MEMORANDUM: An Essay on the causes of the Indian Revolt by Syud Ahmed Khan, Principal Sudder Ameen of Moradabad.

By R. Temple [*Sir Richard Temple*], March 1860

I have read this paper, and proceed to note briefly such remarks as occur to me.

The opening remarks, regarding the Queen's Gracious Proclamation, do correctly represent Native opinion. Natives generally say that its merciful and considerate spirit had the best effect.

After defining rebellion, the author goes on to say— "There is but one thing which causes rebellious intentions to arise in the mind, viz. the introduction of measures unsuited to the disposition, or to the wishes, institutions, or customs of those who rebel."

It is evident that, though such a cause may be of great importance, yet there may be other causes. I notice this here because the author, starting with this idea, tries afterwards to show that the British Government brought on the rebellion by certain measures it adopted, from which conclusion I, for one, dissent.

Then the author clears the ground by mentioning various things which did not cause the rebellion. This part of the Essay is very true. He shows that there could have been no conspiracy; that Russia and Persia could have had nothing to do with it; that the King of Delhi could not have raised such a storm; that the domination of foreigners is not necessarily distasteful to the people; that no regular Mahomedan "Jehad" or Crusade had been preached.

In this part of the Essay too there is a passage worthy of particular perusal.

The author says that in the early days of our rule "the people and chiefs were inclined towards our Government. The report of its justice, mercy, generosity, faith, and treaties, and admirable arrangements for ensuring happiness to the people and peace in the country, had made the neighbouring Hindoo and Mahomedan states wish to be taken under its protection."

This, I believe, is a correct representation of Native opinion. The British are not so popular now in these days as they are said to have been in the days of Lake, Ochterlony, or Wellesley. Doubtless there are causes for this, some of them inevitable. Still it is very desirable to retain as much of the old popular policy as may be consistent with the progress of the age.

After showing what was not the cause, he proceeds to show what primarily was the cause, namely, the non-admission of Natives to the Legislative Council of India!

Now without entering into the question whether natives ought or ought not to be admitted into the Council, and with the admission that the Legislature ought to have all due regard to the feelings of the people, still it were [=would have been] impossible to suppose that Natives rebelled because they were not allowed to send Members to the Legislative Council.

Moreover, some of the author's expressions are so strong as to lead (if accepted) to the doctrine, that not only ought the laws to be framed with due regard to the customs of the people, but also that whatever is the custom ought to be legalized, whether the Government thought it right or not. It is impossible that the British Government should go so far as that.

Then the author says that the non-admission of Natives to the Legislative Council "kept the people in the dark as to the real intentions and designs of Government."

It is difficult to understand this. The attendance of certain Native Members at the Legislative Council would not in any special manner have enlightened the Native public as to the views of Government. Already the discussions of the Council are published in extenso.

Again, many of the misunderstandings on the part of the people to which the author alludes, are of many years' date, whereas the Legislative Council has only existed for five years.

It is probably vain to suppose, as the author supposes, that "all these erroneous notions might have been dissipated," if Natives had been admitted to sit in the Legislative Council.

The author then proceeds to state that this non-admission gave birth to certain circumstances which directly brought on the rebellion. These he divides into five heads.

The first he describes as "misunderstanding on the part of the people of the measures of the Government, or understanding them contrary to their real intent."

In support of this he says that the people at large believed that Government had serious designs on their religion and customs. But he says it was understood that these designs would be worked out not suddenly, nor forcibly, but gradually and by means of instruction and moral suasion. This is rather a remarkable statement as coming from a Native.

Further on the author writes— "during the famine of 1837, numerous orphans were converted to Christianity. This was considered proof of the intention of Government to reduce the country to poverty, and to make the people Christians."

Now this passage hardly redounds to the author's credit. The allusion apparently refers to the Secundra Orphan Establishment. During the famine these children, perfectly friendless, were rescued from starvation, and made over to the Missionaries for education. Surely this was a noble charity, and the sentiment of the author, though it might be entertained by some evil-disposed persons, could hardly (we may hope for the credit of human nature) have been general.

