J. D. (John David) Rees.

India; the real India (Volume 19) online

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question to be answered in the negative, but in
India, by such surrender, not less than two-thirds
of the population would be immediately and im-
mensely benefited. It is indeed true that there is
no precedent in native rule for any step of this
nature, but it is also true that we have since 1835
been busily occupied in preaching a new dispen-
sation from the West, in which Oriental customs,
Oriental faiths, and Oriental principles of adminis-
tration are treated with scant reverence, if not openly
held up to ridicule of the rising generation. The
strongest objection would be taken by the Bengali
critics of the Government to the introduction of a
permanent settlement with individual peasant pro-
prietors, without a similar concession being granted
in temporarily settled Zemindari districts, wherein
it is difficult to make prices the basis of assessment.



It might, however, be urged with much weight that
in ryot-wari, or peasant proprietary areas, the only
ground for enhancement should be a rise in prices,
and though the extension of this principle would
involve the surrender of increment resulting from
the construction of public works at the cost of the
general tax-payer, it is by no means certain that
such surrender would not be amply compensated by
the general content on the part of individual pro-
prietors, and by their greater attachment to our

Not only have the Bengali critics asserted that the
land revenue assessments are excessive, but they
have not hesitated to allege that such assessments
have been responsible for the frequency of famine.
Throughout the last century there has, however,
been a progressive reduction in assessment, which
in the second half thereof has been increasingly
manifest, so that, if there be anything in this allega-
tion, the famines of the earlier should have been
more serious than those of the latter part of the
nineteenth century. But the contention of the
critics is that the contrary has been the case.

Nor is there any support whatever for the assertion
that the most highly assessed parts of India have suf-
fered most severely, a contention disproved by the
Famine Commission. Indeed, in the famine of 1899-
1900 the districts most severely affected had been
exempted from paying their increased assessments,
and the districts that suffered most in 1896-1897
were such as for years had known no enhance-



ment. A low land-tax, like the few pence an acre
paid on unirrigated land in the Deccan, is the out-
ward and visible sign of a poor peasantry, near
the margin of subsistence. So fallacious is the
inference that a low assessment means a prosperous
peasantry. But where the land is rich, and the
assessment light, are the people there famine-proof?
Gujerat answers this description as well as any part
of India, and there was the pressure most severe
in 1899-1900, when the Deccan cultivator stood up
erect under the loss of his crops, and the compara-
tively rich Gujerati succumbed, when the crop fail-
ure affected 400,000 square miles, 25,000,000 of
people in British India and 75,000,000 in native
states, the loss in crops being equivalent to 50,-
000,000 sterling. The Government spent upwards
of 10,000,000 on relief, and not much more than
2 per cent, of the population affected succumbed,
more from privation and disease than starvation.
Then it is asserted that the increase, only 2.42 per
cent, of the population between 1891 and 1901, is a
proof of far greater mortality, since between 1881
and 1891 there was an increase of 11.2 per cent.
But who is in a position to say that 11.2 per cent,
is the normal rate of increase of the Indian popula-
tion, as to which we know nothing, and have only
two or three counts to place to our credit. The
Central Provinces, twice desolated by the severest
visitations, showed a fall of 8 per cent., while in ante-
British days it would have been nothing exceptional
had half the population, under similar circumstances,


disappeared. In Madras, the province to which,
in complete ignorance of the facts, the Congress
school of critics has imputed an assessment excep-
tionally severe, the increase in the population at
last Census was the highest namely, 7.4 per cent.
To determine the normal rate of increase in India,
excluding the results of monsoon failures, would be
to eliminate what is a regular feature recurring at
irregular intervals, but never known to have been
absent from one part or another of the congeries of
countries we call India for more than a short term
of years. It is unfortunate that crop failure is
invariably described as famine. Tracts in which
there are scarcity and distress of varying degrees
of intensity are alike called famine-stricken. The
State, in its efforts to prevent famine laying hold
of the people, long before acute distress prevails
brings into operation its relief code, or rules for the
prevention of famine, commonly called the Famine
Code, and in any province in which these preventive
measures are brought into force, famine is said to
prevail. Those who think the Indian administration
enslaves and starves the Indians are also under
the impression that when 6,000,000, or 2 per cent,
of the population of India, were, in 1899-1900, in
receipt of relief, 6,000,000 were starving, instead of
being saved from starvation, and it would be useless
to point out that a slightly larger percentage 2.2
of the population of England and Wales is annu-
ally in receipt of aid from the State.

