Page images
PDF
EPUB

ART. IV.- Report of a Police Committee, dated Calcutta,

10th August 1838; with Papers and Evidence. Calcutta : 1838-9.

HAPPILY for both countries, there is no case in which duty and

interest are more entirely and palpably coincident, than in that of the relations of England to India. We need not dwell upon the solemn obligations involved in our assumption of rule over a vast population, long and miserably degraded under the concurrent oppression of the most intense temporal and spiritual despotism-aggravated, in the latter instance, by the worst of all the false religions which the perverse dispositions of man ever devised or submitted to-but inhabiting a country second to none in natural resources, and looking up to us, with undeniable rightfulness, for the means of developing them; and of thus commencing, at least, the great work of social regeneration. Those means, as we have shown on former occasions, and as no one with ordinary knowledge of the subject will deny, can be afforded so as to be practically available to the present generation, or, indeed, within any moderate term of years, only by bringing British capital and energy into connexion with the vast capabilities which are now lying almost absolutely dormant in India. And the measures which are essential to the consummation of this union, are those of which the people of India stand most in need for their own welfare and improvement, independently of the great advantages which they would derive from a more intimate intercommunion with England.

We mean, of course, an efficient administration of civil and criminal justice; a blessing of which—even taking the state of things which obtains in this country as the standard of perfection

- the natives of India have never enjoyed a share that might satisfy the least exacting. Daydreams have, indeed, been indulged of a golden age, when all differences were decided promptly, justly, and cheaply—by a primitive system of arbitration called punchait;' but the illusion, on closer investigation, appears to resolve itself into this--that when the ruling power either did not pretend to administer civil justice, or its officers were so corrupt, that justice at their price was not worth having, the people did the best they could for themselves. This much is certain, that even in those parts of the Peninsula where arbitration by “punchait seemed to have the deepest root in the habits, if not in the affections, of the community, resort to it has been almost entirely superseded by the higher recommendations of the courts established by the British Government, with all their crying imperfections.* Criminal justice was altogether beyond its sphere. That was necessarily left to the executive government, by which it was often utterly neglected ; for the people had not energy enough to take the matter into their own hands—with more or less of substantial justice-after the manner of the regulators' among the Anglo-Saxons on the other side of the Atlantic. At other times, especially when disorganization had made such progress as to threaten to affect the

revenue, the ruler of the day acted with the capricious and indiscriminating violence proper to Asiatic despotisms, against all persons suspected of serious offences against property.

Matters, of course, have improved in all these respects under the British Government. It is mere jaundiced prejudice to represent, as some do, that that Government is imbecile, or a curse to the people of India. In its bearing upon the great body of that community, and especially upon the humbler classes, it is immeasurably superior to all its predecessors; and impartial history will record to its honour, that it has made—often under circumstances of great embarrassment, and always against extreme counteraction, arising from the condition of its necessary instruments, and of the subject-matter of its operations—very strenuous exertions to repress the more formidable crimes, and to improve the general administration of justice. But all these exertions have not, of course, been equally judicious or effectual; and it is manifest that the time has arrived, when, if it be desired to accelerate the march of improvement, and especially to attract British capital, still greater efforts are demanded.

The colonization of India by Englishmen—in the ordinary sense of the term—is out of the question. Its practicability was much insisted on, indeed, in the discussions that preceded the last renewal of the East India Company's Charter, by that class of speakers and writers which appears to hold as an axiom, that no cause is so good as to be trusted to stand on its own strength, without the aid of a little invigorating misrepresentation. But the climate absolutely forbids it. The grandsons of those who attempted it, would be no more like Englishmen than the Por

* This sort of arbitration has frequently been found useful in the settlement of differences arising out of questions of caste, and sometimes in the adjustment of complicated accounts. But it seems to be always extremely difficult to bring a case under this process of adjudication to any definite issue; and it is stated that in some parts of the country, where the habits of the people are warlike, these attempts at arbitration not unfrequently ended in pitched battles.

tuguese who now drudge as clerks in the public offices of British India, resemble the soldiers of Albuquerque. All identity, both moral and physical, would be lost. Nature prohibits our taking possession of India in the same manner as our ancestors took possession of North America, and as we are now swarming out of our crowded hive to appropriate Australasia and New Zealand. But India has an abundant population of her own, Unhappily, she is utterly devoid of capital to set that population to work upon.

