Harold Cox To-day February 1888

Justice on India

Source: To-day February 1888, pp. 43-48.;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

“And the parson made it his text that week, and he said likewise,
That a lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies;
That a lie which is all a lie can be met and fought with outright,
But a lie which is part a truth is a harder matter to fight.”

Mr Hyndman has apparently been relieving his feelings again by a fling at British rule in India. His text is the meeting of the National Indian Congress, recently held at Madras – not Bombay. Much of what the paragraph writer in Justice says about this Congress is excellent. “These men, with something of a growing national pride in India as a whole, with a common language, English, to discuss in, and with common grievances to ventilate, cannot be sneered into nonentities as mere windy baboos. They constitute a growing power, and the facts around them give them the basis on which to exercise it. We bitterly regret that India is so little studied by our fellow-workers.” This quite unexceptionable paragraph is preceded by the silly statement that a Congress has never been held at a more critical time – a statement which may be regarded as internal evidence that the paragraph under review was written by Mr. Hyndman, for we all know his habit of expecting a crisis every alternate afternoon. The paragraph is followed by a series of reckless mis-statements – “At this present time we are ruining in India 200,000,000 of people at the least. Whereas Maharajahs Holkar and Scindia, and he of Jeypore can die worth millions sterling, their subjects having benefitted the while by their rule, we are stuck in a slough of perpetual deficit. The natives under British rule are getting poorer and poorer every day, and have little or no share in the government of their own country.” We are not ruining :200,000,000 in India; we are not stuck in a slough of perpetual deficit; the natives, under British rule, are not poorer than the inhabitants of native states, and they have more share in the government of the country they live in.

It is indeed true that native princes accumulate hoards of treasure, while the government of British India, following the example of every European government, constantly borrows money. The antithesis, I allow, is extremely effective for rhetorical purposes; but I cannot believe that Mr. Hyndman has not read sufficient political economy to know the difference between money and wealth. The native princes accumulate money, the British Government accumulates wealth. Piles of silver and gold hoarded in palace vaults are absolutely useless. But without the railways, which are responsible for the bulk of the Indian debt, the Congress which has just met in Madras would never have been gathered together, and the unity of sentiment, which is growing slowly but surely among the peoples of India, would never have been born.

Moreover, the sums lavished by the Indian government on military works and army maintenance are not, as some English radicals would have us believe – Mr. Hyndman is not so silly as this – so much wealth thrown away; for it is just this expenditure which gives security to the remaining wealth of the country, Indian history teaches by innumerable instances the folly of accumulating unguarded treasure. The successive invasions of India have been accomplished by men eager to plunge their hands in the piles of gold and silver accumulated by parsimonious or ostentatious princes. A bag of gold in a cellar is just as useful as, and no more so, than a breast-work of earth with an iron cylinder behind it; but the bag of gold will attract invaders, and the earth-work and cannon will keep them out.

However, it is probably true that the administration of native states is less expensive than the administration of British India, and it is possible that we have made a mistake in introducing too rapidly the expensive contrivances of European government. As has been well said every Englishman in India is an ardent administrative reformer, he wants to improve everything and does not realise sufficiently that the cost of an improvement may be greater than the benefit conferred. But a great deal of the comparative cheapness of native administration is more apparent than real. Thus for example a tehsildar, a kind of sous-prefet, who in British India would draw 200 rupees a month, will in one of the native states of Bundelkhand draw only four or five rupees a month. But the tehsildar in a native state lives in at least as good style as the tehsildar in a British district. Some one has to pay the 195 rupees and the person who does pay this, and a good deal more, is the unresisting peasant who is quietly robbed by the petty tyrant over him. I do not mean to assert that a tehsildar in British India is always above a bribe, but he is much more carefully watched, and the payment of big salaries is the best preventitive of bribery yet discovered.

