Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
On the spirit of military discipline in the native army of India

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


The following observations on a very important and interesting subject were not intended to form a portion of the present work.[1] They serve to illustrate, however, many passages in the foregoing chapters touching the character of the natives of India; and the Afghan war having occurred since they were written, I cannot deny myself the gratification of presenting them to the public, since the courage and fidelity, which it was my object to show the British Government had a right to expect from its native troops and might always rely upon in the hour of need, have been so nobly displayed.


I had one morning (November 14th, 1838) a visit from the senior native officer of my regiment, Shaikh Mahūb Alī, a very fine old gentleman, who had recently attained the rank of 'Sardār Bahādur', and been invested with the new Order of British India.[2]


He entered the service at the age of fifteen, and had served fifty-three years with great credit to himself, and fought in many an honourable field. He had come over to Jubbulpore as president of a native general court-martial, and paid me several visits in company with another old officer of my regiment who was a member of the same court. The following is one of the many conversations I had with him, taken down as soon as he left me.


'What do you think, Sardār Bahādur, of the order prohibiting corporal punishment in the army; has it had a bad or a good effect?'


'It has had a very good effect.'


'What good has it produced?'


'It has reduced the number of courts martial to one-quarter of what they were before, and thereby lightened the duties of the officers; it has made the good men more careful, and the bad men more orderly than they used to be.'


'How has it produced this effect?'


'A bad man formerly went on recklessly from small offences to great ones in the hope of impunity; he knew that no regimental, cantonment, or brigade court martial could sentence him to be dismissed the service; and that they would not sentence him to be flogged, except for great crimes, because it involved at the same time dismissal from the service.


'If they sentenced him to be flogged, he still hoped that the punishment would be remitted. The general or officer confirming the sentence was generally unwilling to order it to be carried into effect, because the man must, after being flogged, be tumed out of the service, and the marks of the lash upon his back would prevent his getting service anywhere else. Now he knows that these courts can sentence him to be dismissed from the service—that he is liable to lose his bread for ordinary transgressions, and be sentenced to work on the roads for graver ones.[3] He is in consequence much more under restraint than he used to be.'


'And how has it tended to make the well-disposed more careful?'


'They were formerly liable to be led into errors by the example of the bad men, under the same hope of impunity; but they are now more on their guard. They have all relations among the native officers, who are continually impressing upon them the necessity of being on their guard, lest they be sent back upon their families—their mothers and fathers, wives and children, as beggars.


'To be dismissed from a service like that of the Company is a very great punishment; it subjects a man to the odium and indignation of all his family. When in the Company's service, his friends know that a soldier gets his pay regularly, and can afford to send home a very large portion of it. They expect that he will do so; he feels that they will listen to no excuse, and he contracts habits of sobriety and prudence.


'If a man gets into the service of a native chief, his friends know that his pay is precarious, and they continue to maintain his family for many years without receiving a remittance from him, in the hope that his circumstances may one day improve. He contracts bad habits, and is not ashamed to make his appearance among them, knowing that his excuses will be received as valid.


'If one of the Company's sepoys[4] were not to send home remittances for six months, some members of the family would be sent to know the reason why. If he could not explain, they would appeal to the native officers of the regiment, who would expostulate with him; and, if all failed, his wife and children would be tumed out of his father's house, unless they knew that he was gone to the wars; and he would be ashamed ever to show his face among them again.'


'And the gradual increase of pay with length of service has tended to increase the value of the service, has it not?'


'It has very much; there are in our regiment, out of eight hundred men, more than one hundred and fifty sepoys who get the increase of two rupees a month, and the same number that get the increase of one. This they feel as an immense addition to the former seven rupees a month.[5] A prudent sepoy lives upon two, or at the utmost three, rupees a month in seasons of moderate plenty, and sends all the rest to his family.


'A great number of the sepoys of our regiment live upon the increase of two rupees, and send all their former seven to their families. The dismissal of a man from such a service as this distresses, not only him, but all his relations in the higher grades, who know how much of the comfort and happiness of his family depend upon his remaining and advancing in it; and they all try to make their young friends behave as they ought to do.'


'Do you think that a great portion of the native officers of the army have the same feelings and opinions on the subject as you have?'


'They have all the same; there is not, I believe, one in a hundred that does not think as I do upon the subject. Flogging was an odious thing. A man was disgraced, not only before his regiment, but before the crowd that assembled to witness the punishment.


