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THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY

OF CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES



THE LITTLE WORLD



OF AN



INDIAN DISTRICT OFFICER



MACMILLAN AND CO., Limited

LONDON • BOMBAY • CALCUTTA
MELBOURNE

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

NEW YORK • BOSTON • CHICAGO
DALLAS • SAN FRANCISCO

THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, Ltd.

TORONTO



The Little World

of an

Indian District Officer



BY



R. CARSTAIRS



AUTHOR OF 'BRITISH WORK IN INDIA,' ' HUMAN NATURE IN RURAL INDIA,'
'a plea for THE BETTER LOCAL GOVERNMENT OF BENGAL *



MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED

ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON

1912



COPYRIGHT



1>^



TO

THE AUTHOR'S FRIENDS AND TEACHERS

THE

VILLAGERS OF INDIA






CONTENTS





BOOK I






TIPPERAH




1.


A Thought


PAGE

3


2.


Making a Beginning


7


3.


Learning the People


11


4.


Local Influences


17


5.


Public Works


35


6.


Impressions


46



BOOK II
GOALUNDO AND SERAMPORE



1. GoALUNDO ....


55


2. Serampore ....


59


3. The Towns ....


63


4. The Villages ....


69


5. In a Subdivision ....


71


6. Municipalities ....


75


7. Landlord and Tenant .


85


8. Landlord and Tenant — Continued


96



Vll



AN INDIAN DISTRICT OFFICER







PAGE


9.


The Police


. 109


10.


The Police — Contimied .


. 116


11.


Roads .....


. 126


12.


Roads — Continued


. 135


13.


Sanitation ....


145


14.


Chaos .....


160


15.


Order ...

BOOK III


. 170



ALIPORE, MIDNAPORE, HOWRAH AND
ARRAH

1. Alipore and Midnapore ....

2. HoWRAH AND ArRAH ....



185
200



BOOK IV
THE SONTHAL PERGUNNAHS



1. The Sonthal Pergunnahs






215


2, A New System






223


3. Changes .






232


4. The SE'rn.EMENT .






240


5, The Census of 1881






249


6. The Land and its People






264


7. The Work






279


8. Yule's System






297


9. The Departmental Mind






309


10. Building up the Foundation






319



CONTENTS



11. Arrested Development .

12. Plans Frustrated

13. What Might Have Been

14. Wasted Resources — Roads

15. Wasted Resources — Water

16. Wasted Resources — Trees

17. Conclusion



PAGE

328
338
345
354
362
371
380



MAP



The Province of Bengal in 1874-1903 At end of Volume



BOOK I
TIPPERAH



B



A THOUGHT

I MUST begin by explaining who I am, what this
book is about, and why it was written.

I am a member of the Indian Civil Service,
who, after serving for nearly twenty-nine years
with credit, but without distinction, retired in
the year 1903.

This book is the story of a thought. From the
time when I first landed in India to the time when
I finally left it, my great wish was to find a way of
blending the will of the British Nation, the para-
mount power, with the will of the people among
whom I worked. As experience grew there
gradually came into my mind an idea of how that
could be done. The very last thing I did for the
Government of Bengal was to embody in a small
book a working scheme for the purpose. The
Government may be presumed to have thought
well of the scheme, since it spoke most favourably
of the book, and bought copies of it for distribution
to officers.

This present book gives an account of the cir-



4 AN INDIAN DISTRICT OFFICER bk i

cumstances in which the scheme took shape and
ffrew. It has been written because so little is
known in England about those circumstances.

In the year 1883, during my first furlough, I
began to realise the ignorance that prevails with
regard to them.

I was putting it to a friend — a keen politician
and a strong radical — that we, out there, must
know more about India than our countrymen at
home, who had never seen the country.

**Ah, that's just it," was his answer. ''You
know the little things, but we know the big^
things."

By "we'' he meant the class to which he
belonged — politicians who believe themselves com-
petent to direct from England the administration
of our Indian Empire ; and by " you " the class
of which I was a humble member — Indian
administrators. His class had nothing to learn
from men like Sir William Muir, Sir Bartle
Frere, Sir Alfred Lyall, or the Stracheys. The
Gamaliels of India were in England, not India^
and the place of Indian administrators was at
their feet.

