Here to return to
ON THE PATH OF PROGRESS
“PAN is not dead in India. The Unchanging East abides, though not without betraying by the hem of its garments what ways it has been forced to walk in.”
What ways are those? You may summarise them as the Path of Progress. The Unchanging East, after reclining for two thousand years on a civilisation established before Christ was born, has within the last three decades begun to stir on its couch, to look around it, to stretch out its foot, feeling the path.
The rude hand of the West has been laid on its shoulder and shaken it from its long sleep, and the historian of Hindustan must date the awakening of India from the second half of the Victorian era. Let us count a few of the milestones on this path which is just begun.
First and foremost is the Suez Canal. Then steam communication with the West, railways, telegraphs, a halfpenny post, irrigation, a fixed standard of silver, and education. These are the factors that are changing the Unchanging East.
The path has been rapidly made; the sleepers are aroused and bidden to walk upon it. Whither shall it lead them? Are they, who have only just awakened from this long sleep, fit to walk? Those who have ventured the first mile, do they walk sedately? Is the path of progress suited to the genius of the Unchanging East?
Quien sabe? Time alone can tell. Current opinion cannot focus current history. All we can do is to write the chronicle of change as it appears to us; to note facts and leave inferences to a future when their value may be better discriminated and judged. We are too near the stage where the transformation scene is being set.
Let us glance first at education, which has been brought within the reach of the great unread. In the opinion of some, it has not been au unmixed blessing. In general, it has turned the muddy end of the stick into the handle, and, in particular, has detached the ferrule from the performance of its proper functions.
The Indian aristocracy and gentry is a little apt, like the English peerage in a previous century, to consider itself above the vulgar necessity of education. One of the privileges of being rich is being ignorant. Moreover, under the system of education which has been introduced, a levelling tendency has crept in, which is foreign to the spirit of caste. In the Government schools there is a mingling of all ranks of society, and, as a fact, the trading castes, which are quite contemptible to the priestly and warrior ones, are most numerously represented. If in England reading and writing could only be acquired through the medium of board schools, they might not be such universal accomplishments amongst the aristocracy.
The Hindus are people of receptive intellect, and have a remarkable facility for assimilating knowledge. In addition, they are marvellously industrious and painstaking. They have learned that knowledge is power — the only power within their reach. In the scheme of their society, the Brahmins have ever been the brain-power, and, even in the days of Mahomedan ascendency, directed the administration. For centuries, they monopolised the higher education amongst men, as nautch-girls did amongst women. When schools and universities were introduced, the inferior castes were not slow to perceive the opportunity which education afforded of rising to dignity, power, and emolument undreamed of before. And although the subtle Brahmin brain still retains its ascendency, cunning commercial intelligence is fast shouldering it.
Thus education is beginning to sap at the very foundations of Hindu civilisation; it is appropriating the power which has hitherto been the monopoly of the priestly caste for the lower orders. The native has his son taught English with one sole aim in view — a Government appointment. There are, of course, other occupations to fall back upon, such as the law, a commercial clerkship, and so forth. But the come-down is as great as that of an Englishman who, having crammed for the Indian Civil, is compelled to accept an appointment in a bank, or find refuge in the overstocked ranks of the bar.
The Government appointments are few, and the applicants many, for the Indian universities turn out their wares by the thousand annually, and the schools by tens of thousands. The ware is often Brummagem, for whilst you can polish the Hindu intellect to a very high pitch, you cannot temper the Hindu character with those moral and manly qualities which are essential for the positions he seeks to fill. Moreover, the loaves and fishes fall far short of the multitude, and the result is the creation of armies of hungry “hopefuls” — the name is a literal translation of the vernacular generic term omédwár used in describing them — who pass their lives in absolute idleness, waiting on the skirts of chance, or gravitate to courses entirely opposed to those which education intended.
I have often talked the matter over with native friends in the district where I resided, in which was a high school where English was taught up to a fairly superior standard. It was well attended by the sons of small traders and well-to-do farmers, who formed as good material to draw deductions from as you could wish. The first thing to be noted from the education their boys received was that it rendered them absolutely unfitted for the occupations their fathers followed in a land where callings are hereditary; the second that it filled them with an overweening false pride, and taught them to despise their fathers.
