Here to return to
INDIAN LIFE IN TOWN AND COUNTRY
INDIA AS IT IS
IT is a habit of current speech to refer to India much as one does to France, Spain, or Germany, conscious only that it is a far more extensive country. In the map of the world, it is depicted as an all-red possession, which tends to the suggestion of a homogeneous land. But it is, in fact, a conglomeration of distinct kingdoms and peoples, differing as widely in conditions and characteristics as Russia and Portugal, or the Norwegian and the Turk.
The term “Indian” should convey to the mind the same cosmopolitan suggestion as the expression “European.” Under this really generic designation are grouped numerous races as distinct and individual as the Frenchman and the German, the Dutchman and the Greek. And when we come to discuss “Our Neighbour the Indian,” it must be understood we are arbitrarily making concrete what is in the abstract a heterogeneous, polyglot combination of individuals, who belong to a dozen different nationalities, speak a Babel of tongues, and live in a variety of countries, the physical features of which differ as much as their climatic conditions.
If we can suppose ourselves in the position of a Cossack riding through the Khyber Pass, and cantering down to Calcutta, Cape Comorin, and Karachi, we shall be able to get the best idea of the races who inhabit India in their appropriate distribution and sequence, and observe them toning off like a chromatic scale. Our Cossack will find them as diverse as if he penetrated from Moscow to Sweden, Spain, and Greece. As he emerges from the rugged Pass which has been the principal gateway of invasion, he will be confronted with bearded Mahomedans, speaking Pushto; and stalwart Sikhs, speaking Punjabi, who will gaze at the intruder with the calm confidence begotten of broad shoulders, brawny muscles, and a stature often exceeding six feet. Penetrating farther, he will observe but little deterioration in the clean-run men of Rohilkhund and Oudh, the hardy Jat cultivators about Delhi, the martial Rajpoots of Rajputana, and the hardy Baluchis of the Indus Valley (all speaking strange tongues), as they rise in his path in the segment of a circle which stretches from mid-Himalayas to mid-Sind. These races will coincide physically with the Northern peoples of Europe, the Scandinavian, Saxon, Celt, and Teuton. Their origin is Aryan, Scythian, Arab, and Tartar.
Pursuing his road east, south-east, and south, the Cossack will discover in the inhabitants of Lower Sind, Kattywar, Guzerat, the Northern Deccan, Central India, and the Upper Gangetic Valley, races somewhat smaller in stature and darker in complexion (speaking several new languages), who may not be inaptly compared to the French, the Slays, and the Hungarians. The next radius of the circle brings us to the coastal countries, where dwell the effeminate Bengalis, the midget races who inhabit the Malabar seaboard, and the Tamil and Talugu speaking folk of Southern India. These, and the Burmese in the Far East, may fitly represent the Mediterranean nationalities of Europe. They spring from Dravidian and Mongolian stock, and the infusion of Aryan with non-Aryan blood. The scale of physical development is distinctly a sliding one, as it drops down the peninsula, the comparative giants of the north melting into the middle-sized Indo-Mongolians of the Far East, and the Dravidian dwarfs of the extreme south. Here and there, chiefly in mountain or desert tracts, aboriginal races will have been met, belonging to the Kolarian division, and displaying characteristics of their own. If you could muster a representative assemblage of all these races, you would find that they expressed themselves in over seventy different tongues, represented every shade of complexion, and every degree of physical development, and displayed far greater divergencies than a similar gathering from Continental Europe could produce.
