Advice to Officers in India/Chapter 10
1. CIVIL STATIONS.—The whole face of the country is mapped out into convenient provinces or zillahs,consisting on an average of two or three thousand square miles, with a population of six or eight hundred thousand, and are venue of one or two hundred thousand pounds. In the centre, or some more convenient spot, the station is fixed, the residents being a collector of the revenue and a magistrate for the administration of justice, each having one or more European assistants;an assistant-surgeon, numerous native officials, a large jail, containing from six to twelve hundred prisoners, and a small detachment of troops.
In every town and every village the collector and the magistrate have their native representatives. Every breach of the peace, every defection of revenue is immediately made known at the zillah station, and the culprits are liable to be brought before the European courts.
2. DUTY AND PAY OF CIVIL SURGEONS.—An order was at one time given that no Assistant-surgeon should hold permanent charge of a civil station till he had been two years in the service; but that, from the paucity of assistants so qualified, has been abolished,but a later order, obliging him to vacate his appointment if absent more than six months, even on medical certificate, has not been abolished—a severity of exaction that is imposed on no other commissioned officer in India,and a very strong incentive to him to take care of his own health. 'Tis no trifling matter to find himself, at the end of six months' leave, placed at the disposal of the Commander-in-chief, and be ordered to join a regiment perhaps fifteen hundred miles distant—therefore let him look to himself.
The consolidated pay of a civil Assistant-surgeon is C.R. 300 per month, to which may be added 30 for palanquin and 26 for vaccination, and, if disposed to make himself generally useful,he may have 50 for the duties of postmaster, and, possibly, a little more as register of deeds, and 12½ for every hundred Sepoys committed to his charge; and, if a favourite, he may get a fee now and then for attendance upon the families of Civilians who, by government orders, are obliged to remunerate him for their families, though attendance on them personally is part of his public duty.
He will occasionally be consulted by the natives of the district; and is on such occasions allowed the discretion of supplying them with medicines from the public stores; but the consciousness of having done a good action must, in the majority of cases, be his only reward. Those who could afford to give a fee are mean and niggardly in the extreme, and those who cannot are as niggardly of their gratitude.
Government at one time prohibited Civil Surgeons from receiving fees from natives; and I have known a case where the fee was ordered to be returned. That order now does not, that I am aware of, exist, and I have known a case where remuneration was recovered in a civil court.
His duties are the care of the civilians of the station, their wives; and families, the prisoners of the jail varying from 700 to 1500, and the native servants of the court.
By way of making up for his small allowances, civil Assistant-surgeons were at one time allowed to trade, but that has of late been prohibited. The life that Assistant-surgeons lead at an out-of-the-way civil station is not a very desirable one; every one is busy but himself; his own duties do not occupy a tenth part of his time; and, unless he be able to draw largely upon his own resources, he is very apt to fall a victim to his old enemy, ennui. Moreover, his pay is less than he would have with a regiment, and, compared with the rest of the civilians, not a third part of theirs. No one likes to be the lowest paid official in the sphere in which he moves. Hence most Assistants, if unmarried, prefer the duties of a regiment, and the society of officers on the same scale of pay as themselves. Civil stations are left to married men, or to a new class of indigenous qualifications—Sub-Assistant-surgeons.
The principal medical duty of a civil station is medical jurisprudence. The natives, with all their gentleness, are a most revengeful and blood-thirsty race amongst themselves. Assault, and maiming, and murder, and poisoning, are very frequent;and in a populous zillah few days in the year pass over without some case of the above nature being brought before the magistrate, and referred to the Civil Surgeon. He is, indeed, the principal reference on such subjects, and will do well to keep his knowledge of that branch of his profession fresh in memory. The most frequent mode of poisoning is by the leaves of stramonium, (which grows everywhere,) given in a currie, and the sudden death is accounted for by cholera.
3. PRISONERS AND JAILS.— When a culprit is convicted by a magistrate, and sentenced to imprisonment, corporal punishment, or death, the sentence, if approved of by the sessions judge, and by the Sudder Nazamut Adawlut, is carried out in the zillah jail; if to imprisonment for life, he is removed to the great jails of Agra or Alipore; and if to transportation, he is shipped off to Singapore. Prisoners are generally employed at road making, out of doors, or in some manufacture if within doors; the proceeds of which go far to meet the expenses of the establishment. Formerly they were allowed so many pice a day to provide for their subsistence, but lately rations have been served out, ready cooked.
