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TORTURE IN INDIA BY BRITISH GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS,

RESULTING FROM THE DEFALCATIONS OF REVENUE PRODUCED BY AGGRESSIVE WARS &ND ANNEXATIONS. (From the Report of the Manchester Foreign Affairs Association.) In the last two years a mass of papers have been laid before Parliament, entitled " East India (Torture)," being Returns to orders of the House of Commons. The first of these, from which the following are extracts, is " Report of the Commission for the Investigation of Alleged Cases of Torture at Madras." "In making the above sweeping declaration of our belief in the general existence of torture for revenue purposes," &c. "It is quite certain that the practice of torture prevails in a much more aggravated

degree in police cases, than for realising the revenue. The modes resorted to in the former appear to be more acute aiuUruol, though we doubt if any thing like an equal number of persons is annually subjected to violence, on criminal charges, as for default of payment of revenue." " There is one thing which has impressed us even more painfully than the conviction that torture exists; it is the difficulty of obtaining redress which confronts the injured party."—(pp. 31, 33.) The reasons for this difficulty given by the commissioners are :— Ist. The distances which those who: wish to make complaints personally to the collector have to travel, involving expense and loss of time in attending upon his office. 2nd. The fear that applications by letter "will be returned with the ordinary endorsement of a reference to the Tahsildar," (police and revenue officer of the district.) The report goes on to explain how the whole body of officials are linked to support one another; how any one, who complains, is made a marked "man of, and "every means of annoyance and oppression brought to bear against him, even to false accusations, until his own ruin and that of his family is completed." To refer the complainant to the Tahsildar, is- to send him for redress to tho very man, who either in his own person, or that of his petty police officers, has wronged him. 3rd. The inefficient means of procedure and punishment provided by law, for officers of Government, even when formally accused or convicted of these practises.

A charge of this nature proved before a magistrate, he can only himself punish by a fine of fifty rupees, or a month's imprisonment. The alternative consists of fowarding the accused "to the criminal judge, to be punished by him, or committed for trial before the Court of Circuit." The Report continues, "These seem to be tedious proceedings applicable only to one class of offences, abuse of authority, namely, in police charges, and totally inadequate to the necessities of the cas<\"

A police or revenue officer, (the same person, as it is the police who collect the revenue) guilty of extorting money, is first tried by the assistant collector; then he can appeal to the collector; then to the Revenue Board. This board may refer him to the Government, or to the civil courts. "In such a state of the law, no poverty-stricken Ryot could contend against any wealthy revenue officer, and wo-are. not aware of any complaints having Keen brought forward under these two regulations., (of 1822 and 1828) by the people." Further, this "extorting" of money applies only to taking the public money, or forcing a further contribution from the Ryot to put into his own pocket. There is, therefore, no legal means of punishment whatever for the employment of force in collecting the public revenue. The report from which these quotations are made, applies only to the Presidency of Madras; but Lord Dalhousie himself, writing in September, 1855, to the Directors, says, " That torture in one shape or other is practised by the lower subordinates in every British Province, I have long ceased to doubt."* v

