June 04, 2018

Tax Collection in British-Ruled India

An extract from Edmund Burke's prosecution of Warren Hastings which, though it may have been unfair in itself, highlighted what the Raj was to become:

Permit me now, my lords, to set before you the state of the people that remain victims of this oppression. It is notorious that poverty generally prevails among the poor ryots, or husbandmen; that the poor are seldom possessed of any substance, except at the time they reap their harvest; and this is the reason that such numbers of them were swept away by famine. Their effects are only a little earthenware, and their houses a handful of straw, the sale of which was not worth a few rupees; but it is still incredible that there should not be a Want of purchasers. .My lords, I produce this strange testimony from the person himself who was concerned in racking these people, and I produce it to shew what a country it is. The people, while they were harassed in this manner, sought that dreadful resource which misery is apt to fly to; they fell into the hands of usurers. Usurers, my lords, are a bad resource at any time; and at that time those usurers, to the accustomed hardness of that description of people, added another that makes such men ten times worse, that is, their own necessities. Such was the determination of the infernal fiend, Debi Sing, to have those bonds discharged, that the wretched husbandmen were obliged to borrow money, not at 20, or 30, or 40, or 50, but at six hundred per cent, in order to satisfy him!

My lords, I am here obliged to offer some apology for the horrid scenes I am about to open. Permit me to make the same apology to your lordships, that was made by Mr. Patterson — a man with whose name I wish mine to be handed down to posterity. His apology is this — and it is mine — that the punishments inflicted upon the ryots of Rumpore and of Dinagepore, were, in many instances, of such a nature, that I would rather wish to draw a veil over them, than shock your feelings by a detail. But it is necessary for the substantial ends of justice and humanity, and for the honour of government, that they should be exposed, that they should be recorded, and handed down to after ages: let this be my apology. My lords, when the people had been stript of every thing, it was, in some cases, suspected, and justly, that they had hid some share of the grain. Their bodies were then applied to the fiercest mode of torture, which was this: they began with winding cords about their fingers, till the flesh on each hand clung and was actually incorporated. Then they hammered wedges of wood and iron between those fingers, until they crushed and maimed those poor, honest, and laborious hands, which were never lifted up to their mouths but with a scanty supply of provision. My lords, these acts of unparalleled cruelty, began with the poor ryots; but if they began there, there they did not stop. The heads of the villages, the leading yeomen of the country, respectable for their virtues, respectable for their age, were tied together, two and two, the unoffending and helpless, thrown across a bar, upon which they were hung with their feet uppermost, and there beat with bamboo canes on the soles of those feet, until the nails started from their toes, and then with the cudgels of their blind fury these poor wretches were afterwards beat about the head, until the blood gushed out at their mouth, nose, and ears. My lords, they did not stop here. Bamboos, wangees, rattans, canes, common whips, and scourges were not sufficient. They found a tree in the country which bears strong and sharp thorns—not satisfied with those other cruelties, they scourged them with these. Not satisfied with this, but searching every thing through the deepest parts of nature, where she seems to have forgot her usual benevolence, they found a poisonous plant, a deadly caustic, that inflames the part that is bruised, and often occasions death. This they applied to those wounds. My lords, we know that there are men (for so we are made) whom bodily pains cannot subdue. The mind of some men strengthens in proportion as the body suffers. But people who can bear up against their own tortures, cannot bear ap against those of their children and their friends. To add, therefore, to their sufferings, the innocent children were brought forth, and cruelly scourged before the faces of their parents. They frequently bound the father and the son, face to face, arm to arm, body to body, and then flogged till the skin was torn from the flesh: and thus they had the devilish satisfaction of knowing, that every blow must wound the body or the mind; for if one escaped the son, his sensibility was wounded by the knowledge he had that the blow had fallen upon his father; the same torture was felt by the father, when he knew that every blow that missed him had fallen upon his unfortunate son.

My lords, this was not, this was not all! The treatment of the females cannot be described. Virgins that were kept from the sight of the sun, were dragged into the public court — that court which was intended to be a refuge against all oppression — and there, in the presence "of day, their delicacies were offended, and their persons cruelly violated, by the basest of mankind. It did not end there: the wives of the men of the country only suffered less by this: they lost their honour in the bottom of the most cruel dungeons, in which they were confined. They were then dragged out naked, and in that situation exposed to public view, and scourged before all the people. My lords, here is my authority — for otherwise you will not believe it possible. My lords, what will you feel when I tell you, that they put the nipples of the women into the cleft notches of sharp bamboos, and tore them from their bodies. What modesty in all nations most carefully conceals, these monsters revealed to view, and consumed by burning tortures, and cruel slow fires! My lords, I am ashamed to open it — horrid to tell! these infernal fiends, these monstrous tools of this monster Debi Sing, in defiance of every thing divine or human, planted death in the source of life!