It is worthy of remark, that the magistrate is the superintendent of the jail, and that the civil surgeon's duties are only confined to the prisoners when sick. At present the superintendents of jails in Bengal, Agra, and the Punjaub, are medical officers, and it appears to me that the system would work well if all civil surgeons were appointed to be superintendents of zillah jails, the duties of which should be learned during the period of their probation at the general hospital. The civil surgeon has. ample time to devote to that duty which the magistrate has not, and with due care all jails ought to be self-supporting. Of course, extra pay would require to be granted for the extra duty.
4. NATIVE CHARACTER.— No two nations could possibly differ more completely than the British and the Hindostanni They have scarcely a sympathy in common, more than self interest and family affection. Almost all their manners and customs are the reverse of the European; they could not tie a knot nor pick up a pebble from the ground without shewing a difference in their mode of doing it. Yet they are a civilized and a most polished race, and were as much so two thousand years ago, when we were barbarians as they are now. They are gifted with a wonderful power of self-possession, and their intercourse with one another is the very beau ideal of good manners; diffidence or bashfulness are unnatural to them, and the child of six years of age, the adult of fourteen, and the man of sixty, are endowed with an ease and grace of manner throughout all castes, such as would be envied by the ornaments of European society.
The inhabitants of Upper India are a race very superior to the Bengalies, being tall, stout, and manly, very handsome in figure, and in feature as different from the African as these are from the European. Every man goes out armed with his spear, his matchlock, or his sword and shield, or loaded bludgeon, and looks down upon his Bengali compatriot with slight and contempt. The inferior animals are as superior as the natives,and the cattle of the upper provinces are alone found fit for artillery draught.
Much has been written upon India, calculated to intimidate strangers, but I believe life is as safe from violence as in any part of the world. Ladies travel unprotected from one end of it to the other. Private property is no where so safe, for bolts and bars are unknown; the doors stand open night and day, and robberies are less common than in England. Much has also been said respecting the dishonesty, the rapacity,and the want of principle of the natives, yet few residents keep even their own keys, or even their own purses, entrusting everything they have to a servant, whose wages are only fifteen shillings a month. But he who has learned to protect himself in person and property in old Albion need be under no apprehension for those in any other region of the globe.
The great mass of the population is either Hindoo or Mussulman. In outward appearance there is but little distinction,but in reality no bond of union,no social intercourse subsists between them. They are equally intolerant of each others religion, repugnant to intermarrying, incapable of sitting down to the same feast, or partaking of the contents of the same cup; so much so that a high caste Brahmin would consider himself defiled by putting a dish used by a Mussulman to his lip, and this only to be expunged by a long course of ablution and devotion. Nor is this intolerance restricted to the two great branches of the population; each has numerous castes among their own order, equally intolerant of each other. A Sheeah and a Soonie Mussulman are as distinct as Catholic and Protestant.
The despotism of caste is certainly exceedingly high, and carried to such a pitch as to ignore all acts of charity and benevolence, and render the calls of humanity and mercy from all not of their own caste of no avail. But caste is an attribute of all nations,in our own country as well as in all countries, and if society throughout the world were analyzed, there would be found nearly the same amount of exclusiveness and intolerance.
Strangers are prone to form a wrong idea of the natives, and to identify them with the African,or the West Indian,and to call them niggers; but in reality they are a very handsome race, and were it not for their copper-colour, they would be acknowledged as fine specimens of the human species, even in our own exclusive isle. Many think that because they go almost naked, that they must necessarily be pinched with poverty, but their grandees, who drive their own carriages, take their airing with the upper portion of their persons bare, or covered by transparent muslin; and even those of the poorer classes have gold and silver ornaments in use that would purchase raiment for themselves many times over.
