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gradual rise in the customs, and other branches of revenue. But the Government never made it any part of their bargain that the ryots should be rack-rented and ground to the dust. They had not the right, any more than the intention, to make such a bargain, as Lord Hastings, in discussing this question, very justly observed. No Government can part with the obligation to do right and 'justice to any part of its subjects.
“ Far from doing so, Lord Cornwallis's settlement provided that the ryots should not pay higher rates of rent than the purgunnah rates, which any man, thoroughly versed in Indian revenue, knows to be a technical term, not for a specific table of rates, which has been idly sought for, but the customary, though variable rates of rent on particular soils and products existing in the district or tract where any village is situated, sometimes even in a particular village or estate, and not in others.
“ These amounts of rent, when disputed, and the terms of occupancy, when those were disputed, (for occupancy came also within the scope of the technical term, purgunnah rates,) it was the office and duty of the authorized accounts of Government to settle. Lord Cornwallis also provided, that beyond the rent, the ryots should pay nothing. These laws are still in the Statute book, though, to the great detriment of the country, they have not, from the want of sufficient machinery, and sufficient knowledge in the early administrators of the system, been carried out. It will be remembered, that a minute revenue survey is now going on in Bengal, and the thought forces itself on one, that this affords the necessary basis for settling, as has been done effectually in the North-west Provinces, the amount of fair rent, and the terms of occupancy. If it be urged that the undertaking for Bengal is too gigantic, allowing, for argument's sake, this to be so, although the same thing was vainly said, and failure as vainly prophesied of a similar undertaking in the North-west Provinces, yet something may be done to stop a system which involves so much social evil as exists in Bengal. Without aiming at the reconstruction of the village communities, or the rehabitation of sub-proprietors in the soil, however iniquitously or mercilessly they have been swept away, might not a law be enacted, restoring the former limitation of rents to purgunnah rates, defining the term as above, and stating the determination of Government to enforce the spirit of the law; declaring that, while no interference would take place between parties agreeing among themselves, further than to record in the collector's office a rent-roll shewing the occupant, the fields by the numbers in the maps, and the terms of the lease ; yet that every resident, or Chupper-bund ryot should have the right to apply to the nearest deputy collector to have his fair rent assessed for a period of say ten or twenty years; and that the deputy collector should replace, with costs or damages, any resident ryot who should appear to have been ejected without having incurred a balance on the rent recorded by the officers of Govern
a ment, and award heavy damages against any one exacting more than the recorded rent from a cultivator."
We trust that there are few genuine reformers who will not endorse most of the above. We are quite prepared for a long howl on the subject, from those whose power of oppression and exaction, or of indefinite aggrandisement, would be materially curtailed by any such law. There may come a cry of want of faith on one side, and of great expense and trouble on the other, But the charge of violated faith, which cannot be supported, will come with a bad grace from those who form but a fraction of the population, and who have not kept faith with the terms of the contract by which so much was conceded to them, on the understanding that they should concede something to others in their turn. And the expense and trouble to government and its officers, will be little or nothing, as the work of collectors themselves has been gradually decreasing, and as officers, with the powers of a deputy collector, are already scattered over a district by twos and by threes.
Moreover, the principles of the solid reform which Mr. Robinson sketched, and which we put forward as the main reform of which Bengal stands in need, have in several other ways been recognised by the government. This principle is simply that the cultivating proprietor, or the hereditary occupant and resident for one, two, or three generations, should have the right to have his land assessed for a period of years on a summary enquiry. The propriety and legality of this maxim have been avowed and acted on by government in the law for the security of the opium monopoly. The benefits of the cultivation of the poppy are reserved by law for the ryot of Behar or Ghazipore, who receives the advances, cultivates the plant, and takes the raw juice to the government factory. The Zemindar is, by law, specially prohibited from enhancing the rent of such portions of his tenant's land as are devoted to this species of produce. Hence the display of spurious liberality which we have seen occasionally in petitions to government or Parliament on the subject of the monopoly, as one pressing heavily on the ryot. Not a farthing of the profit ever comes to the pocket of the Zemindar, who has the mortification of seeing his ryots clamorous for advances on a larger extent of soil, and partners to an account with government, annually adjusted with a balance in favour of the cultivator, from which no third party can derive the smallest advantage. Why should government hesitate one moment to carry out a system for the benefit of a large and oppressed class, which it has already carried out for the preservation of its own particular interests ? If we be told that any such attempt would be an infringement of the perpetual settlement, or a defiance of the laws of political economy, we should reply on the first head that the measure, so far from
infringing that settlement, would, on the contrary, complete and consolidate it: and on the second, we should say that the law of landlord and tenant, of social inequality, and of revenue and rent in the east, must often be guided by principles at which even Adam Smith and Malthus might have been somewhat startled. The principle we contend for, again, is acted on in the province of Benares. The revenue there is fixed perpetually, as it is in Bengal. Yet we hear of no rack-renting, or violent oppression, or defect in the system. Why is this? Because on the one hand the population are bolder, and will not patiently endure tyranny; and on the other, because the authorities have done their part, and have taken care that the tenant proprietors and cultivators shall have their rights and liabilities well and thoroughly defined. Again, our principle forms the basis of the proposed alterations in the sale law. As the draft now stands, the reform contended for will do, for intermediate tenures, what we would have done for the humblest and lowest of all. The middleman, who has just concluded an arrangement with his Zemindar, of immediate loss, but eventual profit, or who has a snug property in half a dozen villages, which from its size he can conveniently manage, will, if the reform be carried, be saved from the abrupt termination of his tenure in a general sale owing to the fraud or the negligence of his superior. Why should not the same righteous interference be manifested for a set of men twenty times more numerous, but far less able to protect themselves; for those who labour while others sit at home in comfort, who sow in heat and anxiety, while others quietly reap the main profits of their toil ?
