LORD WILLIAM BENTINCK, 1828-1835. 207 Bentinck's Mnaneial Reforms. — Lord William Bentinck's first care on arrival in India was to restore equilibrium to the finances, which were tottering under the burden imposed upon them by the Burmese war. This he effected by three series of measures — first, by reductions in permanent expenditure, amounting to i^- millions sterling a year ; second, by augment- ing the revenue from land which had unfairly escaped assess- ment; third, by duties on the opium of Malwa. He also widened the gates by which educated Natives could enter the service of the Company. Some of these reforms were dis- tasteful to the covenanted service and to the officers of the army. But Lord William was staunchly supported by the Court of Directors and by the Ministry at home. Abolition of Sati, and Suppression of Thagi. — His two most memorable acts are the abolition of sati (suttee), or widow- burning, and the suppression of the thags (thugs). At this distance of time, it is difficult to realize the degree to which these two barbarous practices had corrupted the social system of the Hindus. European research has proved that the text in the Vedas adduced to authorize the immolation of Hindu widows was a wilful mistranslation. But the practice had been enshrined in Hindu opinion by the authority of centuries, and had acquired the sanctity of a religious rite. The Emperor Akbar tried to prohibit it, but failed to put it down. The early English rulers did not dare to violate the religious traditions of the people. In the year 181 7, no fewer than 700 widows are said to have been burned alive in the Bengal Presidency alone. To this day, the holy spots of Hindu pilgrimage are thickly dotted with little white pillars, each commemorating a sati. In spite of strenuous opposition, both from Europeans and Natives, Lord William Bentinck carried a regulation in Council, on the 4th December 1829, by which all who abetted sati were de- clared guilty of ' culpable homicide.' The honour of suppress- ing thagi must be shared between Lord William Bentinck and Captain Sleeman. Thags were hereditary assassins, who made strangling their profession. They travelled in gangs, disguised as merchants or pilgrims, and were banded together by an oath based on the rites of the bloody goddess Kali. Between 1826
Page:A Brief History of the Indian Peoples.djvu/211
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