Hyndman March 1879

Bankruptcy of India II

Source: Nineteenth Century, March 1879, pp. 443-462;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Five months have passed since an attempt was made to show, in the October number of this Review, that if a large amount of official evidence and the testimony of facts and figures are deserving of credit, the people of India, as a whole, are getting poorer and poorer under our administration. Our public works, on which such enormous sums of money were expended, have been, and even still are, carried on at a dead loss to the population; and the unfortunate tax-payers too frequently forced to borrow at usurious rates to pay the interest which the Government has guaranteed on these unprofitable investments. This by itself is a very serious matter where the bulk of the people are so miserably poor. Famines have proved conclusively that the gravest poverty exists in almost every district. During the past twenty years they have been very numerous, and the plan which is now adopted, of making the poorer classes of one province pay to keep alive the mass of the famine-stricken people in another this being reversed when the former suffer in turn – cannot fail in the end to bring about a terrible catastrophe. For there is grave reason to believe that the soil of India is undergoing steady deterioration in many districts, owing to a variety of causes. The liability to famine is therefore increasing whilst the power to support dearth is becoming less. Consequently droughts that formerly produced only a scarcity, now result in wholesale sacrifice of population and animals.

As to taxation, it has undoubtedly increased largely within the last twenty years, and in the opinion of men of unquestioned authority now is so heavy upon the great mass of the inhabitants, that any additions to the present burdens would not only be harmful to people, but positively dangerous to the continuance of our rule. Above all, the constant drain from India due to a foreign administration on account of the enormous home charges and excessive cost of European agency, renders the accumulation of capital almost out of the question, and this – the gravest and, from some points of view, most hopeless feature in the whole story of our connection with the country – is growing at an increasingly rapid rate. Such, in brief, is a summary of the situation. A very poor people heavily taxed in proportion to their means, suffering constantly from scarcities which the lack of savings converts into famine, a deteriorated soil, unprofitable public works, and over all a constant drain of tribute to a foreign state almost sufficient of itself to account for the growing impoverishment.

There have now been printed three official answers to the paper which contained these statements, and gave the evidence on which they were based. One of these, by Sir Erskine Perry, was published in the December number of this Review, another by Mr. John Morley, written upon materials furnished by Sir John Strachey and other leading Indian officials, appeared in the Fortnightly Review for the same month, and a third official statement was put forward anonymously in Fraser’s Magazine, likewise in December. Now it is at least certain that we have in these three articles the full force of the official case. Sir Erskine Perry is a member of the Indian Council, and has been connected with India, in one capacity or another, for nearly forty years. Sir John Strachey is the present Finance Minister, and he has risen to that important office through all the different grades of the Indian Civil Service. ‘D.’ the writer in Fraser, is likewise an official. As, also, two full months elapsed, there was plenty of time to lay the India Office under contribution to prove conclusively that increasing prosperity which would completely overthrow the whole argument on the other side.

But whatever else has been shaken, certainly the general impoverishment of the people is admitted only too fully.

It is worthy of remark also that not one of these writers touches the origin and history of famines, save in the most perfunctory way. If, as I contend is the case, the last twenty years have been chiefly remarkable for the number and the severity of the famines in various parts of India – if, as is admitted by Sir John Strachey himself, the cost of providing against these recurrent misfortunes must be regarded as a permanent charge against Indian finance – if they impoverish and weaken not only the population which they decimate, but those portions of the country which contribute to support the sufferers, surely it was the business of one at least of these official apologists to place on record his opinion as to the unprecedented frequency of these terrible events. What has Sir Erskine Perry to say to this? Not a word. What explanation does Mr. John Morley offer, in his forcible and lucid style, of so fatal an outcome of our system of government? The subject does not interest either himself or his official clientele. At any rate, not two sentences are devoted to the matter. ‘D.’ is equally reticent, though he piles up figures on minor points with wearisome assiduity.

Surely then we have here a very significant and sinister omission. Consider this: Although eleven millions sterling are now put as the cost of the famine in Southern India; although the Government, when it appreciated the facts, strained every nerve to save the people, yet, according to the calculations of the official statisticians themselves, 1,400,000 individuals perished of actual starvation in that great dearth. Other enumerations, made by men who had nothing whatever to gain by exceeding the truth, run the total up to at least 5,000,000 in Madras and Mysore alone. Nor should it be forgotten that this occurred under circumstances more than ordinarily favourable to the saving of life. There was no total loss of crop, except over a small area, and the means of communication were exceptionally good. To quote Lord Lytton: ‘There are several railway lines in the south of India; a number of seaports are available on the east and west coasts; Madras possesses a better system of metalled and bridged roads than any part of India; much of the Bombay and Mysore country is also well supplied with roads. There was thus every facility for the free action of private trade.’ But, all this notwithstanding, the result was that loss of life which we all deplore. Here, then, I say, are circumstances which absolutely demanded consideration at the hands of my critics. What better evidence of increasing poverty can be given than that hundreds of thousands or millions of men should die of starvation, with plenty of food to be had for those who could afford to buy it? What more deadly condemnation of our present system than that the unequalled exertions of the Government, seconded by the resources of private traders, could produce no better result? Take and read the famine reports, examine the arguments of the Madras Government against demanding ‘arrears of revenue’ from men who could barely keep body and soul together, and then again consider how it comes about that men of name and reputation, who are so fully satisfied with our existing administration that they can afford to strengthen their case with misstatement and ridicule, deliberately turn aside from such terrible blots as these.

Here, however, I would say, that I desire to reform not to destroy, to improve and not to uproot. A foreign Government always works at a great disadvantage, but under favourable conditions it may possibly confer benefits which outweigh its drawbacks. Our position in India is such that we cannot leave it now, consistently with fairness either to ourselves or to the native population; but we can at least lessen the burden which falls upon our fellow-subjects, and, by altering that which is proved to be objectionable in our management, render our connection with the country a gain to both parties. This, however, is no easy matter, and the vested interests, which day by day grow stronger, render the application of the only possible remedies more and more difficult.

