HC Deb 23 December 1830 vol 2 cc60-3
Mr. Wilks

wished to call the attention of the House to a petition on a subject which appeared to him of considerable interest and importance. The petition was signed by several Clergymen of the Established Church, by Dissenting Ministers, and by several of the most respectable inhabitants of Boston, in Lincolnshire, and it described the dreadful scenes which occur in India at the religious festivals of the natives. It adverted to the enormous fees collected at the temple of Juggernaut, and other superstitious places, and requested the interference of the House for their abolition. The petitioners also alluded to the numerous immolations of human beings which took place in India, and earnestly entreated the House to adopt measures for abolishing practices so repugnant to the feelings of every considerate individual. When he reflected on the connection between this country and India, it appeared to him to be of the greatest importance, that the House should interfere, and prevent the repetition of such shocking customs. The East-India Company ought to use their utmost endeavours to put a stop to such revolting practices; and he remembered, that when the Charter was last granted to the Company, it was the unanimous opinion of the House, that it was the peculiar and bounden duty of the Legislature, by all just and prudent means in their power, to promote the interests and happiness of the inhabitants of British India, and to pay a strict attention to their moral improvement. With that opinion it certainly was matter of surprise and regret to learn, that attention had not been paid to the moral improvement of these people: and that despite of that opinion, idolatries of the most cruel and horrible description continued in existence, and were actually sanctioned— even more than sanctioned—actually converted into a source of revenue, by exacting from all those who shared in these superstitious festivals fees to a large amount; by which means the superstitions themselves, were upheld and encouraged. He was undoubtedly loth to occupy the time of the House by then entering into a discussion of this question, notwithstanding that he in common with other Gentlemen who had paid great attention to it considered it of the greatest importance; and, therefore, he would give notice that alter the recess, he should direct the attention of the House more particularly to the subject.

Mr. Hume

thought, that some of the observations of his hon. friend appeared to convey a reflection on the conduct of the East India-Company, for not having interfered with the religious institutions of the Hindoos. He begged leave to enter his protest against such a remark. In his opinion the East-India Company deserved great credit for having allowed the natives of the extensive tract of country under the government of the Company to retain their religious usages without interruption. Having witnessed many of the Indian ceremonies which his hon. friend called idolatries, he must state, that it would be by no means advisable to interrupt them. The East India-Company had indeed put an end to the burning of widows; but it was admitted on all hands, that that sacrifice did not necessarily form a part of the religious observances of the Hindoos. Various absurd practices no doubt prevailed in India; but indulging the natives in the observance of them, contributed to the general peace. His hon. friend made an observation on the moral education of the natives; but he was sure that every freedom and facility had been afforded to every Missionary or other individual, who resorted to that country for the purpose of instructing and enlightening the Hindoos. The Company was not opposed to the improvement of the natives, for it must advance its own interests by endeavouring to raise the moral character of the Hindoos, and giving them the best instruction it could. He was ready to admit, that the festival of Juggernaut might be censured with propriety; and he should certainly be pleased to see the revenue derived from the ceremonies observed there reduced, or appropriated to different purposes. He could assure his hon. friend, who presented this petition, that the servants of the India Company had been most anxious to abolish many of the superstitious ceremonies of which he and other Gentlemen complained; but they had always found themselves restrained by the stipulations not to interfere with the religious ceremonies of the natives. The observations of his hon. friend, had they remained unnoticed, might create an opinion, that encouragement was given to improper ceremonies, and opposition made to the progress of education among the natives; he had therefore thought it right to state, what every one knew, that the Company did not throw obstacles in the way of those whose labours tended to the improvement of the Hindoos.

Mr. Wilks,

in moving that the petition be printed, wished to say, that his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex, could not be more devoted than he was to the cause of religious freedom, nor less inclined to interfere even with idolatrous superstitions; but the petition stated, that the East-India Company interfered and countenanced these superstitions, and encouraged pilgrims to resort to Juggernaut and other temples; obtaining thereby a revenue of upwards of 900,000l. Not less than 120,000 persons, on an average, perished yearly from the severities of the pilgrimages, and from the dreadful floggings they inflicted on themselves.

The petition to be printed.

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