Perhaps there is nothing so dangerous, or so evil in its effects, as irresponsible power. That is what Great Britain exercises in connection with India—absolute power, with no one to call her to account. I do not think any nation is able to endure such an ordeal better than Britain, but it is an ordeal to which neither rulers of nations nor private men should ever be subjected; the risks are too great. England avoids it in connection with her own rulers by making them strictly responsible to the English people. Canada avoids it in connection with hers by making them responsible to the Canadian people. Every free nation safeguards alike its people and its rulers by making its rulers in everything answerable to those whom they govern. Here is the anomaly of the British rule of India. Britain through her Indian government rules India, but she does not acknowledge responsibility in any degree whatever to the Indian people.
What is the result? Are the interests and the rights of India protected? Is it possible for the rights of any people to be protected without self-rule? I invite my readers to go with me to India and see. What we find will go far toward furnishing us a key to the meaning of the present Indian Nationalist Movement.
Crossing over from this side to London, we sail from there to India in a magnificent steamer. On board is a most interesting company of people, made up of merchants, travelers, and especially Englishmen who are either officials connected with the Indian Government or officers in the Indian army, who have been home on furlough with their families and are now returning. We land in Bombay, a city that reminds us of Paris or London or New York or Washington. Our hotel is conducted in English style. We go to the railway station, one of the most magnificent buildings of the kind in the world, to take the train for Calcutta, the capital, some fifteen hundred miles away. Arrived at Calcutta we hear it called the City of Palaces; nor do we wonder at the name. Who owns the steamship line by which we came to India? The British. Who built that splendid railway station in Bombay? The British. Who built the railway on which we rode to Calcutta? The British.
To whom do these palatial buildings belong? Mostly to the British. We find that Calcutta and Bombay have a large commerce. To whom does it belong? Mainly to the British. We find that the Indian Government, that is, British rule in India, has directly or indirectly built in the land some 29,000 miles of railway; has created good postal and telegraph systems, reaching nearly everywhere; has established or assisted in establishing many schools, colleges, hospitals, and other institutions of public benefit; has promoted sanitation, founded law courts after the English pattern, and done much else to bring India into line with the civilization of Europe. It is not strange if we soon begin to exclaim, "How much are the British doing for India! How great a benefit to the Indian people is British rule!" And in an important degree we are right in what we say. British rule has done much for India, and much for which India itself is profoundly grateful.
But have we seen all? Is there no other side? Have we discovered the deepest and most important that exists? If there are signs of prosperity, is it the prosperity of the Indian people, or only of their English masters? If the English are living in ease and luxury, how are the people of the land living? If there are railways and splendid buildings, who pay for them? and who get profits out of them? Have we been away from the beaten tracks of travel ? Have we been out among the Indian people themselves, in country as well as in city? Nearly nine-tenths of the people are ryots, or small farmers, who derive their sustenance directly from the land. Have we found out how they live? Do we know whether they are growing better off, or poorer? Especially have we looked into the causes of those famines, the most terrible known to the modern world, which have swept like a besom of death over the land year after year, and which drag after them another scourge scarcely less dreadful, the plague, their black shadow, their hideous child? Here is a side of India which we must acquaint ourselves with, as well as the other, if we would understand the real Indian situation.
The great, disturbing, portentous, all-overshadowing fact connected with the history of India in recent years is the succession of famines. What do these famines mean ? Here is a picture from a recent book, written by a distinguished British civilian who has had long service in India and knows the Indian situation from the inside. Since he is an Englishman we may safely count upon his prejudices, if he has any, being not upon the side of the Indian people, but upon that of his own countrymen. Mr. W. S. Lilly, in his India and Its Problems,writes as follows:—
"During the first eighty years of the nineteenth century, 18,000,000 of people perished of famine. In one year alone—the year when her late Majesty assumed the title of Empress—5,000,000 of the people in Southern India were starved to death. In the District of Bellary, with which I am personally acquainted,—a region twice the size of Wales,—one-fourth of the population perished in the famine of 1816-77. I shall never forget my own famine experiences: how, as I rode out on horseback, morning after morning, I passed crowds of wandering skeletons, and saw human corpses by the roadside, unburied, uncared for, and half devoured by dogs and vultures; how, sadder sight still, children, 'the joy of the world,' as the old Greeks deemed, had become its ineffable sorrow, and were forsaken by the very women who had borne them, wolfish hunger killing even the maternal instinct. Those children, their bright eyes shining from hollow sockets, their nesh utterly wasted away, and only gristle and sinew and cold shivering skin remaining, their heads mere skulls, their puny frames full of loathsome diseases, engendered by the starvation in which they had been conceived and born and nurtured—they haunt me still." Every one who has gone much about India in famine times knows how true to life is this picture.
Mr. Lilly estimates the number of deaths in the first eight decades of the last century at 18,000,000. This is nothing less than appalling,—within a little more than two generations as many persons perishing by starvation in a single country as the whole population of Canada, New England, and the city and state of New York, or nearly half as many as the total population of France! But the most startling aspect of the case appears in the fact that the famines increased in number and severity as the century went on. Suppose we divide the past century into quarters, or periods of twenty-five years each. In the first quarter there were five famines, with an estimated loss of life of 1,000,000. During the second quarter of the century there were two famines, with an estimated mortality of 500,000. During the third quarter there were six famines, with a recorded loss of life of 5,000,000. During the last quarter of the century, what? Eighteen famines, with an estimated mortality reaching the awful totals of from 15,000,000 to 26,000,000. And this does not include the many more millions (over 6,000,000 in a single year) barely kept alive by government doles.