top of page
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.

They [scil. the gangs] go out ostensibly in search of service, on the termination of the rains of one season in October, and return before the commencement of the next in June; but their vocation is always well known to the police, and to all the people of their neighbourhood, and very often to the magistrates themselves, who could, if they would, secure them on their return with their booty; but this would not secure their conviction unless the proprietors could be discovered, which they scarcely ever could. Were the police officers to seize them, they would be all finally acquitted and released by the judges—the magistrate would get into disrepute with his superiors, by the number of acquittals compared with convictions exhibited in his monthly tables; and he would vent his spleen upon the poor Thānadār, who would at the same time have incurred the resentment of the robbers; and between both, he would have no possible chance of escape.

He therefore consults his own interest and his own case by leaving them to carry on their trade of robbery or murder unmolested; and his master, the magistrate, is well pleased not to be pestered with charges against men whom he has no chance of getting ultimately convicted.

It was in this way that so many hundred families of assassins by profession were able for so many generations to reside in the most cultivated and populous parts of our territories, and extend their depredations into the remotest parts of India, before our System of operations was brought to bear upon them in 1830.

Their profession was perfectly well known to the people of the districts in which they resided, and to the greater part of the police; they murdered not within their own district, and the police of that district cared nothing about what they might do beyond it.[22]

The most respectable native gentleman in the city and district told me one day an amusing instance of the proceedings of a native officer of that district, which occurred about five years ago. 'In a village which he had purchased and let in farms, a shopkeeper was one day superintending the cutting of some sugar-cane which he had purchased from a cultivator as it stood. His name was Girdhārī, I think, and the boy who was cutting it for him was the son of a poor man called Madārī.

Girdhārī wanted to have the cane cut down as near as he could to the ground, while the boy, to save himself the trouble of stooping, would persist in cutting it a good deal too high up. After admonishing him several times, the shopkeeper gave him a smart clout on the head.

The boy, to prevent a repetition, called out, "Murder! Girdhārī has killed me—Girdhārī has killed me!" His old father, who was at work carrying away the cane at a little distance out of sight, ran off to the village watchman, and, in his anger, told him that Girdhārī had murdered his son.

The watchman went as fast as he could to the Thānadār, or head police officer of the division, who resided some miles distant. The Thānadār ordered off his subordinate officer, the Jemadār, with half a dozen policemen, to arrange everything for an inquest on the body, by the time he should reach the place, with all due pomp. The Jemadār went to the house of the murderer, and dismounting, ordered all the shopkeepers of the village, who were many and respectable, to be forthwith seized, and bound hand and feet.

"So", said the Jemadār, "you have all been aiding and abetting your friend in the murder of poor Madārī's only son."

"May it please your excellency, we have never heard of any murder."

"Impudent scoundrels," roared the Jemadār, "does not the poor boy lie dead in the sugar-cane field, and is not his highness the Thānadār coming to hold an inquest upon it? and do you take us for fools enough to believe that any scoundrel among you would venture to commit a deliberate murder without being aided and abetted by all the rest?"

The village watchman began to feel some apprehension that he had been too precipitate; and entreated the Jemadār to go first and see the body of the boy.

"What do you take us for," said the Jemadār, "a thing without a stomach? Do you suppose that government servants can live and labour on air? Are we to go and examine bodies upon empty stomachs? Let his father take care of the body, and let these murdering shopkeepers provide us something to eat."

Nine rupees' worth of sweetmeats, and materials for a feast were forthwith collected at the expense of the shopkeepers, who stood bound, and waiting the arrival of his highness the Thānadār, who was soon after seen approaching majestically upon a richly caparisoned horse.

"What," said the Jemadār, "is there nobody to go and receive his highness in due form?" One of the shopkeepers was untied, and presented with fifteen rupees by his family, and those of the other shopkeepers. These he took up and presented to his highness, who deigned to receive them through one of his train, and then dismounted and partook of the feast that had been provided.

"Now", said his highness, "we will go and hold an inquest on the body of the poor boy"; and off moved all the great functionaries of government to the sugar-cane field, with the village watchman leading the way. The father of the boy met them as they entered, and was pointed out by the village watchman.

