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Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier
Chapter XIV

A native village continued —The watchman or "chowkeydar"—The temple—Brahmins—Idols—Religion—Humility of the poorer classes— Their low condition—Their apathy—The police—Their extortions and knavery—An instance of police rascality—Corruption of active officials—The Hindoo unfit for self-government.

One more important functionary we have yet to notice, the watchman or chowkeydar. He is generally a Doosadh, or other low caste man, and perambulates the village at night, at intervals uttering a loud cry or a fierce howl, which is caught up and echoed by all the chowkeydars of the neighbouring villages. It is a weird, strange sound, cry after cry echoing far away, distance beyond distance, till it fades into faintness. At times it is not an unmusical cry, but when he howls out close to your tent, waking you from your first dreamless sleep, you do not feel it to be so. The chowkeydar has to see that no thieves enter tbe village by night. He protects the herds and property of the villagers. If a theft or crime occurs, he must at once report it to the nearest police station. If you lose your way by night, you shout out for the nearest chowkeydar, and he is bound to pass you on to the next village. These men get a small gratuity from government, but the villagers also pay them a small sum, which they assess according to individual means. The chowkeydar is generally a ragged, swarthy fellow with long matted hair, a huge iron-bound staff, and always a blue puggree. The blue is his official colour. Sometimes he has a brass badge, and carries a sword, a curved, blunt weapon, the handle of which is so small that scarcely an Englishman's hand would be found to fit it. It is more for show than use, and in thousands of eases it has become so fixed m the scabbard that it cannot be drawn.