It is devoutly to be hoped that this so-called



Famine Code will never degenerate into a Poor Law,
from the necessity for which India is saved by the
abounding charity of the people. Their humane and
civilised character enables their rulers to dispense
with a Poor Law in normal seasons, and the latter
in turn have declared, and take no credit for declar-
ing, that the whole resources of the State are
available for saving the lives of the distressed. So
successful is this policy that in 1899-1900, in the
locality affected above all others by one of the most
widespread scarcities ever experienced, in the Cen-
tral Provinces, the death rate actually remained
round about the normal figure. Among many de-
ductions to be drawn from these visitations is the
fact that the peasant proprietors of Madras are
better able to pay their nominally higher assessment
than are their brethren in Bombay to pay their
nominally lower rate. It is pretty clear that it is
private debts, often 50 per cent, of the value of the
produce, which press, and not the Government
assessment of 7 per cent, which presses so hardly
upon the cultivator. It is, moreover, a fact, to
which many unprejudiced observers have testified
from personal experience, that the administration
of famine relief has now reached such a pitch of
perfection that, as a general rule, the workers on
the famine relief works do not show signs of emacia-
tion and cannot be distinguished from ordinary
labourers. The object of the Government is to pro-
vide them with work and food before they deteri-
orate in condition.



Famine photographs, which, with sinister objects,
are circulated, are generally those of the occupants
of the poor-houses, in which are gathered together in
times of scarcity the waifs and strays, the halt, the
lame, the blind, the feeble and infirm, the flotsam
and jetsam of a teeming Oriental population. It
is interesting to know that the periods of scarcity,
which are held by ignorant or malevolent critics to
prove the failure of British rule, have conclusively
demonstrated what otherwise might be well regarded
as open to argument namely, the superiority of
direct British administration to that of the protected
native states, which, during the last great visita-
tion, were tried and found wanting. Indeed, before
that, in 1897-1898, the chiefs of Rajputana and Cen-
tral India had not proved very successful in caring
for their own distressed people. No one could
be naturally more prone to prefer Indian adminis-
tration under general British supervision to direct
British administration than one who has, himself,
had the good fortune to be British Resident in two
conspiciously well-governed native states, and who
has made a study of native languages, and associa-
tion with the natives of India, the chief object
of his long service in India. But it must be ad-
mitted that the evidence of private and official wit-
nesses, the reports of newspaper correspondents, and
the Census figures, all alike testify to the immense
superiority of our own system of relief, if, indeed,
any system can be said to exist outside British lim-
its. In the first place, we can redress the balance
- - 85


by calling on a rich to feed a poor province, which
a single financial unit cannot do. In the second
place, the British Government has a positive genius
for forethought and bandobast, or tie and twist
an Indian word, meaning arrangement, but the
inward expressiveness of which no translation can
convey. The grim realities of actual starvation
were almost confined in our districts to the hill
tribes, and to the occupants of poor houses and
relief works, which were flooded with refugees,
already past aid, from native states. Not that the
British Government accepts no responsibility for
such states. It does, and laid it down as a principle
that it could not allow the lives of thousands to be
jeopardised by the caprice of their ruler. It is
characteristic of a certain school of critics that Mr.
Hyndman should have written at this period: "We
see by looking at the great native states that our
system is the real cause of the ruin we deplore.
Scarcity in their case seldom deepens into famine!"
What shall be said of the equal ignorance of those
who glibly assert that famines were less frequent
and less disastrous before the days of British rule.
Indeed, it is true that fights with famine have been
more frequent in our time, for our predecessors
accepted these visitations as fatalities. Hindoos
do not write history, and Mohammedan historians,
who omitted nothing to the credit of the kings, who
paid them for their chronicles, have not recorded
that they made any effort to counteract the effects
of failure of seasons. A certain amount of informa-