"Where", said the Thānadār, "is your poor boy?"

"There," said Madārī, "cutting the canes."

"How, cutting the canes? Was he not murdered by the shopkeepers?"

"No," said Madārī, "he was beaten by Girdhārī, and richly deserved it! I find."

Girdhārī and the boy were called up, and the little urchin said that he called out murder merely to prevent Girdhārī from giving him another clout on the side of the head. His father was then fined nine rupees for giving a false alarm, and Girdhārī fifteen for so unmercifully beating the boy; and they were made to pay on the instant, under the penalty of all being sent off forty miles to the magistrate.

Having thus settled this very important affair, his highness the Thānadār walked back to the shop, ordered all the shopkeepers to be set at liberty, smoked his pipe, mounted his horse, and rode home, followed by all his police officers, and well pleased with his day's work.'

The farmer of the village soon after made his way to the city, and communicated the circumstances to my old friend, who happened to be on intimate terms with the magistrate.[23] He wrote a polite note to the Thānadār to say that he should never get any rents from his estate if the occupants were liable to such fines as these, and that he should take the earliest opportunity of mentioning them to his friend the magistrate.

The Thānadār ascertained that he was really in the habit of visiting the magistrate, and communicating with him freely; and hushed up the matter by causing all, save the expenses of the feast, to be paid back. These are things of daily occurrence in all parts of our dominions, and the Thānadārs are not afraid to play such 'fantastic tricks' because all those under and all those above them share more or less in the spoil, and are bound in honour to conceal them from the European magistrate, whom it is the interest of all to keep in the dark.

They know that the people will hardly ever complain, from the great dislike they all have to appear in our courts, particularly when it is against any of the officers of those courts, or their friends and creatures in the district police.[24]

When our operations commenced, in 1830, these assassins [scil. the Thugs] revelled over every road in India in gangs of hundreds, without the fear of punishment from divine or human laws; but there is not now, I believe, a road in India infested by them.

That our government has still defects, and great ones, must be obvious to every one who has travelled much over India with the requisite qualifications and disposition to observe; but I believe that in spite of all the defects I have noticed above in our police System, the life, property, and character of the innocent are now more secure, and all their advantages more freely enjoyed, than they ever were under any former government with whose history we are acquainted, or than they now are under any native government in India.[25]

Those who think they are not so almost always refer to the reign of Shāh Jahān, when men like Tavernier travelled so securely all over India with their bags of diamonds; but I would ask them whether they think that the life, property, and character of the innocent could be anywhere very secure, or their advantages very freely enjoyed, in a country where a man could do openly with impunity what the traveller describes to have been done by the Persian physician of the Governor of Allahabad?

This governor, being sickly, had in attendance upon him eleven physicians, one of whom was a European gentleman of education, Claudius Maille, of Bourges.[26] The chief favourite of the eleven was, however, a Persian, 'who one day threw his wife from the top of a battlement to the ground in a fit of jealousy. He thought the fall would kill her, but she had only a few ribs broken; whereupon the kindred of the woman came and demanded justice at the feet of the governor.

The governor, sending for the physician, commanded him to be gone, resolving to retain him no longer in his service. The physician obeyed; and putting his poor maimed wife in a palankeen, he set forward upon the road with all his family. But he had not gone above three or four days' journey from the city, when the governor, finding himself worse than he was wont to be, sent to recall him; which the physician perceiving, stabbed his wife, his four children, and thirteen female slaves, and returned again to the Governor, who said not a word to him, but entertained him again in his service.'

This occurred within Tavernier's own knowledge and about the time he visited Allahabad; and is related as by no means a very extraordinary circumstance.[27]


1. January, 1836.

2. The tomb of Safdar Jang, or Mansūr Alī Khān, described ante, chapter 68 [4]. The bridges over the Jumna are now, of course, maintained by Government and the railway companies.