In the immediate vicinity of each village, and often in the village itself, is a small temple, sacred to Vishnu or Shiva. It is often perched high up on some bank, overlooking the lake or village tank. Generally there is some umbrageous old tree overshadowing the sacred fane, and seated near, reclining in the shade, are several oleaginous old Brahmins. If the weather he hot, they generally wear only the dhotee or loin cloth made of fine linen or cotton, and hanging about the legs in not ungraceful folds. The Brahmin can be told by Ins sacred thread worn round the neck over the shoulder. His skin is much fairer than the majority of his fellow villagers. It is not un-frequently a pale golden olive, and I have seen them as fair as many Europeans. They are intelligent men, with acute minds, but lazy and self-indulgent. Frequently the village Brahmin is simply a sensual voluptuary. This is not the time or place to descant on their religion, which, with many gross practices, contains not a little that is pure and beautiful. The common idea at home that they are miserable pagans, "bowing down to stocks and stones," is, like many of the accepted ideas about India, very much exaggerated. That the masses, the crude uneducated Hindoos, place some faith in the idol, and expect in some mysterious way that it will influence, their fate for good or evil, is not to be denied, but the. more intelligent natives, and most of the Brahmins, only look on the idol as a visible sign and symbol of the divinity. They want a vehicle to carry their thoughts upwards to God, and the idol is a means to assist their thoughts heavenward. As works of art their idols are not equal to the fine pictures and other symbols of the Greeks or the lit 'man Catholics, but they serve the same purpose. "Where the village is very poor, and no pious founder has perpetuated his memory, or done honour to the gods by erecting a temple, the natives content themselves with a rough mud shrine, which they visit at intervals and daub with red paint. They deposit flowers, pour libations of water or milk, and in other ways strive to shew that a religious impulse is stirring within them. So far as I have observed, however, the vast mass of the poor toilers :n India have practically little or no religion. Material wants are too pressing. They may have some dumb, vague aspirations after a higher and a holier life, but the fight for necessaries, for food, raiment, and shelter, is too incessant for them to indulge much in contemplation. They have a dim idea of a future life, but none of them can give you anything but a very unsatisfactory idea of their religion. They observe certain forms and ceremonies, because their fathers did, and because the Brahmins tell them. Of real, vital, practical religion, as we know it, they have little or no knowledge. Ask any common labourer or one of the low castes about immortality, about salvation, about the higher virtues, about the yearnings and wishes that every immortal soul at periods has, and he will simply tell you, "Khoda jane, hum gureeb admi," i.e. "God knows; I am only a poor man!" There they take refuge always when you ask them anything puzzling. If you are rating them for a fault, asking them to perform a complicated task, or inquiring your way in a strange neighbourhood, the first answer you get will ten to one, be "Hum gureeb admi." It is said almost instinctively, and no doubt in many cases is the refuge of simple disinclination to think the matter out. Pure laziness suggests it. It is too much trouble to frame an answer, or give the desired information, and the "gureeb admi comes naturally to the lip. It is often deprecatory, meaning "I am ignorant and uninformed, you must not expect too much from a poor, rude, uncultivated man like me. It is often, also, a delicate mode of flattery, which is truly Oriental, implying, and often conveying in a tone, a look, a gesture, that though the speaker is "gureeb," poor, humble, despised, it is only by contrast to von, the questioner, who are mighty, exalted, and powerful. For downright fawning obsequiousness, or delicate, implied, line-strung, subtle flattery, I will back a Hindoo sycophant against the courtier or place-hunter of every other nation. It is very annoying at times, if you are in a hurry, and particularly want a direct answer to a plain question, to hear the old old story, "I am a poor man," but there is nothing for it but patience. You must ask again plainly and kindly. The poorer classes are easily flurried; they Will always give what information they have if kindly spoken to, but you must not fluster them. You must rouse their minds to think, and let them fairly grap the purport of your inquiry, for they are very suspicious, often pondering over your object, carefully considering all the pros and cons as to your motive, inclination, or your position. Many try to give an answer that they think would be pleasing to you. If they think you are weary and tired, and you ask your distance from the place you may be wishing to reach, they will ridiculously underestimate the length of road. A man may have all the cardinal virtues, but if they think you do noj like him, and you ask his character, they will paint him to you blacker than Satan himself. It is very hard to get the plain unvarnished truth from a Hindoo. Many, indeed, are almost incapable of giving an intelligent answer to any question that does not nearly concern their own private and purely personal interests. They have a sordid, grubbing, vegetating life; many of them indeed are but little above the brute creation. They have no idea beyond the supply of the mere animal wants of the moment. The future never troubles them. They live their hard, unlovely lives, and experience few pleasures and no surprises. They have few regrets; their minds are mere blanks, and life is one long continued struggle with nature for bare subsistence. What wonder then that they are fatalists? They do not speculate on the mysteries of existence, they are content to be, to labour, to suffer, to die when tlieir time comes like a, dog, because it is Kismet—their fate. Many of them never strive to avert any impending calamity, such, for example, as sickness. A man sickens, he wraps himself in stolid apathy, he makes no effort to shake off his malady, he accepts it with sullen, despairing, pathetic resignation as his fate. His friends mourn in their dumb, despairing way, but they too accept the situation. He has no one to rouse him. If you ask him what is the matter, he only wails out, "Hum kya kurre?" "What can I do? I am unwell." No attempt whatever to tell you of the origin of his illness, no wish even for sympathy or assistance. He accepts the fact of his illness. He struggles not with Fate. It is so ordained. "Why fight against it?" Amen; so let it-be." I have often been saddened to see poor toiling tenants struck down in this way. Even if you give them medicine, they often have not energy enough to take it. You must see them take it before your eyes. It is your struggle, not theirs. You must rouse them, by your will. Your energy must compel them to make an attempt to combat their weakness. Once you rouse a man, and infuse some spirit into him, he may-resist his disease, but it is a hard fight to get him to tRy. What a meaning in that one word try! To act. To do. The average poor suffering native Hindoo knows nothing of it.

Of course their moods vary. They have their "high days and holidays," feasts, processions, and entertainments; but on the whole the average ryot or small cultivator has a hard life.

In every village there are generally bits of uncultivated or jungle lands, on which the village herds have a right of pasture. The cow being a sacred animal, they only use her products, milk and butter. The urchins may be seen in the morning driving long strings of emaciated-looking animals to the village pasture, which in the evening wend their weary way backwards through the choking dust, having had but "short commons" all the day on the parched and scanty herbage.

