Page images
PDF
EPUB

then led out in the severe depth of winter, which there at certain seasons would be severe to any, to the Indians is most severe and alınost intolerable,—they were led out before break of day, and, stiff and sore as they were with the bruises and wounds of the night, were plunged into water; and whilst their jaws clung together with the cold, and their bodies were rendered infinitely more sensible, the blows and stripes were renewed upon their backs; and then, delivering them over to soldiers, they were sent into their farms and villages to discover where a few handfuls of grain might be found concealed, or to extract some loan from the remnants of compassion and courage not subdued in those, who had reason to fear, that their own turn of torment would be next, that they should succeed them in the same punishment, and that their very humanity, being taken as a proof of their wealth, would subject them (as it did in many cases subject them) to the same inhuman, tortures. After this circuit of the day through their plundered and ruined villages, they were remanded at night to the same prison ; whipped, as before, at their return to the dungeon ; and at morning whipped at their leaving it; and then sent as before to purchase, by begging in the day, the reiteration of the torture in the night. Days of menace, insult and extortion; -nights of bolts, fetters, and flagellation succeeded to each other in the same round, and for a long time made

up

all the vicissitude of life to these miserable people.

But there are persons, whose fortitude could bear their own suffering; there are men, who are hardened by their very pains; and the mind, strengthened even by the torments of the body, rises with a strong defiance against its oppressour. They were assaulted on the side of their sympathy. Children were scourged almost to death in the presence of their parents. This was not enough. . The son and father were bound close together, face to face, and body to body, and in that situation cruelly lashed together, so that the blow, which escaped the father, fell upon the son, and the blow, which missed the son, wound over the back of the parent. The circumstances were combined by so subtle a cruelty, that every stroke, which did not excruciate the

sense, should wound and lacerate the sentiments and affections of nature.

On the same principle, and for the same ends, virgins, who had never seen the sun, were dragged from the inmost sanctuaries of their houses ; and in the open court of justice, in the very place where security was to be sought against all wrong and all violence, (but where no judge or lawful magistrate had long sat, but in their place the ruffians and hangmen of Warren Hastings occupied the bench,) these virgins, vainly invoking heaven and earth, in the presence of their parents, and whilst their shrieks were mingled with the indignant cries and groans of all the people, publicly were violated by the lowest and wickedest of the human race. Wives were torn from the arms of their husbands, and suffered the same flagitious wrongs, which were indeed hid in the bottoms of the dungeons, in which their honour and their liberty were buried together. Often they were taken out of the refuge of this consoling gloom, stripped naked, and thus exposed to the world, and then cruelly scourged; and in order that cruelty might riot in all the cirenimstances, that melt into tenderness the fiercest natures, the nipples of their breasts were put between the sharp and elastick sides of cleft bamboos. Here, in my hand, is my authority; for otherwise one would think it incredible. But it did not end there. Growing from crime to crime, ripened by cruelty for cruelty, these fiends, at length outraging sex, decency, nature, applied lighted torches and slow fire

-(I cannot proceed for shame and horrour !) these infernal furies planted death in the source of life, and where that modesty, which, more than reason, distinguishes men from beasts, retires from the view, and even shrinks from the expression, there they exercised and glutted their unnatural, monstrous, and nefarious cruelty,—there, where the reverence of nature, and the sanctity of justice, dares not to pursue, nor venture to describe their practices.

These, my lords, were sufferings, which we feel all in common, in India and in England, by the general sympathy of our common nature. But there were in that province (sold to the tormentors by Mr. Hastings,) things done,

26

VOL, VII,

which, from the peculiar manners of India, were even worse than all I have laid before you ; as the dominion of manners, and the law of opinion, contribute more to their happiness and misery than any thing in mere sensitive nature can do.

The women thus treated lost their cast. My lords, we are not here to commend or blame the institutions and prejudices of a whole race of people, radicated in them by a long succession of ages, on which no reason or argument, on which no vicissitudes of things, no mixtures of men, or foreign conquest, have been able to make the smallest impression. The aboriginal Gentû inhabitants are all dispersed into tribes or casts ; each cast born to an invariable rank, rights, and descriptions of employment; so that one cast cannot by any means pass into another. With the Gentûs certain impurities or disgraces, though without any guilt of the party, infer loss of cast ; and when the highest cast, that of Brahmin, which is not only noble but sacred, is lost, the person, who loses it, does not slide down into one lower but reputable—he is wholly driven from all honest society. All the relations of life are at once dissolved. His parents are no longer his parents ; his wife is no longer his wife ; his children, no longer his, are no longer to regard him as their father. It is something far worse than complete outlawry, complete attainder, and universal excommunication.