I turn now to what has been urged against the general line of my argument. Before, however, dealing with such criticisms in detail, it may be well to note how far the official views are in accordance with those which I have expressed. I urge that the cultivating class of India is excessively poor, that – owing chiefly to the want of capital – it is getting poorer, and that our attempts to improve matters have too often served but to aggravate the original evil. Now listen to Sir Erskine Perry: he has been in India many years, and has generally devoted his vacations to travelling all over the country ‘mostly at a foot’s pace.’ Better evidence could not be. Here it is:--

The dense population, amounting in its more fertile parts to six and seven hundred per square mile, is almost exclusively occupied in agricultural pursuits. But the land of India has been farmed from time immemorial by men entirely without capital. A farmer in this country has little chance of success unless he can supply a capital of 10. to 20. an acre. If English farms were cultivated by men as deficient in capital as the Indian ryots, they would all be thrown on the parish in a year or two. The founder of a Hindu village may, by the aid of his brethren and friends, have strength enough to break up the jungle, dig a well, and, with a few rupees in his pocket, he may purchase seed for the few acres he can bring under the plough. If a favourable harvest ensue, he has a large surplus, out of which he pays the jamma or rent to Government. But, on the first failure of the periodical rains, his withered crops disappear; he has no capital wherewith to meet the Government demand, to obtain food for his family and stock, or to purchase seed for the coming year. To meet all these wants he must have recourse to the village money-lender – [whence, by the way, did he get his capital?] – who has always formed as indispensable a member of a Hindu agricultural community as the ploughman himself.

Surely, Sir Erskine Perry, a very ‘sensational’ statement this! No picture that I have painted of the poverty of the cultivator at all exceeds it in gloom. In what manner, however, have we set about improving the condition of these poverty-stricken people? Hear Sir Erskine again:--

Every Englishman in office in India has great powers, and every Englishman – as the late Lord Lytton once observed to me – is in heart a reformer. His native energy will not enable him to sit still with his hands before him. He must be improving something. The tendency of the English official in India is to over-reform, to introduce what he may deem improvements, but which turn out egregious failures, and this, be it observed, amongst the most conservative people of the world. Some of the most carefully devised schemes for native improvement have culminated in native deterioration.

Why, what have we here? A denunciation of our practice of continuous reformation irrespective of native habits and customs, and a distinct statement that many such schemes as have found favour with officials have but culminated in ‘native deterioration.’ But once more:--

