Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Interview with the Rājā of Datiyā—Fiscal Errors of Statesmen—Thieves and Robbers by Profession
On the 17th we came to Datiyā, nine miles over a dry and poor soil, thinly, and only partially, covering a bed of brown and grey syenite, with veins of quartz and feldspar, and here and there dykes of basalt, and a few boulders scattered over the surface. The old Rājā, Parīchhit, on one elephant, and his cousin, Dalīp Singh, upon a second, and several of their relations upon others, all splendidly caparisoned, came out two miles to meet us, with a very large and splendid cortège.
My wife, as usual, had gone on in her palankeen very early, to avoid the crowd and dust of this 'istikbāl', or meeting; and my little boy, Henry, went on at the same time in the palankeen, having got a slight fever from too much exposure to the sun in our slow and stately entrance into Jhānsī. There were more men in steel chain armour in this cortège than in that of Jhānsī; and, though the elephants were not quite so fine, they were just as numerous, while the crowd of foot attendants was still greater.
They were in fancy dresses, individually handsome, and collectively picturesque; though, being all soldiers, not quite pleasing to the eye of a soldier. I remarked to the Rājā, as we rode side by side on our elephants, that we attached much importance to having our soldiers all in uniform dresses, according to their corps, while he seemed to care little about these matters.
'Yes,' said the old man, with a smile, 'with me every man pleases himself in his dress, and I care not what he wears, provided it is neat and clean.'
They certainly formed a body more picturesque from being allowed individually to consult their own fancies in their dresses, for the native taste in dress is generally very good. Our three elephants came on abreast, and the Rājā and I conversed as freely as men in such situations can converse.
He is a stout, cheerful old gentleman, as careless apparently about his own dress as about that of his soldiers, and a much more sensible and agreeable person than I expected; and I was sorry to learn from him that he had for twelve years been suffering from an attack of sciatica on one side, which had deprived him of the use of one of his legs.
I was obliged to consent to halt the next day that I might hunt in his preserve (ramnā) in the morning, and return his visit in the evening. In the Rājā's cortege there were several men mounted on excellent horses, who carried guitars, and played upon them, and sang in a very agreeable style, I had never before seen or heard of such a band, and was both surprised and pleased.
The great part of the wheat, gram, and other exportable land produce which the people consume, as far as we have yet come, is drawn from our Nerbudda districts, and those of Mālwa which border upon them; and, par conséquent, the price has been rapidly increasing as we recede from them in our advance northward. Were the soil of those Nerbudda districts, situated as they are at such a distance from any great market for their agricultural products, as bad as it is in the parts of Bundēlkhand that I came over, no net surplus revenue could possibly be drawn from them in the present state of arts and industry.
The high prices paid here for land produce, arising from the necessity of drawing a great part of what is consumed from such distant lands, enables the Rājās of these Bundēlkhand states to draw the large revenue they do. These chiefs expend the whole of their revenue in the maintenance of public establishments of one kind or other; and, as the essential articles of subsistence, wheat and gram, &c., which are produced in their own districts, or those immediately around them, are not sufficient for the supply of these establishments, they must draw them from distant territories.
All this produce is brought on the backs of bullocks, because there is no road from the districts whence they obtain it, over which a wheeled carriage can be drawn with safety; and, as this mode of transit is very expensive, the price of the produce, when it reaches the capitals, around which these local establishments are concentrated, becomes very high.
They must pay a price equal to the collective cost of purchasing and bringing this substance from the most distant districts, to which they are at any time obliged to have recourse for a supply, or they will not be supplied; and, as there cannot be two prices for the same thing in the same market, the wheat and gram produced in the neighbourhood of one of these Bundēlkhand capitals fetch as high a price there as that brought from the most remote districts on the banks of the Nerbudda river; while it costs comparatively nothing to bring it from the former lands to the markets.
Such lands, in consequence, yield a rate of rent much greater compared with their natural powers of fertility than those of the remotest districts whence produce is drawn for these markets or capitals; and, as all the lands are the property of the Rājās, they drew all those rents as revenue.
Were we to take this revenue, which the Rajas now enjoy, in tribute for the maintenance of public establishments concentrated at distant seats, all these local establishments would, of course, be at once disbanded; and all the effectual demand which they afford for the raw agricultural produce of distant districts would cease.
The price of this produce would diminish in proportion, and with it the value of the lands of the districts around such capitals. Hence the folly of conquerors and paramount powers, from the days of the Greeks and Romans down to those of Lord Hastings and Sir John Malcolm, who were all bad political economists, supposing that conquered and ceded territories could always be made to yield to a foreign state the same amount of gross revenue as they had paid to their domestic government, whatever their situation with reference to the markets for their produce—whatever the state of their arts and their industry—and whatever the character and extent of the local establishments maintained out of it.
The settlements of the land revenue in all the territories acquired in Central India during the Marāthā war, which ended in 1817, were made upon the supposition that the lands would continue to pay the same rate of rent under the new as they had paid under the old government, uninfluenced by the diminution of all local establishments, civil and military, to one-tenth of what they had been; that, under the new order of things, all the waste lands must be brought into tillage, and be able to pay as high a rate of rent as before tillage, and, consequently, that the aggregate available net revenue must greatly and rapidly increase.
Those who had the making of the settlements and the governing of these new territories did not consider that the diminution of every establishment was the removal of a market, of an effectual demand for land produce; and that, when all the waste lands should be brought into tillage, the whole would deteriorate in fertility, from the want of fallows, Under the prevailing system of agriculture, which afforded the lands no other means of renovation from over-cropping.
