Page images
[ocr errors]

and sagacious, Mr. Walter Elliot says:

so It is a fact that ' instances of proved infliction of torture in criminal cases far r exceed those which have been established in connection with

the payment of revenue," and then shows why this is a fair criterion to judge by. Mr. Bourdillon remarks that the practice of petty acts of violence “is not very common in the

revenue department; while personal ill-treatment is largely ' resorted to by the police as a means of discovering offences. Mr. Fischer, Zemindar of Salem, writes-“It would be a great ' mistake to suppose the practice limited to that (the revenue)

department; on the contrary, I believe that comparatively speaking, illegal violence is more generally practised by the police authorities on suspected criminals, its object being to

induce confessions." The same opinion is expressed by Messrs. Maltby, Ward, Clarke, by Lieut.-Colonel McCally, Captains Rundall and Ludlow, the Rev. Mr. Moegling, and generally by all the gentlemen whose statements appear in Appendix C.

3. The statement of torture prevailing generally in the collection of the revenue is entirely inconsistent with the exculpation of the European officers of Government, which the Report makes upon evidence beyond all impeachment. In the Madras ryotwary provinces the collectors and their assistants settle the revenue with each cultivator-move among the people, and hold the freest communication with them. It is therefore impossible that they should be looked up to with confidence, as haters and successful opponents of ill-usage and wrong, if the revenue was collected by cruelty. Here the report is utterly illogical and inconsistent. Both its statements cannot be true, and the Commissioners must decide on giving up one of the two assertions. Remarks will hereafter be made on the feelings shown by the people toivards the European officers of Government, when considering the degree to which any remnant of ill-usage or coercion does still exist; and here we confine ourselves to observing that the assertion of torture being still general for revenue purposes, is an opinion only, while the respect and confidence, shown by the people towards the European officers, is an open fact.

The attention of the readers of the Report is invited to this part of the subject, both on account of its bearing on the original question between Mr. Danby Seymour and Sir James Hogg, which led to the torture enquiry, and also on account of the manner in which it affects the credit of Government. An accusation of employing cruelty to fill its treasuries, is far more serious and damning than an imputation of partial failure in eradicating an old native practice of extorting confessions, which though mistaken and barbarous, has for its object the advancement of justice, and is supported by native public opinion and long established usage.

[ocr errors]


We have next to call attention to a very important part of the Report, viz., the complaints made to the Commissioners personally and by letter. These complaints constitute what the Commissioners call “ the fourth head” of evidence. They are extensively dwelt upon in the body of the Report (P. 26 to 37,) and the volume is swelled by the publication of a great number of them in the Appendices E and F. The reader thus finds a large book filled with allegations of torture, to which he naturally attaches credit, as they are published by Commissioners who were officially appointed to investigate their truth, and who assure him in a most solemn way of their title to credence (P. 28.)

66 As an evidential test this mass of testimony appears to us to admit of ' no dispute.” “In consequence of a certain notification disse

minated almost simultaneously over the whole presidency, ' without any previous warning or notice, 1,959 complaints were

preferred within the space of three months by parties, the great majority of whom could have no means of acting in concert,

poor, ignorant, and powerless, dwelling at great distances from, . and totally unknown to each other, and using even various lan

guages--yet these complaints, one and all, speak to similar

facts, detail similar practices, ascribe similar causes for their • treatment. If this be a concocted plan, it is the most singular conspiracy in the world's history."*

Thus we have the extraordinary spectacle of three Commissioners, who were armed with special judicial powers " for the

investigation of alleged complaints of torture," asserting the credibility of a mass of complaints, without any examination of witnesses, or the defence of the accused being heard in a single instance ! A great public wrong has thus been done, and some indignation may allowably mingle with astonishment, when it is recollected that two of the Commissioners who have thus jumped to a conclusion, and pronounced these uninvestigated complaints to be true, are ignorant of the native languages and of administrative detail in the provinces, and that the mole in which these complaints were invited by proclamation rendered the greatest caution necessary. All who have Indian experience, know that such a commission would be extensively used, by a people fond of litigation, to make malicious attacks on adversaries, repeat appeals and bring forward old disputes in a new form, by adding a charge of torture. The promised payment of travelling expenses to complainants was also an incentive which required watching, as it enabled persons who had private business at Madras to make their journey at the public cost by presenting a complaint at the

[ocr errors]


* The gross misrepresentation in saying that these 1959 petitions tell one tale, and all relate to torture, will be mentioned presently.


' us."

torture Commissioners' office, an expedient which native wit. nesses did not fail to discover. The complaints therefore required careful sifting, but have, in fact, received none. Some had been previously presented in the provinces, and the Commissioners addressed the local officers to ascertain how they had been disposed of; but even this information was not waited for, and the Commissioners have thought it consistent with their duty to publish and vouch for the truth of a mass of uninvestigated complaints, thus throwing a stain on various public servants who never had even heard that any charge had been made against them.

This course is fortunately unique in public affairs, and the Commissioners show their sense of its being open to grave objec. tion by the apologetical explanation they offer for it. In Para. 33, they make the surprising declaration that, whatever might have been the result of an investigation into these complaints, “ it could not alter or shake the convictions or conclusions at • which we have arrived on the general questions submitted to

So that if all these 1959 alleged complaints of torture had been found to be false, the Commissioners were still prepared to make that “sweeping declaration of their belief in the gene• ral existence of torture for revenue purposes, which they ex

press in Para. 55 of their Report !” Had any other Commissioners appointed for a judicial purpose, made such a declaration, and pronounced accusations to be true without hearing evidence or defence, we can imagine what a prominent place it would have occupied in Mr. J. B. Norton's book on the administration of justice in southern India, and in what terms it would have been spoken of by him at the bar of the Supreme Court.