In similar wise, our roving Cossack will have passed through as many countries as there are races. On his entry into India, Cashmere, on his left, will have supplied a standard of terrestrial perfection. It is the Riviera of our Eastern Empire, where, in the past, the Mogul Emperors were wont to revel, and where, in the present, the fortunate Anglo-Indian flits when he desires to enjoy a supreme holiday. Radiating east and south, the Cossack will perceive in the snowy slopes and cool valleys of the Himalayas, the sub-montane districts below them, the level plains of the Punjab, the stifling sands of Sind, the arid deserts of Rajputana, the steaming valley of the Gangetic basin, the rugged highlands of Central India, the tableland of the Deccan, the garden province of Guzerat, the palm-fringed Malabar coast, the paddy-fields of Burmah, the rocky hinterlands of the interior of Southern India, the fertile coastal territories of the Coromandel, the forested tracts of the Ghauts, Mysore, and the Wynaad, the rolling downs of the Neilgherries, and the tropic glories of Travancore — he will recognise in all these varying scenes distinct countries, differing one from another in aspect and altitude, in flora and fauna, and in soil and climate, as completely as do the peoples who inhabit them in race, religion, and language.
Meanwhile, our hardy traveller might have experienced vicissitudes of temperature and rainfall able to confound all his previous knowledge, even if it comprehended a winter on the shores of the Baltic, and a summer on those of the Black Sea. For instance, at Murree, in the Punjab, a hill station within a few hours of the Indian Aldershot, he might have been buried in six feet of snow; at Cheerapoonji, in Assam, half-drowned in a rainfall that exceeds four hundred inches a year. The process of thawing could have been accelerated by a trip to Jacobabad in Sind, where the thermometer looks down at 130 degrees in the shade; and for a dry climate Bickaneer is hard to beat, seeing that twenty-four months may pass without any rain at all. Incidentally, our enterprising Cossack might have discovered districts where the thermometer straddles over eighty degrees in the twelve months and others where the sluggish mercury is seldom called upon to execute a variant of more than a dozen. So also with the rainfall: here it may continue for eight months, whilst two monsoons blow their vapours over the land; and there confine itself to eight weeks of summer showers. To gain an extended idea of what is practicable in the vagaries of the firmament, a study of the meteorological phenomena of England’s Eastern Empire will enlarge the mind.
Concerning a conglomeration of countries so diversified in people, topography, and climate, it is difficult to generalise. As we survey the kaleidoscopic whole, the wonder rises to find them under a single rule. One law runs current through all these kingdoms and peoples; one brain directs them. The edict issued at Simla or Calcutta can control with equal force this cosmopolitan land. And yet a hundred and fifty years ago, what is now a prosperous and peaceful Empire was a vast cockpit for warring nations, a seething hotbed of opposing nationalities, and a veritable scene of unceasing tumult and battle.
For nearly fifty years, not a cannon has been fired in anger within the confines proper of British India, and that is the greatest victory the English have achieved in the East. Well might De Tocqueville write: “There has never been anything so wonderful under the sun as the conquest, and, still more, the government, of India by the British.”
Let us glance back a hundred years and draw a parallel. In 1802, Napoleon wrung from the English the peace of Amiens — armistice, we may better call it — and compelled them to surrender all that they had won during the war with the French Republic. For the next decade, the progress and prestige of France in Europe resembled that of England in India. Each was a career of conquest. Wellesley, who broke the power of the Sultan of Mysore and the Mahrattas, was, in effect, the Napoleon of India. He carried England into the dominant position. Had Napoleon consolidated and extended his conquests in the West as England did in the East, the whole of Europe to-day would have been under the peaceful dominion of France. Had the English made no better use of their advantages than the Corsican, they would to-day be confined to the Gangetic basin, a moderate territory in Madras, Bombay city, and one or two ports on the Malabar coast. But they had the genius to hold, assimilate, and extend. Where their foot was planted there it stayed, and presently advanced. And although they suffered a Moscow in Afghanistan in the ‘forties, they avoided a Waterloo at Delhi in the ‘fifties, and rose as high above their difficulties as Napoleon fell below his. India of to-day, with its countless kingdoms, principalities, and peoples, conquered and held by the sword, yet ruled in absolute internal peace, with justice, moderation, and benefit to its inhabitants, shows what a nation can do that can govern as well as conquer.