We have made use of these official documents to establish beyond question facts which might appear incredible, after all that has been said of the beneficence of British rule. But we, who have already some experience of the nature of Blue Books, out of which the truth has to be extorted by the sharpness of the reader, are not surprised to find that the conclusion come to by the Commissioners is, that.no blame is due to England or Englishmen. This is done by two assertions; one, that they found the practice of torture established from time immemorial; and the other, that it is impossible for the European magistrates to prevent it, and that they do their best to do so. We take the last first, and answer it from the books themselves. Evidence on which the Report purports to be founded is given with it; from which the following are a few out of many extracts on "this point:— The Rev. E. Wobb writes :— "I must, however, in conscience add, that the impression entertained by the people is, that by many European servants of the Government, the whole subject is ; avoided, and that it is tacitly permitted, as a sort of irremediable evil. I have myself received the reply from more than one gentleman in the service of the Government, when reference was made to this mode of obtaining evidence; 'we have nothing to do with that; it is all under the rose.'" (p. 97.) W. D. Kohlhoff, Esq., a merchant,; says:-— . ■ : " The modes of torture practised "are various, and suitable to the fancy of the tahsildar or his subordinates, but whether any redress is received from higher authorities, it is difficult for me to tell, as all complaints are generally referred to the tahsildars for investigation and information." (p. 127.) ■ Amongst the cases of complaint from natives, there is the following:— ; "Xast year, as bur peesanum (principal paddy or rice crop) failed for want of rain, we were unable to pay as usual. When the jamabundy was made, we claimed a remission on account of the losses, according to the terms of the agreement entered,into in 1837, by us, when Mr. Eden was our collector. As this remission was not allowed, we refused to take our puttahs. The tahsildar then commenced to compel us to pay with great severity, from the month of June to August. I and others were placed in charge of persons who used to take us in the sun. There we were made to stoop, and stones were put on pur backs, and we were kept in the burning sand. After 8 o'clock, we were let go to our rice. Such like ill treatment was continued during three months, during which we sometimes went to give our petitions to *'< East India (Torture)" June 22nd, 1857.

the collector, who, refused to take them. We took these petitions, and appealed to the sessions court, who transmitted theni to the collector. Still we got no justice.'" In the month of September, a notice was served upon us, and twenty-five days afte|, our property was distrained, and afterwards sold. Besides what I have mentioned, our women-were also illtreated; the kittee was put upon their breasts." (p. 161 .)\! An inhabitant of the village of ]\laloomah, after describing how he had been tortured for arrears of rent,., says:— " The assessment is very heavy, and they collect the kist for two crops, before we are allowed to reap the first crop, and this makes it very difficult, and causes us to fall into arrears. I thought it useless to complain to the collector of the ill-treatment I had suffered, because numerous cases of the same nature, when brought to tlie notice of the collector were always dismissed with the observation, ' you had better pay the money.'" (p. 179.) " The Ex-Revenue Officer of North Arcqt thus replies to questions of the Commissioners:—- . ../;','

"The ryots do not think that the Government and collector do not authorise such acts, but they think that the collector does connive at it, and that if any : charge of this kind was given, • the collector will inquire into it formally, but .at the end he will dismiss it on the ground that the charge was not proved. "When any tahsildar is dismissed for negligence in collecting the revenue, all other tahsildars are so enraged against the ryots of their own talooks, that they do not take rest from being engaged in ill treatment till the conclusion of the collection of the year." (p. 216.) The following is the evidence of a native Christian: —

"When I heard them say these things (that they were tortured and oppressed), with the heavy and bitter hearts, and curse the ruling party, I have tried my best to explain to them that it is their bounden duty to pay the Government the, public revenue, that the Government might be able -to defray expenses for the army, &c. In this the people readily told me they were willing to pay half their produce, but they are oppressed by various lands,of torture, and almost all their produce is taken from them. * * * But I always tried to impress,on their minds, that all these,corruptions, mischiefs, &c.,, are caused jonly by their fellow-countrymen, and^ no); by the European rulers, as their religion r> enlightenment, freedom, and national principle would not allow them to practice such corruptions, tyranny, &c, upon the people whom they govern. But whatever strong argument I used to defend the principle and freedom, especially the religion of the British Government, yet it availed nothing, as I have found almost all of them to have been injured to the utmost by the Revenue collecting party, and prejudiced against their rulers. They used to leave me gnawing their teeth, and cursing the British Government." . ■ ; c

He also states that when "an European or native regiment passes through, all the ryots are pressed to bring provisions, &c., for nothing, and should any of them ask for the prices of the articles they are severely tortured." '

A Petition (No. 28), from inhabitants of a Talook in Canara, on the Maldaar coast, after stating that they had presented several petitions to the Government to no purpose, thus contrasts their former and present condition:—