“My sons are no good to me whatever,” sighed my head-overseer to me constantly, who had sent his two boys to be educated, and never ceased regretting it. “They are too fine to put their hands to honest work as I have done these twenty years past. They will not even look after the farm at home, because they are ‘educated.’ They can get no employment through their education, and all they do is to swagger about the house like young rajahs, spend money, live in idleness, laugh at or abuse every one on the strength of their superior knowledge, and constantly disgrace themselves because they have no work to do to keep them out of mischief! I wish to God I had never sent them to school. But I had an idea they would both rise to be magistrates and judges.” The same opinion, in substance, was repeated to me by many other fathers, and the local schoolboy came to be a byword for the effete, impudent, and useless. I have heard my coolie boys use their condition as a term of contempt: “He cannot prune any better than a schoolboy,” they would say of a new hand, with a twinkle in their eyes as they glanced in the direction of the overseer.
Of these educated youths, at least ninety per cent. were choked off higher studies by the expense of the university, and left neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red herring, but useful subjects spoilt by the useless smattering of English which they had received. What of the other ten per cent.? A great percentage failed to pass their degrees, and returned to the ranks of the unemployed. The rest, having acquired the right to the letters B.A. after their names, joined the army of “hopefuls,” and proceeded to squat down on their haunches and wait. But the call seldom came, and after a time they filtered into the legal profession, and battened on the native love for litigation, or became demagogues and aired their opinions in the native Press, which is often scurrilous and disloyal.
English education is the natural beginning of Europeanising. Very early in the day it takes the form of modifying the native costume, and the native discontinues shaving his head, adopts tailor-made garments, takes to wearing shoes and stockings, and only retains his turban as the link between him and the caste he has practically renounced. And now his soul begins to expand, and he apes the sahib. The transformation has a wondrous effect on his humbler brethren, who flatter and fawn on him, whereby his conceit rises like the mercury in hot weather. He adopts the “English air,” and becomes bumptious; certain it is his manners are not improved, who mistakes a vulgar self-assertion for independence. And he looks on the wine when it is red. Such conduct, when the beverage is English brandy, is a parting from the ways of caste.
Having thus broken free from the shackles of his birth, he desires to distinguish himself in a sphere cognate to his new acquirements, and decides on making a start in Nukkle Sluff, which being interpreted means “Local Self-Government.”
The principle of representative government has of recent years been started in India by the creation of municipalities and local and district boards, some of the seats on which are filled by election. The native is absolutely apathetic about them, and when he takes the trouble to vote is usually guided by the caste of the candidate. The Europeanised native, with his glib tongue, his superior education, his assurance, and his flattery, an art he has by no means forgotten, experiences no difficulty in getting elected. He now begins to practice the craft of oratory, and works on the minds of men. He is soon deep in jobbery and corruption, as the municipalities of Bombay and Calcutta have demonstrated. Every Indian Nukkle Sluff is a Tammany Hall on a small scale.
From this sphere the next step is to become a “Congress-Wallah,” which is the height of his ambition. In the reign of Lord Ripon there was a departure in English policy, and the principles of liberalism were sought to be introduced into the conservatism of the Hindus. It awakened new aspirations in the breast of the native who was educated, and from those aspirations sprang a National Congress, or annual gathering of representatives from all parts of India, whose advertised aim was to “bring all men of light and leading together, to foster a public spirit, to educate the people, and familiarise them with the working of representative institutions, and to demonstrate to the British Government that India is ripe for self-government.”
Theoretically a noble programme; but in practice it began by passing resolutions approving the abolition of the Council of the Secretary of State for India, recommended holding the Indian Civil Service examinations in India for half the appointments, the sanctioning of a native volunteer corps, and the repeal of the Arms Act. I need not quote more of a policy which, if adopted, would place arms in the hands of the natives to deluge the land in blood directly native administration and representative institutions brought Hindus and Mahomedans — ever ready to fly at each other’s throats — in contact. And when these proposals are made by the spokesmen, self-elected, of effeminate races, who shudder at the sight of a drawn sword, they dwindle into a farce. Nor are they regarded as anything better than a farce in India, where the Mahomedans despise the Congress, the native nobility holds contemptuously aloof from it, the peasant does not even know of its existence, and the native Press derides it.
But the Congress-Wallah is blessed with brazen lungs and assurance, and able to make himself heard far and wide; he has a catchy cry, “India for the Indians,” and it finds an echo in some quarters in England, where there are folk who take him seriously. Self-government in India is impossible; the country is too cosmopolitan, the racial hatreds too intense. But self-government under the Congress-Wallah, who represents the failures amongst those who set forth to win official employ, is a contingency too ludicrous to contemplate what time the fierce Mahomedans, the stalwart Sikhs, and the fighting Rajpoots — silent folks at present — shall begin to take an interest in the problem. And, after all, what is the so-called National Congress but a debating society, which represents the Empire as little as the Oxford Union Society represents the United Kingdom — nay, less; for whereas the Oxford undergraduate illustrates much that is best and most virile in our life, the Congress-Wallah merely represents himself, who is but a cheap stucco image operating on a wind-bag.
