Web Text-ures Logo

Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
1999-2007

(Return to Web Text-ures)

Click Here to return to
Indian Life in Town and Country
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter

Kellscraft Studio Logo
 (HOME)   


CHAPTER V

JACKS IN OFFICE

WE have seen how India is divided by race, language, religion, caste, and wealth, but there is yet another division, which, although it only detaches a fraction from the whole, still demands attention, because it is the governing element. And the members of it afford an admirable illustration of the attitude we understand by the phrase “Jacks in Office.”

The possibilities of temporal power are nowhere more thoroughly appreciated and developed than in India. The Indian official, European or native, is the master, not the servant, of the public. It is not too much to say that the native has elevated service under Government into something very like a privileged predatory caste, common to Hindu and Mahomedan. The “Man in Authority,” no matter how humble his appointment, draws away from his fellows, and acquires a definite position and power over them from his association with the machinery of Government. The highest ambition of every native is to get into the service of the State, for it assures him the three P’s — pay, pension, and pickings. And the greatest of these is pickings.

All authority in India is despotic. British rule is a despotism pure and simple, tempered with a bland desire to deal justly. The rule of the rajah is personal, with a corner of his eye on the British Resident to see how he takes encroachments on the revenue for the Civil List. Spreading downwards from these summits, the subtle spirit of despotism pervades all branches of the administrations. The lower you penetrate the social scale, and the more inwardly you explore the ignorant masses, so assuredly shall you find the despotism greater and more brutal. For sheer unmitigated tyranny, where he has an object in view to gain, the policeman of India knows no equal; in cunning and rapacity, the chupprassi, or guardian of the threshold, is a man who has reduced blackmailing to a fine art.

The administration of India is carried on in practice by something like three thousand Englishmen, who act as heads or assistant heads of departments. All the working parts of the machinery of Government, its subordinate and clerical posts, are filled by natives. An average Indian “district,” as each administrative area is called, is a tract of country as extensive as the largest English counties. The English staff administering this territory seldom exceeds more than five or six officials, to carry out whose orders there exist a company of native clerks and a regiment of understrappers. The actual execution of authority filters through their hands. There is no means of ventilating abuse, for there is no public opinion, no public Press (broadly speaking), and no publicity in India. Conceive, then the result when every Jack-man of that subordinate and crafty crew is bent on making, by hook or by crook, some illicit profit over and above the salary assigned for the execution of his official duties.

In England, a civil servant is rightly regarded as a man of fixed income. Be he in a Government Department or the Post-Office, anything, in short, from a Prime Minister to a telegraph-boy, you know that his remuneration is exact and un-elastic. But in India, the native employee of Government would be horrified to think that his income was fixed. On the contrary, he regards it merely as a stepping-stone to making money. Where there is litigation, direct taxation, and crime, there is profit to be derived by the shrewd and enterprising man, and the Indian Jack in Office is the person designed by Nature to show how to derive it.

Bribery and corruption are the rule, not the exception, in the East. In every transaction in life, it is held to be not only allowable but sensible to derive some advantage over and above the scheduled amount. He would be a poor fool who did not avail himself of dustoorie, or the customary fee. There is not a single native in India who does not pay or receive dustoorie in some form or other. It is the unearned increment of the East. It enters into every phase of life, and, according to the form it assumes, may be a perquisite, a commission, a fine, a bribe, or blackmail. In transactions between the subject and those placed in authority over him, it becomes a bribe or blackmail, and Jack in Office is the recipient, and the whole of the rest of the population the fleeced.