The police are too often a source of annoyance, and become extortionate robbers, instead of "the protectors of the poor." It seems to be inherent in the Oriental mind to abuse authority. I do not scruple to say that all the vast army of policemen, court peons, writers, clerks, messengers, and underlings of all sorts, about the courts of justice, in the service of Government officers, or in any way attached to the retinue of a Government official, one and all are undeniably shamelessly venal and corrupt. They accept a bribe much more quickly than an attorney a fee, or a hungry dog a shin of beef. If a policeman only enters a village he expects a feast from the head man, and will ask a present with unblushing effrontery as a perquisite of his office. If a theft is reported, the inspector of the nearest police-station, or thanna as it is called, sends one of his myrmidons, or, :f the chance of bribes be good, he may attend himself. On arrival, ambling on his broken-kneed, wall-eyed pony, he seats himself in the verandah, of the chief man of the village, who forthwith, with much inward trepidation, makes his appearance. The policeman assumes the air of a haughty conqueror receiving homage, from a conquered foe. He assures the trembling wretch that, "acting on information received," he must search his dwelling for the missing goods, and that his women's apartments will have to be ransacked, and so annoys, goads, anu insults the unfortunate man, that he is too glad to purchase immunity from further insolence by making the policeman a small present, perhaps a "kid of the goats," or something else. The guardian of the peace is then regaled with the best food in the house, after which he becomes "wreathed with smiles." If he sees a chance of a farther bribe, he takes his departure saying he will make his report to the thanna. He repeats his procedure with some of the other respectable inhabitants, and goes back a good deal richer than he came, to share the spoil with the thannadar or inspector.

Another man may then be sent, and the same course is followed, until all the force in the station have had their share. The ryot is afraid to resist. The police have tremendous powers for annoying and doing him harm. A crowd of subservient scoundrels always hangs round the station, dependents, relations, or accomplices. These harry the poor man who is unwise enough to resist the extortionate demands of the police. They take his cattle to the pound, foment strife between him and his neighbours, get up frivolous and false charges against him, harass him in a thousand ways, and if all else fails, get him summoned as a witness in some case. You might think a witness a person to be treated with respect, to be attended to, to have every facility offered him for giving his evidence at the least cost of time and trouble possible consistent with the demands of justice ami the vindication of law and authority.

Not so in India with the witness in a police case, when the force dislike him. If he has not previously satisfied their leech-like rapacity, he is tormented, tortured, bullied, and kicked "from pillar to post" till his life becomes a burden to him. He has to leave all his avocations, perhaps at the time when his affairs require his constant supervision. He has to trudge many a weary mile to attend the Court. The police get hold of him, and keep him often in real durance. He gets no opportunity for cooking or eating his food. His daily habits are upset and interfered with. In every little vexatious way (and they are masters of the art of petty torture) they so worry and goad him, that the very threat of being summoned as a witness in a police case, is often enough to make the horrified well-to-do native give a handsome gratuity to be allowed to sit quietly at home.

This is no exaggeration. It is the every-day practice of the police. They exercise a real despotism. They have set up a reign of terror. The nature of the ryot is such, that he will submit to a great deal to avoid having to leave his home and his work. The police take full advantage of this feeling, and being perfectly unscrupulous, insatiably rapacious, and leagued together in villany, they make a golden harvest out of every case put into their hands. They have made the name of justice stink in the nostrils of the respectable and well-to-do middle classes of India.

The District Superintendents are men of energy and probity, but after all they are. only mortal. What with accounts, inspections, reports, forms, and innumerable writings, they cannot exercise a constant vigilance and personal supervision over every part of their district. A district may comprise many hundred villages, thousands of inhabitants, and leagues of intricate and densely peopled country. The mere physical exertion of riding over his district in about a week would be too much for any man. The subordinate police are all interested in keeping up the present system of extortion, and the inspectors and sub-inspectors, who wink at malpractices, come in for their share of the spoil. There is little combination among the peasantry. Each selfishly tries to save his own skin, and they know that if any one individual were to complain, or to dare to resist, he would have to bear the brunt of the battle alone. None of his neighbours would stir a finger to back him; he is too timid and too much in awe of the official European, and constitutionally too averse to resistance, to do aught but suffer in silence. Xo doubt he feels his wrongs most keenly, and a sullen feeling of hate and wrong is being garnered up, which may produce results disastrous for the peace and well-being of our empire in the East.