tion on this subject can be gathered, however, from
Ferishta, Babar, Tavernier, Bernier, Dow, Elphin-
stone, and Elliott, and after a careful perusal of these
works, and after inquiring into the subject, not only
in India, but in other Oriental countries such
as Persia, China, Turkey, Japan, and Korea I
have gathered the impression that, generally speak-
ing, the tax-collectors of Eastern are not more but
less strict than those of European Governments,
and that the enormously high assessments of former
times in India, and elsewhere, were only possible
because they were spasmodically and irregularly
collected. However that may be, in 1596, under
Akbar, such famine prevailed that cannibalism
became general, burial was abandoned, and pesti-
lence raged unchecked. In 1615 and 1616 there was
another great visitation, when wild beasts dragged
the starving villagers from their huts and devoured
them in the streets. In Kattywar and Gujerat
there were famines in 1559, 1631, 1647, 1681, 1686,
1718, 1723, 1747, 1751, 1759, 1760, 1774, 1780, and
1785. Of such severity were these visitations that,
compared with them, the fourteen so-called famines
which occurred between 1880 and 1897 were merely
local scarcities. In the Central Provinces there are
records of famines in 1771, 1803, 1818, 1819, 1825,
1826, 1832, 1833, 1834, 1868/and 1869. Upon these
occasions wheat sometimes sold at 3 or 4 seers of
two pounds, for a rupee, and rice at 2 or 3 seers a
rupee, whereas in 1899-1900 the average prices in
the Central Provinces, the most afflicted part of



India, were 15 and 14 seers respectively, and after
the famine of 1877-1878, in that province, the culti-
vation only decreased by 5 per cent. In the Mahab-
harata, the great epic poem of the palmy days of
India, written before its sacred soil had been invaded
by Mohammedans or Europeans, a famine of twelve
years duration is recorded, in which Brahmins were
driven to devour dogs. Should Burma ever again
suffer, it will, no doubt, be argued that, as in the
case of India proper, so in regard to its newest
province, British maladministration has reduced the
previously prosperous people to such straits. But
Pimenta, writing of Pegu in the sixteenth century,
says: "The wayes and fields were full of skulls and
bones of wretched Pagans, who were brought to
such miserie and want, that they did eat man's
flesh and kept publike shambles thereof. Parents
abstained not from their children, and children de-
voured their parents. The stronger by force preyed
on the weaker, and if any were but skinne and bone,
yet did they open their intrailes to fill their owne,
and picked out their brainse. The women went
about the streets with knives to the like butcherly
purposes." To this day the skull famine, so called
because the countryside was littered with skulls, is
remembered in India.

No doubt our Government has not always been
successful in treating these calamities. In the earlier
part of last century we hardly attempted the colossal
task now so successfully achieved. In Madras in
1833-1834, in Madras and Mysore in 1877-1878,



and in Orissa in 1866, the mortality was very high,
but the science of famine prevention was then in its
infancy, and it is that science, and not famine, which
is the invention of the British Government. The
vernacular press often refers to India as the only
country in the world ruled by a wealthy and civilised
Government subject to periodical famines, but there
was a time when these visitations were frequent in
Europe, and the poor ate roots and acorns. These
conditions have passed away with improved agri-
culture, the development of commercial credit,
removal of restrictions upon the natural course of
trade, and the opening of increased facilities of
transport. Yet the critics of Government, amongst
whom in this behalf is an ex-Chief Commissioner,
actually accuse improved communications of con-
tributing to cause famine, and to the ruin of the
indigenous native transport trade, and so, it is
presumed, to the greater sufferings of the victims
of crop failure! Nor, in fact, have these visitations
by any means ceased to afflict Europe. In 1891
Russia suffered from an extremely widespread fam-
ine, and the Czar's Government, while it did infi-
nitely less than ours does, obtained greater credit
owing to the feeling abstention on the part of the
Emperor, court, and capital from all amusements
while the people were distressed. During the last
scarcity in the Central Provinces, in some districts
40 per cent, of the population were on relief works,
but it was difficult to tell that those upon relief were
other than ordinary cultivators. Meanwhile, suffer-



