change has been marvellous for the better, though the tendency even then is to interfere too much by the introduction of Western ideas. Still it is not European administration that is necessarily ruinous: that we have seen in numerous instances. It is not that public works are not highly beneficial. But when European agency and public works are alike overdone; when foreign soldiers and foreign systems are imposed upon the population to an extent which savours of the very fanaticism of so-called improvement, then, as we see, the result is starvation, ruin, and death, a famine-stricken people, and an exhausted soil.

The recent return of Mysore to native administration after fifty years of European rule is, we may hope, of good omen for the future. Our task now is to cut down the European establishments in every-possible way – to curtail the home charges, even if we have to reduce the rate of interest arbitrarily by one half and take some portion of the pensions on to our own shoulders. This money that is now taken is not ours, and no native has ever voted a single rupee of it to us. The enormous expense of the European army must likewise be curtailed, and a very different policy from that of suspicion and hauteur adopted towards the native princes. We have, in fact, to prepare the many peoples of India for self-government, by a process of decentralization, by building up the old States again wherever possible, and by removing the crowd of Europeans who now eat out the prosperity of the country. Let any man consider. No such system as that which we now foster could by any possibility succeed. The old Mogul rulers were wrong-headed enough in many ways, but they were not such fools as to think they could govern India from Samarcand and in accordance with Mussulman prejudice, or that they could dispense with the assistance of the able Hindoo administrators in the management of their provinces. Akber was perhaps the greatest monarch that the East ever produced, yet he relied – and as the event showed, wisely relied – upon the noble rajah Toder Mull to reorganize his finances. With us Toder Mull, the most masterly financier beyond all comparison that has ever had control of the Indian exchequer, would have been “a damned nigger accountant, who would keep writing to the papers.” Such incapacity to appreciate the abilities of our own subjects, let us remember—such eagerness to crush down rather than to raise up – such sad indifference to the ruin being wrought in our own territory, when close at hand countries equally under our control, but managed by natives, are flourishing and prosperous – such strange determination not to understand, I say, will gain us but a doubtful reputation for foresight with those who come after, even if it do not involve ourselves in ruin.

But if, on the other hand, we resolve to make the necessary changes at once, and to restore to the natives, in some degree at least, the control of their own Governments and their own property, then India may more than repay us for our sympathy and goodwill. There, directly or indirectly under our rule, are 250,000,000 of the human race, who, weary as they are of waiting for fair treatment, would recognize with joyous loyalty a determined effort to relieve them from the excessive pressure of foreign government, and the ruinous drain for foreign payments, which now impoverish them more and more. This assuredly is no party question; but those who profit by India’s ruin will scarcely of their own motion make the sacrifices needful to restore her prosperity. It is to the mass of Englishmen, then, to the great democracy of this country, that the peoples of India must now appeal for justice. Represented fairly here at home, they might hope to secure their long-delayed hearing, and with that hearing consideration for their wrongs. Here too, I say once more, the right course is that which is best also for our own people. Let the people of India but grow in wealth, as they would under any fair conditions of existence, with but slight supervision from us, and the exchange of their products for ours would be far more advantageous than the continuous impoverishment which disenables them from making purchases. On every ground, therefore, of humanity, morality, self-interest, future credit, and ordinary common sense, we ought not longer to postpone the necessary reorganization. But our present parliamentary system has proved quite inadequate to cope with this great crisis. If India is to be retained at all, she must have a direct voice in her own administration, as well in England as in India.

Last updated on 30.7.2006