3. The main highways approaching Delhi are now excellent metalled roads.

4. By the term 'the largest military station in the empire', the author means Meerut. At present the largest military station in Northern India is, I believe, Rāwal Pindi, and the combined cantonments of Secunderābād and Bolarum in the Nizam's dominions constitute the largest military station in the empire.

5. Comprising parts of the Meerut and Muzaffarnagar districts of the North-Western Provinces, now the Agra Province in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. The Bēgam's history will be discussed in chapter 75, post.

6. The members of the reformed police force, constituted under Act V of 1861, generally on the model of the Royal Irish Constabulary, have no reason to complain of insecurity of tenure. It is now very difficult to obtain sanction to the dismissal of a corrupt or inefficient officer, unless he has been judicially convicted of a statutory offence.

7. Ordinarily there is for each district, or administrative unit, a separate Sessions and District Judge, who tries both civil and criminal cases of the more serious kind. Occasionally two or three districts have only one judge between them, who is then usually in arrear with his work.

Sessions for the trial of grave criminal cases are held monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly, according to circumstances. In some districts, and for some classes of cases, the jury system has been introduced, but, as a rule, in Northern India the responsibility rests with the judge alone, who receives some slight aid from assessors. Capital sentences passed by a Sessions Judge must be confirmed by two Judges of a High Court, or equivalent tribunal.

8. The historian Thornton (chapter 27) went so far as to declare that Lord William Bentinck has 'done less for the interest of India, and for his own reputation, than any who had occupied his place since the commencement of the nineteenth century, with the single exception of Sir George Barlow'.

The abolition of widow-burning is the only act of the Bentinck administration which this writer could praise. Such a criticism is manifestly unjust, the outcome of contemporary anger and prejudice.

The inscription written by Macaulay, the friend and coadjutor of Lord William, and placed on the statue of the reforming Governor-General in Calcutta, does not give undeserved praise to the much abused statesman. Sir William Sleeman so much admired Lord William Bentinck, and formed such a favourable estimate of the merits of his government, that it may be well to support his opinion by that of Macaulay. The text of the inscription is:



who during seven years ruled India with eminent prudence,

integrity, and benevolence;

who, placed at the head of a great Empire, never laid aside

the simplicity and moderation of a private citizen;

who infused into Oriental despotism the spirit

of British freedom;

who never forgot that the end of Government is the happiness

of the governed;

who abolished cruel rites;

who effaced humiliating distinctions;

who gave liberty to the expression of public opinion;

whose constant study it was to elevate the intellectual and

moral character of the nation committed to his charge,


was erected by men

who, differing in race, in manners, in language and in religion,

cherish with equal veneration and gratitude

the memory of his wise, reforming, and paternal administration.

(Lord William Bentinck, by D. Boulger, p. 203; 'Rulers of India' series.)

9. A European District Superintendent of Police, under the general supervision of the Magistrate of the District, now commands the police of each district, and sometimes has one or two European Assistants. He is also aided by well-paid Inspectors, who are for the most part natives of India. Measures have recently been taken, especially in the United Provinces, to improve the pay, training, and position of the police force, European and Indian.

10. Police officers and men now obtain pensions, like public servants in other departments.

11. In some provinces the highest salaries of magistrates are much lower than the rates stated by the author, which are the highest paid to the most senior officers in certain provinces; and, in all provinces, officiating incumbents, who form a large proportion of the officers employed, draw only a part of the full salary. The fall in exchange has enormously reduced the real value of all Indian salaries.

12. Another popular view of this subject, and, I think, the one more commonly taken, is expressed in the anecdote told ante, chapter 58 following [10]. Well-paid Inspectors of Police, drawing salaries of 150 to 200 rupees a month, are often extremely corrupt, and retire with large fortunes, I knew many cases, but could never obtain judicial proof of one.

13. When 'sons, servants, or favourites of men in authority', in India, no longer oppress their fellows, the millennium will have arrived.

14. It is some slight satisfaction to a zealous magistrate of the present day, when he sees a great and influential criminal escape his just doom, to think that even the best magistrates many years ago had to submit to similar painful experiences. India cannot truly be described as an uncivilized or barbarous country, but, side by side with elements of the highest civilization, it contains many elements of primitive and savage barbarism. The savagery of India cannot be dealt with by barristers or moral text-books.