It is no easy matter, however, to transplant capital. In spite of power and of law, of bounties and restrictions, it will not take root in other than congenial soil. Insecurity, occasioned by defective institutions, is the cause that principally repels it. To India—though England has been replete with it, to a degree that has led to its rash investment in the most visionary or fraudulent schemes-capital has never yet gone in any quantity worthy of mention in relation to the field for its profitable employment, which, under more favourable circumstances, that country would afford. The causes are obvious. In the first place, the delegated sovereigns of India have never taken any adequate trouble to inform the public of the great attractions which their dominions unquestionably hold out; and secondly, it is at least as well known as any matter connected with our eastern empire, that the administration both of civil and of criminal justice is, in too many respects, in a state that must be extremely irksome, to say the least, to those who have been accustomed to the protection, in person and property, of efficient institutions. Such a state of things is abundantly sufficient to deter the generality of individuals, having no intimate acquaintance with the amount of real hazard, or the relation of probable profit to the risk incurred, from investing capital in a land where it must necessarily be obnoxious to what must appear very formidable insecurity,

No pains, no expense, should be spared to provide a remedy for evils which most mischievously prevent the full and free reciprocation of those mighty benefits which England and her noble dependency possess the means of conferring each upon the other;—a view of the subject, which, although restricted, is so far from being selfish, that it is in entire accordance with the general interests of the people of India. The task to be achieved, though not so easy as it must be supposed by those who have no toleration for the omissions of the rulers of British India, and who appear to think that the regeneration of a deeply degraded people is the simplest of all processes, would not be insuperably difficult to statesmen who should undertake it in earnest, and with an adequate sense of the vast importance to

prose

millions of living men, and to hundreds of millions yet unborn, of a successful issue to their labours.

We shall endeavour in this paper to give the British public some notion of the existing state of things as respects the

administration of Civil and Criminal Justice in India; of the principal desiderata of improvement in each of these branches ; of the obstacles to their attainment; and of the means by which, in our judgment, those obstacles may best be surmounted. In cuting this intention, we shall make it our study to treat a subject-confessedly not very popular—in such a manner as to render it intelligible to the largest possible number of home-bred readers. It is for their information, and with a view to interest them in matters which have hitherto been too little understood, and therefore by far too little cared for, that we mainly write; and we shall not, therefore, be much disturbed if Anglo-Indians, familiar with all the details of the subjects which we treat, shall find fault with our want of novelty.

We do not pretend to teach them any thing as to facts; though, perhaps, it would be well if we could communicate to some of the class broader views as to the causes of existing evils, and the most easy and effectual means of removing them. But our chief object is to show the people of England what it is that makes India comparatively valueless to them; to demonstrate that in this case, as in all others, true self-love and social are the same;' and to stimulate those who have the power, if they had but the will, to constrain the body to which they have delegated the sovereignty of this magnificent dependency, to exert themselves with energy commensurate at once with the difficulty of the undertaking and the extreme advantage of success, to improve the institutions which they have given to, or maintained for, the people of India; and thus to afford scope for the unshackled development of the unequalled natural resources of their country.

With details we shall not meddle on the present occasion. The limits to which we must confine ourselves, will scarcely allow room for the necessary statement of cardinal facts, and the exposition of general principles.

When Lord Cornwallis-—whose ability and judgment were by no means equal to his benevolence--devised and executed the first system, worthy of being so characterized, for the administration of justice in India, he committed the grand mistake of under-estimating the amount of business that might be expected to devolve upon the courts which he created; and, consequently, failed to provide sufficient instrumentality for its execution. He fell also into another error, from which a correct calculation in the first particular would have saved him; by convincing him of the utter impossibility of rendering the supply of the agency on which he exclusively relied, equal to the demand for it. With the exception of very petty suits, he placed the whole of the administration of justice, civil and criminal, primary and appellate, in the hands of English functionaries, whose necessarily high remuneration restricted within very narrow limits the numbers in which they could be employed.

These miscalculations were fatal to the success of the plan. Further, they tended to make matters worse, in some respects, than they had been during the foregoing years of the Company's administration. As imperfect discipline often spoils good irregular troops, so in the instance in question, something of the wild vigour inherent in the unshackled exercise of practically unlimited powers by officers often of high ability, was lost; and, with one important exception, nothing really valuable was immediately gained in return. The separation of judicial from fiscal functions, and the constitution of impartial tribunals, before which the

payers of revenue might complain of undue exaction committed by the revenue officers of the government, with a certainty of the best redress which the time and other means at his command might enable the judge to afford, unquestionably operated as a material check, at least, upon very grievous abuses ; and the change of system was so far a signal blessing to the community. But as regards the dispensation of justice between man and man, there was, we fear, little practical improvement. The machinery provided for the administration of the laws, was utterly inadequate to the execution of the work which devolved upon it. The new courts were quickly and hopelessly overwhelmed with business. Enormous arrears accumulated, under the shelter of which, and by means of the forms of justice, which the want of its substance permitted the powerful to pervert to their own wrongful ends, it is not too much to assume that more injustice was perpetrated than could have been practised, with equal impunity, previously to the attempt to introduce a new and improved order of things.* The government was astonished and perplexed at the unsatisfactory results of its truly benevolent measures. But

* Even so late as 1812, the Court of Directors wrote- We should be very sorry that, from the accumulation of arrears, there should even be room to raise a question whether it were better to leave the natives to their own arbitrary and precipitate tribunals, than to harass their feelings, and injure their property, by an endless procrastination of their suits, under the pretence of more deliberate justice.'

« EelmineJätka »