Nor is it true that British India is a slough of perpetual deficit. In the ten years ending March 31st, 1885, there were five years of deficit and five years of surplus. The total deficit was Rx 12,091,949[1] and the total surplus Rx 9,873,118 or a net deficit of Rx 2,218,831. That is to say, the net deficit in ten years is less than half the amount spent by the Indian government out of revenue on Buildings and Roads in one year. Meanwhile, there had been large remissions of taxation, including the almost complete abolition of customs duties – perhaps an unwise measure – and a considerable average reduction of the salt tax. There was, however, a very heavy deficit in the year 1886, Rx 2,801,726, and again in the last financial year, ending March 31st, 1887, there was either a deficit or a very small surplus. But, as people in England ought to know very well, but don’t, these last two deficits were caused first by the Penjeh war scare which involved the mobilisation of a large number of troops, and secondly the rapid and heavy further fall of silver. In October, 1885, the rupee still stood at 1s. 7d., in the autumn of 1886 it nearly touched 1s. 4d. There has since been a slight revival, accompanied by several oscillations, but the rupee still exchanges for less than 1s. 5d. It does not require much imagination to realise what this fall means to a Government which has every year to meet in England obligations amounting to several millions sterling, contracted at a time when the rupee was worth from 1s. 10d. to 2s.

We next come to the statement that natives of British India “have little or no share in the Government of their own country.” First of all what is meant by “their own country.” An Englishman has a very clear idea what he means when he speaks of his own country, but has a native of India? I was recently talking to a Mahommedan friend from India, now residing in this country, who has since arriving here rapidly devoured, without fully digesting, some of the splendid ideals which have made Engiand a free country. He told me that “his country” had as good a right to be free as England, that because England was strong that did not justify her in tyrannising over “his country,” which was weak, and so on. To all of which abstract propositions I heartily assented, but knowing that the idea of country, as a limited geographical area inhabited by a homogeneous race, is almost exclusively a modern western notion, I asked him what he meant by “his country.” With a burst of candour he said, “I am afraid I was talking as if I meant India, but in my heart of hearts Islam is my country.”

This is the difficulty in the way of self-government in India to which people who have never left the shores of England cannot possibly give full weight. Without going to India it is impossible to realise the wideness of the gulf which separates Mahommedan and Hindoo, and which makes it at present impossible for them to work together for a common cause. At the first National Indian Congress at Bombay the Mahommedans, who are one-fifth of the population of India, were absolutely unrepresented. Two or three Mahommedans were induced to join the second congress at Calcutta, and according to the brief newspaper reports there are apparently a few more Mahommedans at the present congress at Madras. If this is so, it affords some ground for satisfaction, but I am afraid that the half-dozen or dozen Mahommedan delegates represent no one but themselves. Leaving, however, aside the question of the meaning of the word “country,” and assuming, as English people will assume, that the geographical area called India, containing 250,000,000 people separated from one another by diversities of language, of religion, of race, far wider than any diversities to be found in the whole of Europe,[2] that this area is yet to all these people “their own country,” in the same sense that England is an Englishman’s country; still it is not true that Natives of India have “little or no share in the Government of their own country.” Mr. Hyndman, of course, only refers to British India, a scattered area containing 200,000,000 people. According to the census of 1881 we find that for every British-born subject employed in the work of Civil Government in British India, in any capacity there were over two hundred natives of India employed.[3] But of course the answer to this fact is that the bulk of the British-born employees are occupying high administrative posts, whilst the bulk of the native employees engaged in various grades of underling work and underling pay. This is indisputable, and it is much to be desired that natives should obtain a larger share of the higher posts. A good deal, however, has been done in this direction and now will in all probability be done in the next two or three years. There are one or more natives on the supreme court of each province, and a large number of important though subordinate, judicial and executive posts are in the hands of natives. In an average Indian district, with perhaps a million inhabitants, and a good deal bigger than most English countries, there are about half-a-dozen English officials, all the rest of the work, judicial and administrative, being done by natives. Municipal Institutions are also beginning to make headway in India. At present, unfortunately, the elective principle does not work very well, owing to the antipathy between Mahomedans and Hindoos, but still a large number of people are being, through these institutions, brought to share in the responsibilities of Government. There are also district councils or county boards on a semi-elective plan, but the activity of these bodies is not at present great. Finally there are the Provincial and Supreme Legislative Councils. The members of these councils are nominated by the Governors and Lieutenant-Governors, or by the Viceroy, and though these councillors cannot claim to have received the sacred oil of popular election, they are probably at least as representative of the people on whose behalf they act as are the legislative bodies of most other countries. On the other hand their functions are extremely limited and it is possible that elective members would be less deferential to the Executive Government.