The law for which we contend has either been an element in other reforms, or has anticipated them. In dealing with the land revenue of Benares it has been silently acted on. In the opium monopoly the Government has not hesitated to proclaim that rent should be fixed for once, without regard to the value of produce. And of the new sale law the main points are, that if the Government can count on its revenue, and the Zemindar on his rent, there is no reason why third parties, who have a limited interest in landed properties, should not have these interests secured from invasion. Add to these considerations, those of philanthropy, and sound policy, and it will follow that Government would not only be justified in such legal interference, but that it is pledged and bound so to interfere, on every principle of equity, on every consideration of mercy, on every pretentious vaunt that has been ever made of its governing for the poor man, on every maxim successively laid down by its numerous wise statesmen, whose aim it has been to bind up, as far as they can be bound, the privileges of the upper classes, the rights and interests of
the lower, and the lawful dues of the state, in one equitable, harmonious, and consistent code.
To some such measure as we have proposed, all other measures, whether of the legal or the executive power, will be auxiliary ; but they will be nothing more. The change we advocate will, in its way, secure to the ryot that reasonable independence, without which all other attempts to raise him in the social scale will end in failure. And this same measure will, on the other hand, be far from rendering nugatory all the other remedies which are more or less under the consideration of the government. Thus the new bill for distraint may well be a little less summary than the present law, and may save the ryot's crops and cattle from hasty attachment and sale. A law making the principals in affrays,--that is, those for whose obvious benefit affrays occur accidentally,—responsible for the bloodshed and the distress they cause, will confer peace and security in many place in seed time and in harvest. By a survey of villages and estates, such as is now in progress in some districts, or actually completed in others, many an angry course of litigation will be peremptorily checked. By a more numerous police, with higher pay and under closer supervision, violent offences and agrarian outrage will become more rare. A simple hand-book of husbandry may teach the ryot some of the commonest rules of gardening, and a village vernacular school, while it teaches him to read the same band-book, may also put him in the position to know when a receipt for rent is duly signed, when a bond is correctly executed, and when an account is accurately summed up. Add to these measures for his protection, for the registration of his boundaries, and for the dispersion of his ignorance, a network of roads, terminating not in abrupt holes, nor in nullahs and rivers without bridges, or without any suited to the physical character of the country, an improved communication by cuts and channels from one river to another, or in the same river; and in ten years' time, we shall have little need of another petition to the Commons. The ryot, with some fixity of rent, and some security of tenure, may then, if he chooses to exert himself, and to refrain from extravagance, unlawful combination, and determined refusal to pay his dues, hope to share in the almost unrivalled affluence and fertility which the union of sun and shower, on the most fertile of soils, scatters around him in such marvellous prodigality.
We do not expect that the views which we have put forth, will not be freely canvassed, and fiercely opposed in some quarters. And we are quite sensible that some differences of opinion must exist on such large questions as the rent of land, the return of produce of different kinds, the general condition and feelings
of the ryot, and the necessity for prompt and direct legal interference on his behalf. All we can say is that we have neglected no means in our power, in order to attain correct information; and that the deductions we have arrived at, have been carefully made from a very considerable mass of facts gathered by enquiries, pursued, without ostentation, amongst the mass of the population, in their houses, bazars, and rice fields, and backed by some previous experience of the mofussil, and by official or authoritative records in corroboration of the same. A fair discussion is all that we ask. But we must protest beforehand against general charges of inaccuracy, because any position taken up, or any fact announced, may not happen to be borne out by some casual enquiry made of a ryot living within ten miles of Calcutta, or of a bearer from Orissa, who happens to be pulling the punkah. Those who have pursued similar enquiries, know the rottenness of a structure raised on isolated facts. Those who have mixed with the people, are well aware of the necessity of correcting or balancing the statements of one set of agriculturists by those of another set, and both by reasonable pro. babilities and indisputable facts. We have made a comparentia instantiarum, and an exclusio singularum, on the Baconian maxim: and what we can say with confidence is that we have to the best of our ability, brought our modest contribution to the “eagle's nest.”
We do not regret the discussion in the House of Commons, nor its termination ; but it must be apparent to every one that had there existed in the heart of Bengal that slumbering discontent and disaffection which the Missionaries in all sincerity imputed to the ryots, the present opportunity would hardly have been suffered to
How easily, with the North-West provinces in a blaze, and Behar in danger, or revolted, might some popular leader have fanned the embers into flame, and have excited masses of ignorant and unreflecting peasants to a social revolution, by which the “ rich would have become poor, and the 'poor, poorer.”. Had all the statements of the petition been correct, we could scarce have escaped a Jacquerie. But the truth is that the Bengalis, up to the time we write, have remained as dull and as stagnant as the water of one of their own huge tanks in a sultry September, and that it must take much more of wretchedness than at present really exists, added to disturbing agencies and unparalleled mismanagement, before either planters will be expelled from their factories, or land-holders from their estates, or civilians from their cutcherries.
Sheer helplessness on the part of the Bengali, which has been put forth as an excuse for government, or as a reason for doing nothing, is to us a powerful reason why we should act. The