Every ardent administrator desires improvements in his own department; roads, railways, canals, irrigation, improved courts of justice, more efficient police, all find earnest advocates in the higher places of government. But improved administration is always costly and requires additional taxation. I fear those in authority too often forget that the wisest rulers of a despotic government have always abstained from laying fresh burdens on the people. It is, in fact, the chief merit of such a government that the taxes are ordinarily light, and are such as are familiarised by old usage. New taxes imposed without the will or any appeal to the judgment of the people, create the most dangerous kind of disaffection. But if this is true generally, it is especially true in India, where the population is extremely poor, and where hitherto the financier has not been enabled to make the rich contribute their due quota to the revenue of the country. Now these remarks are made, let it be remembered, by a member of the Council of India, in reply to a writer who has not and did not pretend to have any acquaintance with India, other than could be derived from books and papers, and information obtained at second hand. They seem grave enough; for we are told of ryots without capital vexed with improvements that do not answer, and ground down by excessive taxation, against which there is no appeal. Is not this a state of affairs which, on any showing, it behoves the English people to look into for themselves? is not this a matter where strenuous and continual exertion on the part of all of us can alone be of any avail? Even so the gravest point is barely touched upon. This is the want of capital. On that all are agreed. The agriculturist has no capital, or very little, and, so far as can be judged, the little he has does not tend to increase. There is indeed but too much reason to believe that the entire capital of India, whether for the improvement of agriculture or for any other purpose, is dwindling year by year. The economical drain which has been so often disputed, and on many occasions entirely denied, is at last admitted by the present Finance Minister of India, Sir John Strachey himself, to the amount of 20,000,000. It is reckoned by others, who have closely studied the subject, at a much larger sum. But even those figures are surely sufficient to cause deep alarm to all who consider that the growing welfare of India is not only desirable from the point of view of humanity, but because it would beyond question give more employment to our own people at home. 20,000,000 taken out of India for England, means that the whole of the land revenue of our territory leaves the country – means that nearly one-third of the total exports of 190,000,000 people meets with no return. Can we wonder that the yearly drain of such a sum from so poor a country as Sir Erskine Perry describes, has the effect of reducing the unfortunate cultivators and labourers to a lower and yet lower state of poverty and hopelessness? We cannot; and ‘D.’ admits what must be the natural consequences of the mistaken attempts at improvement, the continuous denudation of forests, and the over-Europeanising of the administration – the probable deterioration of the soil over large portions of India. What these various admissions amount to, what these now established facts portend, will appear in the following pages. In endeavouring to show the poverty of the people of India as compared with the condition of the people of Great Britain, the sum of 300,000,000 was taken, with the sanction, as noticed above, of two of the highest official authorities, to represent the total gross income of 190,000,000 inhabitants; and the able writer in the Quarterly Review for January 1871 arrives at pretty nearly the same figures by an entirely independent route. Upon this single point, which is but one out of many that tell in the same direction, the main stress of the official argument has been laid. Mr. Caird – so Sir Erskine Perry and Mr. John Morley triumphantly insist – at once proved, as ‘C.’ in the Times, that I was utterly wrong, and my ‘pessimist’ views were entirely incorrect, inasmuch as I had ‘committed the error of arguing from an English money value at the place of production, upon articles of consumption, the true value of which is their food-sustaining power to the people who consume them.’ I am invited therefore to proclaim myself ‘conscience-stricken’ at this ‘overwhelming refutation,’ and am called upon to admit that my inference is ‘purely nonsensical.’ But, as I immediately pointed out in reply, I made no such blunder, nor anything at all like it. This will very presently appear, and then perhaps I too may ask for a little contrition, I too may demand that such misrepresentations should be withdrawn and disavowed. For how stand the facts? The test was applied to the Punjab, the richest province in all India with the exception of a few districts in Bengal. In such terrible haste, however, was the newly appointed Famine Commissioner to make the best of his way from the India Office to Printing-House Square with his ‘overwhelming refutation’ in his pocket, that he, a professional agriculturist of the highest note, absolutely forgot to make any deduction whatever for seed grain or to take account of the amount of corn necessary for the cattle, in his calculation of what was available for the sustenance of 17,000,000 human beings in the Punjab. One would have supposed that, after such astounding oversights as these, a man like Mr. John Morley would have been slow to adopt Mr. Caird’s conclusions without further examination, and that Sir Erskine Perry might have told off a few India Office clerks if only to save him from overstating his case. Not so. It is even asserted in the official argument which the former writer has fathered, that bullocks in India do not have feeds of corn, and that ‘practically hardly any part of the human food-supply goes to the cattle.’ Will it be believed that this is absolutely erroneous? Would anyone imagine, on looking at that assertion, that there is not a single well-kept horse, bullock, milch-cow, camel, or donkey in the Punjab but gets grain when in work? Yet this is undoubtedly the fact. And there are in the Punjab 6,000,000 cattle and horses. In checking Mr. Caird’s calculation, therefore, by the light of his own statistics, this important error must be constantly remembered, as the horses and cattle of the Punjab may be neglected in the same way – and in the same way only – as similar animals in England when considering the quantity of food at the disposal of the country. Mr. Caird says that, after allowance is made for taxation, the native of the Punjab has 2 lbs, of grain a day per head, ‘which is more than twice the amount consumed per head in England.’ Another English agriculturist at once pointed out, in a letter to me, that this was manifestly incorrect, and that Mr. Caird had even omitted to deduct the chaff from the weight of Punjab grain. By Mr. Caird’s own figures, too, given in his book on The Landed Interest and the Supply of Food, the total amount of corn annually consumed in the British Islands is put at 280,000,000 cwts., which, for a population of 33,500,000, would give 2 lbs. 9 ozs, a day, instead of the less than 1 lb. a day used by Mr. Caird for the purpose of controversy. No doubt a deduction must be made for so much of the inferior grains used for the cattle, horses, & c., as in the Punjab, and a portion of the barley which is malted; but, on the other hand, there are 116,000,000 cwts, of potatoes apart from other vegetables, which allow for an additional 17 ozs, of potatoes per head per day. Thus, allowing nothing for the 41/2 ozs, of meat and the ounce of cheese and butter, also tabulated by Mr. Caird, the Englishman has for consumption 2 lbs, 9 ozs. of corn and 1 lb. 1 oz. of potatoes a day against the 2 lbs, per head for the Punjabee, much of which consists of very inferior grains. So much for Mr. Caird’s statement, adopted and enforced by official authority. A further examination of his calculation would show that it is untrustworthy from one end to the other. The gaol rate of diet I will not insist upon. Nevertheless, it is above that which the great mass of Punjabee labourers can afford; and none can doubt that even in the Punjab,which may be fairly called the ‘garden of India,’ the condition of the mass of the people is not very satisfactory, or that pressure brings them at once within the grip of starvation and famine. That such pressure occurs but rarely is due to the natural fertility of the soil and the abundant supply of water. Nor should it be overlooked that the produce of the country, estimated at the highest. rates, shows a miserably small income, though prices are taken on the spot. When 40s. or even 50s. per head of agricultural produce is apportioned to the supply of the various appurtenances of life – for the people do not deal merely by barter, and taxation, at any rate, is raised in money – the Punjabee has little overplus left for other purposes when his most ordinary wants are supplied. To say that I have made an error in assuming the common value of the rupee as a basis of calculation is a serious mistake. The absurdity, such as there is, does not rest with me. How dangerous also large exports of food-grains may be even here has been seen recently from the effect produced in the southern districts of this comparatively prosperous province. But, taking another part of India, what in any other country would be the value of the grain called. kesari, which is said by the official reports to be very unwholesome, producing loin-palsy, and yet is largely eaten by the peasantry because they can afford nothing else? Surely the most sensational figures scarcely give a fair idea of poverty such as this. Again, turning to the North-West Provinces, I find that Mr. Morley argues that grain is frequently as dear as lbs, for a shilling without producing any distress. 10 lbs, for a shilling means 10 seers for a rupee. Once more, therefore, I am amazed; as one ignorant of India, at the boldness of this assertion, for I find, on turning to the famine reports for 1876 and 1877, that when wheat – the dearest grain commonly eaten – rose in price from 19 seers to 16 seers for the rupee, that is to say when 16 lbs., not 10 lbs., could be purchased for a shilling, Mr. Edwards, the commissioner, writes of Budaon and other districts of the North-West Provinces: ‘Prospects very gloomy. Agricultural labourers already in great straits.’ It was the opinion of many of the district officials that relief works ought to have been started immediately. 10 lbs. for a shilling is a famine price in the North-West Provinces, the ordinary average, if properly calculated, being over 25 seers for a rupee, or more than 25 lbs. for a shilling[1] I leave it to others to determine what such criticism as this is worth. As is now well known, 300,000 or 400,000 people died of starvation in these very provinces, which had been and were then exporting grain to Madras. The average income of the people in a good year has been taken at over 35s.; 27s. is the value of the agricultural produce alone. But I never pretended that the figures which I adopted were absolutely accurate; I used them merely because I found they were far better than any others that were attainable, and because, as Sir Erskine Perry admits, the agricultural statistics of India are still shamefully imperfect. It may be said, indeed, that although two costly departments are maintained in England and in India, none of any value are furnished to the public at all. The very criticisms which have been levelled at the calculations I took, lead me to believe that, though necessarily rough in some respects, those figures are much nearer the truth than I could have imagined possible.[2] No one, at any rate – certainly not Mr. Caird – has yet pointed out any error in them worthy of note. It is distressing nevertheless to see a question of such gravity as this of the impoverishment of India discussed in such a spirit as the above statement as to the price of grain bears witness to on the part of the great officials who furnished Mr. Morley with his data. A very different tone might surely have been expected from the men whom some may consider to blame for much of what has occurred. Once again. It is said with special reference to the North- West Provinces – and Sir John Strachey was long Lieutenant-Governor of those Provinces – that no matter how severe the scarcity, ‘the agricultural classes are not forced to go to the professional grain-dealers.’ I am told also, with some asperity, that I altogether misrepresent the facts when I say – and I take leave here to repeat and enforce my remark – that the agriculturists over large tracts ‘are so miserably destitute that they come upon the Government relief works at the very commencement of the slightest scarcity.’ It seems to me a pity that no pains were taken to refer to works so easily accessible as the famine reports before point-blank contradictions of this kind are offered to the public on the highest official authority. It seems strange, I say, the statement should be hazarded that these poor people ‘lived on their own stocks; many profited by the high prices, and very few suffered from them,’ when I am enabled to oppose a direct official contradiction penned at the time to this allegation. Thus Mr. C.A. Daniell writes: ‘In the whole division (Jhansi) the difficulty which presents itself now is this. The poorer class of cultivators, the ploughmen and labourers, cannot get food except with great difficulty. The banias close their advances to the cultivators, and the labourers have no work to do. .... When the same crop is endangered by drought, the banias close their moneybags, and refuse food or its equivalent.’ And similar reports are forwarded of other districts. In the North-West Provinces, in fact the main difficulty was that there were not stores of food to the amount calculated upon, relief-works were not started early enough, and the people died of what was, after all, a moderate scarcity. But it is urged that the selling price of land in both the Punjab and North- West Provinces has largely increased during the last twenty years, and the Lieutenant-Governors of these two great provinces gave this at Calcutta as irrefragable evidence of the increased prosperity of the people. This by no means follows. In Ireland, under the system of cottier tenancy, precisely the same phenomenon was to be observed. The competition for holdings increased and the prices of the goodwill rose, but the people were getting poorer all the time. This, therefore, by itself, is no proof of growing welfare, and no other than official opinions are given as to the improvement in the appearance of the people. What does not yet seem fully understood is that it rests with a foreign Government, whose subjects are dying so largely of starvation, to prove that the foreign rule is in no sense the cause of this terrible state of things. It is no answer to these famine-stricken people to put forward merely ex cathedra opinions on their well-being. To say we must spend 19,000,000 on the army to keep the country, to urge that we must remit 20,000,000 worth of agricultural produce to Europe without return for the services we render, sounds but poor reasoning to the miserable cultivator, who is tottering to his death for the want of that very exported food. ‘D.’ seems to have appreciated this in some degree, and has devoted himself to showing that the condition of the people is improving, in spite of what has been said. One or two instances of his method will suffice. For example, the reassessed districts chosen in Bombay, so far from being ‘taken at random,’ are among the most prosperous in the province. To prove how dangerous it is to rely upon this official gentleman’s figures, I need only take the table of the increase of cattle in Bombay, p.790. It is said, and I do not dispute the statement, that the amount of agricultural stock held by the cultivators is to a certain extent some test of their prosperity. Beyond all question, if it could be shown that the number of cattle owned by the people in Bombay had increased in numbers without any deterioration in quality, this would be by itself one strong indication of enhanced well-being. ‘D.’ gives the number of cows, bullocks, and buffaloes at 5,723,066 for 1871-2 and 7,113,376 for 1876-77, thus showing the enormous increase of 1,390,310 in the five years. But on turning to the Bombay Administration Reports for these two years, I find to my astonishment that the 5,723,066 given for 1871-72 are the figures for cows and bullocks only, no buffaloes at all being here reckoned, whereas to the total for 1876-77 buffaloes to the number of no fewer than 1,603,900 are added. The figures for 1876-77 are wrong also by 100,000, the correct total being 7,013,376, and not 7,113,376. The true totals for cows and bullocks in Bombay are 5,723,066 for 1871-72 and 5,409,476 for 1876-77. Thus, instead of the increase of 1,390,310 claimed for Bombay in the five years, there is a decrease in that period of no less than 313,590! What the result of the famine has been, I do not stop to inquire, for after this I think I need not check ‘D.’s’ investigations further. I said, however, that bullocks were decreasing in number and going off in quality. I will establish this proposition in another quarter. At p.22 of the Deccan Riots Report, presented to Parliament last session, is to be found a comparison of the census of 1843 with that for 1873 for 219 villages of the Ahmednuggur Collectorate. What do I read? That during these thirty years the cows have decreased by 2,000, and the sheep and goats by 16,000. To those who desire to go deeper into this question, let me recommend the remarks of the late Mr. Carpenter at pp.69 and 76 of the same Report on the effect of the enhanced assessments. In spite of the great impulse given by the American cotton famine, even Bombay is now again on the downward path.[3] I have dealt with these mistakes at some length, for they go to the very root of the matter. When the whole official evidence of prosperity thus tumbles to pieces at the first touch of examination, surely Englishmen at home must be satisfied that the affairs of their Indian Empire need the gravest consideration, and that mere official declarations must no longer pass unchallenged and unchecked. There are times and seasons in the affairs of nations, when responsibility is forced home to those who have neglected, evaded, or abused it – and these that we live in are of them. The process hitherto in favour for the regeneration of India has been tried and found wanting. We have now to retrace our steps, and render our noble dependency a gain and a strength to the whole Empire, by a wider policy, resting upon native growth under European guidance, not upon the mistaken methods of wholesale Europeanisation. It is this Europeanisation which is, in fact, at the bottom of all the growing impoverishment. We are not only promoting a system of absenteeism on a scale such as has never been seen before, but there has been until lately an ever-increasing tendency to employ Europeans in India itself. The large European army, to begin with, takes a vast sum from the pockets of the people; but this expenditure, though it might be greatly reduced,[4] cannot be, of course, removed. In the railways, however, and elsewhere, every European employed takes so much from a native, and still further impoverishes the country by his remittances home. Each new machine that is imported has the same effect – that of requiring more European attendants; and the value of these improvements, so far as the people of India is concerned, is thus heavily handicapped from the outset. What was the effect of Irish absenteeism in aggravating Irish poverty is now a matter of history. The rent of Ireland was remitted in the form of agricultural produce to the absentee landlords, instead of being spent among the people or in improving the estates. Taking the view that the land-tax of India is also rent, we have the same phenomenon upon an almost inconceivably greater scale. All the pensions, all the remittances, all the payments for the expensive and unnecessary establishments here at home, represent so much deducted from the produce of the soil and the possible capital of India, to maintain foreigners. Instead of training natives for the works of engineering, in which they have always excelled, we maintain a costly establishment to provide yet more young Europeans to deplete the country. There is not even work for them to do – but still the revenues of India are laid under contribution to protect their vested interests. To go into the details of the various charges would take more space than could be here afforded. India pays for all, and, being wholly unrepresented, cannot effectively complain. If these salaries were paid to natives, they would keep the money in the country; and the frightful economical drain, which is producing such deadly effects on the people, would be so far stanched. What an absurdity, then, is it to talk of taxes levied and used in this way as if there were any similarity between a government of this sort and a native rule, or the rule of foreigners who lived in the country! It is true that we exact less land-tax than the native rulers, but we cannot take so much. A native rajah who receives his land-tax in kind, and spends it on the spot in supporting the relatives and friends of those from whom it is taken, can deduct a much larger percentage without harm than a foreign government which exacts its tax in money, irrespective of the season, and uses it to pay foreign agency, or to remit to a distant country.[5] Sir William Sleeman, whose work Sir Erskine Perry quotes with high approval, pointed out all this most forcibly more than forty years ago; and it is at least worthy of consideration that the very men, who, like Sir William, knew most of the natives, and took the largest share in bringing about those reforms which all readily admit to be advantageous, were most bitterly opposed to that unreasoning Europeanisation of the country which has landed us in our present terrible difficulties. It is useless to argue that a Government is doing well for a people who are suffering, as the natives of India have been suffering, under our rule. Say what we may to the effect that one-third of the total gross exports meeting with no return represents merely interest on capital supplied by England to India in one form or another, India may still pay too dear for her advantages. Granted that English administration is good in itself and this I certainly do not for a moment dispute – we have here too much of it for the interest both of England and India. It so happens that there is a direct example of the effect of the two methods – the one of appointing a very few Europeans merely to superintend and improve the native administration, and gradually introduce an improved system suited to the people; the other to pitchfork Europeans into every office of consequence, and force departments and public works upon the country almost without calculation as to their effects. In Mysore the two plans followed one after the other. Sir Mark Cubbon administered that province of 6,000,000 people with four Europeans, at a cost, for the European agency, of 13,000 a year. He used his influence as far as possible to check the abuses and foster the advantages of the native local administrations, encouraged the construction of public works by themselves, insisted on light taxation, and abstained from continuous petty intermeddling. What was the result? In 1861-62 though Mysore had suffered from short monsoons and consequently bad average harvests since 1853, the people were, beyond all question, in a state of the greatest prosperity. Distraint for land-tax. had become almost unknown. Notwithstanding all this attention to the welfare of the people, the surplus for the year was 105,000, and there were no less than ninety-six lakhs of rupees or nearly one million sterling in the treasury. These were, indeed, the golden days of Mysore, and the cultivators were living in comfort, almost in wealth. There were drawbacks, of course, but they were small compared with the benefits; and to this day the people look back with bitter regret to the happiness they experienced under that light and considerate rule. But soon after this the new methods were commenced in full force. The European agency cost 90,000 a year instead of 13,000; public works were pressed on with vigour; the regime of desk-work and bureau administration was the order of the day; the surplus disappeared, and the reserve in the chest was soon drawn out. Mysore, which, under Sir Mark Cubbon’s gentle sway, had been the most prosperous foreign state under our control, went steadily from bad to worse. The condition of the cultivators became deplorable; the soil deteriorated, so that, as Mr. Harman’s report shows, the matter has become one of the gravest consequence; and now a drought has swept away so large a proportion of the population that positively the officials whose well-meant earnestness has contributed so largely to the catastrophe fail in their efforts to number the dead. All this has taken place within a few years, and under the very eyes of men, now in England, whose evidence the Government can obtain and verify with little trouble. It is not that European administration is necessarily ruinous. That we can see from the admirable result of Sir Mark Cubbon’s careful administration. It is not that public works are not highly beneficial. These, when judiciously made out of savings, enhance, and ever must enhance, the well-being of a lightly-taxed population. But when European agency and public works are alike overdone; when foreign salaries 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. Happily, Lord Cranbrook’s despatch of November 7, in answer to Lord Lytton, shows that there is an inclination to remedy this great evil. But, as the Secretary of State for India himself points out, his predecessors for years past have insisted as strongly as himself upon the employment of natives in the Government service, and yet very little has been done in this way. I fear that, until a law is passed to the effect that only certain great superior offices shall be held by Europeans, and all other appointments, covenanted and uncovenanted, the berths now held by Englishmen in railways, engineering works, and, in short, every department, shall be filled up by qualified natives as the present holders drop off and leave the country – until this is done, no permanent good will be wrought. The influence of the Government should be exerted for the future, not as heretofore to find additional employment for Europeans, and thus intensify the fatal drain from the resources of India; but to raise the native administrators to the same level as that of the native judges, of whose capacity all speak so highly, while insuring that a genuine control is exerted by Englishmen not overburdened with that excessive office-work that now removes them farther and farther from the mass of the people. To develop native talent, to encourage native originality in every department, is surely a nobler aim than to depress a whole community, comprising one-sixth of the human race, by a superincumbent mass of foreigners, who live less and less in the country, and therefore know less and less of it. One of the saddest results of our present action is the decay of native arts and manufactures. According to the testimony of officials who have devoted especial attention to this matter, the impoverishment of the country, and the reduction of the native population to one dead level of poverty-stricken agriculturists, are utterly crushing out the beautiful native art-work in our territories. The statements in Dr. Birdwood’s Handbook for the Indian Court at Paris show what a mischievous effect the cheap gaol-work, brought into competition with the manufactures of honest artisans, has produced upon more than one important industry. That we have erred through ignorance, and with the best intentions, I cannot say too often; but the result is, alas! the same. But the English people are fortunately strong enough and honest enough to change their system here, as often elsewhere, when once they fully understand the truth. It is not, never was, and never could be, their intention that any portion of our noble empire should be deliberately sacrificed to a mistaken view of its necessities, or that our fellow-subjects, whose increased welfare will react so beneficially upon ourselves, should die of starvation because a thoroughly upright and well-meaning body of men have been hopelessly afflicted with an economical craze. No; these things will be remedied, and that soon; and India will yet become a source of strength and prosperity instead of an element of weakness or even of alarm. I am told, however, by my official critics that India is lightly taxed. They are bold men to say it. A bureaucracy acting almost unchecked by European, and wholly unchecked by native opinion, can hazard observations with impunity in India, that read strangely when put side by side with other official observations in England. Here is an instance. Madras is lightly taxed, so lightly that Sir John Strachey has found it convenient to raise the salt-tax, in that province, in a famine year, over forty per cent. Now listen to the Government of Madras itself, speaking about the people under its rule:-- The Madras ryot is very heavily taxed: five rupees for wet (single crop) and one rupee for dry being his average assessment. ... Let the extent and nature of their holdings be considered. The number of leases is 2,392,064; of these 38,825 only are above 100 rupees, while upwards of one million and a quarter are below ten rupees, The average extent of a holding is eight acres, and the average assessment payable is fifteen rupees or thirty shillings sterling. How are two million peasant proprietors of this kind to pay sixty shillings apiece next year, after a season of unprecedented calamity, which, in addition to other sufferings and losses has brought about already the destruction of a great portion of their cattle and will cause the loss of many more?