Then the author says that the people believed the Missionaries to be really paid and approved by the State. Some may have thought this, but at least many knew that such was not the case.

In the same place it is said that Civil Servants and Military Officers discussed religion with their Native subordinates, and directed attendance at the preaching of Missionaries.

Now in the North-Western Provinces, such things were at least extremely rare. Hardly an instance of this kind is known in those provinces.

Next the author remarks that Christian books were published, containing offensive observations, regarding the holy men and sacred places of the Native religions. Now, without doubt, whatever expressions were used must have been such as the writers deemed to be absolutely true. Still it is politic and expedient to avoid severity of expression in this respect, as much as possible, consistently with advocacy of the truth.

The statement that a Government Policeman was occasionally deputed to attend on Missionaries, is an extraordinary one, and would not generally be credited.

It is said that the Missionaries frequented mosques, and temples, and fairs, to preach. Now here I must observe that if the Missionaries ever entered a mosque or temple, it must have been with the consent of the people. As to fairs, that is another matter; the Missionaries had a right to attend these as much as any other people.

Next the author says the people objected to the establishment of Mission Schools. But feeling that it might be justly replied that the people must apparently have liked these schools, because they voluntarily sent their children to them, the author says "this circumstance ought not to be considered a proof of the absence of any kind of dissatisfaction, but rather a convincing one of the wretched state of the country;" and that the parents, though they hated the schools, still sent their children to them, in order that the children might learn enough to enable them to gain a livelihood!

This is a somewhat extraordinary passage. Many European readers would think that it breathed the very spirit of fanaticism, which is radically hostile to the spread of knowledge and of European civilization.

It is indeed difficult to understand how the people could have disliked these schools. In most places they showed a marked preference for them over the Government Schools. In many places the people are known to have the highest respect for Missionaries as instructors of youth, and in their anxiety to obtain secular instruction for their children seem to overlook the religious character of the instructors.

Again, if the people did not like the Mission Schools, they might have resorted to the Government Schools always at hand, which were well known to be quite secular.

The author asserts that the Government Village Schools were believed by the people to be the precursors of religious instruction. There may have been such an impression partially prevalent, but not universally. Sometimes too the teachers may have been called clergymen in disguise. But some (in some districts many) of the teachers were drawn from the Mowlvee class of Mahomedans, who could not possibly have been supposed to be the emissaries of Christianity.

Then the author comments on the Government Colleges: he says that the system of instruction had become changed. The learned languages of Asia, the Asiatic sciences and laws, ceased to be studied, European knowledge instead was conveyed in Asiatic language. This of course is true enough. But here many European readers would say that such a course gave no just cause of dissatisfaction to the people, if indeed such dissatisfaction existed; and that the whole passage is pervaded by an illiberal and bigoted tone.

Then the author states that a preference was given to those candidates for public employ[ment] who had been educated. This is no doubt true. But surely it must be exaggeration to say that this caused "a deep gloom to fall on the minds of the people."

The author is correct in stating that the system in Jails, whereby prisoners of various castes were obliged to mess together, was regarded by Natives [as] a proof of hostility on the part of Government towards the Native religions. But I must observe that this system was not universally adopted.

He is also quite correct in saying that a pamphlet, published and circulated in 1855, by a Mr. Edmond of Calcutta, did cause a mischievous excitement in many parts of the country. And moreover the fact that such excitement could be thus created, shows that there must have been a kind of general fermentation going on in men's minds.

The remark of the author that the Mahomedans are comparatively well grounded in the doctrines of their religion, while the Hindoos look but little to religion, and much to caste, is perfectly true.

Then the author brings forward the second cause, viz. the promulgation of laws unsuited to the country, or opposed to the customs and interests of the Natives.

In support of this he cites the Acts that declared [that] a man should not forfeit his right of inheritance because he changed his religion, and which legalized the remarriage of Hindoo widows; also the recognition by the Courts of the rights and freedom of women. Doubtless these laws were unpopular with Natives; still, they are generally considered to be right. Also the author notes as a cause of dissatisfaction, the slow and ineffective action of the Courts in cases of adultery, seduction, and the like. There is some truth in this.