It is difficult to say what causes have principally operated to bring about this marvellous result; how much should be attributed to the genius of the conquering race for governing, how much to the adaptability of the conquered race for being governed. Taken as a whole, the natives of India, with the exception of a few turbulent Mahomedans, are law-abiding to the point of servility. They are no strangers to submission, and perhaps the English have reaped where others have sown. Provided you do not interfere with their two sacred prejudices, — their caste and women, — they will endure more than most people. For centuries, they have lived in a subject state; subject to ruthless conquerors; subject to pestilence and famine; subject to the exactions of their own rulers. They were pliable material to work upon, and when they came under the British yoke, meek, spiritless, and browbeaten. Instead of oppressing them, England ameliorated their condition, and although their prejudices are monumental, they had the wit to see that their circumstances were improved, and the commonsense to adapt themselves to them. That was in the old days, before they were educated. Notwithstanding they are no older than the ‘sixties, from that time began the period of present transition, which is slowly but surely transforming the peoples of India, and changing the East, that has been called Unchanging.
Modern India dates from the opening of the Suez Canal, and the influx of prosperity and civilisation that followed it. Ferdinand de Lesseps did more for the Indian Empire in one decade than England did in all the previous ones. In these days, when one has only to go to Ludgate Circus to take a ticket for Central Africa, it is difficult to believe that a generation ago there were great tracts in the Indian Empire where you habitually travelled on men’s shoulders to reach your destination. I do not mean to imply that you have not to do so still — I have a vivid recollection, not so many months ago, of a twelve hours’ journey in a “dhoolie” or palanquin — but twenty-five thousand miles of railway have been built since 1870. The railway is the greatest revolutionist of modern times, and especially in a country like India, where the inhabitants are bound in the iron chains of caste, and where nations are divided from nations, and sections from sections, by gaps there were no means of bridging until the third-class railway carriage came, not only to transport them, but to shuffle them up, teach them to mingle with one another, and cast them cheek by jowl in the same compartment. The introduction of transit was followed by travel, the best form of education. People who see a little want to see more; who learn a little want to learn more. The peasant who stole a peep at the train gliding by, his superstitious mind convinced it was a fearful and unclean thing, found familiarity breed content instead of contempt, for it presently developed into a desire to ride therein. Thereafter, he became an unconscious emissary of civilisation, who was never weary of detailing his experiences, and the incentive for others to follow in his bold footsteps. The railways of India are probably the most crowded with passenger traffic of any in the world, and not one man in a hundred thousand of those who use them to-day would have met, travelled, and rubbed shoulders forty years ago. The same may of course be said of any country or continent; but, as we shall presently see, the act of “rubbing shoulders” implies far more in India than in any other part of the world.
I have endeavoured to show by a rapid survey the varying peoples which the Empire contains, but the point is one which will bear a little more detailed treatment, especially as the scope of this book does not admit of enlargement on it hereafter. The main division of the inhabitants is based on religion. They are divided into Hindus, and Mahomedans, the former numbering (roughly speaking) a hundred and eighty millions, and the latter sixty. The cleavage of ideas, morals, manners, and characteristics between them is as absolute as between either of them and Europeans, or between Turks and Christians in South-Eastern Europe.
The Mahomedans are the descendants of the Moslem invaders who, for a thousand years, poured into India from the West, and established kingdoms and dynasties of their own, which found a zenith in the Mogul Empire. Its fall left the country dotted with Mahomedan principalities usurped by the Viceroys who had broken free from the Imperial authority. Inheritors of such a history, it is only natural that the Mahomedans should retain the instincts of a conquering class, and any turbulence or unrest generally arises in communities of that faith.
The downfall of the Mogul was followed by a convulsion of war and conquest, the beginning of which marked the establishment of British power in India, and the end saw two thirds of it under England’s direct rule, and the remainder tributary to her. In that portion, she has kept her hands off the only considerable Mahomedan states — those of Hyderabad and Bhawalpur, and the Mahomedan territory of Cashmere, ruled by a Hindu dynasty. The Hindu states include Mysore, Travancore, and those governed by Mahratta, Rajpoot, and Sikh rulers.