5. EDUCATION.—Much has been said about their ignorance; but out of a thousand natives, picked up indiscriminately in the streets of any town, as many individuals would be found able to read and write, and calculate, as in most parts of Europe. Their original language, the Sanscrit, is highly refined,abounds in the greatest beauties of literature, and is extensively studied in colleges and schools. The colloquial language, the Hindostanni, is the channel of communication of numerous newspapers. Banking and commercial transactions are carried on upon the most extensive scale, with branches all over Asia, and the poorest shopkeeper, in the poorest bazaar, keeps his accounts on slips of palm-leaves as carefully and correctly as in a wareroom in Piccadilly.
6. SECLUSION OF FEMALES.— It is true that the female part of the population knows very little of these accomplishments, but this is only a peculiarity in their national manners; for such learning is considered as superfluous as it was in the early days of British history, when the maids of honour could not write their own love letters. Much sympathy has been wasted in England, and great commiseration has been expressed at public meetings respecting the secluded lives to which the females were doomed. But the ladies of India do not consider seclusion in the light of a grievance; on the contrary, they would think it the acme of misery to be subjected to the public gaze and admiration as in English society.
7. WORSHIP.— Much horror has been expressed respecting their idolatry;but the Mussulmen are not idolators,but nearly pure deists,and the Hindoos only use their idols as agents or representatives of the deity, for Mahadeo, (the Great God) is their highest point of veneration. The natives are emphatically a religious nation, and pay more attention to its rites than perhaps any other people living, for there is hardly an act of their life that they do not associate with their religion.
8. CONVERSION.—Much disappointment has been felt at the slow progress of conversion to Christianity, but those who have watched the obstacles to be encountered will not be surprised at the small number of converts. The propagation of the gospel in India is attended with many difficulties, peculiar to the country. No Hindoo can embrace Christianity without losing caste, in other words, without being cut by every individual of his caste; who disown him as a renegade and a vagabond; his contact is shunned as contamination even by his own family, and till of late his patrimony went to his next of kin, and he was reduced to beggary. Lately, this law was abrogated by government, and strange to say, the leading natives of Calcutta entered into an association to petition parliament that the old law disinheriting all Christian converts should be restored.
9. EASY CIRCUMSTANCES.—It has become customary in some quarters to hold up the natives as an oppressed, over taxed, ill used people, struggling for a subsistence. I confess this does not accord with my experience, and I speak from observations made from Singapore to the Kybur Pass. I feel assured that those who have lived under purely native rule,bless the day when they came under the dominion of the Company, and that those still living under independent native potentates would had the annexation of their country as a boon. In no country is the public peace more seldom broken; is private property more secure; do the population enjoy the ordinary comforts of life, at less toil and trouble, or enjoy more civil and religious liberty; and if exceptions do take place, they are owing to the perversion of the law, by the natives themselves. A great outcry has of late arisen about the prevalence of torture, more particularly in the Madras presidency, as if that were the usual system of squeezing the revenue out of defaulters. During the whole of my service,and I have been more or less intimately connected with the Civil Courts, I do not remember a single case of torture inflicted, directly or indirectly, either by European or subordinate native authority.
10. MARCH OF INTELLECT.— The march of intellect is making rapid inroads into the ignorance, the apathy, and the time-honoured encumbrances that for so many centuries have obstructed the improvement of society. The improved mode of transport by steam boats has monopolized the commerce of the great rivers,and the railway will soon run the steamers off the Ganges; for, contrary to all expectation, the natives have shown the utmost partiality for all transit by rad. The schoolmaster is abroad in our universities; our colleges, our city academies,and our village schools;a taste is sprung up for European literature and science, and young Bengal is adopting the costume, the manners and customs of the governing classes.
11. HOUSES.—Native houses are in general very humble dwellings, though of great variety. The Malays build their houses of thatch and bamboo, upon stakes driven into the sand; with the tide flowing under them, approaching them by a boat and mounting them by a ladder. Nothing could be more airy and more cleanly than such an edifice.
The Burmese also build their houses upon large timbers, let into the ground, with an open space below the planked floor, where they generally keep their cattle. The walls are planked, and the roofs either planked or thatched. The Burmese houses are more capacious and more comfortable than those of any native race in India.
The Bengali budds his house on a terrace of mud two or three feet high, the fabric being constructed of bamboos and thatch. The floor is of mud, and is frequently washed over with cow-dung and water, and when dry ornamented with various devices, outlined with chalk. In the north-west the houses are built of mud, with flat roofs, also covered with mud, and with slope enough to run the rain off.