The things his class did not know were the
little things, which there was no need for them
to trouble about.

I have noticed ever since that this is the
ordinary attitude of my friend's class to my class.
I do not propose to discuss it, but have three
remarks to make on it.



A THOUGHT 5

I\Iy first remark is that it does not inspire trust.
It has too much of the spirit of a saying attributed
to a famous Oxford Don, " What I know not is
not Knowledge," and too little of the humbler but
wiser spirit of a far greater man — Sir Isaac Newton,
who compared himself to a child playing with the
pebbles on the shore of a mighty ocean.

My second remark is that my friend admits his
ignorance of a part of his subject. True, he calls
that part the " little things." But how can he
know whether they are little or big when he does
not know them ? Again, how can he be sure of
knowing any part of a subject unless he knows its
details ?

I fear, however, that my friend's class are too
self-satisfied, and I am sure that they will always
be far too busy to attempt mastering the details.

My third and last remark is that if they tried
they would find it hard to get the details.

Each of the thirteen provinces has its separate
staff, divided into classes — one of which is the
Headquarters staff, and another, more numerous,
the District staff.

The members of the District staff among them
possess the knowledge and experience of the land
and its people on which the Administration depends
for the carrying on of its work, but each in a small
part only of the province.

Their united knowledge and experience is
gathered in and given to the world by the Head-
quarters staff. It reaches our friends at home



6 AN INDIAN DISTRICT OFFICER bk. i

about as much resembling the original as a pot
of bovril resembles the ox it was made of.

My plan has to do with our world of little
things in India. This book is offered as a peep
into that world, so little known in England — an
account of the people, places, and things whose
influence gave shape to the plan.

The book is not complete or comprehensive —
merely that which a man who has done his life's
work can remember about what he believes to be
the most important part of it.



II

MAKING A BEGINNING

I ENTERED the Indian Civil Service in 1872,
landed at Bombay in 1874, after a two years'
training at home ; crossed to Calcutta, a two
days' journey by rail ; and, after a further two
days' journey by rail, river, and road, found myself
in Tipperah, one of the forty-eight Districts of the
province of Bengal.

Tipperah, in which I served my apprenticeship
of over three years, lay between the great river
Megna — the united stream of the Ganges and the
Bramapootra — on the west, and the densely wooded
hill ranges that divide Bengal from Upper Burmah
on the east. In size and shape it resembled Norfolk
and Suffolk combined, and its population was
nearly two millions.

I had to begin by acquiring a colloquial know-
ledge of the language. I had already some book
knowledge of Hindustani and Bengali, but soon
found that the people here had a patois of their
own no more comprehensible to educated Bengalis
from Calcutta than to me. With practice I soon
knew enough to begin those duties for which it

7



8 AN INDIAN DISTRICT OFFICER bk. i

was necessary. Wherever a Civil servant goes,
he is required to have a colloquial knowledge of
\ the local dialect, and there are in this one province
of Bengal more languages and more varieties
of patois than in all the countries of the United
Kingdom.

I must here pause to give a few facts explain-
ing the state in 1874, when I entered it, of this
province in which I was to serve for twenty-nine
years.

Bengal was the first British possession in
Northern India. It differed from all the other
provinces of British India in that, soon after it
came into our possession, towards the end of the
eighteenth century, by a measure known as the
Permanent Settlement the British Government
created landlords, handing over to the persons
whom it found paying the land revenue its
rights as proprietor, subject to a quit-rent, which
was fixed for all time. While Government retained
the sovereign prerogatives, including justice and
taxation, each landlord in his own estate was left
with a very full control over all local affairs —
police, roads, sanitation, and the like.

The objects of the measure were, mainly —

To secure the existing land revenue ;

To secure a loyal body of landed proprietors ;

By liberal treatment to make them kind
landlords ;

By giving them all future profits, to induce
them to improve and develop the land ;



II MAKING A BEGINNING 9

To provide, for the administration of local
business, a body like the squires who then per-
formed that work in England.

