Jane Austen and ...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Jane Austen and the Black Hole. Chapter 12

Chapter 12

The impeachment of Warren Hastings and the judgement of history

“Lady Robert is delighted with P. & P - and really was so as I understand before she knew who wrote it - for, of course, she knows now. - He told her with as much satisfaction as if it were my wish. He did not tell me this, but he told Fanny. And Mr. Hastings - I am quite delighted with what such a Man writes about it. - Henry sent him the Books after his return from Daylesford - but you will hear the Letter too ... Nothing has been done as to S & S. The Books came to hand too late for him to have time for it, before he went. Mr Hastings never hinted at Eliza in the smallest degree ... I long to have you hear of Mr H’s opinion of P & P. His admiring my Elizabeth so much is particularly welcome to me. ”

- Letter of Jane Austen to Cassandra (1813) [re Henry Austen’s trip to Warren Hastings at Daylesford and Hastings’ admiration of Pride and Prejudice. Unfortunately Henry was not able transmit a copy of Sense and Sensibility and we do not know what Hastings thought of a novel evidently based on his own life.] 1

“ - he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics, it was an easy step to silence.”

- Henry Tilney with his sister Eleanor and Catherine Morland on top of Beechen Cliff overlooking Bath in Northanger Abbey (1818) 2

“This rich and flourishing kingdom may be totally subdued by so small a force as two thousand Europeans, and the possession thereof maintain’d and confirmed by the Great Mogul upon paying the Sum of 50 Lakhs per annum paid by former soldiers.”

- Robert Clive (1758) 3

“(the East India Company government) is one of the most corrupt and obstructive tyrranies, that probably ever existed in the world.”

- Edmund Burke (circa 1790) 4

“When you cried for peace, and your cries were heard by those who were the object of it, I resisted this and every other species of counteraction by rising in my demands, and accomplished a peace, and I hope everlasting, with one great state [the Marathas]; and I at least afforded the efficient means by which a peace, if not so durable, more reasonable at least, was accomplished with another [Tipu]. I gave you all, and you have rewarded me with confiscation, disgrace, and a life of impeachment.”

- Warren Hastings speech to Parliament 5


It is worthwhile to consider the impeachment of Warren Hastings in some detail because it is one of the rare occasions when a perpetrator of imperial enormities has actually had to answer to his own people. It can be seen as a very imperfect attempt to address appalling injustice and inhumanity but which has been largely dismissed in hindsight by British Establishment historians as the vicious persecution of a great man.

Moves against Hastings

Much has been written about this remarkable event and the reader is referred to biographies of Warren Hastings, 6 the account by Thomas Babington Macaulay in particular, 7 other germane works dealing with the the times 8 and more general historical texts that deal briefly with the matter. 9 A major figure in the Parliamentary process was Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the famous orator and playwright,10 and the reader is referred in particular to transcriptions of his extraordinary Parliamentary speeches on Hastings’ conduct in the East Indies. 11 Warren Hastings returned to England with his new wife “Marian”, the former Baroness Maria Chapuset Imhoff. An elegant and sophisticated woman, she was much admired in society. Hastings took steps toward his later recovery of Daylesford (a lifetime ambition) but storm clouds were gathering. Edmund Burke had foreshadowed charges against Hastings in Parliament.

Things came to a head in Parliament when on 24th January 1786, the first day of the session, Major Scott, a friend of Hastings, raised the matter of unseen charges against Hastings that Burke had forshadowed in the previous session and reminded the House that Hastings had been back in England for some months. He rather unwisely suggested that the House should fix the earliest day possible for discussing these charges. Burke replied with an allusion to a challenge by Henry IV of France to the Duke of Parma to immediately bring his forces to battle, the Duke replying "that he knew very well what he had to do, and was not to be directed by an enemy." Burke eventually brought the matter before the House and successfully moved for copies of correspondence between Hastings and the Company directors to be put before the House. Burke subsequently called for other documents relating to Hastings' administration in India but with limited success.