Bribery is ingrained in the native character, and a recognised part of the etiquette of their social system. The inferior always approaches a new superior with a gift in his hand — made, not from love, but from policy, and to neglect it is boorish rudeness, as well as a folly. It is a bribe in embryo, meant to smooth the way for an ultimate benefit. Notwithstanding, the native will affect to be vastly affronted if it is declined. It is called a nuzzer or dáli, which, being interpreted, means a complimentary tribute. Ask why it is proffered, and you will never get any other answer except that “It is the custom.” Needless to say, Englishmen are pestered with dális — if they are worth pestering. They usually take the form of a tray neatly piled with sweetmeats, flowers, and fruit, apparently a most innocent confection. But, when the investment is fairly safe, a bag of rupees not unfrequently lurks under the pile of sugar-candy. Say, for instance, you are an engineer, with a fat contract to give out, and a reputation for accepting dális, you could practically depend on that bag of rupees when you received a complimentary visit from a local contractor. Happily such incidents are exceedingly rare in connection with Englishmen, and the dáli contains nothing more guilty than roses, oranges, and lollipops. But with native officials the case is different, and the dáli is the recognised vehicle for a bribe.

It is a moot point with the Anglo-Indian whether to accept dális of the innocent description or not. Some do; some don’t. In the latter case, they “touch and remit” them, which is supposed to salve the feelings of the donors, whose offerings are theoretically accepted, but in practice returned, as the touching of the heels of a monarch with the spurs is supposed to endow him with knightly virtues. Christmastide is the apotheosis or dális; then does every native you know desire to present you with one, his eyes glued on the return chance.

If I have dealt at a little length on the nuzzer or dáli system, it is to illustrate the national character with which Jack in Office has to deal. Here are a people who voluntarily give bribes; who will have you believe politeness demands it; who are willing, nay, anxious, to expend a day’s pay in propitiating a stranger who comes to assume authority over them. Saddle that people with an administration considerably more urgent to receive than to give a bribe, and endowed with an absolute faith in its fitness, and you shall see the art of extortion carried to its extreme. Power in the hands of such a class is merely a lever to extract profit from the powerless; and there are no people in the world so powerless, unprotected, and preyed upon as the peasants of the Indian Empire. I have no hesitation in saying that several millions of rupees are paid away every year in India in the shape of dustoorie, or the unearned increment of pillagers.

And now let us see how these conditions work out in practice in India. Every schoolboy knows that the sale of justice in the East is a simple and time-honoured institution. Is justice sold under the British raj? Without a doubt it is. I will pass over the higher native officials holding what may be called Englishmen’s appointments, with the observation that they are not immaculate. I could recall a recent case where a bribe of some thousands of pounds, specially contracted to be paid in gold bullion, passed between a litigant and a native judge who was the highest judicial authority in the district. And I could quote several others. But in this rank venality is the exception.

When you come to the subordinate judicial staff, the native judges and magistrates, with restricted powers and comparatively small salaries, you may take it as an axiom that, in the slang phrase, they are all “on the make.” Prudence alone puts a limit to their harvest. Of course, no one but a fool would take a bribe often; that would be the surest way of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. In riding a foul race, the jockey’s horse must gallop, and to retain a seat on the bench of justice, the judge must dispense justice in general. It is from the percentage of his backslidings that the venal judge acquires his reputation. “He is a very good magistrate,” I have often heard it said of a native functionary by natives; “he takes very few bribes.” In other cases, a sad shake of the head, and the mournful, “There is no satisfying him!” has been a sufficient commentary.

Notwithstanding this foreknowledge that the dice are probably loaded, the native of India plunges into the lottery of litigation with absolute gusto. It is a speculation that appeals to him, requiring as it does chicanery and lying. For whilst blaming the unjust judge, it must not be forgotten that the unjust witness is almost as great a factor in the prostitution of the law courts, and that perjury is the basis of all evidence in India; the “fourpenny witness,” who will for that modest professional fee swear to anything, haunts the precincts of the courts, and will rehearse you a tragedy or concoct you a concatenation so that even cross-examination shall be powerless to shake him. The actual eye-witness rarely gives his testimony without introducing gratuitous and needless fiction. It is an admitted and notorious fact that the bulk of the evidence tendered in the law courts of India is perjured, and yet prosecution fo: perjury is practically unknown. It is the “custom”; that Augean stable is too foul to attempt to sweep, and British administration shrinks from the task. It may even be logically argued by the judicial Jack in Office that until Government takes steps to punish and put a stop to perjury, the illegitimate profits of justice may just as well pass into his pockets as into those of the professional liar.