ers flocked in their thousands from native states to
British works, and those states lost in the last ten
years about the same proportion of their population
as the British districts gained. So complete and
comprehensive is the famine relief of these days that
the question arises to what extent the poorest should
be fed out of taxes paid by the poor for the rich,
and notably the landlords, who support the Con-
gress movement, do not contribute their fair share,
and there is no Indian middle class to be remorse-
lessly bled by the tax-gatherer. It was possible for
families to earn on relief works 25 per cent, more
than the average agriculturist's income. The Com-
missioner of the northern division of Bombay, Sir F.
Lely, now a member of the Indian Decentralisation
Commission, attributes the intensity of the distress
in Gujerat to the fact that in a long period of pros-
perity the people had acquired expensive habits and
had become unfit to endure poverty, so little were
they brought down to poverty by previous taxation.
Some friendly critics maintain that a measure restrict-
ing land alienation should be enacted for all India,
but it will be necessary first to study the results of
the Land Act already passed for the Punjaub, for
such legislation reduces the cultivator's credit, and
could probably be evaded by the money-lender. Cir-
cumstances, moreover, differ in different provinces,
and agrarian legislation has been by no means suc-
cessful in the Deccan. If, again, the revenue were
made to depend entirely on the ram, whence would
come money in rainless years to feed the victims



of rainlessness? Some would say by supplementing
the finances of India' by a grant from England,
regardless of the dictum of the late Chancellor of
the Exchequer, now Lord St. Aldwyn, that the
finances of India are in an infinitely better condition
than our own. The fact is that the collection of
money in England for the Mansion House Fund
apparently makes it impossible for the British pub-
lic to realise that want of funds has never compelled
the Indian Government to refuse relief to a single
individual applying therefor, or to relax its efforts
to force help upon the retiring and unwilling. There
is no reason whatever why India should lose her
most precious possession, her financial independence.
Indeed, Lord Elgin wisely insisted that the prov-
ince of private charity, as distinguished from state
relief, should be unequivocally laid down before he
undertook to receive the Mansion House money,
which was used for such comforts and, compara-
tively speaking, luxuries as the Government did not
think could properly be given from public funds.
The introduction of usury laws is also urged, but
these, indeed, were practically adopted when the In-
dian Contract Act was so amended as to describe the
agriculturist as a person entitled to special protec-
tion in his dealings with money-lenders. Irrigation of
course has been suggested as the best of remedies,
and various English newspapers have eloquently
described the tens of millions of acres which should
be rendered independent of the seasons. Little
notice is taken of the fact that the Government of



India has spent 32 millions sterling upon irrigation
works, for which capital accounts are kept, whereby
17^ millions of acres give crops worth 34 J millions
of pounds, and has in hand projects which will irri-
gate further millions of acres. It is an absurd con-
tention that while the Government has done so
much it is responsible for famine because it does not
further do what financial and geographical reasons

So far as the mere prevention of famine goes,
it must not be forgotten that successful irrigation
schemes lead to a proportionate increase in the popu-
lation, and it is impossible to suppose that the Gov-
ernment, regardless of levels and water supply, can
extend irrigation at a remunerative cost, to such a
degree as to make the country independent of failure
of the rainfall. Lord Curzon made special inqui-
ries to discover what additional practicable projects
could be devised, and it was proved that the field
was of a very limited extent. The real remedy is
to be found in the introduction of foreign capital,
which the present agitation must necessarily scare
away; in the development of the material resources
of the country and the removal of the surplus
population from the overcrowded occupation of
agriculture. Tea and coffee planting, gold and coal
mining, and cotton spinning should be encouraged;
the rules and regulations which restrict enterprise
should be still further relaxed; obstacles to the
movement of labour, of which too many remain,
should be abolished, the cheap supply of labour