After some debate in Parliament Burke called for the impeachment of Hastings on the basis of 22 charges, of which the principal ones are briefly listed below:

1. Hiring British forces out for the extirpation of the innocent Rohillas.

2. Witholding from the Moghul Emperor Shah Alam his 260,000 rupee share of the Diwani receipts from Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.

3. Extortion, dispossession and expulsion inflicted upon Rajah Chait Singh of Benares.

4. Impositions on the rulers of Oudh.

5. Ruination of the previously prosperous province of Faruckabad (the environs of Benares).

6. Impoverishing and depopulating the whole of the previously prosperous province of Oudh.

7. With abuse of power overturning ancient Indian establishments and imposing extravagant contracts and inordinate salaries.

8. Improper, unauthorised receipts of money used for improper and unauthorised purposes.

9. Having resigned in proxy and then denying and reversing it.

10. Treachery to Muzuffer [Muzaffar] Jung who had been placed in his care.

11. Extravagance and bribery to enrich his friends and dependants.

All of these charges were undoubtedly correct in hindsight but Hastings had the support of Pitt and the Tories in Parliament. Hastings was permitted to address the House in a short speech and was given permission to read his defence over 3 days, this being subsequently tabled. While the Rohilla charge was rejected (67 for, 119 against), Parliament responded to Fox's account of the mistreatment of the Rajah Chait Singh by accepting it as a grounds for impeachment (119 for, 79 against). The support of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the motion was regarded as treachery by the Hastings camp.

At the beginning of 1787 these preliminary hearings continued with Nathaniel Middleton and Sir Elijah Impey giving evidence before the House. On February 7th 1787 Sheridan was called upon to address the matter of the resumption of the jaghirs and the confiscation of the treasure of the princesses of Oudh. Sheridan rose to give one of the most remarkable speeches in parliamentary history that was to be matched by a similar performance in the following year.

Sheridan's speech on the Begums of Oudh

According to the chronicler of this speech, Sheridan pointed out that numerous past deliberations of Parliament and its committees had:

"incontrovertibly established this plain broad fact, that parliament directly acknowledged that the British name and character had been dishonoured, and rendered detested throughout India, by the malversation and crimes of the principal servant of the East India Company...Was parliament mis-spending its time, by inquiring into the oppressions practised on millions of unfortunate persons in India, and endeavouring to bring the daring delinquent, who had been guilty of the most flagrant acts of enormous tyranny and rapacious peculation, to exemplary and condign punishment?... Their conduct in this respect, during the course of the preceding year, had done them immortal honour, and proved to the world, that however degenerate an example of Englishman some of the British subjects had exhibited in India, the people of England collectively, speaking and acting as their representatives, felt, as men should feel on such an occasion, that they were anxious to do justice, by redressing injuries, and punishing offenders, however high their rank, however elevated their station."

Sheridan addressed the sorts of arguments which in reality would be the line taken by a succession of apologists for Hastings, namely: "that the guilt of Mr. Hastings was to be balanced by his successes; that fortunate events were a full and complete set-off against a system of oppression, corruption, breach of faith, peculation and treachery."

He asserted that the fact that Parliament, including Pitt, accepted the treatment of Chait Singh as a grounds for impeachment proved that Burke was not motivated by malice or other unworthy motives (a position rejected by the Hastings apologists). Sheridan took great flights of indignation that, depending upon your point of view, were either hyperbole or well-justified assertions (married to an Indian for over 40 years, I admit to the latter prejudice). Sheridan asserted that he believed:

"the conduct of Mr.Hastings in regard to the Nabob of Oude and the Begums, comprehended every species of human offence. He had proved himself guilty of rapacity at once violent and insatiable - of treachery, cool and premeditated - of oppression, useless and unprovoked - of breach of faith, unwarrantable and base - of cruelty, unmanly and unmerciful. These were the crimes of which, in his soul and conscience, he arraigned Warren Hastings; and of which he had the confidence to say he should convict him."

