« PreviousContinue »
Mohammad on the part of our governors, and there will be none. But when we advocate additional energy and vigour everywhere, when there shall be no more mutinies to quell, we mean that no symptom of weakness should ever again be shown in the extermination of robbers, or in the extinction of crime: that no dilatoriness should be suffered to interfere with the prosecution of great public works : that larger powers should be conceded at once to local functionaries : and that no respect for fancied rights or vested interests should be suffered to come between the practical benevolence of government, and the happiness of the largest number of its subjects. Thus with the roar of cannon in the distance, with a disorganized presidency, requiring all the care and attention of government, with great projects of reform held in abeyance, and with the blood of our countrymen calling on us for vengeance, we still even now turn to a more peaceful subject, and shall make our modest contribution to the stock of knowledge which is requisite to deal successfully with so rast a question as that of the well-being and progress of the rural population of lower Bengal.
The petition of the missionaries, familiar to nearly all our readers, and discussed in parliament lately, was presented in the autumn of last year, to the lieutenant governor of Bengal. Among those who thereto appended their signature are the names of many earnest, eloquent, and disinterested men who, labouring for the spiritual conversion of the natives, are yet keenly alive to their secular comforts and their various physical trials. Some of the reverend gentlemen are men whose long residence in Calcutta will perhaps have made them more familiar with the feelings of the higher and middle, than with those of the lower classes. Some, however, are men who have enlarged their experience by periodical visits to the mofussil ; some are mofussilites; and all, so far from having private objects in view, could gain nothing, if the prayer of the memorial were granted, beyond the gratification, or the hope, of contributing to the welfare of persons, not their dependents. This advocacy of the wants of others, apart from all self-interest, is indeed å striking fact in the controversy. Other bodies can take care of themselves, and can bring wealth, experience, energy, and untiring zeal, to the removal of special grievances, or the attainment of particular ends. The Indigo-planters' association numbers amongst its members many determined and enterprising individuals, commands the sympathies of a large portion of the press, and has the powerful support of the mercantile interest. The British India association is more wealthy, more numerous than the former body, and at least as loud and earnest in proclaiming its wants. With regard to the planters, there is, at least,
no humbug. They want the permanence of their rights as Britons : the facilities for the collection of their rents as farmers of estates : their summary processes against faithless cultivators who receive advances for indigo and refuse to sow: their speedy justice, their improved communication, the bridges that will bear hackeries and elephants, and the roads that shall not“ melt' away. They stand up boldly and avowedly for the interests of their order; and, however impartial men may differ from their remedies, there can be little difference of opinion as to the straightforwardness and absence of sham with which those remedies are propounded. We wish we could say the same of the association of zemindars, the protectionists of Bengal, the landed aristocracy; for they are indeed nothing else. Why do not these gentlemen, who write pamphlets against the sale law, and who opposed the revenue survey, find for themselves some less ambitious and more appropriate title? Or why do they not, some of them, figure in the Revenue Board Report, like Priti Ram Choudari, the Mechparah zemindar, a large landholder in the permanently settled district of Goalpara, who has really fulfilled the visions in which Lord Cornwallis too liberally indulged? When they can deserve an honourable mention, like that accorded to the above gentleman in the Board's report for 1855-56, or when they can show estates on which the rents have been reduced, or drafts of laws specially made at their suggestion, to protect or to restore the rights of the agriculturists, it will be time enough for them to wonder that their objects are mis-represented, and that their claim to stand forth as the exponents of all classes, is not generally recognised. Till they do, the most solemn averment of the catholic' objects of their close league and alliance, will only call forth a smile.
The planters and zemindars then have their organs and mouthpieces, by which their antagonistic interests, as Natives and Europeans, and their similar rights and privileges as holders of large estates, are fully vindicated and discussed. The native merchants and shop-keepers are in that comfortable position which leaves them little to complain of, or have only those occasional grievances, such as want of communication or partial insecurity to property, which are sure to be remedied at the motion of others, in the general progress of the empire. But the ryots, who cover the ground with the food of thirty millions of people, who sow the indigo which enriches the European, and who pay the rent which maintains in comfort, not to say in opulence, all who live by the perpetual settlement, from the great land-owner to the lowest middleman, have literally no one advocate to set forth their case. This want has been supplied by the prayer of the missionaries, and however men may differ as to the statements contained in the petition, or refuse assent to the picture given of the condition and feelings of the population, or to the fitness of the remedy proposed, no one can refuse to admire the earnest, unselfish, spirit, by which so much moral excellence is made to serve the thousands who are sunk in vice and in ignorance, and so much thoughtfulness and eloquence is brought to the aid of those, who are unable to think out the real remedies for their social evils, or if they had, have not the tongue to make their wants heard.