How indeed? But we shall take order with them somehow, we may depend upon it, and the extra forty per cent. on salt will still further improve their position. But, I ask, what sort of administration is this which, in the face of Dr. Cornish’s official declaration that the poor ryots and agricultural labourers could not even before. afford enough salt to keep themselves and their cattle in health, indulges in such terrible irony as to demand ‘arrears of revenue’ and claps a prohibitive duty on a necessary of life?

I pass on. I asked, Where is the wealth of India? Not one yet has told us. Its poverty is conspicuous enough. Even the most sanguine of Anglo-Indians admit that no more taxation can be raised with safety; and if there are those great accumulations what is being done with them? They are hoarded, it is said; the people will not either lend or invest. Surely this seems almost incredible among a population where interest-charges for advances is a subject thoroughly understood by every class of the community, and recovery of debt under our system is only too easy. All the gold and silver imported into India since the beginning of this century amounts to only 382,000,000, which is but 2 per head of population after all, and is assuredly no excessive supply of the precious metals for a country which rests now upon a silver currency, and where 50,000,000 of revenue is yearly collected in that metal. The import of bullion is at any rate far more than compensated by the drain from new resources already insisted upon. It is the constant lamentation that neither capitalists nor agriculturists develop the country. Yet it has been noted on all hands that the agricultural class in particular, the moment they are able to scrape a few rupees together, and have a full security of tenure, set to work to improve their property. During the period of the one great windfall India has had – the American Civil War – the improvements made by the people of Bombay in their houses and way of life were most marked. Moreover, as showing how beneficial their prosperity would be to England, a brisk demand for all articles of small luxury sprang up at once. The very agricultural labourers also, who drag on a miserable existence in India, when transported as coolies to Trinidad and British Guiana, speedily save money and, in many instances, become well-to-do people. The impression that they are bad and wasteful cultivators is one which dies away, I find, in proportion to the amount of attention the observer has devoted to the matter. They cannot save, cannot accumulate, cannot improve, because the taxation, and the way in which the taxation is levied and spent, ruin them. There is not a country in the world which after twenty years of peaceful, orderly, and well-intentioned rule, could present so little to show for it in a way of increased well-being as India. Its total sea-borne trade, even including that which is carried on between the Indian ports, is utterly insignificant for so vast a population, although 150,000,000 at least has been spent in improving communications during the last twenty years. What is needed, therefore, are not mere dictatorial opinions by high-placed officials as to the wealth and contentment of the provinces which they administer, but undoubted facts which shall outweigh the terrible evidence of increasing famine to the contrary. At present no such facts are forthcoming.