Sheridan addressed the Hastings argument that somehow the Begums' wealth belonged to the young Nawab with the sarcastic descriptive "as if he meant to insinuate that there was something in Mahomedanism which rendered it impious in a son not to plunder his mother" and read a pathetic plea from young Nawab's mother for Hastings’ help to relocate them safely if indeed they were to be impoverished.

A critical defence of Hastings was that the Begums (the princesses of Oudh), had been involved in the Benares rebellion, a proposition for which there was no evidence. However Sheridan, in adverting to this, brought up the matter of Chief Justice Impey's helpful "legal" opinion given to the Governor-General on this matter and had great scorn for Impey, summoned by his friend to assist in the crime:

"Mr. Hastings with so much art, proposed a question of opinion, involving an unsubstantiated fact, in order to obtain even a surreptitious approbation of the measure he had predetermined to adopt. "The Begums being in actual rebellion, might not the nabob confiscate their property?" "Most undoubtedly," was the ready answer of the friendly judge. Not a syllable of inquiry intervened as to the existence of the imputed rebellion; nor a moment's pause as to the ill-purposes to which the decision of a chief justice might be perverted ... Sir Elijah pursued his progress; and passing through a wide region of distress and misery, explored a country that presented a speaking picture of hunger and nakedness ... Thus, whilst the executive power in India was perverted to the most disgraceful inhumanities, the judicial authority also became its close and confidential associate - at the same moment that the sword of government was turned to an assassin's dagger, the pure ermine of justice was stained and foiled with the basest and meanest contamination."

Australian readers may hark back to the events of 2 centuries later, in 1975, in which an Australian Chief Justice Garfield Barwick offered advice to Governor-General Kerr that encouraged him to dismiss the democratically elected Whitlam government in circumstances of parliamentary constraints on public money supply and (so it is widely believed) a notion in Washington that the Australian Government was less than totally loyal to the American Government. 12

Sheridan dealt with the affidavits of the Resident Nathaniel Middleton, Colonel Hannay, Colonel Gordon, Major McDonald, Major Williams and others with great scorn for what he perceived to be loose, hear-say testimonies affected by time and consideration for Hastings. Sheridan concluded with great passion that he:

"heard of factions and parties in that house, and knew they existed ... But when inhumanity presented itself to their observations, it found no division among them: they attacked it as their common enemy... They could not behold the workings of the heart, the quivering lips, the trickling tears, the loud and yet tremulous joys of the millions whom their vote of this night would for ever save from the cruelty of corrupted power. But though they could not directly see the effect, was not the true enjoyment of their benevolence increased by the blessing being conferred unseen? Would not the omnipotence of Britain be demonstrated to the wonder of nations, by stretching its mighty arm across the deep, and saving by its fiat distant millions from destruction? And would not the blessings of the people thus saved, dissipate in empty air? No! if I may dare use the figure, - we shall constitute Heaven itself our proxy, to receive for us the blessings of their pious gratitude, and the prayers of their thanksgiving. - It is with confidence, therefore, Sir, that I move you on this charge, “that Warren Hastings be impeached”.”

Pitt's defection

Sheridan's speech kept his audience spell-bound, confirmed his allies and converted his opponents. Fox declared that everything he had ever read or heard dwindled into nothing in comparison. Hastings' supporter Pitt, in the words of the chronicler, acknowledged "that it surpassed all the eloquence of ancient or modern times, and possessed every thing that genius or art could furnish, to agitate and controul the human mind". The debate was indeed adjourned after arguments that the speech had been so compelling that time was needed to allow people to cool before voting. The debate was resumed the next day with Philip Francis supporting impeachment and Hastings being supported by various people including Major Scott and George Vansittart (who would several years later defend Jane Austen's aunt with a character reference to help save her from Botany Bay or the gallows).