Leaving this unsavoury subject, let us pass to the consideration of those Jacks in Office who have to make their illicit gains by operations less simple than selling justice. That, after all, can be done genteelly and with an air of learning, and even defended in a plausible judgment delivered in open court. The Indian policeman proceeds in a different way. His the open palm and the veiled threat. A “case” represents itself to him in two aspects: shall it be pursued for reputation or rupees? If he decides on the former as the most profitable, then this Jack in Office has no hesitation in applying the methods of the mediæval torturer in order to extort a confession from the accused man. If lucre is his object, it degenerates into a matter of blackmail, and most probably the trumping up of false evidence. The visit of a constable to the most honest homestead in India is like the visit of a wolf. When the inspector follows, it is like a tiger to the attack. “Once get the police in — ” is an Indian phrase that corresponds to the English “Once get the plumber in — .” The Hindu’s hut is very far from being his castle. The policeman literally takes up his abode on the premises, lives on the fat of the land, so far as the victim’s family can provide it, and never departs without a substantial reason. Those in England who look upon the “Bobby” as their comfortable friend and the protector of their hearths and homes during the wicked night hours, little know what awful shape his Indian prototype can assume, whose presence is far more dreaded than that of a thief. For, after all, the native can defend himself against a thief, but he is powerless to do so against the arch-robber who poses as a policeman.

As with the man in blue, so in his special degree with every low Jack in Office in India. The surveyor who comes round to assess the land for taxation can find a vast diminution in its ratable value, not to mention its superficial area, if the owner is lavish with his dustoorie; the watchman who guards a timber reserve is blind to the cutting of a tree if a quarter of its value is slipped into his hand; the goods-clerk on an Indian railway, under the highest pressure of accumulated consignments, what time markets are urgent, will always find an empty truck for the merchandise that is recommended with a coin or two. Every Jack in Office has his price; it is absolutely beyond the genius of the native character to refuse a bribe.

Perhaps the most wonderful Jack of all is the chupprassi, who is a creation peculiar to the East, and a sort of janitor at the verandah. He announces your arrival, runs errands, performs petty commissions, and is a blend between an office-boy and a commissionnaire. He lives within hail of his master, and is supposed to possess his ear. You would not credit him with transcendent powers, and yet the way that lowly individual can coin money out of his own post passes conception. He is the front-door bell, and there is no seeing the master unless he is rung. “Wait; the sahib is busy,” is all he says, and you may wait till doomsday if you fail to fee him. The well-to-do native has a distinct disinclination to being made to wait; it is far more derogatory in his eyes than you would suppose, and he willingly pays toll, or, as you may say, tolls the bell. The poor suppliant with a petition seeks advice from the chupprassi, asking if the sahib is in a good temper to be approached, and this Jack in Office has always a sound opinion to sell. The power and influence accredited to him are extraordinary; he is in and out of his master’s room; he knows all his moods and humours; he will unfailingly tell you when is the best moment to make appeal. It may appear preposterous, but such information in a land where despotism rules supreme has a market value, and the chupprassi makes the most of it. I have heard of a case of one man on a wage of six shillings a month who contrived to increase it to as many pounds by the exercise of his peculiar talents in imposing on the credulous and exacting toll from the ignorant.

We have seen these Jacks in Office in their smiling moods when the world is going well with them, but there is another side to the picture. Let the seeker-after-something be too poor or too ill-advised to bribe, and you will see a change in the demeanour of the man in authority. He becomes a truculent tyrant, a domineering despot, who reflects all the lightnings of heaven, and borrows the roaring of its thunderbolts. He is devoid of manners and politeness, he rants and he raves, he storms and he swears, and will have you understand that he is a portion of the governing machinery of the land. He is Jekyl, or he is Hyde, according to whether you fee him or not.

