Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Indian Police—Its Defects—and their Cause and Remedy

On the 26th[1] we crossed the river Jumna, over a bridge of boats, kept up by the King of Oudh for the use of the public, though his majesty is now connected with Delhi only by the tomb of his ancestor;[2] and his territories are separated from the imperial city by the two great rivers, Ganges and Jumna.


We proceeded to Farrukhnagar, about twelve miles over an execrable road running over a flat but rugged surface of unproductive soil.[3] India is, perhaps, the only civilized country in the world where a great city could be approached by such a road from the largest military Station in the empire,[4] not more than three stages distant.


After breakfast the head native police officer of the division came to pay his respects. He talked of the dreadful murders which used to be perpetrated in this neighbourhood by miscreants, who found shelter in the territories of the Bēgam Samrū,[5] whither his followers dared not hunt for them; and mentioned a case of nine persons who had been murdered just within the boundary of our territories about seven years before, and thrown into a dry well.


He was present at the inquest held on their bodies, and described their appearance; and I found that they were the bodies of a news writer from Lahore, who, with his eight companions, had been murdered by Thugs on his way back to Rohilkhand. I had long before been made acquainted with the circumstances of this murder and the perpetrators had all been secured, but we wanted this link in the chain of evidence.


It had been described to me as having taken place within the boundary of the Bēgam's territory, and I applied to her for a report on the inquest. She declared that no bodies had been discovered about the time mentioned; and I concluded that the ignorance of the people of the neighbourhood was pretended, as usual in such cases, with a view to avoid a summons to give evidence in our courts.


I referred forthwith to the magistrate of the district, and found the report that I wanted, and thereby completed the chain of evidence upon a very important case. The Thānadār seemed much surprised to find that I was so well acquainted with the circumstances of this murder, but still more that the perpetrators were not the poor old Bēgam's subjects, but our own.


The police officers employed on our borders find it very convenient to trace the perpetrators of all murders and gang robberies into the territories of native chiefs, whose subjects they accuse often when they know that the crimes have been committed by our own.


They are, on the one hand, afraid to seize or accuse the real offenders, lest they should avenge themselves by some personal violence, or by thefts or robberies, which they often commit with a view to get them tumed out of office as inefficient; and, on the other, they are tempted to conceal the real offenders by a liberal share of the spoil, and a promise of not offending again within their beat. Their tenure of office is far too insecure, and their salaries are far too small.


They are often dismissed summarily by the magistrate if they send him in no prisoners; and also if they send in to him prisoners who are not ultimately convicted, because a magistrate's merits are too often estimated by the proportion that his convictions bear to his acquittals among the prisoners committed for trial to the sessions.


Men are often ultimately acquitted for want of judicial proof, when there is abundance of that moral proof on which a police officer or magistrate has to act in the discharge of his duties; and in a country where gangs of professional and hereditary robbers and murderers extend their depredations into very remote parts, and seldom commit them in the districts in which they reside, the most vigilant police officer must often fail to discover the perpetrators of heavy crimes that take place within his range.[6]


When they cannot find them, the native officers either seize innocent persons, and frighten them into confession, or else they try to conceal the crime, and in this they are seconded by the sufferers in the robbery, who will always avoid, if they can, a prosecution in our courts, and by their neighbours, who dread being summoned to give evidence as a serious calamity.


The man who has been robbed, instead of being an object of compassion among his neighbours, often incurs their resentment for subjecting them to this calamity; and they not only pay largely themselves, but make him pay largely, to have his losses concealed from the magistrate. Formerly, when a district was visited by a judge of circuit to hold his sessions only once or twice a year, and men were constantly bound over to prosecute and appear as evidence from sessions to sessions, till they were wearied and worried to death, this evil was much greater than at present, when every district is provided with its judge of sessions, who is, or ought to be, always ready to take up the cases committed for trial by the magistrate.[7]


This was one of the best measures of Lord W. Bentinck's admirable, though much abused, administration of the government of India.[8] Still, however, the inconvenience and delay of prosecution in our courts are so great, and the chance of the ultimate conviction of great offenders is so small, that strong temptations are held out to the police to conceal or misrepresent the character of crimes; and they must have a great feeling of security in their tenure of office, and more adequate salaries, better chances of rising, and better supervision over them, before they will resist such temptation.


These Thānadārs, and all the public officers under them, are all so very inadequately paid that corruption among them excites no feeling of odium or indignation in the minds of those among whom they live and serve. Such feelings are rather directed against the government that places them in such situations of so much labour and responsibility with salaries so inadequate; and thereby confers upon them virtually a licence to pay themselves by preying upon those whom they are employed ostensibly to protect.