The conclusion to which the tirade in Justice logically leads is that we should at once abandon our possession of India, “which is a complete curse to the workers, both there and here.” The members of the National Indian Congress will be about the last people to accept this conclusion. Their Congresses always commence with profuse protestations of loyalty to British rule, protestations which draw their main value from the reasons behind them. The numerical majority of the Congress and its promoters are Bengalis and Parsees, for these are the people who were the first to learn the English language, and the first to imbibe western ideas. But also the Bengalis and the Parsees are more than any other people dependent for their position on the continuance of British rule. The Parsees are a small and honourable commercial community, to whom settled government is a matter of primary importance. The Bengalis have, owing to their familiarity with English got themselves the cream of government employ, not only in Bengal but all over Northern India. Outside Bengal they are detested as hungry parvenus by Hindoo and Mahommedan alike. The cowardice of a Bengali is a byword in India, and the Bengali employee would instantly decamp from his post if the protection of British bayonets were withdrawn. However, as the Bengali himself frequently says, there are other virtues besides bravery, and one of these is public-spirit. This virtue the Bengali apparently possesses to a high degree, and so also does the Parsee, and perhaps to a still higher degree, and, therefore, it is not only from motives of self-interest that the promoters and members of the National Indian Congress are ostentatiously loyal. For the idea underlying these National congresses, the idea of Indian unity, has sprung entirely from British rule and can only be developed by the continuance of British rule.

The attainment of this ideal seems at present so far off that we may pardon doubters who say it will never be attained, but we may be certain that if the causes which gave birth to this idea are suddenly removed the idea will as suddenly perish. The withdrawal of British rule would mean a series of racial and religious wars, followed by a Russian invasion. Thus the English position in India is strong, because of the diversity of race and religion within the country, and because of the eagerness of the enemy without. But because we have such a strong position in India it does not follow that we ought to sit still and do nothing. Our work is to build up a united Indian empire, by promoting English education in every direction, by training natives to take a progressively larger share in the government of town and province and empire, and above all by training native officers in modern military science, and admitting them to the highest posts in the army, so that in the last resort, India may be able to defend herself against foreign aggression if England should ever be mean enough to desert her great dependency.


1. Rx means ten rupees. At the present rate of exchange ten rupees are worth about fourteen shillings, or seven-tenths of a sovereign. Thus Rx 2,800,000 = 1,960,000.

2. The Principal languages of India are: Hindustani, 82,000,000 speakers; Bengali, 39,000,000; Telugu, 17,000,000; Mahratti, 17,000,000; Panjabi, 15,000,000; Tamil, 13,000,000; Gujerati, 9,000,000; Canerese, 8,000,000; Ooriya, 6,000,000. Altogether sixty distinct languages appear in the census returns, each spoken by more than 10,000 people.

The Principal religions of India are: Hindoos, 188,000,000; Mahommedans, 50,000,000; Aboriginals, 6,400,000; Buddhists, 3,400,000; Christians, 1,862,000; Sikhs, 1,853,000, Jains, 1,221,000; Parsees, 85,000; Jews, 12,000.

Officers of Supreme & Provincial Government580,1856,352586,537
Officers of Municipal Local & Village do.791037917,764809,143

The number of British-born subjects employed in India, in the Civil Service, Railway Service, Education, Engineering, and as Chaplains, Police, etc., etc., is 6,770. Besides British-born subjects there are in India some 140,000 other European and Eurasians, men, women, and children. These are not classified according to occupation, but assuming even 10 per cent. of them to be engaged in Government work, we get only some 20,000 Government employees of European and semi-European extraction as against 1,393,000 native employees.