For in India, generally speaking, as the inferior is servile so is the superior overbearing. Courtesy from the high to the low is an almost unknown quality; from Jack in Office to those who have dealings with him, and omit to fee him, an unknown one. When once the breath of a little power gets into the native’s nostrils, it invariably issues out in the shape of abuse. The abuse of the East is untranslatable, a thing apart. Englishmen relieve themselves in Hindustani when they find their own tongue inoperative. In the native courts of law, I have heard a magistrate address those he was trying, or hearing evidence from, as dogs and swine. As for merely calling a man a liar, that is usually justified by circumstances. This attitude is not unfrequently part and parcel of native official life, and dropped in private behaviour. Blustering and boorishness, impatience and petulance, are the licensed privileges of Jacks in Office. The practice of civility never enters into the economy of the native civil service.

In common with other bullies, the Indian native official is a currish-spirited thing at the bottom, and he loses none of his inherent servility by his translation to the governing sphere. To his superiors, he adopts the behaviour he exacts from those beneath him. Indeed, his humility is invariably exaggerated towards those whose breath can unmake as their breath has made. He is a consummate actor and Machiavelian schemer, who seldom fails to worm himself into favour. Notwithstanding his roguery and backsliding, he is rarely dismissed from office, being far too cunning to run the risk of that. Moreover, he is supported in his hour of need by the clannishness of the predatory tribe he belongs to. There is much of the jackal in Jack in Office, who only fights with his kind when it comes to dividing the spoil. If, however, disaster overtakes him, and he gets the order to “go,” in an instant the fierce light of rapine dies out of his eyes, the bulk of his turban is diminished, the ample starched linen robes give way to meagre soiled garments, his arrogance departs, and he passes over to the meek majority whose badge is sufferance. Second only to losing caste is the loss of employment in he service of Government.

There are Jacks in Office outside Government employ, for you may say that every native of India who has it in his power to confer an obligation is one in a minor degree. The favourite of a rich man — and in the East favouritism is an almost universal foible — who has the ear of his master can always put it to profitable account. The Englishman’s “bearer,” or valet, has numerous opportunities of turning a penny. The cook, who provisions the larder periodically, does not do it for nothing. They all exact their quid pro quo, and never a purchase made for you or your household but pays its recognised dustoorie, or commission. Half an anna in the rupee is the established scale, which works out three per cent., or double the ordinary rate of brokerage in commercial transactions. In a strange city, if you hire a gharrie, which is the Oriental equivalent of a cab, and tell the man to drive to a shop where you can purchase such-and-such a thing, that jehu gets his pickings out of your purchase. As like as not, you will have been previously accosted by a polite personage, anxious to show you the sights of the town, and give you the advantage of his superior experience for nothing. He is a dálal, or broker, and the sign that passes from him to the shopkeeper will put an extra ten or even twenty-five per cent. on the shop’s price-list. These are all temporary Jacks in Office, who are exploiting your purse for their own benefit. Your groom, when he brings you the bill for shoeing your horse, blandly debits the amount at twenty pence, whereof fourpence goes into his pocket. This dustoorie is paid without a murmur by shopkeepers, who know it is the only way to retain custom. Were it refused, they would soon find your patronage transferred, for means would be taken to render what they supplied an abomination by deliberately spoiling it. Even Government accepts the system, and if out in the jungles you hire a score of coolies or half a dozen mules to carry your baggage, there will be an odd half-anna for the hire of each, which is the agent’s dustoorie.

All India sits, or desires to sit, at the receipt of custom. Financial morality admits it as perfectly legitimate, and King Custom condones it. So long as it is a sort of allowable brokerage for poking your nose into another man’s affairs, perhaps no great harm is done. But the system has ploughed the ground for Jack in Office, and prepared it for that cropping with corruption which is one of the ugliest features of the administration of the Indian Empire.


Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.