The Kyburies follow the example of the swallow, and scoop out their houses out of the brow of the hill independent of masonry or carpentry, and ensured against fire.
12. CLOTHING.—The dress worn by the natives is principally cotton, and generally white. In winter, warmer fabrics of quilted cotton are worn, and by the more wealthy, Cashmere shawls and English broadcloth. The head-dress is an ample turban of cloth; their shoes are mere slippers, generally embroidered, and worn without socks. Their slippers they invariably leave at the door, for it would be considered as disrespectful to enter with their shoes on, as with their turban off.
The hill tribes wear fabrics made of hemp,or of sheep's wool, or of the softer wool of the Cashmere goat; the Punjaubees of camel's hair, or tanned sheep skin, with the wool on it.
The dress is at all seasons very scanty, in summer merely nominal, and in winter quite inadequate to protect them against the cold, so much so, that a European would perish of cold if obliged to wear the clothing they wear.
Their bedding is equally scanty, and the practice of the common orders is to spread a mat on the ground, on which they slumber soundly, with nothing but a sheet over them, enveloping the whole body, head, and all; the heat of the breath making up for the warmth of a blanket. Tattooing is not extensively practised by the Hindostanees, though many women have a beauty spot on the forehead, or a ring of spots round the arms or ankles.
Paint is much used by the men; devices of all sorts and forms being painted on the forehead, of red, white, or yellow, to denote their caste. The men are very fond of golden necklaces and rings; and the females actually, load themselves with ornaments; golden rings in the nose, two or three inches in diameter, with a precious stone in the centre; rings all round the ears, necklaces, armlets, anklets, finger rings, and toe rings, beyond counting.
The Burmese practice tattooing to a very great extent, and with great skill; from the waist to the knee the men are covered with all manner of patterns, like a richly embroidered shawl; the owners pique themselves upon their elegance; and the fair sex are as much fascinated by them as by the form and figure of their lovers. The dress of the Burmese ladies is as remarkable as that of the men; consisting of a loose tunic of white cotton, and a rather scanty wrapper of fancy coloured silk overlapping the bosom, and extending to the ground; open in front, exposing the knee at every ordinary step, and at every extraordinary step, a good deal more extraordinary.
There is a variety of dress in use among the Nagas, one of the hill tribes of Assam, which, from its exceeding primitive nature is worth notice compared with which even the fig leaf is full dress. The Nagas go literally naked in their native wilds, but are with all not without peculiar ideas of decency. This is marked by having a fold of the preputium drawn through a small ivory ring, and worn in that predicament. They would think it highly indecorous and disrespectful to appearin female society without this appendage.
These rings are sold in the bazars of Muuipore, all of which are kept by women; and such is the force of habit and the elasticity of modesty that these ladies think no more of fitting a handsome Naga with this inexpressible, than they would in fitting his great toe with a ring.
13. DIET.—The diet of the natives is of the simplest kind, that of the Hindoos being rice, with a seasoning of ghee (clarified butter) and some dry spice and green vegetables made into a currie,besides milk in its various forms of curd. That of the Mussulmans is more generous, a large allowance of wheaten flour made into unleavened cakes with fish, or flesh or ghee.
Many of the articles of diet are very objectionable either from the material itself or its mode of cooking. None is more deleterious than the half-cured or wholly putrid fish so much in use by the poor. Such amess requires little salt and goes a greater way than if fresh or properly cured; but in proportion as it saves the means of the consumer, it excites a predisposition to disease. Raw rice, underbaked bread,raw vegetables, deficiency of salt,or wood ashes used instead of salt, and the inveterate practice of smoking tobacco mixed with some intoxicating drug, generally hemp-seed (called bang), have also a powerful effect in lowering the standard of health.
But when it is considered, that a great mass of the population, not only live,but support a family on three, or four rupees a month, the wonder is how they exist at all.
But putrid fish is a delicacy compared to what some natives indulge in.
Aghorpunts, or eaters of dead men's flesh are occasionally met with. During my service in Assam, two men of this caste were sent to me by the magistrate to have my opinion as to their sanity. One of them was not exactly composmentis, but the other was of sound mind, and assured me he had been in the habit of eating human flesh for years. I believe the practice of appearing in a bazar, picking the flesh off a thigh bone is often done by way of horrifying the natives, and extorting money from them as an inducement to go elsewhere.
