Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Dhōlpur, Capital of the Jāt Chiefs of Gohad—Consequence of Obstacles to the Prosecution of Robbers

On the morning of the 26th,[1] we sent on one tent, with the intention of following it in the afternoon; but about three o'clock a thunder-storm came on so heavily that I was afraid that which we occupied would come down upon us; and, putting my wife and child in a palankeen, I took them to the dwelling of an old Bairāgī, about two hundred yards from us.


He received us very kindly, and paid us many compliments about the honour we had conferred upon him. He was a kind and, I think, a good old man, and had six disciples who seemed to reverence him very much. A large stone image of Hanumān, the monkey-god, painted red, and a good store of buffaloes, very comfortably sheltered from the pitiless storm, were in an inner court.


The peacocks in dozens sought shelter under the walls and in the tree that stood in the courtyard; and I believe that they would have come into the old man's apartment had they not seen our white faces there. I had a great deal of talk with him, but did not take any notes of it. These old Bairāgīs, who spend the early and middle parts of life as disciples in pilgrimages to the celebrated temples of their god Vishnu in all parts of India, and the latter part of it as high priests or apostles in listening to the reports of the numerous disciples employed in similar wanderings are, perhaps, the most intelligent men in the country.


They are from all the castes and classes of society. The lowest Hindoo may become a Bairāgī, and the very highest are often tempted to become so; the service of the god to which they devote themselves levelling all distinctions. Few of them can write or read, but they are shrewd observers of men and things, and often exceedingly agreeable and instructive companions to those who understand them, and can make them enter into unreserved conversation.


Our tent stood out the storm pretty well, but we were obliged to defer our march till the next day. On the afternoon of the 27th we went on twelve miles, over a plain of deep alluvion, through which two rivers have cut their way to the Chambal; and, as usual, the ravines along their banks are deep, long, and dreary.


About half-way we were overtaken by one of the heaviest showers of rain I ever saw; it threatened us from neither side, but began to descend from an apparently small bed of clouds directly over our heads, which seemed to spread out on every side as the rain fell, and fill the whole vault of heaven with one dark and dense mass. The wind changed frequently; and in less than half an hour the whole surface of the country over which we were travelling was under water.


This dense mass of clouds passed off in about two hours to the east; but twice, when the sun opened and beamed divinely upon us in a cloudless sky to the west, the wind changed suddenly round, and rushed back angrily from the east, to fill up the space which had been quickly rarefied by the genial heat of its rays, till we were again enveloped in darkness, and began to despair of reaching any human habitation before night. Some hail fell among the rain, but not large enough to hurt any one.


The thunder was loud and often startling to the strongest nerves, and the lightning vivid, and almost incessant. We managed to keep the road because it was merely a beaten pathway below the common level of the country, and we could trace it by the greater depth of the water, and the absence of all shrubs and grass. All roads in India soon become watercourses—they are nowhere metalled; and, being left for four or five months every year without rain, their soil is reduced to powder by friction, and carried off by the winds over the surrounding country.[2]


I was on horseback, but my wife and child were secure in a good palankeen that sheltered them from the rain. The bearers were obliged to move with great caution and slowly, and I sent on every person I could spare that they might keep moving, for the cold blast blowing over their thin and wet clothes seemed intolerable to those who were idle. My child's playmate, Gulāb, a lad of about ten years of age, resolutely kept by the side of the palankeen, trotting through the water with his teeth chattering as if he had been in an ague.


The rain at last ceased, and the sky in the west cleared up beautifully about half an hour before sunset. Little Gulāb threw off his stuffed and quilted vest, and got a good dry English blanket to wrap round him from the palankeen. We soon after reached a small village, in which I treated all who had remained with us to as much coarse sugar (gur) as they could eat; and, as people of all castes can eat of sweetmeats from the hands of confectioners without prejudice to their caste, and this sugar is considered to be the best of all good things for guarding against colds in man or beast, they all ate very heartily, and went on in high spirits.


As the sun sank below us on the left, a bright moon shone out upon us from the right, and about an hour after dark we reached our tents on the north bank of the Kuārī river, where we found an excellent dinner for ourselves, and good fires, and good shelter for our servants. Little rain had fallen near the tents, and the river Kuārī, over which we had to cross, had not, fortunately, much swelled; nor did much fall on the ground we had left; and, as the tents there had been struck and laden before it came on, they came up the next morning early, and went on to our next ground.


On the 28th, we went on to Dhōlpur, the capital of the Jāt chiefs of Gohad,[3] on the left bank of the Chambal, over a plain with a variety of crops, but not one that requires two seasons to reach maturity. The soil excellent in quality and deep, but not a tree anywhere to be seen, nor any such thing as a work of ornament or general utility of any kind. We saw the fort of Dhōlpur at a distance of six miles, rising apparently from the surface of the level plain, but in reality situated on the summit of the opposite and high bank of a large river, its foundation at least one hundred feet above the level of the water.


The immense pandemonia of ravines that separated us from this fort were not visible till we began to descend into them some two or three miles from the bed of the river. Like all the ravines that border the rivers in these parts, they are naked, gloomy, and ghastly, and the knowledge that no solitary traveller is ever safe in them does not tend to improve the impression they make upon us. The river is a beautiful clear stream, here flowing over a bed of fine sand with a motion so gentle, that one can hardly conceive it is she who has played such fantastic tricks along the borders, and made such 'frightful gashes' in them.