They know that with such salaries they can never have the reputation of being honest, however faithfully they may discharge their duties; and it is too hard to expect that men will long submit to the necessity of being thought corrupt, without reaping some of the advantages of corruption.


Let the Thānadārs have everywhere such salaries as will enable them to maintain their families in comfort, and keep up that appearance of respectability which their station in society demands; and over every three or four Thānadārs' jurisdiction let there be an officer appointed upon a higher scale of salary, to supervise and control their proceedings, and armed with powers to decide minor offences. To these higher stations the Thānadārs will be able to look forward as their reward for a faithful and zealous discharge of their duties.[9]


He who can suppose that men so inadequately paid, who have no promotion to look forward to, and feel no security in their tenure of office, and consequently no hope of a provision for old age,[10] will be zealous and honest in the discharge of their duties, must be very imperfectly acquainted with human nature, and with the motives by which men are influenced in all quarters of the world; but we are none of us so ignorant, for we all know that the same motives actuate public servants in India as elsewhere.


We have acted successfully upon this knowledge in the scale of salaries and gradation of rank assigned to European civil functionaries, and to all native functionaries employed in the judicial and revenue branches of the public service; and why not act upon it in that of the salaries assigned to the native officers employed in the police?


The magistrate of a district gets a salary of from two thousand to two thousand five hundred rupees a month.[11] The native officer next under him is the Thānadār, or head native police officer of a subdivision of his district, containing many towns and villages, with a population of a hundred thousand souls. This officer gets a salary of twenty-five rupees a month. He cannot possibly do his duty unless he keeps one or two horses; indeed, he is told by the magistrate that he cannot; and that he must have one or two horses, or resign his post.


The people, seeing how much we expect from the Thānadār, and how little we give him, submit to his demands for contributions without murmuring, and consider almost any demand trivial from a man so employed and so paid. They are confounded at our inconsistency, and say, 'We see you giving high salaries and high prospects of advancement to men who have nothing to do but collect your rents, and decide our disputes about pounds, shillings, and pence, which we used to decide much better ourselves, when we had no other court but that of our elders—while those who are to protect life and property, to keep peace over the land, and enable the industrious to work in security, maintain their families, and pay the government revenue, are left with hardly any pay at all.'


There is really nothing in our rule in India which strikes the people so much as this inconsistency, the evil effects of which are so great and manifest; the only way to remedy the evil is to give a greater feeling of security in the tenure of office, a higher rate of salary, the hope of a provision for old age, and, above all, the gradation of rank, by interposing the officers I speak of between the Thānadārs and the magistrate.[12] This has all been done in the establishments for the collection of the revenue, and administration of civil justice.


Hobbes, in his Leviathan, says, 'And seeing that the end of punishment is not revenge and discharge of choler, but correction, either of the offender, or of others by his example, the severest punishments are to be inflicted for those crimes that are of most danger to the public; such as are those which proceed from malice to the government established; those that spring from contempt of justice; those that provoke indignation in the multitude; and those which, unpunished, seem authorized, as when they are committed by sons, servants, or favourites of men in authority.[13]


For indignation carrieth men, not only against the actors and authors of injustice, but against all power that is likely to protect them; as in the case of Tarquin, when, for the insolent act of one of his sons, he was driven out of Rome, and the monarchy itself dissolved.' (Para. 2, chapter 30.)


Almost every one of our Thānadārs is, in his way, a little Tarquin, exciting the indignation of the people against his rulers; and no time should be lost in converting him into something better.


By the obstacles which are still everywhere opposed to the conviction of offenders, in the distance of our courts, the forms of procedure, and other causes of 'the law's delay', we render the duties of our police establishment everywhere 'more honoured in the breach than the observance', by the mass of the people among whom they are placed.


We must, as I have before said, remove some of these obstacles to the successful prosecution of offenders in our criminal courts, which tend so much to deprive the government of all popular aid and support in the administration of justice; and to convert all our police establishments into instruments of oppression, instead of what they should be, the efficient means of protection to the persons, property, and character of the innocent.


Crimes multiply from the assurance the guilty are everywhere apt to feel of impunity to crime; and the more crimes multiply, the greater is the aversion the people everywhere feel to aid the government in the arrest and conviction of criminals, because they see more and more the innocent punished by attendance upon distant courts at great cost and inconvenience, to give evidence upon points which seem to them unimportant, while the guilty escape owing to technical difficulties which they can never understand.[14]


The best way to remove these obstacles is to interpose officers between the Thānadār and the magistrate, and arm them with judicial powers to try minor cases, leaving an appeal open to the magistrate, and to extend the final jurisdiction of the magistrate to a greater range of crimes, though it should involve the necessity of reducing the measure of punishment annexed to them.[15]


Beccaria has justly observed that 'Crimes are more effectually prevented by the certainty than by the severity of punishment. The certainty of a small punishment will make a stronger impression than the fear of one more severe, if attended with the hope of escaping; for it is the nature of mankind to be terrified at the approach of the smallest inevitable evil; whilst hope, the best gift of Heaven, has the power of dispelling the apprehensions of a greater, especially if supported by examples of impunity, which weakness or avarice too frequently affords.'