15. The number of subordinate magistrates, paid and unpaid, has of late years been enormously increased, and courts are, consequently, much more numerous than they used to be. The vast increase in facility of communication has also diminished the inconveniences which the author deplores.

In Oudh, and certain other provinces, which used to be called Non-Regulation, the chief Magistrate of the District has power to try and adequately punish all offences, except capital ones. The power is useful, when the district officer has time to exercise it, which is not always the case.

16. There is a Superintendent of Police for the Province of Bengal; but in the North-Western Provinces his duties are divided among the Commissioners of Revenue. [W. H. S.] By 'Superintendent of Police' the author means the high officer now called the Inspector- General of Police, under the present System each Local Government or Administration has one of these officers, who is aided by one or more staff officers as Assistant-Inspectors-General.

The Commissioners in the United Provinces have been relieved of police duties. The organization of police stations has been much modified since the author's time. 'Our Bengal territories', as understood by the author, included, in addition to Bengal, the 'North-Western Provinces', now the Province, of Agra, the Saugor and Nerbudda Territories, now in the Central Provinces, and the Delhi Territories. Oudh, of course, was then independent; and the Panjāb was under the rule of Ranjit Singh.

17. All these practices are still carried on; and experienced magistrates are well aware of their existence, though powerless to stop them. People will often give private information of malpractices, but will hardly ever come into court, and speak out openly. A magistrate cannot take action on statements which the makers will not submit to cross-examination.

18. This is still a favourite trick. Every year Inspectors- General of Police and Secretaries to Government make the same sarcastic remarks about the wonderful number of 'attempts at burglary', and the apparent contentment of the criminal classes with the small results of their labours. But the Thānadār is too much for even Inspectors-General and Secretaries to Government. No amount of reorganization changes him.

19. Mr. R., when appointed magistrate of the district of Fathpur on the Ganges, had a wish to translate the 'Henriade', and, in order to secure leisure, he issued a proclamation to all the Thānadārs of his district to put down crime, declaring that he would hold them responsible for what might be committed, and dismiss from his situation every one who should suffer any to be committed within his charge.

This district, lying on the borders of Oudh, had been noted for the number and atrocious character of its crimes. From that day all the periodical returns went up to the superior court blank—not a crime was reported.

Astonished at this sudden result of the change of magistrates, the superior court of Calcutta (the Sadr Nizāmat Adālat) requested one of the judges, who was about to pass through the district on his way down, to inquire into the nature of the System which seemed to work so well, with a view to its adoption in other districts. He found crimes were more abundant than ever; and the Thānadārs showed him the proclamation, which had been understood, as all such proclamations are, not as enjoining vigilance in the prosecution of crime, but as prohibiting all report of them, so as to save the magistrate trouble, and get him a good name with his superiors. [W. H. S.]

Great caution should always be used by local officers in making comments on statistics. The subordinate cares nothing for the facts. When a superior objects that the birth-rate is too low and the death- rate too high in any police circle, the practical conclusion drawn by the police is that the figures of the next return must be made more palatable, and they are cooked accordingly. So, if burglaries are too numerous, they cease to be reported, and so forth.

The old Superior Court was known as the Sadr Nizāmat Adālat, on the criminal, and as the Sadr Dīwānī Adālat, on the civil side. These courts have now been replaced by the High Courts, and equivalent tribunals. In the author's time the High Court for the Agra Province had not yet been established. Its seat is now at Allahabad, but was formerly at Agra.

20. The gap has been filled up by numbers of Deputy Magistrates, Tahsīldār, &c., invested with magisterial powers, Honorary Magistrates, District Superintendents, and Inspectors, and yet all the old games still go on merrily. The reason is that the character of the people has not changed. The police must have the power to arrest, and that power, when wielded by unscrupulous hands, must always be formidable.

21. A magistrate who can find in his district even one man, official or unofficial, who will tell him 'the real state of things', and not merely repeat scandal and malignant gossip, is unusually fortunate.