"While we were cultivating wet and dry lands, hill tracts, low tracts, and forests, paying the light assessment fixed upon us, and thereby enjoying tranquility and happiness, the then'Circar. servants, under the administration of 'Ranee' Bhadur .,] and Tippoo levied an additional assessment j but we never paid it. We were not subjected to privations, oppressions, or ill-usages in collecting'.tKe revenue.. On the surrender of this country.'-to the Honorable Company, they devised all sorts of plans to squeeze Out money from us. With this pernicious object in view they invented rules, and framed regulations, and directed their collectors and civil judges to put them in execution. But the then collectors, and their subordinate native officials, paid for some time due attention to our grievances, and acted in consonance with our wishes. On the contrary the present collectors, and their subordinate officials, desirous of obtaining promotion on any account whatever, neglect the welfare and interests of' the people in general, turn their deaf ear to our grievances, and subject its to all sorts of oppressions."

i Then follows a list of special grievances, as, Ist, no remission having been granted .them, as in former times, on account of an excessive inundation, the refusal' coming from the English collectors, who are mentioned by name; 2nd, if they bring waste land into cultivation, it is assessed; 3rd, tax on every cocoa-nut tree, and also on the toddy made from it; 4th, that Government buy salt from the manufacturing ryots from 6to 12 rupees the garce, and sell it again for 120 rupees the garce; sth, having to pay stamp duty, when appealing to the courts for redress; 6th, the Moturpha tax on the shopkeepers,'that is, on the products, which have been already assessed in the rate raised from ryots: 7th, that if the produce of his land when sold, is not enough to pay the kist of any defaulting ryot, the land itself is put up to sale, and the remainder levied with interest without leaving anything for his maintenance.

Petition (No. 29) from 42 Headmen and ryots of a village in Masulipatam, complains of, Ist, an exhorbitant kist, it having been raised from 1300 rupees to 2000 since 1848; 2nd, having been forced in the last two years to go as gratuitous coolies and labourers in an anicut-work across the Kistna;'3rd, materials for the same work being forcibly taken from them; 4th, 2000 trees being cut down from their lands for the same without payment. ■«' When we see no redress obtained for our

grievances, laid open to the higher authorities, we are led to conclude that these wicked deeds must have been ordered by the Government itself." " ; Z -

We then come to the case of a Brahmin, in which he and others of his village, and of the.neighbouring ones, are called on by a Tahsilder to give, gratisj planks,-char-coal, firewood, &c, that he might carry on the Coleroon Bridge work; on their ail refusing, this man is seized'upon by twelve peons, and maltreated in various .ways. He adds:'— : . ■■;.■'■:■ • , ,--

"I presented a complaint to-the subr collector, Mr. W. M. Cadell, but hey-made no inquiry, and tore my complaint. Though the said collector is .well: aware that the tahsildar struck 'and troubled me, who am poor in divers ways; he, out of favour to the latter, tore my complaint. . If the gentleman who knows that an unjust act, which is next to murder, has been committed by one of the-higher officers, towards one who is needy, does, not hQld an inquiry, we cannot but leaver this country for another. As the said .^gentleman is desirous of completingcheaply the Coleroon Bridge work, at the expense, of the poor, and of acquiring a good •, name from the Government* whatever may be the nature of the murder committed ibyihe tahsildar, he takes no recognizance of it." There is another petition, signed by 40 persons, making a similar complaint to that of this Brahmin and about the same bridge. They state that the Circar functionaries receive the sum requisite from the Governments for carrying on all public works, and notwithstanding that, they had been forced1 to contribute both, labor and money by the collectors and tahsildars. ' " "