The measure secured the existing land revenue,
though at the expense of losing all future increase ;
and it secured the loyalty of the landlords. But it
failed to make them kind to their tenants ; it was
not followed by the improvements and development
expected ; local institutions — as, for instance, the
Police — were either neglected or misused for their
own interests by the landlords, who further usurped
the sovereign prerogatives of levying war, justice,
and taxation.

The measure was so far deemed unsatisfactory
that it was never extended to any other part of
British India.

In the fifties, just before the great Mutiny, the
Presidency of Northern India, or Bengal, as it was
called from its nucleus, which extended from
Afghanistan in the west to China in the east,
was broken up into provinces, of which Bengal
was one. A Legislative Council was given to it
with power to pass laws, especially for the regula-
tion of local Government. During the twenty
years of its life up to 1874, this Council was
actively engaged in withdrawing public business
from the landlords, and in arranging for its being
performed otherwise. The law of landlord and
tenant, the police, roads, sanitation, education,
famine relief, census, and municipal work all
engaged its attention.



10 AN INDIAN DISTRICT OFFICER bk i

When I arrived many measures had become
law, of which some were in force and others were
being introduced, while further measures were on
the anvil. Everything was in a state of transition
and uncertainty — a most interesting time, had I
known it, which of course I did not.



Ill

LEARNING THE PEOPLE

So much for the province.

Let us now return to myself. Passing over
the Government business of various kinds that
had to be learnt, let us get to the beginning of my
acquaintance with the people, whose progress it is
the chief object of this book to trace.

I saw them first almost entirely from the Bench,
on which, by the will of my superiors, I spent most
of my time in the trial of criminal cases. Hundreds
of the people — parties and witnesses — must have
passed before me every month, out of the dark
back into the dark ; themselves, and even, except
in a few town cases, the places they said they came
from, utterly unknown to me — strangers for the
most part never seen or heard of before or after.

I had at first only the smaller cases to try —
assault, trespass, cattle-rescue, and the like ; and
later, as experience came, those that were graver,
until at length I was entrusted with the very
gravest, even murder, gang-robbery, and serious
rioting.

On looking back I cannot but feel that this was

11



12 AN INDIAN DISTRICT OFFICER bk. i

not a good introduction for a young civilian to the
people of India. It confined my attention too
exclusively to the seamy side ; and, as a matter of
fact, it did not enable me to know the people
at all.

I saw indeed many men of many varieties ; but
each man for the day only, never before and never
again. I knew not his people, nor his home, nor
his surroundings. It was but a globe-trotter's
glance I had of him. While he was before me,
moreover, he was on his guard, and wore a mask.

In order to explain the situation to English
readers I must give a short description of the
system of criminal justice we had to administer.

It was modelled on, but differed widely from,
the English system. The key to the difference
was the fact that in England justice is a popular
institution ; in Tipperah it was the business of the
Crown. In England, justice goes to the people ;
in India, the people had to come to justice.

An Englishman with a grievance finds near his
own door a magistrate to take his information and
grant a summons. If it is a Police matter, he calls
in the constable of the beat. If the case goes to
trial, the tribunal is never far off. Everything is
done under the vigilant eye of the strongest and
fairest public opinion in the world, and of a
ubiquitous press, its organ.

In Tipperah the law provided that, as in England,
the case should be instituted before a magistrate,
or before the Police. But in all this wide area, as



LEARNING THE PEOPLE 13

large as Norfolk and Suffolk combined, there were
only two magistrates, sitting, as it might be, one
at Ipswich and the other at Norwich, before whom
an information could be sworn, and from whom a
summons could be obtained. An aggrieved person
might have to travel any distance up to fifty miles
over a roadless country to get at him.

A Police matter, again, involved a journey to
the station, perhaps ten miles off; and if the officer
was out on business, a hunt for him through the
villages.

Trials were held only at the two places already
mentioned, and involved much hanging about,
many journeys to and fro, and a constant spending
of money.

Here there was no public opinion ; no press ; no
official aid, as there is, for example, in Scotland, to
a man with a real grievance. He had to find his
way to this strange tribunal in an unknown land
as best he could, in charge of the police, whose
tender mercies he dreaded, or alone.