Pitt thought that the treatment of the princesses appeared cruel and criminal, treaty obligations contraindicated the resumption of the jaghirs, the seizure of the treasures had to be condemned, these offences were aggravated by making the young Nabob the instrument of robbing his mother and that Hastings had erred in stifling orders from the Directors against the Begum proceedings. The motion for impeachment on the grounds of the extortion of the Begums was carried overwhelmingly (175 for, 68 against) on 8 February 1787.

The apologists for Hastings have striven to excuse or explain this turn-around by Pitt but the simplest explanation lies in the words of the central players on Hastings' side. Pitt, while rejecting most of Burke's charges as justifying impeachment, was convinced by the charges relating to the extortion of the Rajah Chait Singh and of the Begums of Oudh. Similarly Pitt's colleague Dundas (President of the Board of Control of the East India Company), in a letter to Hastings' successor in India, Lord Cornwallis, declared that the impeachment was not pleasing to them "but the truth is, when we examined the various articles of the evidence against him with his defences, they were so strong, and the defences so perfectly unsupported, it was impossible not to concur." This position of Dundas reflected the current flow of political machinations in the East India Company. 13

The trial and Sheridan's second Begum speech

The trial of Warren Hastings commenced on 13 February 1788 in Westminster Hall and involved numerous charges that mostly involved Oudh. The stars for the prosecution were Edmund Burke, Fox and Sheridan. While Sheridan’s orations outdid those of his companions, Burke was also a master of oratory:

“I impeach him in the name of the people of India, whose rights he has trodden under foot, and whose country he has turned into a desert. Lastly, in the name of human nature itself, in the name of both sexes, in the name of every age, in the name of every rank, I impeach the common enemy and oppressor of all.” 14

Burke pulled few punches in his denunciations, ranging from the “low” and “vulgar” upbringing of Hastings, through the “providential flash of lightning” (that supposedly killed Mir Jafar’s son Miran and permitted the installation of Mir Kasim as a temporarily pliant Nawab of Bengal), to extravagant assertions about the life-style and morality of the famous Munni Begum. 15

The second speech by Sheridan on the Begum charge was delivered on 3 June 1788 and was extraordinarily well attended on account of the first. The approaches were crowded by 8 o'clock in the morning but the peers did not arrive until noon. The chronicler narrates Sheridan's earnest declaration of disquiet about the state of India:

“To convince their lordships that the British government - which ought to have been a blessing to the powers in India connected with it - had been a scourge to the natives, and the cause of desolation to the most flourishing provinces in Hindostan, he had only to read a letter that had been received not long since from Lord Cornwallis, the present governor-general of Bengal. In that letter the noble lord stated he had been received by the Nabob Visier with every mark of friendship and respect; but the honours he received at the court of Lucknow had not prevented him from seeing the desolation that overspread the face of the country, the sight of which had shocked his very soul. He spoke to the nabob on the subject, and earnestly recommended it to him to adopt some system of government that might restore the prosperity of his kingdom, and make his people happy. The nabob's answer was strikingly remarkable. That degraded prince said to his lordship, that as long as the demands of the English government upon the revenue of Oude should remain unlimited, he (the nabob) could have no interest in establishing any system of economy; and whilst the English should continue to interfere in the internal government of his country, it would be in vain for him to attempt any salutary reform; for his subjects knew that he was only a cypher in his own dominions, and therefore laughed at and despised his authority and that of his ministers.”