It is a pollution even to touch him ; and if he touches any of his old cast, they are justified in putting him to death. Contagion, leprosy, plague, are not so much shunned. No honest occupation can be followed. He becomes an Halichore, if (which is rare) he survives that miserable degradation.

Upon those, whom all the shocking catalogue of tortures I have mentioned could not make to flinch, one of the modes of losing cast for Brahmins, and other principal tribes, was practised. It was, to harness a bullock at the court door, and to put the Brahmin on his back, and to lead him through the towns, with drums heating before him. To intimidate others, this bullock, with drums, the instrument according to their ideas of outrage, disgrace, and utter loss of cast, was led through the country; and, as it advanced, the country fled before it.

When any Brahmin was seized he

was threatened with this pillory, and for the most part he submitted in a moment to whatever was ordered. What it was may be thence judged. But when no possibility existed of complying with the demand, the people by their cries sometimes prevailed on the tyrants to have it commuted for cruel scourging, which was accepted as mercy.

To some Brahmins this mercy was denied, and the act of indelible infamy executed Of these men one came to the company's commissioner with the tale, and ended with these melancholy words, I have suffered this indignity; my cast is lost; my life is a burden to me; I call for justice.” He called in vain.

Your lordships will not wonder, that these monstrous and oppressive demands, exacted with such tortures, threw the whole province into despair. They abandoned their crops on the ground. The people, in a body, would have fled out of its confines; but bands of soldiers invested the avenues of the province, and, making a line of circumvallation, drove back those wretches, who sought exile as a relief, into the prison of their native soil. Not suffered to quit the district, they fled to the many wild thickets, which oppression had scattered through it, and sought amongst the jungles, and dens of tygers, a refuge from the tyranny of Warren Hastings. Not able long to exist here, pressed at once by wild beasts and famine, the same despair drove them back; and seeking their last resource in arms, the most quiet, the most passive, the most timid of the human race, rose up in an universal insurrection ; and, what will always happen in popular tumults, the effects of the fury of the people fell on the meaner and sometimes the reluctant instruments of the tyranny, who in several places were massacred. The insurrection began in Rungpore, and soon spread its fire to the neighbouring provinces, which had been harassed by the same person with the same oppressions. The English chief in that province had been the silent witness, most probably the abettor and accomplice, of all these horrours. He called in first irregular, and then regular, troops, who by dreadful and universal military execution got the better of the impotent resistance of unarmed and undisciplined despair.

I am tired with the detail of the cruelties of peace. I

spare you those of a cruel and inhuman war, and of the executions, which, without law or process, or even the sbadow of authority, were ordered by the English revenue chief in that province.

In our Indian government, whatever grievance is borne is denied to exist ; and all mute despair, and sullen patience, is construed into content and satisfaction. But this general insurrection, which at every moment threatened to blaze out afresh, and to involve all the provinces in its flames, rent in pieces that veil of fraud and mystery, that covers all the miseries of all the provinces. Calcutta rung with it ; and it was feared it would go to England. The English chief in the province, Mr. Goodlad, represented it to Mr. Hastings's revenue committee to be (what it was) the greatest and most serious disturbance, that ever happened in Bengal. But, good easy man, he was utterly unable to guess to what cause it was to be attributed. He thought there was some irregularity in the collection; but on the whole judged, that it had little other cause than a general conspiracy of the husbandmen and landholders, who, as Debi Sing's lease was near expiring, had determined not to pay any more revenue.

Mr. Hastings's committee of revenue, whilst these wounds were yet bleeding, and whilst a total failure was threatened in the rents of these provinces, thought themselves obliged to make an inquiry, with some sort of appearance of seriousness, into the causes of it. They looked therefore about them carefully, and chose, what they judged would be most plausible and least effective. They thought, that it was necessary to send a special commissioner into the province ; and one, too, whose character would not instantly blast the credit of his mission. They cast their eyes on a Mr. Paterson, a servant of the company, a man of fair character, and long standing in the service. Mr. Paterson was a person known to be of a very cool temper, placid manners, moderate and middle opinions, unconnected with parties : and from such a character they looked for (what sometimes is to be expected from it) a compromising, balanced, neutralized, equivocal, colourless, confused report ; in which the blame

« PreviousContinue »