Yet we are glad that the enquiry proposed by the petitioners was deliberately refused, and was not acceded to by Parliament; for the simple reason, if for no other, that the very nature of the enquiry would have resulted in the deferment of remedial measures, and thus in perpetuating the state of things which the memorialists justly deplore. But whoever wants to become possessed of the reasons for the refusal, has only to study the minutes of the lieutenant-governor, of the governor-general, and of the members of council. Mr. Halliday wrote well on the subject, with the confidence engendered by familiar intercourse with men of all classes, and by long study of the revenue system and general government of Bengal. Lord Canning took the view of an English statesman, not long resident in the country, and unacquainted with the language, but who based his conclusions on " information and testimony within his ' reach," and who applied principles gradually matured in England, to practical Indian questions of the last importance, in a manner which augurs well for the difficult tasks of remodelling or reforming large bodies that assuredly await him now; and Mr. J. P. Grant dealt with the petition in his usual clear and concise style, and with his accustomed soundness both in principles and details. The result of a perusal of the minutes shows clearly that, on one point, the sale of ardent spirits, the memorialists had been to some extent mis-informed : that several of the most crying evils which they represented to government, were fully known, needed no further enquiry, and were being gradually removed : that some were such as neither councils, nor governors, nor positive enactments could mend or cure : that the accuracy of the picture of discontent and sullenness said to be the state of feeling of the peasantry, was not admitted: and that a commission of enquiry would, if possible, which was not probable, be a serious mistake. We should, with this avowal of our concurrence in the views enunciated by the members of Government, be somewhat inconsistent, if we took up the several questions in such a manner as to set privilege against labour, and each class of society in opposition to the one directly above it: the more so as we think some of the evils under which agriculturists suffer, proceed from their own carelessness, apathy, and extravagance, whenever they have anything to spend. But we consider that, on one point extracted by the Lieut.-Governor from the petition, every additional information thrown, may be of some value. That point is No. 4, in Mr. Halliday's enumeration of the eight subjects. “The resources and earnings ' of the labouring classes, and the proportion which these bear ' to the rent that they are compelled to pay.” And to this, and to a few other material and incidental points, we earnestly invite the attention of our readers in the following pages.
The portion of Lower Bengal, to part of which the memorial certainly refers, and from which our materials are drawn, is not unfitted for generalisation. We shall take the population of a part of a large tract, fertile, cultivated, and populous : with fair communication by water, and moderate but improvable communication by land : a tract containing powerful zemindars and energetic planters : one productive of rice, of sugar, of indigo, and of various agricultural products : and finally a tract of cou
ountry not so close to the civilization of Calcutta on the one hand, as to be an unfair specimen of the remainder of the mofussil, nor one so far removed amongst the backwoods and jungles, as to be below the standard in general enterprise and intelligence. That the majority of the ryots are poor, in the sense of living from hand to mouth, without ability to lay by anything after provision for daily maintenance, and that they are mainly occupied in the cultivation of rice, are facts about which there is no dispute. On the cultivation of the staple food of the lower provinces, and on the various crops sown after the early rice has been gathered in, as well as on the general appearance and condition of the successive umbrageous villages, wide plains, and deep or rapid rivers which make up lower Bengal, a good deal has been already written in this Review ; and for a general description of the alluvial soil of lower Bengal, we venture to refer our readers to Art. I. Vol. IX. We shall therefore be brief in our remarks on the staple cultivation, and somewhat more prolix as to those who cultivate. The early, or aous rice is sowo generally on high, light, and sandy soils from March to May, as showers may
be favorable. It is cut variously from the end of July to the middle or end of September, and in six weeks' time, it is succeeded by what is known as cold weather crop, which may be mustard, vetches, pulse, millet, sola, or gram, barley, oats, and the like. The aumon rice is sown in rich, deep, and loamy soils from April to June, and is reaped any time between the beginning of December and the end of January. It is a richer, stronger, and every way a better crop than the aous, but it is more exposed to inundation, and is not followed by any second crop within the year. Occasionally the early and the late crops are sown on the same land, and cut without injury to each other at different periods. A large part of the late rice is planted with the hand in rows, on land carefully ploughed, cleaned, and smoothed for the purpose. It is everywhere known as the roa, and yields an abundant harvest. A third kind of rice, unknown in high and dry tracts of country, but very common in extensive marshy districts, is called the boru, and, from its proximity to water, is sown and grown from the month of January to the end of May. It is cultivated in places where there is too great a depth of water during the heavy rains, and consequently abundance to keep the plant moist during the fierce heat of summer. The early rice, in the most favourable season, from both grain and straw, cannot give more than five rupees per beegah. In bad seasons it may not yield more than one rupee. As much as ten or even fifteen rupees may be got from the aumon crop in good seasons; but when heavy rains, or unexpected inundations from large rivers, drown the young plants, as was the case during 1855 and 1856, and may be the case again at any time, the return is positively nothing. The boru rice may be expected to yield seven or eight rupees per beegah. And on these three crops, over some hundreds of miles, the hopes and anxieties of some millions hang for a large part of the year.
About the crops, there can be little dispute. The condition of those who live by such crops, we have found to be as follows: Take a large plain, a crowded bazaar on market day, or a high road between two towns or villages of any importance, and it will generally be found that the men at work on the one, or buying and selling in the other, or sturdily strutting along the third, have some title, or right, or interest, or occupancy in the soil. Nearly every man has his jumma, which, in plain language, is his tenant-right of occupancy, or of proprietorship. The extent of this jumma is, in conversation, and for all practical purposes, indicated not by the acre-age, for few can tell the area of their possession, but by the rent demanded, for every man well knows how much he is expected to pay. A jumma or jote may then vary from five to one hundred rupees. It will usually be found to be from about twelve to thirty. Obviously, the possibility of a man's paying such rent, and yet finding enough to support him, will depend, apart from all fluctuations of climate, on the rent, compared to the productiveness and extent of the tenure, on the number of mouths which he has to support in his own homestead, and on the number of sharers who have a joint hold on the land. The shareholders in a large jumma of eighty or one hundred rupees we have known to reach to ten, and there are often as many as four or five on a small holding of twenty