I now come once more to the question of the public works. It is at least remarkable that Mr. John Morley, who must be looked upon as the principal official champion, does not touch my argument on this head at all. I may take it for granted, therefore, that up to the present time the public works, especially the railways, have represented a dead pecuniary loss to the country. Now no doubt the guaranteed lines are beginning to look as if a profit might shortly be expected in an ordinary year; but when the loss by exchange is calculated, this is not even yet the case. As to the State lines, the position is far worse; for, as I showed in October, the 17,000,000 expended on them up to the present date does not show a return of even 1 per cent. upon the capital. Taking the interest of the money at only 4 per cent., the natives of India are forced to lose 500,000 on this single investment. But this might have been anticipated. The original trunk lines connecting the great cities and centres of commerce, although built in the most extravagant way possible, and at a preposterous cost, might be expected to pay 5 per cent. in time, if only by the mere export trade; but these new lines are hopeless affairs in the majority of instances, and the prospect of a profitable return is remote indeed. Now, however, Sir John Strachey has imposed additional taxation to the amount of 1,500,000 mainly upon the poorest class of the people, for the express purpose of creating a ‘famine insurance fund.’ This very 1,500,000 so levied from the famine-stricken inhabitants of Madras, Bombay, and the North-West Provinces, is to be expended, not in providing against future famines, as the name would imply, but in extending those unprofitable railways and irrigation-works which are already so heavy a burden on the population.[6] Mr. Morley does not deny this. But can any human being, then, understand what is meant by the statement he has so charitably fathered? Instead of borrowing 1,500,000 to spend on ‘productive’ works, which, all previous experience has shown, prove unproductive nine times out of ten, the Finance Minister imposes heavy taxation in a famine year, to apply to this same purpose and then claims credit for extinguishing yearly an equal amount of the debt. Verily we have here a scheme for the Insurance of Famine, if ever one was set afoot. We drag food from half-starved people to build these losing State railways, and then wonder that starvation is perpetuated by the process. Not long since Lord Lytton proclaimed that 10,000,000 ought to be spent in similar fashion in the North-West Provinces. I rejoice to believe that these harebrained schemes are now meeting with a check, and that this terrible mania for public works, which yearly absorbs 6,000,000, 7,000,000, 8,000,000 of the revenue, may shortly receive its quietus.[7] Meanwhile, however, the mischievous policy goes relentlessly on, and endless misery is engendered because Indian financiers will not see that to force natives to borrow at 12 to 60 per cent., to pay taxes which are invested to lose 3 per cent., is as baneful a superstition as ever blighted the fortunes of a people. For this is what it means. Every rupee thus foolishly squandered, every anna thus wantonly taken from the pockets of the people, is another step towards the hopeless impoverishment of the whole country.