'Had he been suffered to remain in the regiment he could never have hoped to rise after having been flogged, or sentenced to be flogged; his hopes were all destroyed, and his spirit broken, and the order directing him to be dismissed was good; but, as I have said, he lost all hope of getting into any other service, and dared not show his face among his family at home.'


'You know who ordered the abolition of flogging?'


'Lord Bentinck.'[6]


'And you know that it was at his recommendation the Honourable Company gave the increase of pay with length of service?'


'We have heard so; and we feel towards him as we felt towards Lord Wellesley, Lord Hastings, and Lord Lake.'


'Do you think the army would serve again now with the same spirit as they served under Lord Lake?'


'The army would go to any part of the world to serve such masters—no army had ever masters that cared for them like ours. We never asked to have flogging abolished; nor did we ever ask to have an increase of pay with length of service; and yet both have been done for us by the Company Bahādur.'


The old Sardār Bahādur came again to visit me on the 1st of December, with all the native officers who had come over from Sāgar to attend the court, seven in number. There were three very smart, sensible men among them; one of whom had been a volunteer at the capture of Java,[7] and the other[s] at that of the Isle of France.[8]


They all told me that they considered the abolition of corporal punishment a great blessing to the native army.


'Some bad men who had already lost their character, and consequently all hope of promotion, might be in less dread than before; but they were very few, and their regiments would soon get rid of them under the new law that gave the power of dismissal to regimental courts martial.'


'But I find the European officers are almost all of opinion that the abolition of flogging has been, or will be, attended with bad consequences.'


'They, sir, apprehend that there will not be sufficient restraint upon the loose characters of the regiment; but now that the sepoys have got an increase of pay in proportion to length of service there will be no danger of that. Where can they ever hope to get such another service if they forfeit that of the Company? If the dread of losing such a service is not sufficient to keep the bad in order, that of being put to work upon the roads in irons will.


'The good can always be kept in order by lighter punishments, when they have so much at stake as the loss of such a service by frequent offences. Some gentlemen think that a soldier does not feel disgraced by being flogged, unless the offence for which he has been flogged is in itself disgraceful. There is no soldier, sir, that does not feel disgraced by being tied up to the halberts and flogged in the face of all his comrades and the crowd that may choose to come and look at him; the sepoys are all of the same respectable families as ourselves, and they all enter the service in the hope of rising in time to the same stations as ourselves, if they conduct themselves well; their families look forward with the same hope.


'A man who has been tied up and flogged knows the disgrace that it will bring upon his family, and will sometimes rather die than return to it; indeed, as head of a family he could not be received at home.[9] But men do not feel disgraced in being flogged with a rattan at drill. While at the drill they consider themselves, and are considered by us all, as in the relation of scholars to their schoolmasters. Doing away with the rattan at drill had a very bad effect.


'Young men were formerly, with the judicious use of the rattan, made fit to join the regiment at furthest in six months; but since the abolition of the rattan it takes twelve months to make them fit to be seen in the ranks. There was much virtue in the rattan, and it should never have been given up. We have all been flogged with the rattan at the drill, and never felt ourselves disgraced by it-we were shāgirds (scholars), and the drill-sergeant, who had the rattan, was our ustād (schoolmaster); but when we left the drill, and took our station in the ranks as sepoys, the case was altered, and we should have felt disgraced by a flogging, whatever might have been the nature of the offence we committed.


'The drill will never get on so well as it used to do, unless the rattan be called into use again; but we apprehend no evil from the abolition of corporal punishment afterwards. People are apt to attribute to this abolition offences that have nothing to do with it; and for which ample punishments are still provided. If a man fires at his officer, people are apt to say it is because flogging has been done away with; but a man who deliberately fires at his officer is prepared to undergo worse punishment than flogging.[10]


'Do you not think that the increase of pay with length of service to the sepoys will have a good effect in tending to give to regiments more active and intelligent native officers? Old sepoys who are not so will now have less cause to complain if passed over, will they not?'


'If the sepoys thought that the increase of pay was given with this view, they would rather not have it at all. To pass over men merely because they happen to have grown old, we consider very cruel and unjust. They all enter the service young, and go on doing their duty till they become old, in the hope that they shall get promotion when it comes to their turn. If they are disappointed, and young men, or greater favourites with their European officers, are put over their heads, they become heart-broken.


'We all feel for them, and are al