If he went alone, it was not for long. Around
the Courts were swarms of petty lawyers, who had
their touts on the roads and in the villag-es. Long
ere he came within hail of the Court he had been
fastened on by several of these, and persuaded that
his only chance of success was to put himself in
their hands ; say what they bade him ; pay what,
when, and to whom they told him ; and, above all,
to beware of telling the truth : it would never be
believed.



14 AN INDIAN DISTRICT OFFICER bk. i

In all probability the other side had got wind of
his intention, and were racing him to the Court
with their tale to meet his. Both sides would
arrive about the same time; both were unknown
at the Court ; both had been schooled by the
lawyers, and came forward, true man and knave
alike, with tales which, in the opinion of the
lawyers, were likely to go down with the magistrate.
The lawyers were very Darwins in their patient
study of the nature and habits of officials.

In those strange cases there was no common
ground. Whatever one side asserted the other
denied ; all the witnesses were tutored ; and
whether true or not to begin with, the case as
presented on both sides was invariably concocted.

There was in every case ample ground for dis-
missing it outright. But as it was desirable that
people should not avoid our Courts entirely we
had to discount a certain amount of falsehood,
and content ourselves with what was called the
" residuum " of fact — some grains of truth, when
we could find them, in the heaps of chaff thrown
down before us.

On thinking over the vexatious troubles and
uncertainties of our criminal litigation, I often
wondered what brought people to us at all. I did
not believe that they did not mind distance, put
no value on time, and liked litigation.

I for one came to the conclusion that nearly all,
save a few of the graver cases, were episodes in
some dispute not before the Court. The parties



in LEARNING THE PEOPLE 15

were not the real parties, but puppets of others,
who remained in the background, paying for and
directing the proceedings.

Most of the genuine disputes never reached our
Courts at all, but were settled at some earlier stage
and in other ways.

The magistrate trying a case would often have
liked to correct his ignorance by paying a visit to
the scene of the occurrence. Sometimes this could
be managed when the place was not too far off.
It was seldom, however, that time could be spared.
Every one had heavy and continuous duties to do,
and what was to become of the rest of the work
during the time spent in going and returning?
Moreover, these trips, unpopular among the
lawyers, who neither liked the journey nor were
willing to stay behind, were seldom desired by the
parties.

While we dispensed justice as best we could
to those who came before us, we knew that an
enormous number of injured persons never came
to us at all. Many were deterred by difficulties in
the way ; many dared not come for fear of offend-
ing the local despot, who by threats of injuries —
threats which he could carry out — was able to
prevent them from complaining, and to stop the
mouths of their witnesses.

Obviously we have a better system of justice in
England than that practised in Tipperah. Why
then, it may be asked, was the latter in use ?

Simply because there were not the men to work



16 AN INDIAN DISTRICT OFFICER bk i

the other. Neither the people nor the Govern-
ment could entrust any one available with the
power to issue summons, or to pass sentence of
fine or imprisonment. All that had to be done by
paid Government officers.

Whatever may have been the reason, I did not
during my three years in Tipperah get properly
into touch with the people.

I learnt a little about them, partly from read-
ing and conversation, and partly from the rare
excursions among them which duty permitted, but
all that time I never got really close to them.



IV
LOCAL INFLUENCES

{a) The Landlord

The landlord created at the Permanent Settlement
was lord of the soil, subject to the payment of
a quit-revenue. For generations afterwards, like
the mediaeval baron of our country, he held his
position by his own power.

If he was to be safe, he must have prestige.
To get prestige, he must demonstrate his power
to the world. There was no more convenient way
of doing this than to show that he was above the
law of the land by breaking it with impunity.

One landlord, when his Mahomedan tenants
would not agree to his terms, had a basketful of
beards brought in every day until they did.

Another imposed a sentence of twenty years'
imprisonment, and, in spite of all the efforts of the
authorities to find his prisoner, carried it out.

Another filched a large slice of a neighbour s
estate by cutting through a neck of land and
diverting the boundary river in a single night.

Deeds like these were continually being done,

17 C



18 AN INDIAN DISTRICT OFFICER bk. i

and yet went unpunished, because no evidence
could be got to prove them.

Lord CornwaUis' plan resulted, so far as Tip-
perah was concerned, in the District being divided
up into territories or estates of all sizes, ranging
from the thousand square miles belonging to the
Rajah of Tipperah downwards.