As a case in point, I may mention one instance out of many which came under my own observation. I had a moomhee, or accountant, in one of my outworks in Purneah. Formerly, when the police had come through the factor}', he had been in the habit of giving them a present and some food. Under my strict orders, however, that no policemen were to be allowed near the place unless they came on business, he had discontinued paying his black-mail. This was too glaring an infringement of what they considered their vested rights to be passed over in silence. Example might spread. My man must be made, an example of. I had a case in the Court of the Deputy Magistrate some twenty miles or so from the factory. The moonsliee had been named as a witness to prove the writing of some papers filed in the suit. They got a citation for him to appear, a mere summons for his attendance as a witness. Armed with this, they appeared at the factory two or three days before the date fixed on for hearing the cause. I had just ridden in from Rurneah, tired, hot, and dusty, and was sitting in the shade of the verandah with young D., my assistant. One policeman first came up, presented the summons, which I took, and he then stated that it w as a warrant for the production of my moonshee, and that he must take him away at once. I told the man it was merely a summons, requiring the attendance of the moonshee on a certain date to give evidence in the case. lie was very insolent in his manner. It is customary when a Hindoo of inferior rank appears before you, that he removes his shoes, and stands before you in a respectful attitude. This man's headdress was all disarranged, which in itself is a sign of disrespect. He spoke loudly and insolently; kept his shoes on; and sat down squatting on the grass before me. My assistant was very indignant, and w anted to speak to the man; but rightly judging that the object was to enrage me, and trap me into committing some overt act, that would be afterwards construed against me, I kept my temper, spoke very firmly but temperately, told by my moonshee was doing some work of great importance, that I could not spare his services then, but that I would myself see that the summons was attended to. The policeman became more boisterous and insolent. I offered to give him a letter to the magistrate, acknowledging the receipt of the summons, and I asked him his own name, which he refused to give. I asked him if he could read, and he said he could not. 1 then asked him if he could not read, how could he know what was in the paper which he had brought, and how he knew my moonshee was the party meant. He said a chowkeydar had told him so. I asked where was the chowkeydar, and seeing from my coolness and determination that the game was up, he shouted out, and from round the corner of the huts came another policeman and two village cliowkeydars from a distance. They had evidently been hiding, observing all that passed, and meaning to act as witnesses against him?, if I had been led by the first scoundrel's behaviour to lose my temper. The second man was not such a brute as the first, and when I proceeded to ask their names and all about them, and told them I meant to report them to their superintendent, they became somewhat frightened, and tried to make excuses.

I told them to be off the premises at once, offering to take the summons, and give a receipt for it, but they now saw that they had made a mistake in trying to bully me, and made off at once. Mark, the sequel. The day before the case was fixed on for hearing, I sent off the moonshee, who was a witness of my own, and his evidence was necessary to my proving my case. I supplied him with travelling expenses, and he started. On his way to the Court he had to pass the thanna, or police-station. The police were on the watch. He was seized as he passed. He was confined all that night and all the following day. For want of his evidence I lost my case, and having thus achieved one part of their object to pay me off, they let my moonshee go, after insult and abuse, and with threats of future vengeance should he ever dare to thwart or oppose them. This was pretty "hot" you think, but it was not all. Fearing my complaint to the superintendent or to the authorities might get them into trouble, they laid a false charge against me, that 1 had obstructed them in the discharge of their duty, that I had showered abuse on them, used threatening language, and insulted the majesty of the law by tearing up and spitting upon the respected summons of Her Majesty. On this complaint I was accordingly summoned into Purneah. The charge was a tissue of the most barefaced lies, but I had to ride fifty-four miles in the burning sun, ford several rivers, and undergo much fatigue and discomfort. My work was of course seriously interfered with. I had to take in my assistant as witness, and one or two of the servants who had been present. I was put to immense trouble, and no little expense, to say nothing of the indignation which 1 naturally felt, and all because. I had set my face against a well-known evil, and was determined not to submit to impudent extortion. Of course the case broke down. They contradicted themselves in almost every particular. The second constable indeed admitted that I had offered them a letter to the magistrate, and had not moved out of the verandah during the colloquy. I was honourably acquitted, and had the satisfaction of seeing the lying rascals put into the dock by the indignant magistrate and prosecuted summarily for getting up a false charge and giving false evidence. It was a lesson to the police in those parts, and they did not dare to trouble me much afterwards; but it is only one instance out of hundreds I could give, and which every planter has witnessed, of the barefaced audacity, the shameless extortion, the unblushing lawlessness of the rural police of India.