22. The Thugs were suppressed because a special organization was devised and directed for the purpose, the English rules as to the admissibility of evidence being judiciously relaxed. The ordinary law and methods of procedure are of little effect against the secret societies known as 'criminal tribes'.

These criminal tribes number hundreds of thousands of persona, and present a problem almost unknown to European experience. The gipsies, who are largely of Indian origin, are, perhaps, the only European example of an hereditary criminal tribe. But they are not sheltered and abetted by the landowners as their brethren in India are.

23. The magistrate, of course, was the author.

24. These motives all retain their full force, and are unaffected by Police Commissions and reorganization schemes. Some people think that the character of the police will be raised by the employment as officers of young Indians of good family. I am sorry to say that I found these young men to be the worst offenders. They are more daring in their misdeeds than the ordinary policeman, and no better in their morals.

25. This is quite true; and it is also true that our police administration is the weakest part of our System. But the fault is not entirely that of the police. In some provinces, especially in Bengal, the action of the High Courts has almost paralysed the arm of the Executive.

26. 'M. Claude Maille, of Bourges. As we shall see in Book I, chapter 18, a man of this name, who had escaped from the Dutch service, was, in the year 1652, a not very successful amateur gun- founder for Mīr Jumla; he had, after his escape, set up as a surgeon to the Nawāb, with an equipment consisting of a case of instruments and a box of ointments which he had stolen from M. Cheteur, the Dutch Ambassador to Golconda. Tavernier throws no light upon his identity with this physician.' (Tavernier, Travels, ed. Ball, vol. i, p. 116, note). M. Maille befriended Manucci, who mentions him several times (Irvine, Storia do Mogor, i, 92, &c.)

27. Ball's version of this horrible story (vol. i, p. 117) does not differ materially from that quoted in the text. Tavernier does not mention the name of the governor, though he observes that he was 'one of the greatest nobles in India'. Tavernier visited Allahabad in December, 1665, and then heard the story, the governor concerned being at the time in the fort.

I have no doubt that in the reign of Shāh Jahān ordinary offences committed by ordinary criminals were ruthlessly punished, and to some extent suppressed. But, under the best Asiatic Governments, great men and their dependants have usually been able to do pretty much what they pleased. The English Government has the merit of refusing to give formal recognition to difference of rank in criminals, and of often trying to punish influential offenders, though seldom succeeding in the attempt.

From time to time a conspicuous example, like that of the Nawāb Shams-ud-dīn, is made, and a few such examples, combined with the greater vigilance and more complete organization of the English executive, prevent the occurrence of atrocities so great as that described, without a word of comment, by the French traveller. I have not the slightest doubt, nor has any magistrate of long experience any doubt, that women are frequently made away with quietly in the recesses of the 'zanāna'.

I have known several such cases, which were notorious, though incapable of judicial proof. The amount of serious secret crime which occurs in India, and never comes to light, is very considerable.

The book




1893 1915




Annual Fairs held on the Banks of Sacred Streams in India


Hindoo System of Religion


Legend of the Nerbudda River


A Suttee on the Nerbudda


Marriages of Trees—The Tank and the Plantain—Meteors—Rainbows


Hindoo Marriages


The Purveyance System


Religious Sects—Self-government of the Castes—Chimneysweepers—Washerwomen —Elephant Drivers


The Great Iconoclast—Troops routed by Hornets—The Rānī of Garhā—Hornets' Nests in India


The Peasantry and the Land Settlement




The Silver Tree, or 'Kalpa Briksha'—The 'Singhāra', or Trapa bispinosa, and the Guinea-Worm


Thugs and Poisoners


Basaltic Cappings of the Sandstone Hills of Central India—Suspension Bridge—Prospects of the Nerbudda Valley—Deification of a Mortal


Legend of the Sāgar Lake—Paralysis from eating the Grain of the Lathyrus sativus


Suttee Tombs—Insalubrity of deserted Fortresses


Basaltic Cappings—Interview with a Native Chief—A Singular Character


Birds' Nests—Sports of Boyhood


Feeding Pilgrims—Marriage of a Stone with a Shrub


The Men-Tigers


Burning of Deorī by a Freebooter—A Suttee


Interview with the Rājā who marries the Stone to the Shrub—Order of the Moon and the Fish


