Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Pindhārī System—Character of the Marāthā Administration—Cause of their Dislike to the Paramount Power
The attempt of the Marquis of Hastings to rescue India from that dreadful scourge, the Pindhārī system, involved him in a war with all the great Marāthā states, except Gwālior; that is, with the Peshwā at Pūnā, Holkār at Indore, and the Bhonslā at Nāgpur; and Gwālior was prevented from joining the other states in their unholy league against us only by the presence of the grand division of the army, under the personal command of the Marquis, in the immediate vicinity of his capital.
It was not that these chiefs liked the Pindhārīs, or felt any interest in their welfare, but because they were always anxious to crush that rising paramount authority which had the power, and had always manifested the will, to interpose and prevent the free indulgence of their predatory habits—the free exercise of that weapon, a standing army, which the disorders incident upon the decline and fall of the Muhammadan army had put into their hands, and which a continued series of successful aggressions upon their neighbours could alone enable them to pay or keep under control.
They seized with avidity any occasion of quarrel with the paramount power which seemed likely to unite them all in one great effort to shake it off; and they are still prepared to do the same, because they feel that they could easily extend their depredations if that power were withdrawn; and they know no other road to wealth and glory but such successful depredations. Their ancestors rose by them, their states were formed by them, and their armies have been maintained by them.
They look back upon them for all that seems to them honourable in the history of their families. Their bards sing of them in all their marriage and funeral processions; and, as their imaginations kindle at the recollection, they detest the arm that is extended to defend the wealth and the industry of the surrounding territories from their grasp. As the industrious classes acquire and display their wealth in the countries around during a long peace, under a strong and settled government, these native chiefs, with their little disorderly armies, feel precisely as an English country gentleman would feel with a pack of foxhounds, in a country swarming with foxes, and without the privilege of hunting them.
Their armies always took the auspices and set out kingdom taking (mulk gīrī) after the Dasahra, in November, as regularly as English gentlemen go partridge-shooting on the 1st of September; and I may here give, as a specimen, the excursion of Jean Baptiste Filose, who sallied forth on such an expedition, at the head of a division of Sindhia's army, just before this Pindhārī war commenced.
From Gwālior he proceeded to Karaulī, and took from that chief the district of Sabalgarh, yielding four lākhs of rupees yearly. He then took the territory of the Rājā of Chandērī, Mor Pahlād, one of the oldest of the Bundēlkhand chiefs, which then yielded about seven lākhs of rupees, but now yields only four. The Rājā got an allowance of forty thousand rupees a year.
He then took the territories of the Rājās of Raghugarh and Bajranggarh, yielding three lākhs a year; and Bahādurgarh, yielding two lākhs a year; and the three princes got fifty thousand rupees a year for subsistence among them. He then took Lopar, yielding two lākhs and a half, and assigned the Rājā twenty-five thousand. He then took Garhā Kota, whose chief gets subsistence from our Government.
Baptiste had just completed his kingdom taking expedition, when our armies took the field against the Pindhārīs; and, on the termination of that war in 1817, all these acquisitions were confirmed and guaranteed to his master Sindhia by our Government. It cannot be supposed that either he or his army can ever feel any great attachment towards a paramount authority that has the power and the will to interpose, and prevent their indulging in such sporting excursions as these, or any great disinclination to take advantage of any occasion that may seem likely to unite all the native chiefs in a common effort to crush it.
The Nepalese have the same feeling as the Marāthās in a still stronger degree, since their kingdom-taking excursions had been still greater and more successful; and, being all soldiers from the same soil, they were easily persuaded, by a long series of successful aggressions, that their courage was superior to that of all other men.
In the year 1833, the Gwālior territory yielded a net revenue to the treasury of ninety-two lākhs of rupees, after discharging all the local costs of the civil and fiscal administration of the different districts, in officers, establishments, charitable institutions, religions endowments, military fiefs, &c.
In the remote districts, which are much infested by the predatory tribes of Bhīls, and in consequence badly peopled and cultivated, the net revenue is estimated to be about one-third of the gross collections; but, in the districts near the capital, which are tolerably well cultivated, the net revenue brought to the treasury is about five-sixths of the gross collections; and these collections are equal to the whole annual rent of the land; for every man by whom the land is held or cultivated is a mere tenant at will, liable every season to be turned out, to give place to any other man that may offer more for the holding.
There is nowhere to be seen upon the land any useful or ornamental work, calculated to attach the people to the soil or to their villages; and, as hardly any of the recruits for the regiments are drawn from the peasantry of the country, the agricultural classes have nowhere any feeling of interest in the welfare or existence of the government. I am persuaded that there is not a single village in all the Gwālior dominions in which nine-tenths of the people would not be glad to see that government destroyed, under the persuasion that they could not possibly have a worse, and would be very likely to find a better.