I ought to have mentioned that the police of a district, in our Bengal territories, consists of a magistrate and his assistant, who are European gentlemen of the Civil Service; and a certain number of Thānadārs, from twelve to sixteen, who preside over the different sub-divisions of the district in which they reside with their establishments.


These Thānadārs get twenty-five rupees a month, have under them four or five Jemadārs upon eight rupees, and thirty or forty Barkandāzes upon four rupees a month. The Jemadārs are, most of them, placed in charge of 'nākas', or sub-divisions of the Thānadār's jurisdiction, the rest are kept at their headquarters, ready to move to any point where their services may be required.


These are all paid by government; but there is in each village one watchman, and in larger villages more than one, who are appointed by the heads of villages, and paid by the communities, and required daily or periodically to report all the police matters of their villages to the Thānadārs.[16]


The distance between the magistrates and Thānadārs is at present immeasurable; and an infinite deal of mischief is done by the latter and those under them, of which the magistrates know nothing whatever. In the first place, they levy a fee of one rupee from every village at the festival of the Holī in February, and another at that of the Dasehra in October, and in each Thānadār's jurisdiction there are from one to two hundred villages.


These and numerous other unauthorized exactions they share with those under them, and with the native officers about the person of the magistrate, who, if not conciliated, can always manage to make them appear unfit for their places.[17]


A robbery affords a rich harvest. Some article of stolen property is found in one man's house, and by a little legerdemain it is conveyed to that of another, both of whom are made to pay liberally; the man robbed also pays, and all the members of the village community are made to do the same.


They are all called to the court of the Thānadār to give evidence as to what they have seen or heard regarding either the fact or the persons in the remotest degree connected with it—as to the arrests of the supposed offenders—the search of their house—the character of their grandmothers and grandfathers—and they are told that they are to be sent to the magistrate a hundred miles distant, and then made to stand at the door among a hundred and fifty pairs of shoes, till his excellency the Nāzir, the under-sheriff of the court, may be pleased to announce them to his highness the magistrate, which, of course, he will not do without a consideration.


To escape all these threatened evils, they pay handsomely and depart in peace. The Thānadār reports that an attempt to rob a house by persons unknown had been defeated by his exertions, and the good fortune of the magistrate; and sends a liberal share of spoil to those who are to read his report to that functionary.[18]


This goes on more or less in every district, but more especially in those where the magistrate happens to be a man of violent temper, who is always surrounded by knaves, because men who have any regard for their character will not approach him—or a weak, good-natured man, easily made to believe anything, and managed by favourites—or one too fond of field- sports, or of music, painting, European languages, literature, and sciences, or lastly, of his own ease.[19]


Some magistrates think they can put down crime by dismissing the Thānadār; but this tends only to prevent crimes being reported to him; for in such cases the feelings of the people are in exact accordance with the interests of the Thānadārs; and crimes augment by the assurance of impunity thereby given to criminals. The only remedy for all this evil is to fill up the great gulf between the magistrate and Thānadār by officers who shall be to him what I have described the patrol officers to be to the collectors of customs, at once the tapis of Prince Husain, and the telescope of Prince Ali—a medium that will enable him to be everywhere, and see everything.[20]


And why is this remedy not applied? Simply and solely because such appointments would be given to the uncovenanted, and might tend indirectly to diminish the appointments open to the covenanted servants of the company.


Young gentlemen of the Civil Service are supposed to be doing the duties which would be assigned to such officers, while they are at school as assistants to magistrates and collectors; and were this great gulf filled up by efficient covenanted officers, they would have no school to go to.


There is no doubt some truth in this; but the welfare of a whole people should not be sacrificed to keep this school or play-ground open exclusively for them; let them act for a time as they would unwillingly do with the uncovenanted, and they will learn much more than if they occupied the ground exclusively and acted alone—they will be always with people ready and willing to tell them the real state of things; whereas, at present, they are always with those who studiously conceal it from them.[21]


It is a common practice with Thānadārs all over the country to connive at the residence within their jurisdiction of gangs of robbers, on the condition that they shall not rob within those limits, and shall give them a share of what they bring back from their distant expeditions.