It is a gigantic evil, but surely not irremediable. By adding more European officers to the force; by educating the people and making them more intelligent, independent, and self-reliant, much may be done to abate the evil, but at present it is admittedly a foul ulcer on the administration of justice under our rule. The menial who serves a summons, gets a decree of Court to execute, or is entrusted with any order of an official nature, expects to be bribed to do liis duty. If be does not get his fee, he will throw such impediments in the way, raise such obstacles, and fashion such delays, that he completely foils every effort to procure justice through a legal channel. No wonder a native hates our English Courts. Our English officials, let it be plainly understood, are above suspicion. It needs not my poor 'testimony to uphold their character for high honour, loyal integrity, and zealous eagerness to "do justly and to walk uprightly." They are unwearied in their efforts to get at truth, and govern wisely; but our system of law is totally unsuited for Orientals. It is made a medium for chicanery anil trickery of the most atrocious form. Most of the native underlings are utterly venal and corrupt. Increased pay does not mean decrease of knavery. Cheating, and lying and taking bribes, and abuse of authority are ingrained into their very souls; and all the cut and dry formulas of namby-pamby pliilanthropists, the inane maunderings of stay-at-home sentimentalists, the wise saws of self-opinionated theorists, who know nothing of the Hindoo as he really shows himself to us in daily and hourly contact with him, will ever persuade me that native, as opposed to English, rule would be productive of aught but burning oppression and shameless venality, or would end in anything but anarchy and chaos.

It sounds very well in print, and increases the circulation of a paper or two among the Raboos, to cry out that our task is to elevate the oppressed and ignorant millions of the East, to educate them into self-government, to make them judges, officers, lawgivers, governors over all the land. To vacate our place and power, and let the Baboo and the Bunneah, to whom we have given the glories of "Western civilization, rule in our place, and guide the fortunes of these toiling millions who owe protection and peace to our fostering rule. It is a noble sentiment to resign wealth, honour, glory, and power;

to give up a settled government; to alter a policy that has welded the conflicting elements of Hindostan into one stable whole; to throw up our title of conqueror, and disintegrate a mighty empire. For what? A sprinkling of thinly-veneered, half-educated natives want a share of the loaves and fishes in political scrambling, and a few inane people of the "man and brother" type cry out at home to let them have their way.

No. Give the Hindoo education, equal laws, protection to life and property; develop the resources of the country ; foster all the virtues you can find in the native mind; but till you can give him the energy, the integrity, the singleness of purpose, the manly, honourable straightforwardness of the Anglo-Saxon; his scorn of meanness, trickery, and fraud; his loyal single-heartedness to do right; his contempt for oppression of the weak; his self-dependence; his probity. But why go on? When you make Hindoos honest, truthful, God-fearing Englishmen, you can let them govern themselves; but as soon "may the leopard change his spots" as the Hindoo his character. He is wholly unfit for self-government; utterly opposed to honest, truthful, staple government at all. Time brings strange changes, but the wisdom which has governed the country hitherto will surely be able to meet the new demand that may be made upon it in the immediate present or in the far distant future.

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