The present force at Gwālior consists of three regiments of infantry, under Colonel Alexander; six under the command of Apājī, the adopted son of the late Bālā Bāī; eleven under Colonel Jacobs and his son; five under Colonel Jean Baptiste Filose; two under the command of the Māmū Sāhib, the maternal uncle of the Mahārājā; three in what is called Bābū Bāolī's camp; in all thirty regiments, consisting, when complete, of six hundred men each, with four field-pieces. The 'Jinsī', or artillery, consists of two hundred guns of different calibre. There are but few corps of cavalry, and these are not considered very efficient, I believe.
Robbers and murderers of all descriptions have always been in the habit of taking the field in India immediately after the festival of the Dasahrā, at the end of October, from the sovereign of a state at the head of his armies, down to the leader of a little band of pickpockets from the corner of some obscure village. All invoke the Deity, and take the auspices to ascertain his will, nearly in the same way; and all expect that he will guide them successfully through their enterprises, as long as they find the omens favourable.
No one among them ever dreams that his undertaking can be less acceptable to the Deity than that of another, provided he gives him the same due share of what he acquires in his thefts, his robberies, or his conquests, in sacrifices and offerings upon his shrines, and in donations to his priests. Nor does the robber often dream that he shall be considered a less respectable citizen by the circle in which he moves than the soldier, provided he spends his income as liberally, and discharges all his duties in his relations with them as well; and this he generally does to secure their goodwill, whatever may be the character of his depredations upon distant circles of society and communities.
The man who returned to Oudh, or Rohilkhand, after a campaign under a Pindhārī chief, was as well received as one who returned after serving one under Sindhia, Holkār, or Ranjīt Singh. A friend of mine one day asked a leader of a band of 'dacoits', or banditti, whether they did not often commit murder.
'God forbid', said he, 'that we should ever commit murder; but, if people choose to oppose us, we, of course, strike and kill; but you do the same. I hear that there is now a large assemblage of troops in the upper provinces going to take foreign countries; if they are opposed, they will kill people. We only do the same.'
The history of the rise of every nation in the world unhappily bears out the notion that princes are only robbers upon a large scale, till their ambition is curbed by a balance of power among nations.
On the 25th we came on to Dhamēlā, fourteen miles, over a plain, with the range of sandstone hills on the left, receding from us to the west; and that on the right receding still more to the east. Here and there were some insulated hills of the same formation rising abruptly from the plain to our right. All the villages we saw were built upon masses of this sandstone rock, rising abruptly at intervals from the surface of the plain, in horizontal strata.
These hillocks afford the people stone for building, and great facilities for defending themselves against the inroads of freebooters. There is not, I suppose, in the world a finer stone for building than these sandstone hills afford; and we passed a great many carts carrying them off to distant places in slabs or flags from ten to sixteen feet long, two to three feet wide, and six inches thick. They are white, with very minute pink spots, and of a texture so very fine that they would be taken for indurated clay on a slight inspection. The houses of the poorest peasants are here built of this beautiful freestone, which, after two hundred years, looks as if it had been quarried only yesterday.
About three miles from our tents we crossed over the little river Ghorapachhār, flowing over a bed of this sandstone. The soil all the way very light, and the cultivation scanty and bad. Except within the enclosures of men's houses, scarcely a tree to be anywhere seen to give shelter and shade to the weary traveller; and we could find no ground for our camp with a shrub to shelter man or beast.
All are swept away to form gun-carriages for the Gwālior artillery, with a philosophical disregard to the comforts of the living, the repose of the dead who planted them with a view to a comfortable berth in the next world, and to the will of the gods to whom they are dedicated. There is nothing left upon the land of animal or vegetable life to enrich it; nothing of stock but what is necessary to draw from the soil an annual crop, and which looks to one harvest for its entire return.
The sovereign proprietor of the soil lets it out by the year, in farms or villages, to men who depend entirely upon the year's return for the means of payment. He, in his turn, lets the lands in detail to those who till them, and who depend for their subsistence, and for the means of paying their rents, upon the returns of the single harvest.
There is no manufacture anywhere to be seen, save of brass pots and rude cooking utensils; no trade or commerce, save in the transport of the rude produce of the land to the great camp at Gwālior, upon the backs of bullocks, for want of roads fit for wheeled carriages. No one resides in the villages, save those whose labour is indispensably necessary to the rudest tillage, and those who collect the dues of government, and are paid upon the lowest possible scale.
Such is the state of the Gwālior territories in every part of India where I have seen them. The miseries and misrule of the Oudh, Hyderabad, and other Muhammadan governments, are heard of everywhere, because there are, under these governments, a middle and higher class upon the land to suffer and proclaim them; but those of the Gwālior state are never heard of, because no such classes are ever allowed to grow up upon the land. Had Russia governed Poland, and Turkey Greece, in the way that Gwālior has governed her conquered territories, we should never have heard of the wrongs of the one or the other.
In my morning's ride the day before I left Gwālior, I saw a fine leopard standing by the side of the most frequented road, and staring at every one who passed. It was held by two men, who sat by and talked to it as if it had been a human being. I thought it was an animal for show, and I was about to give them something, when they told me that they were servants of the Mahārājā, and were training the leopard to bear the sight and society of man.