Then the resumption of rent-free tenures is named as a source of bitter dissatisfaction. This is quite true.

Further, the sale and transfer of landed property for realization of the public revenue, or in satisfaction of private debt, is correctly mentioned as causing unpopularity, and as opposed to the ancient custom of the country. Hereditary property in land has a kind of sanctity in the eyes of Natives, and the forcible transfer of it is regarded as a terrible thing.

The author then states that the settlement of the land tax was praiseworthy, but that the assessments were too heavy, and had a depressing effect. Without doubt the utmost pains were taken at the time of settlement to make the assessments moderate. Certainly agriculture in Hindoostan has flourished. The increase and diffusion of wealth has been great; that part of Hindoostan which was ceded from the Nawab Wuzeer of Oude, 50 years ago, now yields double the revenues of various kinds which it then yielded. So vigorous has been the husbandry that the land has been apparently over-cultivated, so that the productive power of the soil has been partially exhausted from over-work. The author himself remarks this, yet immediately afterwards he says with some inconsistency that "cultivation has been neglected"!

Again, the author quotes the liberal terms of the land settlement made by the Mogul Emperor Akbar the Great. But he does not add that the terms allowed by the British Government are still more liberal.

It may seem strange that a Native of intelligence and education should believe that his country was becoming impoverished, while it could be shewn in a hundred ways to be increasing in wealth. But it is unfortunately a fact that as yet the Native gentry have no idea of political economy. Enquiry would probably shew that they usually entertain the belief of this impoverishment of India. The decadence of certain families gives to some natives, the impression of national decay. The gradual elevation of the mass, on the other hand, fails to strike them. When property changes hands, they think this to be a sign of nothing but distress, forgetting that the class which buys the property from another must be thriving. The transfer of property from one class to another, owing to social changes, to revolutions in trade, industry, and the like, strike them as indications of misfortune alone.

Certainly the Natives of some parts of India would smile if they were told that Hindoostan was driven by poverty into rebellion! Many suppose the very contrary to be the fact.

The author is correct in stating that the Taluqdaree settlement in Hindoostan gave dissatisfaction to the upper classes especially.

The alleged unpopularity of the stamp revenue is not borne out by any known facts. By many such an idea would be considered absurd. This item of revenue has always been elastic and flourishing.

Next the author states that the system of Civil justice in Hindoostan is "highly commendable." Many persons will smile at reading this. The author, having been himself employed in that department, is prejudiced in its favor. The system has just been materially altered by the Legislature, with the happiest results. In this passage too, the author has a digression on the Punjab Code, which is not relevant to the subject. He considers the system in Hindoostan to be superior to that of the Punjab. It is not necessary to discuss this, as the Legislature has just introduced into Hindoostan a procedure based on principles the same as those which have prevailed in the Punjab. It will suffice to say that the author's remarks shew that he is not acquainted with, and is much misinformed regarding, the method of the Punjab administration.

It is worthy of remark that the author mentions the undue facility of appeal as a cause of unpopularity.

The third cause given by the author is the ignorance of Government of the manners and conditions of the people.

He commences by stating that Government officers were ignorant of the real state of things, and that the people feared to speak out their mind. Now the extraordinary reticence of Natives is no doubt a great difficulty in Indian Government. As a rule it is very difficult to induce a well disposed man to tell a disagreeable truth. It is only the most experienced officers that can learn the inner sentiments of Natives; and as European Officers know this, they are apt to suspect (and with truth) that in these times a Native who criticizes the conduct of Government, does so with some bad motive. This circumstance again heightens the mutual distrust, and it becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, to know exactly what Natives do say of us. There is every reason however to believe that in Hindostan many classes used to speak, and still speak, of the British in very unjust and malevolent terms— terms indeed of which we generally had no idea at the time, and of which even now we can have no accurate conception.

The author is mistaken in supposing that when unpopular laws were enacted, there was none to raise his voice. In such cases members of the Legislature did explain the extent to which any particular enactment was opposed to local custom; but for reasons (still considered good and sufficient), the Legislature decided to pass the laws. Such was the actual fact, though a Native writer could hardly be expected to appreciate it.

