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THE PENAL SYSTEM neglect, as the mothers display the greatest affection for their children.
“The Andaman Penal System is the result of the constant attention of the Government which created it, and is the outcome of the measures of practical men, devised to meet the difficulties with which they have found themselves face to face, and reduced to order and rule by some of the keenest intellects that have worked in India for many years past. It is no paper constitution drawn up to suit any particular theories. There have always been the convicts in their thousands, and there have been the climate, and the necessity for treating the convicts in the way best calculated to benefit them, and for so employing them as to bring down their cost to the taxpayer to the lowest limits compatible with climatic conditions and beneficial treatment. Trusted agents of the Government have pondered these things on the spot in the light of an ever-increasing experience, and their ideas and suggestions have passed under the criticisms of highly experienced administrators, and have in the end produced the system which is now carried out.
"Repeatedly tinkered and patched and recast and remodelled though it has been, the Andaman System is still inchoate-still on itst rial as it were. It could not well be otherwise, for in dealing with the criminal we are attempting to solve a mighty problem as old as criminality itself, and are plunged, perforce, into a controversy as contentious now as it was centuries upon centuries ago.
“From the best estimates to hand, we may take it that the permanent convict strength of the Settlement may be placed at about 12,000, of whom about 800 are women, and the rule is that only life convicts are sent from India, and life and long-term convicts from Burma. The people received, therefore, are the murderers who have for some reason escaped the death penalty, and the perpetrators of the more heinous offences against person and property-the men of brutal violence, the highwaymen, the robbers, the habitual thieves, and the receivers of stolen goods, the worst of the swindlers, forgers, cheats, coiners, and such like—in fact the most unrestrained temperaments of a continent. These considerations show the scale of the work, and the nature of the task.
“The convict comes to the Andamans a creature who, by his life or his acts, has shown himself to be so unfitted for human society that he has been cast out of it for life, or for a long term of years. Received thus, he is first subjected for six months to a most severe discipline-hard, rigid, uncompromising. He is taught what it is like to be forced to bend his uncontrolled nature to the iron yoke of a régime, not of hard toil, but of soul-crushing monotony. From the stern Cellular Jail he is next transferred to one of the associated jails, to the comparative blessing of hard labour, in company with others, but still under a strict discipline. He works and feeds with others in gangs, and there is a certain variety in the tasks demanded, but he still sleeps in his separate cell. Here he stays for a year and a half, and then for the next three years he is a slave, as the word is ordinarily understood, locked up with other slaves in barracks at night, but working in the open at any kind of task that the needs of the Settlement may require of him, according to his capacity-an unpaid, unrewarded labourer, but well fed, housed, clothed, and cared for, and always under watch and guard. During the following five years he is still a labouring convict, but the severity of his life is eased down a little for him. He is now eligible for the petty posts of supervision, and for the less irksome and less slave-like forms of labour, and he gets a little-a very little-allowance, to buy a few small luxuries, or to place in the Savings Bank against future necessities. Having thus served ten long probationary years, he is eligible, if he has any capacity, to take a ticket-of-leave and become what is locally known as a self-supporter.
“The convict is now in a sense 'free.' He earns his living in his own chosen way; he lives in a village, in his own house ; he farms a little land; he keeps cattle ; he can move about unwatched; he can send for his wife and children, or, the far more frequent course, he can marry a convict woman, who, under her own regulations, is eligible for marriage. He can thus become pater familias, with a little hoard of his own earning, and differing outwardly in no way from the ordinary villager or properly conducted member of human society. In reality, however, he differs so greatly, that he misses all those things that 'free' men prize so highly. He has no civil rights under the ordinary law, and all the affairs of his life are dealt with by the executive authority. He must live where he is told; and generally conduct his life as
THE PENAL SYSTEM
he is told; he may move about beyond his village and his fields by permission only; he cannot leave the Settlement; he may not be idle, under pain of a forced return to convict labour. In this state he remains ten or fifteen years, according to the crimes that have sent him here, until the happy day comes when the order for absolute release is placed in his hands and he goes free as other men.
“As in the other portions of his life in transportation, even in the condition of self-supporter the convict passes through two distinct stages. In the first stage he is assisted at the beginning with house, food, and tools, and then by exemption from rent, taxes, fees, and other cesses payable by the free towards the common benefit. In the second stage he receives no assistance whatever, but finds the whole of his means of livelihood, and is charged with every public payment which would be exacted from him in his own country.