This cause of robbery and persecution is worthy of particular notice because Lord Dalhousie (at that time Governor-General) in.his famous " Minute " takes particular, credit ibr. the public works he has carried on, charges £7,700,000 for their execution between ,1853 and 1856, and accounts for the deficiency in the revenue of & 1,850,000,; existing in ; 1856 (when ho left India) en-; ■ tirely ,by expenditure for pubjic works. Will it be believed, that in this very Minute purporting^ be, a review of his administration, lasting, from January, 1848, to March 1856, and of .the state in which he left India, there is not the slightest allusion to the condition of the peasantry, of the police, or courts of. justice. He indexes one.para-, graph "Noted, Evils- in,' India." What does it contain? Not the word "Torture," which he has himself declared?t6 be universal; not that (to use the. words, of Mr. Halliday, Lieut.-Governor of Bengal) " throughout the length and breadth of this country, the strong almost universally prey upon the weak,"* not that (to quote a memorial presented by twenty-six missionaries at Calcutta to Mr. Halliday) "life and property are not safe in Bengal, that criminal justice is little better than a lottery, in which the best chance is with the criminal; that the rural population commonly live hi a state of poverty and wretchedness;" jv What Lord Dalhousie puts down as the'^iibted evils of India " are four native^ practices, Suttee, Thuggee, Female Infanticide* and the Meriah Sacrifice,—of which^ the two last are practised only by certain isolated Hill or savage tribes; Thuggee by a sect, very limited in number, and abhorred by their countrymen, while the fisst is a very, ancient and religious Jpractice, which it is not our province to enter into. But the light in which illegal practices, carried to the last degree of extortion and violence, are looked upon by the very highest authorities is shown in an unmistakable manner by one case, which must be treated of in detail. "' ( Mr. Brereton, was the Commissioned in ;charge of the Loodiana District in the Pun-^ jaub in 1855. Charges were made against him, and an inquiry, instituted. We will now quote from the. Report of the chief for the Punjaub. | "In matters under the immediate cogjnisance or direction of the Deputy Com-, missioner, Mr. Brereton himself, the houses of wealthy citizens had been causelessly searched; that property seized on such occasions was detained for lengthened periods; that many parties were thrown into prison, and lay there for weeks, without charges; being exhibited against them; and that the laws relating to security for bad character had- been applied with sweeping and indiscriminating severity. That the Deputy Commissioner had been followed abput from district to district by certain police officers and informers whom he employed wherever he went, and that these men had been thcmainauthorsof the recentmischief.''!' From one of the forty-four paragraphs of the Report, detailing cases of the most atrocious oppression, torture, lengthened imprisonment, &c, performed by men, his* immediate subordinates, we "choose one:— , OneMoosaheb Khan, superintendent over certain villages, placed in each a police officer, and ordered him to assemble, three times in the day, and also at eleven o'clock at night, every man, woman, and child; any person found absent from these rollcalls is fined two rupees ten annas, and on a repetition of the offence he is fined twentyfive rupees. Moosaheb Khan admits this, and gives as his authority the verbal orders of the Deputy Commissioner (p. 35.) Wo now come to the minute of Lord Dalhousie on the case :— " We have irrefragable proof, proof indeed, undisputed by Mr. Brereton himself, that that officer has been guilty..of' cash item in the heavy catalogue of irregularities and illegalities with which the chief Commissioner has charged him, and which have brought disgrace on one portion of the British administration, and have subjected a large number of British subjects to gross injustice, to arbitrary imprisonment, and. cruel torture." (p. 37.) These are the crimes; the punishment follows. ■ I am of opinion that Mr. Brereton can-

not, for the present, be fitly entrusted with the authority of a Deputy Commissioner; that he ought to be removedfrom tMt grade- to the grade of a Qrst-class; assistant; and that he, ought not to be restored to the grade of a Deputy Commissioned or to any corresponding authority, until his conduct shall have satisfied his superiors that he better appreciates the responsibilities of a British officer in this country, and can better use the civil power with vvhich he had heretofore been entrusted." (p. 3&) It is to be observed that the subordinate officers, being natives, who allege Mr. Brcreton's orders as their authority, are punished, one with imprisonment for four years, with hard labor and irons, and two others with dismissal from the service.

The perpetrator of this long list of transgressions against the law, transgressions being in themselves acts of the greatest oppression and violence against the very people whom it was his business to protect, is not even punished by being put out of the service; he is only placed in a lower office, the hope at the very time being held out to him of full reinstatement on future good behaviour; and this Lord Dalhousie calls " making a great public example!" (To be concluded in our next.)

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Bibliographic details

The Colonist, Colonist, Issue 41, 12 March 1858

Word Count
3,266

TORTURE IN INDIA BY BRITISH GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS, Colonist, Issue 41, 12 March 1858

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