Sheridan dealt with criteria for acceptable evidence, especially in relation to the affidavits of Hastings' witnesses Middleton, Impey, Goring, Gilpin, Scott, Shore and Holt, and then proceeded to the dramatic exposition on the violation of the zenana (the women's rooms) that no doubt would have distressed the ladies present (such as the companions of the Prince Regent). He declared that Hastings' witnesses had established the nobility of the Begums and the sanctity of the zenana. Sheridan declaimed:

"The confinement of Turkish ladies was in a great measure to be ascribed to the jealousy of their husbands; in Hindostan the ladies were confined, because they thought it contrary to decorum that persons of their sex should be seen abroad: they were not the victims of jealousy in the men; on the contrary, their sequestration from the world was voluntary; they liked retirement, because they thought it best suited to the dignity of their sex and situation: they were shut up from liberty, it was true; but liberty, so far from having any charms for them, was derogatory to their feelings; they were enshrined rather than innured; they professed a greater purity of pious prejudice than the Mahomedan ladies of Europe and of other countries; and more zealously and religiously practised a more holy system of superstition. Such was their sense of delicacy, that to them the sight of man was pollution; and the piety of the nation rendered their residence a sanctuary. What, then, would their lordships think of the tyranny of the man who could act in open defiance of those prejudices, which were so interwoven with the very existence of the ladies of that country, that they could not be removed but by death? What, he asked, would their lordships think of the man who could threaten to profane and violate the sanctuary of the highest description of the ladies in Oude, by saying that he would storm it with his troops, and remove the inhabitants from it by force?"

Sheridan detailed the friendship of Hastings and the late Nawab, the surrender of 550,000 pounds to the young Nawab by the Begums, the approval of these arrangements by the Council in 1775 and Hastings’ receipt of a temporarily rather well-hidden 100,000 pounds from the young Nawab at Chunar in 1781. The origins of this money was described as follows:

“It was not given by the nabob from the superflux of his wealth nor in the abundance of his esteem for the man to whom it was given. It was, on the contrary, a prodigal bounty, drawn from a country depopulated - no matter whether by natural causes, or by the grinding of oppression. It was raised by an exaction which took what calamity had spared and rapine overlooked; - and pursued those angry dispensations of Providence, when a prophetic chastisement had been inflicted upon a fated realm. The secrecy which had marked this transaction was not the smallest proof of its criminality.”

Sheridan's speech had to be spread over several days in which he detailed the events involved in the extortion of Chait Singh, the rebellion at Benares and the subsequent extortion of the Begums. He argued passionately for the downtrodden ryots and the rights of man. On June 13 Sheridan concluded his oration thus:

“This is the call on all to administer to truth and equity, as they would satisfy the laws and satisfy themselves, with the most exalted bliss possible, or conceivable for our nature, - the self-approving consciousness of virtue, when the condemnation that we look for will be one of the most ample mercies accomplished for mankind since the creation of the world! My lords I have done.”

He sank exhausted into the arms of a fellow parliamentarian.

The outcome

Hastings spent a huge amount of money in his defence over the period of the trial. The total expenditure has been estimated at 100,000 pounds and the costs involved a substantial amount spent on pamphleteering. 16 One is reminded again of Henry Tilney’s assertion in Northanger Abbey: “Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? ... Could they be perpetrated in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing... where roads and newspapers lay everything open?” 17 In the event the outcome was acquittal for Warren Hastings in 1795 but his reputation and finances had been severely tried in the lengthy 7 year process. Time heals, and even Sheridan approached him in 1804, explaining that he had argued simply as a matter of high principle and that no personal animosity was involved in his great Parliamentary speeches. 18

Warren Hastings retired to Daylesford with Marian (as the nabob Colonel Brandon had retired to Delaford with Marianne) and devoted himself to the pleasures of rural life and society. His rehabilitation came with the successes of the Napoleonic Wars. Thus in 1813 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in civil law at the University of Oxford to the cheers of the students and in 1814 the East India Company extended his annuity for the rest of his life. Hastings was drawn into banquets where he met dignitaries, including foreign rulers such as the Czar of Russia and the King of Prussia. 19 All the members of the House of Commons stood in respect as Warren Hastings left the chamber after testifying on Indian matters in 1813. 20

The verdict of history

British historians are torn between great respect for Hastings as a great “Empire builder” and the fact that he had been subject to such a sustained process of public criticism following a period in which immense social disruption in India was associated with highly suspect administration and immense European enrichment. Bearing in mind the immensity of the human cost of the Great Bengal Famine of 1769-1770 and the subsequent famine and devastation of the Gangetic plain in 1782, it is useful to see the judgements of British historians on a major player in the conquest of India.