The lord of each estate was as much its lord
as our own mediaeval baron was of his. The law
prevailing in it was not the law of the land, but
the will of the landlord, who was master within it.

Two things only the landlord must not do.
He must not have arrears of Government revenue ;
and he must not offend the District Officer.

Neither of these limitations on his power inter-
fered much with his hold over his people, for the
revenue was payable by fixed instalments at the
District headquarters, through agents and servants ;
and the District Officer, having a large territory to
administer and many things to attend to, rarely
troubled a landlord with a visit. When he did,
the time was usually passed in courtesies and enter-
tainments rather than in business. True, the
District Officer would sometimes speak roughly
to his host, but then the people were not to know
that ; and if the host came smiling out after a
long spell of scolding, the people took it that he
and the District Officer were on the best of terms.

Every landlord had his force of retainers, armed
(since firearms were a State prerogative, and only
carried by licence) — armed usually with heavy



IV LOCAL INFLUENCES 19

iron-bound bamboo clubs. They were needed for
lawful purposes, such as guarding treasure, going
messages, and the like duties. They were also
his instruments for overawing the villagers and for
punishing those who had incurred his wrath. To
" pleasure the laird " they would go any lengths —
would even kill a man, destroy his house, plough
up the site, and sow it with salt.

The landlord was familiar with the boycott.

All the tradesmen — the barber, washerman,
thatcher, potter, oilman — were in his hands. So
were the Mullah and the priest — the ministers
of religion. When he would he could withdraw
their services from a man.

He could have cattle driven through his enemy's
fields ; filth thrown into his courtyard ; the women
of his house insulted ; his house or stacks set on
fire ; his cattle driven away. No man who valued
life and comfort dared offend the all-powerful
lord.
. What was there to interfere with the landlord ?

The District Officer, indeed, loomed like Fate
in the background, and was as little heeded in
every-day life.

The Police — he was their local head, and they
were in his pay.

• The Courts could do nothing. If any man had
the rashness to complain against him, no witness
dared give evidence. And if so extraordinary a
breach of discipline took place, his servants and
money and lawyers brought him safely off. and he



20 AN INDIAN DISTRICT OFFICER bk. i

was free to deal with the man who had dared to
invoke the protection of the Court.

He had his own Court, where he administered
justice to his people. It was a personal affront
which he resented that any of his people should
pass by his Court and seek redress for their
grievances in that of the Government. Any one
who disregarded his wishes on this point he
punished.

The landlord's Courts — his administration of
justice in them — were indeed illegal and punish-
able at law. Who cared ?

The breaches of the law went on, and were not
punished.

The authorities never heard of them officially
unless the title of the landlord was itself being
disputed. Then each side would strive to bring
the other into bad odour with the Government by
denouncing these among other misdeeds. But in
the flood of false charges that poured in at such
times an occasional true one passed unnoticed.
For when two rivals contested the ownership of
an estate it was civil war.

Before either side resorted to the Law Court
there was a contest for possession — the best evi-
dence of title. For possession bands of figliting
men turned out and fought pitched battles, in
which men were slain, and there were wanting
hardly any of the incidents of real war.

Possession was an asset quite as valuable as
title. Many a great family has been founded by



IV LOCAL INFLUENCES 21

an adventurer who has forcibly taken possession
of an estate over which he had little or no right,
compelling the tenants to obey him as master and
pay him rent, and has then bought out the legal
owners at a price far below the real value of the
estate.

In every great estate the importance of main-
taining possession was recognised. One of the
great ceremonies of the year was the " Punniar,"
when every tenant paid a small instalment of his
year's rent as an acknowledgment that the payee
was landlord in possession.

In those olden days the tenants were regarded
as chattels, taking, perhaps, one side or the other
in their lords' quarrel, — turning out when there
was any digging or manual labour to be done,
under the escort of his fighting men to protect
them from attacks by the fighting men of the
other side.

In my time there was only one family which
held to these old traditions. Their influence so
completely obscured that of the Government in
their own estate that a new subdivision, or " out-
post," of the District, with its headquarters at


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Online LibraryRobert CarstairsThe little world of an Indian district officer → online text (page 1 of 21)