The Rājā of Orchhā—Murder of his many Ministers


Corn Dealers—Scarcities—Famines in India


Epidemic Diseases—Scape-goat


Artificial Lakes in Bundēlkhand-Hindoo, Greek, and Roman Faith




Pestle-and-Mortar Sugar-Mills—Washing away of the Soil


Interview with the Chiefs of Jhānsī—Disputed Succession


Haunted Villages


Interview with the Rājā of Datiyā—Fiscal Errors of Statesmen—Thieves and Robbers by Profession


Sporting at Datiyā—Fidelity of Followers to their Chiefs in India—Law of Primogeniture wanting among Muhammadans




The Suicide-Relations between Parents and Children in India


Gwālior Plain once the Bed of a Lake—Tameness of Peacocks


Gwālior and its Government


Contest for Empire between the Sons of Shah Jahān


Aurangzēb and Murād Defeat their Father's Army near Ujain


Dārā Marches in Person against his Brothers, and is Defeated


Dārā Retreats towards Lahore—Is robbed by the Jāts—Their Character


Shāh Jahān Imprisoned by his Two Sons, Aurangzēb and Murād


Aurangzēb Throws off the Mask, Imprisons his Brother Murād, and Assumes the Government of the Empire


Aurangzēb Meets Shujā in Bengal, and Defeats him, after Pursuing Dārā to the Hyphasis


Aurangzēb Imprisons his Eldest Son—Shujā and all his Family are Destroyed


Second Defeat and Death of Dārā, and Imprisonment of his Two Sons


Death and Character of Amīr Jumla


Reflections on the Preceding History


The Great Diamond of Kohinūr


Pindhārī System—Character of the Marāthā Administration—Cause of their Dislike to the Paramount Power


Dhōlpur, Capital of the Jāt Chiefs of Gohad—Consequence of Obstacles to the Prosecution of Robbers


Influence of Electricity on Vegetation—Agra and its Buildings


Nūr Jahān, the Aunt of the Empress Nūr Mahal, over whose Remains the Tāj is built


Father Gregory's Notion of the Impediments to Conversion in India—Inability of Europeans to speak Eastern Languages


Fathpur-Sīkrī—The Emperor Akbar's Pilgrimage—Birth of Jahāngīr


Bharatpur—Dīg—Want of Employment for the Military and the Educated Classes under the Company's Rule


Govardhan, the Scene of Kriahna's Dalliance with the Milkmaids




Declining Fertility of the Soil—Popular Notion of the Cause


Concentration of Capital and its Effects


Transit Duties in India—Mode of Collecting them


Peasantry of India attached to no existing Government—Want of Trees in Upper India—Cause and Consequence—Wells and Groves


Public Spirit of the Hindoos—Tree Cultivation and Suggestions for extending it


Cities and Towns, formed by Public Establishments, disappear as Sovereigns and Governors change their Abodes


Murder of Mr. Fraser, and Execution of the Nawāb Shams-ud- dīn


Marriage of a Jāt Chief


Collegiate Endowment of Muhammadan Tombs and Mosques


The Old City of Delhi


New Delhi, or Shāhjahānābād


Indian Police—Its Defects—and their Cause and Remedy


Rent-free Tenures—Right of Government to Resume such Grants


The Station of Meerut—'Atālīs' who Dance and Sing gratuitously for the Benefit of the Poor


Subdivisions of Lands—Want of Gradations of Rank—Taxes


Meerut-Anglo-Indian Society


Pilgrims of India


The Bēgam Sumroo



Abolition of Corporal Punishment—Increase of Pay with Length of Service—Promotion by Seniority


Invalid Establishment


Thuggee and the part taken in its Suppression by General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B., by Captain J. L. Sleeman

Supplementary Note by the Editor

Additions and Corrections

Maps Showing Author's Route


bottom of page