Let us, however, give the Commissioners' explanation in their own words :

It is very true that our commission was appointed for the "'investigation of all such complaints as might be preferred

before us, but it is to be borne in mind that we were never

constituted into a criminal tribunal to punish or award redress. "Our instructions were to satisfy our own minds, and report our

opinion upon the existence or non-existence of the alleged pracotice of torture ; and we conceive that discretion was necessarily • left to us as to the measure of investigation which we might

deem necessary to enter into before satisfying our own judgo

ment. It was essential to make our report within a reasonrable time ; and it is clear that had we tried each case brought • before us, we could not have concluded the task under at least ' two years. Again we had no power, we conceive, to call the

accused parties before us, or rather to put them upon their de' fence. They might reasonably have refused to criminate them

selves, or demurred to our jurisdiction to try them. Be that

[ocr errors]

as it

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

may, we felt that, from the course which affairs have taken, ' it would be most improper for us to have sought to“ try” each

charge. Had a few isolated cases only presented themselves, ' the case might have been different; but as it is, with 1959

complaints from all parts of the country, we thought that it I would be in itself a cruel oppression, had we compelled the nu

merous witnesses, named by the parties complaining, to leave • their homes, and travel long distances to Madras, there to wait

their turn of examination for an indefinite period. It would ' at the same time have proved a great impediment, if it did not

completely put a stop to the civil administration of the country,

had we sought to withdraw all the Tahsildars and other public • officers complained against from the sphere of their duties ; and ' under the pressure of these considerations, we determined that

we should not be justified in endeavouring to bring up all the " accused for trial. We therefore treated the complainants as

parties appearing before us to make information on oath, we • tested their credibility by their manner and deportment, and

the probability of their story, which we corroborated whenever opportunity offered, by reference to extraneous circumstances,

such for instance as inspecting or calling for petitions alleged " to have been presented to the various provincial authorities,

showing that the tale was not one of recent invention, obtaining production of records where any partial investigation had

previously taken place, and the like, leaving it to the Govern· ment, should it deem necessary or expedient, to order

criminal or other proceedings to be taken hereafter in any cases

of more than ordinary severity. We have further referred ' many cases, which appeared to us to admit of easy investiga' tion on the spot, to the various local authorities; and making

every allowance for the tendency of natives to exaggerate, even • when their story is founded on fact; being painfully conscious

of their untruthfulness, knowing by experience how litigious ' and revengeful they are, we still think that most of their depo• sitions, as a whole, bear marks of veracity, and that their stories

in the main true.” (P. 27.) But the arguments thus used by the Commissioners are easy to be refuted. The judicial powers conferred on them by the legislature, were certainly intended to be used, and the very title given to their commission, shows that it was appointed “ for the investigation of alleged cases of tor

ture." The Madras Government, in addressing the Court of Directors, mention that they had appointed a commission “ to re

ceive and investigate any complaints (of torture) which may be ' made to them by persons of any class,” and the Commissioners themselves, in their proclamations, announced that they were prepared to makea thorough investigationof any complaints





a cruel

made to them, and that witnesses as well as complainants would be paid their travelling expenses. The object for which the Commissioners were appointed is therefore plain, and the non-performance of the duty assigned to them, is not satisfactorily explained by their remarks, that “ if they had tried ' each case they could not have concluded their task under ' at least two years," and that it would have been “ oppression" to bring so many complainants and witnesses long distances from their homes to Madras. Many of the complaints came from districts close to where the Commissioners were sitting, and Act XXXII. of 1854 enabled distant witnesses to be examined upon written interrogatories sent to the local judges or magistrates. There were consequently the means for testing at all events some of these complaints by a thorough investigation; and the Commissioners were not justified in omitting to do so, and yet swelling their report with the publication of these complaints, referring to them as an irresistible proof of the prevalence of torture in the revenue and police departments, when they had not been investigated or even made known to the parties accused.

The consequence has been what all persons of Indian experience would have anticipated. A large number of complaints have been laid before the public as true, which would have been found on enquiry to be exaggerated or worthless. We propose giving a few examples of the manner in which the Commissioners, and through them, the public, have been imposed upon. To begin with the first petition of the series (Appendix E, No. 1.) Here is an allegation of torture being employed, not by a petty officer, but by one of the highest servants of a collector, to induce the injured party to sell some land, and of redress being sought from the collector in vain. The Commissioners give emphasis to the charge by saying, that parties named by the first complainant, on being separately examined, confirmed all the important particulars, and that one among them was the village moonsiff or head inha

Here then is a serious charge, with, ostensibly, some foundation, but the accused sheristadar was not heard, and the Coinmissioners obtained no information from the collector. Had this been done, they would have learnt that there was no sale of land and no torture. A Mr. Potter wished to obtain some waste land in the village of Arimbaukum for agricultural purposes, and applied to the collector for a grant. The parties who complained to the Commissioners belong to that village, and opposed Mr. Potter's application, claiming the land for themselves. The collector deciiled in their favor, but on the matter coming before the Board of Revenue, the opposition of the villagers was pronounced invalid, and the land, which had long been unoccupied,

« PreviousContinue »