The settlements of land which were made throughout our new land acquisitions upon these fallacious assumptions of course failed. During a series of quinquennial settlements the assessment has been everywhere gradually reduced to about two-thirds of what it was when our rule began, to less than one- half of what Sir John Malcolm, and all the other local authorities, and even the worthy Marquis of Hastings himself, under the influence of their opinions, expected it would be.
The land revenues of the native princes of Central India, who reduced their public establishments, which the new order of things seemed to render useless, and thereby diminished the only markets for the raw produce of their lands, have been everywhere falling off in the same proportion; and scarcely one of them now draws two-thirds of the income he drew from the same lands in 1817.
There are in the valley of the Nerbudda districts that yield a great deal more produce every year than either Orchhā, Jhānsī, or Datiyā; and yet, from the want of the same domestic markets, they do not yield one-fourth of the amount of land revenue. The lands are, however, rated equally high to the assessment, in proportion to their value to the farmers and cultivators.
To enable them to yield a larger revenue to Government, they require to have larger establishments as markets for land produce. These establishments may be either public, and paid by Government; or they may be private, as manufactories, by which the land produce of these districts would be consumed by people employed in investing the value of their labour in commodities suited to the demand of distant markets, and more valuable than land produce in proportion to their weight and bulk.
These are the establishments which Government should exert itself to introduce and foster; since the valley of the Nerbudda, in addition to a soil exceedingly fertile, has in its whole line, from its source to its embouchure, rich beds of coal reposing for the use of future generations, under the sandstone of the Sātpura and Vindhya ranges, and beds no less rich of very fine iron. These advantages have not yet been justly appreciated; but they will be so by and by.
About half-past four in the afternoon of the day we reached Datiyā, I had a visit from the Rājā, who came in his palankeen, with a very respectable, but not very numerous or noisy, train, and he sat with me about an hour. My large tents were both pitched parallel to each other, about twenty paces distant, and united to each other at both ends by separate 'kanāts', or cloth curtains. My little boy was present, and behaved extremely well in steadily refusing, without even a look from me, a handful of gold mohurs, which the Rājā pressed several times upon his acceptance.
I received him at the door of my tent, and supported him upon my arm to his chair, as he cannot walk without some slight assistance, from the affection already mentioned in his leg. A salute from the guns at his castle announced his departure and return to it. After the audience, Lieutenant Thomas and I ascended to the summit of a palace of the former Rājās of this state, which stands upon a high rock close inside the eastern gate of the city, whence we could see to the west of the city a still larger and handsomer palace standing, I asked our conductors, the Rājā's servants, why it was unoccupied.
'No prince these degenerate days', said they, 'could muster a family and court worthy of such a palace—the family and court of the largest of them would, within the walls of such a building, feel as if they were in a desert. Such palaces were made for princes of the older times, who were quite different beings from those of the present day.'
From the deserted palace we went to the new garden which is preparing for the young Rājā, an adopted son of about ten years of age. It is close to the southern wall of the city, and is very extensive and well managed. The orange-trees are all grafted, and sinking under the weight of as fine fruit as any in India.
Attempting to ascend the steps of an empty bungalow upon a raised terrace at the southern extremity of the garden, the attendants told us respectfully that they hoped we would take off our shoes if we wished to enter, as the ancestor of the Rājā by whom it was built, Rām Chand, had lately become a god, and was there worshipped. The roof is of stone, supported on carved stone pillars.
On the centre pillar, upon a ground of whitewash, is a hand or trident. This is the only sign of a sacred character the building has yet assumed; and I found that it owed this character of sanctity to the circumstance of some one having vowed an offering to the manes of the builder, if he obtained what his soul most desired; and, having obtained it, all the people believe that those who do the same at the same place in a pure spirit of faith will obtain what they pray for.
I made some inquiries about Hardaul Lāla, the son of Bīrsingh Deo, who built the fort of Dhamonī, one of the ancestors of the Datiyā Rājā, and found that he was as much worshipped here at his birthplace as upon the banks of the Nerbudda as the supposed great originator of the cholera morbus.
There is at Datiyā a temple dedicated to him and much frequented; and one of the priests brought me a flower in his name, and chanted something indicating that Hardaul Lāla was now worshipped even so far as the British capital of Calcutta, I asked the old prince what he thought of the origin of the worship of this his ancestor; and he told me that when the cholera broke out first in the camp of Lord Hastings, then pitched about three stages from his capital, on the bank of the Sindh at Chāndpur Sunārī, several people recovered from the disease immediately after making votive offerings in his name; and that he really thought the spirit of his great-grandfather had worked some wonderful cures upon people afflicted with this dreadful malady.
The town of Datiyā contains a population of between forty and fifty thousand souls. The streets are narrow, for, in buildings, as in dress, the Rājā allows every man to consult his own inclinations. There are, however, a great many excellent houses in Datiyā, and the appearance of the place is altogether very good. Many of his feudatory chiefs reside occasionally in the city, and have all their establishments with them, a practice which does not, I believe, prevail anywhere else among these Bundēlkhand chiefs, and this makes the capital much larger, handsomer, and more populous than that of Tehrī.
This indicates more of mutual confidence between the chief and his vassals, and accords well with the character they bear in the surrounding countries. Some of the houses occupied by these barons are very pretty. They spend the revenue of their distant estates in adorning them, and embellishing the capital, which they certainly could not have ventured to do under the late Rājās of Tehrī, and may not possibly be able to do under the future Rajas of Datiyā.