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No. 284, APRIL 1916.
AN EIGHTEENTH CENTURY INDIAN VIEW OF BRITISH RULE IN INDIA.
BY PHI OMEGA.
THE first half of the eighteenth century witnessed the
practical completion of that decay of Mogul power in India which began during the reign of Aurangzib. The second half of the century was equally remarkable for the dramatic and unexpected rise to power of the destined successors of the Mogul. The Mogul, as Bernier pointed out, was a foreigner in India, though lapse of time, intermarriage and the influence of environment had all done their work in helping to assimilate the ruling house to the people and land over which it ruled. As compared, however, with the new race of rulers, the Mogul was a Hindustani of the Hindustanis. The Mogul was at least one who spoke an intelligible language ; the Mogul's law, the Mogul's justice, the Mogul's punishments were at least oriental, that is, intelligible ; likewise oriental and therefore intelligible were the Mogul's capriciousness, the Mogul's accessibility, the Mogul's cruelty ; the Mogul in fact was born and died among them, and his ways were in general
But the new rulers were indisputably and unquestionably foreign ; they were not born in the land, nor, if they could help it, did they condescend to die there; they were capricious, it seemed, but their capriciousness was not as the capriciousness of the Mogul ; they
were harsh when, according to all recognised (Indian) canons, leniency was to be expected ; they were lenient when, according to all recognised canons, they should have been severe. Their language was incomprehensible ; their knowledge of the proper (Indian) arts of government puerile; their ignorance of land questions, especially in the matter of zemindars, colossal; their law was a jargon which no one could understand; their law courts were mere traps for the unwary and a device for extracting money from the people of God. And yet these strangers from over the sea went on from achievement to achievement, and were obviously marked out as the future rulers of the whole of India.
All these criticisms, and a hundred like them, some of them justified and some of them baseless, would naturally occur to an intelligent Indian intellect as it surveyed the tremendous and vital transformation which Clive and Hastings and Cornwallis worked upon the land. It would be of indisputable interest if we could get inside the political mind of a reflective Indian of the eighteenth century, and view from his standpoint the pregnant happenings of the time and look with his eyes upon the intrusive and extraordinary strangers from over the sea who were obviously bent upon becoming a power in India. And though we have so far attempted only to suggest one or two lines of criticism which would naturally occur to the bewildered mind of such an observer, mere speculation need delay us no longer. The main object of this paper is to set out in as brief and readable a form as possible the actual criticisms, recorded by himself, which an intelligent Indian of the latter half of the eighteenth century passed upon the English in their capacity as statesmen and rulers of his country.
A book that is better known than it used to be, and · yet is not even now as accessible as it should be, is the Seir-ul-Mutaquherin, or Review of Modern Times. It is, as the title page sets forth, "an history of India, from
the year 1118 to the year 1194 of the Hegira, containing in general the reigns of the seven last Emperors of Hindustan, and in particular, an account of the English wars in Bengal to which the author has added a critical examination of the English government and policy in those countries as far down as the year 1783. The whole written in Persian by Seid Gholam Hossein Khan, an Indian Nobleman of rank, who wrote both as actor and spectator.' The book was translated into what is at times very quaint English, abounding in Gallicisms and queer spellings, especially in regard to names, by an orientalised Frenchman, M. Raymond. The translation was published at Calcutta in 1789, the original Persian account having been written shortly before.
That omnivorous reader, Macaulay, knew of the book and used it in his essay on Warren Hastings. From it he derived his authority for the statement, which however he put rather more picturesquely than the Mahometan writer, that Clavering swore to rescue Nuncomar even at the foot of the gallows. The son of Chief Justice Impey did not know of the book, and hence his question : “Where did Mr. Macaulay ever hear or read that General Clavering swore Nuncomar should be rescued even at the foot of the gallows ? I have read until my eyes have been nearly blinded, and I have not been able to find or to get indicated to me any passage containing the rash vow of General Clavering.” Impey's son did not, as above appears, know of the Seir-ul-Mutaquherin, and in the matter of this particular point Macaulay did not indicate the source of his information ; though his reference in another part of his essay to "the Mahometan Chronicler" might have given a clue to filial devotion more acutely directed.
This work, which Sir James Fitzjames Stephen rightly called “ that curious book,” has various claims to attention. The standpoint, however, from which we view it in this paper requires and permits us to examine only a small part of it. But that part is, and must remain, an essentially valuable part of the book; for it contains the views of an Indian Mahometan of rank, written contemporaneously with the rapid expansion of British power, upon the white western strangers who till lately had been mere tolerated sojourners in the land and now had become its masters. It was written at a time when British rule had not lost the aspect of strangeness and novelty ; and when the writer could, without the necessity of historical reading or imagination, contemplate the good and the bad points of the government which had fallen, and compare them with those of the government which had taken its place. His remarks are essentially criticism, and also essentially biassed criticism ; the writer by his mental cons
; titution deprecates change and exalts custom, but as a record of opinion his remarks possess unique and permanent value.
“ Amidst the strange events which these revolutions have brought about, the introduction of European foreigners in the heart of the land is an important one.” Thus the writer begins his criticism of the new administrators. And first he comments on the total dissimilarity and antipathy existing between the Hindustanis and the English. Such is the aversion, he says, which the English openly show for the company of the inhabitants of the land, that "no love and no coalition can take root." We hear of the language difficulty. "Most of the English Gentlemen do not understand the language of their subjects, and none of these last understands a word of English. It follows therefore that a company of Hindians, having business with their English rulers, looks very much like a number of pictures set up against the wall.” He urges, with an obvious reference to the three Members of Council, Francis, Monson and Clavering, that men should never be brought straight from England, and while ignorant of the people, language and country, placed in positions of great authority. Customs and habits differ so much in different countries as to make this very unwise. And
then, by way of illustrating the difference, he rather quaintly says :-“ Taxes and imposts upon husbandry and land, Soobadaries, Fodjdaries, Qhalissas and Djaghirs are not customary in that country. It appears that they take something by way of duty from coaches and from windows of houses, from plate, and other vessels of gold and silver, and from merchandise . There are some practices which are become there of custom and obligation, and which here have never been heard of or seen ; as, for instance, counting the inhabitants of every town or city and examining how much they have earned and how much spent ; how many are dead, and how many are their children, and how many their old men.” And then follows a warning: “It does not seem possible to bring the people of this country into such customs and usages, whereas the English being accustomed to them in their own country want to introduce them here likewise, and think such an introduction easy and of small amount. There is a substratum of sound warning here for administrators even at the present day, but only a substratum, for the Census and the Income Tax are present-day facts to prove that the Mussulman critic's impossibilities have been made possible.
The first point, therefore, which Gholam Hossein makes is that the new rulers are distinctly and essentially foreigners, differing in every possible respect from Indians.
A second point made by the critic is the difficulty of obtaining personal audience with the new rulers. The Indian rulers, he says, set apart two days in the week, at which time they appeared publicly in all their pomp and grandeur and glory. Nor did they show any impatience at the screams and reproaches of the crowds that pressed upon them." He tells us however that "the English Gentlemen hate appearing in public audiences, and whenever they come to appear at all, they betray extreme uneasiness, impatience, and anger on seeing themselves surrounded by crowds, and on hearing their