T.B. Macaulay was highly critical of aspects of Hastings’ rule in India but nevertheless concluded that: “His internal administration, with all its blemishes, gives him a title to be considered one of the most remarkable men in our history.” 21

Malleson (1894) concludes that “ {Great Britain’s] sons will not fail to recognize, in the face of the scurrilities of Burke, the distortions of Macaulay, and the calumnies and inaccuracies of Mill, that no nobler son ever devoted to his country’s interests a life more pure, a prescience more profound, talents more commanding, than did the second founder of British India, the Right Honourable Warren Hastings.” 22

Kaye (1853) praised the administrative changes that Hastings brought to India and claims that his successor in 1786, Lord Cornwallis, found administrators “with little resemblance to the old denizens of the Augean stables which, twenty years before, Clive had so courageously ventured to cleanse.” [Scores of millions were yet to perish in war, famine and disease before India was to be free of such noble integrity.] 24

Lyall (1916) concludes that “All preceding Governors had been servants of the East India Company; and Hastings, the first of the Company’s Governors-General, had been the scape-goat of an awkward and unmanageable governing apparatus, hampered by divided authority, and distracted by party feuds in Calcutta and London.” 25

Reid (1947) declares of the Impeachment proceedings,: “No acquittal has ever been more justly earned ... It is almost as nauseating an example of England’s ingratitude as the indictment of Clive: and one wonders, reading the lives of these great founders of the Indian Empire, what magic spell England wields that, with such examples before their eyes, men were still ready to devote their lives to her service, knowing that the greater the success of their efforts, the less would be their reward.” 26

More recent historians have sustained this complimentary message.

Gardner (1971) refers to Dundas, President of the Board of Control of the East India Company, as having “played a sinister part in the long and distasteful story of Warren Hastings’s impeachment.” 27 Woodruffe (1965) concludes thus of Hastings: “And though he was wrong about the administration of Bengal, he worked patiently and indomitably for the right things. He worked always to instil into the Company’s servants habits of industry and a sense of responsibility for the people of India.” 28

Wilbur (1945) referred to Hastings as the “Savior of Bengal” and applies an astonishing “Emperor’s clothes” argument to account for the Impeachment: “One of the strangest aspects of the life of the East India Company’s servants in India, plainly disclosed in the impeachment of Hastings, was the preponderance of personal jealousies, petty rivalry, and sheer vindictiveness of spirit shown in the letters written by the vast majority of the Company’s servants, from the lowest clerk to those of the highest rank in India, to friends and relatives in England.” 29

“Holocaust ignorer” H.G. Wells (1959) perceived the “romanticism” of the English transformation of Clive and Hastings into national heroes: “The country which had once put Clive and Hastings on trial for their unrighteous treatment of Indians was now persuaded to regard them as entirely chivalrous and devoted figures. They were “empire builders”.” 30

Muir (1929) recognized a useful side to the matter: “The fact of his impeachment was a proof that Britain had now awakened to the magnitude of the Indian problem and was determined to secure good government. But this was a cruel reward for noble service. The impeachment lasted for seven years. But the cost of the trial used up nearly all his savings, and he was left a poor man. He was still young, but Britain had no further use for one of the greatest of her sons.” 31

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1977) endorses this position thus; “Most historians, while recognizing Burke’s absolute sincerity, now feel that Burke was attempting to pin the evils of a situation on one individual and that he had chosen the wrong one ... It is difficult not to regard this long-drawn-out ordeal as a serious injustice. At the most it made some contribution to the process by which standards were being laid down for the future conduct of British rule in India.” 32

Bearing in mind the reality of 2 centuries of famine culminating in the Bengal Famine of the Second World War, several post-war conclusions are intensely pertinent to our disquisition.