Then a thoroughly Native idea [is] reproduced. It is said that under Native Governments abundance of employment existed, most of which disappeared under the British. Now, "employment" (Noukeree) does not mean here, as in England, industrial occupation for the production of wealth, but service; in service is included service as soldiers, as retainers, as menials, as "employees" of every grade and kind. Now, however contrary the notion may be to true political economy, it is the fixed opinion of Natives that a Government which provides plenty of opportunities for service of all kinds, is a good one. Judged by this standard, the British Government, however good it might be generally, and however much it might advance the interests of the people, would never be deemed a beneficial and popular one. It must always be a source of dificnlty to the British Government that there is a restless class, half political and half Military, for whom it is dificult to find employ, and who do not follow any profitable industry. A Native Government does certainly find more employment for such a class than the British Government can.

In the same strain the author goes on to say that the Native Government bestowed liberally pensions and stipends which the British Government did not. Here again is a thoroughly Native idea. However contrary the notion may be to true political economy, it is the fixed belief of Natives that one of the first duties of Government is to support by direct grants in land or cash the aristocracy of the country. Wherever such a system has prevailed, anything like a sudden discontinuance of it by the British would lead to bitter discontent; and to insurrection also, if opportunity should arise.

It is always to be remembered that a self-supporting aristocracy rarely exists in Native states. An aristocracy always exists, but it is supported by the Government direct, by landed grants and cash stipends. One of the very few instances to the contrary, namely the land-holding aristocracy of Bengal, which really and truly lives on what is now its own property, is a British creation, and would not have been created by a Native Government.

The author then is quite correct in saying that "old families distinguished for their affluence were reduced to penury." The circumstance may indeed be regretted. It did not however arise from the direct action of Government, but simply because these families had no real root or substance of their own. The fact however is cited as a sure proof of the impoverishment of the country, and is strangely connected with the raising of Government loans, and the issue of Company's Paper.

In development of the same idea, it is said that each new conquest of the British Government grieved the people, because it was felt that thereby "employment" would be lessened (that is, service, as already explained), and Native manufactures be superseded. Such opinions doubtless were held by certain classes, though probably not by the people generally.

This part of the brochure concludes with a warm commendation of the British Government, in respect to its vigorous administration and the preservation of external order, and in the protection afforded to the oppressed.

The fourth cause is said by the author to be the neglect by Government of certain matters affecting the people, which ought to have been attended to.

In support of this he declares that of late years the Government has failed to win any popular affection, and that thore has been an utter want of sympathy between its officers and the people, which has been more especially felt by the upper classes, and this opinion he enforces at great length; and, strange to say, with numerous quotations from our Scriptures.

He states that of late years, there has been a great change in the manners and habits of British Officers, which has estranged them from the people; and that while some continue to evince sympathy with the people, many treat them with contempt or harshness.

The manner in which he speaks of some of the Civil Officers is indeed rancorous, and would look as if he had some kind of spite or enmity. He asks whether the Government do not know that the highest Natives in the land tremble in the presence of its officers? Certainly, this is not known generally, and is indeed scarcely to be believed. Again, he says that the Native ministerial officials are often harshly spoken to, and curse their fate in having to earn bread by such a service. Doubtless such a thing may occasionally happen, but more frequently the very reverse is the truth. The Native ministerial officials are so clever at business, and at adapting themselves to their masters, that they generally succeed in ingratiating themselves too much; and they boast but too often, and sometimes too truly, of the favor in which they are held by the European Officers.

But making due allowance for language of rancour and exaggeration on the author's part, it is doubtless true that much of our old personal popularity has departed; that the estrangement between our officers and the people is more and more increasing; that this defect was brought out into strong relief by the late rebellion; and that it would be good policy on the part of Government to correct this unfortunate tendency, and to retrieve (so far as may be done consistently with our other principles) our popularity with the Natives. With care and consideration we may hope to regain our lost popularity, as surely as we once possessed it.