Until we can build public works out of savings from a really light taxation, until we have stanched, in part at least, this exhausting economical drain, every public work – no matter how promising to start with – should be charged as unremunerative, and no further mock surpluses should be foisted on Parliament. For they are mock surpluses still. The deficits of the last three years have been, as I stated, over 16,000,000, and it is futile for the Indian Government to deny its own figures, or to claim works as ‘productive’ on which, by their own showing, they lose not less than 3 per cent. Owing to the extra taxation for ‘famine insurance’ (which, now that the illusory phrase has served its turn, is put in, I notice, as part of the regular Budget), and an exceptional return from opium in excess of the estimate, the deficit this year will probably be a good deal less than was anticipated. But who can say that the war now being waged in Afghanistan will not cost more than is calculated? Yet further taxation, I repeat – nay, the very taxation already levied – is most hurtful to the population and dangerous to ourselves. Unavoidable, therefore, as this Afghan war was, to lay any considerable portion of the extra expense on the Indian exchequer, is both impolitic and unjust.

So obvious is the peril of the situation, that all sorts of schemes are floating about to relieve debt by counting two and two as five. But there is no financial philosopher’s stone to transmute the famine and deficits of extravagance and miscalculation into prosperity and surplus. The total net revenue of India, even now that the extra taxation has been imposed, is scarcely 40,000,000 a year, and of this sum little short of one half will be expended in home charges alone, when the loss by exchange is taken into account. Apart from the gradual substitution of natives for Europeans in all branches of administration and management, which, though absolutely necessary, must be in its nature a slow process; the only hope of improvement lies in persistent economy, in a relentless determination to curtail home expenditure, and in the encouragement of those simple native methods of agricultural development, which have been so ruinously neglected to foster more ambitious but less beneficial projects. Only now are we beginning to understand that forests, groves, tanks, and wells do more to enrich a poor tropical country than vast systems of railroads and irrigation works. Economy must commence with the army, the public works, and the home expenditure.[8] In these departments alone at least 6,000,000 a year might be saved, to the positive gain of both England and India. It is needless, however, to point out what grave difficulties will be encountered. There will be plenty to cry out at every turn that the ‘services’ are being ruined, because the country is being benefited at the expense of the lifelong prejudices of an official class. But first let these show that they are in anyway entitled to a hearing, for at this moment they, and their whole administration, are on their trial. What have they done? The results of this excessive Europeanisation, and this Pelion upon Ossa of paper government, we see. It has crushed the very life out of the people we rule. Surely it is high time to try less heroic methods. Every thousand pounds drawn away from India unnecessarily to pay expensive European agency, pensions, and interest on unremunerative public works, is so much capital diverted from profitable investment in our dependency, at a high rate of interest – so much taken from profitable purchases to be made from our own people. Famines in India mean stagnation in England and distress in our own manufacturing centres. When the interests alike of England and of India are on one hand, and the well-meaning but mistaken theories of a bureaucracy on the other, who can doubt which will have to stand aside?

It is on this ground that appeal maybe fearlessly made to the English people, who – whatever a small minority may shrilly urge – take pride in the greatness of their Empire, and have the capacity to see that the well-being of our fellow-subjects is far more to our advantage than a steady decline in their prosperity, owing to a system which benefits but few among us. If we cannot keep India save by inflicting perpetual impoverishment and starvation upon an increasing number of the population, then we cannot leave the country too soon. But if, as I firmly believe, we can stay to the advantage of all, then let us at least begin to correct the blunders we have made. It was no economical bigot who proclaimed that India could be defended and governed for 30,000,000 a year, and that every rupee spent in addition did but work injury to the population; it was no mere socialist who contended that the cost of the army ought never to exceed 12,500,000. All admit the extravagance, but no one as yet has shown the courage and determination to apply the necessary remedies. To say that in future India must be governed for the sake of its inhabitants, means undoubtedly the displacement in the future of many of our own countrymen from offices in that country. But we cannot shrink from this necessary change because of its difficulty or the opposition it will provoke. Already the first steps are being taken, and, as years pass on, our constant endeavour must be to secure our position by the welfare, prosperity, and, as far as possible, the self-government of the immense population under our control. The work will be troublesome, but the end is noble, and the reward is sure. Planting a great policy is like planting a great tree; we may never live to see it in full vigour, but generations to come shall bless us for its beauty and its shade.


1. It is the more strange that this extraordinary statement should have been made, seeing that an elaborate volume of the Prices of Food-grains throughout India from 1861-1876 was published in June last at Calcutta. This work is now before me, and in 1875-76 wheat averaged 24 seers for the rupee, or 24lbs. for the shilling, and great millet (jonvari) nearly 30 seers for the rupee, or 30 lbs, for the shilling. Not even during the great famines of 1860-61 and 1868-69 did either wheat or millet reach so low an average as 10 lbs. for a shilling.