14. IMPURE WATER.—No part of diet is more generally objectionable than the water they drink. One would expect that the natives of India, so excessively careful of defilement in their manner of eating and drinking, would be very particular about their water, their only beverage;and that nothing less than distilled water from the spring, or rain water from the clouds, would satisfy them; but no nation is so notoriously indifferent about the water they drink.
If we visit any of the legitimate places for lifting water, any of the ghauts of the river, we shall see a dense mass of naked people of all ages and all sexes standing up to their waists in water; some washing their clothes, some their bodies, and all stirring up as much mud from the bottom as they can; yet when their ablutions are completed, filling their pitchers where they stand for the day's consumption; probably one of the common sewers of a bazar enters the river a few yards above the ghaut; and it may happen that the surface of the water is strewed with the yet warm ashes of some lately incinerated human being, or that a putrid carcase is revolving in au eddy adjacent. If we visit any of the private tanks we shall find a spacious pool of water shaded with trees and embroidered with weeds, the necessary reservoir of all the surface water in the neighbourhood, a perfect infusion of every thing offensive and filthy, and literally alive with animalcules ——here too we shall see the same scene of washing clothes and scrubbing bodies, and other acts of uncleanliness; yet from this same pool they draw their supply of water, and no wonder that they often become sick from using it.
15. BATHING.—— The universal practice of bathing has, I have no doubt, a bad effect upon the health of the people. In a country such as India where so much of the person is exposed to the accumulation of dust and perspiration, it was no doubt a wise and provident law that instituted ablution as a religious rite, for no other plan so effectual could have been devised to insure cleanliness and a healthy state of skin. But I fear bathing is often abused, that it is considered in the light of an ordinance of their religion, and is practiced without due regard to the season of the year, the state of the weather, or the condition of the body as to health and disease. There are numerous cold, raw, rainy days even in the summer season, and bleak withering days in winter, when people even in good health would be much better in their beds at home than thus doing penance on the banks of a river; and a person labouring under diarrhœa, dysentery, or internal inflammation, or under the influence of mercury, would be committing an act of great indiscretion by taking a cold bath al fresco, yet natives bathe every day when so affected.
16. EXPOSURE OF THE DYING.—Ill-timed bathing is not the only instance of the religious laws of the country aggravating the diseases of the people, and adding to the bills of mortality. The practice of the Hindoos hurrying persons dangerously ill to the banks of the river, and exposing them in the open air, on a bed, with their feet hanging over in the water, and their bodies besmeared with the slime of the river, till the ordeal puts an end to their existence, must be considered as a frequent cause of death; and there can be no doubt that thousands of lives are by this unfeeling treatment taken away, that with proper nursing might have recovered. This custom, practised every day, equally repugnant to human nature as Sutteeism, is probably ten times more destructive than it was. The friends of a poor dependent,unfortunate widow, incited her to the commission of suicide, in order to rid themselves of a relation who might claim a maintenance among them; the friends of a person hopelessly ill, take advantage of his helplessness and his superstition, and hurry him off to the river as the most appropriate place to die, and if he should happen to survive the infliction, and recover, he is considered an outcast and a vagabond because he did not die.
We have put down Sutteeism,female infanticide and human sacrifice,but we forget that in the most populous cities of India, even in the city of Calcutta, sacrifices of life no less atrocious are every day perpetrated.
We have only to go to any of the Murdah Ghauts, above the mint, the public places of incineration, and there we shall see the old, the middle aged, the young and the beautiful of both sexes, exposed in their last agonies, with only three or four hired mourners preparing their funeral pile, and a party of vultures, grim, gory, and abominable as harpies, hopping near them, eagerly watching when the vital spark shall be extinct.
