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“ We have borrowed the little policy of the chiefs of “ a few obscure factories, who trembled at the frown “ of the Hindoo or Mahomedan tyrants by whom " they were surrounded ; and we continue, in some “ measure, to be influenced by them in the most o powerful empire between Austria and China. It is “ on this ground that the East-India Company have 66 acted.”
It will not be denied, that the judicial administration of every civilized state forms one of its most important features, the course pursued by the East-India Company with reference to that branch of their government consequently falls under the foregoing condemnation. It may therefore be expedient to quote the opinion of Parliament in 1778, as it is one of the periods pointed out toshew the little attention paid by Parliament to the subject of India administration. The Committee of Secresy appointed by the House of Commons to examine into the affairs of India, adverting to the ancient native system of judicature in Bengal, state: “ They cannot conclude this part of the subject “ without observing, that so far as they are able “ to judge from all the information laid before “ them, the subjects of the Mogul empire in that “ province derived little protection or security from “ any of these courts; and that, in general, though “ forms of judicature were established and preserved, “ the despotic principles of the government ren“ dered them the instruments of power rather than “ of justice, not only unavailing to protect the people, “ but often the means of the most grievous oppres“ sions under the cloak of the judicial character.”
Such was the state of things before the East-India Company took any part in the administration of justice
in India. The condition of the natives at the period of the Company's assuming the administration is described in the following extract from the fifth report, submitted to the House of Commons in the year 1812,* a report shewing that the most laborious and extensive research was devoted to the subject. The Committee enter into a full review of the systems introduced from the time of Lord Cornwallis ; and they remark :
“ The internal government was in a state of dis“ order, and the people suffering great oppression. “ These evils were imputed to the nature of the “ former administration. It is observed, that the Na“ zims exacted what they could from the zemindars “ and great farmers of the revenue, whom they left “ at liberty to plunder all below, reserving to them“ selves the prerogative of plundering them in their “ turn, when they were supposed to have enriched
themselves with the spoils of the country. The 66 whole system thus resolved itself, on the part of " the public officers, into habitual extortion and inos justice, which produced on that of the cultivator “ the natural consequences, concealment and evasion, “ by which Government was defrauded of a consider« able part of its just demands."
The same Committee, after referring to their former reports, which have been already noticed, containing some detail of the extensive establishments for the internal administration of justice, remarked, that “ they have felt it their duty to offer some ac“ count of the nature and history of those establish“ ments, and of the circumstances under which they “ have been augmented to their present scale, trusting
" that * Presented by Mr. Wallace.
“ that such an account will be acceptable to the “ House, not only as shewing the importance and “ utility of the establishments themselves to the wel. “ fare and order of the country, but as evincing the “ unremitting anxiety that has influenced the efforts « of those to whom the government of our Indian “ possessions has been consigned, to establish a sys“ tem of administration best calculated to promote the “ confidence and conciliate the feelings of the native “ inhabitants, not less by a respect for their own “ institutions, than by the endeavour gradually to en“ graft upon them such improvements as might shield, “ under the safeguard of equal law, every class of the « people from the oppressions of power, and commu“ nicate to them that sense of protection and assu“ rance of justice, which is the efficient spring of all “ public prosperity and happiness.”
After entering into a minute detail of the various points embraced in their extensive inquiry, the Committee state, that “ an attentive consideration of the « information which the documents afford has led your « Committee to believe, that the administration of " the British Government proved, at an early period “ of its introduction, beneficial to the natives of India “ residing under its protection. By the superiority of “ the British arms they became at once secured from “ the calamities frequently experienced in successive - invasions of the Mahrattas; internal commotion was 6 by the same cause entirely prevented ; and if their " condition was not sooner brought to that state of “ improvement which the character of the nation un“ der whose dominion they had fallen afforded reason “ to expect, the delay may be satisfactorily accounted “ for, on grounds that will free those who were imme
“ diately responsible from any charge of negligence or « misconduct."
And, in conclusion, adverting to the system of government generally : “ Although the view given in the “ foregoing part of this Report may shew that certain “ imperfections are still found in the system of « internal government in the Bengal provinces, yet it « can, in the opinion of your Committee, admit of “ no question, whether the dominion exercised by the « East-India Company has, on the whole, been bene“ ficial to the natives. If such a question were pro“ posed, your Committee must decidedly answer it in 6 the affirmative. The strength of the government of “ British India, directed as it has been, has had the, “ effect of securing its subjects as well from foreign “ depredation as from internal commotion. This is “ an advantage rarely experienced by the subjects of “ Asiatic states; and, combined with a domestic ad“ ministration more just in its principles, and exer“ cised with far greater integrity and ability than the “ native one that preceded it, may sufficiently account “ for the improvements that have taken place; and « which in the Bengal provinces, where peace has been " enjoyed for a period of time perhaps hardly paral“ lelled in Oriental history, have manifested them« selves in the ameliorated condition of the great mass “ of the population ; although certain classes may “ have been depressed by the indispensable policy of " a foreign government. The nature and circum“ stances of our situation prescribes narrow limits to “ the prospects of the natives in the political and « military branches of the public service. Strictly “ speaking, however, they were foreigners who gene“ rally enjoyed the great offices in those departments,
“ even under the Mogul government; but to agricul“ ture and commerce every encouragement is afforded “ under a system of laws, the prominent object of “ which is to protect the weak from oppression, and to “ secure to every individual the fruits of his industry. “ The country, as may be expected, has under these “ circumstances exhibited in every part of it, improve“ ment on a general view, advancing with accelerated “ progress in later times.”
Such are the deliberate and recorded opinions of a Committee of the House of Commons, who spared no labour in entering fully into the subject which they undertook to examine. It is to be observed, that the opinion of the Committee is not simply confined to any one branch of the system, for it is broadly and unequivocally declared, that “ it admits of no question, “ whether the dominion exercised by the East-India “ Company has been beneficial to the natives.”
Hence it will be perceived from what has already been stated, that so far from “ scarce a moment's time “ having been devoted to it,” inquiry by Parliament the most minute and extended accompanied each renewal of the exclusive privileges enjoyed by the Company; and it is a curious fact, that out of fifteen folio volumes of reports of committees of the House of Commons, during a period of nearly one hundred years, commencing from the year 1700, and printed by order of the House in 1803, five of by far the largest volumes relate entirely to the affairs of India. These are exclusive of the five subsequent reports laid before the House between 1805 and 1813; and the result of the inquiries has proved that the government confided to the East-India Company has been of unquestionable benefit to India and to its inhabitants.