The British territory is divided into six large provinces — Bengal, Bombay, Madras, the Northwest Provinces and Oudh, the Punjab, and Burmah — and eight smaller ones, administered by Governors, Lieutenant-Governors, Chief-Commissioners and Agents to the Governor-General, the whole under the Viceroy, who represents the King-Emperor, and has been described as His Majesty’s Greatest Subject. These provinces include what were once the high and puissant kingdoms of the Subandar of Bengal, the Nawab of the Carnatic, the Peshwa of the Mahrattas, the Emperor of Delhi (more commonly known as the Great Mogul), the King of Oudh, the Maharajah of the Punjab, the King of Burmah, and the Ameers of Sind. All these were in their day potentates of the first magnitude in the estimation of their contemporaries; many of them the English sued for favours. These dynasties have been irrevocably destroyed by British conquest and annexation--wiped out of existence as completely as Poland.
Besides these two leading religious denominations into which India has been broadly divided, there are several other smaller ones to be taken into consideration. Some of them are very interesting and curious. The wild aboriginal tribes, who declined conversion to Hinduism when the great Aryan invasion swept over the country, number about ten millions. Buddhism is professed by another ten millions, chiefly resident in Burmah, whilst a third ten millions in the Punjab follow the Sikh faith. The Sikhs are a sect apart, and sprang into existence in quite recent times, comparatively speaking. The purity of their tenets, their tolerance, and the cleanliness of their lives contrast favourably with the Hindus and Mahomedans from whom they sprang. Like the latter, they admit proselytes to their religion, but no one who is not born one can become a Hindu. The Jains, numbering about two millions, represent the survival of Buddhism in Western India, and are a peculiar people who may be likened to Quakers. Their religion directs them to do no harm to any living thing, and to desire nothing inordinately. As a class they have prospered amazingly, and many of the wealthiest bankers in India belong to this persuasion. The Parsis loom large in the British eye, and Bethnal Green has selected one to represent it at St. Stephen’s. They are an alien folk who emigrated from Persia into Western India, and only number about a hundred thousand. Their position in the country is purely commercial, but they have the genius of the Jews and the shrewdness of the Scotch. On the Malabar coast there are two interesting races in the Moplahs, descended from the Arabs trading to those parts in remote times, and a small but exceedingly curious community of Jews, who retain the customs and characteristics of the Chosen People, and their ancient faith, although so long and completely cut off from their co-religionists. They lay claim to be the lost tribes, as also do the Afghans of the north-west frontier, whose Semitic cast of countenance is very marked. In the extreme south of India, St. Francis Xavier’s converts teem in thousands, still professing the Roman Catholic faith, and there is a Nestorian community whose conversion is ascribed to St. Thomas the Apostle. As regards the purely heathen forms of worship, the Todas and other wild races still sacrifice to their gods in the jungles, where they dwell shy and secluded. There are two divisions of the Mahomedans, corresponding to the Roman and Anglo-Catholics of Christianity, and exclusive of a fanatical offshoot known as Wahabis. Hinduism is divided into an infinity of sects. And, finally, it may surprise the reader to learn that in this subject-land, where men are reckoned by the million and the hundred million, there are less than a hundred and fifty thousand English, and about the same number of Eurasians, or half-castes, of whom a proportion are descended from Portuguese.
It will thus be seen that religion divides this complex country almost as much as race and language. Intermarriage between the different peoples and religions is absolutely unknown, and with the fall of the Mogul Empire proselytism ceased to exist, and the only persons systematically seeking to convert others to their creed are the Christian missionaries.
Social exclusiveness is the universal rule in India, and in a country filled with varying elements there is no commingling of them. The Indian peoples are organically antagonistic to amalgamation in any shape or form, and hold themselves as distinct from one another in their social and domestic relations as do the different species of animals. It is due to this that they have managed to preserve intact their respective individualities through so many centuries, and hence it happens that the country generalised as “India” is really a congeries of separate nations, and “Our Neighbour the Indian” the cosmopolitan personage he has been described.