The following case is so much to the point, that I make no apology for inserting it, and though it occurred more than fifteen years ago,yet I believe similar cases still occur. In Calcutta, on an evening of January, I accompanied a medical friend during a visit to a native lady of rank, who had a miscarriage that day at noon. The patient was a young woman to all appearance lately in good health; she lay quite insensible, breathing laboriously, and pulseless; eyes fixed, and open, skin of natural warmth: the room filled with attendants, hot and suffocating. After prescribing for, and enjoining perfect rest, we went away, promising to return in an hour or two. About ten, when we called again, we learned that they had carried her off to the river side, where she expired. I have no doubt that if this lady had been allowed to lie quietly in her chamber, that she would have recovered. In her condition it was dangerous even to raise her: nevertheless, she was placed upon a bed, carried through a labyrinth of narrow passages and staircases out of a very hot room into the cold night air, and jolted along on men's shoulders through the streets to the river, because Hindoo superstition assures a blessed immortality to all who die on the banks of the Sacred Ganges.
17. EUNUCHISM.—It is somewhat remarkable that this unnatural practice,so common from time immemorial, yet so directly opposed to human nature, and the welfare of the commonwealth, should never have engaged the attention of the legislation. It is notorious that the attendant of every Zenana, and many of the favourites about native courts, are creatures of no sex at all: emasculated in early boyhood like pigs and rabbits with impunity—and with the same object in view, that of bringing a higher price in the market than ordinary humanity; yet the perpetration of such an act in any other region of the British dominions would be an act of felony. The time has come when such unconstitutional practices should be suppressed, by making them penal!
18. COOLINISM.—Another practice equally inconsistent with the increase of the population is that of Coolin-Brahminism. A Coolin Brahminis in Hindoo religion believed to be a quintessence of every thing sacred and mundane; to form a matrimonial alliance with such men is an object of ambition with the highest families, and to admit of the largest extension of such marriages, they are licensed by the priesthood to plenary indulgence in the number of their wives. They therefore lead a roving sort of life; they get feasted, worshipped, and enriched by the family of the bride, and when the honeymoon is over, they ride away, probably never to return, to enter into similar engagements with other families on their conjugal tour, leaving at every halt a Penelope in her teens, to lament for their loss, and despair of their return.
19. WIDOWISM.—It is somewhat curious that when government put an end to Sutteeism, one of the chief incentives to that sacrifice, viz., the prohibition of Hindoo widows marrying a second time should have been allowed to continue in effect. However, that remnant of barbarism is now under the consideration of government,and will no doubt be consigned to oblivion.
20. POLYGAMY.—This is another subject at present under judication, but it is a delicate one to meddle with, and a dangerous one. The argument of its being detrimental to the state cannot be adduced against it. It is an essential custom of both the Hindoo and the Mussulman, and the time has not yet come, when it can be safely meddled with. The following remarks extracted from the Friend of India, are worthy of remembrance.
"That polygamy is a mighty social evil,few Europeans will ever be disposed to question. If we could abolish it at once and for ever, introduce a purer morality, and a loftier standard of social life, no sacrifice would be too great for such an end. This is we fear impossible, and it is by no means clear that the good which the legislature can effect is worth either the effort it would require, or the suspicion it would certainly excite.
"This privilege cannot be abolished without abolishing Hindooism with it. The whole creed is based upon the supposition that the line is perpetually kept up, that there is always a son extant to perform the shraddh. To abolish the privilege would be to enrage every professor of the creed from Peshawur to Travancore,and excite a degree of suspicion fatal to a cordial cooperation in reforms at least as important."
I could easily enlarge on this subject, and point out in vivid colours how often the religious opinions of the Hindoos operate destructively on the lives of the people who profess them; their pilgrimages, their penances, their mutilations, their self-inflicted tortures, and self-sacrifices, but that would swell this Essay to an inconvenient extent, and shall conclude this chapter with only one more example.
21. THUGGEEISM.—Amongst the many causes that in India shorten the span of life, and add to the rate of mortality is the system of Thuggee. This system, which has horrified the world by the heinousness of its guilt, and exhibited a picture of human depravity unparalleled in the history of any nation, has been practised in India for more than two hundred years,and though greatly checked, continues even till this day. The blackest page in the records of the rudest and most savage state of mankind vanishes, and becomes white as snow when contrasted with the enormity of villainy inseparable from the trade of Thuggee, and our astonishment is only increased when we find it practised by the courtly Mussulman and the timid Hindoo; and, that a nation that could, out of compassion or charity, establish hospitals for sick animals, and even crawling insects; and the greater portion of whom would shrink with horror from shedding the blood of any living creature, even for their own subsistence, can, nevertheless, exhibit a numerous sect of professional ruffians, who, with subsistence as their object, the murder of human beings as the means, and religious fanaticism as a palliation for their crimes, wander over the country like demons of destruction, regardless of the laws of God or man.