It is true that the gradual estrangement has been brought about by the improved manners of the times. Doubtless the officers of Government have behaved just as English gentlemen would always behave, neither better nor worse. In the present age Englishmen as a rule are not popular with any alien nation, and it is the same with the English in India. In India however this circumstance is politically unfortunate. The present pamphlet adds one proof to many others that the Natives feel it deeply. Moreover, this pamphlet shews that the Natives know, as well as we do, that we are bound by the dictates of our Christian charity to pursue a more conciliatory course, and exhibit a more sympathetic and kindly demeanour, towards the Natives of India.

It is difficult to over-estimate the political importance of such a course being universally pursued by English Officers iu India. The influence of the upper class with the people is great in all countries; in India, it is enormous. This upper class is often proud and always sensitive, keenly alive to slight, and immeasurably gratified by kindness and consideration. Civility is always said to be cheaply given; but in India, probably more than in any other country, it is cheaply bestowed, and is fruitful of positive result. Besides this, however, there is certainly needed on the part of our officers, a sympathetic interest in the Natives, a certain degree of social intercourse with them, and a certain knowledge and appreciation of their hopes and fears, their aspirations and griefs. The result of such a policy, consistently and steadily pursued, would be manifest in any time of trouble. Moreover, such policy does entirely consist with [=correspond to] the advance of the age, and with the progress of our own civilization.

In illustration of his general position, the author adverts to various points.

He says that fewer Natives of birth, family, and connexions are employed, and a strict system of examination has given an almost exclusive preference to talent alone. In this there is much truth. It may be quite practicable to give a better scope than heretofore to the upper classes, while a certain standard of qualification is insisted on.

Again, the author says that "the prospects of Natives in the service of Government have not been improved to the extent that is desirable."

It is no doubt true that the throwing open to Natives of various offices of higher emolument, would increase their loyalty, while probably it might not detract from any other important interest of the State.

Then he dwells on the political expediency of admitting Natives to durbars and other State ceremonies. All this is quite true. Orientals are very imaginative. And any Government which produces an imposing effect on their imagination, is sure to have a real influence with them. Native rulers are all well aware of this.

The sentence which states that "God has created kings to represent Him, in order that the people might through them recognise Him, and that earthly kings should endeavour to imitate the attributes of their Heavenly Father," does correctly describe the Native theory of Government.

Among some arguments for mercy towards rebels, the author states that thousands not really guilty joined the rebels, fearing that they might be hereafter punished as rebels, though they remained with the British; and that thousands served the rebels, believing that British rule had been swept away, and that all men had better obey the ruler of the moment; is true enough.

Lastly the author adverts briefly to the Indian Army. His remarks (on a subject which has been so much discussed) do not contain much that is worthy of notice. He adds his testimony to the fact that the belief in the impurity of the cartridges, acting on the disposition of a proud and powerful body of men, did cause the mutiny in the first instance. He observes that Native rulers always balanced one race of men in their armies against another. But in the same Regiment the difference between Hindoos and Mahomedans of the same part of India is not such as to prevent their being swayed by the same interests.

The pamphlet concludes by some observations on the Punjab, which do not however call for much notice. He says that the Mahomedans of the West are better disposed towards us than those of Hindoostan. This is quite true. He supposes that the Government of the Punjab was milder than that of Hindostan. I would observe that indeed from special causes, the Punjab Government had a far greater hold on the upper classes, but for the mass of the people it could not have been better than that of Hindostan. He adds his testimony to the good effect of the disarming of the people.

March 1860.

Source: An Essay On the Causes of the Indian Revolt, by Syud Ahmed Khan, Principal Sudder Ameen of Moradabad, translated by Captain W. N. Lees, L.L.D (Calcutta: Printed by S. S. Wyman, Home Secretariat, 1860), Appendix I, pp. 55-70. With thanks to David Lelyveld, who not only told me about this early review but even generously supplied the text; and to Chloe Smith for her able help in scanning and editing. Editorial annotations in square brackets are mine; a few commas have been adjusted, but no other editing has been done. --FWP, March 2008


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