2. Since this article was in type, a letter from ‘T.H.T.’ – the initials are those of the late Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab-bas been published in a morning paper traversing my figures with respect to the Punjab. It is not a little remarkable that all the official apologists fasten upon this particular province, and I might fairly point out that in so far as the Punjab has been prosperous, it was in consequence of the very system of light assessment that has been recommended. Even here, however, of late years the plan of raising the land-tax and imposing local cesses has been adopted with the usual results. The Punjab is, however, as I have said, the garden of India. ‘T.H.T.’ puts the value of the total produce for 17,500,000 people at 41,000,000 for a most favourable year, and makes out that if the whole population were fairly well nourished and lodged, there would be a surplus of 6,000,000 a year. Without going through his calculations at full length, it will perhaps be sufficient If I point out that he, like Mr. Caird, takes scarcely any account of seed and that even according to his own Administration Report, he greatly understates the cost of gaol food and clothing, which last year averaged 46s. throughout the Punjab. It will be observed that by ‘T.HT.’s’ own figures, the average income per head is only 47s. I do not see, therefore, that on this gentleman’s own showing there is such a high standard of prosperity in the Punjab, even when allowance is made for women and children. In any case the estimates I made applied to the whole of India, and if the North-West Provinces alone were taken, the poverty of the people would be yet more conspicuous.

3. The Deccan Riots Report gives, at paragraph 73, an account of the contraction of cultivation, which is a singular commentary on the official view now put forward. It is worthy of note also that, where the revenue or rental has been paid in kind, this contraction is not going on.

4. Mr. John Morley says the cost of the army marine & c. is 17,000,000 and not ‘nearly 19,000,000.’ He has omitted to add to his calculation the full proportionate loss on exchange for home charges, and a portion of the cost of the strategical railways. These bring the amount up to that which I have stated.

5. In his despatch of August 8, 1878, to Sir Henry Layard, Lord Salisbury insists upon the modification of the Turkish system of. farming the revenue and a substitution of ‘the arrangement known in India as a settlement.’ ‘The tithe system ... is condemned by universal experience, and will scarcely find an advocate.’ By December 4, 1878, the Turks having pointed out, in the meantime, that such a reform had better be tried in the first instance in a peaceful province, Lord Salisbury had changed his mind on this point. He admits that the introduction of the settlement ‘would be attended with many difficulties even in the hands of a highly skilled Administrator; and under the conditions which prevail in Turkey it must be introduced gradually and with precaution. If the assessment is fixed too high or if, in countries subject to failure of crop, it is not modified by a sufficiently elastic system of remission, it may be productive of great misery and may end in fixing upon the peasantry the rule of the local usurer, which has been found to be more oppressive than even that of the tithe farmer’. Whence did Lord Salisbury derive this result of settlement? Beyond all question from India, where our rigid inelastic system has been too often ‘productive of great misery’ and has ended in ‘fixing upon the peasantry the rule of the local usurer.’ Surely this admission on the part of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who had only just quitted the India Office after four years of almost absolute rule, ought to teach a little modesty to some of our Anglo-Indian officials.

6. ‘I am convinced that the imposition of any large amount of fresh taxation in India is impossible without serious practical risk.’ – Sir John Strachey, February 6, 1874.

7. I must deal briefly with a few of Mr. Morley’s remarks unnoticed in the text. (1) In touching on the local and municipal causes (p.873), the writer challenges my figures, but gives none of his own to correct them by. (2) The Sikh Government, whatever its drawbacks, levied one-tenth of the salt-tax we get out of the Punjab, (3) Mr. Morley says that I am guilty of ‘a singular inconsistency,’ because I extol a light permanent settlement as ‘one of my panaceas,’ and in the next breath deplore ‘the miserable, abject condition of the Bengal ryot.’ Mr. Morley himself can never have written this. ‘The miserable, abject condition of the Bengal ryot’ is not my remark at all, as Mr. Morley will see if he will refer back to my article. I am in favour of a light permanent settlement undoubtedly, and though that of Bengal was made by Lord Cornwallis with the wrong people, it has been a great boon to the Province. (4) If Mr. Morley will examine into the facts he will find that in many districts the ryots who had got out of the hands of the money-lenders have been thrown back into them by the rigidity of our assessment. (5) How is it, if the North. West Provinces are so much improved as Mr. Colvin alleges, wages, according to the Moral and Material Progress for 1872-73, ‘have scarcely varied at all since the early part of this century, and after payment of the rent the margin left for the cultivator’s subsistence is less than the value of the labour expended on the land’? (6) Indian investments are, as I said, almost unknown; and Mr. John Morley himself shows what a ridiculously small fraction of the total debt is held in India. What is more, it has decreased of late years, (7) The import of cotton has ruined the weavers. When the employment of a whole caste is destroyed, and they are reduced to pauperism, I can see, free-trader though I am, that more harm is done than all the free-trade maxims will salve over in India in one generation. (8) I put the home charges since 1857 at 270,000,000 at least. But, says Mr. Morley, ‘a large amount is, for example, interest on capital which has been most profitably invested in railways.’ The total amount so paid since 1857-58 is 28,000,000, excluding net traffic receipts; or including these about one-fifth of the total, 270,000,000. Besides, the profitable investment is a matter itself in dispute. But when I read Mr. Morley’s concluding sentences, his ‘most sombre views,’ his certainty that there is ‘boundless room for improvement in all our methods,’ I wonder what possessed him to come forward to champion, in this half-hearted way, the system which evidently he sees the weakness of as clearly as I do.

8. On this point nothing can be added to Mr. Fawcett’s admirable article in the last number of this Review. Had his persistent warnings for years past – given altogether without reference to party – been attended to, we should not now be in such serious difficulty. Fortunately there have been many signs of late that the Government of India at home intends to look closely into the affairs of our Empire, and cautiously to introduce necessary reforms. With two more famines threatening, retrenchment will indeed have been begun none too soon if commenced at once.