It is a remarkable fact, that these diabolical wretches, whose subsistence was procured at the sacrifice of two or three men per month, had, nevertheless, a fixed habitation in some Native state, where their wives and their families resided, and to which they retired with their plunder after a fortunate expedition;and what is most unaccountable, their dreadful profession was known by every inhabitant in their village, and they were regularly mulcted of part of their ill-gotten spoil, by the chief of the village, who occasionally threatened to deliver them up to justice, unless they paid him a handsome bribe. From these headquarters gangs of Thugs, wont to set out on expeditions, towards all parts of Hindostan, from the Sutlej to the Brahmapootra, and from the Himalayah mountains to Cape Comorin.
The extent to which Thuggee has been carried on for many years, appears altogether incredible, and the drain upon human life, in any other country less populous than India,must have been manifest and unaccountable. Previous to the noble and benevolent system for the suppression of Thuggee, now in force, every high-road was infested by prowling gangs of merciless murderers: every traveller, whose appearance gave evidence of his being possessed of the value of a few rupees, was waylaid by one or more of the confederacy: his confidence was gained by well-disguised protestations of friendship, and ostensible acts of kindness;or his fears were imposed upon, so as to make him claim protection from those bent upon his destruction; secret retreats, for the perpetration of their deeds, were fixed like stages along a line of march; to one or other of these places of execution, the unsuspecting victims were conducted, and, on a pre-concerted signal being given by the leader of the band, each traveller was instantly seized by two, three, or more of the crew, and strangled.
The persons of the victims were plundered immediately after death; their bodies invariably stabbed in some vital place, the breast or the eyes, so as to destroy all chance of re-animation, and thrown into graves dug upon the spot where they were murdered—into wells,or deep pools, or into thickets, where they were devoured by tigers. In some parts of the country, where the soil is so shallow as not to admit of a grave deep enough, the bodies were cut to pieces and buried piecemeal; for, if buried entire, the decomposition that ensued would cause them to enlarge, so as to force up the soil, and lead to detection.
One should have thought, that the first object of the Thugs would be to fly from the place of blood; but, no: they often encamp over the very graves, cook their food, eat and sleep upon the spot, and thus efface all trace of their crimes. There are as many grades of distinction in a band of Thugs, as in a troop of disciplined soldiers. None but the most expert,whose hands are stiff with the blood of a hundred victims, or whose address in the art of decoying has shone forth pre-eminent, dare aspire to the honour of commanding a gang; in point of rank to the chief, come the stranglers, or decoyers; while those who have never had the prowess to put a human being to death, are condemned to perform all menial offices; to cook, act as scouts, dig the graves, and complete the burial. The Thug considers his trade quite as legitimate, in his own estimation, as that of any other calling; he practices it with as little compunction as a butcher or a gamekeeper; offers sacrifices to the goddess of destruction, Kali, to grant him success;and dedicates a fixed portion of his plunder to her altar, in gratitude for her protection. He venerates his profession, as the means of providing for the comfort and happiness of himself and family;pity or compassion has no hold upon his mental faculties,—horror no power to alarm him,—remorse never deprives him of an hour's sleep. He considers himself a superior being to a thief or a robber, and would not condescend to speak to such wretches; he values himself according to his dexterity in putting an end to his fellow-creatures; and dwells upon any act of unusual atrocity, with unbounded delight. When the laws of his country demand his life, as an expiation for his crimes, he mounts the scaffold with the air of a martyr, and, scornful of being contaminated by the touch of a common hangman, adjusts the fatal cord with his own hands, and launches himself into eternity.
I have dwelt so much upon Thuggee,because cases connected with it are not unfrequently submitted to the Civil Surgeon,in a medico-legal point of view. Lest the stranger should feel alarmed at the accounts of Thuggee, I may state for his consolation, that Europeans are not included amongst the prizes for plunder. They have,from fears of detection, and, perhaps, from fears of their means of self-defence, been hitherto unmolested