As we passed over this noble reach of the river Chambal in a ferry- boat, the boatman told us of the magnificent bridge formed here by the Baiza Bāī for Lord William Bentinck in 1832, from boats brought down from Agra for the purpose. 'Little', said they, 'did it avail her with the Governor-General in her hour of need.[4]


The town of Dhōlpur lies some short way in from the north bank of the Chambal, at the extremity of a range of sandstone hills which runs diagonally across that of Gwālior. This range was once capped with basalt, and some boulders are still found upon it in a state of rapid decomposition. It was quite refreshing to see the beautiful mango groves on the Dhōlpur side of the river, after passing through a large tract of country in which no tree of any kind was to be seen.


On returning from a long ride over the range of sandstone hills the morning after we reached Dhōlpur, I passed through an encampment of camels taking rude iron from some mines in the hills to the south towards Agra. They waited here within the frontier of a native state for a pass from the Agra custom house,[5] lest any one should, after they enter our frontier, pretend that they were going to smuggle it, and thus get them into trouble.


'Are you not', said I, 'afraid to remain here so near the ravines of the Chambal, when thieves are said to be so numerous?'


'Not at all,' replied they. 'I suppose thieves do not think it worth while to steal rude iron?'


'Thieves, sir, think it worth while to steal anything they can get, but we do not fear them much here.'


'Where, then, do you fear them much?'


'We fear them when we get into the Company's territories.'


'And how is this, when we have good police establishments, and the Dhōlpur people none?'


'When the Dhōlpur people get hold of a thief, they make him disgorge all that he has got of our property for us, and they confiscate all the rest that he has for themselves, and cut off his nose or his hands, and turn him adrift to deter others. You, on the contrary, when you get hold of a thief, worry us to death in the prosecution of your courts; and, when we have proved the robbery to your satisfaction, you leave all this ill-gotten wealth to his family,[6] and provide him with good food and clothing for himself, while he works for you a couple of years on the roads.[7] The consequence is, that here fellows are afraid to rob a traveller, if they find him at all on his guard, as we generally are, while in your districts they rob us where and when they like.'


'But, my friends, you are sure to recover what we do get of your property from the thieves.'


'Not quite sure of that neither,' said they, 'or the greater part is generally absorbed on its way back to us through the officers of your court; and we would always rather put up with the first loss than run the risk of a greater by prosecution, if we happen to get robbed within the Company's territories.'


The loss and annoyances to which prosecutors and witnesses are subject in our courts are a source of very great evil to the country. They enable police-officers everywhere to grow rich upon the concealment of crimes. The man who has been robbed will bribe them to conceal the robbery, that he may escape the further loss of the prosecution in our courts, generally very distant; and the witnesses will bribe them to avoid attending to give evidence; the whole village communities bribe them, because every man feels that they have the power of getting him summoned to the court in some capacity or other, if they like; and that they will certainly like to do so, if not bribed.


The obstacles which our system opposes to the successful prosecution of robbers of all denominations and descriptions deprive our Government of all popular support in the administration of criminal justice; and this is considered everywhere to be the worst, and, indeed, the only radically bad feature of our government.


No magistrate hopes to get a conviction against one in four of the most atrocious gang of robbers and murderers of his district, and his only resource is in the security laws, which enable him to keep them in jail under a requisition of security for short periods. To this an idle or apathetic magistrate will not have recourse, and under him these robbers have a free licence.


In England, a judicial acquittal does not send back the culprit to follow the same trade in the same field, as in India; for the published proceedings of the court bring down upon him the indignation of society—the moral and religions feelings of his fellow men are arrayed against him, and from these salutary checks no flaw in the indictment can save him.


Not so in India. There no moral or religions feelings interpose to assist or to supply the deficiencies of the penal law. Provided he eats, drinks, smokes, marries, and makes his offerings to his priest according to the rules of his caste, the robber and the murderer incurs no odium in the circle in which he moves, either religious or moral, and this is the only circle for whose feelings he has any regard.[8]


The man who passed off his bad coin at Datiyā, passed off more at Dhōlpur while my advanced people were coming in, pretending that he wanted things for me, and was in a great hurry to be ready with them at my tents by the time I came up. The bad rupees were brought to a native officer of my guard, who went with the shopkeepers in search of the knave, but he could nowhere be found.


The gates of the town were shut up all night at my suggestion, and in the morning every lodging-house in the town was searched for him in vain—he had gone on. I had left some sharp men behind me, expecting that he would endeavour to pass off his bad money immediately after my departure; but in expectation of this he was now evidently keeping a little in advance of me.


I sent on some men with the shopkeepers whom he had cheated to our next stage, in the hope of overtaking him; but he had left the place before they arrived without passing any of his bad coin, and gone on to Agra. The shopkeepers could not be persuaded to go any further after him, for, if they caught him, they should, they said, have infinite trouble in prosecuting him in our courts, without any chance of recovering from him what they had lost.


On the 29th, we remained at Dhōlpur to receive and return the visits of the young Rājā, or, as he is called, the young Rānā, a lad of about fifteen years of age, very plain, and very dull. He came about ten in the forenoon with a very respectable and well-dressed retinue, and a tolerable show of elephants and horses. The uniforms of his guards were made after those of our own soldiers, and did not please me half so much as those of the Datiyā guards, who were permitted to consult their own tastes; and the music of the drums and fifes seemed to me infinitely inferior to that of the mounted minstrels of my old friend Parīchhit.[9]


The lad had with him about a dozen old public servants enti