“The women are dealt with on the same lines, but more gently, as becomes the gentler sex. For the first three years the convict woman works in the Female Jail as a mere slave, fed, housed, clothed, and cared for. Then for two years she is treated to the same easing down of severity as is granted to the men, and after a total of five years she is eligible for marriage and domestic service. Assuming that she marries, she joins her husband in his village, where she leads the ordinary life of an Indian woman, but subject to the same disabilities as her husband until she has completed fifteen years in transportation, when she may go free with him whithersoever he may go.
“Now through all this long education to useful citizenship there run continuous threads of practice in self-help and self-restraint, and of inducement to profit by the practice. The length of the convict's stay in the Cellular Jail depends entirely on his conduct in it, and so it remains throughout his career, up to the point of self-support. Efforts to behave well, and submission to control, mean promotion upwards from grade to grade in due course. Every serious lapse means the retarding of promotion, or actual retrogression. And when he has obtained his ticket-of-leave, it is to his own effort, his own thrift, his own steadiness, that he has solely to look for that little hoard which is to be so much to him when he goes back to his native land-no pauper, no mere jail-bird, no unwelcome burden on his relatives, but a self-respecting citizen, with a little capital of his own earning, for years habituated to provide for himself in an orderly way, and thoroughly broken to harness as it were.
"It does not require much imagination to contrast the difference in the personality of the same human being as he reaches and leaves Port Blair. He that arrived an outcast, void of restraint, and unfit for association with his kind on equal terms, goes forth a useful citizen, broken to restraint, and not only fitted for human society, but well used to submit to the conventions by which alone that society can be maintained. And men so reformed are not sent back to India by ones and twos, but by scores every year. Every one of the life convicts sent home is such a man. The incorrigible are kept till death, and the slow to learn are kept until they mend their ways, while those only that have good in them, and are capable of reform, are returned to the society they once disgraced.
“The difference between transportation to Port Blair and imprisonment in a jail lies in this very matter. While the Port Blair returned convict is a man fitted to, and habituated to, support himself, the prisoner released from a jail is not only a pauper but has became pauperised. That is, he has become unaccustomed to find for himself, and this disability has grown upon him with the length of his imprisonment. On this important ground alone, one cannot help hoping that some day it may be found feasible to extend the Andaman System to long-term prisoners from India.
“Besides the direct personal education that the Port Blair convict receives, he is taught various lessons of general importance in indirect ways. There is the value of justice, for instance. For though his life is absolutely controlled by executive officers, everything that happens to him is the result of a quasi-judicial procedure. No punishment can be inflicted without a proceeding, without registration, or without record of the evidence on which it is awarded. There is a regular course of appeal, and a further untrammelled appeal to the Head of the Administration himself. Thus, though the punishments in such a place as Port Blair must on occasion assume a form of deterrent severity, there is as much security of justice in award as elsewhere.
“Then there is the system of local marriage. This is no concubinage, no temporary or irregular alliance. Every inquiry is
THE PENAL SYSTEM
probab whole cain pr all.
made and every step is taken that is necessary to render convict marriages legal, according to the customary personal law of the contracting parties. Long is the waiting in many cases between proposal and completion, and many are the disappointments when the conditions are found to bar completion. Once married, the husband and wife are made to clearly realise their condition, and must depart together or not at all.
"The children, of course, are a very serious question, but the best is done for them,—their health is so well cared for, that in Port Blair, probably alone in all the East, it is the rule to successfully rear the whole of a young family; primary education is here compulsory, again probably alone in all the East; and technical training is free to all. Their inheritance of temperament and their early associations are the points of anxiety regarding them, but these matters may be fairly said to be beyond control.*
“The Savings Bank has already been mentioned as a factor in the education of the convict. How great has been the effect of this beneficent institution will be seen from the fact that it was started twenty-seven years ago with 54 accounts, and is now, and has for years past been, the largest local bank of the kind in India. It has now over 2300 open convict accounts, and has had . 12,000 accounts opened during its existence. This means, that for years, more than one fourth of the whole body of the convicts have kept their savings in it, thus showing how well they have taken to heart the lessons of thrift and of faith in the honesty of the Government.
“But far be it from concealing the fact that there is a seamy side to life in Port Blair. It could not be otherwise; and it would be easy enough to paint a lurid picture of its inhabitants,-easy enough to preach a scathing condemnation of the envy, hatred, and malice, the uncharitableness, the evil-speaking, lying and slandering, the murder and the cruel death, of the amazing immorality, the callous depravity, the downright unabashed wickedness, that are so constantly forced upon the view. But such is not to the purpose. Human faults are easily seen and easily denounced, for such things lie on the surface. The difficult thing always is to perceive aright the good that there
* Vide Appendix E.