alongside the raw material being a great attraction
for the capitalist of India, which, in spite of its
admitted but exaggerated poverty, absorbs gold and
silver to the value of upwards of 10,000,000 sterling
per annum. Caste in no way handicaps industrial
operations. On the contrary, it enormously facili-
tates the organisation of labour. Agricultural dis-
tress must still exist in a country dependent upon
the monsoon, but in modern India there is always
sufficient grain to eat, and the object is the creation
of economic conditions in which the people will have
the money with which to buy food. Nevertheless,
so utterly is this question like most others
relating to India misunderstood in England, that
the old-world expedient of storing grain is seriously
recommended, while what the people want is the
money they can only get by selling what, in former
times, was stored, because there were no communi-
cations and no markets. As to the so-called drain,
most of it is incurred as interest ; absurdly low from
the Indian point of view upon capital expended
for the benefit of that country. It is of course de-
sirable that the amount should be kept as low as
possible, and the heavy charges for pensions and
non-effective services are certainly open to criticism.
The European civil agency could, in some provinces
at any rate, be reduced. Few English judges are
really wanted, and the Egyptian system would serve
as a useful model, but the one man who cannot be
spared is the British soldier, who makes it possible
for so few civilians to manage so many millions.



The secretariat could probably be reduced, for it
can hardly be seriously contended that it is abso-
lutely necessary that the reports of an officer getting
2000 rupees a month should be handed on to others
upon 3000 or 4000 rupees a month, with assistants
at 1000 or 2000 rupees a month, before they are
referred to a greater mandarin at 5000 or 6000
rupees a month, who can refer the matter to a col-
league upon the same stipend, when, if the latter
differs with him, or if a secretary chooses, the file,
plena jam margine, scriptus et in tergo nee dum finitus,
will finally come before the head of the administra-
tion. There is, at any rate in the old Presidencies
of Madras and Bombay, too much secretariat rule,
and any superfluous hands would be better occupied
in district administration. But such savings would
not seriously affect the situation. The Government
of India has pointed out how imperfectly its critics
realise the smallness of the land revenue compared
with enormous losses resulting from the failure of
crops. In the Central Provinces during seven years
the loss in this behalf has been equivalent to the
total land revenue for fifty years. It is clear that
any reductions that could be effected in establish-
ments, and even under the greater head of land-
revenue demand, would never enable the community
to withstand losses of such dimensions, nor indeed
is it true that abatement of taxation results in
provident saving on the part of the people. It is
notorious, on the contrary, that the exact reverse is
the case. Excessive leniency encourages the trans-



fer of the soil to money-lenders, landlords, and mid-
dlemen, who at once swallow up the profits intended
for the cultivator. It is also established that the
chief sufferers at famine time are not those who pay
assessment to Government or rent to landlords but
labourers on the land, who are not immediately
affected by the revenue assessment. The last Fam-
ine Commission, presided over by Sir Antony Mac-
Donnell than whom no Indian administrator has
been a more active friend to the tenant farmers
and peasant proprietors recorded that "the pres-
sure of land revenue is not severe, the incidence on
the gross produce of the soil being light, and not
such as to interfere with agricultural efficiency in
ordinary years, though there is a distinct need for
leniency in adverse seasons." Whilst crop failure
is the primary cause, there are other factors which
cause poverty and indebtedness in India, such as
the ever-increasing sub-divisions of holdings, due to
land hunger, and attachment to his own locality on
the part of the cultivator; the decline of village
industries, rack-renting on the part of certain land-
lords; expensive litigation, and extravagance on the
occasion of marriage and other festivities.

The Government of India has long had under
consideration the desirability of a gradual and pro-
gressive enforcement of such increases in assessments
as it is thought desirable to effect on resettlement.
Wherever a large enhancement is necessary, endeav-
ours are made to spread it over a period of years, and

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Online LibraryJ. D. (John David) ReesIndia; the real India (Volume 19) → online text (page 6 of 21)