This digression has taken me rather further than I intended. The moral I would draw is that Western education grafted on Eastern character is an impossible combination. “The educated native,” says Mr. Lilly, in his admirable book on the Problems of India, “is in no sense a representative of the great mass of the inhabitants of India, and has no sort of influence with them. The vast bulk of the population, the cultivators of the land, know and care nothing about him. The hardy warlike races, who furnish our best soldiers, utterly despise him. He is not, ordinarily, a product of whom our rule should be proud.” And yet he is the foremost representative on the path of progress, and the man who aspires to take the reins from English hands. And he is what English education has made him: a poor thing — but their own!
There are those who believe that if ever another rebellion breaks out in India it will be at the instigation of the educated classes, and that the danger lies in the mischievous and disloyal propaganda of the Bengali Baboos and the Mahratta Brahmins. Should these predictions be fulfilled, the Congress-Wallah will have justified himself, for he prints and preaches veiled sedition. The question remains whether England shall have justified her system, which has created a breed of demagogues in a land of fanatical racial hatreds, and a host of “young hopefuls,” who, in learning to speak English in broken periods, have grown too proud to earn their own bread in their hereditary callings.
It is a pleasant transition to the material progress of India. The expanding revenue is the best index to its commercial as distinct from its rural prosperity. The country has been seamed with a network of railways, so that you can now travel from Cape Comorin to Peshawur, or from Karachi to Assam, without changing carriages; it has been opened out with roads and bridges that have brought the farthest jungles into communication with the busy centres of life. For eightpence you can despatch a telegram two thousand miles, and the halfpenny post has been an institution any time within these past thirty years. The prices current of European markets are known in India within an hour of their being shouted on the Exchanges of the Continent, and people grumble if their correspondence with England takes a fortnight in its transit. The Government has reclaimed enormous tracts of waste land with the finest system of irrigation in the world, run canals through arid provinces, and battled with famine with an energy that has halved its horrors. The development of the industrial resources of the country has been equally remarkable. Bombay is a city of cotton mills, cotton presses, and ginning factories; the exports of grain from India exceed thirty million hundredweights; Calcutta sends out its shiploads of jute by the hundred from the magnificent mills erected to deal with the fibre. The tea, coffee, and indigo concerns number considerably over a thousand; with tea more than half a million acres are planted, producing a hundred and eighty million pounds, and representing twenty millions sterling invested, whilst coffee exports thirty-two million pounds, and indigo from India is still held to be the best dye in the world. Coal is one of the most promising industries, and there are very rich gold mines in the Madras presidency. Western civilisation, energy, and capital have developed all these and many other industries; have found markets for them, and, more important still, the means of getting the produce to the markets. Their establishment has created a revolution in the industrial life of India, which, although it possessed all these resources, was never able to utilise them until British rule brought peace to pursue the arts of peace, and enterprise to push them forward.
Nor can I pass over “fixity of exchange” without mention. India is a land of silver currency, for you never see a golden coin in circulation there. So long as silver retained its old relative value to gold, and the rupee could be exchanged for a florin, which it approximated in weight, there were no fiscal difficulties in the way of commerce. But as gold began to become “appreciated,” and the discoveries of mountains of silver deteriorated the value of that metal, the Indian rupee dropped in value, till you could only exchange it for a shilling of English coinage, that was sustained by a gold reserve. The inherent speculations of commerce were doubled and tripled by the speculations of exchange, until Lord Elgin grasped the bull by the horns, and boldly fixed the rate at which the raw metal should be issued from the mints of India, irrespective of its intrinsic worth. By a stroke of the pen, a gold standard was established in a country of silver currency, and the rupee became a fixed instead of a fluctuating token. Had India been left to its own resources in the economical crisis that was brought about by the depreciation of silver, her currency would have been halved in value as a purchasing power in countries where the standard is a gold one, and she must have been shut off from many of the Western luxuries she now enjoys, whose prices would have been increased thirty-three per cent. in her own coinage, as compared to what they are to-day.
“Si monumentum requiris, circumspice!” What the English have accomplished in India must ever be the best monument of their right to be there. There are those who have cried, “Perish India!” — the best way to bring about that result would be to withdraw from ruling it. For the edifice they have reared, and are rearing, needs the eye and the genius of the architect to continue its building. The foundation is the Unchanging East, but the stones are carried from the West. There is no builder in the Orient who can take charge of the plan, which is assuredly the boldest experiment that the English, the only successful Empire-builders in the world of to-day, have ever attempted.