G.M. Trevelyan (1952) defends Hastings: “He saved British rule in India in spite of all [inadequate means, Philip Francis], but was not without making the kind of mistakes a strong man is likely to make in difficult emergencies. For these acts, much exaggerated and misconstrued by the malignity of Francis and the imagination of Burke, Fox and Sheridan, he was impeached in Westminster Hall. Those famous proceedings, substantially unjust to Hastings, even though they resulted in his acquittal, had the advantage of bringing Indian problems and responsibilities to the notice of British statesmen and the British public. Burke preached the right ideal of our obligations to the Indians, but misunderstood the relation of Hastings’ governorship to the problem.” 33

Carter and Mears (1960) endorse this noble view, borne of Austenizing, with a similar rosy position: “False as were most of the accusations against him, his trial did good in one way. Burke’s eloquent appeal on behalf of the suffering millions of India, whom he supposed Hastings to have misruled, awoke a sense of responsibility in Britain towards peoples under our rule.” 34

Nevertheless, after the Indian Mutiny of 1757 there was a sensible appreciation that there may surely have been some substance to Indian grievance. In a Parliamentary debate at the time, Sir George Cornewall Lewis provided what we could take as an unbiased and disinterested judgement on Hastings’ period in India:

“I do most confidently maintain that no civilised Government ever existed on the face of this earth which was more corrupt, more perfidious and more rapacious than the Government of the East India Company from 1765 to 1784.” 35

We will now see to what extent the “sense of responsibility” of the British rulers for their Indian and other colonial subjects was “awoken” as we briefly scan the next 2 centuries of war, exploitation, famine and genocide that was the reality of the British Empire. However before doing so it is well to present the germ of an idea that will slowly assume greater proportions as we proceed through our catalogue of inhumanity. The British represented a numerically insignificant minority in India but they imposed their will through sophisticated weaponry, highly disciplined soldiery, divide-and-rule policies and the use of well-fed sepoys and other indigenous collaborators. Nevertheless, despite these “equalizers”, there was still an enormous disparity in numbers and their vulnerability was revealed in the Indian Mutiny of 1857 when “well fed” Indian sepoys were finally forced to rise against their British masters.

Disease and war aside, the British had a lovely life in the East. 36 Thus in the 18th century in Bengal, a gentleman’s day could begin with the escort from his bedchamber of his Bengali woman, followed successively by ablutions, breakfast, eventual commercial duties and evening social entertainments. His long day would end in the arms of his latest dusky maiden 37 However even more exciting sport was provided by the wild animals that were much more plentiful then than they are now. In Bengal in the 18th century, according to accounts in Nair (1984), tigers, dogs and jackals could perform a sanitary function in disposing of rubbish and indeed human corpses (from the streets or left below the high tide mark on riversides). Tigers could be very aggressive and attack even large groups of people to seize their victim. 38 [Henry Fane (1817-1868) wrote a fascinating account of his 5 years in India as aide-de-camp of the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army (1835-1840) and tells a story of a wolf seizing the child of one of the seyces, or grooms. “It was asleep between its mother and father, the former having her arms around it; and in spite of this and the immediate pursuit, the animal managed to clear off with its prize.” 39 One is reminded of the prolonged Chamberlain affair arising from scepticism in the judicial process that a dingo had taken their baby at Ayer’s Rock (Uluru) in Central Australia.] Of sporting shooting in India none was more dangerous than hunting the tiger, a beast that could be as big as a small cow in size. 40 In the “classic” tiger hunts, the pukka sahib, armed to the teeth, would venture out on a howdah mounted on top of an elephant and accompanied by a small army of armed servants and beaters - all this for one admittedly dangerous foe. 41 However one should seriously consider: what is the most dangerous creature of all? Surely Man. For all the armaments, skill, courage and discipline of the British soldiers, in the 18th century there were literally only several thousand of them to guard an Indian empire encompassing 100 million subjects.

It is likely that the reduction of the vast bulk of the population of India to life on the edge of bare survival was a matter of deliberate strategic policy of the British over 2 centuries of occupation. While individual acts of British barbarity, such as “blowing away” mutinous sepoys from cannons, were decisions by military men on the spot at the time, the empirical reality of hundreds of millions living at the edge of the abyss for 2 centuries instructs us that the British rulers found this acceptable in practice over the whole period of their occupation of India. This policy not only maximized income but would have dramatically decreased the ability of the Indians to rise against their cruel persecutors.

We will see that during World War 2, the “frontier”` provinces of Bengal and Assam were arenas for armed unrest and “terrorism” and were of major strategic concern to the Indian authorities and to the Home Government. 42 It is likely that a similar policy of “starvation into submission” was applied (either consciously or by moral default) to war-time Bengal half a century ago as it was to India over the preceding 2 centuries. Dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima to destroy a city and kill 100,000 people was the result of a specific decision taken at the time, as was the subsequent destruction of Nagasaki. However to permit famine and attendant disease to inflict immense suffering and cause as many as 5 million deaths in war-time Bengal over several years amounts to deliberate policy. While the crimes of the British in the early decades of occupation of India went unpunished and have been largely deleted from public perception, the same can be said of what was done repeatedly to India in the following 2 centuries.

2008 Postscript

One is left almost speechless when one considers the immensity of the crimes being committed today by the Anglo-American Alliance against what Sheridan back in 1788 called “Mahomedan ladies” in his indignant speech and the extraordinary Silence of contemporary Mainstream media, politicians and academics. The Anglo-American Alliance is party to what is a Palestinian Genocide (post-1967 excess deaths 0.3 million, post-invasion under-5 infant deaths 0.2 million, 7 million refugees, 4 million Occupied Palestinians – half of them children, three quarters women and children - imprisoned in an increasingly abusive Prison); Iraqi Genocide (1990-2003 excess deaths 1.7 million, 1.2 million under-5 infant deaths, 0.2 million Gulf War deaths; 2003-2008 post-invasion excess deaths 1.7-2.2 million, post-invasion excess under-5 infant deaths 0.6 million, 4.5 million refugees); Afghan Genocide (post-invasion excess deaths 3.3-6.6 million, post-invasion under-5 infant deaths 2.3 million, 4 million refugees); Biofuel Genocide (16 million people die avoidably every year due to deprivation and deprivation-exacerbated disease in the post-colonial neo-colonial world and the new colonial world of the American Empire; this is increasingly impacted by huge food price rises driven in part by legislatively-mandated diversion of food for biofuel in the UK, US and EU; UK Chief Scientist Professor John Beddington FRS says that “billions” are threatened by the biofuel diversion); and Climate Genocide (Professor James Lovelock FRS says that over 6 billion will perish this century due to unaddressed anthropogenic greenhouse gas pollution and consequent global warming). This immense set of current crimes is stringently non-reported by mainstream media, politicians and academics in the Western Murdochracies (ostensible democracies in which major media conglomerates such as the Murdoch Empire have a hugely disproportionate say in election outcomes and public policy). I and others have attempted to report this carnage via Alternative Media e.g. see my article “Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghan, Biofuel and Climate Genocide – silence kills and silence is complicity” in the Maine, US magazine Liberalati and other articles. 43 2005 Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter in his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech called for arraignment of Bush and Blair before the International Criminal Court over their horrendous crimes in Iraq, stating (informed by grossly under-estimating media reports) : “How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice.” 44 Some other great writers have also expressed outrage. 45 My response (see above Iraq statistics): “4 million? More than enough I would have thought”. I have made formal complaints over Anglo-American and Australian war crimes to the International Criminal Court. 46


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